Toy Story 3 It’s been a remarkably strong few months in the cinema. I started to suspect that as I emerged from Toy Story, for my money the strongest entry in the series and quite possibly a goodbye to Pixar as we know it. (I never exercised my theory in the below review, but looking at the schedule – Cars 2 next, then splintering off into a mix of unnecessary sequelitis, unpromising fantasy fiilms and even live-action – it seems like the beloved company is undergoing something of a sea change, and that we stood, in the brief moment between Up and this, at their high watermark. It feels like that beautiful ‘wave speech’ from Fear & Loathing.) “Because Pixar have discovered the magical formula, now. The film consistently pulls on a visceral emotional response. Sometimes that’s laughter, or warm nostalgia. Sometimes it’s pure, big, colourful spectacle. Often it’s trying to make you cry.” The review is the second part of a double-feature. Keeping the original confusion alive, it’s probably best to read the Inception half first. Inception Inception consumed the public consciousness for a good month or so. It’s settled down now, but I suspect, if picked at, those wounds will prove easy to reopen. I talked about it at length, because it’s Inception and that’s just what you do, here. “It’s a film about films, just in the sense that it’s such a shining example of a film that understands films. Inception’s basic premise, and the early reveals, are based around the most obvious narrative cliche in the world: …and it was all a dream. The twist becomes not oh it was all a dream but rather, already knowing that’s in the deck, will they play that card? And where?” I would have liked to see it twice, in this year of double-dip cinema (Scott Pilgrim and Toy Story so far, undoubtedly going to see The Social Network again). My opinions never got tested, and I missed the chance to wail along with that score. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World The film I had to see twice: “The hits that it lands are truly triumphant, though. The thing that struck me most second time was the music. It’s brilliant, and brilliantly used, and Edgar Wright’s description of the film as a musical with punches rings really true.” It didn’t occur to me either time, but Scott Pilgrim is a pop-song of a film. Catchy bits get stuck in your head. It doesn’t necessarily make 100% sense, but when it catches you, and you’re dancing frantically in the moment, it’s all you need. And like any pop song, it needs to be heard more than once. Otherwise how would you know when to dance? The Expendables See, here’s the problem with The Expendables: I wanted it to be one thing, though I knew it would never be that thing. Given its unique selling point is ‘we have all the action stars’, I hoped for a reflection on the genre and its heroes. Whenever the film lagged (and during a lot of the dialogue-heavy segments, or the exposition stuff, it really lagged), I couldn’t help but figure out how that film would work. Jason Statham the representative of the Modern Action Hero, against the ridiculous colossi of Stallone & Schwarzenegger? Each character an amalgam of the characters that actor had played? I wanted something simultaenously less serious and more intelligent. A post-modern wink of an action film. What I got instead, though, was occasional brilliance. A feeling augmented by the company and mindset I saw it in : we were the people laughing hardest in the cinema, perhaps the only people. The violence is ridiculous, and set up like a well-told, but silly joke. The opening scene drags on too long, trying to pile on tension and real-world allusions. And then, BAM, the first shot is fired and a man is ripped in half, his torso flying across the screen followed by flowing red ribbons. The four of us laughed uncontrollable squealing, ribcage-rattling laughs. Crap dialogue. Rubbish attempts at emotion. Ultra-violence. It was the best comedy I’ve seen this year. When the lights went up, a couple sat in front of us turned round and smiled what I think was a sincere smile. The film that could have been… this was our only shot at it. And that beautiful, strange film can never exist. But I did get to see a man take another man’s head off with a throwing knife. Shrek Forever After Provider of undoubtedly the biggest face-palm moment of my blogging year, when I accidentally linked to the review in my Summer Without Games article (the most popular post this humble website’s ever had) instead of the intended Mario Galaxy, presumably confusing the hell out of hundreds of readers. Sorry guys! “Being honest, I didn’t really want to like Shrek Forever After, or Shrek The Final Chapter, or whatever the hell it’s calling itself. I’d heard bad things; I automatically mistrust franchises that stretch beyond trilogies, and I oppose Dreamworks’ animated films on principle. In return, Shrek did its very best to make this easy for me.” That’s how the review in question starts. The rest is here. Panique au Village Or, if I’m being a little less precious, A Town Called Panic. Absolutely the purest cinema experience I’ve had all year. Decided arbitrarily to go and see it based on a convenient showing time and use of the words ‘parachuting cows’ in the synopsis. It didn’t fail to live up to that promise. Full of wonky DIY inventiveness, the film is the greatest fountain of ideas I’ve experienced since Mario Galaxy 2. It’s lovingly, obviously crafted in that Aardman way: you can almost see the hands moving the little plastic indians and animals around the screen. The film’s a PG but I couldn’t help but feel like a naughty child who’d snuck into a grown-up’s screening: not quite knowing what they were seeing, but loving every […]
