THE BEST FILMS OF 2013 or THE 2013 HOWIES


2013 started out strong for me when it came to films, but then took a downward turn, almost a kamikaze spiral, during the central months.  It then picked up again as the year came to a close, mainly because the major releases by studios and major independents didn’t crash and burn like a parade of Hindenburgs as they often do as December nears.
So what I thought was going to come up a cropper and end up being a disappointing year of film turned out to be a better one than last and, well, not totally unsatisfying.
With that, here are my top picks of the year.
For more information on each film, see my reviews.
BEST FILM-Top Ten
REALITY

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BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR and SAL



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Oh, to be young again.  To be that age when you had no idea what anything meant.  Where you had no control over your emotions.  Where you didn’t know the difference between love and lust, or if there was one, or if you cared.  Where every day was full of the pain and awkwardness of trying to navigate where you fit into the world.   I hated every single, tortuous, tension-filled moment of it.  And I would give anything, anything, to return to those halcyon days of innocence.
That is what I was thinking as I was watching the intensely tense movie that everyone, just everyone, is talking about, the latest Cannes award winner, Blue is the Warmest Color (or The Life of Adele, Chapters 1 & 2—and if you’re not talking about it, what’s wrong with you).  And what an experiment in intensity it is.  Blue… is so intense (how intense it is?), it makes Gravity look like a “you must be this small to ride this ride” at Disneyland ride (which it may soon be, for all I know).  It’s so intense, it leaves you exhausted at the fin at the end (it is French, you know, and oh, how Francé it is).  It’s so intense, I’m not sure I ever want to see it again. 
Blue… is written by Ghalia Lacroix and Abdellatif Kechiche, who also directed (they are long time collaborators, most recently Black Venus and The Secret of the Grain).  The movie is adapted from a popular graphic novel by Julie Maroh.   Its story is, in many ways, simplicity itself: girl meets girl, girl loses girl, girl…well, I won’t spoil the ending.  But the emotions displayed, the emotional rollercoaster ride, the rawness of it all (including, yes, those fifteen minutes of incredibly, just this side of, graphic sex—the women were wearing fake genitalia, after all—sorry guys, that’s probably a bigger spoiler than if I had shared the ending), are anything but.
Adele, the lead, is a baby dyke still in high school who doesn’t quite know why something is missing from her life.  She is played by Adele (coincidence or not, you be the judge) Exarchopoulos with the pouty lips of a Bridgette Bardot and a wisp of unruly hair constantly falling in front of her face.  Lea Seydoux is Emma, the more “tomboyish” of the two, an older (well, slightly older, four years maybe) woman struggling to be an artist.  They first see one another on the street as they casually pass by (their turning to look at each other reflecting an event in a book Adele is reading for literature class—the cultural references are both a tad heavy handed while making one wonder why school over there is so much more challenging than here).   At first destined to become ships that pass in broad daylight, they meet up again at a bar and it’s not long before all the fireworks that Hitchcock used in To Catch a Thief and David Lean used in Summertime are going off overtime.  
Both actresses are scarily superb.  I don’t know how the two and the director did it (and based on the scandalous reporting that has come out afterwards, I’m not sure I want to), but working together, the three have reached depths you will probably not see in another movie this year.
Blue… is not for everyone, and I don’t just mean because of the realistic portrayal of gay sex between women.  One of the main characteristics of director Kechiche is a certain, well… leisureliness to it all.  Let’s just say that here, as in the movie The Secret of the Grain, he is not in a hurry, to say the least.  But that’s not automatically a bad thing (unless you think Pacific Rim is a great work of art).  Kechiche’s scenes are like movements in a Beethoven symphony, which also go on too long until they reach a point where you desperately wish they would never stop.   And like said movements, Blue…’s scenes go on until you start asking yourself, will this never end, then continue on for so long until you start hoping they never reach a coda.
And it’s a style that leads to such incredible set pieces as a dinner party thrown by Adele for Emma and Emma’s friends.  The scene takes forever to run its course.  But as it goes on, in ways deep and weather sharp, in both subtle and marvelous ways, the darkness creeps in as you realize that the days of this relationship are numbered.  It’s maddening, but moving.  It’s long, but tense and powerful.  Until the whole movie seems that way, a long, drawn out, slow moving microscopic examination of first love that you finally wish would never end.
One of the best pictures of the year.  Not recommended you see it with your mother.
I could not believe what I found out while doing research on the new movie Sal (research, hah—I looked it up on IMDB—so shoot me).  There are five credits for the screenplay (one for a book, four for story, and then one of those, Stacey Miller, for the screenplay itself).  Five credits.  Five.  The reason I’m throwing such a hissy fit over this is because—Sal has no real story and has an almost worthless screenplay.  And it took five people to not come up with it? 
Sal is a last day in the life of story, this time about the actor Sal Mineo, most famous now for his break out (and Oscar nominated) performance in Rebel Without A Cause.  The story (and I say that trying not to FOTFLOL without stopping) starts with a dinner the night before; then begins proper with his waking up the following morning; follows him during the day (including three or more car rides in which for some reason he always listens to the exact same song over and over again—it’s unclear whether this is because the song means something or the producers just didn’t have enough money to pay for the rights to another tune); spends a bit of time at the rehearsal for a production of the play P.S. Your Cat is Dead with 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Keir Dullea; until his arrival home that night and his death at the hands of a mugger.  
It’s uneventful and pointless (and takes forever to be so).  Even worse, it’s just plain boring.  And after it was over, I still had absolutely no idea why anyone wanted to make this movie or thought that Mineo’s last day would be interesting in and of itself.   The only real message I took from it was that his death at least saved the world from what appeared to be a perfectly dreadful production of a perfectly mediocre play co-starring a perfectly less than mediocre actor (and I’m not referring to Mineo). 
Sal is played by Val Lauren, and though his has the same doe-eyes of innocence as Mineo, he just never remotely seems to resemble that waif-like star.   Even in one of Mineo’s last performances (in the TV series Columbo), and all those years had passed, he seemed barely changed from the wispy, shy teen John “Plato” Crawford in Rebel….  Yet Lauren’s interpretation almost made me think he had never even seen Mineo before (and the film including a scene from Rebel… at the end of the movie doesn’t help the matter of comparison either). 
It’s directed by James Franco (yes, the actor James Franco, and based on this movie, he shouldn’t quit his day job).  And if you thought Kechiche was leisurely, he’s Michael Bay in comparison to Franco’s approach.  Of course, since there’s no story, there’s not a lot to work with.  At the same time, Franco’s also one of the people who gets credited with the story, so he really has no one to blame but himself.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Jim Bishop, a historian, wrote a series of books that followed the last day of a notable figure, including The Day Lincoln Was Shot, The Day Christ Died and The Day Kennedy Was Shot.  The books were extremely detailed, focusing on such mundane issues as what the figure would have had for breakfast.  The books may not have been great literature, but they were great reads.  I thought of those books as I was watching this movie, wondering whether Miller and Franco were trying to do the same thing.  Maybe, maybe not.  But if so, for some reason (possibly due to the importance of the person involved), knowing what Lincoln ate for his first meal of the day had a bigger emotional impact on me than watching Lauren chug milk from a bottle and orange juice from a carton.   And maybe that is where the movie began going wrong.

