PFF24: Entertainment (Rick Alverson, USA)

In consecutively subverting convention, Rick Alverson has tacked his absurdist singularity onto his latest feature for better but mostly for worse. Entertainment follows bitter middle-aged comedian’s (Gregg Turkington) tour through the desolate American Southwest. Performing for almost no one in between failed attempts at reconciling with his estranged daughter, the man’s dwindling sense of purpose as loneliness silently crushes him becomes more oppressive on an increasingly bizarre journey from venue to venue.

Alverson’s follow up to 2012’s rather excellent The Comedy forgoes offbeat humor and incisiveness for something decidedly plodding and self-indulgent. In following The Comedian throughout a fruitless journey across abyssal landscapes, Entertainment struggles to combat the simplicity of its themes with increasingly surreal set pieces. It’s hard to imagine things going anywhere but up from the film’s opening prison sequence, yet this assumption is quickly squashed as Turkington’s squirm-inducing onscreen persona traipses to and fro, much to our mounting discomfort.

Entertainment isn’t entirely without merit as The Comedian’s live act remains unfailingly hilarious. These performances are an almost too-sharp departure from the film’s more startlingly abstract moments – of which disturbingly culminate in a rest stop restroom – but do enough to elevate what’s ostensibly a self-aggrandizing character study devoid of imitators to its own detriment. Whether this reads as either misguided or reductive, there’s no arguing that the film’s singularity is decidedly black-and-white in terms of accessibility and broad appeal.

Entertainment is worthy of note thanks to its acutely subversive personality and not much else. Its darkly comedic sensibilities remain effective as the dissection of The Comedian’s crumbling offstage existence remains more disconcerting than sympathetic in scope. Many may argue in favor of Alverson’s vision and the end result it’s yielded, yet Entertainment remains too hard to recommend to those not enamored with The Comedy or the divisive manner in which he fleshes out his films’ core subjective through lines.

Magic Magic (Sebastián Silva, 2013)

For those intrigued by its eerily straightforward marketing campaign – one identifiably benchmarked by Michael Cera in a purportedly career realigning turn – Sebastián Silva’s Magic Magic is, in fact, not entirely focused on an archetypal sociopath out to stalk his helpless prey. For the record, Silva’s first-conceived of two projects to premier at this year’s Sundance Film Festival revolves around a shy, adventurously tepid young lady (Juno Temple) whose cousin (Emily Browning) inadvertently gives her mental collapse a jump-start when she’s supposedly forced to “take an exam” while studying abroad in southern Chile. Now alone with complete strangers and separated from the mainland, the increasingly anxious Alicia must do her best to acclimate herself whilst awaiting her savior’s arrival.

Misdirection not at all affecting Silva’s experimental take on your typical psychological thriller, the film takes pride in withholding important details from us until after they irreparably tarnish a particular situation at the remote central Chilean cottage. At once appearing socially inept in the basest of ways, Temple’s Alicia self-deprecatingly belies her hosts’ intentions as her simply being out of her element causes shit to hit the fan. With the co-inhabitant Brink (Michael Cera) discernibly acting out in an obnoxious enough manner, Alicia’s aversion to him and the others is enough to stir the proverbial pot, what with Silva’s distressing exposition of certain events outlining the titular female’s supposed predicament aptly enough.

As insomnia plays the culprit in relation to Alicia’s explosively erratic behavior, Magic Magic‘s unrelenting view of occurrences from her perspective lay the tension on thick, projecting a somewhat believable dramatic element that sidesteps nearly all horror thriller cliches. Whether the film’s intention is to passively illustrate the perils of mental illness is uncertain, but Silva’s aptitude in consistently deceiving us – making us believe one thing as we inevitably second guess ourselves thanks to ambiguity – is very admirable even if the finished product doesn’t resonate as strongly as one would hope. All in all, it’s superbly well-acted, a relentlessly dark and obscure aura contributing valuably to its intentions, however one shouldn’t be deceived by a shallow interest in cheap thrills as proposed by Magic Magic‘s debut trailer – this film is a literal, psychologically affecting mindtrip that means well but doesn’t fully capitalize on an intriguing approach.

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