Rocking into theaters with a level of fan anticipation second only to the legions of screaming Twilight fan girls, the comic-to-film adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series “Scott Pilgrim” is here. Following a whirlwind fan-courting press tour, the newest film by Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright certainly feels big. You might have read the books [FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t read past book one. Please don’t hurt me.] but does the movie stand up to its’ tagline? Is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World an “epic of epic epicness”?

For the uninitiated, our hero Scott Pilgrim is a nebbish 22-year-old loser (played by who else but eternal nebbish loser Michael Cera) who is in a band and currently dating a 17-year-old girl and getting teased about it by everyone around him. Then he meets the swoon-worthy Ramona Flowers at a party, weasels her into a date, and impresses her with his band. However, there is a catch. In order to go out with Ramona, Scott must face her seven evil ex-boyfriends and defeat them, in an entirely serious video-game-laden sense of the term, to win her heart.

As faithful to its source material as last year’s Watchmen adaptation, “Pilgrim” goes to great lengths to preserve the look, feel, and words of the graphic novels. A recent YouTube mash-up where a fan recreated the movie’s trailer from scans of the comic’s pages nearly word for word is not far off from the final product. The movie’s unique visual style is complete with on-screen onomatopoeia, split-screen panels, and even some actual O’Malley artwork.

Scott Pilgrim is the first movie that is truly, unabashedly for the millennial generation– the 18-30 year olds who grew up playing video games, consuming pop culture, and surfing the internet, all while putting off adulthood as long as possible. This is both the film’s biggest strength and its greatest weakness. From the minute the Universal studio logo and theme appears pixilated and scored to 8-bit music, you are made aware that the entire movie is one giant paean to gaming, garage bands, and pop culture riffs. Each evil boyfriend is a “boss” in an elaborate video game, even exploding into coins upon defeat. Pixilated weaponry appears from nowhere. The clever and well-executed sound design in the movie is laced with gaming references, emoticons, on–screen indicators, even laugh tracks and sound bites from a certain 90’s sitcom. If you did not understand the last few sentences, turn away now.

While the sheer amount of Generation Y ephemera makes watching Scott Pilgrim a joy for the college crowd, it can also be brought down by that same crowd’s Internet-addled attention span. In an effort to squeeze six volumes of content into a two-hour movie, director Wright must blaze through the plot at a breakneck speed. This Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Direction makes it extremely hard to give two shakes about any of the characters or even comprehend what is going on for the introductory phase of the movie unless you come in as a Scottaholic. There are a massive amount of paper-thin people to get to know and a ream of paper-thin plot points to cover to make the fanboys happy. But, like a movie whose Adderall finally kicks in, the plot finally focuses in the back half and becomes more and more comprehensive and enjoyable until the final battle with Jason Schwartzman’s Gideon is an epic four-person melee of fun.

If you haven’t figured it out, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is not your typical movie. It is a very entertaining, hilarious movie, but one that is very, very much for anyone under 40. Anyone who fits that bill will probably eat up this love letter to the Nintendo generation. It probably won’t bring in the masses, forever consigned to cult-hit status, but will likely be a dorm room staple in the years to come, which earns this movie an extra life.

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I haven’t actually seen any new movies or shows this week, so I missed my self-imposed weekend deadline. To make up for it, here’s a picture I took of Michael Cera drinking coffee during a swag signing in Atlanta today (shortly after almost knocking down the standee behind him)…

Subtext: OMG MICHAEL CERA TALKED TO ME!!1! …That is all.

[Thanks to Scott Pilgrim Vs. ATL for organizing the event.]

Summer TV usually means the doldrums for scripted content, but more and more networks are offering escapist dramadies and, increasingly, quality content (AMC) to fill the nights of those dog days. An example of the former, TNT’s Leverage has been taking from the playbook of USA’s popcorn fun formula for three seasons now, and I’ve only just been introduced to it. Sure, I’d seen the marketing, but when a screener of the third season premiere happened across my desk, I decided to give it a whirl. Thirteen Netflix episodes and four live viewings later, I think I have a new favorite summer show.

