Friday, December 31, 2010

NOT ONE, BUT THREE, 2010 TOP TENS!


I considered not even doing a Top 10 this year, or doing something weird under the pretense that I was somehow above whoring for traffic. Please. I will wear heels with goldfish in them for more traffic. So, a Top 10 list it is. No such petty considerations as “not having seen everything” or “methadone-shaky critical credibility” are gonna stop this guy.

You know what? Fuck it, I'm going to do more than one Top 10 list. Let's start with . . .


Top 10 Pictures I Haven't Seen

True Grit
Fair Game
Biutiful
The King's Speech
Four Lions
Animal Kingdom
The Killer Inside Me
Blue Valentine
A Solitary Man


All of which I'm looking forward to for a variety of reasons. True Grit needs no introduction: I love the Coens, I love Jeff Bridges when he's got a good script and a real director, and I didn't like the original all that much (Duke was awesome, movie was half-assed), making it a prime candidate for a remake. Fair Game seems like a prime candidate for one of my periodic world-affairs nerd-outs, and a fine opportunity to smile at Naomi Watts for a couple hours; also, I like Doug Liman when he has an actual script.

Biutiful looks like it's going to be two-plus hours of misery wank, but Alejandro González Iñárritu makes me really want to sit through two-plus hours of misery wank. I watched Babel when I was coming down from a migraine and thought it was the tits (and no, not just because of Rinko Kikuchi's), so I'll give Biutiful a shot, aunque Guillermo Arriaga no escribió esta película. Nadie es perfecto.

The King's Speech is one of my soft spot pictures. I have this fatal weakness for diagrammatic feel-good English pictures about people overcoming adversity. It helps that most of them, take Billy Elliott for one shining awesome fucking example, are pretty good. And I like that this one's got a twist: the guy who needs to overcome adversity . . . is the king! Jolly good, cheerio, pip pip old chap. Of course, it's Colin Firth, and I'd watch Colin Firth read the letters to the editor from the Sunday Times. Anyway, all's I'm saying is, if you want me to defend my love of formulaic British feel good movies, all you're getting in response is a “fuck you” and maybe a “stop bothering me” if I'm feeling loquacious.

All I heard about Four Lions is that it's got serious balls and the director's crazy. That always gets my antennae perky. Animal Kingdom's Australian, say no more. The Killer Inside Me is Jim Thompson, Michael Winterbottom, and C-Fleck, which intrigues me, as all three of those motherfuckers were/are nuts. Blue Valentine made the four people who've seen it walk around stunned with smoke coming out their ears, which always intrigues me. And my mom told me to see A Solitary Man, and I'm a good son. (EDIT 1/1/11: Mom: "You made a mistake. It was Animal Kingdom I told you was good. I have Solitary Man on my queue, I haven't seen it yet." Whoops. Still want to see A Solitary Man, though.)


Top 10 Movies That Weren't Good Per Se (Or Even Actually Movies) But That I Still Liked

From Paris With Love
The Warrior's Way
Red
The Town
Heavy Rain
Lost
The Runaways
The A-Team
Tron: Legacy
Human Target


Again, not every movie on this list is good, and only seven of them are movies (and you can make a decent argument that some of the movies aren't even movies). But show me someone who only likes things that are good, and I'll show you a morally consistent tight-ass who has a lot less fun than I do.

From Paris With Love I've already yakked at length about both here and at Premiere, but the bottom line is that movie is fun. It takes time-dishonored action movie clichés and puts slight, subtle, intelligently conceived variations on them, kind of like the way a skilled guitar player can make an ordinary chord progression sound like something exciting and special. Which leads to another way to describe From Paris With Love. It's rock 'n' roll. And I like rock 'n' roll.

I covered both The Warrior's Way and Red for Tor.com; you can revisit those reviews if you like, or if not I'll say both were stylishly executed diversions, if lacking that feverish “let's do another line!” intensity of From Paris With Love. Jang Dong-Gun handles a sword almost as well as Helen Mirren does a machine gun, and if you know me you know movies with cool swordfights and Dame Helen Mirren firing machine guns get much love from yours truly.

The Town (aka The Fackin Tann) is a new entry in the pahk the cah at Hahvid Yahd subgenre of pictures where actors go up to Boston, get unflattering haircuts, and develop accents of the highest cartoonishness. B-Fleck did a fine job directing this picture, and the cast is awesome (Jon Hamm kicks mucho ass as the one guy in the movie without a Bahhhhhhhhstin accent; despite this, it's great fun to bellow “DAWN FACKIN DRAYPA!” whenever he does anything cool, which is frequently) but the script is dumb, and the whole thing with B-Fleck falling in love with Rebecca Hall teeters on the brink of full retard; wondering whether it'll tip or not is more suspenseful than whether B-Fleck and Jeremy Fackin Renner ah gonna fackin get away with the final fackin heist. Still, flaws aside, B-Fleck's here to stay as a director; I just hope he gets more/better help with the script next time.

And now, Heavy Rain, which isn't a movie, per se. But it kind of is. I don't have anything new to add to this, except regret that that La Marseillaise joke didn't work better.

Lost, too, not a movie, but that didn't stop me from yammering like a coked-up parrot about it back in May. Those couple months I spent with Lost were great fun, and concentrating the geek-out in a small period of time probably helped me enjoy it more than the people who suffered through the weeks between episodes only to find out “FUCK it's a fucking Kate episode.” I would be like “Ah, a Kate episode. Oh well.” I think its rewatchability was killed by the way in which it resolved, but that doesn't diminish the first time through one bit. It also makes it a good choice for a localized thing about “best of” a given year, as it was a much-enjoyed one-shot.

The Runaways was a weird movie. Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart were both really good in it, though their performances were a lot more committed to depth and totality than writer/director Floria Sigismondi's script and direction, both of which were concerned almost completely with surface. The Runaways were a singularity in pop music history, an all-girl rock band that charted at a time when that simply did not happen. The Runaways is one of many “rise to fame/crash and burn” music biopics, which is kind of sad, because it could have been more. Still, it's a watchable movie, and should get a lot of credit for avoiding major ickiness in re: 15-year-old Dakota Fanning doing coke and making out with chicks. Anyone looking to perv on that stuff will be disappointed, which is a credit to Sigismondi.

I won't defend The A-Team, partly because I don't remember anything about it except Sharlto Copley being awesome and Jon Hamm (again) showing up at the end as the villain for the sequel if there's going to be one. I really should watch Mad Men at some point, that guy rules.

Again, no defending Tron: Legacy. It was energetic. And Olivia Wilde, though painfully underused, sure is pretty. Empty-headed fun is a proud tradition in cinema. But, you know, not on a Ten Best list.

The not-so-good/not-a-movie list concludes with Fox TV series Human Target, which is pretty good, but not a movie. The story of enigmatic ex-assassin turned protector of the innocent Christopher Chance (Mark Valley), Human Target is well done on a modest scale, with pretty good action and an engaging supporting cast headed by Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley. It's an old-school TV show with a decent sense of the modern age, inasmuch as an old-school TV show needs to have such a thing. And, like most of the things on this list, it's something I enjoy very much but can't/won't defend.


And now, with no further ado . . . the TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2010 (that I've seen), in ascending order from 10 to 1:

Endhiran

Singing, dancing, SF, Indian Voltron Cobra, and Aishwarya Rai. This one's good for anyone with the capacity for joy in their lives. More here and here. This picture got me very excited about getting more into Indian movies, and while I'm still at the very early stages, I'm going to keep on it.


Runaway

Oh, Kanye. Kanye, Kanye, Kanye. The second I heard he directed a 35 minute video for his 9 minute single, I immediately said, “I need to see this.” And OH holy shit. He apparently worked closely with noted hip-hop video director Hype Williams on this, but really Runaway is like Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch showed up at Yeezy's place and said “What's good, baby, you want to split a five-strip between the three of us?” and gave Ye three tabs and a camera and watched as he staggered giggling out into the woods. The scene where Kanye gets pissed at the fancy dinner party because the snooty fucks are snickering about his half-phoenix/half-Victoria's Secret model girlfriend and Kanye stomps over to the piano and starts playing “Runaway” as all the ballerinas come in . . . well it's just as great as the description makes it sound. The movie was a great and thoroughly apt preview for Kanye's album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, as it's just as beautifully crafted and duckfucking insane as the record.


Kick-Ass/Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Although these two pictures are quite different, I mention them together because of the comic book connection, and because both frequently made me go, “Wow, is this really happening . . .?” One main difference is that the titular protagonist of Kick-Ass assumes the mantle of comic book hero as a conscious choice, while Scott Pilgrim has it thrust upon him. Both are tales of dorks who achieve great things and end up with stunningly beautiful geek-friendly girlfriends. Despite that similarity, though, these two pictures are vastly different, similar only in their being fantastically entertaining in their own ways.

One thing I do have to say though, as awesome and capable of taking care of herself as Hit-Girl was (Chloe Moretz is ridiculously good in the role), when Mark Strong punches her in the face during the climactic boss fight, it bothered me. Sure she'd killed all his dudes. But she's a fuckin 10 year old girl, man.

(One final note, speaking of Mark Strong: seeing all those English guys, like Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng, playing NYC Italian mobsters was a lot of fun).


The Kids Are All Right

I'm a very big Lisa Cholodenko fan, and have been for years, and was thrilled when she finally put a new picture out (she's been directing TV for forever). I love the way she deals with sexuality, leaving politics out of the question and focusing on the way things actually are. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore's marriage is one of the best, richest, and most honest portrayals of a romantic relationship I've ever seen, and bonus points to Lisa C. for not turning Julianne Moore into a villain for banging Mark Ruffalo out of validation, instead treating her like a real person who made a mistake. Also, leaving it relatively ambiguous though guardedly optimistic about the future of the marriage at the end of the picture is a nice touch, and one of my favorite things about Lisa Cholodenko as a director: she leaves all the cheap melodramatic Hollywood shit at the door and says “All right, people, let's make an actual fucking movie.” God, I love her.


