Tag Archives: Michael Cera

CAPSULE: LEMON (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Janicza Bravo

FEATURING: Brett Gelman, , Nia Long, , Rhea Perlman, Gillian Jacobs

PLOT: A struggling, middle-aged actor/director loses his long-time girlfriend.

Still from Lemon (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Lemon is an awkward formalist comedy that’s just weird enough to hold your interest, but doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot.

COMMENTS: Not much happens in Lemon, a low-key, lightly absurdist comedy (flirting with anti-comedy) that positions itself as a character study of a delusional, narcissistic type working on the margins of the acting profession. Brett Gelman (who also co-wrote) plays sad sack Isaac with so little expression, he makes  actors look like hams. Isaac has a blind girlfriend (Judy Greer), but things are going about as well with her as they are with his stalled career. The schlub shamelessly but unconsciously projects his personal life onto the acting courses he’s teaching, where he continually sides with a pretentious actor (Michael Cera, who prepares for scenes by “exploring” colors and animals) while picking on an unassuming actress (poor Gillian Jacobs). (In one of Lemon‘s wry meta-jokes, the editor cuts off her scenes in mid-sentence, the same way that Isaac disregards her attempts to speak to him). Once outside of his petty teaching kingdom, he finds himself judged by two female casting directors who treat him like a piece of meat, but still lands an unflattering role in a commercial campaign. While on that set, he meets an African-American makeup artist (Nia Long) whom he will eventually romance, setting up the film’s only conventional comic situation when Isaac displays clueless racial insensitivity when he attends her Jamaican family’s barbecue. And that’s pretty much it; by the time the credits roll, Isaac has learned nothing and experienced no personal growth, ending up slightly worse off than when he started.

Lemon comes across as much weirder than that synopsis suggests. All of the scenes are “off” to some degree, some more than others. Isaac has his own avant-minimalist music, sometimes with operatic accompaniment, that follows him around. At one point, a man who looks like his approximate double simply walks into the class and sits beside him, saying nothing; it’s never explained. At least one flashback is played out live, without an edit, with the absent character simply walking into the room after the others depart. There is a very strange masturbation scene that seems inspired by James Lipton’s old “Actors Studio” interviews. And a sprightly singalong at a family reunion (“A Million Matzo Balls,” led by patriarchs Rhea Perlman and A Serious Man‘s Fred Melamed on piano) is an out-of-place highlight.

Lemon is reminiscent of something might write in a very depressed mood. With its nearly inscrutable, yet mean, antihero, the autistic social interactions, and the jarring transitions from scene to scene, the tone rests just this side of a nightmare. It’s a movie that will have some interest to fans of uncomfortable comedy, but it’s hard to love. If nothing else, however, Lemon is notable for bringing us Michael Cera’s worst onscreen haircut.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s more tart than sweet, but deliciously weird nonetheless.”–Katie Walsh, Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)

185. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)

“‘The books walk a line where you wonder if it’s fantasy, or if it’s really happening, At some point it stops mattering,’ O’Malley said, adding that he believes Wright captured the “whimsical weirdness” of the series.”—“Scott Pilgrim” franchise creator Bryan Lee O’Malley, quoted in L.A. Times article

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Edgar Wright

FEATURING: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Jason Schwartzman

PLOT: Scott Pilgrim is a slacker and bassist in the garage band “Sex Bob-omb”; his heart was broken a year ago by a former bandmate who cheated on him and went on to musical stardom. Scott, who’s in his early twenties, has taken to Platonically dating a wide-eyed high school girl named “Knives”. He (literally) dreams of a quirky, assured girl his own age by the name of Ramona Flowers, but while wooing her he learns that he will have to defeat her seven evil exes in battle in order to win her.