The show is about former insurance adjuster Nate Ford (played by the venerable Timothy Hutton), who rounds up a gang of thieves, hackers, and grifters to right the wrongs of the rich and powerful. At first hired to steal back something to enact revenge on his former employer, the crew he assembles soon becomes like a second family, and weekly scams and hijinks ensue. My favorite member has to be hacker Alec Hardison, played by the hilarious Aldus Hodge, who manages to mix witty pop culture references, snarky comebacks, and the sense to run the technical parts of the operation with ease. Parker, played by Beth Riesgraf, started out way too one-note with the whole “bat-crazy thief who does all the wild dorky stunts” deal, but has evolved into tolerable. The other team members, a gruff beat-down specialist and an actress extraordinaire, aren’t as unique, but still fit into the group.

The semi-standard characters are made more memorable by superb chemistry between all the principle actors. It really does seem like they’re having as much fun as their theiving alter egos. Casting can make all the difference in a project, and three years of working together has helped elevate the writing to something that’s a lot of fun to watch.

Described by many as a “poor man’s Burn Notice”, Leverage is just one more example of the whole spy/caper/miscreant craze that’s been going on in TV lately. Sure, it may be cut from the same cloth, but I lost track of Burn Notice almost two seasons ago and this show seems to be a worthy replacement. The show may be able to be boiled down to simply “a modern day Robin Hood”, and from its procedural format may not have as much of an ongoing story arc as I’d like, but the way the cast has eased into their roles and provided pure entertainment is enough of a plus. The dialogue is well-written and the schemes, while highly-unlikely to be able to be pulled off in real life, are enjoyable to watch unfold. This is a light summer show– there’s a reason it’s not on anyone’s fall schedule. It passes the reduced bar and manages to be enough for what someone less analytical would lap up in a heartbeat (see: the average CBS viewer).

Meanwhile, I’m going to just sit back and enjoy the fun. It may not have the polish or narrative arcs of Burn Notice, but that show hasn’t exactly been innovating in some time. As a fan of the Oceans Eleven movies, this is lot like those, but weekly and with actors most people haven’t heard of. There is enough variety in the procedural plot structure that every week is not just another dead body or Miami drug dealer. It makes it more interesting to see what kinds of wild ideas they come up with each week. All the same, I need something to tide me over until my favorite shows return in September, and Leverage has the skills to hack into my jaded TV heart.

As much as I hate to post two successive blog entries about the same movie, when that movie is as dense as “Inception” was, there is a lot to chew on. So I just saw the film for a second time, and it was a remarkably clarifying experience. Knowing all the rules going in, watching the explanation is no less boring, but you pick up a lot of early references in the way the film is depicted and written that you don’t catch the first time around. It makes the total experience all the more impressive. There were hints in the dialogue and visual aspects that you don’t get the first time (specifically the meaning of the rioters in the opening and the slow motion watch movements in level one of the first dream series).

But what I really want to touch on are the popular theories for how the movie ended. Just like there are a million interpretations of dreams, every commenter on the Internet seems to have their own theory for where reality ends and the dream world of “Inception” begins. After viewing a Cinematical article posted over the weekend with the top six theories, I watched the film specifically looking for justification for each of these. The following is my opinion based on what we see as empirical evidence for the theories.

Hiding behind a jump to prevent spoilers. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN INCEPTION, DON’T CLICK “READ MORE”…

Read the rest of this entry »

Christopher Nolan’s personal pet projects have amazed, mystified, and baffled moviegoers since his 2001 film “Memento”. He specializes in mind-bending, smartly crafted cinematic wonders that demand repeat viewings and admiration for the man who could concoct them. Roaring into the current summer movie climate of sequels and underachievers, Nolan’s newest work, “Inception”, is no different. It’s unique, twisted, and just might be the best movie of the year.

If you have seen any of the promotional marketing for “Inception”, you know the PR department was secretive to the point of confusion. Many were intrigued by the twisty visuals or the wide-ranging cast roster, but few knew going in what the real story was. So what the heck is “Inception” about exactly? It is at its heart a heist movie, though there are no banks robbed and no hostages taken. Instead of plundering safes, the targets here are people’s minds, robbing them not of money, but of their free will when the mind is most vulnerable. The film follows Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio, in his second mind-bender this year), a man who performs corporate espionage with the help of some near-future biotechnology that allows him to enter the dream worlds of others. Usually, Cobb tries to steal ideas hidden in the recesses of the person’s mind, but when offered the chance to redeem his troubled past and return to his children, he assembles an elite team of mind hackers to perform “inception”. That is, enter the dream state and try to plant an idea instead.

