So, after a fairly relentless marketing campaign and an incredibly disappointing opening in America, British audiences now get a chance to see Edgar Wright’s take on the cult Canadian comic series Scott Pilgrim. And, even though it’s debatable if it will find a wider audience over here, it must be said that taken on it’s own terms Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an absolute triumph.
Telling the story of Toronto slacker Scott, his brilliantly terrible band Sex Bob-Omb (the name, like many things in the film, a reference to Nintendo games of the late 80s and early 90s), and the girl of his dreams (literally) Ramona Flowers, Scott Pilgrim might have it’s basis in low key mumble-core style navel-gazing comedy, but then it cranks things up to 11 by throwing in the obstacle of Ramona’s seven evil exes, and a lot of surprisingly well-choreographed fight scenes. In order to perhaps make such wackiness palatable to more sceptical audience members, Wright has claimed that the film could be seen as taking place in Scott’s head, and while it would make sense that such fevered nonsense could be the result of Scott’s over-caffeinated imagination (even the soda based product placement in the film is well-thought out), it’s more fun to just take the events at face value and believe that such things as impromptu Bollywood-style musical numbers, demon hipster chicks and psychic vegans are possible.
It’s unlikely that fans of the books (themselves some of the most amusing and imaginative work in the field of graphic novels, and recent literature in general) will have any grievances with Wright as much of the film is lifted right off the pages of creator Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work. There were initial grumblings about Michael Cera’s casting in the lead role but he manages to pull it off well – admittedly he is still very much ‘Michael Cera’, but pleasingly the screen Pilgrim keeps much of his inked counterpart’s charm, as well as his less attractive self-obsession. Besides, despite his name being in the title Scott isn’t the main draw anyway, but rather the rich background of supporting characters – all parts are cast to very closely match the original book designs, and a parade of recognisable faces turn up in even the smallest roles. The women of Pilgrim’s world are also far much more interesting than those usually offered in the action-comedy genre, with not only Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona providing a suitable match for Pilgrim’s positive and negative qualities but other particular stand-outs including Ellen Wong as Scott’s school-girl ex-girlfriend Knives who is delightfully sweet, hyperactive and, as her name would suggest, a mean fighter in her own right and the ever-reliable Alison Pill providing an amusingly bitter commentary on the events of Scott’s love-life as Sex Bob-Omb’s drummer Kim. Although, as many other reviewers have mentioned, Kieran Culkin steals the film from everybody as Scott’s snarky gay room (and bed) mate Wallace.
There is a downside to the film in that Wright has squeezed six books worth of plot into less than two hours of screen time while making sure that many of his and the fans’ favourite moments are kept in, meaning that events, jokes and characters have the habit of flying by before they have a chance to sink in. Wright’s previous work on Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz was already fast paced and frantic but it’s pushed to the limit in this film (with the amount of background visual and audio gags stuffed in as well, it seems like no frame of film is wasted). People over a certain age may have a problem with the ADHD style film-making, as would those who demand character development in their films – Scott may learn a lesson at the end, but it’s as much a playful dig at the usual last minute moral revelation in rom-coms as it is a plot point, and one of the few major deviations from the books’ plot-line is in the (fairly justified) snipping of the later volumes’ maudlin soul searching. It’s a good thing that Scott Pilgrim wasn’t released in 3D as this much scattershot editing coupled with the effect of the 3D glasses would have induced waves of nausea in the audience, if not full blown aneurysms. Although, judging by the film’s poor reception in the States, cramming everything in seemed to be the best decision, rather than having to leave proceedings on a never-to-be-resolved cliffhanger. The frenetic nature of the action does also mean that Scott Pilgrim will reward multiple re-watches and will hopefully result in the film doing great business on DVD, after all something this unique and inventive really does deserve to find an audience that appreciates it.
Jennifer Aniston’s new rom com, The Switch, claims to be ‘the most unexpected comedy ever conceived’, excuse the pun, but it is actually the second film this year to tackle the subject of artificial insemination.
Although what makes The Switch stand out is that it focuses on the male perspective and considers what main character Wally is going through when he meets his son seven years after he drunkenly switched a donor’s sample with his own.
Like most romantic comedies the plot of the film is predictable, with the two main characters Wally (Jason Bateman) and Kassie (Jenifer Aniston) struggling to overcome their problems, and you guessed it ending happily ever after. However despite this and the film dragging at the beginning, The Switch successfully tackles a sensitive subject in a light hearted manner.
