Friday, August 27, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
The cast of SCOTT PILGRIM really nails it, and everyone seems to completely get the unique, slightly-left-of-reality tone that Edgar Wright is going for. I know, a lot of people like to just dismiss Michael Cera, for whatever reason. I get it, he plays pretty similar characters in a lot of his films. But people - what do you *want* him to do? If you need a scrawny, geeky, sort of quirky lead you go with Cera - not just because he looks the part, but because the guy has a ton of talent as well as pitch-perfect comic timing. We've known that since the Arrested Development days. That said, Scott Pilgrim is a much different character than Cera's played before. He's fairly self-confident and in some ways self-assured - his problem is more just that his head is in the clouds and he doesn't quite know what he wants out of life. But this movie is about Scott's journey, and the place he ends up by the film's end is a different one from where he started. It's a lot of fun to see Cera as Pilgrim get that added drive and determination, to see him man up and kick ass and take ownership of his life. Knock him if you want, but this is a great performance from Cera.
There are so many other standouts in the film. Ellen Wong makes a huge impression as Knives Chau, and steals every scene she's in. Knives is perhaps the movie's most fun character, and her transformation from sweet schoolgirl to badass, leather-clad asskicker is a joy to behold. You will geek out for Knives, that's a promise. Kieran Culkan has some of the movie's funniest lines as Scott's roommate, Wallace Wells. The relationship between the two is great - supportive yet antagonistic - and there are some classic dialogue exchanges between them. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is perfectly cast as Ramona. She's the kind of girl who has a past but may just be ready to move beyond it. She's sort of dark, sort of brooding, but you want to root for her to see the light and smile a little more. When she pulls out that giant hammer and fights her evil-ex-gf to save Scott, it's an awesome moment. You get why she just might be worth fighting for. Meanwhile, the Seven Evil Exes are all hilarious and a ton of fun. From Matthew Patel and his demon hipster Bollywood dance troupe to Lucas Lee and his army of stunt doubles. Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman, Jason Schwartzman - they all rock, and all seem perfectly cast as bizarro subversions of the types of role that each actor tends to be known for. Evans is the cocky action-hero-as-asshole. Routh is the preachy, too-perfect uber-Vegan who's now in a band with (and dating) Scott's scornful ex, Envy Adams. Mae Whitman is the rage-filled woman scorned, and she totally owns the part. And then there's Jason Schwartzman - hilarious as Gideon Gordon Graves (aka The G-Man), the sinister-hipster leader of the League of Evil Exes, lurking in the shadows as Scott's final boss battle.
It's funny, because as I was racking my brain trying to think of any flaws with Scott Pilgrim, I briefly wondered if the movie suffered from "adaptation syndrome," in which a lot of minor characters from the source material are included in the film, but become more clutter than anything else. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I loved how complete of a world the movie creates, filled to the brim with colorful characters who are so instantly interesting that you wouldn't mind seeing them in a movie all their own. I'm thinking in particular of the members of Scott's only-okay band, Sex Bob-Omb (Mario Bros. reference alert!) - Kim Pine, Stephen Stills, and Young Neil (gotta love those names). Each member has enough personality that Sex Bob-Ombs' battle of the bands storyline - and their clash with the Envy Adams-fronted Clash at Demonhead (extra points for their name being an awesome obscure Nintendo reference!) is almost a movie in and of itself. Anna Kendrick is also excellent as Scott's sister, Stacey - the voice of reason in Scott's dream-world of power-meters and one-ups. Aubrey Plaza is super-funny as acerbic scenester Julie Powers. Like I said, it's an incredibly talented cast that helps to create this whole entire world for Scott Pilgrim to inhabit. It's quirky, and it's fun, and it feels like a place you just might want to visit again.
The number one star of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World though? Edgar Wright and his team. The visual energy of the movie, the look, the humor, the pacing, the vision - Wright deserves a ton of credit for creating something wholly unique and wholly awesome. From the overall, comic book-like editing of the film to the great little touches (vintage videogame sound/fx, 60's Batman-style action balloons, comic book "secret origins" of the Evil Exes) that give the movie its sensory-overload aesthetic. This movie is absoluely packed with fanboy-friendly moments big and small that kept me giddily smiling throughout. Plus. the action is also just flat-out awesome. Rarely has a movie captured the visceral, frenzied feeling of playing videogames - or the mental reward of defeating them - with such acute accuracy. The movie often plays like a videogame meets rock video. In many ways, you could almost compare the magical realism, the pacing, and the music-heavy nature of the film to a musical. I should mention though that the music in the movie is a ton of fun - the songs are integrated into the action in funny and unique ways, and the songs from the movie's bands are catchy yet rough-sounding, like what you'd actually expect from an amateur battle of the bands.