So this summer – now, as we lay it sadly down to rest, the past summer – was nominally The Summer of Scott. Or, if you’re fancying a really over-stretched pun on a rubbish song, The Summer of Scott-n-Knives*. The idea of Scott Pilgrim spread, with various success, into every medium I care about – or, at least, every medium I can write passably about – and every medium that was important to the source material. Comic book, film, videogame… It might seem a slight cheat to include music in that. It’s just a soundtrack. But, as I chatted up my review of the film, the music is key. It is, after all, a musical with punches in. The soundtrack has a weird Moebius-loop quality to it. Songs that inspired the Scott Pilgrim comics in the first place nonchalantly rub shoulders with songs from its fictional bands. There’s music you might recognise from those little playlists at the back of the books. There are songs that named characters. There are songs by those characters. The whole thing makes a perfect soundtrack to reading the comics all over again. Comics which are both the reason it exists. and which exist because some of these songs… Thinking too hard about it is like staring at the sun. So, in the grand tradition of Scott himself, let’s not think too hard and just have fun. Which is very, very easy. This is an album which features, after all, Plumtree’s Scott Pilgrim, a song which I spent all summer lusting over. Existing only as an easy way to get hold of that song, at party-friendly quality, would be enough. I’ve spent at least as much time listening to every other song as I have playing that on constant loop, however. The soundtrack comes off as an easy, assured mixtape. You couldn’t necessarily tell the fake songs from the real songs: possibly because they are drawn from the exact same musical lineage, and share at least one boundary-blurring talent (Miss Emily Haines, providing vocals on both on The Clash at Demonhead’s Black Sheep and Broken Social Scene’s Anthems for A Seventeen Year-Old Girl). There are songs I have absolutely no memory of being in the film, but feel right. They fit right into the film as it exists in my memory, a perfect flickering ideal playing in my head. More importantly, they fit perfectly into the album. As do the fictional songs. Having proved themselves in the film, here they get to be comfortable in their own habitat. The elevation of Scott’s being-rubbish-is-the-whole-point Ramona, into not only a catchy acoustic number but also a full-blown heartwrenching Beck song, is triumphant. Placing them one after the other on the soundtrack is just showing off. You could hand this to someone with no prior knowledge and, if you didn’t tell them it was a soundtrack, they probably wouldn’t know. There’s the odd talky bit (see: Crash & The Boys’ 0:13 opus I Am So Sad, So Very Very Sad) but, hey, Surfer Rosa had those too. It just gives a sense of inclusivity, and helps it all come off as a very comfortable mixtape. I’ve tried to avoid using the word ‘compilation’ throughout. That’s because of how heartfelt this feels, a million miles from being a Now That’s What I Call… collection of songs. It transcends being a soundtrack, even. But listening to this, partying to it in a living room with a huge Scott Pilgrim poster dominating one wall, makes me like the film more. *Yeah. I know. Sorry.
So, it’s the Summer of Scott. The comic’s final chapter dropped a few weeks ago, the movie hype machine crushes all in its path, and I’m addicted to the Plumtree song that gave Mr Pilgrim his name. So, I’ve reacted in that particularly Alex Spencer way, which is to think of four or five things I can write on the topic as the SoS (as absolutely no-one is calling it) unfolds. First, a simple review of Vol. 6, the final chapter. Or it would be, had I not decided two heads – two sexy, messy-haired heads – would be better than one and asked LookiMakeMusic‘s very own Miles ‘Davis’ Bradley. A perfect segue about me fighting through the last level of Mario Galaxy 2 is interrupted and wasted. The conversation is peppered with synchronicities, then talking over each other, then silence. But, hey, you’ve used IM before, you know the ropes. Spoilers of pretty much all of Scott Pilgrim follow. Also: some salty language, due to Miles being a very naughty man, and Scott Pilgrim being a bit of, no other word for it, a dick. A quick trim of the fat, a few bits added to make more sense/make me look better, and I present the results… Miles: Do you want to do some scene setting before we get going? Because I want the world to know that I am eating some really pretty bad “Hairy Bikers” brand lemon-flavoured crisps. And that directly to my right is a copy of Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and the new Stars record.Alex: I am on a family dining room table. I have just made some pretty frickin’ gourmet orange/pineapple squash.…So, Miles, which Scott Pilgrim character do you fancy most?Miles: I don’t know any more. Probably Ramona. But Knives has “come of age” in book six and is finally dressing like a human being, so that helps.Which Scott Pilgrim character do you fancy most post book six, Alex?Alex: Kim Pine. Obv. She is my grumpy freckled Dreamgirl.Miles: Ah, this was the first book where I liked Kim. And I’m not sure if that’s me. Or if it’s Kim getting nicer with age. But up until now I have hated, HATED, the fans who wanted Kim and Scott to end up together. After this one, I can certainly see where they were coming from.Alex: Interestingly, this was the first book I liked Knives (that much). Relevantly: “no longer a child in the eyes of the law”, right? That was the moment I started diggin’ on this bookMiles: I think mine: “J’Accuse – French”.Alex: Oh, that was brilliant, actually. Did you think this was a particularly funny book, as Scott Pilgrims go?Miles: Relevant: I had the longest and most serious relationship of my life break up a little while before the book came out and in the time between that and me reading it for the first time, I behaved somewhat poorly for a bit, so it’d be fair to say that the whole thing kind of emotionally beat the shit out of me. But in between the crying and “oh God, me too” moments, I laughed and giggled a LOT.I’d say it’s one of the funniest, if not the funniest.Alex: It’s definitely funnier than Vol. 5, aka ‘The One Where Everything Goes A Bit Wrong’.Miles: It’s important to be a dick sometimes so you can relate to popular works of narrative art.Alex: I think that was my only issue with Finest Hour, actually: I don’t have much relatable experience (5 being a lot closer to certain bones).Miles: See, your problem is you’ve never been a dick.Alex:I think Phonogram did all the ‘I have a cock/have been a cock’ lessons for me and made me, annoyingly, a better person before I got to notch up any experience in it.Miles: Whereas for me with the first series of Phonogram I was busy being virginal, yearny and theoretical and for the second series of Phonogram was I being happily monogamous and pleasant.