Enigmatic, dense, and visually intense are just a few words one would use to describe “Inception”. This sentiment is compounded by the fact that the concept of the film is complex and multi-faceted. This is a movie that equals “The Dark Knight” in length, and requires the first hour of the film to set up the ground rules of the world you have just entered.

Some have said that the story lacks pathos, that while we are on the edge of our seats with suspense, we don’t really care what happens to Cobb or any of the other players. They’d be right, to an extent, but when a story is this well done, sometimes you don’t need to be entirely emotionally invested in the characters to be able to be invested in the outcome.

The brilliance of the film emerges over the course of the inception job, as Cobb and his crew attempt to break up a conglomerate by planting seeds of doubt in an energy heir’s mind. To do this, the “architect” (Ellen Page) builds levels of dreams as if they were a video game, and the team must enter deeper and deeper levels of their target’s subconscious. Each level, however, operates under ever-expanding time constraints. If the first level of a dream spans 30 seconds, the next spans several hours, the next spans weeks, and the next spans years. By the time you get to the meat of the third act, Nolan is juggling so many narrative balls that it’s an impressive, exciting feat to watch.

And what a feat to watch this movie is. The commercials have shown snippets of some of the amazing, mind-bending special effects, but they really are great to see on the big screen. Nolan was essentially given carte blanche here thanks to his Batman success, and spends his money on some lavish action sequences, several trips around the globe, and manipulations of time that perfectly compliment the mechanics set up in the narrative. Yet, the visual interest that gets you to the cineplex is by no means the feature here. This is a story-driven movie with some excellent eye candy for good measure, the complete opposite of most summer movies.

With “Inception”, Christopher Nolan has crafted yet another unique world that demands repeat viewings to fully grasp what you just saw. It is a daring gamble of a movie: a self-contained amalgamation of psychological thriller, heist movie, and action epic that makes you question what is real. It– like the best dreams– may not make sense at times, but it stays with you long after you’ve come to. Is it time to plant an idea into Oscar voter’s minds?

[NOTE: I wrote this review for The Connector last month. Meant to post it here too, but I just got around to it.]

A friend mentioned as we walked out of the theater for “Toy Story 3,” “If you look at all three movies, [they paint] a perfect history of computer animation.” Yet, more so than just visuals, Pixar’s latest in the toy-tastic trilogy is a lesson in the history of the company’s films. The movie is a love letter to those of us who grew up with the “Toy Story” franchise, starting with the original in 1995, and the company’s public efforts since then.

The latest “Toy Story” may not look groundbreaking from stills, retaining the visual style of the other movies to a “T,” but throughout the film’s 105 minute runtime, Pixar throws tricks into the computer-generated magic you see on-screen. Beginning with an opening fantasy sequence that incorporates a nuclear cloud of Monkeys in a Barrel, the animation wizards behind the scenes show off just how far the tools of the trade have come. While many of the characters maintain their simplicity, the advancement of the environments they live in and the amount of detail packed into some key scenes is a treat. The cinematic treatment is equally well done, with angles and shots that make you smile from their integration and inventiveness.

Leave it to Pixar to overcome visual pizazz with a moving, engrossing story in the third movie of a trilogy. Far from a half-hearted attempt to cash in from the franchise’s success, the development of the story and the sheer quality of the writing rivals some of their best works. As previously mentioned, “Toy Story 3” is, at its core, the original film aged 15 years to perfectly adapt to its original audience. Pixar usually makes films that kids and grown-ups equally adore, but this one, even more so than “Wall-E” or “Up,” is directed at the 18–24 year old group.

The plot of the film, which portrays what happens to Woody, Buzz and the gang after their owner, Andy, packs for his impending college move, may start out lighthearted, but takes a welcome dark turn at the halfway point. The daycare to which the toys are mistakenly donated, ironically named Sunnyside Daycare, is far from sunshine and rainbows. To avoid spoilers, let’s just say that not everything is as it seems, and what follows involves surprising twists and struggles with what growing up and moving on from childhood is all about. The ensuing escape plan hatched by Woody pulls from the best prison escape films while managing to stay hilarious and heartfelt like the best animated movies.