I have to admit there were times when I laughed at loud- during the opening scene when Wally is verbally attacked in the street, when he scares off a potential sperm donor and moments of the I’m getting pregnant party.
While Jennifer Aniston is billed as the lead, it is Bateman’s character Wally that is most identifiable with his neurotic personality and quirky traits which are surprisingly passed down to his loveable son Sebastian.
Aniston fans be warned her portrayal of independent woman Kassie is much to be desired, and is certainly not one for the collection!
Ok so The Switch was easy to watch and provided me with two hours of escapism but given the choice I probably wouldn’t watch it again.
The Switch is released in UK cinemas on Friday 3 September.
Considering both the action-comedy and Tom Cruise were two of the more successful parts of 1980s cinema, it’s surprising that Cruise hasn’t starred in more of them. In fact, aside from his supporting role in Tropic Thunder and a cameo in the third Austin Powers, Knight and Day marks Cruise’s first comedy role since Jerry Maguire (although of course there are some who would claim that Eyes Wide Shut and Vanilla Sky had a fair amount of unintentional comedy in them). So it’s highly likely that audiences will spend a fair amount of time when watching Knight and Day wondering what exactly attracted him to this script.
Reuniting him with Vanilla Sky co-star Cameron Diaz (who is thankfully much less irritating here than her hysterical turn in that movie), Knight and Day charts the whacky scrapes that happen to Diaz as tom-boyish singleton June Havens after she accidentally gets on a flight with Cruise’s loose cannon secret agent Roy Miller and then ends up having to go on the run with him in order to keep herself alive as well as stop a marvellous MacGuffin (and the genius behind it) from falling into the wrong hands.
Clearly the stars and the director James Mangold (who has proved himself capable of handling both award-winning dramas with Walk The Line and Girl, Interrupted, as well as rather less distinguished fare like Identity and 3.10 to Yuma) are punching below their weight with this movie – the globe-trotting action rom-com is something that’s been done better before. The uninspired nature of the script starts with its title (Knights feature in a couple of different guises, but not in a prominent enough way to make the title actually seem as clever as it wants to be) and doesn’t stop there. Also for a film so reliant on special effects, it’s surprising how cheap and dated many of them look, particularly the film’s over-reliance on unconvincing green screen shots. However, despite all this, Knight and Day is a difficult film to dislike.
What mostly makes the film interesting is the presence of the two leads. Cruise does his usual charming thing, and it must be said that he does it well, but owing to his highly publicised private life it’s no longer easy to take this at face value, which adds a layer of suspicion to the actions of Miller, perfectly fitting for a character who is meant to straddle the line between paranoid and heroic. Diaz on the other hand is not only her pleasantly warm and amusing self, but it appears has actually decided to let herself age gracefully and naturally, which is admirable considering both the usual standards of beauty for women in Hollywood and the fact she launched her career based entirely on her looks, and this in turn makes June more relatable and likeable than if she had been played by one of the many of the other actresses who could have filled this part.
A strong supporting cast also helps matters, even if the casting is pretty uninspired – of course Peter Sarsgaard is going to be playing someone shifty and untrustworthy, and Paul Dano will turn in a weird, nerdy performance, fortunately they’re pretty much just left to get on with what they’re good at. There’s also a long list of exotic locations straight out of a Bond movie to look at, and a few nice running gags such as where a series of ever more ludicrous action scenes are merely seen as glimpses as a character comes in and out of consciousness (which could well have been a practical necessity in order to save money from the effects budget, but ends up being among the film’s highlights).
It’s hard to begrudge Knight and Day its existence, even when it so much of it looks so shoddy when the amount that was spent to make the film is considered. There’s nothing about the film that could really be seen as being offensive, at its best there is something goofily likeable about it, whereas at its worst (which, it must be said, is a fair chunk of the film’s running time) it’s merely unremarkably forgettable.
Steve Carell and Tina Fey might just be the current King and Queen of American sitcoms – Carell stars in the popular American version of The Office, and Fey is the writer/creator/star of critically adored TV satire 30 Rock, so a film that pairs the two would be bound to be highly anticipated even considering the two’s rather patchy big screen careers so far (both got off to strong starts with writing and starring credits on The 40 Year Old Virgin and Mean Girls respectively, but have generally turned in less impressive work since). So it’s hardly a surprise that the two’s team up is a bit of a disappointment – what is more surprising is how a fairly lacklustre script by Shrek the Third writer Josh Klausner drew not only the two stars in but also a selection of other high profile actors in supporting roles, including Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson and, in especially small roles, Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig (even more so when you consider that the whole thing is overseen by Night at the Museum/Pink Panther director Shawn Levy, a man hardly known for quality filmmaking).
