Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the newest film from director Edgar Wright, based on the long running OEL manga Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. The movie’s reputation has been hyped up among my friends to an almost deafening fervor and I figured that since my girlfriend and I are both fans of the books and fans of the films of Edgar Wright, we’d be fans of the movie. I also stand proudly to be counted among the fans of Michael Cera. While I can’t stand Arrested Development, from every other thing I’ve seen him in, he’s a charming fellow. We went in to the theater expecting to be wowed or at least satisfied by every part of it.
I came out of the movie with a list. A list of five films you should see instead of seeing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
#5: either Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz
Edgar Wright is a talented director of comedy and action. He’s proved this with his theatrical collaborations with co-writer and star Simon Pegg. Shaun of the Dead is a romantic comedy set in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. There are wacky hijinks, love related misfortune and zombie slapstick in equal measure. It delivers a sensory overload greater than Pilgrim solely through lightning fast editing and a script tighter than 22 sumo wrestlers in a 2 person elevator. Hot Fuzz is their tribute to the English murder mystery and the American action film. After 90 minutes of comfortably paced exposition sprinkled with gruesome murder and detectiving, it explodes into a 30 minute action sequence worthy of James Cameron, Roland Emmerich or Katherine Bigelow.
Reason to watch: People are going to be making a big fuss of Pilgrim‘s comic book and video game influenced visuals for a while. What they won’t be making a fuss about is the fact that Shaun and Fuzz were both visually overwhelming without captions or visible sound effects for everything. The scripts are tighter, the performances more believable all around and you get to see one of the best zombie movies and one of the best action movies ever made, either way. Also, you get to see British comedians in serious roles and British dramatic actors in funny roles, all done with love and respect for the actors and the genres.
How to watch: If you’ve seen one of them, watch the other. If you’ve seen both, pick the one you haven’t seen recently. These films are best seen with your closest friends and a big bowl of homemade popcorn. Also, a few beers all’round wouldn’t hurt. I’d tell you to rent them, but you’re gonna want to watch them again, so just buy the DVDs.
#4: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Gurren-hen/Lagann-hen (both)
Next on my list is another pair of movies, but this time, I’m telling you to watch both in a row. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a Japanese television series about two underground villagers named Simon and Kamina. Soul brothers from other mothers, they vow to make their way to the surface. However, just as Simon discovers a robot buried deep underground, a much larger robot falls into their village from up top. Shooting it with a gun the size of a bass guitar is Yoko, a scantily clad and egregiously well-endowed warrior woman who claims to come from the surface. Soon, Simon and Kamina are piloting combining robots and heading for the stars on a journey that simply has to be seen to be believed in this pair of clip show movies.
Reason to watch: Simply put, this is the most ludicrous giant robot series I have ever seen. The robots face-fault, they’re powered by erections and fighting spirit, and this show has drills on drills, suckah–how many drills you want? But I don’t recommend both movies for the sake of their visuals outdoing Pilgrim. I recommend them both because they exemplify the hero’s journey to become a legend. In this story is the most incredible rendition of the hero’s tale I have seen since the Star Wars trilogy. There is great victory and great loss, and thanks to fantastic animation and terrific voice acting (in Japanese), you feel every up and down as viscerally as the characters do. Oh, and the final robot in the series broke all size records for mecha in anime. The final robot in the movie topped THAT.
How to watch: Find a good fansub and a comfortable chair. If you can, put it on the largest screen you can find and turn your cell phone off. Lean back and bask in the glory of fightin’ spirit and manliness, because it doesn’t get better than this.
#3: Black Dynamite
Exploitation films are known for their kooky, so-bad-it’s-good novelty charm. It’s rare that a film actively cultivates the feeling of so bad it’s good. Occasionally, you get an Evil Dead II or Planet Terror that rejoices in its technical faults, horrible dialogue and overblown gore. Black Dynamite is that kind of movie. It’s an off-the-wall tribute to the best of blaxploitation. The titular hero is the most over-the-top rendition of the badass anti-hero I’ve ever seen. He cleans the streets of the smack, he hands out one-liners as often as he exhales and he’s super-bad. The plot itself quickly veers from semi-realistic to kung-fu action to nunchuck fights in the Oval Office, without a visible break in storyline or plot
Reason to watch: Black Dynamite kicks more ass in less time than Shaft could dream of. When he kicks ass, he has his own theme. The entire movie is crafted as deliberately awful and scattershot, but it’s unified in how every scene is a love letter to the movies that star Michael Jai White grew up watching. There are more quotable lines in Black Dynamite than there are lines to convey story or character. Every character interaction either has an intentional gaffe or a punchline waiting to happen. You’ll have to watch it twice to catch half the lines you missed because you were too busy laughing.