YOU WILL BE MY SON, THANKS FOR SHARING and A SINGLE SHOT



You Will Be My Son revolves around a father (played by The Prophet and The Beat that My Heart Skipped’s Niels Arestrup, France’s Edward G. Robinson) who owns a vineyard that has a history and reputation second to few, and his son (played by Lorant Deutsch) who the father doesn’t love because the son just doesn’t have it in him to be the face of the wine company.    At first, the movie feels as if it’s going to be one of those been there/done that father/son dysfunctional stories that always seem to have more meaning for the filmmakers than the audience (and often makes me run screaming from the theater).  Because of this, the first third is a little hard going.
But then Paul, the father, does something.  When the manager of the estate is given six months to live, Paul goes behind his back and tells the manager’s son, shoe fetishist Philippe (who works at Francis Ford Coppola’s vineyard in the U.S.), and Philippe immediately flies back (about the only person who is perhaps portrayed here as meaner than Paul is Coppola himself whose winery won’t give Philippe time off to visit his dying father and fires him when he decides to go anyway—I’m not sure I really bought it, but it was kinda fun watching the French stick it to the U.S. in such a sneaky, underhanded way).  At this point, it becomes clear what the movie is going to be about (though it might help to know a little about French inheritance laws) and the nastiness begins, as does all the real enjoyment.
The screenplay by director Gilles Legrand (mainly known over here as a producer, including such films as Micmacs, The Widow of Saint-Pierre and  Ridicule), Laure Gasparotto and Delphine de Vigan could have used a touch more Douglas Sirk melodrama (it’s all a bit too subtle at times) and I’m not convinced that Deutsch was the best choice for the wimpy son (I mean, he’s such a drama queen one finally begins to sympathize with the father—that might have been the point, but Legrand doesn’t quite pull it off as far as I’m concerned).   But it’s set against some of the loveliest French countryside you’ll see in some time and Arestrup and Patrick (La lectrice) Chesnais (as the manager) are first rate.
Overall, a very neat, effective and perverse little family melodrama with quite a few twists and turns that is highly satisfactory.   See it with your first born.
Thanks For Sharing is a movie about sex addiction that only wants to cuddle.  I’m not sure I see the point.  It revolves around three men (Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and Josh Gad) who are all in the same support group and whose stories unwind in just about the formulaic way you think they will.   Everyone is very sincere and works very hard and the three leads, along with the significant others in their lives (Gwyneth Paltrow, Pink and Joely Richardson), say their lines as if they were written by Oscar Wilde (it wasn’t—screenplay by director Stuart Blumberg and Matt Winston—Blumberg also wrote that other Mark Ruffalo starrer, The Kids Are All Right—I’m not convinced this is a step forward).  But no matter how sincere everyone is, nothing can hide the fact that the whole thing is rather routine, bland and boring.  It’s the sort of movie about addiction that actually makes you want to go out and have a drink.
A Single Shot is one of those movies about someone finding either drugs or money and what happens as a result.  Movies like this (A Simple Plan, Shallow Grave) are usually described as movies that do absolutely nothing, but do it very, very well.  A Single Shot, unfortunately, with all its strengths, only manages to do it somewhat well. 
But those strengths are often quite remarkable.  Director David M. Rosenthal and writer Matthew F. Jones have created an incredibly convincing small town mountain world where everyone knows everybody.  The daily details of this minor municipality have an incredibly realistic feel to them.  And both Rosenthal and Jones create a strong mood of despair: it never seems to do anything but rain and no matter how much wide shot country is shown, it all feels very claustrophobic.  
The movie stars Sam Rockwell and he, along with the rest of the cast (William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright, Kelly Reilly, Melissa Leo, Ted Levine and Jason Isaacs), give remarkable performances.  Almost no one is recognizable behind their scruffy beards; weather beaten, lived in looks; and less than Walmart quality clothes.  And they all sport accents so convincing, there is many a time when you can’t understand a word they’re saying, which is too bad, because Jones has given all the characters often strikingly beautiful lines full of local color, equipped with full blooded colloquialisms and figures of speech. 
In the end, the story never really quite comes together in a satisfyingly dramatic whole.  Part of this may be because the set up and execution is pretty familiar with a plot that’s not particularly clever.  And it’s a little hard to empathize with Rockwell’s character, as well as he plays him, because he never seems to be as stupid as he acts with this new found money (it’s a bit difficult to believe he doesn’t know he won’t attract attention by suddenly flouting hundred dollar bills around).  And the menace to the characters involved often seems just a bit too vague; in fact, the middle section feels a little slow in going anywhere.
But one could do far, far worse.  One could go see Prisoners.

