Saturday, January 6, 2018

Movie Reviews: Flatliners, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

directed by Niels Arden Oplev
Flatliners is a remake of the 1990 film of the same name that starred such Hollywood luminaries as Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon among others. The story is a familiar one. People cross boundaries that shouldn't be crossed. Initially the people who broke the rules seem to be doing well. In fact they are doing better than ok. They have abilities and knowledge that can't be explained. But there's no such thing as a free lunch. The transgressors start to have problems. Big problems. There are things that we aren't meant to know. Hopefully the smarter or more moral of the protagonists can find the key to making things right before everyone has to pay with their lives or sanity. 

There aren't too many surprises when a story adheres to this theme.  What counts is the style, not the details. Flatliners starts out with style and creepiness but almost immediately falls back on the same generic jump cuts and did or didn't I see that spookiness that make up the majority of horror/thriller movies today. This movie was almost the definition of bland. A medical student is fascinated with the idea of what lies beyond the limit of death. There is still some brain activity beyond the point of what we call death. What's going on in the brain for those few seconds?

People who have been resuscitated often  have common stories of white lights or tunnels. So this medical student decides that she wants to see for herself what's occurring. With the help of her so smart they're dumb friends, she flatlines. For a short period of time she's clinically dead before being brought back. 

Now I get nervous when trained skilled professionals with decades of experience perform medical procedures on me. Would I trust a peer who is years away from receiving his or her medical license to revive me?  No. Not at all. I wouldn't trust most of my peers to follow the directions I gave them to the nearest pizza parlor. But without that there's no movie is there? When this student returns to life, she can play the piano again. She has increased intelligence and memory. Jealous, most of her friends follow suit, all except one. Well the odd man out turned out to be the smart man, as all of these people start having visions. They have more and more difficulty distinguishing between reality and their visions. Maybe when they crossed the boundary between life and death something else came back with them. Maybe. Or maybe not.

This movie stars Ellen Page, Nina Dobrev, Diego Luna, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and of course Kiefer Sutherland. The special effects were good. Nina Dobrev is easy on the eyes. But there is nothing special about this movie. Even Debussy's Clair De Lune, used to such impressive effect in Ocean's Eleven, shows up here with no emotional impact. Of course as always YMMV.  But if you're interested in movies about breaking medical rules and stretching the boundaries between life and death I think that Re-Animator was a much better film. 

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
directed by Edgar Wright
This older work is a film based on a comic book that was unfinished upon the film's release. The film was not a financial success. The running time was a little too long for the material. This movie didn't appeal to the mainstream audience. Nevertheless this film is something I enjoy watching. Although Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was based on a comic book apparently the comic book was also in part modeled after a video game. The film has in-universe references to all sorts of video games, including Street Fighter. There are all sorts of inside jokes, gags, and asides. This is an over the top comedy that usually makes me laugh out loud throughout the film's running time. 

Visually Wright uses TONS of the same sort of the special effect sight gags that he would later use in movies like Baby Driver. When people fight, big block words like "THUD" and "WOMP" appear on the movie screen. This movie feels exactly like a comic book and video game. I mean that as a compliment. There's a heightened sense of fun, unreality, and silliness in this film. If you're looking for something absurd with some side messages about the power of love and self-respect then this might be worth your time.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a early twenties Toronto slacker and bassist for the alternative garage rock band Sex Bob-Omb. The other group members are the perpetually agitated guitarist/lead singer Stephen Stills (Mark Webber), percussionist, roadie and fill-in bassist Young Neil (Johnny Simmons) and depressed deadpan snarker drummer Kim (Alison Pill) Although Scott looks and sounds like he desperately needs testosterone injections, in one of the film's running gags, looks can be very deceiving. Scott, as his former girlfriend Kim reminds him, is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Scott has a body count with the ladies. Having recently been dumped by Envy (Brie Larson) and not liking the feeling one bit, Scott has taken up with Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) a high school student who is FAR more into Scott than he is into her. 
Knives likes hanging out  and playing video games with Scott. Knives thinks that Scott is the most magnificent man she's ever met. Of course she hasn't met (m)any men. Scott's band members, sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick), and gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) all think that Scott's wrong for dating someone so young and innocent. So does the local barista, whose profane rants about Scott's playboy style are often blocked by black censor boxes, to her listeners' befuddlement.
Scott has avoided intimacy with Knives because of her youth and because he's having dreams of a different beautiful woman. Sometimes these dreams intrude on his waking hours. At a friend's party Scott runs into this woman. Her name is Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She's American. She's a delivery woman for Amazon. Scott's in LOVE. It's the real thing. Scott orders something he doesn't need from Amazon just so he can see Ramona again. Nerd or not, Scott knows what to do when he sees a woman he likes. In short time Scott has convinced the wary and world weary Ramona to go out with him. They have an encounter. It's unclear as to whether that should be considered a date. Scott gets Ramona's number. It is definitely a date when Scott invites Ramona to the Toronto Battle of the Bands. If Sex Bob-Omb wins they'll get a record contract. Scott is convinced that everything is looking up for him. 

Scott forgot that he also invited Knives to the Battle of the Bands. Stacey can't wait to introduce Knives and Ramona. Knives and Ramona are already looking at each other suspiciously. But Scott is attacked by Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha). Matthew is Ramona's first evil ex. Matthew dated Ramona back in seventh grade. Before Scott can date Ramona he must defeat each of her seven evil exes. The League of Evil Exes has formed with the specific purpose of stopping Scott from finding happiness with Ramona. Matthew explained all of this in an email which Scott neglected to read. Battle is joined. Scott defeats Matthew along with Matthew's fireballs and demonic Bollywood style dancers. Matthew explodes in a shower of coins. Scott gets points. 
As Ramona later explains to Scott there are six other evil exes out there, all looking to take Scott down. Scott will have to win all of those battles if he wants Ramona. Wallace, who is Scott's conscience, demands that if Scott wishes to pursue Ramona that he first man up and do the right thing by Knives. 

This film is an exhilarating display of technique mixed with a hectic love story. The violence is literally cartoonish. There's no blood or guts. The movie's weakness is that almost everything is shown from Scott's point of view. The film doesn't explain why Ramona is willing to go out with Soctt or how someone with the muscle tone of overcooked spaghetti like Scott can go toe to toe with bigger stronger people. This makes sense if the movie itself is a video game and the viewer is playing Scott. This is not a film that requires deep thinking. Other actors/actresses include Chris Evans, Aubrey Plaza, Brandon Routh and Jason Schwartzman. It's a fun fact that two of the evil exes Scott must defeat would later play Captain America, The Human Torch and Superman.
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