August 2010


Everything about this movie would suggest that I was going to love it. On these pages, and probably others, I’ve enthused about Michael Cera (even in the likes of Youth in Revolt), Anna Kendrick (the only decent thing in Twilight) and Edgar Wright (Spaced, Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead are among the few titles I own on DVD that I’ve watched more than once). Throw into the mix Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Grindhouse, Final Destination 3) and a soundtrack featuring Frank Black, The Bluetones and Plumtree I was always going to love it, wasn’t I? Wasn’t I?

Well, yes. I loved it. It’s wonderful. And for all the pre-information, it’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and is right up there with Sin City in terms of successful screen representations of a graphic novel.

Even before the first shot, it’s clear from the 8-bit rendering of the Universal logo and theme that attention to detail is going to be sky-high and that this isn’t going to be a straight-forward experience. That said, it does start comparatively simply while the characters and environment are established. Scott Pilgrim (Cera) lives in snowy Toronto where his gay roommate (the fabulous Kieran Culkin) gives him rent-free lodgings, he plays bass in mis-firing indie band Sex Bob-Omb and he dates a seventeen-year-old school girl Knives Chau (a twenty-six-year-old Ellen Wong).

Through this opening, there are plenty of moments where the audience is reminded of the source material; text flies across the screen, information boxes pop up with character summaries but never intrusively. It’s only when Scott dreams of his dream-girl, Ramona Flowers (Winstead) and then eventually meets her that everything is cranked up a level or twenty and the universe becomes somewhat surreal. To date Ramona, Scott must battle and defeat her seven evil exes in fights to the death.

What was already visually impressive  suddenly becomes even more so during the über brawls. They’re beautifully choreographed, bullet fast, presented in true Tekken fashion and despite their multiple instances, it never becomes samey. Visually, it’s crisp and the comic-book framing is perfect. As far as the audio is concerned, while the movie has a kicking soundtrack, the true joy comes from the little punctuation points; the Zelda soundtrack, Mac error pings, the Seinfeld theme.

At its heart, just like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, despite the cross-genres, it’s a comedy and if Edgar Wright knows anything, it’s comedy. Michael Cera and his colleagues are right at home with the script and it flows as beautifully as Superbad where, sure there are plenty of laugh out loud moments, but it worked more because I smiled throughout and fell in love with the characters.

Undoubtedly, though, it’s not for everyone. After half an hour, a couple in their sixties left the cinema and didn’t return and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s not particularly an age thing but for those who have avoided computer games and that sort of culture it might well seem like everyone else is in on the joke.

For me, and I suspect for most of the audience, it’s right up there contending for film of the year. I’ll be seeing it again soon, I’ve ordered the graphic novel and I’ve already made a special place free on my shelf ready for the Blu Ray. I might even buy the dolls.

A triumph.

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Sometimes, a lot of what you need to know about a movie can be garnered from taking a look at those who occupy the lower reaches of the cast list. This 3D remake of a 70s spoof boasts the following:

  • Trampoline Girl #2
  • Parasailing Girl
  • Wet T Shirt Host
  • Girl Cut In Half
  • Drunk Dumb Jock

In a nutshell, that kinda sums it up. This isn’t a movie that takes itself too seriously. From the off, we have Richard Dreyfuss sitting in a rowboat, singing Show Me The Way To Go Home. As the film reaches its denouement, there’s a vertigo zoom shot on the local law enforcement. Even the poster is a nod to Jaws.

The flimsy plot, such as it is, revolves around a lakeside resort as it prepares for the descent of hedonistic students for Spring Break, which just so happens to coincide with an underwater earthquake that opens up a fissure and introduces thousands of prehistoric, flesh-eating fish to the celebrations. And they’re hungry. Along the way, in an attempt to keep us interested, there’s the filming of the world’s lamest porno, a Wet T-Shirt competition, kids who go out on the water rather than stay at home and small town police who want to shut everything down and spoil everyone’s fun.

It’s perhaps no surprise to learn that the movie has problems. First and foremost, the 3D drains so much colour, some of the underwater scenes are essentially in pitch dark and it’s impossible to see what’s going on. Second, no one in the movie is up to much when it comes to acting. Third, even if they were, the script throws up some absolute dogs of lines.