[a moment of spooky synchronicity follows]Miles: So it turns out the entire series was a moralist lesson in being nice.Alex: So… Scott Pilgrim: is the pivotal message Don’t Be A Dick?Miles: Well, maybe. Or perhaps it’s more like: When you have been a dick, it is important to recognise you have been a dick and not run from it. Or, as the Dali Lama says, “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson”.Alex: Which is what makes Scott the good guy, and Gideon the baddie?Miles: In the end, yes. There’s been a fair bit of talk about the sympathetic/unsympatheticness of Scott in the build up to the film’s release. And it’s interesting to me how people react to him differently. And the running joke with the MemoryCam in book six adresses the matter in a manner that is laugh-out-loud funny but always followed by that moment of “Oh, yeah…” And you wonder if you should have cheering for this guy in those moments.Alex: (Memory Cam is the most perfect part of the book. Probably the series.) Miles: Although you know what I think the best gut-punch is? The end of the Scott/Envy exchange that very, very quickly cuts to the heart of the matter of the way that relationships end and the… I don’t know, the many different ways they are interpretted from the inside and out – “I remember you breaking my heart.” The feeling is somewhat mutual.” Having read everything leading up to that with Scott painting it as straightforward ‘Envy became terrible!’ that bit’s absolutely mind blowing in a quiet, sad wayAlex: You say different people react differently, right? So, for you, how is Scott?Miles: I think he means well, I think he’s perhaps a bit too… in thrall to pretty girls. He is a dick to Knives at the start, and The Lisa Miller Incident is… he does not look good. But I’d say that makes him human rather than actively a dick. A little oblivious, a […]
(If you’re not, ask to borrow it. Instead of reading this. I’ll wait for you to come back addicted…) It was the shiny cover that did it. I waited ages for my copy of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe (aka SP5), and when it finally came, I tore open the package to discover a land of shininess and awesome design. It promised so much, after the pure joy of Gets It Together (that’s SP4). Nothing had warned me about the cover, which was already bringing back the joy of discovering an all-new shiny in your Pokemon card booster pack. I admit that I hoped a little that it was only mine that had it, as a special gift for being so patient and awesome. I was ready to revel in all that freshly-discovered love as it accelerated towards some infinite joysphere.On the other side of the book, I am in a world of emptiness. When I reread the series to prepare for SP5, I began to place it in Comics History- the current movement, led by Morrison and Fraction, that seems to be moving away from the early ’00s tendency towards what Morrison called “a showcase …that they can actually write convincing TV and movie scripts”. And embracing the colourful Pop Insanity comics do so well. (Or, as he puts it: “the raw and the primitive and the ‘who gives a fuck, this is the shit!’ element”, in a surprisingly good IGN interview.) Scott Pilgrim is a character defined by the fact that things do work out for him. He exists, pretty much, in his own world, but the world he’s placed in works for him too. He gets all sorts of stuff thrown at him but, like Kim says: C’mon, it’s Scott Pilgrim. And maybe it’s a fantasy, but the same rules, generally, seem to exert themselves on my life. The morning before I got down to reading SP5, a friend reminded of my ability to luck out on stuff. Which just meant the bad times hit more personally. Up till now the classic story’s played on, boy meets girl, beats baddies (and has at least a couple of times in his lifetime) because that’s just how he rolls. But 5 throws a whole batch of stuff at him, for a whole book- the title should’ve warned me: Scott vs the Universe, Ramona’s face should have warned me. But I was too busy looking at the darned shininess of that cover. As it stands, this is definitely the Empire Strikes Back episode of Spaced. Which makes me appreciate the serialised format. As a person, I tend towards discrete chunks of culture: I watch TV on DVD so I can just jump straight to the next episode, I don’t like picking up comics I know will never end. I like albums. So maybe I’m a little spoilt. Film can throw all the misery it likes at you but, presuming there’s a happy ending, it’s never more than 2 hours away.I finished the book and sat around, feeling a little empty, waiting for the next book to arrive and make it all better. Then remembered, it won’t be in my life for a whole year at least. So, somewhere out there, Scott Pilgrim’s stuck in a limbo of misery. And the only way I can rescue him is by reading the next book. COME ON SCOTT PILGRIM 6! (The next thing I did, instead, to fill that hole, was read the awesome articles on it here, by Kieron Gillen and especially here, at Savage Critics. That also inspired another thought, which I might get round to today…)