PRISONERS



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For the 2011 Oscars, Canadian director Denis Villenvue’s film Incendies (a puzzle film about twin brother and sister who find out they are closer to their unknown father and brother than they thought) was nominated for best foreign language film.  In punishment for his sins, Villenvue was given the movie Prisoners to make.  
Actually, I don’t know if this is accurate or not.  As far as I really know, this was Villenvue’s pet project from beginning to end.  But it sure feels like proof of that anecdote by Michael Haneke who came to the U.S. and was presented with a screenplay so outside his purview, he asked (and I paraphrase), “Is this what Hollywood is?  You come here and they just give you whatever screenplay they have lying around in a drawer” (a viewpoint that seemed proven as far as I was concerned when the dynamic Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park was given the embarrassing screenplay of Stoker to make). 
There is one good scene in Prisoners, a routine thriller about child abduction written by relatively newcomer Aaron Guzikowski.  It comes early on with Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki (Loki?  Okay, sure, why not) interacting with a waitress at a Chinese restaurant.  They talk about animal signs and fortune cookies and it has nothing to do with anything, but it is witty and fun.  But after that (and before that as well), everything goes downhill rather quickly.  It plays with religious imagery, but that all feels clichéd and under dramatized.  And the movie brings nothing new to the genre, seeming to have no real purpose for existence, even the purpose of a movie that does nothing, but does it very, very well.
Prisoners is a one note film.  It starts at a relatively high point of tension (even before anything happens) and pretty much stays there the whole time.  Everyone seems so angry in the film.  Hugh Jackman, trying a bit too hard to play against type as everyman working class father Dover, feels angry from the opening shot (both literally and figuratively, but you’ll have to see the movie to get the pun).   And the scenes with Loki at the police station are so filled with furious confrontation, it feels like an episode of Law & Order: SVU (I never knew how anyone could stand working with anyone in that show, they were all so unprofessionally mean to each other).  Even the weather is angry; it’s always overcast, raining or snowing.  And when there’s no place for anyone to go, when they do go there, it tends to become camp, over the top and unintentionally funny.
There’s only one really effective performance in the move and that is Wayne Duvall as the Captain at Loki’s precinct.  He’s one of those, I know I’ve seen him a million times before, though I can’t quite place where, actor.  And he is spot on.  But everyone else, Jackman, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, the unrecognizable Melissa Leo and Len Cariou (or maybe I just didn’t want to recognize them), and the unfortunately recognizable Paul Dano, just can’t do much with what they’re given.  At least Mario Bello, as Dover’s wife, is lucky enough to have a character so traumatized she takes sleeping pills and is out for most of the film.
Because I and my friends could never become emotionally involved in the movie (though our eyebrows got plenty of exercise as we rolled them over and over again), all that was left for us was to wait, and wait…and wait, until we find out who did it.  And because we could never become emotionally involved, all we did afterwards was pick apart the plot (a highly convoluted one by the time it’s over, a bit too clever perhaps than was necessary, but it did seem to hold together).  If we had been riveted by what was going on and so involved with the characters and what they were going through, we probably wouldn’t have cared about the details so much (especially a particularly hysterical one at the end where Loki has the choice of calling 911 for help or speeding to get a little girl to a hospital down a crowded freeway during a deluge of a rainstorm while in danger of blacking out from being shot—guess which one he chooses?).   
I do hope that as far as Villenvue is concerned, this was a take the money and run movie and that he’ll next return to his roots and make something that means something to him and not to some producer’s profit sheet.  We can only hope.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES, THE WOLVERINE and WASTELAND



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I hate to say it.  It’s so snarky and such a cliché and I hate it when I hear someone else say something like it, but I simply don’t know a better way to phrase it: Only God Forgives is the sort of movie a filmmaker makes when he starts believing his own press.  In other words, it’s a film that shows incredible talent on the part of its director Nicolas Winding Refn (who also wrote the screenplay), but is so showy, ostentatious, gaudy and florid, calling attention to how brilliant the filmmaker thinks he is, that it  becomes impenetrable as it drowns in its own pretentiousness.  One just stares at the screen trying to figure out what everyone was thinking while you’re thinking to yourself, “I’m sure it means something to the filmmakers, but hell if I can make heads or tells of it”.
This is too bad, I mean, really too bad, because Refn is the wunderkind from Denmark who made his name with the Pusher trilogy (which I haven’t seen) and used the notoriety of those films to come to the U.S. to make Drive, that glorious neo-noir about a stunt driver by day, get away driver by night, who finds himself conflicted when he falls for his neighbor who has a little boy as well as a husband in jail.   That movie was a controlled, tension filled character study with a real page turner of a story.  In contrast, Only God Forgives moves at a snail’s pace with a story made up of beautiful sets filled with people who often sit or stand immobile looking like mannequins, all filmed within an inch of its listless life (the stunning cinematography is by Larry Smith)—it’s as if Macy’s windows were designed by Chan-wook Park or Kar Wai Wong.
The basic story revolves around an American with mommy issues who runs a boxing gym in Bangkok.  When the American’s psychotic brother rapes and kills a sixteen year old prostitute, a fascistic, but righteous, police detective uses very righteous and fascistic means to restore order by manipulating the prostitute’s father/pimp into killing the brother.  When the American finds out what his brother did, he lets the father go.  But then the American’s mother comes to town ahead of an expected drug delivery and she wants vengeance.
Ryan Gosling plays the American, and like many of his other roles, he’s probably a bit too metrosexual for the part (he speaks so little so that whenever he does, his tinny voice seems a bit out of place).  In the end, it’s Kirsten Scott Thomas as the mother, in wicked Babs Stanwyck blonde tresses, and Vithaya Pansringar, as the righteous police detective with a karaoke fetish, who deliver the most effective performances (Thomas also has the best line; when she finds out what her son did to the prostitute, she says, “Well, I’m sure he had his reasons”).  
Much has been made of the violence in the movie and it’s there, for sure, but it’s nothing that out of the ordinary for this sort of film and I’m not sure what everyone is so upset about.  At the same time, IMHO there is some hypocrisy here.  It’s obvious that Thomas has more going on in her relationship with her sons than simply expecting a card on mother’s day.  But while Refn has no problem throwing gallons of blood around the sets, he seems to balk at showing incest.  I’m not convinced the movie is as brave as Refn may think it is.  Even White Heat with James Cagney was more daring in this area.
In the end, Refn has nobody to blame but himself for how it all turned out.  He is the director and the writer after all, so it’s a little hard to find another fall guy.  But it might be interesting to take note: for the first film in the Pusher trilogy, he co-wrote the screenplay with Jens Dahl; Drive was written by Hossein Amini.  And there is something about this movie that does show contempt for screenwriters.  It’s a film that feels all driven by the vision of an auteur who doesn’t think he needs help to reach his vision.   There was certainly potential here, but it might have been interesting to see how it would have all turned out if someone else had written the screenplay.
The Wolverine is a perfectly acceptable entry in the rash of blockbusters revolving around comic book heroes.  There’s nothing that wrong with it and ends up being more fun than one might think.  Perhaps the easiest way to say it is that on a scale of one to ten, it’s far, far superior to Pacific Rim and Man of Steel, but it’s no Iron Man or The Dark Knight.  It stars Hugh Jackman in the title role and he looks great in his Elvis sideburns and motorcycle tough Marlon Brando clothes.    The serviceable screenplay is by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank; the ditto direction is by James Mangold.  It all revolves around some dirty dealings among a wealthy Japanese businessman; the Yakuza; and a walking virus of a slinky blonde (played amusingly by Svetlannd Khodchenkova, again in tresses gold of Stanwyck Babs).  In the end, it should be said the movie doesn’t paint the country of the rising sun in a particularly positive light: it’s major themes seem to be that save a Japanese soldier from the bombing (atomic, of course) of Nagasaki, he’ll still stab you in the back, and Japan is a country run by the rich and the mob with a police force that doesn’t seem to exist. 
Wasteland is a sort of heist film that is structured in such a way that the pay off finale is its only real reason for existence.  Because of this, the screenplay (by the director Rowan Athale) has only one purpose and that is to revolve itself around the “surprise” twist ending (the surprise is in quotations because it’s really not all that big a surprise by the sweet time it takes to finally get there).  What happens is often what happens in movies structured this way: the story and the characters never quite seem believable or satisfying since they are not there to drive or tell the story, but only to set up the ending. 
The story unfolds in an as told to way:  recently released petty criminal Harvey (Luke Treadway) is being interrogated by DI West (Timothy Spall) after being found at the scene of a crime, a break in at a club owned by a mobster with the mobster’s enforcer, who Harvey has a grudge against, lying almost dead on the ground in front of him.  Harvey, who is in pretty bad shape himself, tells West what happened. 
It’s not a bad way to tell a story, but it’s a fairly clunky one here.  Athale makes one of the most common mistakes in screenplays like this: Harvey tells West all sorts of details that he couldn’t know since he wasn’t there to witness the events himself.  And the way he tells a story doesn’t feel like the way an accused criminal would tell it, but the way a character needs to tell it so the audience gets the whole shebang (again, to set up the ending).  He doesn’t even tell West the same story the audience sees: at the very end, we discover suddenly that Harvey has never used the names of his accomplices the whole time in talking to West, though in the flashbacks, the names are constantly used—so what parts of the story did he tell West and which didn’t he?  (And just how hard is it going to be for West to figure out just who these friends of Harvey are anyway?  One of them is Harvey’s roommates, for Christ’s sake, not to mention a character who is his ex-girlfriend)
Though there is something satisfying about Harvey’s ultimate plan (Harvey wants revenge and he gets it, sort of; the enforcer ends up in hospital, but there’s no indication that anything more is going to happen to him), it’s just dramatized in a somewhat slipshod manner and it’s all a bit convoluted with too many goals for the characters.  And the ending with West listening to Harvey one more time is ridiculous and not one iota believable (again, it’s not there because the characters would act this way, but out of necessity to reveal to the audience that “surprise” ending). 
At the same time, everybody gives the whole shebang their all.  You certainly can’t fault any of them.  They get more than everything out of their parts that they can and, in fact, act as if an Oscar nomination depended upon it.  At the same time, they are trapped by lengthy sets of dialog that often go on and on.  One doesn’t always know how to react the verbosity.  Sometimes you admire the actors for their dexterity in saying Athale’s realistic and vibrant dialog; at other times, you just want to yell at the screen, just shut the hell up and get on with it already.  Only Spall, with his long suffering, jowly bull dog look, gives the strongest and most interesting performance (and Athale’s biggest error as screenwriter is probably the underuse of this character). 
For more reviews, check out my blog at http://howardcasner.blogspot.com

