#120 - A Face In The Crowd
1926 - 2010
Hi gang. First of all, I apologize for the long gap between postings here at the Electric Theatre. I’ve been busily chipping away at a number of other projects these past few weeks and haven’t had much opportunity to head out to my local Octoplex. Secondly, a few of you have contacted me to ask if they somehow overlooked my review of Inception. You haven’t. I saw it and enjoyed it but at this point, I don’t really have anything fresh to add to the debate. It’s a good flick and you should check it out and talk amongst yourselves. End of review.
NOW IN THEATRES
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Edgar Wright is one of the most interesting and exciting filmmakers to emerge in the last decade. His movies are ambitious, multi-layered and, above all, wildly entertaining. Wright’s name in the credits guarantees that I will buy a ticket to that movie, no matter what the subject matter. And I say that despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that Wright’s latest, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, simply did not work for me.
Based on a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley (that, I’m ashamed to admit, have been sitting unread on my shelf for about two years now), the movie casts Michael Cera as Scott, the insecure but sweet bass player in a band called Sex Bob-Omb not unlike the many other insecure but sweet characters Cera has played. As the movie begins, Scott’s dating high-schooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). But he soon falls head over heels for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). To be with Ramona, Scott must defeat her seven evil exes in a series of increasingly outlandish and inventive video game-style battles. It’s never entirely clear why he has to do this in the first place but hey, I’ll play along.
My biggest problem with the movie is that I didn’t care about any of these characters or their problems. At first, I thought this might be a generational difference. After all, I’m at the age where dating a high school girl isn’t merely embarrassing, it’s a felony. But every actor in the sprawling cast delivers a performance like one of Scott’s droning bass riffs. They’re given one note to play and they hit it over and over again. Some of these are amusing in spite of this. I quite liked Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate, Wallace, and Brandon Routh is genuinely funny as Ramona’s vegan ex-boyfriend Todd. But Scott himself comes across as a spineless, whiny little twerp and Ramona is a cipher. Because you can’t figure out what these two see in each other, you don’t really care if Scott wins or loses.
Wright invests all this with dizzying comic book and video game inspired imagery which is fun…at first. But it all goes on far too long and reminded me why I don’t play video games anymore. Today’s games have both too much going on and not enough. They bombard you with sights and sounds and provide a whirlwind of options to control your character but at the end of the day, they’re still just games. They require too much effort for too little reward. And that is essentially how I felt about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. It certainly isn’t a bad movie and I can understand how someone who’s more interested in games and/or young love would respond to it much more favorably than I did. Throughout the film, I was constantly reminded of Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary, another romantic comedy/fantasy that I thought hit all the wrong notes and left me cold. I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim more than that one but both movies struck me as being aimed squarely at an audience that I was clearly not a part of. If you’re a member of that group, have a great time. As for me, I’ll be waiting for Edgar Wright’s next picture and hoping that this time, I can join the fun, too. (* * ½)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
At first glance, Gela Babluani’s 2005 feature debut 13 Tzameti looks like just another low-budget crime thriller. Shot in grainy black-and-white, the movie takes its time establishing its neo-noir atmosphere. It’s engaging enough but after awhile, you might start to feel like you know where the story’s heading. You will probably be wrong.
George Babluani stars as Sebastien, a contractor hired by a sick old man and his wife to repair their dilapidated old house. Sebastien overhears snippets of conversation leading him to believe the man is involved in criminal activities of some kind or another. Ultimately, the old man receives a letter with instructions and a train ticket but dies before he’s able to fulfill them. Out of a job and unpaid for the work he’s already done, Sebastien decides to take his place, perhaps assuming he’ll be involved in a robbery or a drug deal or something. The truth, while definitely illegal, is much more bizarre and dangerous than he could have possibly imagined.
Gela Babluani has come up with a dark, deviously twisted story and tells it with confidence and style. It’s a classic Hitchcockian premise that sets you up for a wrong-man story of mistaken identity. But Babluani veers off that course once Sebastien arrives at his destination. Suddenly the movie ratchets up the suspense and claustrophobia, almost to the point of becoming a horror film. It’s to Babluani’s credit as both writer and director that this sudden shifting of gears doesn’t feel unnatural. In lesser hands, 13 Tzameti might feel like two different movies uneasily stitched together. Instead, it’s the natural culmination of the dread that’s been building from the very beginning.
To the surprise of virtually nobody these days, 13 Tzameti has been given the English-language remake treatment with the upcoming 13. Although the star power has been kicked up several notches with Jason Statham, Alexander Skarsgard, Mickey Rourke, and others, Babluani directed the remake himself. It might not be bad but check out the French original beforehand. A story like this doesn’t need big names or a bloated budget. If anything, the black-and-white, no-frills atmosphere gives it an extra kick that’ll get lost in translation. (* * *)
Thanks to Murray Stevens for this week’s TFTQ recommendation! As always, if you have a particular favorite that’s been ill-used or under-seen, I want to hear about it. Drop me an email or fan up with Jahnke’s Electric Theater on Facebook. A splendid time is guaranteed for all!