Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
The romantic action comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is like nothing — and if you’re a person between the age of approximately 18 to 35 everything — you’ve seen before. British director Edgar Wright’s (Shaun of the Dead Hot Fuzz) adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novel is so densely laden with pop-culture references it often times feels less like a movie than a mixtape. Those who share the tastes of the film’s 31-year-old writer and 35-year-old director will find the experience to be exhilarating; those who don’t however will likely be at a loss to comprehend what all the fuss is about.
The list of ‘80s and ‘90s video game nods in Pilgrim alone is daunting: Tekken Super Mario Bros. Tetris Zelda and even retro titles like Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man are represented just to name a few. To fit all of it in Wright must practically invent a brand-new kind of filmmaking. Using techniques and iconography culled from the holy fanboy triumvirate of comic books video games and anime/manga and armed with a clearly generous effects budget he splatters the screen with a dazzling array of CGI visual aids as the action unfolds: informational pop-ups supply key details on each character as they are introduced; words like “Boom!” and “Pow!” burst forth when blows are landed during fight sequences; a “Level Up!” graphic indicating increased levels of key character attributes appears after the film’s hero triumphs in battle. Even the old Universal Studios logo has been revamped by Wright rendered in the rudimentary graphics and sound of the old 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Call it easter-egg filmmaking.
At the center of this digital maelstrom is Scott Pilgrim a 22-year-old Canadian hipster waif played by 22-year-old Canadian hipster waif Michael Cera. Unemployed and in no great rush to find work he splits his time evenly between jamming with his middling band Sex Bob-Omb (a Super Mario Bros. reference) combing thrift shops for new additions to his near-limitless collection of ironic t-shirts and pining for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a beguiling New York City emigre whose signature attribute is her constantly-changing hair color.
After a few abortive encounters Scott finally gets Ramona to reciprocate his affections. Thus begins the quest — or "campaign " as gamers call it — portion of the film as Scott soon discovers that in order to secure Ramona’s hand he must defeat each of her seven evil exes (six boys and one girl) in spontaneous death matches of decreasing novelty. (A few of them could easily have been excised without harming the narrative but that might invite the ire of comic book fans who typically demand nothing less than absolute adherence to the source text.) With a variety of found power-ups and an entirely implausible collection of fancy kung-fu moves he faces off against among others a pompous vegan straight-edge (Brandon Routh) a self-absorbed action star (Chris Evans) a spiteful lesbian (Mae Whitman) and a smarmy record producer (Jason Schwartzman).
I expect Scott Pilgrim vs. the World will polarize audiences and not just because of Wright’s distinctively dizzying directorial style. (Which I thoroughly enjoyed even though it occasionally overdoses on manufactured quirk and is a bit too proud of its cleverness.) The film glosses over Scott and Ramona’s wooing process in its rush to commence with its succession of comic-book battles which grow somewhat tedious toward the end. It’s simply assumed that Ramona would fall for our protagonist as it’s likewise assumed that we already have. But not everyone will embrace Scott’s castrati hipster affect which too often comes across as grating rather than charming. (The movie’s funniest moments come courtesy of Scott’s sassy gay roommate played by Kieran Culkin who is never without a clever barb for his lovelorn pal.) And beneath Cera’s self-effacing sheen exists an unmistakable whiff of pretentiousness that isn’t entirely justified — at least not yet. Far less debatable is the appeal of Winstead whose spunky Ramona appears every bit worth the hassle of fending off seven or more ex-lovers.
God knows what she sees in him.
Top Story: Pitt To Host BBC Radio Documentary
Brad Pitt will host a music documentary on the late British singer-songwriter Nick Drake for BBC Radio 2, Reuters reports. Drake, who died of a drug overdose in 1974 at the age of 26, is regularly cited as an influence by some of Radio 2's core artists, including REM, Paul Weller and Badly Drawn Boy," said Lesley Douglas, Controller BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music. "I was introduced to Nick Drake's music about five years ago, and am a huge admirer of his records," Pitt said in a BBC statement. "When Radio 2 approached me to get involved in this project, I was delighted to be asked." The program, which airs on May 22, includes a Norah Jones version of Drake's song "Day is Done."