NOW YOU SEE ME and THE HISTORY OF FUTURE FOLK



Now You See Me is a very enjoyable shaggy dog story about magicians.  However, the biggest sleight of hand by writers Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt and director Louis Leterrier is how they’re able to make the audience overlook what is at times an unconvincing and questionable plot and go along with the often preposterous goings on, and like any spectator at a Las Vegas Show, love every minute of it.
The story opens with four practitioners of the art of prestidigitation receiving mysterious summonses from a total stranger—and they actually show up at the time and place requested—why?, well, you’re so busy looking at everything else going on you don’t notice that there is no convincing reason given.  From there it proceeds to a story that too often depends on predicting how people will act in situations where actions of people can’t possibly be predicted.    And as a friend pointed out, you would think that if they were as great at the art of illusion as they claim, the group would come up with better getaway plans than simply running away (there’s a lot of running here, more than in an episode of Dr. Who).
But it’s hard to focus on such minor pickinesses when you are caught up in a story that rarely stops to catch its breath; has a plot that is clever and filled with sly and dazzling magic tricks (well, except for whenever hypnosis and mind control is used—these sections never felt convincing); and is headed by a first rate cast who is given a whirlwind of staircase wit in which everybody’s snarky attitude only makes them more ingratiating than alienating.  
The gang of four is lead by Jesse Eisenberg as J. Daniel Atlas and you can tell how much Eisenberg’s star has risen in that he plays the magician in the opening with the least interesting magic trick and yet he’s given the most screen time and is made the leader of the act made up of the other three.   His manic line deliveries, that are unmistakenly Eisenberg’s and no other, are backed by a Greek chorus made up of Isla Fisher, David Franco and Woody Harrelson, all of whom deliver their lines as if they were acting in a restoration comedy. 
Mark Ruffalo uses his hangdog looks to great effectiveness here and elder statesmen Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman do what elder statesmen do—the same thing as the others, but with a lot more ease.  Melanie Laurent is also on board.  She is given nothing to do and she proceeds not to do it.   Well, she is there as the love interest to Mark Ruffalo, but unfortunately, magic can only go so far, and the people involved could never make this part remotely believable.
The Future Folk is a blue grass music duo who dress in space suits pretending to be aliens.  They’ve been entertaining bar crowds in NYC for many years now (they have a certain campy quality like that of Flight of the Concords).   The movie, The History of Future Folk, is a tongue in cheek “origin” story of the singers and how they came to earth and became musicians.     The duo is made up of Nils d’Aulaire (General Trius) and Jay Klaitz (Kevin) and while their music is clever and upbeat and catchy (and not enough of it is played in the film), the movie that’s been made about them (written by John Mitchell and directed by Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker) feels tepid and unimaginative, as tepid and unimaginative as the emotions that register on d’Aulaire’s face.  
The basic idea is that a comet is headed toward the Future Folk’s home planet, so Trius is sent to earth to wipe out civilization so his home planet can come and live here; but he is overcome by the beauty of music, something that doesn’t exist on his planet (leading to one of the movie’s more effective campy ideas since the music he hears is the type played in a Target).  He decides to stay and become a singer and start a family.   The pacing is slow and the plot turns run of the mill (it’s an example of the movie’s clunkiness that you don’t find out until half way through that Trius has been trying to contact his home planet since his arrival, but hasn’t been able to, leaving you to think for the majority of the film that this guy’s a real douche for deserting his planet as it’s about to be destroyed). 
The most pleasing performance is probably given by April L. Hernandez as Carmen, who has the perkiness of a Rosie Perez.  Her role is to fall for Kevin and only a talented actress could make this remotely convincing (in one scene Kevin paralyzes her with a spray and then kisses her against her will, and no one seems to think there is anything creepy about this).  Onata Aprile plays Trius’ earth daughter; she’s the cute as a button little girl in What Maisie Knew.