The number of vintage toys and Easter eggs Pixar crammed into the flick is also sure to provide gleeful nostalgia and excitement at the fact that none are wasted. They didn’t just throw in a cymbal-crashing monkey or hilarious Ken doll for kicks. Like the toddlers in the daycare, I feel that little kids watching the movie may be in for the visceral fun, watching animated toys spring into action, but they won’t understand the more realized deeper joy. A double whammy of sadness and joy in the final act will leave you surprised, elated and, then, bawling your eyes out — all in the span of 15 minutes.

The geniuses behind the scenes not only find the perfect way to wrap up the movie, but also close the curtain on an era of Pixar that seems to be passing the directorial and commercial torches. A couple of years ago, when Pixar announced their production schedule for 2009–2012, many groaned at the appearance of three sequels: this movie, “Cars 2” and “Monsters Inc. 2.”

Far tighter in terms of how all the pieces of the cinematic puzzle fit together than previous “Toy Stories,” “Toy Story 3” is one of Pixar’s best films — maybe even better than the first, if less historic. If you have yet to see this movie, please do so — though judging by its box office dominance, you probably have. Whether you’re seeing the film for the first, second or even third time, “Toy Story 3” proves playtime isn’t just for kids.

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Now, even upon a second viewing, it’s hard to see any movie, live-action or animated topping this film for best of the year. Inception is neck-and-neck, but it’s an entirely different beast (more on that tomorrow), and is the best in its own way. Toy Story was pure enjoyment all the way through. While I’ve run into people who said it was merely good, like I stated above, this movie was made for those of us who grew up with the franchise. For those of us, the movie was emotionally satisfying and just pure fun in a way most sequels– animated or not– just aren’t anymore.

You might have noticed a few changes around these parts tonight. The past couple of weeks I’ve been working on a personal portfolio site, and on that site is a wonderful little widget that showcases my blog entries. Mostly as a way to promote my writing, it’s also going to be a bit of an impetus to write more here. In doing so, I’m simplifying the focus of the blog to reviews and analysis of TV and movies, with the occasional musing and design postings. Alongside a renewed focus comes a new name (Double Vision), image layout, and style. Design-wise, I’m bringing it in line with my website and adapting a new WordPress skin to better unify the two.

With that said, welcome to the relaunch. Sit back and enjoy the posts!

2003’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of my favorite video games ever. The nearly twelve hours start-to-finish I played in its brisk, inventive, and action-packed world remain a highlight even eight years after I booted the game up in my PS2. So it only stands that I had high hopes for Disney’s movie adaptation of Prince of Persia, directed by one of the guys who helmed a Harry Potter movie and backed by Jerry Bruckheimer, action movie mainstay and the guy behind Pirates of the Caribbean. Better yet, the creator of the original 1989 PC game, one Jordan Mechner, was being tapped to help write the film’s script. I even bought into Jake “Brokeback Mountain” Gyllenhaal as the buff titular Prince. What could go wrong?

The first half-hour tried to answer that question with “everything”. The cinematography was sub-par, the characters were devoid of life, and the blatant mentions of “weapons of war” and “taxes at the expense of the small businessman” were laughably inserted to check off the “modern-day commentary” box without the proper pretense. What was in truth a decent script was ruined by actors and producers who thought they were being epic and edgy, but ended up merely cheesy. Everything about the craftsmanship lacked the potential of its setting and source material.

Speaking of source material, I found several glaring issues with the film. Why did they only use the magic time-shifting dagger– which gave the film its entire premise– three times throughout the whole film? In the game, the Prince finds the dagger after raiding a fortress and delving into the sacred depths. In the movie, he just takes it from a random soldier. The film even disappointed material not its own. Early scenes where the Prince performed his fancy parkour moves in the city had me thinking I was watching a live-action Aladdin, shot for shot.

Yet, somewhere along the line, I stopped trying to make Prince of Persia live up to being a decent movie worthy of the game and started to sit back and absorb it in all of its summer movie nonsense-bathed glory. By that point, the crazy action sequences didn’t seem so bad and the story started to flow like the sands themselves. This can probably be attributed to the strong cast, from Gyllenhall as Prince Dastan to the Princess (renamed Tamina), played by Brit Gemma Arterton, and supporting characters played by Alfred Molina and Ben Kingsley (doing his hundredth cunning mystery man role). That’s not to say the movie didn’t meander or try to use sweeping CG landscapes to make up for average camerawork. During the climactic battle where the dagger is pierced into the source of the sands, I could only think of how it represented the budget leaking out through all the computer generated wizardry surrounding the two figures.