Still, Wright makes sure to give Scott Pilgrim a hefty emotional core. Again, all of the little visual shout-outs and dialogue references add up to create this portrait of life-as-pop-culture and vice versa. We all go on the same sort of journey as Scott in our own way. But the movie challenges us to be the hero in our own story, to step up and "get a life." Hey, to me, any movie that can use the "Continue?" countdown screen from old arcade games as a giant metaphor for life is possessing of a certain degree of genius. Scott Pilgrim is smart, it's funny, it's a nostalgia trip, and it's not quite like any other movie you've seen. There's action, romance, humor, and heart. So, yeah, it's pretty much the bomb. Okay, the bob-omb. Seriously though, this is one of those films that may end up being divisive, but for my part, I can't recommend it enough. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World delivers a cinematic K-O.
My Grade: A
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Now, I know many people reading this are probably going to say "The Scorpions? Whaat? Aren't they some lame one-hit-wonder band from the 80's that sang 'Rock You Like a Hurricane?" To which I say: no, you fool - the Scorpions are legit - a hard-rock band that's been playing rock n' roll since the late 60's, and has kept on rocking straight through into 2010. I'd go so far as to say that The Scorpions are one of the all-time great arena-rock bands. Not many other rock outfits can lay claim to their logevity, their huge catalog of hits, or their ability to rock the faces of sold-out arenas worldwide. Yes, like many of my generation, I was introduced to the band via those late-night infomercials for 80's hair-metal compilation albums that used to play over and over on TV back in the day. Those commercials were always bookended by "Rock You Like a Hurricane," which, well, rocked - and that song led me to seek out a little album called "The Best of Rockers and Ballads." From there, I was turned on to the awesomeness of such songs as "The Zoo," "Big City Nights," "Love Drive," "Holiday," and "Still Loving You." I sought out other Scorpions tunes like the classic ballads "Winds of Change" and "Send Me an Angel." I won't lie, Rockers and Ballads is probably one of my all-time most listened-to CD's.
A few years back, I saw The Scorpions in concert at the Gibson Ampitheater in LA, and it was a pretty damn awesome show. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the Scorps put on a kickass concert, and I came away very impressed -- these guys still had it. In any case, several months ago, I found out that the Scorpions were about to release a new album that they were calling their last, and embarking on a worldwide farewell tour before ultimately retiring and calling it quits. As a man who's always intrigued by this sort of "one last hurrah" scenario, my eyes lit up when I saw there was an LA stop on the tour. I quickly bought two tickets when they went on-sale, excited to see the Scorpions rock n' roll one last time. Of course, things got busy, and my mind turned to to other matters. Somehow, I neglected to purchase that final Scorpions album. However, as the concert date approached, I remembered that I had yet to hear the final tunes from the band. I logged onto iTunes and quickly sampled some of the most popular tracks. Instantly, I could tell that this one was a must-buy. I stopped at the local Best Buy and plunked down some cash for the CD, "Sting in the Tail", and eagerly gave it a listen. Again, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but ... holy crap on a stick, the album rocked and rocked hard! The whole album is incredibly solid, but there are a couple of songs, like "The Best Is Yet to Come" and "Raised On Rock" that should legitimately be considered new classics, right up there with the best arena rock songs you'll find. If this was truly the Scorpions' last hurrah, then, dammit all, they have gone out on one hell of a high note.
Suffice it to say, after listening to the album, I was extra excited about the upcoming show at the Nokia Theater in downtown LA. As it turns out, the show was ... postively kickass. My brother and I took the subway from Universal to downtown (very convenient and cheap way to get there, by the way), and quickly found ourselves in a line of black-clad metal heads eager to have their socks rocked. We were ushered into the theater - a really, really great venue - very clean and a great size for a concert - and took our seats in the middle of the arena. As we entered, the opening act, CINDERELLA, was already playing. And, I'll be damned, they were actually somewhat on fire. You never quite know what you're going to get with some of these second-tier 80's bands, but man, Cinderella left it all on the stage, and rocked their way through hits like "Gypsy Road," "Nobody's Fool," and of course, "Don't Know What You've Got ('Til It's Gone)". Singer Tom Kiefer was really rollin', and his trademark raspy / howling voice seemed as powerful and distinctive as ever. The band was tight, and the jams pumped up the crowd, who was on their feet and pumping their fists for the big, piano-accompanied ballads that anyone who's ever owned a "Best Rock of the 80's" CD is all-too familiar with. Kudos to Cinderella though, they walked the gypsy road and rocked it like it was 1987.