Queer Eye Aims at Straight Girls
Bravo has greenlit 13 episodes of their newest reality series Queer Eye for the Straight Girl, which spins off their hugely successful Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. "It's something our female fans have been requesting since Queer Eye became a hit," Bravo topper Jeff Gaspin told Variety, adding that he isn't concerned the channel would be overpowered by the franchise. " Straight Girl goes on the air a year and a half after the original launched, so I think enough time will have passed," he opined. Variety reports a new team of gay lifestyle coaches will come to the aid of frumpy femmes. Casting is under way for a debut next year.
Limbaugh's Appeal May Keep Him Out of Court
Rush Limbaugh's attorney will argue before an appeals court in Florida Wednesday to keep Limbaugh's medical records sealed, citing patient/doctor confidentiality, in the criminal investigation currently brewing against the conservative radio host, AP reports. Limbaugh, 53, who sought treatment for an addiction to painkillers late last year, has been accused of illegally buying prescription drugs by "doctor shopping" or visiting several doctors to receive duplicate prescriptions of controlled narcotics, AP reports. Limbaugh--who believes he is being pursued by Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer, a Democrat, for political gain--has not been charged with a crime as yet and if the appeal goes through, the investigation against him could be stalled for good.
3000 Degrees Gets Cold
The production start on Warner Bros.' fire disaster flick 3000 Degrees, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Ed Harris and Woody Harrelson, has been indefinitely put on hold, Variety reports. The film, which centered on the real-life 1999 blaze at the Worcester Cold Storage warehouse in Massachusetts that claimed the lives of six firefighters, had been strongly opposed by relatives of some of the victims and firefighter groups in Worcester. But Variety reports the studio finally nixed the production when the International Assn. of Fire Fighters, the union that represents 85 percent of all firefighters in North America, told producers that out of allegiance to those families, its members would not assist the film's production, in effect denying production crews access to fire stations, fire trucks, other equipment and technical consultation services to ensure the accuracy of the film.
Motown Special To Air
The taping of ABC's television special Motown 45, which will air in May, featured the talents of Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Ritchie and Cedric the Entertainer, commemorating the label's legacy, Reuters reports. Performances taped on Sunday also included Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland teaming with Supremes' Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong on a Supremes medley and with Richie on "Endless Love," Michael McDonald covering Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and Nick Lachey and Jermaine Jackson dueting on "I'll Be There." Click here to see the photo gallery!
Stone Speaks at Tribeca Film Festival
Actress Sharon Stone is scheduled to take part in panels during next month's Tribeca Film Festival, joining other distinguished celebrities such as director Martin Scorsese and news anchor Peter Jennings, The Associated Press reports. Stone, known for sexy turns in films such as Basic Instinct, will discuss the evolution of sex in the cinema along with John Cameron Mitchell, the director, co-writer and star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Scorsese, who helped found the festival with Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal of Tribeca Films, is set to talk about the use of music in his movies, while Jennings will moderate a discussion on "Jesus as Celebrity." Tribeca Film Festival will run from May 1-9.
Role Call, Part I: Fantastic Four Gets Director, John Woo Gets Metroid
Barbershop director Tim Story has been tagged to direct Marvel Comics' The Fantastic Four for 20th Century Fox. The film will follow follows the exploits of venerable Marvel Comics characters Reed and Sue Richards, Benjamin Grimm and Johnny Storm--better known to comic fans as Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Thing and the Human Torch. No cast has been set as …Director John Woo (Mission: Impossible 2) has optioned Nintendo's best-selling video game franchise Metroid for the big screen. The movie will center on the origins of the game's female protagonist, sexy bounty hunter Samus Aran, and relate her adventures battling the insidious life-sucking Metroids and their controlling force, Mother Brain.
Role Call, Part II: Diane Lane is Fierce, King's Men Remake in Works
Diane Lane has set her sights on Lions Gate's thriller Fierce People as her next project. The film revolves around a woman (Lane) who tries to start anew with her son after his brush with the law, when she is attacked and her new life is shattered…Schindler's List writer Steven Zaillian will direct a remake of All the King's Men, with Sean Penn being touted for the lead. Based on Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the story follows the rise and fall of populist Southern poli