The American

Hey there, Anton Corbijn. Thanks very much for this picture. George Clooney as an aging, shadowy, tight-lipped guy who makes custom-built weapons for assassins and works for a Dutch guy who won a bet with Lance Henriksen to see who could be more of a leathery badass? Sure, I'm all in. Oh, and thanks as well for Irina Bjorklund, Thekla Reuten, and Violante Placido (che bellezza immortale e celestiale . . .)

Every single shot in this movie is so beautiful you feel it. The execution is beautiful, elegant, precise. Oh, and anyone who claims this picture is boring either needs a fucking brain transplant or got given a bootleg copy of The Limits of Control (which was similar in premise and did suck) by mistake.


Inception

I still stand by all this, with the addendum that it gets even better with repeated viewings. And watching it with headphones on is an exquisite experience if you're into sound. It's also a lot less confusing each revisit; if you pay attention, it's all laid right out for you right there. Bravo, Chris Nolan.

By the way, I know box office grosses don't necessarily mean anything, but it rules that this picture of all pictures has made $800+ million.


Black Swan

Again, I pretty much said all I needed to with this post. Jesus Christ, Natalie Portman was good in this. And remember, nearly everything from the first act break on is a metaphor.


The Social Network

No more need be said than this: a movie that not four months ago I thought of on a level with Ridley Scott's rumored adaptation of Monopoly, I know think is the best studio picture since . . . fuck, I don't know. Best in years. For a movie that's so heavily fictionalized, it has an amazing sense of this time and place, the modern age. More here.


And, finally, the #1 . . . drum roll . . .


Winter's Bone

Give Debra Granik what she needs. And get the fuck out of her way. She's one of the best directors in the world right now. And let's see what we can do about making sure Jennifer Lawrence doesn't have to do fucking comic book movies, shall we? I know Matthew “Kick-Ass” Vaughn is directing that X-Men thing she's in next, and he's awesome, but I don't want any fucking around with an actor this good. Jennifer Lawrence HAS IT. Give her roles where she can act. I know this is asking a lot (Gender equity? Crazy talk), but let's give it a try.


Well, that's it. Angry comments about shit I “forgot” are always welcome. Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

SMARTER THAN THE AVERAGE BEAR AND TWICE AS STRANGE

Well. I've been at this blogging thing for a year now (give or take a day or so), and I thank all of you who read this deeply sincere, contradiction-ridden, hideously profane malarkey. While I'm a self-deprecating sort by nature, enough of you tell me how much you enjoy this stuff that I figure I'm doing okay for myself here.

I do, however, know when I'm beat. Behold this review of Yogi Bear. First off, thanks for taking one for the team, Cyriaque Lamar; there's no fuckin way in hell I was going to see that picture. Even if I had kids I'd pull the snob fascist Dad "I will not deign to have my progeny pollute their yet-developing aesthetic with such fluffy foofery" routine (oh yeah, hypothetical offspring, it's nothing but Joyce, Bartok, and Impressionist summer camp for you little motherfuckers . . . heh heh heh.)

Second of all, I can't compete with anyone named Cyriaque Lamar. Nor will I try. That'd just be dumb.

Third . . . hell yes. THAT'S fuckin film criticism, goddammit. Last summer, io9 had a similarly brilliant take on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. In lesser hands, the "assume an ironic pose with no connection to the movie whatsoever for the sole purpose of looking cool" gambit would be douche-y and precious . . . but these are not lesser hands. io9, I salute thee.

Fourth, it's an excuse to close things out with the most brilliant fan vid that nearly made my Top Ten of the year (for which, stay tuned!) I give you The Assassination of Yogi Bear By The Coward Boo Boo Ford.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

EVERY CREATION MYTH NEEDS A DEVIL


And so we come to the conclusion of Movies By Bowes ™'s exhaustive, comprehensive Oscar coverage! Yes, this is only the third post, but come on, we all have better things to do. So, to recap: first, we took a look at the little indie that could (if the botulism-paralyzed, leather-skinned Hollywoodites get off their stupid asses and see it in time), Winter's Bone. Then, we took a look at the picture that won't win because there isn't enough room for Darren Aronofsky's (or, for that matter, Natalie Portman's) balls on the statue, Black Swan. Today, we look at the picture that's going to win everything, The Social Network.

It would be tempting to say The Social Network is the heir apparent simply because the retarded Southern Californian plastic surgery reptiles that make up a sickeningly massive majority of the Academy haven't seen Winter's Bone. And it's true, they haven't. It's also true that the hype surrounding The Social Network is a touch operatic: Citizen Kane isn't usually namedropped this much unless Peter Bogdanovich is trying to get laid. But there's no getting around it, The Social Network is a really fucking good movie.

Movies about really smart people are fairly rare, but ones in which smart people are portrayed convincingly are extremely so. Mark Zuckerberg, the prime mover behind the creation of Facebook, is an extremely smart person, and The Social Network is his story, but only up to a certain point. Jesse Eisenberg should be fucking knighted for his performance in this picture. He conveys a fierce, intimidating, magnificent intellect. He's wound so tight he looks like he's about to explode. He has a vaguely “holy shit these people on Earth are confusing dumbasses” look on his face the whole picture, like an alien who was staring at the hot girl with the three tits during his briefing about human culture instead of paying attention. And yet, even at the end when he's the world's youngest billionaire and all his friends are suing him, you can still relate to him. As much as you can relate to a genius nerd with Asperger's.

The catch is, the Zuckerberg portrayed in the movie apparently has very little to do with the real-life guy. The real Zuckerberg didn't have as clear-cut an inciting event inspiring him to create proto-Facebook as Jesse Eisenberg does in the movie (getting dumped by Rooney Mara). For one, the real Zuckerberg has had the same steady girlfriend since before the events portrayed in the movie, and they're still together. Whatever sparked Zuckerberg's quest to create a website that could theoretically connect every human being on earth was probably something more mundane, inexplicable, or less cinematic.

Enter Aaron Sorkin. He told New York magazine “I don't want my fidelity to be to the truth, I want it to be to good storytelling,” and went on to pose the rhetorical question: “What is the big deal about accuracy for accuracy's sake, and can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?” Now, you could go ahead and read that as Aaron Sorkin walking around his zipper down saying “I'll do whatever the fuck I want to because The West Wing, because Sports Night, because A Few Good Men, because Charlie Wilson's War, and because deez nuts in your mouth.” He could make that argument, and I'd let him, because come on dude he's Aaron Sorkin. But that's not what he's saying. He and David Fincher have both been weirdly cryptic about the kind of picture they made with The Social Network, which is mildly frustrating, but I think I have an idea why.

Here goes (and I swear I'm not just saying this because I still have Black Swan on the brain): The Social Network is not meant to be taken literally. I don't think it's intended by either Aaron Sorkin or David Fincher to be viewed as journalism. Their Zuckerberg, as embodied by Sir Jesse Eisenberg, is less the actual Zuckerberg than he is the Everynerd. The reason this picture is called The Social Network and not “Zuckerberg or Fuckerberg? How one nerd with Asperger's became the world's youngest billionaire while losing all his friends in the process” is that the picture is not really about Mark Zuckerberg, at least as he exists as an actual, literal, flesh-and-blood human being. The picture is actually about the evolution of the nature of social contact, the irony that the people who facilitate such contact are a lot more comfortable with ones and zeros and p's and q's, and secondarily about how the one thing that has been the same since the beginning of time is that innovation breeds envy, and if people can claim credit, they will, and tertiarily that if you make a billion dollars before the age of 25, someone is going to call bullshit and sue the fuck out of you.

I find David Fincher absolutely fascinating. He's a brilliant guy and a near-complete autodidact with technical gifts as a filmmaker that know few equals in the history of the medium, and a guy who uses those gifts to subvert. His middle finger is at near-constant extension when in the presence of authority (dating back to his leaving his job at Industrial Light and Magic at like 21 or something because Return of the Jedi “sucked shit through a straw”), and he lives for shit like getting Fox to give him $75 million dollars to make an experimental picture about the role mass media plays in the evolution/destruction of masculinity (that would be Fight Club). It is entirely possible that he was interested in the story of how Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook and became a billionaire on its own merits, but I doubt it. I have two theories: the first is that the idea of taking a kind of run-of-the-mill story (a lot of nerds have made a lot of fucking money off the Internet, Zuckerberg was just one of the biggest) and using it as a pretense to explore the larger and more cerebral question of just what socialization means in the age of the Internet appealed to Fincher, who was like, “yeah, I can troll the suits into letting me make my movie and I can get a giant schadenfreude boner at the fact that they're paying me tens of millions of dollars to basically smoke a joint with the audience and shoot the shit about something mildly esoteric.” The other theory is that he saw the nine-millionth trailer that said “based on a true story” and just snapped: “Fuck you guys, I'm going to pick a 'true story' and make massive parts of it up, including all the most important shit in it.” Because all those fucking “based on the incredible true story” movies have one thing in common: the lack of credibility deriving from the fact that they're fictionalized whenever convenient. David Fincher's the kind of guy who would take that to the logical extension of, rather than doing it out of laziness or because he thinks giving Gandhi a wisecracking sidekick to keep him company during his hunger strike will play better with the 18 to 34s, fictionalizing the shit out of this story that happened really recently and almost entirely on the public record as a pure and blatant act of trolling.

