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Knight at the Movies: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; film notes
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2010-08-11

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I still haven't seen Salt but with that caveat in place I can honestly say that my favorite blockbuster this summer is the one that on first appearance doesn't even slightly resemble the others—and that includes everything from Iron Man II to Inception. But nevertheless, the latest Michael Cera nerd-loses-girl-gets-girl comedy ( seemingly a genre all his own ) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is not only one of the funniest movies of the summer; its utilization of over-the-top special effects unintentionally puts it up there in the action-blockbuster category it so archly parodies.

Cera's Scott Pilgrim is a 22-year-old jobless geek who plays bass in an alt-rock band, and is dating a 17-year-old high school Asian girl named Knives Chau. He is also trying to distance himself from the derision of his older sister ( Anna Kendrick ) and his gay, droll roommate ( Kieran Culkin ) . At a party he meets a girl he's literally been dreaming of—the raspberry-haired Ramona ( Mary Elizabeth Winstead ) —and is immediately smitten. Slowly, the two begin a relationship but, at that point, not only must Scott break up with Knives, but he must fight and defeat Ramona's seven deadly exes in order to win her love.

Director Edgar Wright, who co-adapted the series of comic books the picture's based on, keeps things moving and the material plays up Cera's benign yet knowing appeal. But Cera's schtick is starting to get a tad tedious and it doesn't help that Scott is kind of a jerk for a lot of the movie. ( It's not until late in the picture that the character is seen to have heart and depth—Cera's secret weapon. ) Once Scott starts battling the exes, ( which include a former girlfriend of Ramona's who is "bi-furious" that her "bi-curious" stage didn't last permanently ) , the movie goes into hyperdrive and, delightfully, loses all sense of reality and any pretense of depth. The wacky, over-the-top mega-fight sequences push the movie into comedic bliss for awhile ( helped along by cameos from gay heartthrobs Chris Evans, Brandon Routh and the dryly funny Jason Schwartzman, et al., as the villainous exes ) .

It's a great comedy for the distracted YouTube generation—the movie tosses in one visual joke after another at a furious pace ( including a canny homage to the '60s Batman action sitcom ) . If anything, there's too much of a good thing and Wright's biggest misstep is not living up to the maxim "Always leave them wanting more." Shaving even 10 minutes off this delightful little puppy would have made the difference between leaving Scott Pilgrim vs. the World exhilarated and jonesing for another dose, as opposed to being happy but sapped of energy from all the overstimulation.

Film notes:

—All About Evil—a spot-on homage to the tacky, cheesy tradition of midnight horror B-movies ( okay, Z-movies ) , written and directed by San Francisco-based Midnight Movie maven/drag star Peaches Christ ( Joshua Grannell ) —promises to take Chicago by storm when it screens Saturday, Aug. 14, at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport. The film stars Natasha Lyonne ( But I'm a Cheerleader, Die Mommie Die ) as a mousy librarian-turned -demented owner of a vintage theater who is aided by her equally murderous ( and lecherous ) projectionist and other psychos in turning out a series of gory and hilariously twisted short films utilizing real victims. Naturally, as the body count rises, so do the lines around the block for the bloody fare—all leading to a particularly gruesome finale. The film—part John Waters, part William Castle—cheerfully cribs from dozens of sources ( Cecil B. Demented, Fade to Black, etc. ) , and that's half the fun. Mink Stole plays one of the victims and Cassandra Petersen, a.k.a. Elvira "Mistress of the Dark," appears—in a refreshing change of pace—as the mother of a midnight movie-addicted teenager.

Promising a night to "dismember," P. Christ and crew ( including Mink Stole and local fave David Cerda, artistic director and playwright for camp theatre troupe Handbag Productions and leader of the Joan Crawford rock-n-roll band, The Joans ) will provide a rousing pre-show beginning at 11:30 p.m. with the midnight screening to follow. Audience members are encouraged to dress in their finest "gore couture." Advance tickets available; see www.musicboxtheatre.com .

—The Music Box, along with the Noir Film Foundation, is also hosting the return of their popular film noir series that programs double features of little seen gems in their original 35mm prints ( most not available on DVD ) . It's another stellar lineup for this year's series, titled Noir City 2: Chicago, which plays Aug. 13-19 and includes a trio of movies starring queer audience faves Joan Crawford, Tyrone Power and Marilyn Monroe among its 10 titles. Playwright Crawford is menaced by new husband Jack Palance ( and his slutty girlfriend, Gloria Grahame ) in 1952's Sudden Fear; Monroe plays a deranged babysitter in 1952's Don't Bother To Knock; and Power has the most bitter role of his career as a cheap carny grifter who scams his way to the top as a "mentalist" using every nasty trick in the book to do it in 1947's Nightmare Alley. Joan Blondell and Colleen Gray co-star. Film noir experts Foster Hirsch and Alan K. Rode will be on hand to introduce the films and lead post-screening discussions. Complete titles and show times are at www.musicboxtheatre.com .

—The Public Square hosts two screenings of Cuba: An African Odyssey on Sunday, Aug. 15, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place. The documentary covers Cuba's involvement in Africa from the early 1960s to the early 1990s and includes interviews with Fidel Castro and Pik Botha. James Thindwa, civic engagement coordinator for the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff will lead the post-screening discussion. The event, part of the African Jubilee Film Festival, is free and open to the public. See www.prairie.org/publicsquare.

—The Julia Roberts-Javier Bardem-James Franco romantic drama Eat Pray Love—from out director Ryan Murphy, who co-adapted the screenplay from the best-selling novel ( and Oprah book club pick ) —was not screened in time for Windy City Times' deadline, although interviews with Roberts and Murphy are featured in this week's issue.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.


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