Oz The Great and Powerful and The Monk



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Oz The Great and Powerful, the new fantasy film written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire and directed, for some reason, by Sam Raimi, is a movie about a man with Peter Pan syndrome and has commitment issues who ends up in a land far, far away where he gets caught up in a cat fight between three woman (Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz) who are jealous of each other’s looks and/or the man in their lives.  Yes, that’s about as much imagination as is shown in this conglomeration culled from the characters in the books of Frank L. Baum (of The Wizard of Oz fame). 
It’s also a movie starring the incredibly, if not profoundly, miscast James Franco (easily as miscast as he was as host of the Oscars) in the titular role.  It’s a movie in which every scene is designed for maximum 3-D effect, while the scenery, characters and dialog are as flat as Franco’s acting (and with backgrounds that have rarely looked as much like matte drawings as they do here).  It’s a movie in which Zach Braf, a former romantic lead of such outings as Scrubs, Garden State and The Last Kiss, has fallen to such depths as to be cast in a second lead, as a flying monkey no less, yet he still steals every single scene he is in.
And finally, it’s a movie that can’t have a satisfactory ending because the filmmakers have painted themselves into a corner.  The only truly dramatically satisfactory resolution is for Oz to return to Kansas to save former girlfriend Annie (Michelle Williams) from a loveless marriage.  But he can’t leave Oz because he’s got to be there when Dorothy arrives.  But his character arc needs to be resolved, so he ends up kissing Glinda (also played by Michelle Williams, and I suppose that from the filmmakers’ points of view, one woman is the same as another, so it really doesn’t matter if Oz ends up with Annie or Glinda as long as they are played by the same actress), but we know that this relationship can’t last because there’s no such relationship when D-girl arrives.    And isn’t there something just a little creepy in that a lead character in a family film is awarded with sex for saving the day?
Oz The Great and Powerful doesn’t work.  It’s unimaginative in design, acting, direction and writing.  Perhaps it’s best to say that it’s a movie that is no Jack the Giant Slayer and let it go at that.
Meanwhile, The Monk is also about a character that is also supposed to be charismatic and inspiring.  It’s the new movie written by Dominik Moll (who also directed) and Anne-Louise Trividic.  Moll also directed the highly recommended films With a Friend Like Harry… and Lemming and there seems to be a theme here—that of some evil or perverseness worming its way into a seemingly safe situation. 
The Monk is about, well, this monk Ambrosio who lived in Spain in the late 18th century.  He’s very popular.  His sermons draw SRO crowds.  I have to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure why.  His homilies are pretty doom and gloomy stuff and the character, as played by Vincent Cassel, is not the most charismatic of preachers.  He’s actually much better at confession where he’s able to cut through bullshit with a butter knife. 
Ambrosio’s main philosophical point is that Satan has no more power over any of us than we can stand.  I guess that was too much of a Job like statement, because it’s not long before Satan (played by Sergi Lopez, one of the go to guys for playing the devil these days, I guess) arrives to take up the gauntlet the monk has thrown him (Lopez is actually in the opening scene, which in many ways kind of demonstrates one of the structural weaknesses of the story—since the audience doesn’t know this is Satan, it never gets related to the rest of the story until the movie’s over, which isn’t very satisfactory).  But at any rate, Satan sends evil to the monastery and since this is based on a Catholic novel written in 1796, evil must arrive in the form of a woman.   And Ambrosio’s beliefs are quickly proved wrong because Satan’s power is greater than the father can withstand and Ambrosio is soon heading toward an Oedipal like tragic ending. 
But the movie never quite worked for me mainly because Satan is able to defeat Ambrosio by using magical powers and forcing Ambrosio to do things he would never normally do.  Satan’s not the devil here, he’s a Jedi knight.  So instead of being emotionally involved in Ambrosio’s downfall, all I could think was, “Hey, that’s cheating”.   I guess the whole thing’s suppose to be some sort of metaphor, but if so, it all felt a bit too vague to me until I didn’t know what the moral of the story was supposed to be: beware of Satan because he’s really Yoda? 
The real problem with the movie, though, may be the basic structure.  It’s a tad all over the place.  There are three major through lines and the movie takes a bit too long in bringing them all together (and one never seems satisfactorily integrated).  And the movie also tries to implicate the monk for the fate of a young nun, something to which Ambrosio’s guilt is tenuous at best and to which I called “shenanigans”. 
I understand that the great prankster filmmaker Louis Bunuel wanted to make a movie of the novel over the years and one can see why.  It has all the ingredients that would appeal to someone with the impious sensibility of that anti-Catholic filmmaker.  And he quite possibly would have been able to bring a certain perverse vision to the material that might have been more successful.  But for me, this movie is just a slight misstep in Moll’s career.
For more reviews, check out my blog at http://howardcasner.blogspot.com

PART II: BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, OUR CHILDREN and BARBARA


