(On Cable TV, October 2013) There’s something almost awe-inspiring in the ways Movie 43 is determined to be such a bad and unpleasant film. A collection of sketch comedy skits meant to be as offensive as possible, Movie 43 has the unusual merit of featuring two dozen A-list actors, each appearing on-screen for only a few minutes. Sadly, they don’t have anything to work with: the sketches are uninspired, the pacing is off, the subject matter more puzzling than amusing, and there are no directorial flourishes strong enough to offset the abysmal quality of the script. It feels like a big dare: Even by the low standards of sketch comedy films, Movie 43 doesn’t manage to come anywhere close to laughs. The only segment of the film I’d rescue from a burning warehouse would probably be “Veronica”, the sort-of-romantic back-and-forth between Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin, and it’s largely because it feels comparatively better than the rest –not because it’s any good. Movie 43 sounds like one of those annoying kids who discover big swearwords and then spend the rest of the week repeating them, not realizing that the rest of us have moved one –it feels like a decade-old relic of the gross-out comedy wave, and is about as impressive as a deflated fart cushion. (I briefly considered the possibility that I’d lost my sense of juvenile humor, but then I watched the equally-crass horror spoof A Haunted House and chuckled like an idiot throughout.) Let’s not mention the actors involved in this debacle: I assume they were paid well for a short shoot and let’s celebrate the fact that Movie 43 died a quick and unlamented death at the box-office, landing on Cable TV about as quickly as it could.
(In theaters, August 2010) For a movie that only highlighted how truly old I am getting, I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim vs the World from beginning to end. Transforming a fairly ordinary post-teenage romantic comedy into an mythological epic through fantastical devices such as videogame combats given life, Scott Pilgrim becomes a relentless, sometimes exhausting blend of action, romance and comedy gold. Given that director Edgar Wright is best known for manic comedies Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, the whip-fast editing, witty dialogue and reality-defying direction should come as no surprise. What is a bit more unusual, however, is the way Wright plays along with the grammar of cinematic storytelling, telescoping scenes together, taking fantastical flights of fancy in the middle of grainy indie dramatic scenes, or varying his approach just to keep things fresh. This third successful film only highlights how Wright is pushing the envelope of comedy directing, daring older audiences (cough-cough) to keep up. As a fan of the Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series, I had a clue about what was in store. But I couldn’t predict how cleverly the script would condense, simplify and amplify the storyline of the comic book into something that feels even more grandiose. Streamlined to make the hero’s final success feel even more rewarding, Scott Pilgrim vs the World should please most fans of the original, while allowing newcomers to grab the graphic novels and find further delights in them: the way material from the book is rearranged in a new plot will keep fans of both versions entertained. The resemblance of some actors to their graphic equivalent is astonishing, and their delivery of the dialogue, in a mixture of arch line readings and mumbled deadpan quips that I find irresistible, is often far funnier than the material would suggest. I’m still only half-sold on Michael Cera as Pilgrim, but the supporting cast is strong and notable performances include Kieran Culkin as the cool roommate and Ellen Wong as a hot-tempered high-schooler. But even better yet is the way Toronto plays itself as a big city capable of hosting cool stories: The script’s Canadian references are not only hilarious, but on-target as well. Still, it’s not all fun and games as Scott Pilgrim has a few things to say about urban romance during post-teenage years (there are practically no older adults in this film, nor any need for them), or the way modern personal mythmaking comes from genre-dominated gaming rather than older sources of inspiration. It all amounts to a hilarious, heartfelt, dynamic film that appealed to me in ways that felt very personal. I’m not sure it could have been any better.