Weekend Roundup: Rockin’ w/ Scott Pilgrim and Getting all Tangled up

Happy Monday! Hope y’all enjoyed a wonderful April Fools Weekend and nobody pulled a prank on ya. It felt quite Spring-y over the weekend but today it’s back to parka-weather with rain and high winds 😦

Just a quick box office news, looks like Hop was a heapin’ success for Universal this weekend with $38 million and despite its stellar review, the Jake Gyllenhaal sci-fi actioner Source Code only managed to rake up $15 mil to come in second (per The Numbers). Well, there still isn’t anything worth seeing at the cinema after I last saw Jane Eyre, but there are a few recent releases I’ve missed so it’s always nice to catch up on those. After watching quite a dark-themed movie last week (Constantine), we opted for something decidedly lighter this time.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott & Ramona and the seven evil exes

I’ve blogged about this movie a while ago when this movie was sort of trampled by Expendables vs Eat, Pray Love at the box office back in August 2010. And lots of people offered a theory why it flopped — it only made about half of its $60 million budget domestically — when I talked about chameleon vs. perpetually-cast actors post.

The primary reason I was even interested to see this movie is because of director Edgar Wright, who frequently is part of the British comedy trio with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and just like those two, this one was also well-received critically. And guess what, it really was entertaining!

Here’s the gist: Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), is 23-year-old bass guitarist in an up-and-coming garage rock band who fell head over heels in love the second he laid eyes on a girl with colorful hair named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Ramona reciprocated despite her initial hesitation, but in order to date her, Scott must defeat the league of her seven evil exes who are in control of her love life.

The story is based on a graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley which I’ve never read, but I must say watching the movie is like seeing the comic book comes to live. Wright’s direction is inventive and fun, utilizing the multiple panels style just like the comic strip and have the words from the comic book being projected on screen, depicting the ‘fantasy’ realm the characters inhabit. Unlike in real life, no matter how hard the people are punched or how far they fall down from the air, they never get hurt. When they perish, they just burst into a confetti of pennies in the air. The fight scenes are all fun to watch but at the same time it makes it hard to really connect and empathize with the characters as they never really seem to be in peril.

But for a movie that’s seemingly more style over substance, I thought the script is pretty good, it’s full of witty and funny dialog that’s pretty engaging throughout. I particularly enjoyed the fight scenes between Pilgrim and Chris ‘Captain America’ Evans, Brandon ‘Superman’ Routh and indie-darling Jason Schwartzman, which are the more well-known actors playing the evil exes. All of the actors inhabit their characters really well, and though I think Cera should branch out more acting-wise, this is definitely the kind of role he’s best at and Wright makes the most of it. Winstead is beautiful and is worthy of the affection of seemingly every guy she meets, but she doesn’t come across very sympathetic nor expressive, so it’s a bit tough to warm up to her character.

Just one of the electrifying fight sequences

Despite the dazzling visuals though, in the end I got a bit of a video-game fatigue from watching all of the crazy fight scenes, but clearly I’m not the intended target market for this. The music especially isn’t my thing outside of the context of the movie and the quirkiness also wears out after a while which makes me doubt about the movie’s lasting appeal compared to previous Edgar Wright’s movies. ‘An epic of epic epicness?’ Hmmm, not quite. But for a Friday night entertainment, it was a rockin’ good time.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Tangled

Seems to me that the movies that have been such absolute delight to watch have been animated features. Two of last year’s top five favorite movies were both from that genre and it probably will be so again this year, including this one from Disney. Now, I grew up with Disney Princesses flicks so naturally I’m a sucker for a film like Tangled. Yet for whatever reason, I didn’t get to see this on the big screen, which I really regret now. We actually bought tickets for them last Fall but ended up seeing The Social Network instead which were playing a bit earlier next door. In any case, I’m glad I finally did. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this movie!!

Tangled‘s got everything you’d expect from a fairy tale movie. Obviously you’ve got the Princess, the dashing Prince-like love interest, the evil motherly figure, the quirky townsfolk and of course, the expansive castle. Originally titled Rapunzel, it’s based on the classic German fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm of a magically long-maned Princess who’s locked in a tower by her wicked, selfish ‘mother.’ Disney apparently changed the title to be more appealing to boys who might be deterred from seeing a Princess flick (per Wikipedia). They also argued that Rapunzel isn’t the only main character in the film, as Flynn Rider is also featured prominently in the film. Instead of a traditional prince, Rider is a thief on the run who stumbled upon her and inadvertently changed her world forever.


Whether or not the title-switch tactic worked, this one was a real winner for Disney. It’s grossed more than half a billion dollars worldwide, more than double the cost to make. Yep, Tangled cost $260 million to produce, perhaps a lot of it goes to the 3D rendering, and it shows. The Wiki article mentioned that the filmmakers combined ‘the best of both worlds’ of CGI technology and traditional hand-drawn animation Disney’s famous for and the result is impressive. This is by far one of the most picturesque and colorful animated features I’ve ever seen and the animation is smooth and seamless. I really was in awe of how gorgeous every scene is, with the night scene of the two main characters on a boat surrounded by lanterns. It was nothing short of magical.

