Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

With the popularity over comics and graphic novels becoming films, it’s no surprise that audiences are seeing a new culture of geeks who are influenced by comics and video games. One such story is in the form of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series. The graphic novel series tells the story of a young slacker from Toronto who falls in love with an American girl only to learn that in order to go out with her. He must defeat her seven evil-exes. With the sixth and final book Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour finally released on July 20, 2010, O’Malley has also allowed for his series to be adapted by British director Edgar Wright for a film named after the second book called Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Directed by Edgar Wright with a screenplay written by Wright and Michael Bacall, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World tells the story of a young Toronto slacker who plays in a band has his love life changed by an American girl. Wanting to go out with her, he must defeat her seven evil exes in a video-game style of conflict. Along the way, Pilgrim has to deal with the fact that he’s growing up and how took some of his ex girlfriends for granted as one of them is going after the woman he loves.

With an all-star cast led by Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim. The film also includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, and Jason Schwartzman. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an enjoyable, off-the-wall film that is truly fantastic.

After meeting a 17-year old Chinese girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), Toronto-based slacker Scott Pilgrim is in a new relationship. While he lives with a gay roommate named Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin) and plays bass in a band called Sex Bob-omb with former high school girlfriend Kim Pine (Alison Pill) and Stephen Stills (Mark Webber). Scott is still an immature 22-year old with no job as he starts to have weird dreams with this mysterious young woman. After seeing her at the library and later at party, he learns that she is Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Ramona is an American girl who works for Amazon as Scott asks her out during a delivery as sparks flew.

After inviting Ramona to a gig where Knives also attends, Scott finds himself in trouble during a performance where Ramona’s first evil-ex boyfriend Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) appears to challenge Scott. After Ramona tells him that he must defeat her seven evil-exes so he can date her, Scott realizes he is up for a challenge as he also makes some bad decisions. After breaking up with Knives, Scott has to deal with Ramona’s other exes including actor Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), musician Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), a ninja-like girl named Roxy (Mae Whitman), and a couple of Japanese pop twins named Ken and Kyle Katayanagi (Keita and Shota Saito).  Scott also to deal with another ex-girlfriend in Envy Adams (Brie Larson), who is now a pop star playing in a band that Todd is in.

Dealing with exes overwhelm Scott as he also has to deal with how its affecting his relationship with Ramona. When Sex Bob-omb is finally getting noticed, the person taking the band is none other than Ramona’s last ex-boyfriend in Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman). Scott realizes that what he must do to defeat Gideon which includes facing himself as well.

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series about Scott Pilgrim tells the story about this young slacker who falls for his dream girl but has to deal with her exes as well as gaining some self-respect. What writers Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright do in adapting the series into a feature film is take that premise of a guy defeating seven exes and bring it to life. Exposing a pop culture world filled with indie music, video games, and all sorts of worlds. The film plays like a video game of sorts starting with the Universal film logo designed like an old 8-bit video game with 8-bit music.

While it’s known that adapting a book or a series of books into films aren’t easy, Bacall and Wright do a great job in not just getting the characterization and the world of Scott Pilgrim. They also bring enough that is told for a feature film, though it was made when the sixth and final book was in the works. While various subplots about Scott Pilgrim’s relationship with Kim Pine as well as more stories about various characters including Julie (Aubrey Plaza) and Scott’s younger sister Stacy (Anna Kendrick) aren’t featured as much. They’re given enough exposure of what is needed to be told for the story of Scott Pilgrim’s journey.

The development of Scott Pilgrim as this young, slacker kid who doesn’t have much clue about love nor has a clue about how his own decisions towards the people he hurt has affected them. When he’s with Ramona, he starts to grow up a bit but still acts as an immature kid though he steps up when he gets into fights. Ramona Flowers is just as complex as this young woman desperate to escape from her past and finds something different in Scott Pilgrim. Yet, she admits to being a bitch while feels bad for putting Scott into this situation. Another major character that gets exposure is Knives Chau, a 17-year old Chinese girl who is introduced to a new world. Yet, when Scott breaks up with her. She takes up stalking to the point that she pretends to date Young Neil (Johnny Simmons) while plotting to destroy Ramona Flowers.

The screenplay succeeds in not just using what is needed to tell the story but also in giving many of the film’s supporting characters to play their role to the story. Particularly in setting up each confrontation that goes on. Within each opponent that Scott faces, the stakes become higher and more intense where there’s a great structure to the story within each confrontation. Even as it plays like a video game where the levels become much tougher and more overwhelming. The script overall is truly amazing as it’s captured with such energy and style from its director Edgar Wright.