Still from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
BACKGROUND:

  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was selected to go on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies in the 5th Readers Choice Poll. Actually, it ended the poll tied and was involved in a run-off vote which also ended in a tie, at which time it was declared the winner by editorial fiat.
  • The film is based on a series of six graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley. The script was optioned after the first volume was published, and filming began before the series finished its run. Since the script was completed first, O’Malley provided the screenwriters with his notes on how the story was to end. O’Malley actually asked for permission to use lines from the screenplay in later “Scott Pilgrim” books. The final “Scott Pilgrim” volume was released in 2010, the same year as the movie.
  • Scott Pilgrim cost $60 million to make and earned only $30 million in its theatrical run. It has proved to be a home-video hit, however.
  • The film’s original ending, which had Scott reuniting with Knives, was rewritten due to negative audience response.
  • Naturally, the film inspired a video game adaptation.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Split screens. Besides the “Batman”-style “ka-pow!” lettering floating past during fight scenes, the visual motif you may notice most about Scott Pilgrim is the abundant use of split screens. This is not simply a stylistic affectation; the device refers to the movie’s graphic novel inspiration, mimicking the freedom of the printed page to place each image inside the frame that best suits it, however bent. That’s why we selected the fanned out rouges gallery of the League of Evil Exes as our indelible image (some of the promotional material features the same iconic image, with the actors occupying different spots on the evil spectrum for variety’s sake).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A villain sets up a duel to the death by email, then brings his own Bollywood backup singers—who happen to be levitating “demon hipster chicks”—to the fight.  When he’s defeated, he dissolves into a shower of coins. If you don’t think that’s at least a little weird, you probably need to put down the video game controller for a few hours a day.


Original trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

COMMENTS: When Scott Pilgrim flopped at the box office, it became Continue reading 185. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)

CAPSULE: MAGIC MAGIC (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Sebastián Silva

FEATURING: , , Agustín Silva, Catalina Sandino Moreno,

PLOT: An emotionally fragile American girl is trapped with four strangers in a vacation home in Chile when her friend ditches her to deal with personal issues.

Still from Magic Magic (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The movie is good at creating a subtly unnerving atmosphere, but it doesn’t quite push far enough into eldritch realms earn a single Magic in its title, much less two.

COMMENTS: Magic Magic‘s scenario is a little like Repulsion-lite. Juno Temple plays the repressed girl with the disintegrating mind, with the major difference being that it is other people, not solitude, that makes her crack up. It’s also not clear that Temple’s Alicia fears men in general, although she certainly shudders at the touch of Michael Cera’s Brink (which is actually pretty rational behavior, given Brink’s awkwardly sleazy passes at her). Abandoned among strangers in a foreign country, Alicia comes off as merely shy, at first; but, she seems to be having difficulty sleeping, as well as relating to her fellows. She loves animals, but they don’t reciprocate, unless it’s to hump her leg. As the vacation goes on her paranoid behavior gets worse. She begins recalling conversations others don’t remember. The camera sometimes inhabits her subjectivity; when out of focus, her companions’ faces seem to be staring at her, studying her, but a more objective view shows them to be minding their own business. Most of the movie consists of a string of scenes that are very good at creating a subtle, unsettling atmosphere of social and sexual anxiety. The individual pieces are carefully detailed and observed, but the movie as a whole lacks the narrative hooks to draw you into the story, either emotionally, or as a psychological mystery play. The roots of Alicia’s problems, even her basic backstory, are barely hinted at, leaving this unsatisfying as a character study. The movie’s climax invokes Chilean voodoo, a left-field gambit that’s fairly intense and spooky on its own; but, like a potentially interesting and emotionally resonant subplot involving Browning’s character, it doesn’t seem to belong to the main narrative in a meaningful way. The overall result is a slightly unsatisfying movie with parts that are better than the whole. On the plus side, the performances by Temple and Cera are very good. Cera’s character is the socially inept inversion of Temple; overcompensating for his inadequacies with obnoxiousness, he talks a big game, but he may be even more repressed than Alicia.

Michael Cera made two movies back-to-back with director Silva while on a visit to Chile. In Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus, the somewhat better of the two films, he plays a neurotic American drug tourist foiled by a free-spirited hippie girl.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“To be sure, the movie isn’t much more than its atmosphere of clammy discomfort and a gonzo performance from Juno Temple, but those open to the experience will enjoy its gleeful strangeness.”–Tim Grierson, Screen Daily (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time.  Comments on this initial review are closed. Please leave any comments about the movie on the official Certified Weird entry.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Edgar Wright

FEATURING: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Jason Schwartzman

PLOT: Slacker bassist Scott Pilgrim must defeat seven evil exes in order to win the girl of his dreams.

Still from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  An alternate reality comedy that at times feels like something Monty Python would have come up with if they’d been raised on video games and graphic novels instead of “The Goon Show” and Oscar Wilde, Scott Pilgrim has substantial cult movie potential.  The movie dispenses with logic scene by fractured scene, but probably its weirdest joke is casting Michael Cera as an action hero.  It’s shiny surface sheen is fascinating, but at heart it’s a conventional coming-of-age tale for the PlayStation set; despite it’s comic leaps of illogic, it’s weird-ish, at best.

