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Entries in Comic Book (8)

Friday
Aug132010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Video games are rarely talked about in the movie world. When they are, it’s usually with contempt. Most adaptations of hit games are mind numbingly bad and Roger Ebert writes video games off as nothing more than worthless entertainment, arguing that they can never be art. I wonder what he’ll think about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, a film that can only be described as a video game movie that isn’t based on a video game. From the 8-bit Universal logo (complete with Nintendo music circa 1985) to the numerous nods to hit franchises like “Rock Band” and “Super Mario Brothers,” this thing screams video games, and being a gamer myself, I found it quite enjoyable.

Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim, a young Canadian who falls for a cutie named Ramona Flowers, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but to date her he must first defeat her seven evil exes. That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. It’s a simple story, as it needed to be, and it’s carried out with wit and style. Scott Pilgrim is a hyperkinetic, off-the-wall, roller coaster of a movie. It speedily moves forward with nary a downtime. However, it doesn’t always move with grace.

The tagline for Scott Pilgrim is, “An epic of epic epicness.” That’s a lot to live up to and, frankly, it falls short of its promised epic epicness, far short. Due to its quick pace, things get a bit hectic, even during dialogue driven scenes, and the film tries way too hard to be quirky and zany. The madcap nature of the movie goes off the rails at times, deviating away from its video game inspiration and traversing into territory that seems forced, even going so far as to use the “Seinfeld” musical sting and a laugh track in one scene.

There’s also Michael Cera who, despite the originality of the material, plays the same awkward, clumsy loser he’s been playing since “Arrested Development,” but all of that is easy to forgive given the energy of the production. While the story revolves around Scott battling seven evil exes, the fights never become redundant. All are varied and have their own unique style. This is a video game brought to life.

And those who play video games will undoubtedly get the most out of it. It may mean nothing to the average moviegoer, but to gamers, hearing the bass line from “Final Fantasy II” will bring a tear to the eye and knowing that the name of Scott Pilgrim’s band, Sex Bob-omb, is a reference to the little walking bombs in the “Mario” games will make them feel special, as they should. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is nerd service, made for nerds by nerds. And I mean that in a good way.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World receives 3.5/5

Friday
Jun182010

Jonah Hex

Comic book movies are all the rage these days. With Iron Man, The Dark Knight and the X-Men flicks tearing up the box office, it should be expected. Coming soon are Thor, Captain America and The Green Lantern, but for now we have to contend with Jonah Hex, a cataclysmic disaster that was dead in the water from frame one.

The film stars Josh Brolin as Hex, a former soldier in the Civil War who had everyone and everything he ever loved taken away from him at the hands of the evil Quentin Turnbull, played by John Malkovich. On top of the emotional torture from watching his family burn to death, Turnbull brings him some physical pain by branding his initials on his cheek, though Hex quickly does away with it later by burning off the side of his face, leaving a giant whole in his cheek and a cleft lip on his right side. Now he lives only to seek vengeance and kill Turnbull, finding himself closer than he's ever been after gathering information on his whereabouts by talking to a dead guy (did I mention he could do that?). Oh, and there’s also a prostitute named Lilah, played by Megan Fox, who has some sort of history with Hex and loves him despite his monstrous looks.

I guess. Take away the credits and Jonah Hex is one hour and 15 minutes. There’s so little time spent on story that there practically isn’t one. Why does Lilah love Hex? How the hell did he get that power? And what is Turnbull’s motivation? After killing Hex’s family, we find out that he has a plan to destroy the soon-to-be-one-hundred-years-old America with a previously unused weapon, a bunch of shiny yellow balls that can apparently wipe out whole continents. His hatred for America is never explained. Nothing is. This thing putters along exhaustingly and still barely reaches the finish line despite its short runtime.

I suppose that’s okay, though, because the little bit of story that is here is unappealing and nonsensical. Stretching it out would have been unbearable. It’s a lose-lose situation no matter how it’s looked at. It hides behind the veil of a comic book and throws in some mysticism for good measure, but Jonah Hex is little more than a revenge picture, not unlike the hundreds of others we’ve already seen, and it’s a terrible one at that.

Its main drawback is that Hex simply isn’t an engaging character. He lost his family in a devastating fire at the hands of a madman, but he cracks jokes as often as possible. He pretends to be doing good deeds, but he’s a ruthless killer and will take you down if you step in his way. There’s no reason to root for him. The usually reliable Brolin gives a lackadaisical performance, as if he knew he was working his way through dreck and couldn’t wait to be done.