That said, this sort of movie isn’t really going to be remembered for its acting or script. Where the film succeeds or fails is on the strength and originality of the deaths. At the start, they’re not really up to much and if anything, it’s all a little boring and not even an outrageous appearance from Christopher Lloyd is enough to make it interesting. However, there’s a moment about halfway through when a girl eaten arse first from the middle of a rubber ring and from there on in, director Alexandre Aja ups the gore and blood to ridiculous proportions and while it’s all completely over the top, it suddenly becomes quite good fun; particular favourite being the aforementioned Girl Cut In Half.

Thrown into the mix is a generous amount of female nudity. Kelly Brock has two talents, neither of which are acting, and she gives them both a decent airing throughout, particularly in an underwater ballet sequence to The Flower Duet that will keep fourteen-year-old boy happy and glued to their seats.

It’s not a train wreck in terms of, say, Ninja Assassin, and while it’s not particularly good and really, really, needs to be funnier, it still manages to be just about entertaining enough to be worth a look.

If you just so happen to turn up at a cinema this year, pick a random screen and plunk yourself down in your seat, the chances are you’ll end up seeing a movie where the motivation and purpose of the main character is in doubt and some federal agency is involved.

Salt follows on the back of Knight & Day and Killers and a million others of this ilk. The USP here is it takes itself very seriously indeed. There’s not a glimmer of a smile in the hour and a half. In fact, if you ignore lines like “Where did she go?” or “She’s over there!” or “There she is!” or “Urgh!” there’s probably around five minutes of dialogue in the whole film. So jokes aren’t exactly aplenty.

Despite this — or maybe thanks to this — Angelina Jolie has a huge screen presence and is immense in the lead role; infinitely better than Tom Cruise would’ve been when Salt’s gender was still male, as any one who has seen this and Knight & Day will surely agree.

Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a high-ranking CIA operative who’s fingered as a Russian spy by a recent defector. Rather than hang around  for five minutes to explain her side of things, she pulls a stunt with a fire extinguisher and some tubing and goes on the run. Cue some hair dye and facial prosthetics and more twists and turns than a big twisty turny thing as we’re made to guess where Salt’s true loyalties lie.

Director Phillip Noyce keeps things moving at breakneck speed, perhaps to keep the audience distracted from the fact that a lot of what happens doesn’t exactly make a lot of sense. Unless, of course, we can believe that Russian sleeper agents almost exclusively choose Federal Agencies as their employer of choice. At one point, I half-expected the US President to suddenly adopt a taste for vodka and a penchant for chess.

Failings and plot holes aside, it’s a pretty decent way to spend 90 minutes. Visually, the stunts are very impressive and, no meaning to kick a certain movie again, but it really does outshine the fake glossiness of Knight & Day. Angelina Jolie playing a real-life version of Frogger is quite breath-taking and the choreography of the fight sequences carry a certain art and style. As an action hero with little to say, she’s hugely convincing and entertaining. Also, Liev Schreiber (Scream) does a fine turn in a leading, if somewhat secondary, male role.

It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination — and as far as fugitive movies are concerned I have a tough time getting by anything after The Pelican Brief — and more focus on the script and plot would’ve been time well spent, but the idea of a sequel doesn’t appall me nearly as much as I thought it would.

Just a brief foray into the Festival today as Julie had a workshop and I had a film to watch on my phone in the car park while I waited for her. However, it wasn’t a day without cultural delights.

97. Hendry. Steven Hendry’s exhibition is perhaps the best publicised of the whole Festival with the heftiest advertising behind it, so quite how it took four days for us to find it, I’m not quite sure. I am, however, very glad I did. Hendry’s work is staggeringly, achingly beautiful. A lot of it, though, isn’t particularly easy to look at, as the example perhaps shows. These are scenes from a blank planet. Nude women with guns. Nude men in gravitational struggles. They all combine to provide a very affecting collection that I found quite difficult to detach myself from. I absolutely loved it. More of Hendry’s work can be seen here.

