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Monthly Archives: August 2010

Ibi Animal Kingdom (2010)

I really wanted to like the Aussie crime flick Animal Kingdom, and I almost succeeded. In the end, though, I found the movie more admirable than actually likeable. Centred around a family of bank robbers and sociopaths in a Melbourne suburb, it paints a thoroughly bleak and unromantic picture of the criminal life, full of stupid decisions and murderous corrupt cops. It’s well-acted and filled with gut-wrenchingly suspenseful scenes, but it’s also deliberately alienating, which makes watching it into a bit of an exercise in endurance. Major plot points come out of nowhere and go nowhere, key scenes take place offscreen, and there’s no respite from the constant threat of violence. Our entry into the world is the family’s long-lost teenager J, who is reunited with the crew when his mother dies. Unfortunately, he is a maddeningly uncharismatic surrogate, watching scenes unfold in front of him with a slack-jawed expression. You just want to grab him and tell him, “dude, get it together!”

Fortunately, J does start to get it together in the second half, and the story settles into a more satisfying plot. I still did — all the way to the end — find myself frustrated with the movie’s refusal to give me a payoff for the big plot points it set up. I’m sure it was deliberate, but that doesn’t mean I have to go along with it. However, I will say this: I saw the movie a few days ago and it’s really stuck with me since. I’m looking forward to watching it again at some point, with my expectations properly calibrated. I didn’t love it this time, but I reserve the right to love it in the future.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

I don’t really approve of criticizing movie adaptations for how they failed to live up to one’s personal connection to the source material. Having said that, Scott Pilgrim really failed to live up to my connection to the source material.

I love the books, published as a series of six manga-sized graphic novels. The books kind of gave me a feeling like I felt like I knew these characters and was in on their jokes and would have wanted to hang out with them (in my younger days, or, hell, now). It’s not that these characters are paragons of awesome — it’s that they’re familiar. They have recognizable inner lives. Even when they’re clueless or narcissistic or petty, you know people like that, and look past it. (Incidentally, this is also how I felt about Pilgrim director Edgar Wright’s equally brilliant Spaced.) But at the end of the movie — SPOILER, but not really — when Scott & Ramona decide to stay together, I was just thinking “sooo… why are these two still together, again? Scott likes her hair, and Ramona likes… ???” It made sense in the books, but movie-Scott never really grew up. (He probably should have stayed with the teenaged Knives Chau.)

I think a big part of the problem is the decision to keep all the fight scenes. In the books, they’re spread out over something like 1300 pages, and break up the story. In the film, they pile right on top of each other in the second half, with a few brief character moments in between. It’s exhausting where it should be exhilarating, and it leaves out the heart. I found myself wishing there had been, say, four evil exes. The would have pissed off the fans, but you know what? Screw the fans. Catering to comic book fanboy literalism did in The Watchmen and ignoring it made Ghost World all kinds of awesome. Cutting out the middle fights would have given the non-fighting bits of the movie some much-needed room to breathe. (Also, this doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, but more and more I appreciate Quentin Tarantino’s decision to put all the action scenes in Kill Bill in the first half and all the character scenes in the second half.)

I also really appreciated that in both the Scott Pilgrim books and Spaced (and Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, too) the whole process felt really personal, and also totally DIY, like the people making it know exactly what they want to do, but are figuring how to do it as they go along. The movie doesn’t feel that way. It’s a little too slick for a story about a bunch of Canadian slacker indie kids. It’s awesome to see Edgar Wright exercise his incredible pop-culture imagination on a big Hollywood production, but I think he needs to find his own rules and limits without being tied down by adapting an existing work.


Melbourne and back

suit, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Melbourne is the first Australian city I’ve visited where I really thought I could live.

Lest that come off snobby, let me explain. Well, yes, I’m a snob but really? Sydney? Canberra? Sydney is too big and freeway-strewn and aggro, and Canberra is just kind of weird with all it’s government buildings and legal prostitution. I’m on the verge of graduating and considering my future career options, as is my lovely and Australian Janelle, and as much as I love Vancouver, I’ve been here a while. A change of scenery, well, it’s an option. However, I’m really not a person motivated solely by career. First and foremost, I want to live in a place I want to live. Melbourne seems like a place I could want to live.

As a city on the other side of the world where everybody has odd accents and roughly 90% of the architecture dates to the Victorian period, it’s different enough from Vancouver (or my last city, Toronto) that I feel like I would be getting a new experience. But it’s also not unfamiliar. It’s bustling and vibrant, with yuppies, hipsters, immigrants and middle-class families rubbing shoulders. The combination of broad streets and countless twisting laneways — an artifact of the 19th century gold rush and subsequent real estate bubble that made Melbourne the richest city in the world and second-biggest in the Empire — makes it walkable, colourful and gives rise to a truly impressive tram network. Tasty, cheap ethnic food abounds, even if the Vietnamese restaurants all call phở “noodle soup” and bánh mì “Vietnamese rolls”. It has a really strong art scene (and street art scene) and a lively pub culture, complete with dozens of trivia nights around the city (go Team “Throw Another Ken on the Barbie”! We would have totally kicked ass if it weren’t for the $12 jugs of beer!). The people seem to all be either friendly or entertainingly pretentious. In a way, it combines a lot of my favourite aspects of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, with a dash of junior-league London for good measure.

And it seem like a place where I could get a job. Maybe.

Anyway, after a couple of overnight flights broken up by a 17-hour layover in a Taiwanese airport, I’m back in Van now, and you know what that means! Pictures!