Combine this with Sorkin caring more about telling a good story than about it being true, and I think we can safely conclude that the fictionalizations contained in The Social Network are for reasons other than laziness or adherence to any Hollywood narrative standards. What those reasons were, I can only speculate, but the results definitely universalize the story, and I think the purpose of doing that is that The Social Network is the ur-story of this past decade. The Internet has been a large part of my life since the early 90s, but I'm a nerd; the 00s were the point at which even the most civilian-y civilian in Civilianville had a computer and knew what the Internet was, even if s/he had only the foggiest notion of what it really was or what it implied about the changes in the way people communicate. The Internet itself has changed a great deal as well as it grows and becomes less a thing at the fringes of society than society itself. When I first got a computer and used that snazzy dial-up modem (the fastest one then offered!) to get on the World Wide Web, you had to know your way around, and communities were small, scattered and fragmented, but over time they've grown in size, come together, and become more universal in purpose. Facebook was probably the most ambitious and deliberate attempt to bring the Internet together, and it's doing pretty well so far, with half a billion users worldwide, or 7% of the world's population. It is, as the poet said, kind of a big deal, and the story of Facebook is only just beginning.

While the periodic changes to the site invariably provoke myriad status updates along the lines of “I miss Old Facebook! What was wrong with Old Facebook? I HATE NEW FACEBOOK! MAKE IT GO AWAY!” it is important to remember, as the movie points out, that Facebook was never intended to stay one thing forever; if it did, it would fail, as it needs to be what the given moment requires. If that means borrowing this idea from Twitter or that idea from somewhere else, so be it. The only mildly disquieting thing about Facebook is how often “New Facebook” resets privacy settings to “Please Hack Me,” but this is why you sign up for Facebook with your backup e-mail address, not your main one, and you post pictures of your dick or tits (or both, if you're really interesting) to your Tumblr. Well, unless Tumblr gets hacked. But we're not talking about Tumblr; the only way someone's going to make a movie about Tumblr is if the mumblecore dudes decide it's ironic enough, and that could take fucking decades. Back to Facebook: the thing to remember about Facebook is that you get out of it exactly what you put into it. If your friends are a bunch of retards, Facebook will be retarded. If your friends are a bunch of indie theater artists and filmmakers (like me), you're going to get a lot of show/screening/audition notices, people bitching about Charles Isherwood, and people going “Hey, are you free at 6am and feel like traveling 100 miles? Extras needed, no pay.” And, no matter who you are, lots of videos of cats.

So, at long last, we arrive back at The Social Network. As a movie, it's much the same way. You kind of get out of it what you put into it, in the sense that you'll see what you want to see in it. People who wanted to see the epoch-making story of our times saw that. People who wanted to see a tightly-paced picture about a smart wiseass who gets sued saw that. People who wanted to see a “typical Hollywood getting the facts wrong and ignoring minorities/women/et al” picture saw that. I saw a Rorschach blot, because I'm Neo and I see the source code. (Ed. Note: the line to kick the author in the balls forms to the left). It's a measure of the skill of the writer, director, and cast that the audience is left entirely on its own to make up its own mind about what it's seeing.

This begins with the opening scene, a fiction about how Rooney Mara is trying desperately to have a conversation with Sir Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg without glassing him in the face with her beer. He's talking way too fast, overintellectualizing everything, borderline robotic, and is totally blindsided by the fact that she breaks up with him (which is her whole point).

Sir Jesse gets pissed (in both senses of the word, angry and drunk) and stalks angrily across campus over the opening credits and some damn good Trent Reznor tunes (I have a very complicated relationship with the guy's music but when he's good I tip my cap) to his dorm room, where he proceeds to drink more and exact his revenge: saying mean and factually sketchy shit about his now-ex-girlfriend on his blog. Granted, this is about as obvious a way of pointing out the true spirit of the Internet as showing the guy fapping to hentai, but it's effective.

While posting mean shit about his ex, Sir Jesse comes up with the idea of a website where people can compare Harvard girls and decide which one's hotter. The site ends up being so popular that it crashes Harvard's network within hours, which leads to Sir Jesse being called in front of a disciplinary board, whose balls he busts epically (in a sign of things to come). He gets off with academic probation, but attracts the attention of a couple rich-kid twins, the gloriously named Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (both played by one actor, Armie Hammer, and some snazzy, totally fucking invisible, almost casual CGI wizardry by Mr. Fincher), who with their third partner, played by Anthony Minghiella's kid Max, approach Sir Jesse to get him to program a dating site for them.

Sir Jesse, simultaneously seduced and annoyed by the fact that the rich kids are in a prestigious “final club” (some stupid Ivy League elitist evil white guy bullshit that the real Zuckerberg didn't really give a fuck about, but it does give Sir Jesse some evil white guys to hate), agrees to help them with their site, but he spends all his time thinking up the embryonic version of Facebook with his buddy, the also-gloriously-named Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). The possibility that the only reason this picture claims to be based on a true story is so they could use all the cool real names cannot be discounted.

At this point, we start flashing forward to two different lawsuits being brought against Sir Jesse. One is from the twins—who Sir Jesse, in his divinity, dubs the “Winklevii” at one point—and the other is from—O NOEZ!—Andrew Garfield. But they're best friends! How could that be? Well, it's quite simple, really. After “the facebook” becomes the talk of Harvard, something so popular it gets the borderline autistic Sir Jesse laid by Asian girls (Ed. Note: the author prefers Mediterreanean/Semitic Gina Gershon types—every man his own mildly racist sex fantasies—but has been given to understand that the Far East holds a fascination for many), Sir Jesse and Andrew Garfield expand to several other colleges, including Yale, Princeton, and Stanford, the last something upon which Andrew Garfield insists. Wouldn't you know it, that very expansion to Stanford is what brings “the facebook” to the attention of internet entrepreneur Sean Parker, played by none other than one Justin Timberlake.

A number of people couldn't get past the fact that it was Justin Timberlake playing the part. I think it was a brilliant choice. The way the Parker character sweeps into the movie and charms the living fuck out of everyone (except Andrew Garfield), you need someone who's a major major star, for the necessary charisma. Justin Timberlake is a very big star, and . . . fuck, he can act. He's probably going to get the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) before he's 35, and he's one well-orchestrated Oscar campaign away from only needing the Tony in a couple months, and he's the kind of guy who can simply decide to win one. This would be obnoxious if that video where he brought sexy back wasn't so awesome and if he wasn't out-of-the-galaxy amazing in The Social Network.

Timberlake fascinates Sir Jesse, whose one cool thing he's ever done is come up with the idea for “the facebook.” Timberlake, on the other hand, is little more than cool (though as Andrew Garfield points out with a surprising absence of bitchiness, he's got a whole mess of paranoid insecurities, drug problems, etc as well) and he leaves his first meeting with Sir Jesse and Andrew Garfield with the fateful suggestion: “Drop the 'the.' Just 'Facebook.' It's cleaner.” The divide starts there: Sir Jesse thinks the idea's awesome, Andrew Garfield's like “Who's this fuckface? What is he, on coke?” Funny you should ask, Andrew. Yes, yes he is on coke.

Over time, Timberlake uses his influence over Sir Jesse to gradually phase Andrew Garfield out, which he of course does not take well (hence, the massive lawsuit). The Winklevosses decide to sue as well, following getting their asses kicked in a boat race and their noses rubbed in it by Prince Albert of Monaco (Max Minghiella hilariously waves it off: “He's the prince of a country the size of Nantucket Island . . .”)

The lawsuits, brilliantly, are never shown to be entirely with or without merit. Sir Jesse, however, makes his position quite clear:

Gage (the Winklevosses' lawyer): Mr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?
Sir Jesse: [stares out the window] No.
Gage: Do you think I deserve it?
Sir Jesse: [looks at the lawyer] What?
Gage: Do you think I deserve your full attention?
Sir Jesse: I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don't want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say no.
Gage: Okay - no. You don't think I deserve your attention.
Sir Jesse: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. (pause) Did I adequately answer your condescending question?
In other words, go home and get your fuckin shinebox. Despite his awesome putdowns, he doesn't actually mount much in the way of a defense, whether because he has none or can't be bothered. Eventually, Rashida Jones, one of his legal team, tells him that he really should just settle out of court, whether or not he's guilty, because either way a trial will get ugly, and shit like the bogus (but really funny) animal cruelty charge against Andrew Garfield that gets mentioned during his lawsuit will be all over the media. Shit like Timberlake getting caught with blow and underage interns (which he does, and fuck me does Timberlake kick ass in the scene where he gets arrested).

After Rashida Jones advises Sir Jesse to settle, he asks if he can hang around to use the computer in the law office before going home. He takes the opportunity to look up Rooney Mara's Facebook page. After hesitating a moment, he sends her a friend request. And then, blankly staring at the screen, hits F5 to refresh every few seconds as “Baby You're A Rich Man” fades up. By this point, it seriously doesn't matter how much of the movie was bullshit, that last shot, the loneliness, the knowledge that while shit sucks but it could be worse, that embarrassing need for validation (leavened by the knowledge of how dumb and meaningless the whole thing is), the irony of using the thing inspired by Rooney Mara's rejection of him to get back in touch with her . . . outta the park.

So yeah, The Social Network really is that good. It's so good that even though everyone portrayed in it universally says nearly the whole picture is complete bullshit, they still think it's a good movie. Zuckerberg is, understandably, not entirely pleased with the way he was portrayed (as good as Jesse Eisenberg is in the movie, watching video of the real Zuckerberg highlights one major difference just to start: Zuckerberg smiles a lot more) but the Zuckerberg in the movie is not a bad guy at all. He's a little cold, extremely ambitious, and has no tolerance for other people's bullshit (well, with the exception of Timberlake's; charisma's a powerful thing) . . . but the last two are good things, and the first is neutral. Fincher and Sorkin's attitude toward facts and the real people involved is a little cavalier, especially if you're one of the real people, but no one really comes off all that bad, even Timberlake with all the coke and chicks and carelessness (there's one amazingly observed moment, where, when holding two large drinks and the doorbell rings, Timberlake sets them down very carefully on an open laptop keyboard; this is not the act of someone who doesn't care about consequences, this is the act of someone who is unaware that they exist) . . . well, yeah, Timberlake doesn't come off great. But you can't make an omelet without pissing someone off. Or something.