How to watch: Watch it with your best grindhouse buds. The people who first exposed you to Evil Dead II, Airplane! and Troll 2. Order a big bucket of fried chicken, with mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, fries, and anything else you can find that you know is bad for you, but makes you feel so good when you eat it. Because that’s what this movie is, and we all know that stuff is delicious.
This movie had a gigantic press push back in April before its opening weekend. Sadly, like Scott Pilgrim, it floundered at the box office to find an audience outside of geekdom. Happily, unlike Pilgrim, its hero did the exact opposite 180 in being transfered to the big screen. Kick-Ass is the story of a teenage boy from New York who decides one day that he’s going to put on a costume and help people. In the original comics by Mark Millar (that guy who did Wanted), Dave Lizewski was an asshole. He’s a deeply cynical and cowardly twerp who fights crime to feel better about himself. In the movie, Dave Lizewski is an optimistic, naive and brave kid who fights crime because it’s the right thing to do. The movie starts with this one small change and ends with the biggest celebration of superheroism ever.
Reason to watch: In terms of adaptation, this movie told the original comics to forcibly insert the lead into its anus and perform certain feats that are anatomically impossible. It’s a hard-R, gory and guilt free celebration of being a hero and doing the right thing solely because it’s the right thing to do. It shows that anyone–you, me, the girl next door or her dad–anyone can put on a costume and fight crime. All it takes is guts and determination. Of course, deadened nerve endings and metal plates on every bone in your body couldn’t hurt. It also features stellar performances from underappreciated talents Nicolas Cage and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as well as newcomers Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz, two young actors you should keep your eyes on.
How to watch: Either buy the comic or take out some time to loiter in a bookstore and read through it. When you’ve finished either laughing hysterically or being completely horrified at the grim, cynical and gory world presented by the comic, buy the movie on Blu-Ray/DVD combo-pack. Pop it in with a couple of friends who haven’t read the comic and prepare for a damn good time.
Brick is an underappreciated, underseen gem from the wayback year of 2005. It’s a detective story that’s as hardcore as noir comes, set in a Californian high school. The movie uses an invented slang reminiscent of the speakeasy lingo developed from the 20’s through to the mid-40’s, used by bulls and hoods alike. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan Frye; a lonely, wounded, jaded and cynical teenager who eats lunch alone out of choice. When he finds his ex-girlfriend’s body in a flood drain, he goes on an investigation into his school’s underworld, turning over drug dealers, small time thugs, junkies, femmes fatales, and drama vamps in a tale so hardboiled, you’ll forget to pick your jaw up off the floor.
Reason to watch: Joseph. Gordon-. Levitt. You’ve seen him as Cobra Commander, you’ve seen him as a hopeless romantic, you’ve seen him as the Rusty Ryan to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Danny Ocean. Good performances all, to be sure. But the one role I always come back to with Gordon-Levitt is his role as Brendan Frye in Brick. Channeling the best of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, Gordon-Levitt creates a young hero who the girls want to be with and the boys want to be. He’s a scrappy fighter, described often as a pill, and yet comes off as a tragic hero whose lot in life has been drawn, and it’s not good. It’s a hypnotizing performance and one of the greatest heroes to grace the screen in modern cinema.
How to watch: Wherever you watch this, however you watch this, don’t dare try to do anything else at the same time. Don’t play Bejeweled while it’s on. Don’t talk to anyone else in the room about anything. This is the only story where by the time the ending rolls around, no matter how many times I watch it, I have no clue what happened to whom, when or why. Pay close attention; you might have better luck than I do.
There are better movies than Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I’ve come up with seven of my personal favourites from the last five or six years that were aimed at the same target audience, but missed due to poor or non-existent publicity or just because they were never imported. These are all movies you can easily torrent or find on DVD/Blu-Ray. These are all movies by directors who are firmly on the B or C list of directors in Hollywood’s eyes, or completely off their radar. And these are all movies that do at least one thing Scott Pilgrim tried to do better than Scott Pilgrim did it. Sensory overload filmmaking, the hero’s journey, campy self-referential fun and the tough slacker hero–it’s all here, and it’s all better than Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.