Using some of illustration of O’Malley for several scenes as well the use of split screens for comic-book style framing. Wright’s direction is truly stunning in terms of recreating the comic book to life with lively visual effects and video-game style. Wright definitely goes for a pop-art element for film he uses visual effects to display heightened emotions. Even if he’s capturing the energy of the concerts and fight sequences. The staging of scenes has Wright framing things as if they look the same book presented them. Even if it’s an awkward scene where Scott and his friends meet The Clash at Demonhead, the band featuring Envy and Todd.

Wright definitely displays a sense of confidence in his directing where he allows the actors to do their stunt work as well as show their funny sides in the most natural way. The humor isn’t forced or gimmicky as it flows well in the way O’Malley’s books have as it doesn’t take itself too seriously or go for silly gags. The action scenes show Wright taking on different angles for the fights as each one has its own sense of energy. Notably the Scott vs. Todd scene where the two battle each other with their ability to play bass. Another noted factor that works for the film are the title displays for the characters to figure out their personalities or how smart they are. Wright’s direction overall, shows a director finally given the chance to create something that is spectacular and fun without going overboard or make things look cheap.

Cinematographer Bill Pope does excellent with the film’s colorful photography as it’s shot on location in Toronto. Pope’s photography is full of color where the white snow in daytime scenes work with the colors clashing for whatever moment if it’s a funny or a dramatic moment. Pope also succeeds in creating dazzling lights and colors for several scenes including the concert and fight scenes without a lot of flashy, polished photography. There’s a bit of grit to the look as Pope’s work is phenomenal.

Editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss do amazing work with the film’s stylized yet energetic editing. From the use of split-screens and other formats, the editing moves the film in a fast but rhythmic tone for many of the film’s fight and concert scenes. Yet, Amos and Machliss know when to slow down when it’s for something more dramatic while using comedic sequences with great timing.  The editing of the film is definitely masterful for its array of rhythms and stylization. Production designer Marcus Rowland, along with set decorator Odetta Stoddard and art director Nigel Churcher, do fantastic work with the set designs for the clubs and places the characters are in. Even as they recreate places just like the novel did in its illustration as the art direction is truly spellbinding.

Costume designer Laura Jean Shannon does some nice work with the costumes from the casual clothing that most of the characters wear to the indie-like clothes that Knives Chau were later in the film. Even the look of Envy Adams with her big heels are great as the costumes reflect the personalities of the characters along with the hair and make-up work that bring more of a unique look to the characters Visual effects Frazer Churchill does amazing work with the visual effects of the film that has a comic-book like feel to play to exaggerated emotions and other sound effects sequence. Even for the fight and concert sequences that plays to a heightened level of intensity as it’s truly spectacular. Even as the Shynola visual arts team do some crazy work for the film’s opening credits sequence.

Sound editor Julian Slater and sound designer James Boyle do brilliant work with the film’s sound work. Bringing the use of 8-bit video game sounds for effects reason, the sound has a video game-like feel while there’s texture to the layering of the sound effects during the fight and concert scenes. The mixing is truly astonishing in its presentation while the design for the 8-bit effects adds humor. If there’s a real technical highlight of the film, it’s the sound department.

The film’s music is truly amazing with a dream-like yet frenetic score by renowned producer Nigel Godrich. Godrich, along with contributions by Beck, Dan the Automator, and Osymyso, creates a wide mixture of music from 8-bit style electronic music to frenetic garage rock and other strange pieces. Dan the Automator provides the cheesy electro-pop song for Matthew Patel while Cornelius brings a high-octane electronic piece for Katayanagi twins. The rest of the soundtrack has Beck providing music for the band Sex Bob-omb with his fast-paced, rocking sound.

Other artists in the soundtrack include Beachwood Sparks providing a cover of Sade’s By Your Side for a wonderful love scene between Scott and Ramona. Metric contributes a song as they provide the music for Envy’s band The Clash at Demonhead while others like the Broken Social Scene, Frank Black, the Rolling Stones, Black Lips, Plumtree, and the Broken Social Scene also contribute cuts to what is certainly an amazing array of music.

The casting by Robin D. Cook, Jennifer Euston, and Allison Jones is truly amazing for the people that are cast as the characters all look like the people from the novels. Small roles include Christine Watson as Matthew Patel’s demon hipster chick, Chantelle Chung as Knives’ friend Tamara, Ingrid Haas as a partygoer named Monique, Kerr Hewitt as Stacy’s date Jimmy, Nelson Franklin as Comeau, and Ben Lewis as the Other Scott whom Wallace sleeps with. The film also has some great cameo appearances but none is as exciting or as funny as the two men who play the Vegan Police.