Even if, after all my rationalizations and wild overreaching, The Social Network actually is just a Hollywood movie, it's a really, really good Hollywood movie. If we're stuck with one movie taking all the Oscars this year, it might as well be one this deliriously entertaining and meticulously crafted. It's worth getting to listen to Aaron Sorkin dialogue for two hours alone. One of the Winklevosses says, about wanting to kick Zuckerberg's ass, “I'm 6'5”, 220, and there are two of me.” Fuck it, the movie'd be worth it for that line. But there are all of these as well. And all kinds of great David Fincher visual snap, like shooting the big boat race the Winklevosses lose with this weird digital effect that made everything look really tiny and silly. And, really, would a movie about the Internet really be about the Internet if it didn't have some wildly entertaining stuff that was probably bullshit?

Friday, December 24, 2010

MERRY CHRISTMAS, ONE AND ALL


2010 years ago (give or take a few months or years), a baby named Yeshua was born. He would grow up to be a very popular reform rabbi. He was really cool (if a bit of a hippie), and said we should be nice to each other, which meant he had to get the ever-living shit killed out of him by the Romans. One thing led to another and now me and my fellow goys trip our balls off (not literally; well, not necessarily literally) every December when Rabbi Yeshua's official (but not real, he was born in July like Harry Potter) birthday comes around. Which is funny, for reasons I'm not prepared to explain.

With Christmas being the massive thing that it is, different types of people react differently to Christmas. In fact, in spite of Christmas tradition being as seemingly a monolithic thing as it is, there are as many ways to get through Christmas as there are people. With that in mind, the crack staff (of one crackhead) here at Movies By Bowes ™ has compiled a helpful list of Christmas movies, tailored to different types of moods. You're quite welcome.

First, a perfunctory nod to tradition:


Traditional 1.0: It's A Wonderful Life
It's certainly not a wonderful movie. It's A Wonderful Life is clunky, oppressively maudlin, not particularly deep, and about four years long. But, until fairly recently, people all insisted that it was awesome and tried like hell to pretend that they enjoyed it, and who knows? Some of them might not have been pretending. But I personally can't stand Frank Capra movies. They're all way too long, all full of gushy sentimentality and fuzzy religious shit, and they give me diabetes. His true calling, during World War II, was making propaganda movies, which were pretty effective, but his “non” propaganda work was just as specifically, manipulatively tailored toward producing specific emotions in the audience. It's a shame, because Frank Capra was a really interesting guy in real life and he genuinely loved what he did . . . I just can't get on board with the cat. It might be my fault, it might be his, it might be nobody's. But I'm not the only person who feels this way, and I'm certainly not the only person who was forced, by some asshole, to sit through It's A Wonderful Life “because it's Christmas.” You know what? I have a calendar. I know what day it is. I want to watch something else. Like . . .


Traditional 2.0: A Christmas Story
This is more like it. I'm very happy that people who run TV stations are apparently now under 90 and not assholes, because if something is going to be on loop all day, it might as well be this picture, with Bob Clark's neo-classical direction, Jean Shepherd's infectiously good-natured Americana narration, and a great cast who all totally mean it. Sure, it seems like it upholds all the materialistic shit about Christmas that's mildly lame in the wrong hands, but these are the right hands, and little Ralphie whipping himself into a frenzy over the BB gun that he wants somehow isn't annoying, which in and of itself is a sign of this movie's four-star, unqualified classic status. The end, where getting the thing isn't as perfect as he thought it was going to be, is handled well, and not cynically, but gently, reassuringly. This picture, if you observe Christmas (which I kind of do by proxy), gets the balance just right: it's something to be enjoyed. The fact that it's also a great movie, and really funny (“Fra-JEE-lay . . . it's Italian!”) is the star on top of the tree.


But what's that, you say? An iconoclast, are you? Looking for non-traditional fare? All right, you communistic heathen son of a bitch (or, in other words, my friend), just this once, you shall be indulged:


“It's Christmas and I want to see shit blow up”: Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Die Hard 2
Hey, look, I feel you. I like watching things explode, too. But if you're going to take your action movie rum in a traditional glass of Christmas egg nog, do so with these three fine motion pictures, all set in Christmas season. As a bonus touch, if you're not feeling terribly Christmas-y, the first two are set in Southern California, one of the least Christmas-y places on the planet. Die Hard 2 has the traditional snow that gives “White Christmas” its name, but it's about the fakest fake snow ever committed to celluloid. Die Hard 2 also has the definitive Fred Dalton Thompson performance: as Trudeau, the southern-accented pillar of strength who runs the air traffic control tower, the former Senator Thompson joined the exalted ranks of actors who were so fucking great in a role that I only ever call them that ever again, alongside such luminaries as Mas (Takakura Ken in Black Rain), Eddie Sakamura (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa in Rising Sun), O'Reilly (Dean Winters on OZ), and everybody on The Wire except Method Man. Trudeau reassures me. He's a benevolent presence. Kind, but firm. Kinda like a clean-shaven, Southern Santa Claus.


“I want to see shit blow up but I don't want to watch a good movie”: The Long Kiss Goodnight
Anyone else notice that everything Shane Black ever wrote takes place at Christmas? Not complaining or anything, just, you know. Everything Shane Black ever wrote takes place at Christmas. For the explosion aficionado who doesn't have the time to deal with a good movie, The Long Kiss Goodnight fits the bill. Don't get me wrong, I fucking love it, but it is a Renny Harlin picture, it does go full retard once Geena Davis gets her memory back, and the action shit at the end makes comic books look like Ken Loach pictures. Being a Shane Black script, there's plenty of wonderful, quotable dialogue, but not all of it makes a ton of sense, and once the action picks up, the wit disappears. But shit blows up, and for certain Christmas moods, that's very important.


“I'm hung over from too much egg nog and can't handle explosions; what do I do?”: Trading PlacesWell, as long as you're not so hung over that laughing hurts, because Trading Places is one of the funnier movies ever made. It's got Eddie at the peak of his powers, Dan Aykroyd playing a rich twit, the maestro John Landis conducting, a great supporting cast, and a fairly wonderful couple seconds of Jamie Lee Curtis' tits. It's a nice blend of old-fashioned comedic premise and modern-day execution (wait shit, it was 27 years ago? Fuck, where's that fucking egg nog . . .) making a kind of neo-classical form, that because it was 27 years ago already (grrrrrrrrr) establishes it as a classic in its own right. And also, for Christmas, a movie where the good guys win and the bad guys lose is kind of key. We can go back to being cynical on the 26th.


“I have a massive joint. Get it? I'm blazing trees on Christmas! Huh huh huh . . .”: Scrooged
Of all the movie versions of A Christmas Carol, this one tops them all, because it has Bill Murray. To further establish dominance, it was co-written by the legendary Michael O'Donoghue, one of my gods. Michael O'Donoghue is the author of the book How To Write Good, which is where I learned how to write good. In it are such wonderful pieces of advice as, if you're at a loss as to how to end your story, have everyone get run over by a truck (if your story is set in England, remember to have them get run over by a lorry). Also, to teach the art of exposition, O'Donoghue recommends heavy use of the phrases “As you know” and “Of course you remember” (the latter as in a man saying to a woman, while pointing to a child, “Of course you remember our son” as a means of identifying the child).

Scrooged is a giant mess that lurches around from hilarious comedy to genuinely dark to truly scary, but fuck it, not everything has to be all neat and tidy, and Scrooged is awesome, which invalidates all of your petty accusations of uneven tone. If you're not feeling as cynical as you think you are, Scrooged is a great Christmas movie, even if the end can be a bit much (though trying to figure out what Bill Murray is on for the last ten minutes of the movie is some of the deepest thinking a cineaste can do).


“Fuck you”: Bad Santa
Cuz sometimes there ain't nothin like some good old-fashioned nastiness. Dig the high concept: Billy Bob Thornton plays a mall Santa who, in association with a wiseass midget (Tony Cox), pulls heists. Who's on board? Me, that's who. Over the course of the movie, Billy Bob and Tony Cox run afoul of Bernie Mac (man, I miss Bernie Mac) and John Ritter (yeah, I kinda miss him too) and Billy Bob manages to teach a mildly retarded kid how to be a man, while the kid helps Billy Bob become a better man. Without, in the slightest, being remotely sappy or any of that fuckin bullshit.

Bad Santa radiates “fuck you” from the bottom of its cinematic heart. It's not for every Christmas mood; if you're already in a good mood, you should stay away, but if you're a little grumbly or lonely or if that bottle of Jim Beam is telling you “Hey, I ain't gonna drink myself,” pop it in. By weird nihilistic cynical alchemy, it's a real feel-good movie. But only if you were growling at the universe in general and telling it to fuck off first.