The highlight of the day was going out for a meal to The Seafood Restaurant in St Monan’s with our wonderful friends, Laura and Emma. I still feel rather guilty for having foie gras but it was delicious and I managed not to think about exploding geese too much. Thanks to L&E for making it such an excellent night. Look forward to The Fisherman’s Rest in a couple of weeks.

The rains came today and they brought technical difficulties that meant my extensive notes were lost to the ether. The net result of this is I’ll just be commenting on the venues that stuck in my mind. I’m sure if I hadn’t mentioned it, no one would’ve noticed. So. Onward. Starting the day at the east end of the High Street.

1. Dovecot Studios. Julie’s remark upon arriving at the venue was to advise me that these were the weavers she’d heard about. When she stepped in, she said, oh, no it isn’t. A few seconds later and her opinion had changed back. The reason for the confusion? Well, angle your peepers a few degrees to the right. That’s knitted, that is. The work here is far beyond what I thought was possible with thread outside of Bayeux. Quite remarkable.

36. David Graham. Last year, David’s photography from Bhopal was unapologetic and stark. This year, his focus remained on the less fortunate souls on the planet, ranging from young Rwandan refugees (one of whom clutches a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as though it’s a golden pass of literal escapism) to Calcuttan porters. David tends to take his subjects and place them in front of a white backdrop and the effect is profound, accentuating the helplessness of the situation. A one-armed man with a massive metal crate balanced on his head, who earns 50p for carrying it from one place to another, seems stuck in an even more baffling situation when removed from the colour of its context. I also managed to overhear David recommend a Panasonic Lumix DMC FX500 to one of his assistants. So if you’re in the market …

6. Fisher Gallery. The Fisher is one of those places in Pittenweem that seems to be a guarantee of success. Work just falls out of Fisher and little wonder. Jan Fisher is to my mind the most accomplished watercolourist at the festival and although I bemoan the amount of East Neuk landscapes, Jan’s work shows how it can be done and still look fresh and worth repeat visits. Also featured is Robert Cairns. Robert usually exhibits in his own venue but this year he seems to be here just as a spectator. We’re fans of his pen & ink work and this year he’s used stretched composition to capture the narrow wynds that snake their way through the village. Across the road in Fisher 2, we were thrilled to get a chance to enjoy the sculpture / don’t-know-what-you’d-call-it by Elaine Allison. Last year, Elaine exhibited with Angie Turner. This year a few of the same items have moved down West Braes to the Fisher’s more avant-garde sister venue and she’s sold four. Little wonder. We discussed this with Angie yesterday, but Elaine seems perfectly comfortable with taking hugely personal subject matter and cutting all ties with it. The image here is of an old typewriter she found and the keys have old sepia photographs of her family members. It’s a remarkable piece. More of her work can be found here.

18. Anita Hutchison. Another favourite from previous years, Anita gets major kudos for always bringing brand new work each year and she doesn’t disappoint. Her exhibition this year is inspired from Munro-bagging and, as she describes, the little gardens you find on the top of fence posts. This translates into small, squares of fabric using scraps of map and knitting patterns and various fabrics. For such small items, the work is warm and familiar

Once again, blessed with lovely weather but sadly cursed with a hungover head. Being the soldier I am, I put on a brave face and we ventured to the West Shore to tick off a few in the 50s.

53. Heather Cunningham. Heather’s style is loose and easy.  Her mixed media work was of most interest where she paints onto tissue or other exotic papers to good effect. Discovered that the suspected pregnant cat from last year was, in fact, just fat.

52. Gina Wright. A firm favourite from previous years, Gina’s pastels are bewilderingly detailed and truly come to life a few steps away. While a lot of her work on display is from the East Neuk and surrounding areas, it was Hopper-esque chefs and the pictured street scene that really caught my eye. Gina’s also good enough to leave a few sketchbooks scattered around and these pads are better than some venues with a few images that put me in mind of A Scanner Darkly. Excellent work.

