Faults (Riley Stearns, 2014)


Initially unfolding as a satire of uncertain magnitude, Faults sets its sights on has-been cult buster Dr. Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) – a proven expert in analyzing and ridding subjects of various sects’ hypnotic strangleholds. Limited in terms of other skills and forever haunted by one case in particular, Roth’s floundering success is worsened by his latest immodest book tour. Following a presentation gone violently awry, two desperate parents approach our man to exploit his expertise for the sake of long lost daughter, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Is this all a simple case of snatch-and-grab reprogramming, or will extenuating factors prove insurmountable as a mystery unfolds?

Faults immediately flaunts its strengths as a darkly comic character study by way of a familiar schadenfreude approach. With Orser’s laughable Dr. Roth stricken by a stream of varying existential woes, what ensues following a first-act crux is captivatingly imbued with a tranquil but lingering uncertainty that highlights Roth’s strengths as a disgraced professional, but a professional nonetheless. The initial interplay between him and Winstead’s Claire is admirably grounded by way of execution, the majority of which somehow avoids pretentiousness given the film’s offbeat specificity of purpose.

Thus brings us to Faults‘ inherently captivating mystery. Although the issue of twisty role reversal is suggested early on, Roth’s increasingly sullied path toward Claire and her well-paying parents’ happiness ultimately forces us to wildly speculate. With a wily ex-manager and pseudo-enforcer demanding reparations procured by Roth’s messy divorce, the duo’s involvement serves only to divert our gaze while Claire’s could-or-couldn’t-be ulterior motives emerge from the shadows. From here – and if you’ll forgive the crassness – shit pops off, forcing us to forgo any semblance of preconceived clarity as things come full circle if erratically in terms of tone.

In exercising the better parts of its concise, well-informed and particularly wild narrative, Faults frequently succeeds. Stellar performances aside, Stearns’ direction yields an air of ceaseless discomfort, even as Orser’s Dr. Roth remains palpably in control of earlier interactions with his subject. Despite falling victim to a particularly jarring set of reveals during its latter moments, Faults manages to retain us viewers’ interests thanks to our presumed unfamiliarity with and unpredictability of the core subjects and topic it employs.




Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin

As a cinematic breath of fresh air, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is precisely what the doctor ordered. Granted, it’s yet another adaptation of a graphic novel with an immense cult following, but writer/director Wright has successfully provided us with an extraordinarily funny, in-your-face and stylistically savvy work of art that truly is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In fact, the film functions so well as a wholly original visceral romp that this is quite possibly the first time I couldn’t care less about its staying faithful to the source material, although this aspect will obviously come into play for fans of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s brainchild.

Centering primarily around the cartoonish daily goings-on of one Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) as a blossoming romance quickly transforms into something much more sinister, the titular slacker must defeat his newfound love interest’s seven evil exes in order to continue dating her. While she, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), remains cool and collected, Scott himself is kept in the dark as to when and where the proposed brawls will take place, if at all. Once the going gets tough, Mr. Pilgrim soon realizes that the hazardous nature of his relationship is something to be taken seriously, to say the least.

Given the glaringly overt, arcade-style beat-’em-up simplicity of the narrative itself, therein lies the age-old issue of style over substance, but in this case, there’s no need to ponder such nonsensical things when you have someone like Wright at the helm. The director employs his signature, eye-popping creative flourishes in an effort to engross us more and more as Scott makes the transition from one battle to the next, yet the film as a whole remains gleefully self-aware and, of course, visually stunning. The appropriately frenetic comic book/video game hybrid style it embraces (onomatopoeia and all) is spot-on despite obvious pacing issues that coincide with cramming an entire series of novels into one film, and while the awe-inspiring action sequences run at full throttle from start to finish, the film also unflinchingly showcases a more sensitive side to give us but a brief chance to further familiarize ourselves with the central characters. Never once coming off as something arrogantly self-serious for the sake of staying true to its literary roots, Wright deftly blends together the film’s disparate, wholly unique plot elements, effortlessly bouncing back and forth between sequences chronicling Scott and the gang’s involvement in a local Battle of the Bands, the aforementioned brawls that ensue and the consistently hilarious lulls thrown in to break up any potential monotony.

Wright’s trademark wit also elevates Scott Pilgrim to new heights, as does the cast and the stellar soundtrack that gives each pivotal scene that extra oomph, cashing in on the ever-popular indie music scene Scott’s band Sex Bob-omb is proudly a part of, and tastefully at that. Love him or hate him, Michael Cera’s really found his niche, and while some may be fed up with his geeky deadpan shtick, it always suits the roles he plays to the fullest. The supporting cast too is aces all around with each individual playing their part to near perfection, giving each and every one of Ramona’s seven evil exes their own distinct personalities to make the film as a whole that much more hilarious and just plain enjoyable.

Being that Scott Pilgrim is almost stylish to a fault and sports a certain fondness for video game culture, those who fall out of the intended demographic will most likely have a problem with it. To deny that it’s easily one of the most innovative cinematic achievements to grace theaters in quite some time though would be both unfair and an injustice to yourself as an avid movie-watcher. Not only is it aesthetically brilliant from a technical standpoint; it’s wonderfully acted and perhaps funnier than just about anything else I’ve seen this year. Needless to say, it won’t win the Oscar for Best Picture, and it isn’t perfect, but Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is quite spectacular in enough ways to elevate it above a substantial portion of 2010’s ever-expanding lineup.

Rating: 9/10