There are a few other worthies, I'm sure, but these should get you through most Christmas scenarios imaginable. Unless there are kids around. In which case, you're stuck watching Bambi and Thumper Save Santa Claus or whatever those short, noisy little fuckers are watching nowadays. But really, Christmas is for them, not you anyway. Just so long as you don't make them watch It's A Wonderful Life. They will hate you forever, and if they don't, you should hate them. On that note, Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

IT SHOULD BE OBVIOUS, BUT IT'S NOT


“This is fucked up.” --Thom Yorke, “Black Swan,” 2006
“No, THIS is fucked up.” --Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan, 2010

Every awards season needs that one picture that's too weird, ballsy, or transgressive to actually win anything, even though it's absofuckinlutely tremendous. This year, it's Black Swan. An absolutely wonderful picture featuring a stunning lead performance by Natalie Portman, eye-popping, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping direction by Darren Aronofsky, and some of the most beautifully cinematic dance sequences ever filmed, Black Swan has less than zero chances of winning any awards. The cynical would say it's because Black Swan is too good. Those willing to look past being pissed at the Academy for its eternal boner for simplistic, sentimental tales that resolve neatly will note that Black Swan is complex, unsentimental, and has a very ambiguous ending (it's hard to say definitively whether anything in the movie actually happens). This dooms it to that token Best Supporting acting nomination (which neither Mila Kunis or Vincent Cassel will get and Barbara Hershey probably won't) or Best Original Screenplay (which it shouldn't get; the script was the weakest part of the picture) or Best Costume Design (hey, someone's got to lose to Inception). Really, pictures like Black Swan serve as a reminder that Oscars are for fuckin square-asses. (Ed. Note: this is why Movies By Bowes ™ will work tirelessly to bring you the Internet's most comprehensive 2010 Oscar coverage!)

Black Swan is a movie about how Natalie Portman goes batshit crazy. She's an ambitious young ballerina living in the Upper West Side with her stage mother (Barbara Hershey, who gave up her ballet career to have Natalie Portman and is quite batshit her own self). Natalie Portman's dedication to her craft has led to her becoming a technically immaculate, deeply repressed dancer; French douchebag ballet director Vincent Cassel (maybe the only guy alive who could keep this not-so-well-drawn character from being an irredeemable, boring fuckface) announces that they're doing Swan Lake to open the new season, but that Natalie Portman, while a perfect White Swan, just doesn't have the darkness/spontaneity/passion/sex to be the Black Swan.

Natalie Portman's ambition leads her to prove, in any way she can, to Vincent Cassel that she should be the swan queen. If that means tarting herself a bit and implying that she'll shtup him for the part, so be it. Vincent Cassel catches a glimpse of the Black Swan in Natalie Portman and takes a leap of faith, giving her the part, even though he realizes he's gotta coach her up a bit (by some less-than-PC methods, like semi-forcibly making out with her and instructing her to go home and masturbate).

Vincent Cassel points out another dancer to Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis. Mila Kunis appears to be everything Vincent Cassel wants Natalie Portman to be: spontaneous, sexual, seductive. Natalie Portman is both jealous and fascinated.

Natalie Portman starts noticing this mysterious “rash” on her back that her mother insists is because of Natalie Portman being a compulsive scratcher, and forcibly trims Natalie Portman's nails. Natalie Portman's fingers keep mysteriously bleeding (each one of these scenes is filmed in such a way that the audience feels the blood; Aronofsky is fucking on point in this picture). And suddenly things start happening where you're like “Is this really happening, or is Natalie Portman losing her grip on reality . . .?”

Now, all dancers are crazy. If they weren't already, they're made that way through years of brutally painful physical training where they're not allowed to add any muscle mass at all (lest they look anything less than the ideal of femininity) and they're not allowed to eat to give themselves the energy to do all that dancing (lest they get fat). This is why they're always flipping out and crying: they're fucking hungry and their knees and ankles hurt. (Ed. Note: the guys have a slightly less insane version of the same shit to deal with). Of course, they could all save themselves a lot of headaches by, instead of the conservatory, going here:

So yeah, Natalie Portman going nuts isn't any kind of revelation, or the point of the movie. It's like one of those “based on a true story” movies where you know the ultimate resolution—in this case, “Natalie Portman goes absolutely bugfuck”—but the journey is what the movie's about. With Black Swan, Natalie Portman's delusions or hallucinations or whatever all serve to make her pursuit of that within in her that will let her become the Black Swan literal and visual.

One evening, while Natalie Portman's at home with mom, fretting about taking the stage the next day, there's a knock at the door, and Natalie Portman thinks she hears whoever it is asking for her. Mom sends the caller away, but Natalie Portman runs to go see who it is, and it's Mila Kunis, wanting to see if Natalie Portman wants to go out for drinks or dinner. Over her mother's protests, Natalie Portman goes out.

They have quite the night, getting drunk, taking E, picking up meathead dudes who know nothing about the ballet. Natalie Portman, never having taken E before, starts rolling her tits off and she—for some bizarre reason—takes Mila Kunis back to her place, where her mother's still waiting up, and proceed after the start of rather a massive fight to Natalie Portman's room, where she and Mila Kunis have their much ballyhooed scene where Mila Kunis goes down on Natalie Portman con molto brio; Natalie Portman has a massive orgasm and passes out.

The next morning, Natalie Portman oversleeps, and frantically drags her tiny hungover ass to rehearsal, where Mila Kunis is dancing her part for her. Natalie Portman flips the fuck out and has what Vincent Cassel calls a “breakthrough,” although Mila Kunis denies hooking up with Natalie Portman, derisively saying “You totally had a lezzie wet dream about me.” And while this is the first point at which Natalie Portman herself questions her grip on reality, it really started a bit earlier.

I didn't mention her yet, but there's this whole subplot with Winona Ryder, as the aging former ballet star (I mean my God she's in her fucking 30s) who Vincent Cassel used to shtup but doesn't anymore, and furthermore is phasing out of the ballet. Winona does not take this well and screams drunkenly at a shaken-up Natalie Portman before at the very least semi-intentionally wandering out into traffic and sustaining career-ending injuries that may leave her unable to walk. I waited til now to bring Winona up because it's at this point that Natalie Portman starts going “Shit, I'm tiny, dark-haired and wound too tight just like Winona . . . Mila Kunis is a threat.” Vincent Cassel, to whom she goes in a teary teenage tantrum insisting that Mila Kunis be fired, tells her to get back to work.

That scene, afterward, had me thinking. I was already wondering whether Natalie Portman had ever actually spoken to Mila Kunis, or whether she just saw this cool-looking chick with a tattoo of wings on her back (like . . . A SWAN! coughcough ahem sorry bout that) come in late one day and went “That's everything I'm not: cool, sexy, ten minutes late . . . let's build her up into a fantasy BFF and an avatar of my repressed bi-curious tendencies! Oh fuck now she's a threat to me because she represents things that I envy but which I scorn! Whatever shall I do?” I mean, clearly the lesbian scene didn't really happen. But here's the question: Vincent Cassel, veteran that he is, must have seen a lot of crazy dancer chicks through a lot of crazy shit. Was he aware that Natalie Portman had constructed this fantasy rival/bedmate/reification of her subconscious . . . and did his patient yet firm dismissal of her request that he fire Mila Kunis derive from this knowledge? Because I don't know whether Vincent Cassel was just playing that scene with old school old country male chauvinist “oh shush, you poor little hysterical girl” shit or was he just like “ah, she's nuts, let's take the 'handling nitroglycerin' approach”? Whatever the answer, I love that this is a movie where you have to ask questions like that.

Natale Portman manages to stay sane enough to (barely) make it to opening night, whereupon one of the great dance sequences in the history of cinema begins. Through perspective, camera placement, sound design, and cuts, Darren Aronofsky makes the audience feel as though they themselves are an extremely skilled dancer who is out of her fucking mind dancing Swan Lake on opening night. In a wonderfully ironic touch, Natalie Portman fucks up embarassingly as the White Swan, the one she was supposed to be perfect as, and not only is she great as the Black Swan, she fucking grows wings. That's the kind of thing I say when I go to the ballet when I'm drunk and the people I'm with sigh at me: “Dude, she was so fuckin good as the Black Swan she fucking grew wings, dude!” (Ed. Note: the author is fully comfortable with being ridiculous). I consider Black Swan as a vindication of my tendency to get fucked up and discuss high culture in vulgar terms. She grew wings, man, what do you want me to say?

Okay, shit, sorry, I'm still stuck on this. She fucking grows wings. She grows wings! She totally and completely becomes the Black Swan. And, after her hallucinatory dressing-room-trashing, mirror-smashing rage following her fuckup as the White Swan, Natalie Portman's doing all this with a chunk of mirror embedded in her gut. So, at the end, when the character dies, the dancer does too, murmuring “I was perfect” as Aronofsky fades to white. Fuck. Yes.

Some people have gotten hung up on some of the things in Black Swan that don't make any immediate, apparent sense. Like Mila Kunis looking like she's going to be this big important part of the movie and then disappearing after the sex scene. If you take it as literal truth, Black Swan is a gigantic incoherent pile of bullshit. It doesn't make any literal sense, because it's not meant to be taken literally. The entire picture is constructed of visual metaphors for the creative process and the way in which a performer can lose him/herself identifying with a character. If the performer fails to maintain a sense of self and totally becomes the character—like Natalie Portman and the Black Swan—the self ceases to exist, and bloop, that's it. You might as well be bleeding out through the guts from a chunk of broken mirror. So really, Black Swan isn't even about a ballet dancer, it's a cautionary tale to all performers, warning them to not surrender too much of themselves in the pursuit of their art. It's nice to see a movie getting mainstream release that has the balls to not even be literally true, but instead a visual poetic essay about the preservation of self.