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In the wonderful gangster film A Prophet, Niels Arestrup and Tahir Rahim played ersatz father and son.  In the Belgium film Our Children, the two are together again to play…ersatz father and son.  All right.  It may not have the same ring to it of Hepburn and Tracy, but the two are wonderful together and perhaps the main reason to see this domestic drama that, like Berberian…, starts out very intriguingly, but soon enough stops going anywhere and stagnates about half way through. 
The movie is really more about Murielle (played by Emilie Dequenne, the wonderful actress of The Girl on the Train and Rosetta), who marries Mounir (Rahim).  Mounir is Moroccan and was adopted by Andre (Arestrup) after Andre married Mounir’s older sister so she could get her papers.  However, Mounir is not marrying Murielle for citizenship; he truly does love her. 
But this is where things start taking an odd turn as it slowly becomes clear that, also like Berberian…,  something is off here.  First, Mounir asks Andre to come on their honeymoon.  At the wedding, Mounir’s younger brother suggests something’s going on between Mounir and Andre.  Murielle and Mounir live in Andre’s spacious apartment/doctor’s office and Andre pays all the bills while Mounir works as his receptionist.  When Murielle suggests that she and Mounir move to Morocco where the standard of living is cheaper, Andre says that if Mounir does, he will never have anything to do with him again.
But what exactly is going on behind all this in your face subtext?  One keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never does.  So was there something really going on or are the writers (Thomas Bidegain, Joachim Lafosse, and Mattieu Reynaert) and the director (Lafosse again) just misleading us for some reason?  Well, Lafosse only knows and he ain’t telling.  And Murielle does the same thing, or actually doesn’t do the same thing, as Gilderoy in Berberian…: she never asks.  She never asks what most people would ask somewhere along the way: just why is Andre so generous and paying for everything and just what is he getting out of this odd situation?
As the story goes on and Murielle has four children, she becomes increasingly stressed out and depressed.  And then she does the unthinkable.  But why?  I really couldn’t tell you except that she was depressed, but I’m sorry, I just didn’t buy it.  And though I did empathize with Murielle and her situation, it’s almost impossible to pull off a Medea.  But at least Media had a clear and understandable motive—revenge.  Murielle reasons seem a bit too vague and confusing.  So, for me, it doesn’t really have the emotional impact the movie is aiming for.
Though I think Arestrop and Rahim give the best performances, it’s Dequenne who won at Cannes (in the Un Certain Regard section).  And maybe they’re right in a way.  Murielle’s character made no real sense to me and I felt there was no character for her to play, but in spite of this, she does succeed in giving a first rate performance—from my perspective a triumph of talent over substance.
Finally, Barbara is Christian (Yella and Jerichow) Petzold’s new directorial effort.  It stars his usual leading lady, Nina Hoss, both of whom are becoming two of Germany’s most exciting emerging talents.
The story takes place in 1980 East Germany, still under Communist rule.  Barbara is a doctor who has just been released from prison for some unspecified crime against the state.  She is sent to a small town where she is to perform her duties at a local hospital while being heavily watched by the authorities.  At the same time, she is planning to escape the country with the help of her West German lover, that is until her plans are complicated by her becoming emotionally involved in some local issues at her place of employment (don’t you hate when that happens?).
Barbara is quite effective in the first half.  There is a wonderful feel of time and place, the very atmosphere tinged with a feeling of despair and sadness best symbolized by her riding a bike past a lonely cross in the middle of nowhere while the strong wind bellows around her; even when she’s in open country and can see for miles, she’s still afraid that somehow, some way, someone is watching her.  The details of everyday life in East Germany are convincingly dramatized (having to be careful what you say and where you say it because you don’t know who will report you and who won’t).  And there are deeply moving scenes of a young pregnant woman being forced into a work camp (called a death camp by Barbara) and the unclear diagnosis of young man who has tried to commit suicide. 
Foss is excellent in the title roll, a character who has to be very careful about sharing her emotions.  As an actress, she has some of the same qualities of Greta Garbo, a haunting beauty who was also very reserved in her emotions so that when she laughed, as Barbara does occasionally, it lights up the scene.  But the writers, Harun Farocki and Petzold, do her a bit of a disservice.  As the movie goes on, it tends to lose its way mainly because Barabara is given two competing motivations for her actions, while also not given enough time or the structure to develop either one for their maximum emotional impact.  Instead, the closer one gets to the end, the more muddled everything becomes until the plot loses all forward momentum and the ending feels a bit too anticlimactic.

THE MEN: Reviews of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector; Brotherhood; and Get Low


I saw Ken Russell’s version of the rock opera Tommy the other night (can you say “camp”) and was talking to my friend Beriau about it the next day. I commented that even though the movie doesn’t work (in fact one can make a case that it’s really so bad, even Perry Mason couldn’t defend it before a jury), by the time it was over, you felt so up and wonderful that the awfulness of the film quickly became a distant memory. As Beriau pointed out, the reason was the music, which was beautifully recorded and sung (with an amazing cameo by Tina Turner that got applause that night). I realized he was right. It was the same thing for the movie Mama Mia!, a really terrible film, but at the same time, you were so entertained and enthralled by it all; and the reason again was the music. I mention this because this same sort of reasoning could be applied to some degree to The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, a documentary about the great music impresario and his trial for manslaughter.

I say to some degree because the movie is not awful, in fact it’s a quite interesting and, in many ways, very well done. It is problematic and there are some serious issues about the director Vikram Javanti’s approach. But whatever the problems, at the same time, one didn’t care because the movie was carpeted, and wall to wall at that, with recordings and videos of the songs that Phil Spector either wrote, partially wrote or produced (both Spector and Javanti are a bit vague about credits, one of the problematics referred to). Spector rose to fame and wealth by producing a new sound, a melodic rock and roll style known for its hummability and beauty, all about teenage angst and the inability to find someone to love, or when one does, letting the emotion overwhelm you (To Know Him is to Love Him; You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling; Spanish Harlem; culminating with the great Rivers Deep, Mountain High, performed with flashes of lightning by the aforementioned Tina Turner). He also produced songs and albums for the Beatles, including Let it Be.

When the documentary is not focusing on the music, it is divided between a one on one interview with Spector himself, as well as scenes from his trial for the death of Lana Clarkson, an actress/waitress he picked up at a nightclub. It’s hard to know how to react to Spector himself. His name is perhaps euphoniously appropriate. He looks, if not a ghost of himself, a ghost of someone, equipped with a watery, lazy eye and a slurring voice. And he comes across as somewhat mad. He spends much of his time defending himself from attacks others have made against him his whole life; from not receiving the recognition he felt he should have (this from someone living in a palatial estate few of us could ever dream of owning and someone who has made more money that many of us could ever make, even if reincarnation was a reality); and from the charges of having killed Clarkson. Though Javanti does ask questions and leads the interview, he pretty much lets Spector have his own way. Probably not a wise decision on Spector’s part, because the more he tries to defend himself, the more unsympathetic he becomes and the madder he comes across; he would have been perfect for the part in Alice in Wonderland (and he could have provided his own hair pieces, though Spector claims he still has his own hair, a claim as preposterous as his innocence). To quote a couple of clichés, he’s like a train wreck in slow motion or a motor accident you can’t look away from. The more he claims he isn’t guilty, the more you want to put him in jail and throw away the key. It’s an absolutely fascinating self portrait of a sociopath, who, like so many sociopaths, are so sociopathic they don’t realize how sociopathic they appear.