It feels that way for the rest of the actors as well. Most are miscast, including Malkovich and funnyman Will Arnett as Lieutenant Grass whose usage in the film is nebulous at best, but Fox trumps them all. Outside of one moderately passable creepy turn in Jennifer’s Body, she has churned out one bad performance after another, proving herself to be little more than eye candy.

The only thing left when you take away the nonexistent story, bad performances and uninteresting characters is the action, but the director Jimmy Hayward, whose only other directorial effort is the animated Horton Hears a Who!, doesn’t know how to stage them. Not since National Treasure have I been so bored watching what ultimately amounts to inconsistent, dull, phony action.

Writing credits on this train wreck go to Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the minds behind Gamer and the two Crank pictures, and when they saw the potentially disastrous route this thing was heading down, they gave up their spots as directors and abandoned it completely. Consider this if you will: their previous films are dumb fun at best and just dumb at worst. Jonah Hex couldn't even meet those standards. And that's saying something.

Jonah Hex receives 0.5/5

Friday
Apr162010

Kick Ass

Here we are. The movie that will have comic book lovers the world over joining in a collective nerdgasm. Kick Ass, the popular novel from the mind behind Wanted, is hitting the big screen and the geeks of the world are more eager to see it than a sex tape between Jessica Biel and Jessica Alba. I'm one of those geeks. After reading the comics it is based on (which a friend so graciously lent to me), I was hyped for the movie. The comic was amazing; well written, well drawn, violent, hilarious and fun. It was everything I wanted a comic book called Kick Ass to be. The movie, while still a rollicking good time, lacks the wit and style of its source material.

The movie follows Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a mild mannered high school outcast. He and his friends, played by Clark Duke and Evan Peters, are comic book nerds. Like many similar to them, they dream of fighting crime in extravagant outfits, leaping from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of an evildoer, standing up for justice and integrity in a world spiraling to hell. The difference is that Dave takes that to heart. He's sick of being a nobody. He's an outcast, a guy who can't get a girlfriend to save his life, much less his crush Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), so he decides to strap on a scuba suit he buys online and attempt to make his city a better place through his new persona, Kick Ass. But this is the real world, not a comic book, and he soon finds himself lying in the middle of the road beaten, bloody and bruised with a knife wound to the stomach. After his recovery, and despite his better judgment, he returns to the streets where he meets Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), a father/daughter superhero team who have been working their ranks through the local mafia, eliminating them all in the hopes of eventually getting to the head honcho, Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). In fear of these superheroes, Frank enlists the help of his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a fellow comic book nerd, to disguise himself as a new hero, Red Mist, and lure the trio into a trap where he can finish them off once and for all.

I'm no comic book connoisseur, I admit. I couldn't tell you why one works and another one doesn't. I'm not aware of the inner workings that go into the construction of one of these tales. All I can tell you is how I perceive it and I loved the Kick Ass comic book. I couldn't put it down. I loved the gruesome violence, the spot on humor and the interesting narrative. I hoped for the movie to excite me in the same ways and it did, but not as consistently.

For what I assume are practical purposes, the violence isn't nearly as abundant, the humor is hit and miss and the interesting narrative from the comic is changed enough that it didn't hold the same appeal. I found more emotional connection between drawings on a page than I did the live action film.

Although some of the humor is forced, it can be funny, but that's why I didn't care. It doesn't do a good job of balancing its comedy with its more dramatic moments and when a major character bit the dust, I could only stare blankly at the screen wondering if I was supposed feel something. Consider the fact that jokes aren't only thrown in before and after this scene, but during it and you start to wonder why the filmmakers tried to create any drama at all.

Besides, it's called Kick Ass. Just as nobody watched Zombie Strippers for the choreography, nobody will watch Kick Ass for the drama. Luckily, the action scenes are top notch. They're wild, crazy, over the top and damn fun. Though toned down from the comic, this things gets bloody and watching an 11 year old girl do most of the killing makes things even crazier.

At times, the film gives off a Scream type of vibe by parodying the genre it is portraying. But whereas Scream was steady in its self-spoof, Kick Ass fluctuates. It's amusingly self-deprecating at first, but then drops that angle only to pick it up again later, and so on. It's smart at times, but it's not consistent and you'll quickly see how jumbled it can be.

But you know what? This is still a great time at the movies. Nicolas Cage gives his best performance in years and had me laughing all the way down to my toes, Chloe Moretz is brilliant as the adorable little girl that can put a bullet through your head before you even realize she's packing and its excessive nature is a welcome treat in a cinema world that is getting increasingly picked on by past generation curmudgeons who are intent on finding something they can complain about. Kick Ass looks at those people and flips them the bird, welcoming their hatred.

I like that.

Kick Ass receives 3.5/5

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