Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Scott Pilgrim, Hester Prynne, Johannes Krauser II and Antoine Doinel

I've recently watched a number of films which featured teenagers or targeted to teenage audiences.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World starring Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead; directed by Edgar Wright; (2010) - Official Website
Detroit Metal City starring Ken'ichi Matsuyama and Rosa Katô; Japanese with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website
Easy A starring Emma Stone; with Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson and Malcolm McDowell; directed by Will Gluck; (2010) - Official Website
The 400 Blows starring Jean-Pierre Léaud; directed by François Truffaut; French with subtitles; (1959)


Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has been well reviewed so I won't say too much about it. Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead were both very good in their roles but the supporting actors raised the level of the film. Standouts include Alison Pill as the dyspeptic drummer and ex-girlfriend of Michael Cera's Scott Pilgrim, Brandon Routh as Winstead's ex-boyfriend who gains his evil powers from his vegan diet, Jason Schwartzman the evilest and most powerful of Winstead's exes and Ellen Wong as Knives Chau, Pilgrim's Chinese girlfriend who has an axe to grind with Winstead.

The film was funny; I was probably too old to catch all the references although I did appreciate Pilgrim using Pacman trivia as a pickup line. Knives gets off the best line when she say to Pilgrim, "I'm too cool for you anyway."

I enjoyed Easy A much more than Scott Pilgrim. Scott Pilgrim was too cartoonish for me to really enjoy it. Easy A is implausible as well with star Emma Stone's Olive being too independent for a high school girl. Still, the film captured the spirit of being a teenager which apparently hasn't changed much since I was in high school. Best line - Aly Michalka as Olive's best friend telling her to show some "lady balls." For added cinephilia, the film makes numerous references to the 1926 version of The Scarlet Letter starring Lilian Gish and John Hughes films of the 1980's although the most prominent reenactment is of the John Cusack's raised boombox scene in Cameron Crowe's Say Anything (1989).

Emma Stone, who I was unfamliar with before watching Easy A (I didn't see Zombieland and don't recall her from Superbad), turned in a starmaking comedic performance as the headstrong Olive. Amanda Bynes as the uptight, judgmental, devout Christian also caught my attention. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive's understanding parents make the most of their limited screen time.


I first saw previews of Detroit Metal City in July at the Viz Cinema portion of Another Hole in the Head. It took 3 months for the film to arrive but I can't say the wait was worth it. Detroit Metal City is one of those films where the best parts are in the trailers.

The story centers on Soichi Negishi (Ken'ichi Matsuyama), a singer who wants to write and sing "serious" pop songs. His personal motto is "No Music, No Dream." Towards that goal, he sings his songs and plays acoustic guitar on a street corner. The problem is that his songs are banal and people think he is creepy with his perma-smile and "dickhead haircut."

Negishi pays the bills with his sideband - DMC (Detroit Metal City), a death metal band. Negishi puts on face paint, wears a wig, gets into a KISS inspired costume and growls out his songs under the stage name Johannes Krauser II. His bandmates are bassist Alexander Jagi and drummer Camus. As Jagi says later in the film, if they weren't in DMC, Jagi would be a DJ in a karaoke bar and Camus would be in prison for some sexual perversion. Leading the group is their record label boss, a perpetually shrieking, foul-mouthed harpy with a penchant for short skirts, large dogs and violence.

Negishi is embarrassed by the music DMC plays and his involvement with the band although he certainly has a stage presence as Johannes Krauser II. He has a crisis of conscience when his former college classmate and secret admiree Yuri Aikawa bumps into him at the record store. She hates DMC and Negishi hides his alter ego from her. Unfortunately for Negishi, DMC is rising on the record charts so he is pressed by his boss to tour Japan on a sort of Death Metal Challenge Tour where DMC goes up against the hardest rocking bands in Japan which includes a rapper and a post-modern grrrl punk band. DMC dispatches them with ease but the greatest death rocker in the world, Jack II Dark (Gene Simmons) is coming to Japan to challenge DMC.

The pressure becomes too much for Negishi so he hangs up his platform shoes and goes back to the small farming town he came from. To his horror, he discovers that his younger brother who worshipped him when he left for Tokyo a few years prior now is an obnoxious brat and a huge Johannes Krauser fan to boot. Negishi dons the Krauser costume again to teach his younger brother some manners and lessons in life. This is where he has his epiphany - death metal can be used for the good of mankind. Krauser rushes back to Tokyo and arrives just in time for DMC's faceoff against Jack II Dark.

The range that Ken'ichi Matsuyama shows in the film is amazing. When one also considers his character in the Death Note films, the actor's abilities become obviously apparent. Matsuyama shows some talent for comedy. Everyone else in the film delivered unmemorable performances. Despite Matsuyama's lack of support, Detroit Metal City has some funny moments. My complaint is that I saw those funny moments in the trailers.


I've heard of François Truffaut's The 400 Blows for as long as I can remember. I had never seen it before. I didn't realize that Truffaut revisited the main character of Antoine Doinel in three additional feature films - Stolen Kisses (1968), Bed and Board (1970) and Love on the Run (1979). In all the films, Doniel is portrayed by Jean-Pierre Léaud.

In The 400 Blows, Doniel is a 12 year old boy who is having behavioral problems at school. As the film unfolds, we see that Doniel's mother is selfish and distant. Eventually, we learn that she is having an affair which his father (technically step-father) suspect. The tension between the couple spills into their relationship with the boy. After being truant from school, nearly burning the apartment down, stealing a typewriter and running away from home, Doniel is sent to a juvenile reform school. This gives rise to the most amazing scene. In semi-documentary style, Truffaut has an offscreen psychiatrist ask Doniel a series of questions which reveal much about his life and actions. We discover Doniel's mother wasn't married when she became pregnant with Doniel. As the scene plays out, we begin to understand the woman's resentment towards her son and the near inevitability of Doniel's misbehavior.

The final scene is also iconic as Doniel runs away from the juvenile facility. He runs until he reaches the sea or English Channel. The film ends with a freeze shot of his face. I interpreted the look on his face as one of sadness but other make much of the water erasing his footprints. The film definitely ended on a melancholy note. The character of Doniel in The 400 Blows was partly based on Truffaut's own youth.

The 400 Blows was very engaging. I'm now interested in seeing the other films in the series.


I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. The World at the 4-Star, Detroit Metal City at Viz Cinema, Easy A at the Metreon and The 400 Blows at the Red Vic.

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