Still, as much flack as I give the film, I acknowledge that it was entertaining. The few nods to the games had me smiling, and the stunt sequences were top-notch. It most certainly does not rescue video-game-based films from mediocrity, and it is a far cry from being Disney’s next Pirates franchise, but I don’t regret the two hours. The film should have unfolded with half the seriousness it thought itself to have and producers should have taken advantage of the rich content of its source material beyond the log line, but being a sweltering action flick plopped into a sweltering summer can work towards a film sometimes.

One last word of advice, Mr. Bruckheimer: just because the game allows you to slow time as well as rewind it, that does not give you license to criminally overuse those slow-motion, Matrix-esque action sequences. Sure it may look cool the first three times, but by the time the 35th use of the technique appears, it’s insufferable.

If I only had a time-bending blade of my own, I could lower my expectations as the lights dimmed and the curtains pulled back. As a fan of the games, I hated it. As a moviegoer it was alright. But erase the experience? That would be ignoble.

If Dreamworks spent more time making movies like “How to Train Your Dragon” and 2008’s “Kung Fu Panda”, there would actually be a real contest with Pixar for the yearly Best Animated Film Oscar. The former studio gets a lot of flack, mostly deservedly so, for cranking out sequels and half-hearted kiddy flicks that come to you with generic CG animation and humor of the lowest common denominator. But every so often, the company steals a few tricks from their rival animation wizards and creates a winning, wowing film. This is most certainly the case with Dreamworks’ latest offering, “How to Train Your Dragon”.

The opening of the movie introduces you to the small Viking town of Berk, where the locals deal not with wolves or bears, but with dragons– lots and lots of dragons. Being Vikings, most of the village unleashes the full brunt of their muscular power in defending the town from a variety of fire-breathing menaces. Then there’s Hiccup, a scrawny, decidedly un-vicious anomaly of a Viking who is as awkward as his name implies and the hero of the story. Seeking the approval of his father, he sets out to kill the most elusive breed of dragon, only to find that he can’t quite do it. Instead, he tames the beast, becomes its friend, and sets out to show the tribe that dragons aren’t as evil as they look. With help from a little mechanical engineering, Hiccup and the dragon explore uncharted territory and bond over fish.

The plot here is essentially a tale of a lonely kid and his best animal pal, but is handled in such a way that it doesn’t feel like yet another Timmy-and-Lassie retread. The gradual juxtaposition of fighting dragons and spending after-school time learning their secrets is actually where a lot of the fun comes into play. And just when you think the movie is all about action and sarcasm, the film pulls out its winning smile, delivering empathy and a dash of optimism. “Dragon” has a quality story that emphasizes heart and wit over cheap jokes and throwing every prank in the book at the viewer to see which laughs stick. It doesn’t claim to be original, but it manages to be well-executed enough that a lack of new ideas don’t matter as much.

Coupled with the plot are some amazing computer visuals and cinematography. Stepping away from the traditional over-exaggerated Dreamworks style while still maintaining a cartoony feel, the art direction is a welcome change of pace. The colorful dragons pop from the more earthen feel of the human characters, and the special effects, namely the fire and water animations, are some of the best produced yet. Learning a thing or two from Pixar, the cinematography in several scenes rival some live-action films, with clever camera tricks and engaging angles. The climactic battle scene involves creatures the scale of which you don’t usually see in animation and the latter third of the movie is an eye-popping visual tour-de-force, especially in 3D.

With the absolute deluge of CG-assisted kids movies out there– sitting through the pre-feature trailers was a groan-inducing chore– it’s always a treat when someone not named Pixar manages to perfectly marry story and visuals in an animated feature. It’s about time Dreamworks breathed fire into their operation, and I couldn’t think of a better movie to do that with. “How to Train Your Dragon” is already a contender for that Animated Film Oscar and, at worst, will have to settle for being the most enjoyable movie of 2010 thus far. Train yourself for a trip to the theater.

This is one of the coolest videos I have seen in a while. The special effects are incredibly well done.

PIXELS: Retro Gamers from addwork on Vimeo.

[IF THE VIDEO DOESN’T SHOW, CLICK THE LINK.]