But that last is what, in the end, is going to screw Black Swan come award time. Natalie Portman's going to lose Best Actress to Annette Bening because this is Annette Bening's year and Annette Bening got shafted by Hilary Swank twice and Hilary Swank isn't getting nominated this year because all she did was that shitty Amelia Earhart movie. Or, translated into normal people talk: “irrelevant bullshit irrelevant bullshit irrelevant bullshit yayayayaya.” Black Swan is a more important and better movie than any award nominations could ever say. Darren Aronofsky, at this point, could probably do anything he fucking wanted with a movie camera. His reward will not be Oscars. His reward will be masses of cinemagoers, writhing around on the floor having been knocked on their ass, murmuring “wow” or staggering out of the theater Tweeting things like “HOLY FUCKING SHIT BLACK SWAN.” I don't know about you, but to me that's cooler than some gold-plated statue that I got because some other son of a bitch didn't. I'll take the floor-ass-knocked stunned people. And if I'm Natalie Portman, while I'm off somewhere having the big, delicious meal I couldn't while making the movie and someone walks up to me and goes, “You were really good in Black Swan,” I smile and say to myself, “Yeah, that was pretty good, wasn't it?” Because holy shit. Holy fucking shit. Black Swan.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

LIES MY WRITING TEACHERS TOLD ME


There's a great scene in The Player, where Peter Gallagher, playing a hotshot up-and-coming movie exec, suggests eliminating the writer from the creative process. He picks up a newspaper and has the other execs find a story, that he turns with alarming ease into high-concept pitches complete with lead actors attached. The whole rest of the movie is full of other examples of writers being mistreated and disrespected (which made it especially funny that Robert Altman, who was famous for fucking over the writers on his pictures—claiming Ring Lardner Jr. didn't write MASH when he totally did, taking a co-writing credit on McCabe and Mrs. Miller for sheer dick-size purposes, etc—was now coming to their aid). The point, that in the modern movie industry, concerned with the bottom line above all else, the screenwriter's job is to follow a formula rather than create art, thus debasing the screenplay, is made quite well, and we are if anything experiencing a greater debasement of screenwriting today. I recently had the mild pleasure of seeing Tron: Legacy, which while pretty to look at, induced aching marijuana cravings, less to necessarily enhance the visuals and soundtrack than to make the endless “people talking” stretches where neon laserbots weren't having swordfights endurable.

Shitty scripts are often blamed on Hollywood's tendency to turn the writing process into an assembly line. Between the labyrinthine WGA rules about credit, and the seeming attitude that the next writer can always fix what the original stubborn/incompetent shithead can't/won't leading to a zillion (Ed. Note: official figure) different writers working on the average script, it's impossible to even figure out who to blame for the script sucking, most times.

I've had a few writing teachers in my life (I'll let them remain anonymous because I know none of them wants to take the blame for my cortex-busting run-on sentences or tendency to curse more than a longshoreman with his dick stuck under a forklift) and the prose ones are adamant on the point that the best writing is done by one writer. The playwriting and screenwriting teachers were all like, “One writer, maybe two, working in concert with a director who makes suggestions.” Their point: with each additional writer the probability of aesthetic, tonal, and other sorts of clashes increases. Which is true, and do note they phrased it in terms of probability rather than certainty.

The discussion would then shift to a discussion of specific scripts that demonstrated the truth of this assertion. This is where things get interesting. Almost without exception, their examples would be from the modern era of cinema (generally agreed to have been inaugurated in 1967 by either Bonnie & Clyde or The Graduate), but not too recently, because again almost without exception this topic would arise because said teacher was bellyaching about how everything sucks nowadays. The most notable and frequent examples were the following:

Chinatown
Jaws
All The President's Men

Tootsie
Witness
It's a weird list. The first four pictures on there are legit all-time classics, though the playwriting teacher who used Jaws as an example took me aback because it was just about the only thing she ever praised that wasn't by a gay leftist woman of color (she was straight and white; I used to do a pretty funny imitation of her stoned, breathy classroom voice). And Witness is a real head-scratcher: everyone fapped about how important it was in 1985 when it came out but it hasn't really stood the test of time all that well. The point is, though, that all five of these scripts were held up, by the teacher in question, as being written only by the credited writer or one of the credited writers, with no interference from any studio yuppies or anyone. However, because of that cool foreshadowing shit I learned from these teachers, you might be getting the impression that I'm implying that these teachers' attributions of authorship was faulty on these scripts. And oh my God you guys . . . they're wrong in all five cases!


Chinatown (1974)
Credited author: Robert Towne
Uncredited collaborators: Roman Polanski and (I'm pretty sure) Jack Nicholson

Robert Towne took home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for this one, and has been lionized ever since for writing one of the greatest scripts of all time. Chinatown's awesome, and it's got some righteously badass dialogue. Robert Towne's reputation isn't baseless, the guy can write his fuckin ass off. But the script for Chinatown, to which Towne made any changes at all under extreme duress, was this massive, digressive 250 page thing with no ending. Legendary Paramount head Bob Evans had the script for like ever, utterly convinced that it was a work of genius but nonetheless cognizant that it was un-fucking-filmable. So he brought in Roman Polanski to try and make some sense of it.

Polanski, to be diplomatic, wasn't. He sat down with Towne to try and streamline Towne's definitive statement about life, Los Angeles, and everything into a movie of non-ass-deadening length. With both of them convinced of their own genius, these talks eventually devolved into Polanski chirping heavily-accented suggestions that Towne go fuck himself, and Towne parrying with Polish jokes and countersuggestions that Polanski's whole “go fuck yourself” idea had legs, and maybe Polanski should give it a try.

With amiable collaboration not in the stars, Polanski sat down and edited a bunch of stuff and (reportedly) wrote an actual ending. His contributions to the script were widely considered to have been sufficient to win a WGA arbitration for co-writing credit with ease, but Polanski either didn't give a fuck or didn't want to spend any more time in the same room as Towne. Leading actor Jack Nicholson, who himself had considerable screenwriting experience, apparently wrote or improvised some of the best dialogue in the picture as well. Then, on top of everything else, even the pared-down Polanski/Nicholson draft that Polanski ended up shooting was altered as all scripts are once the picture was shot and the footage was being edited. So, yes, Towne's script was pretty fuckin good, but holding it up as a model script is kind of funny considering.


Jaws (1975)
Credited writers: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Uncredited: Howard Sackley, John Milius, Robert Shaw, etc etc.


To be fair, I only had the one writing teacher tout Jaws as being the bomb shiznittle bing-bang greatest-ever achievement in narrative structure. She did, however, claim that Benchley wrote the whole thing himself, which is especially funny considering that there's another dude listed in the actual credits, not to mention the forty katrillion (Ed. Note: actual figure) other motherfuckers who worked on it at one point or other.

It's fitting that Jaws, the first modern summer blockbuster, also established the template of having massive numbers of dudes working on the script. Benchley was hired, at first, to adapt his novel himself, it being a massive best-seller, but the producers and director Steven Spielberg got impatient and brought in help. Spielberg claims to have done a whole bunch of writing himself as well.

Robert Shaw's legendary monologue about the USS Indianapolis has been attributed, variously and collectively, to Shaw, John Milius, and playwright Howard Sackler, with Shaw himself (a playwright as well as one of the 70s' towering on-screen badasses) most frequently credited. Rumors that Spielberg had at least half a dozen other writers work on the script have abounded ever since, which may be because it was such a hit everyone wanted to take credit, but still.

Not only was the script itself stitched together from the efforts of so many different writers, the finished movie was the result of other factors, most notably the fact that Spielberg, while showing off how cool the mechanical shark was to Milius and George Lucas, accidentally broke the fucking thing messing around, leading to the famous—and extremely effective—choice to imply the shark rather than show it too early. Cinema is a collaborative medium, and fate is the biggest script doctor in the business.


All The President's Men (1976)
Credited writer: William Goldman
Uncredited: Carl Bernstein, Nora Ephron, Robert Redford, Alan J. Pakula

William Goldman, gentleman, scholar, Knicks fan, was hired to adapt Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book about their Watergate investigation, because he's William Goldman, and he was already Oscar-winner William Goldman. He took the gig, and wrote like hell to end up with a script that did the subject matter (and the two massively famous movie stars, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, playing the leads) justice.

Unfortunately, no one actually liked the script he ended up with, Woodward and Bernstein especially. Redford, a meticulous and exacting coughcoughcontrolfreakcoughcough (scuse me), decided to bring in a wonderfully strange pair of writers to do up a new draft: Carl Bernstein and Nora Ephron. (“So Liddy walks in wearing a t-shirt that says 'Don't fuck with Mr. Zero . . .'”, Pat Nixon faking an orgasm in the Oval Office, followed by Kissinger saying “I'll have what she's having,” and all the other When Harry Met Sally jokes in the universe.)

Bernstein and Ephron—I still can't get over that duo—fixed a lot of what Redford and Pakula didn't like about Goldman's draft, and Redford and Pakula worked on it a bunch more, and eventually the movie was absolutely rad. Seriously, do not fuck with All The President's Men, that fucking movie fucking rocks. Goldman received sole credit and his second Oscar, and why the hell not. A man should have a pair. But take thou this, anonymous screenwriting teacher: it wasn't a solo flight.


Tootsie (1982)
Credited writers: Larry Gelbart, Don McGuire, Murray Schisgal
Uncredited: Barry Levinson, Elaine May, Robert Garland

One screenwriting teacher I heard lecture once insisted until he was blue in the face that Tootsie was the perfect script, and furthermore that Larry Gelbart wrote the whole thing himself. He went on to call McGuire and Schisgal hacks. I don't know who either of those guys are, so that might be true or it might not be. But still, they must have done something. Then, a while later, after watching Tootsie again—it does rule—I was reading this thing where it was like, “Hey, a lot of the good zingers up in that piece were total Elaine May joints, muhfugga.” (Ed. Note: paraphrase) And there were a few other cooks stirring that particular pot.

Now, this next is going out on a bit of a limb, and might be bullshit, so rim your margarita glass with some grains of your finest salt before continuing. Hal Ashby, of Harold & Maude, The Last Detail, Bound For Glory, Being There, and Coming Home fame, was originally attached to direct (that part's verifiably true). Ashby, though, like the earlier-mentioned Robert Altman, liked to downplay the writer's contributions and play up his own authorial imprint over his own pictures, often starting principal photography with only notes, not a full script, and he'd put stuff together in the editing room (this was how Coming Home was constructed; a fucktillion writers worked on that script, each scene was practically written by someone different). And I heard—keep in mind again this might be bullshit—that Ashby started out with the idea for Tootsie based on someone else's idea, not Larry Gelbart. It was only, apparently, after the studio had to fire Ashby for freebasing himself into psychosis (both of which actually did happen), that they brought in Gelbart to make coherent sense out of Ashby's idea, and brought in Sydney Pollack because Sydney Pollack didn't freebase.