Javanti was at the screening for a Q&A and his statements and responses to some of the questions do demonstrate the problematic areas of the film. In the film, when Spector is talking about the song To Know Him Is To Love Him, Spector says it was about his father who shot himself when Spector was four; Javanti pointed out afterwards that Spector’s father gassed himself in the garage when Spector was ten. These sorts of inaccuracies are never pointed out during the movie interview. Spector at times seems to claim he had more to do with the creation of the songs he produced than he did; Javanti never challenges it (nor points out the writers of the songs when he subtitles their names during the video sections). When someone in the audience congratulated Javanti on being fair in showing both sides of the trial, all I could think was, “were we watching the same movie”? Javanti stated that he believed that Spector might have been at fault, but it was never proven at the trial. Well, we in the audience don’t really have a way of judging that, really. Much of the court case is devoted to the defense’s attack on the angle of the bullet through Clarkson’s head, that since it went upward, that wasn’t the angle a bullet would go if someone else other than Clarkson was holding the gun. Javanti never shows the scenes where the prosecutors respond to this. More insightful, perhaps, to Javanti’s approach, is that during the interview Javanti asks Spector about a piano that’s in the room. Before Spector gets up, he has Javanti turn off the cameras, but in the film, it’s never explained why. At the Q&A, Javanti reveals that he through it was because Spector was not very tall and didn’t want anyone to know. A funny anecdote until you think, “Huh, maybe this is why the bullet went at an upward angle, because Spector was so short”. Add to that Javanti’s anecdote about Spector’s refusal to admit that he wears hair pieces, and it just seems that the documentary had a few too many glaring omissions. At the same time, it was fascinating. And there was all that glorious music.

Brotherhood is a movie that shouldn’t work, but does. It’s about two neo-Nazis who are gay and fall in love. It sounds like it should be a Mel Brooks film or on one of those lists about the worst movie ideas pitched to a studio. But the writers Nicolo Donato, who also directed, and Rasmus Birch, along with the two lead actors, Thure Lindhardt and David Dencik, work very hard to make the somewhat preposterous set up work. Lindhardt plays Lars, a Danish officer who is relieved of duty when he gets drunk and puts the moves on some of his men; the army believes he will never be able to recover the respect of those he commands. Through a friend, he ends up at a party for members of a neo-Nazi movement that has grown out of the conflict over the increasing number of immigrants moving into Denmark. This is the weakest part of the film. It’s never really believable that Lars would join the group, something he initially finds offensive. The head of the group appeals to his vanity by telling Lars they are in need of people as intelligent as Lars is (apparently the movement is a tad light in the brains department and the authors don’t do anything to prove otherwise), but it’s never quite clear why he becomes part of the group. However, the filmmakers somehow get you past this section and once they do, the story does grab you. Jimmy is a member of the group who is rehabbing a house at the ocean that will be used for meetings and out of town guests. He doesn’t like Lars, at first because of his anti-Nazi stance, but then because Lars rises too quickly in respect, even gaining membership before Jimmy’s brother does (whose drug addiction and slacknerness tend to work against him). Lars moves into the ocean house and helps Jimmy work on it, but the two find that they are attracted to each other and soon they do the deed. Talk about meet cute, and you’re right, you’ve guessed it. This is really a neo-Nazi, Danish Brokeback Mountain. But no matter what one makes of it, one can’t help but get all caught up in the predicament these two characters find themselves in. They can hardly reveal what is really going on to the others and neither of them know how to resolve the situation. And they have a point. Just how do you resolve a situation like this? Lars wants to take off, but, like the mob, you don’t just leave the Nazi party. And when Jimmy’s brother sees them in bed together and blows the whistle, the suspense becomes unbearable. Much of the success of this section of the movie has to be attributed to Dencik’s intense and searing performance. You shouldn’t feel sorry for him, he’s a Nazi for God’s sake, but he is so riveting in dramatizing the characters inner struggle, that your heart does go out to him. You even want these two to somehow find a happy ending. But it’s not to be as the story concludes with an action that is perhaps a bit too much The Postman Always Rings Twice for my taste. Lars and Jimmy are beaten up and told to leave town, but before they can, Jimmy is stabbed by a gay man he had set up and bashed earlier. He doesn’t die, but ends up in a coma he may never come out of. It’s shocking, but it’s a bit arbitrary. Still, it is heartbreaking.

Get Low, directed by Aaron Schneider and written by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell from a story by Provenzano and Scott Seeks, is one of those movies that you can tell the instant it stops working. Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, a hermit who hasn’t left his home in forty years due to some incident that took place when he was younger. He’s come to the conclusion he may soon die, but decides he wants to have his funeral first and invites everybody far and wide to come and tell a story about him and to have a party. The backstory is a little unclear. Apparently, even though he hasn’t seen anyone for forty years, people have all these tales about him; one character even assaults him in town for something he did, but since the character wasn’t even born at the time Bush started the hermit thing, one has to wonder what Bush could possibly have done to him. In fact, what people know about him seems to be somewhat arbitrary, depending on when it best helps the plot. In the last third of the movie everyone comes to Bush’s place for his funeral party and…not one of them tells a single story; there’s no real party; and this is the moment where the movie stops working. Instead, Bush tells the story as to why he became a hermit. The problem here is that when he does, your reaction is, “so why did you become a hermit; I’m not sure I understand?”. The first two thirds of the movie are actually quite entertaining, but the last third is what might be called just a tad anti-climactic. It’s like the novel Heart of Darkness; it’s great until you get to the end of the journey and meet Kurtz and then it’s all somewhat of a letdown. Robert Duvall is a natural for this sort of thing and he is excellent. But the highlight of the film has to be Bill Murray as a cynical funeral home owner who finds something of a conscious along the way. His line readings steal the show. Also giving an effective performance is Lucas Black, the hero who is trying to just understand the ridiculous situation. Sissy Spacek is along for the ride, but she doesn’t really have anything to do, or at least anything worthy of a star of her caliber. It’s a beautiful movie to look with fine period feel to it all, but it just sort of runs out of steam at the end.

PILGRIM’S PROGRESS: OR ROMANTIC COMEDY IS ALIVE AND WELL IN LOS ANGELES: reviews of Cyrus and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


I read not long ago that many feel the romantic comedy is dead. Usually when someone makes a statement like that, what is really means is not that the genre is dead, but that the person may be looking in the wrong location. When one speaks of modern romantic comedy, people usually drop the names Jennifer Anniston, Sandra Bullock, Katherine Heigl and Julia Roberts, what might be called the Irene Dunne/Claudette Colbert, Ernst Lubitsch/Leo McCarey approach, a sophisticated, battle of the sexes. In reality, perhaps they should have been looking at a more Preston Sturgess/John Hughes approach to romance, something a bit more messy and anarchic. Last year we had (500) Days of Summer. This year we have Cyrus and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

I have never been a big fan of mumble core films. I never could get that emotionally involved with the characters. For me, this subgenre of a subgenre of films have been about overeducated people who think they are interesting, but aren’t. Baghead is one of the few mumble cores that have worked for me, possibly because it didn’t seem quite so self absorbed. Instead of containing the usual suspects found in this type of film, Baghead was about someone who was tired of not making a movie, so he decides to make one; and an entertaining good time it was, too. The makers of Baghead, Mark and Jay Duplass, aka the Duplass Brothers, have now made a new movie using the mumble core style (the feeling of improvisation, the hand held camera, the low budget look), and possibly because it isn’t about the same olds, same olds usually found in these sorts of films (including, for me, The Puffy Chair, also by the Duplass Brothers, which in full faith and disclosure was one of those films I didn’t care for), all I could think is that it’s amazing what one can do with this style when you have a good script and even better actors.


