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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Friday, August 13, 2010

Movie Review: "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"

Directed By: Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Ellen Wong, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman
Four Stars

Not since "Snakes on a Plane" had my enthusiasm about seeing a movie diminished so quickly in the run-up to its release. With all of the Comic-Con screenings, the scenes online, the hardcore push to the nerd elite, etc., I was tired of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" two weeks before I saw it.

I sat down expecting to watch a comic adaptation that was hyper-stylized, ultra-hipster, filled with video game geek culture references and generally too in love with itself. And while that is exactly what I saw, I laughed my ass off the whole time and loved every minute of it.

Never has a comic book been brought to life in such a literal, visual, visceral fashion like this - not "300," not even "Sin City" - with captioned asides and simulated comic panels galore. And the loving nods to NES era gaming are in equal and welcome abundance, in both story and style.

Director Edgar Wright, who discovered Bryan Lee O'Malley's story while doing the press tour for his brilliant "Shaun of the Dead," attacks the material with giddy exuberance. The source material, about a Canadian slacker who must fantastically defeat his new love interest's seven evil-exes in order to continue dating her, is rendered with as much reverence for Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Dance Dance Revolution, record stores, movies, coffee, Toronto and indie rock as it is comic books.

The movie moves along like an old-school Nintendo game (the original "Castlevania" was my favorite) as Scott Pilgrim powers through various "levels" of sorts against various "bosses" (exes), each confrontation including a "Street Fighter"-esque "vs" squaring off. When an ex is vanquished, they disintegrate into a pile of coins of varying degrees of value. There are weapons earned and lessons learned, but never at the expense of the movie's bodacious good time.

One of the things the movie instantly gets right (and the press gets wrong) is that the characters aren't just nerds and geeks, or even hipsters, but scenesters. They dominate a parallel universe most folks still don't realize exists. If you chuckle in the theater when Michael Cera, as the title character, is described as a lady killing Lothario, you've clearly never been part of any type of "scene" or hung out with anybody who plays in a band. Too skinny? Too smarmy? Never!

A lot of folks have complained that Cera basically plays himself in every movie. But I find that if the movie is good (check), the supporting cast capable (check) and the material strong (the story is decent enough, with the style making up for its failings), watching Cera play a variation on the same character doesn't bother me at all. Molly Ringwald. Andrew McCarthy. Judd Nelson. Hello?

Throughout the story, Scott Pilgrim can be a jerk (especially to women), which is one of the sly and subtle reasons that Wright was genius to cast Cera, because we still like him, even then.

There are a lot of young actor folks in this movie and they're all believable, or at least as believable as they can be in a picture that never once asks you to believe it's real (and in doing so, tricks you with a few moments of authenticity that trump lesser movies operating without superpowers).

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Pilgrim's object of affection, Ramona Flowers. She's attractive in a way that everyone who has been part of a "scene" will recognize and has dated at least seven people without coming across as slutty or indecisive, just cool and human. Aloof, mysterious, hard to pin down, sarcastic, looks awesome in thigh high stockings... I'm sorry, where was I?

The rest of the girls in the movie are fantastic in their own right, particularly Ellen Wong as Knives Chau, Anna Kendrick as Scott's sister and the always badass Aubrey Plaza as Julie Powers. Ex-Superman Brandon Routh has some great moments as a bass playing rival powered by veganism (!), Scwhartzman is great as the final bad guy (who gets Pilgrim's own band to briefly turn on him - with a record deal!), but Kieran Culkin steals the movie from the ensemble as Pilgrim's pithy best friend, who lets him crash at his pad and even share his bed (next to his multiple male lovers).

The rhythm and pace of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is very much its own. It's manic without making you tired. It never stops, but because all of the jokes are great, all of the visual gags are creative, and all of the actors stay on their toes, it's exhilarating rather than exhausting. And there's something about the colors and the (3-D free!) effects that dazzled me while making me think about candy, for some reason. Yes, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" looks delicious.

"Shaun of the Dead" remains the best rom-zom-com ever made (ahem) and I loved "Hot Fuzz," Edgar Wright's similarly devoted love letter to genre films (action movies, in that case) where the genre conventions are handled straight-on and the comedy is never condescending nor broad. Watching Wright make magic once again, and in a different way, with "Scott Pilgrim," gets me that much more pumped up for the "Ant-Man" movie he's supposed to make for Marvel. Bring it on!

To check out what the cast (and Wright) had to say about making the movie, click here for my MTV report on the "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" panel at this year's San Diego Comic-Con.

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