Point being, whether or not it all shook out exactly like that, once again, Tootsie was a team effort.


Witness (1985)
Credited writers: William Kelley, Pamela Wallace, Earl W. Wallace
Uncredited: unknown, but it's a fair bet there were a few


I find fewer things more tiresome than being told, condescendingly, that a movie is “important” strictly because it's about some culture that isn't mainstream white American. Sure, by all means, make movies about shit other than normal, run-of-the-mill middle class white people. But here's the catch: ya gotta make a good movie. A look at a foreign culture isn't an end in itself. And nothing is less important than the typical Hollywood tendency to take, say, the Amish, and hold them up as these pure exemplars of perfection on the sole basis of their otherness, and not only that, get all the fucking details of their culture wrong in the process.

Witness started life, like Chinatown if Chinatown vaguely sucked, as a massive doorstop of a script by a couple TV writers. It was whittled down to a manageable length and ended up being made almost entirely because Peter Weir needed to kill time waiting for The Mosquito Coast (the picture he actually wanted to make) to be ready. The critics all happily lined up to suck the movie's dick, and screenwriting “experts” who neither read actual scripts nor pay attention to anything like, ya know, development histories, all started touting Witness as a model for aspiring writers to follow.

This is especially odd because the movie, as made, is a fucking structural mess. It all looks really cool and the actors all kick ass left and right because Peter Weir's awesome, but the story lurches around all over the place, abruptly and disruptively shifts tone, and all the Amish shit falls flat (people who actually know about Amish culture pointed out so many fuckups the picture might as well have been about the people in M. Night Shyamalan's village). But hey, it was about a non-mainstream culture. It must be great, right?


A movie's script is a funny thing. It's a very important part of making a good movie, but so much of what appears to be writing is in fact directing and editing. This leads people like the execs in The Player to conclude that the writer is extraneous to the process, and you can almost see how someone could come to that conclusion, especially with cases like the above, where good movies happened almost by accident, or no thanks to the writer, or through a lot of lucky creative synergy. But really, none of the above successes could have happened without someone doing some writing. It may not just be one writer, the resultant script may not match the original writer's original intent, but at some point someone has to sit down and write. And, more often than not, watch helplessly as someone else coldly draws red lines through their hard work. If there's any point to this whole thing, it's that writing by committee is as it was, is, and probably ever shall be. Good movies aren't always accidents, but more often than not, they are. Kind of like most of life. Funny, that.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

THIS IS THE WORST TRAILER OF ALL TIME

Okay, it's time to lay down the law. There were some cool things about the 80s. A couple good Talking Heads albums (and Stop Making Sense). Midnight Run. The Untouchables. The Berlin Wall fucked off this mortal coil. But let's not kid ourselves; that was about it. The rest of the decade fucking sucked. Maybe it's all John Hinckley's fault for having shitty aim, maybe it's more complicated than that, maybe I'm being a little severe, but fuck it, this is a fiat from the Minister of Culture: 80s nostalgia is hereby punishable by death as of this moment. Why are some of the perfectly reasonable things to remember and enjoy from the 80s being punished? This trailer.

This is one of the single worst things that has ever existed, of any sort, forget movie trailers, or even movies. What has it been, six years since Topher Grace was in a movie? He used to be really fucking good. What the fuck is this fucking bullshit? Seriously. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS? WHY DOES THIS EXIST? WHO ARE THE PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS? WHERE IS MY FIRING SQUAD? KHAAAAAAAANNNN!!!!!!!

The writers of That 70s Show wrote this picture, so the same people who gave Topher Grace his start will be responsible for his finish as well, which is a far more elegant bit of symmetry than anything that appears in this bullshit fucking trailer. It actually makes perfect sense that the That 70s Show people are responsible for this, with the shallow, stupid substitution of namechecking for historical detail; this almost seems like it was something John Hughes wrote in the depths of a late-80s smack binge that his agent managed to keep quiet, until it was found, punched up by a sitcom writer and directed by those Epic Movie Felcher Seltzerberg fuckfaces.

(Ed. Note: obviously, you can't tell everything about a movie from its trailer. I wouldn't presume to. But goddamnit man. I'm sorry you all had to see this, but we all need to be aware that no matter how bad we think modern culture can get, it can always get worse.)

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE CIVILIANS


One of the most painful reminders of my own nerd-dom came this August, with the release of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It seemed like everyone I knew was geekfapping in anticipation for a good month beforehand, to the point where even I (or, um, especially I) addressed the issue. It was a new Edgar Wright picture, and everybody saw Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, right? Michael Cera was the lead, and everybody saw Arrested Development, right? (Ed. Note: bear with me here, I know you're getting suspicious). It's based on a comic . . . and everyone likes comics . . . right? It's in the style of a video game . . . and people . . . like video games . . . right . . .?

As it turned out, of course, Scott Pilgrim tanked at the box office, making back only about half its production budget. And yet . . . everyone I fucking know went to see it and loved it. HOW COULD THIS BE? Obviously, with magazine articles every fucking week about how this is the Age of the Nerd and so forth, Scott Pilgrim should have been a massive coming-out party, a victory lap. Well, obviously, it wasn't. So what gives?

I missed Scott Pilgrim in theaters, as its release pre-dated my lovely arrangement with Tor.com (aside from having the good taste to employ me, they have a lot of better and occasionally famous writers nerding out, so bookmark them if you're into SF and or fantasy). Thanks to Universal's evil white guys making the excellent business decision to release the DVD in time for Christpicuousconsumptionmas season, I finally got to see it. And yes, it is everything I could ever have expected. This is a picture by nerds, of nerds, and for nerds. I absolutely fucking loved it. I mean, wow. That is to say, holy shit. In other words, god DAMN.

On the other hand, I understand exactly why it flopped. First of all, although everyone naturally thinks of their people as being the whole world, I am objectively aware that nerds are a minority. One need look no further than high school: there are more dudes on a football team than a chess team, to be glib and reductive and right. Also, Scott Pilgrim is very specifically about nerds under the age of 30, with cultural references and assumptions it would be very hard to expect someone over 35 to get, leaving our older and grayer comrades potentially feeling left out in the cold (even though A.O. Scott, in one of his finest hours in recent memory, declared, “There are some movies about youth that just make you feel old, even if you aren't . . . Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has the opposite effect. Its speedy, funny, happy-sad spirit is so infectious that the movie makes you feel at home in its world even if the landscape is, at first glance, unfamiliar.” Sláinte, Tony). Then there's the matter of all but those nerds specifically of the cineaste variety preferring not to rub shoulders with the great, loud, candy-unwrapping, cell-phone using unwashed in movie theaters (minor aside: when I saw The Warrior's Way recently, there was a group of mentally challenged people on an outing, and they literally mooed throughout the whole movie. I'm not kidding, exaggerating, or distorting in the slightest. That's the 21st century movie theater experience in a nutshell, folks), instead waiting for the DVD. And hey, I'm totally guilty of that, so I guess I'm part of the problem.

Word of mouth was another problem, as the non-nerds in the critical community and the handful of civilians who went to see Scott Pilgrim for whatever fucking reason (Ed. Note: Movies By Bowes ™ personally apologizes to alla y'all; this movie is just how our people roll) came away crinkling their noses and going “What in the sweet living fuck was that?” The best explanation I can give won't do any good: “It's a video game trapped in a movie's body.” Media eugenics is a difficult thing to pull off (literary tricks, for example, work in literature because they're literary tricks; they don't always read in movies) especially in the—in some ways—very similar media of cinema and video games. Both are audiovisual media, but there's an obvious, fundamental difference: the player controls the video game, where the audience for a movie is, a priori, passive. This is why the video game Heavy Rain, though it aroused the ire of hardcore gamers who didn't give a fuck about other media, worked as a movie trapped in a video game's body; the player could control the “movie.” A video game trapped in a movie's body has the problem of there being fewer movie people who are also gamers than there are gamers who also like movies. I mean, look, I thoroughly enjoyed taking bong hits on the couch and watching my friend Greg beat The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64, but I'm fundamentally predisposed to find video games interesting, Ocarina of Time might be the best video game ever made, and I get caught up in the narrative created by the player, even if I'm only watching. I was also high. But that's just me. As you may have gathered, I'm a little weird.

It isn't entirely clear at first that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is actually a video game masquerading as a movie. Set in a vividly, heroically portrayed Toronto, it starts out in High Indie Twee mode, with protagonist Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) faced with the mildly embarassing task of introducing his new girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) to his gay roommate/best friend Kieran Culkin and his bandmates in the gloriously titled garage band Sex Bob-Omb. She is, it transpires, 17 and still in high school. “Yeah, Catholic school, with the uniform and everything,” a facepalming Michael Cera tells disapproving, gossipy sister Anna Kendrick. Knives thinks Scott's the coolest, and she loves Sex Bob-Omb, but Michael Cera is awkward about the whole thing. What? Michael Cera, awkward? The deuce you say! Yes, it's true.
The whole thing feels like the ur-Michael Cera movie, the one where the audience is finally going to rise as one, kidnap the fucker and inject him with megadoses of testosterone, steroids, and PCP (the last because, hey, why the fuck not) and enforce manhood. Look, I like the guy, but seriously. Anyway, some stylish Edgar Wright direction aside, it totally feels like the proverbial Movie Michael Cera Has Made Nine Gajillion Times (even though it's really only like four) . . . UNTIL we have dream sequence. Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) rollerblades through Michael Cera's dream, and then into his life. This is the most non-naturalistic thing yet to happen, even though we've gotten pretty broad hints that this isn't a non-naturalistic picture.