COMMENTS:  With its role-playing game quest to defeat seven escalating opponents (right up to the final “boss” battle) and it’s onscreen scoring system (defeated enemies turn into piles of coins as a digital score rises from their corpses), Scott Pilgrim becomes the first film in history to use the video game as a metaphor for growing up.  The movie milks maximum mileage from this conceit: when Scott goes to the bathroom, we watch a pop-up pee meter go from full to empty so we can stay informed on the condition of his bladder.  The viewer is stuffed inside a video game console, treated to constant text updates on the characters’ status.  But even beyond that basic technique, director Edgar Wright piles on the artificiality and stylization whenever an idea crosses his mind: multicolored valentines bloom from young lovers locked lips at first kiss, 1960s Batman-style “KAPOWS!” accompany fight scenes, and when a character’s profanity is bleeped out on the soundtrack a black bar also appears over her mouth.  The bent humor sports a pop-absurdist tone; this is the only movies where a villain sets up a duel to the death by email, then brings his own Bollywood backup singers to the fight.  Sometimes Wright’s choices become overly referential and fall flat, as when one expository scene is announced by the “Seinfeld” theme song, but you have to admire his willingness to try absolutely anything, and there are more hits than misses in the mix.  The film moves almost too fast at times, with dream scenes emerging back into reality with no warning (there’s little difference between the two states anyway), and jarring leaps forward in time.  But Wright embraces the short-attention span aesthetic and makes one of the cornerstones of the film; it’s neither a satirical jab at youth culture nor an unconscious adoption of its rhythms, but a stylistic choice that works in the context of the zeitgeist he’s trying to evoke.  The fast-cut style is also necessary to fit in all the film’s teeming ideas:  Scott Pilgrim is delightfully overstuffed, a real bargain for your matinee dollar.  There are six big, comic fight scenes, multiple romantic subplots and back stories,  a Battle of the Bands, and so many quirky supporting characters you almost need a scorecard to keep up.  Besides everyboy Pilgrim, there’s cool love interest Ramona Flowers (whose shifting dye jobs call to mind Kate Winslett’s Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), jailbait romantic rival Knives Chow, wisecracking gay roommate Wallace Wells, Scott’s band-mates in the awkwardly named “Sex Bob-omb,” evil exes who’ve become Hollywood action stars or Vegan bass players… and even with that list I’ve still omitted somebody‘s favorite of the dozens of significant characters.  The film is anarchic and ramshackle in spirit, but it’s actually tightly controlled and easy to follow and connect with.  With it’s ADD edits, it’s geeky embrace of everything pop culture and willful ignorance of any other type of culture, and its amiable twenty-somethings who act like John Hughes’ teenagers of an earlier era, Scott Pilgrim suggests either that the onset of adulthood is slipping ever closer to 30, or that the film is aimed at a demographic aged much younger than its protagonists.  I prefer to believe the latter; and, like the aforementioned Mr. Hughes’ film, the movie’s innocence about love and the easy answers about life’s big lessons creates a nostalgic crossover appeal for adults, even if they don’t get every NES video game system reference.

Edgar Wright’s previous two films were cultish genre spoofs: the zombie film parody Shaun of the Dead and the cop burlesque Hot FuzzScott Pilgrim sees Wright stretching his talents with a far more baroque, but equally hilarious, approach.  With Scott Pilgrim Wright’s no longer exaggerating the conventions of an existing genres to ridiculous lengths; he’s inventing an entirely new genre.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The style is Sega surrealism, the narrative strategy 30% Bunuel and 70% Bally.”–Andy Klein, Brand X Daily (contemporaneous)

SATURDAY SHORT: BETWEEN TWO FERNS (2008)

Give Zach Galifianakis a late night show, and this is what you’ll get: sketch comedy that’s too absurd for TV.  This is the first of seven episodes of Zach’s web series, “Between Two Ferns”.  In it Zach interviews Michael Cera about acting in the comedy film Superbad (2007).

For more episodes of “Between Two Ferns” visit: http://www.funnyordie.com/between_two_ferns. Keep in mind that many of these episodes contain language that viewers may find offensive.