Archives for posts with tag: Review

[Scott Pilgrim Preview Tickets]

Yesterday was Scott Pilgrim day for me. No only did Dre and I catch a sneak preview of the film (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), but, prior to that, I got to read the final chapter of the Scott Pilgrim comic (#6 aka Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour).

Short, spoiler free, recommendation:

Both rock. If you’re in your teens/twenties/thirties and part of the “video games, comics, music, arrested development ((The phenomena, not necessarily the excellent TV show which features at least two of the actors from this film.)) , culture industrial complex ” the film is a must see (in the theater, preferably one with a good sound system) and you should track down copies of the books.

On the Movie: The movie is a “valentine” to modern music, video games, and comics, and perhaps the best comic-to-movie translation yet (one that takes full advantage of the medium of film). The performances are great. Its biggest issue is that the secondary characters, in particularly the female ones, suffer from cuts made to tell the story in a single film (more on that below). But that shouldn’t keep you from seeing it.

On the Book: An excellent wrap up to a great series, adding depth an meaning to events that took place in the previous books. Also, it’s a surprisingly mature take on the move not just to adult relationships, but “adult” living (if you will). It really kicks things up a notch and then some.

Much longer, mostly spoiler free, reflection:

I came to Scott Pilgrim relatively late. I’d known about it for a while, but only started reading it around Book 4 (aka Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together). Up until that point the only “slice of magical, musical realism life” comic I had been following was Blue Monday, a comic I blogged about way back in 2002. Published by Oni Press, the same indy company that brings us Scott Pilgrim, Blue Monday was John Hughes 2.0 — focused on an impossible high school experience, heavily influenced by music, manga, and pop culture. While there was a sort of continuity to the comics, it was much more about the ride than the destination for both the readers and the characters in the book.

It was director of the film, Edgar Wright, that really got me interested in the property. While at the University of Chicago, I got to see a few bootleged episodes of Spaced, a BBC tele series he co-created with Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes ((Nick Frost was also involved)), and was completely blown away with how much it got, and more importantly translated, the experience of those of us caught between Gen X & Y. My interest in Wright was further peaked by Shaun of the Dead. So when I learned that he was developing/directing the Scott Pilgrim (SP from here on in) film, I knew it would be a must see for me as I knew what ever he produced would be engaging.

Up until that point, while I’d seen some SP pages online, I’d never actually read any of the books. My interest piqued by news of the film, I decided to dive into the comics. My reaction was: ok, so this is like Blue Monday, but with some added Canadian (it takes place in Toronto), video game, and comic references. The SP characters might have more “complete” development arcs, but it was seemed largely a quick-read, hipster coming of age story with more style than substance — perfect for adaptation to a film (especially with Edgar Wright at the helm). But that was about it.

And that was my opinion until yesterday, when I read the final issue of the comic.

I’m not suggesting that the final issue transforms the series into high literature. However, in tying up the loose ends of the story of a Canadian Rocker coming to terms with adulthood while fighting his new girlfriend’s seven evil ex’s, series creator Bryan Lee O’Malley reveals to the reader that a lot more has been going on in the books than the fun but superficial tale that it initially appears to be. There are no real twists – though at least one character turns out to have taken a very different (and much more satisfying) course of action that the reader is initially led to believe – or surprise endings. What is revealed is a metaphorical depth and maturity to the story that I had completely missed. What’s especially great about this is that it sparks a desire to revisit the previous books in order to see how much of this was in the story from the beginning (the answer, btw, is most of it was there from the beginning). This is all the more impressive considering it’s taken O’Malley more than six years to complete his story.

Bottom line: to my pleasant surprise, I discovered that, in the end, there was a lot more the SP the Comic than I gave it credit for. And that elevates it to a must read for those interested in this type of comic/story.

Then I saw the move, which delivered on being an “Epic of Epic Epicness.” And it was great. And it was and wasn’t the comic. And that was both good and less good.

Lemme ‘splain:

The good/great about the movie

First, it is a definite must see. Right from the start — literally starting with the “Universal Pictures” intro – it completely captures the vibe of the comics in a way that no adaptation that I’ve seen before has ever done. While Sin City (and other comic based movies) look just like the comic, but are emotionally empty, everything about SP full of life. A la Walter Benjamin, SP the film isn’t reproducing the comic on the screen, its extending it and finding new things within it. And everyone is having fun while doing it.

It nicely captures  the video game aesthetic, which, isn’t the biggest translation as video games are already a moving image (if not out-and-out cinematic) medium. Where it truly shines is in how it uses comic metaphors to represent sound. In fact, I think it’s a groundbreaking film when it comes to showing music.

A quick bit of semantics to explain that last point — where as the best concert films, like Stop Making Sense, are about showing the production of music, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is about showing the music itself (if I remember correctly, everyone is lip syncing/faking playing music recorded by other people). To accomplish this Wright takes the comic metaphor of the written sound effect and creates something amazingly visual and dynamic (the Bass battle that takes place in the middle of the film is perhaps the best example of this). His approach is also big – by that I mean cinematic, conceived and executed for a movie theater (as opposed to a home theater) sized screen. If O Brother, Where Art Thou? was the Cohen Brother’s valentine to bluegrass, then SP is Wright’s valentine to modern music.

And, across the board, the actors are all great. While many may be accused of playing themselves (Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman in particular), I think that critique misses the boat. While no one is stretching their acting range within the movie, what’s clear is that they all “get it” and are very intentionally delivering the performances needed to make the story work.

So with all this praise so far…

… What about the less good?

The movie and the comics are intentionally different. In part, that’s because the movie went into production before the final two books were completed. Wright worked with O’Malley to include ideas and themes from the later books, but things diverge quite a bit in the two stories after the encounter with The Clash at Demonhead((see the movie or read the books and then this reference makes sense)). The divergence isn’t by itself a bad thing. And a number of the changes are necessary, but what’s lost in the divergence is unfortunate.