The set-up is cute enough, with Carell and Fey as a long-time married couple who find that deciding to spice up their weekly ‘date night’ by trying something a bit different finds them on the run, hunted by a crime boss and a bunch of crooked cops, but sadly the madcap events that follow quickly start to feel rather shrill and irritating. In particular Carell, who in Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine and the better episodes of The Office has proved himself to be a comedy actor capable of warmth and subtlety, here just spends most of his screen time shouting and mugging, and although Fey is considerably more likeable she’s not really given the material she deserves. What jokes and amusing situation that there actually are in the script do get repeated more times than necessary as well, the worst offender being a running gag about Wahlberg’s character’s refusal to wear a shirt.
That being said, Date Night doesn’t really warrant a particularly vitriolic response either as at worst it is merely disappointing and rather unmemorable than outright offensive. Despite the general lack of inspiration on show in the script and direction the filmmakers made a smart move getting such a great cast onboard as they do manage to hold the interest and work hard to get the most from every joke (although including out-takes during the end credits was a less wise decision, as every one of the actors’ improvised lines are more amusing than what made it into the final film). As the film’s title would suggest Date Night does make for an acceptable choice for date night viewing, with the plot being so inoffensive and undemanding it’s not going to get in the way of any back-row fumblings, but it’s likely that you’ll struggle to remember much of what happened the day afterwards.
The directorial debut of Bad Santa writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, I love You Phillip Morris has stirred up a fair amount of controversy on its way to the screen. Still unreleased in America despite a warm reception at the Sundance Film Festival, largely because of explicit sex scenes (which, based on what’s seen in the film have presumably been cut for release, either that or this is sad indictment of the conservative nature of American distributors). Telling the remarkably true story of Steven Russell, an ex-cop, Christian, family man who after surviving a car accident decides to come out as gay - the only problem is, as he remarks ‘being gay is really expensive’ so he becomes a con man, relying on numerous fake IDs and credit cards and injuring himself for the insurance money. Which eventually loses him his boyfriend and sees him end up in jail, where he meets the Phillip Morris of the title, a pretty, effeminate man who’s impressed by Steven’s smart nature and when the two become seperated, Russell breaks out of jail (repeatedly) and lies and steals in order for the two to live happily ever after together.
Although Ficarra and Requa’s work in the past has always been gleefully un-politically correct, there is something about Phillip Morris that really leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. For a start, the film seems to merely find the fact that gay people exist hilarious and it never gets past this, with the really quite offensive term fag thrown round with abandon. This isn’t helped by the portrayals of Russell and Morris, Jim Carrey, supposedly making a return to dramatic acting as Russell instead seizes on the story as an opportunity to be his over the top worst, now with an added order of extreme campness not seen since the likes of Dick Emery, while McGregor as Morris is merely shy, softly spoken and really quite dull. It might be unfair to expect the film to make up for the generally poor portrayal of homosexuality in Hollywood, but the film’s focus on comedy comes at the expense of Russell and Morris, whose real life story is a fascinating one and which could have made a much better movie – towards the end of the film the filmmakers do make an attempt at conveying political anger in covering Russell’s rather unfair fate, by this point however it’s a case of too little, too late. Dramatically speaking there are also numerous problems with the film, such as its refusal to explain in any detail just how Russell’s whacky schemes continue to work, presumably because doing so would slow down the film’s mad-cap pacing, and instead just relying on the story’s true-life nature to keep the audience on side (the film opens with the caption ‘This really happened. It really did’). More troublesome is a mid-point foray into genuine tragedy, which although eventually integral to the plot, comes as such a jarring change of tone to the rest of the film that it’s difficult to care about.
Not every moment of comedy misses its mark, in particular the scene where Russell introduces a new inmate to prison and shows him what passes for currency in the system is delightfully cheeky, but for the most part I Love You Philip Morris is a major disappointment. Although considering that the film’s main visual motif is of a crudely drawn cock and balls, it was perhaps a mistake to expect it to have any ambitions of quality.