51. Vicki Dreyer and Una Monteith. Vicki paints cows. And puffins. And dogs. But mostly cows. Fortunately, I like cows. Una makes clocks, the kind of which I’d imagine Tim Burton has a lot of in his house. It’s an unusual mix and all contained in a venue that you practically have to limbo to get into but, again, it’s refreshing to see work that doesn’t typically fit the Pittenweem theme of seaside and fishing boats. However, if you don’t like cows, or can’t bend, it’s probably best avoided.

50. Bob Anderson. Julie was very taken with Bob’s work, but for me it was a bit too easy, too loungey … all of it would fit in fine in any living room or show home and I’m sure he’s a talented man, but I just couldn’t connect with it and it left me a bit cold.

49. Louise Scott. Our first “wow” of the day came from Louise’s photographs of rockpools in Orkney, zoomed in and blown up so the pebbles at the bottom sparkled like gemstones. This small collection looked too perfect to be a photo but Louise assured us she only altered the size so Photoshop hadn’t been used. Louise’s main body of work is copper-plate etchings of seahorses and hares but she does it in such away, they look like illustrations of Norse mythology.

47. Venue 47 on Mid Shore is a massive holiday home and housed the work of four artists. Arguably, Pat Kramek is the better known out of the bunch and got the lion’s share of wall space with her bold coastal landscapes in oil. My pick, though, was Sara Mead’s more playful, almost fairytale landscapes in bright, sweet colours. You can see her stuff here.

54. Angie Turner and Suzi Morrow. We love Angie Turner and we love her fairground inspired work. We bought another carousel horse. She gave us wine. Our little corner of the world was perfect. If she updated her website, I’d tell you about it here.

42. Nanzie McLeod, Sarah McLeod, Esther McLeod, Jules Duncan. A massive mix with Esther’s OK Computer style slogans on fabric really catching my eye and making me rather ill at ease at the same time. As per last year, one of us tripped over the step. This time, it was Julie.

41. Jennifer Pettigrew. Another of the larger venues but dedicated to Jennifer’s abstract oils. I wasn’t much in the mood for abstract so a lot of it frustrated me a little bit and I ended up concentrating more on the price than the content. That said, her use of warm, inviting colour and the scale of some of the pieces was something even I, with my grumpy bear mood, could appreciate.

Great to be back in Pittenweem. This is our third year staying and foomftieth year as visitors to the Arts Festival that runs for the first full week in August. The weather was troublesome on the drive through, but thanks to the micro-climate of the East Neuk, it was warm, if a little cloudy, when we arrived. As usual, we wasted no time and jumped right in.

73. Jennifer Thomson. Lively representations of Glasgow and Edinburgh street scenes alongside more traditional landscapes. Apparent simplicity — almost childlike in places — hides a staggering attention to detail. The Barras is The Barras. The Willow Tea Rooms are The Willow Tea Rooms. Jennifer shares her space with Anne Dunlop. Anne uses quite a drained palette that I admit didn’t really work for me.

74. Open Exhibition. This is the most impressive Open in years. Favourites included Sarah Bissel’s screenprint and Stuart Dobson’s wood veneers of complicated mathematical equations. The latter became Julie’s first purchase, at our second venue. Last year, she managed to hold on to her purse for three venues, so standards seem to be slipping already.Sarah Bissel (top) Stuart Dobson (bottom)

40. Doris French. Once again, Doris’s delightful fabric collages were all sold, probably attracting their red dots before the Festival even began. The small garage venue boasts some excellent work. Jane Dakin’s pastels and Nicola Fraser’s pop art acrylics of seaside villages don’t disappoint.

39. Ross Brown. Super-realistic gigantic urban landscapes occupy this garage and due to their size, the exhibition mainly consists of three pieces, all of which were sold for an undisclosed price that must have been in the thousands. Not a bad day’s work. The pieces themselves aren’t exactly the usual Pittenweem flavours. Seaside and fishing make way for stark, concrete buildings, abandoned and overrun with graffiti and moss. It rather looks like what would happen if someone built a factory over Monet’s waterlilies and then let it rot. The fact that the function of the buildings remain unknown adds anonymity to already rather unsettling images. Check out Ross’s blog here and judge for yourself.

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