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Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Collector, Skin & I, Don Giovanni

By December 27, 2010No Comments

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World posterYour cor­res­pond­ent is a big fan of young English dir­ect­or Edgar Wright. His first two fea­tures, in col­lab­or­a­tion with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, were the redoubt­ably enter­tain­ing Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. There’s a won­der­ful per­cuss­ive energy to Wright’s film­mak­ing which brooks no bore­dom. So, I was look­ing for­ward to his latest film, the heav­ily pro­moted com­ic book adapt­a­tion Scott Pilgrim vs. the World which opened world­wide this week. And I really wanted to like it. No, strike that. I did like it. I just didn’t love it the way the film so des­per­ately wants to be loved.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera from Juno) is a young Toronto slack­er who plays bass in a ter­rible band and has just begun dat­ing a high school girl. If he seems without much in the way of ambi­tion that may be because he is still griev­ing after being dumped a year ago, or it may be that he simply lacks ambition.

Then, one day, the girl of his dreams appears in real life – the enig­mat­ic Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), newly arrived from New York and not look­ing for trouble. Except that trouble is what she brings for Scott in the form of sev­en evil exes who Scott has to defeat in order to keep his new love and his life.

Scott Pilgrim is based on an indie com­ic book and has a com­ics (and video game) sens­ib­il­ity. Every frame is crammed with … what’s the word … stuff, and the visu­al puns and obscure ref­er­ences come thick and fast, sac­ri­fi­cing sub­tlety for more gags and more noise. I’ve nev­er seen a film that tries so hard.

If last year’s (500) Days of Summer was a romantic com­edy for a cyn­ic­al Generation Y, Scott Pilgrim is a rom-com that’s per­fect for ritalin-deficient mod­ern youth. It’s busy and enter­tain­ing and witty but lack­ing much of a soul until an end­ing that (sur­pris­ingly) actu­ally moved me for a heart­beat or two before return­ing to it’s default, arch, setting.

The Collector posterFlawed though it is, at least Scott Pilgrim doesn’t sig­nal the decline of enlightened civil­isa­tion like The Collector, a film that I couldn’t sit through more than half an hour of on Saturday after­noon. A down-on-his-luck lock­smith breaks into a client’s house to steal some jew­els and finds that someone else is there before him. The cli­ent and his wife are being tor­tured in the base­ment and the house is full of weird and com­plic­ated booby traps using awful com­bin­a­tions of acid, razor wire, nails, etc. I waited as long as I could for some kind of plot to reveal itself but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to sit through it – even for you dear reader.

Skin posterWatching Anthony Fabian’s Skin yes­ter­day, I was struck by how South Africa’s apartheid régime wasn’t just a crime against human rights, it was a crime against san­ity too. Skin tells the astound­ing true story of Sandra Laing, born in the 1950s to an Afrikaaner couple but a rare genet­ic anom­aly means she looks black. Under the bizarre laws of the day, the State decided on someone’s clas­si­fic­a­tion based on pseudo-scientific racial pro­fil­ing and that clas­si­fic­a­tion meant everything for your present and future. When Sandra tries to attend a white school the author­it­ies have her reclas­si­fied as “col­oured” and it takes years and a change in the law for her to be grudgingly accep­ted as her par­ents’ daughter.

By this time though, she doesn’t feel like she belongs in a white soci­ety that does noth­ing but abuse her and she falls for a black farm­er and elopes, break­ing her par­ents’ heart at the same time. But “white” on her birth cert­fic­ate means that she risks los­ing her chil­dren and so she begins a battle to be re-classified as col­oured, even though she will nev­er see her par­ents again. It’s hard to believe that this mad­ness happened in liv­ing memory.

The adult Sandra is played by the most beau­ti­ful of the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of act­resses, Sophie Okenedo (Hotel Rwanda) and her par­ents are the lovely and brittle Alice Krige and the always reli­able Sam Neill.

I, Don Giovanni posterFor a change of pace, you could do worse than allow your­self to be embraced by Carlos Saura’s I, Don Giovanni a highly the­at­ric­al story of the cre­ation of Mozart’s great opera. Or not quite Mozart’s Don Giovanni this time around, as the film’s cent­ral char­ac­ter is lib­ret­tist Lorenzo da Ponte, protégé of the legendary Casanova and a fair old rake him­self. Exiled from Venice for polit­ic­al agit­a­tion (through the medi­um of poetry), da Ponte (Lorenzo Balducci) arrives in Vienna and is encour­aged by court com­poser Salieri to col­lab­or­ate with the bril­liant but unpre­dict­able Mozart (Lino Guanciale).

Don Giovanni (the woman­iser and lib­ertine aka Don Juan) was a dodgy sub­ject to pick but they say write what you know and da Ponte knew Casanova (and the wild life) well. The film uses the­at­ric­al rather than cine­mat­ic effects and spends plenty of time on the opera itself which is nicely staged and beau­ti­fully sung. It made me want to watch the whole thing in fact.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 18 August, 2010.