"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" and "Perfume" are this week's picks.
In case any readers haven't noticed, this is how we're going to start this column from now on, unless I'm itching to rant about something of substance. It's more useful to you all than candy rankings, and it lets me share opinions on some minute things that I'd otherwise not. It's fun!
- Indiewire has a cool video breakdown of a key episode and scene from Binge Blog pick "Watchmen," featuring creator Damon Lindelof and director Stephen Williams. There's also a longer podcast on the topic if you want more, but the video is an educational seven-and-a-half minutes by itself.
- The trailer for "Death on the Nile," the next Hercule Poirot mystery following 2017's "Murder on the Orient Express," dropped this week. It looks fine, and the casting is strong — Annette Bening, Armie Hammer, Gal Gadot and Letitia Wright are among the featured players — but someone's really got to talk to Kenneth Branagh about his whole thing. Can you even name the last essential Branagh-directed movie? Was it "Hamlet" (1996)? I guess you could argue "Thor" in 2011, but that's only essential for the franchise it represents, not the film itself. Go back to Shakespeare adaptations, bud. That's your home. It's OK to go home again.
- Sofia Coppola is great at making pretty films about pretty people feeling pretty low. Her newest, "On the Rocks," is a dramedy produced by the indie film gods over at A24. It will land on Apple TV+ in October. The trailer for the film, which stars Bill Murray, Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans, looks to keep her streak in tact. Jones plays a wife and mother who is feeling lonely when her husband (Wayans) leaves on a series of business trips, so her playboy father (Murray) convinces her that they should tail him and see what he's doing.
- Netflix is testing a shuffle feature that will randomize shows for users to watch. Maybe in a limited use, this would be a good idea, like Slashfilm's suggestion of creating playlists of sitcom episodes and putting those on shuffle, acting like reruns on cable. That's at least interesting, if hard to implement. But a generic shuffle button, to me, is a sign that viewers care less than ever about what they're watching and just want to stare at a screen for a few hours. Hopefully, this idea gets canned before its rollout begins in earnest.
Netflix, rated PG-13, 112 minutes
Last week marked the 10th anniversary of "Scott Pilgrim," the cult film that altered the career trajectories for its cast and crew. Director Edgar Wright took the occasion to post droves of behind-the-scenes pictures from the film's set on his social media accounts. I highly suggest you check them out. The cast also got together to do a table read of the script via Zoom, which is a lot of fun — but don't watch that until you've seen the movie.
In honor of the anniversary, I'm reposting my Binge Blog thoughts from 2018 on the film below. It's still such a blast to watch, and I stand by everything I wrote before, so I think sharing them again is appropriate:
"It’s no secret that I love Edgar Wright. 'Baby Driver' was my favorite movie of 2017, 'Shaun of the Dead' is an elite zombie movie, and 'Hot Fuzz' might be my favorite buddy cop movie. I just think his use of visuals to mine laughs from wordless shots, or enhance scripted jokes, is brilliant, and you can tell how much fun he and his actors are having while filming.
“'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' is no exception. Based on a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the film follows the titular Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a Canadian 20-something who plays bass guitar in an indie punk band — called Sex Bob-omb — goes on dates with his girlfriend, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), and … doesn’t do much else. One day he meets a young American woman named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and instantly falls in love with her, but because Scott is kind of a douche, he doesn’t break up with Knives before pursuing Ramona. This may or may not come back to haunt him!
"Eventually, Scott discovers that, for … reasons … he has to defeat Ramona’s seven evil ex-lovers before they’ll be able to date in peace. It’s here where the film takes off, as each of the ex-lovers is played by someone having the time of their life, including Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman, Brandon Routh and Mae Whitman. The fights (and character portrayals) are all completely over-the-top in the best way. I should note that Wright, in his genius, shot the film to look like a retro video game, complete with health meters (in the shape of hearts), pop-up onomatopoeia and digital sword blades. It looks different than any other film I’ve seen, even within Wright’s trademark style.
"The movie is funny, action-filled and chock-full of amazing music, but it also had a melancholy heart. No spoilers, but not everything works out for Scott. He learns from his mistakes, though, and appears to come out of them a better person. They’re good lessons for anyone to learn, but especially young white dudes who have been able to skate through life with no repercussions.
“'Scott Pilgrim' has managed to remain relevant going on eight years now, even influencing rap mixtapes from popular artists. It should be seen for 'keeping up with the zeitgeist' reasons but also because it’s good, and you don’t have to be a younger person to have its world feel lived-in."
Netflix, rated TV-MA, six episodes, approx. six hours of content (for now?)
Germany is leading everyone when it comes to "shows you're unable to accurately describe to anyone in less than a 10 minute rant." There's Binge Blog pick "Babylon Berlin," there's the cult sci-fi drama "Dark" (of which I am a season behind, yes I know, I'll get on it soon), and then there's "Perfume."
I didn't write about "Perfume" when I watched it back in 2018, mostly because I had no idea where to begin. Thinking back, I feel like I have a better grasp on it now, its positives and its flaws.
"Perfume" begins with a woman waltzing into a pool for a midnight swim. A few minutes later, she's dead, all hair shaved off her body and her scent glands missing. Immediately, investigators Nadja Simon (Friederike Becht) and Matthias Köhler (Jürgen Maurer) suspect that the woman's peculiar group of childhood friends might be involved, or at least know something that would help the investigation. "Perfume" takes place in a small town where friends you make early are generally the best friends you have. Their suspicions about the group turn out to be correct, but not for any reason they expect.
The show bounces between the past and the present, unveiling what happened to the group when its members were kids and how their dynamics have evolved — or not — now that they're adults. There's also a side story involving Simon's affair with a local prosecutor (Wotan Wilke Möhring), but the focus remains on the friends as, in the current day storyline, bodies begin piling up. The sense of smell is a constant throughout — a scent can trigger positive memories just as easily as repugnant ones, and those sense memories never leave you. They can drive people wild or drive them insane. Some of the most beautiful scents come from things people would otherwise consider gross, and the show does a lot with that metaphor as well. (One of the episodes is titled "Skatole," for instance.)
Scent is a tough thing to pull off on television. At least with touch you have some frame of reference. Soft blankets, sharp knives, dry skin: These are things all of us have felt. But how you get people to smell something? I don't want to give too much away, but "Perfume" does a good job of selling it in crucial scenes.
It can also be a tough watch at times. "Perfume" doesn't hold back on showing anything, and it goes to some dark places thematically. (I'm sure you're shocked after reading up to now.) It didn't bother me, as those dark places are interesting, but your mileage might vary. If you're game, I think you'll enjoy it. It's not perfect — the first episode is shock over substance, and its treatment of women isn't always great, even though it's in service of a larger point — but each episode is better than the last. By the time it finished, I was hooked. And hey, it's only six episodes, so if you don't love it, it's over quick.
The show was renewed for season two, but I searched and could not find one piece of evidence as to how that's going. So, maybe there will be more? Either way, these six episodes are enough to satisfy.
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