So Michael Cera, a ball-less whiny douche at the picture's outset, does the very ball-less and douche-y thing and fails to actually break up with Knives before wooing the initially reluctant Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a glamorous, mysterious (American!) woman, everything the sincere, guilelessly candid girl Knives isn't. Before Michael Cera is even officially dating MEW (too bad she's not Mary Elizabeth Ophelia Winstead, amirite?) he gets an e-mail from some guy claiming to be a member of a group called the Seven Evil Exes (of Ramona), who intends to fight Michael Cera to death, but Michael Cera is so distracted by thoughts of his new not-yet-even-really girlfriend and the Battle of the Bands that Sex Bob-Omb is entering that he pays it no mind.

Turns out, you should always read your fucking e-mail. A spooky Indian dude in some seriously gay clothes (my friend Steve's pal Satya Bhabha) shows up in the middle of the concert, interrupting the awkward first meeting of Knives and Ramona, and repeats his challenge to Michael Cera (part of which includes a faux-Bollywood number that flunked lovely and talented authority Filmigirl's sniff test so hard it bounced). Michael Cera immediately throws down and—shockingly—kicks ass in the finest video-game fashion. End of Act One, beginning of awesome. Michael Cera beats the shit out of the guy, who turns into a pile of coins as a score appears.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead explains at this point that Michael Cera might have to defeat seven of her Evil Exes. Not only is this a great metaphor for dealing with a new girlfriend's past (which, hey, I know it's ridiculous, but it's not something we're just magically okay with without a little effort) it provides Michael Cera with something to do for the rest of the movie, and it's a wonderfully video-game-y conceit.

In a nice bit of numerological significance, it's in the midst of Michael Cera's awkward second date (he's so nervous anticipating it his gay roommate calls him gay) that he encounters Evil Ex #2: American movie star Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), to whose crappy movies on the Spike Channel the gay roommate has been fapping (hey, the latter half of the phrase “gay guy” is “guy”) in anticipation of his coming to Toronto to shoot a movie. Turns out Mary Elizabeth Winstead dated him in middle school and he never quite got over it. So Michael Cera figures, I outfought the first Evil Ex, piece of cake. Except Chris Evans is an action movie star, which means he has lots of stunt men, all of whom gang up on Michael Cera and stomp the crap out of him (God I love this movie . . .) but Michael Cera prevails. Chris Evans, however, fights him to a standstill, until Michael Cera tricks him into doing a skateboard trick so fuckin dangerous Johnny Knoxville probably wouldn't do it, which leads to Chris Evans' explosive, coin-producing downfall.

Evil Ex #3 is my favorite of the bunch: a bleached-blonde Brandon Routh, who is not only Mary Elizabeth Winstead's ex, he's fucking Michael Cera's ex-who-he's-not-really-100%-over, big indie rock star Envy Adams (Brie Larson), for whom he plays bass. Just like Michael Cera. And, because Brandon Routh is a vegan, he's both telepathic and telekinetic (Ed. Note: FUCK YES) and so, when the two have their “bass battle”, Brandon Routh is able to predict his every move. The deus ex machina that saves Michael Cera's ass made me need to pause the movie for five minutes so I could laugh to the point of tears: the “vegan police” (Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins, Jr., aka the guy Catherine Zeta-Jones tells to “get out of the car and shoot him in the head” in Traffic) bust Brandon Routh for accidentally drinking half and half in a coffee Michael Cera sneakily hands him (“I put the half and half in that cup but I thought really really hard about putting it in this one”), as well as mistakenly eating gelato . . . and chicken parmesan. This last thoroughly disgusts Brie Larson, and is cause for the vegan police to strip him of his superpowers. Wait, hold on, sorry, give me a minute . . . HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA . . . HAHAHAHA . . . oh man, heh heh heh . . . hahaha . . . mmm mmm.

All this getting his ass handed to him left and right is starting to weigh on Michael Cera, who starts getting a bit snippy with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who following a battle with Evil Ex #4 (Mae Whitman, a product of MEW's “bi-curious” phase) that Michael Cera hilariously wins by exploiting an erogenous zone behind Mae Whitman's knee, takes some time apart. Michael Cera's determined to win her back though, and it turns out that evil exes #5 and 6 (“Did she date them at the same time?”) are a malevolent J-pop duo (Keita and Shota Saito) who Sex Bob-Omb have to defeat with RAWK, and do, winning Michael Cera a 1-up (also known as an extra life).

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is in the audience with her most recent ex, who turns out to be the record company douchebag (Jason Schwartzman, having more fun than is usually allowed within the law) who's sponsored the battle of the bands. He offers to sign Sex Bob-Omb, over Michael Cera's protests, which lead to him being replaced by #1 fan and bass understudy Young Neil. Not only that, but a confused and sad Mary Elizabeth Winstead has helplessly succumbed to Jason Schwartzman's charms (later revealed to be a microchip he's attached to her brainstem, a wonderful metaphor for the hold douchebag exes have over one) once more. He is thus revealed as the last Evil Ex (even if he's no longer an Ex, if she's with him, he's still Evil) . . . THE FINAL BOSS.

Like any boss fight worth half a fuck, Michael Cera dies the first time, after getting Knives and Ramona thoroughly pissed at him for cheating each with the other, and getting his ass banjaxed by the thoroughly evil Jason Schwartzman. However, he still has that extra life, which he uses, and like any good gamer, he learns from the mistakes he made in the first boss fight (fighting for his own self-respect rather than his love for Ramona, which he never even properly expressed, instead using the L-word he thought his gay roommate was hinting at: “lesbians.” ie “I'm in lesbians with you.” Yep, go ahead and facepalm; also manning up and apologizing to Knives and Ramona before they can get pissed and turn on him, thus turning Knives into an ally, and holy fuck has she got martial arts moves) and this time wins.

Seeing the teamwork exhibited by Knives and Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes the “noble sacrifice” of letting the two of them be “happy” together and walks off. But, as Knives reminds Michael Cera, he's been fighting for Mary Elizabeth Winstead for the whole movie. She also completely casts aside the doormat role she's been consigned to for so much of the movie by affirming “I'm also way too cool for you,” which is true, and good on her for realizing that. Michael Cera, who has realized how fucked up he is in a lot of ways, deserves the also-fucked-up-in-a-lot-of-ways Mary Elizabeth Winstead. And so they set off to give their relationship another try. Game Over.

The basic plot, by its nature, is a bit repetitive, since it is, after all, a video game trapped in a movie's body. The only place it really starts to sag is after the staggering brilliance of the Brandon Routh battle. No movie, no matter how great, can help but dip a bit after the whole thing about veganism conferring superpowers, which I'm sorry, that's the funniest fucking thing like ever. Even that dip wasn't much of one. The sheer amount of energy this movie has overcomes all, including the imperfect scripting, the occasional partially- or not-fleshed out character, and the fact that it's tilting against the gigantic fucking windmill of being, at its core, an example of a different medium than the one it's presented as. As a member of the choir to whom Edgar Wright is preaching with Scott Pilgrim, I thoroughly enjoyed all the video game stuff, all the keenly observed details of nerd and hipster culture (the passwords to the club in the climactic sequence are “whatever” and a bored shrug), and goddammit, the journey Michael Cera has, gradually growing a legit pair of testicles by the third act, was satisfying. The way he confronts his mirror-image self, “Nega-Scott,” as the final “solo round” challenge in the “game” is particularly great: he sends Knives and Ramona away to confront his apparently evil doppelganger. So we cut to the girls waiting outside, and the doors open, and there's Michael Cera chatting away and making brunch plans with his dark side (“He's a pretty cool guy.”) Congratulations, son, you just became a real man. Well, kind of. In a very Michael Cera kind of way.

The music is goddamn fabulous. When fuzzy indie rock makes you want to get up and dance, you're dealing with some good fuzzy indie rock. The Sex Bob-Omb songs were all written by Beck and played by the actors, all of whom can kind of sort of play, just like their characters, giving them just the right blend of professional songcraft and scruffball enthusiasm that they need. It's the first soundtrack in at least a couple years that I said “I gotta own this,” and I said that about four bars into the first fucking song they play, during the opening credits.

Edgar Wright, in terms of raw filmmaking talent, has few peers. He's got great visual imagination, and increasingly, the control over his talent to realize that imagination. He also, whether from hanging out with Simon Pegg for all those years or on his own merits (almost certainly the latter), has a terrific sense of humor. And he has a nearly-perfect bead on the pop-cultural obsessions of nerds of his generation (which, being that he's only a couple years older than me, is basically mine). In Scott Pilgrim he's made a movie that will surely thrill nerds of almost my exact age for the rest of their lives. His one misstep, which isn't much of one, with this movie is that he is way too specific in who he's aiming to reach. It's certainly a noble gesture to say “I want to make a movie that will give nerds boners.” I certainly appreciate that. But Scott Pilgrim, a few outliers notwithstanding, is pretty much targeted directly at nerds 28-35. What, 27 and 36 year old nerds can't come to the party? It's not an artistic failing—I applaud anyone with the balls to make a $90 million movie this idiosyncratic—but it is the reason the picture flopped.

And, for that reason, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is one of those movies I'd be very cautious about recommending. As much as I, falling squarely within the picture's narrow target demographic, loved it, it appeals to a very specific part of me and it's always hard to tell who else has that shared very specific part. What I do know is that if I'm talking to someone and they mention this movie, and say “God, I loved it,” I know I'm talking to one of my people. And we will be very happy talking about how awesome this movie is, for far longer than is reasonable or tasteful. Because fuck you. We're nerds.