Then, it was time for the main event - THE SCORPIONS. Man, it's hard to express just how much the Scorps rocked at this show. You could tell they were putting their all into each song, and they seemed 100% on top of their game. They looked like anything but a band on the cusp of retirement. The band was introduced via a montage of clips from some of their all-time biggest shows - selling out huge stadiums the world over, playing "Winds of Change" as the iron curtain fell. The stage was set for some epic rock, and man, from moment one of the show, singer Klaus Meine was wailing away like a man on a mission - sounding as good as ever, and guitarist Rudolf Schenker, looking like a man who had just timewarped onto the stage from the future of Blade Runner, was an absolute machine on lead guitar. The band opened with the titular Sting In the Tail from their new album, which is a rockin' tune with a thumping arena-friendly chant at it's core, and then segued into Make It Real and Bad Boys Running Wild. Business picked up after that though, as the Scorps launched into an absolutely thrashing version of The Zoo, with pulsing lights flashing across the huge video monitors, accompanying the song's famously powerful guitar riffs. It was at this point that I could only turn to my brother, goofy grin on my face, and say "yeah, this rocks."
Later on, the band played one of their aforementioned new songs, The Best Is Yet To Come, and I was really excited to hear it live. I won't lie, this is one of those great songs that gets in your head and forces you to listen to it over and over. It's cheesy, sure, but that's the great thing about the Scorpions - they are completely unironic in their music. They are old-school rock n' roll in that they unapologetically sing big, melodramatic ballads as well as straight-up rockers about sex, life, and rocking out. A lot of the crowd wasn't familiar with the new tunes, but it was only a matter of minutes before people were on their feet, chanting along to the song's uplifting chorus:
You're such a part of me
And you've always been the one
Keeping me forever young
And the best is yet to come
Don't look now, the best is yet to come
Take my hand, the best is yet to come
Dammit all, it was a true arena rock moment. And hey, you've got to love this awesome, yearbook-quote-ready line from the song: "How can we grow old ...? When the soundtrack of our lives ... is rock and roll!" Well put, Klause, well put!
The concert only got bigger and badder from there. We got a pair of classic power ballads - Send Me an Angel and Holiday, and both were awesome. The first, in particular, was pretty memorable in that Klause dedicated the song to his late friend, the great RONNIE JAMES DIO. As the crowd chanted "Dio! Dio! Dio!", the classic ballad was sung with all the emotion and power you'd expect out of The Scorpions. Amazing stuff. And dammit all, I don't know if I ever got the chance to say RIP to Dio here on the blog, but I'll say it now - truly, one of the all-time greats in rock n' roll.
The band then went on to do some more sped-up tunes, highlighted by the new single Raised on Rock, which is a really great song that feels fresh yet also like vintage Scorpions. We also got a fun drum-solo segment from drummer James Kottak (he of the "Kottak Attack"), which was really funny because the whole thing was accompanied by this crazy video that was like one of those really weird rock music videos you might have seen on MTV in the 80's. The whole premise was Kottak going around trying to hook up with various women, only to have the tables turned on him. Eventually, he ends up in an insane asylum! Yep, pretty out-there and Euro-weird, and yet ... sort of awesome!
The band then returned to the stage and closed out the main set with a power-trio of the classic Blackout, an all-instrumental triple-guitar onslaught known as Six String Sting (amazing!), and finally, Big City Nights, during which the stage was lit up with neon displays evoking life in the big city, baby. As the band exited the stage, the crowd was on their feet with appreciative applause - we all knew we were witnessing one hell of a concert, and that the band was truly intent on going out with a bang - or, in this case, with one last sting.
To that end, the three-song encore was a nitro blast of sheer rock n' roll awesomesauce. First up was one of the all-time epic power ballads, Still Loving You, which had the whole crowd singing along and waving their hands. Then came the ripping guitar and screaming chorus of No One Like You, which really whipped the crowd into a frenzy. And finally, Rock You Like a Hurricane, which was a fitting capper to a night where we had, in fact, been rocked like a hurricane by a band that seemed, still, to be able to bring the pain.
So thank you to The Scorpions for putting on an epic rock n' roll show. They seemed to be having a blast all night long, and genuinely appreciative of the fan reaction and applause. Again, if this was the Scorpions' swan song, then they went out like kings - people were buzzing about the show as they exited the arena, and people were smiling and sharing enthusiastic reviews in the streets and on the subway. And I'll say it again - if you're a classic rock fan, I'd say run don't walk and listen to their album Sting In The Tail, or at the least, download "Raised on Rock" and "The Best Is Yet to Come." In any case, this was a night at the rock n' roll zoo, in which we came, we saw, and yes, we rocked. Long live the Scorpions, and for those about to rock, I salute you.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
9.) Pirates of the Carribean 4 / The Haunted Mansion