This Princess flick has come a long way from the classics as far as the character goes. Rapunzel is a heck of a lot more assertive and strong but never losing her naivete and vulnerability. She’s bubbly and vivacious but not dim-witted. Her interaction with Flynn from the moment they met is endearing right from the start, but it’s refreshing to see that she’s not immediately swooning over the guy despite he’s the first one she’s ever met. Flynn is the typical charming bad boy, self-seeking at first but finds his heart over time. Voiced by Mandy Moore and Chuck‘s Zachary Levi, it’s a lovely combination that’s supported by an equally wonderful supporting cast. In fact, the two non-talking animal characters, Maximus the horse and Pascal the little chameleon are such lovable and memorable creatures, while Tony-award-winning Donna Murphy is excellent in the voice role of villainous Mother Gothel.

As with any Disney’s works, especially when 8-time-Oscar-winner Alan Menken is involved, the music is one of the best part of the movie. All the musical segments are lively and just pleasing to the ear, with I See The Light as my absolute favorite, it was such a lovely duet. The lantern scene when the song appears is my favorite as well, yes it’s on the schmaltzy side but you’d be hard pressed to deny its charm.

Tangled’s plot reminds me a bit of Little Mermaid (a girl longing for freedom and Pascal is like the new Sebastian) and part of Sleeping Beauty (she’s separated from her parents all her life), but yet it’s still a pretty unique story that kept me laughing and crying throughout. I also like the fact that Disney keeps this one pretty clean and wholesome, as a lot of animated features these days are filled with crude jokes and inappropriate innuendos. By the end I was totally enamored by this movie and the Blu-ray is now on its way from Amazon 🙂 Disney still reigns when it comes to romantic animated features and this one is definitely a keeper for years to come.

5 out of 5 reels

Well, what movie(s) did you manage to see this weekend? If you’ve seen either one of the movies above, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them as well.

Random Thoughts: The Chameleon vs. Perpetually-Typecast Actors

Well, clearly we have winner on the movie battle of the muscled men vs. Julia + her men vs. a nerd boy hero. The Expendables exploded at the box office with $35 million, with Eat, Pray, Love came out in a distant second with about 10 million less. I guess Sly’s gamble paid off, it could’ve easily gone completely the other way. Well, whilst Sly and Julia are going ka-ching, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim only came up at 5th place with a dismal $10 million. That’s a long ways away from its $60+ production budget, yikes!

The movie’s not on my radar until its marketing was kicked into high gear and suddenly it’s everywhere. Sounds like an original concept and even the critics embraced it, but why did it tank despite all the hype at ComicCon? HitFix had a long analysis as to what possibly went wrong, and at the top of the list is the lead actor: Michael Cera. Perhaps he just wasn’t ‘likable’ enough to audiences or as Julian observed from an Entertainment Weekly’s article comments section, it’s that perhaps people are tired of seeing him in a string of repetitive roles (as this article also suggests). Now, I haven’t seen enough any of his movies to offer an insight on that topic, but it brings up an interesting notion. This morning a local radio DJ mentioned a list of Terminally Typecast Actors, she didn’t say where the list is from, but it sounds a whole lot like this one. Well, guess who’s at the top of that list?

Ciaran Hinds as Julius Caesar in HBO's ROME

Obviously such lists are extremely debatable, I mean this one from ScreenJunkies even included beloved thespians the likes of Pacino and De Niro. I for one wouldn’t dispute such picks, but I know a bunch of people would. I guess when it comes to actors, consistency isn’t always such a virtue. It’s not like a restaurant where we expect our favorite food to be cooked the same way every time we go there. We don’t want our Pad Thai or what have you to suddenly be super spicy one day and utterly bland the next. But with actors, though we expect a consistent quality of performance, we generally want to see Actor A brings out a different set of characteristics from role to role. We want to see him/her be all bad ass in one movie, but then vulnerable and despondent the next. My friend Becky were talking about Irish character actor Ciaran Hinds the other day as she has just seen Persuasion. I bet most of you have seen the Irish actor in several movies, but don’t realize right away who he is. Those are the chameleons who ‘disappear’ into any roles. For me, those that fit into such category are Gary Oldman, Cate Blanchett, Edward Norton, Sam Rockwell, the list goes on…

Mark Strong as a Jordanian Prince in Body of Lies

Yet, there are actors who consistently deliver great performances playing a certain type of roles. One thing that came to mind right now is Mark Strong. He’s a great actor, but he’s become everyone’s favorite villain and by his own admission, he actually likes playing bad guys. When someone asked him, “Are you stuck in the villain roles?” He said, “Absolutely not. Swap the word ‘stuck’ for ‘enjoying.’ I’m enjoying them because they give me leeway to make them all different.” And it doesn’t even have to be a certain role category, it could be more of the essence of a character, i.e. tortured soul type or the brooding anti-hero. There are a certain set of actors that we prefer playing such roles because they do them very, very well. To me that would be Christian Bale, Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Day-Lewis, etc. Just to clarify, by no means do I suggest that these three actors are in the same category as those who play ‘repetitive’ roles. In fact, they’re proven to be adept at showcasing their range even if some of the roles they play share similar personalities.

So in that sense, ‘typecast’ doesn’t sound so bad. There’s nothing wrong with putting a fresh spin to a ‘classic’ role. I think as long as Actor A can still bring something new to the table even if the character is essentially the same, I don’t mind it so much.

Well, what do y’all think? Would love to hear your take on the topic… or perhaps you have your own theory why Scott Pilgrim bombed.