For the roles of the seven evil exes, the casting on that side is truly inspiring as each individual definitely get to stand out on their own. Though they don’t have any dialogue, Keita and Shota Saito as the Katayanagi twins are excellent for the presence they have as they battle Sex Bob-omb in an epic battle that is truly fun to watch. Mae Whitman is very funny as Roxy, another ex with a real grudge for Scott and Ramona as she sports makeup and acts like a ninja as she definitely stands out. Though he was known for playing Superman in the very underrated Superman Returns, Brandon Routh is truly a marvel as the vegan-powered Todd Ingram. Delivering his dialogue with a stylized, deadpan style, Routh adds a lot of humor by doing so little with his role as it is definitely a great performance. Satya Bhabha is excellent as Matthew Patel, the first evil ex who does a bit of dancing while providing some comical moments to his role.

Chris Evans is hilarious as Lucas Lee, an actor with a raspy voice who hires his own stunt doubles to do the fighting while acting all cool. Then there’s Jason Schwartzman as Gideon Graves, the final ex who is the ultimate king of cool while proving to be a slimy son-of-a-bitch as Schwartzman really gets to ham it up a bit. Another notable ex that is superb is Brie Larson as Scott’s ex-girlfriend Envy Adams as a pop star who is trying to make Scott miserable while trying to intimidate Ramona as Larson is truly cool for that role. Other notable small but memorable characters that gets a lot to do is Aubrey Plaza as the bitchy Julie who despises Scott for being a dork while Johnny Simmons is great as Young Neil, the kid who is one of the few fans of Sex Bob-omb as he often spouts some funny words.

Alison Pill is excellent as Kim Pine who often delivers a dead-pan, monotone dialogue for some of her scenes to show her bitterness towards Scott though she heightens it up whenever she screams “We are Sex Bob-omb, 1-2-3-4”. Mark Webber is very good as Stephen Stills, the talent in the band who is often anxious before each gig while hoping to get signed. Anna Kendrick is really good as Scott’s younger but mature sister Stacy who is shocked over what Scott is doing while providing him with some wisdom. Kieran Culkin is a hoot as Wallace Wells, Scott’s cool gay roommate who offers advice while freaking Scott out with his own sexual escapades.

The film’s real discovery goes to Ellen Wong as Knives Chau, the 17-year old Chinese girl who falls for Scott only to get dumped where she unleashes her crazy side. Wong definitely brings a sense of innocence and naivety to the role early in the film as she is introduced to a new world. When she loses Scott, she becomes a stalker while getting ready to go head-to-head with Ramona as Wong hits all the right notes in terms of comedic timing and being a supremely bad ass chick. If Wong is the discovery, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the film’s breakout performance as Ramona Flowers. Winstead brings a sense of wit and charm to her character while admitting to be flawed as she is also quite secretive. Winstead truly brings Ramona to life with different hair colors and a sexiness that isn’t overt. This is really Winstead’s moment as she and Wong are the highlight of the cast.

Finally, there’s Michael Cera in what is definitely his best work to date. While he’s known as a one-note actor with a very limited range. Cera, definitely steps up a bit in playing a character that’s not entirely likeable but not a total asshole as well. Cera definitely shows the character’s sense of immaturity as well as someone who is willing to fight for what he wants. It’s really a marvelous performance from the young actor, even as he has great rapport with the cast. Though some might feel it’s a variation of the roles he’s played, it’s one that broadens his work as an actor while showing there’s more to him that just being the kid from Arrested Development and Superbad.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an extraordinary film from Edgar Wright that truly lives up to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels as well as bringing it to life in such a grand way. Featuring an amazing cast, a superb soundtrack, amazing visual effects, great humor, and brilliant fight scenes that keeps the film exciting. It’s a film that bends all sorts of genres and puts into one exciting film where the fun doesn’t stop. Fans of the books will be amazed by Wright’s vision while it will also bring in new readers interested in the world of Scott Pilgrim. In the end, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a magnificent film that definitely brings out the fun for a dreary summer year.

Edgar Wright Reviews: (A Fistful of Fingers) - Shaun of the Dead - Hot Fuzz - The World’s End - Baby Driver - The Sparks Brothers - Last Night in Soho

© thevoid99 2010

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