By Joel Gregory
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: George Clooney, Anna Kendrick
Like the planes upon which the frequent flyers at its heart so frequently travel, Up in the Air rises and falls, at times reaching great heights but at others descending from its peaks of quality. It is, of course, a romantic comedy, and at times it does fall prey to the clichés and overly contrived emotional choreography which so often blights films within the genre. Yet this is a film which tries to do things slightly better and to offer slightly more and, pleasingly given such admirable intentions, manages to succeed. Not in a feat-of-human-endeavour Concorde manner, but the target destination is ably reached, even if there is some turbulence along the way.
Dispensing with the aeronautical similes momentarily, Up in the Air is ostensibly a simple character transformation piece. Ryan Bingham, portrayed with predictable charm by the ever-lovable Clooney, is an employment termination specialist (or some other similarly heartless title), employed by various companies and managers without the requisite stones to dispense with the services of their workers to do the dirty work for them. By espousing platitudes and distributing positivity packets Mr. Bingham attempts to soften the blow felt by the newly unemployed. Or, more accurately, protect the company’s liability and stop the more volatile redundants from making a scene. You say potato… The crucial impact of the job, however, is that which it has on the man who inhabits it. In order to can workers in Detroit on Monday, Portland Tuesday, Boston Wednesday – and so on ad nauseum – Ryan spends the majority of his time in the eponymous location. Problematic as this may be for some, our man revels in it. A vagrant of the skies, the lack of attachment and burden is liberating – so much so that he presents seminars extolling the virtues of his ‘philosophy’.
Such a seemingly selfish and uncaring character would ordinarily be one to whom it was hard to warm. But it’s a testament to the roundedness that the character is given by the writing, and the unforeseeable likeability he is given by his inhabitant, that at no point are negative emotions towards him stirred. Although perhaps one might be eager to ask why Ryan subscribes to his particular world view (for no substantial explanation is ever proffered), such opacity actually adds to the integrity of the construction. No attempt is made to boil down life’s myriad experiences and their cumulative effect into one poignant monologue or unfortunate back-story, and it is only via a naive and blinkered view of the world that one could thus conclude an unbelievability to Clooney’s character.
The man himself is, predictably, superb. The decline of the ‘movie star’ and the lack of ‘box office names’ in modern cinema is a more than well-trodden path – and a facile enough one to go down in the first place – but, whether or not such monikers can be attached to anyone currently taking their place on the big screen, there are few, if any, more watchable figures in the industry at present. It is perhaps the effortlessness of his performances which end up giving them their gravitas, and this is no exception. Though this is not a poor film made good by its central performance, it is a film whose quality would be greatly diminished were that performance not of such a high standard. Also deserving of mention for the quality of her turn is the confusingly attractive Anna Kendrick (you may not see it at first, but it’ll come). As a character who could have so easily slipped into intolerably annoying territory – the precocious and idealistic upstart in Bingham’s illusion-shattering industry – Kendrick manages to do a stellar job of rounding out the story’s intentions, while lending both comedic moments and a weight of meaning. And again, as with Clooney’s character, credit must be given to writer/director Reitman for the well-judged material.
There are, though, those moments of descent. Just as the film is amping up the quality and gathering momentum, the brakes of genre convention are applied and things begin to wobble. On two or three occasions the pacing slows jarringly and attempts to tug at the heartstrings are made in a blatant and unnecessary manner, to the detriment of the overall piece. It feels as though concessions are being made regarding the overall intent and execution of the movie, and, given that without these it could have truly flourished, they are deeply unfortunate. At no point is this truer than towards the dénouement, where things take an excruciatingly misguided turn. Yet at some stage during each of these nosedives the controls are righted and a recovery is made – and at no point is this truer than ever so slightly nearer that dénouement.
While there undeniably lies within it a parable about the importance of companionship, Up in the Air presents more than that simplistic tale. Issues about a transient existence, self-reliance and comfort, and the nature of life’s relationships are all raised. Admittedly the presentation of these things is not profound nor life-altering, but nor does it try to be. Important questions are simply proffered for consideration, but can be easily ignored should one choose to do so. If that unfortunate choice were made though, Up in the Air becomes little more than a middling romantic comedy, lifted by the quality of its performances. And while, due to the moments when it offers nothing more than exactly that, it doesn’t elevate itself totally out of sight from such a classification, it undoubtedly does enough to fly closer to the sun.