Cyrus (Jonah Hill) is the son of Molly (Marisa Tomei), a widow who has perhaps grown a bit too close to her offspring. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that Cyrus has grown too close to his mother. Molly still goes out and tries to live her own life, keeping herself open to a new romance. Meanwhile, though Cyrus has reached the age where most kids have fled their home for saner pastures, he’s holding on to the homestead with all the tenacity of a farmer threatened by cattle barons in a studio western of the old days. The cowboy who wants to cut down all the barbed wire Cyrus has put up is John (John C. Reilly), a sad sack downer of a person who has never recovered from his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) leaving him and who left because, well, he’s kind of a sad sack downer of a person. But there’s no hard feelings. Jamie’s the one who gets John to go to the party where he meets Molly who rescues John from an evening where he’s flummoxed from one embarrassing scene to another with all the geeky, yet balletic, beauty of a Woody Allen (and who’d have thought one would ever want to hear the song Don’t You Want Me, Baby again). When Cyrus meets John, it becomes take no prisoners as the two fight to the death (almost literarily at one point) over Molly’s attention.

Cyrus is very funny in one of those dark, edgy, almost sick comic ways. In other words, it’s my cup of tea, Sweet ‘n Low laced with a bit of arsenic. The direction, by the Duplass brothers, is very clever. They have a habit of pushing the camera in just at the right moment to take advantage of a funny moment, almost like a laugh track (which should be a negative, but here just seems to add a punch line to a punch line). The camera almost never seems to be on the person talking, but almost invariably on the person reacting as the other person talks, the last place you would think one would want the focus to be. Yet, this decision is one of the sources of all the humor. Of course, it helps to have a great reactor in Reilly, one of our finest character actors, supported more than ably by Tomei and Keener. The weak one of the bunch is perhaps Jonah Hill, but he fights to his last bated breath to keep up with the others and doesn’t let the movie down. I’m also not convinced that Reilly’s character is totally consistent. John starts out as a person who’s every waking hour seems to suggest a person out of his depth; then he meets Molly and he becomes one of the most brilliant strategists since Napoleon. But if he’s not consistent, Reilly does too brilliant a job of covering it up. In fact, the whole thing feels a bit shaggy dog, as shaggy dog as Reilly looks. Cyrus may be caustic, but so oft is the course of true love. And when the last frame vanishes from the screen one is a tad verklempt at the possibility of two lonely people finding each other.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is awesome. It’s amazing. It’s even better than that: it’s swell. If it’s not one of the best films of the year, it’s certainly one of the most fun. Scott is a guitarist in a band who is fake dating a seventeen year old high school student; who lives and sleeps in the same bed as his gay friend; who hasn’t been able to get over his last girlfriend, who is now the lead singer of the next big band; and who falls hopelessly in love with Ramona Flowers, a woman hopelessly out of his league. Just a typical day for the new generation, apparently, since no one seems that surprised at his predicament. Ramona, in turn, does begin to fall for Scott’s lack of charm (he’s the nicest person she’s ever dated, normally the kiss of death in any relationship, but here it actually seems to work in Scott’s favor, who knew?). But in order to win Ramona’s hand in dating, Scott has to defeat in battle her seven evil ex-boyfriends, something he starts doing before he even realizes that that’s what he’s doing.

Of course, Scott is not battling her exes. He’s actually defeating the baggage they left her with. It’s a metaphor. In fact, the movie is nothing but one huge metaphor. Almost everything is both literal and symbolic. Scott must defeat the bad effect Ramona’s exes had on her in order to free her up to love him. The real scary part is how accurate a metaphor this is for love. One doesn’t have to win the present, one also has to defeat the past, which is much more difficult. And it’s all played out metaphorically in which each battle is one level of a video game with each level becoming more and more difficult. The fights are battles right out of Asian anime: love’s a game and a battlefield at the same time.

It would be interesting to know how much the look of the film came from the director Edgar Wright; the screenplay by Wright and Michael Bacall; or the source material, a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It would be very difficult for me to believe that the style of the movie didn’t come directly from the graphic novels themselves. The movie uses every CGI trick in the book. Scott hits his head on a telephone pole and the word “thunk” appears on the screen (Holy insert, Batman); his 17 year old fake girlfriend says she loves him and the word comes out of her mouth like a smoke ring and he bats it away before it can reach him; Scott opens a door and he’s across town; people leap at each other like an animated version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; defeated characters turn into coins worth points in a game; swords appear inside Scott. It’s like Annie Hall on acid. But it works and when Scott and Ramona find each other at the finale, one feels like the two have earned their happy ending. Some have commented that this approach overshadowed the emotion of the story. I disagree. For me, Wright and Bacall found the perfect balance to showmanship and emotional empathy.

Most of the criticism of Scott… has focused on Scott, or actually, Michael Cera, who plays Scott, as perhaps not the best choice for the role. And I can’t say I disagree with them. Cera has a rather nerdy look and his humor comes from underplaying his emotions and talking out of the corner of his mouth. He’s not the most dynamic of personalities, which is actually the key to his comic timing and success. But it is a bit hard to believe that Ramona would ever give him the time of day. She is truly out of his league. The role might have worked better with someone more like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also has a slight nerdy look (at least if he wants to have it), but is a much stronger performer. At the same time, Cera commits himself to the role and the directors and writers have so tailored it to his abilities, that Cera never actually hurts the movie and his droll, dry, arid delivery gets more than its fair share of laughs. The best performance in the whole movie is probably given by Kieran Culkin, though, as Wallace, Scott’s friend who has allowed Scott half his bed and residency in his extremely small studio apartment. It’s probably also one of the best written gay characters in American movies in some time. It also shows where modern society is when a straight man can share a bed with a gay man without any fear of being called queer, yet at the same time can ask Wallace not to stick around the night Scott has Ramona over for fear Wallace might gay up the place (and then in actually, it’s Scott who’s the real danger of gaying it all up). This is the real threat to Prop 8.