Another reason for the differences is the length of the materials. The problem that Wright faced is that there was way too much material for a single film and not enough to justify multiple films (in alternate universe somewhere MTV bought the rights and opted to make SP into a miniseries and storywise, it worked a little better.). The movie is a little too long. So, pacing wise, the film ends just as its starting to drag.

And though the cuts and divergences work in terms of creating a satisfying film, they also hurt the characters that populate the story in two ways.

First is that the supporting characters all suffer. What makes this especially rough is that many of the supporting characters are well written women (something that set SP apart from most other comics). In particular, Kim Pine (one of Scott’s exes and a the drummer in his band) ends up getting flattened from a complex character in the comics to a generic “bitter bitch” role in the film. Also, to build to a concise climax in the film, Scotts two love interests (Knives Chau and Romona Flowers) also lose a lot of their characterization, and in many respects become weaker for it — in particular Romona. To go further into this would take me into the territory of major spoilers, something I want to avoid. Suffice to say, part of the strength of the comics were the female characters in it. Ultimately that isn’t as much the case with the film.

Which brings me to the second problem. To keep the story simple and the film length down, the movie becomes more of a “heroic love story” than a “growing up story.” While Scott still has to mature in terms of his relationships and gain some self knowledge in the movie, the comic (in particular the final book) handles this is a much truer way. The comic is as much about Romona maturing and changing as it is about Scott’s journey. That, just doesn’t play out as well in the film, again weaking the Romona character.

Bottom line about the film

These two critiques should not stop you from seeing the film. See it when it opens next week! And see it in a theater (preferably a filled one). It’s worth it!

Hopefully, the critiques will lead you to reading the books ((available in most comic shops and book stores)) in order to get an equally (if not more) satisfying take on the same characters.

For quite a while, I’ve been thinking about making some changes to the blog, and I think it’s finally time to start implementing them. So over the next month or two the design and content of Waking-Dream is going to change. I’ll explain whats driving that as things get a bit further along (ohh mystery).

So, in that spirit of new types of content, here’s a review of a gadget that has changed Dre and my lives: the Dyson DC17 “Animal Edition” Vacuum Cleaner (aka our 2nd wedding anniversary gift).

You see, we have a little problem in our house. Or should I say three little problems. Take exhibits “A” and “B” (or left-to-right Rita Mae and Lewis… not sure where Lilah was when Dre took this picture):

Lewis ponders while Rita gazes

We have three pets (two gray cats and a reverse Oreo pooch) that are all shedders. It’s inevitable that, over the course of a week, our floors and furniture develop a gray covering of their own. Said covering is, to put it mildly, “resistant” to most vacuum cleaners. In fact, pre-Dyson, the only surefire way we had to get things clean was to first use a pet brush on them (the carpets, not the pets) to loosen as much fur as possible and then to vacuum. Needless to say, cleaning was a time intensive production.

Dyson DC17Then, through word-of-mouth, I heard about Dyson Vacuum Cleaners. And, after a bit of research, I found that pet owners swore by them; in particular, everyone recommended the DC17 (pictured to the left). Why? It sucks. I mean it really SUCKS and in a good way. To put that into perspective, Dyson claims that it sucks at, be prepared, 150,000 frickin’ times the force of gravity. Seriously! It basically creates a mini-cyclone inside the chamber (at 150,000 frickin’ times the force of gravity) — how cool is that??!!

On the downside, it costs about $500 new (more on that later). So the immediate questions are: a. does it work? And, b. is it worth the price? Well, at the risk of embarrassing my wife further (by documenting our fur situation) let me tell the tale of our runner (with pictures).

The Carpet Pre-Dyson

With my back and forth between Rochester and Cornell, vacuuming has not been our number one priority. So, by this past Saturday, we had built up a lot of gray. Here is a picture of one of our runners. As you might notice it looks a bit desaturated due to the dusting of gray (those dark sections of carpet are supposed to be a dark navy blue/black).

Well, out came the Dyson and in far less than three minutes of back and forth over the carpet (I think it was about a minute, but I didn’t think to time it) there were noticeable results. Take a look at the illustration below:

As you can see, it looks like a brand new carpet (or at least a well cleaned, almost new carpet). But the greatest proof of the Dyson’s pick-up-ability (aka 150,000 frickin’ times the force of gravity) is to actually look at how much it picked up. And we can do this thanks to the oh-so-cool transparent dust chamber. Exhibit 1 — the chamber before vacuuming:


And then, Exhibit 2 — after vacuuming the runner (and only the runner):


Little bit of a difference, huh? All of that came out of an 8’x2′ runner!

And not only is that the obvious fur, it’s also a lot of dust and other allergens (that as it turned out the previous vacuum wasn’t picking up either). As far as we’re concerned, the DC17 performs to spec and then some.

Of course performance comes with a price. And beyond economic considerations, that price is felt in terms of weight and volume. No “skinny-minny”, the DC17 weighs in at over 30 pounds! It also is loud… not just “scare the pets” loud, the Dyson starts to get into “scare the neighbors” loud.

But the real sticking point is the price. As mentioned earlier, new, the MSRP is close to $500. At that price, I’d want the vacuum to also do the vacuuming for us (I’m not sure if it’s wise to think about mashing a Dyson and a Roomba… you might end up with Skynet). The really good news is, with a bit of searching, you can find a Factory Reconditioned DC17’s in the $220 ballpark. Considering that we payed almost that much for the previous “girly” vacuum, it seems a pretty obvious choice: if you are frustrated by pet hair, take the plunge and get a reconditioned DC17.