Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a film by Edgar Wright

by James Gilmore

Movie poster for Scott Pilgrim vs The World, a film by Edgar Wright, on Minimalist Reviews.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the mantra of the 16-bit generation who grew up in the early 90s. A musical about adolescent love with a surprising amount of heart, only there’s fighting instead of singing. Although dressed with the trappings of video game culture, the film is actually a kung fu movie at its core, albeit a very surreal one.

Michael Cera plays himself as usual, although his transition from self-conscious nerd to super fighter is a welcome surprise. Co-stars Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong and others are, despite their obscurity in American films, nothing less than refreshing and delightful, although Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance comes across as relatively flat by comparison.

This filmic experience proves overwhelmingly satisfying to the A.D.D. senses of the modern movie-goer, no doubt due to Edgar Wright’s brilliant artistic direction, and should be required viewing for the video game generations, although everyone else will find Scott Pilgrim completely senseless and perplexing at best.

Rating: 5 / 5

Black Swan, a film by Darren Aronofsky

by James Gilmore

Movie poster of Black Swan, a film by Darren Aronofsky, on Minimalist Reviews.

Black Swan is perfect in both conception and construction, although the plot and main character leave something to be desired. Despite a very good script, Aronofsky’s masterful directing far exceeds it, nearly surmounting the story’s shortcomings. Nina and Erica Sayers both lack adequate character depth, as does their relationship. The end result is a strange film whose story fails to engage the audience enough to match the superb filmmaking which surrounds it. Once again, a potential masterpiece is thwarted by a thin script. On the other hand, the exquisite filmic storytelling boasts powerful imagery and cinematography with a strong European—but especially French—influence.

Excellent casting with outstanding performances by the actors. Mila Kunis’ surprising performance demonstrates her capability to grapple serious acting weight while Vincent Cassel’s work falls nothing short of superlatively stunning. Natalie Portman delivers her best performance to date upon transformation into the Black Swan, but otherwise remains her usual self in which she appears to be perpetually on the verge of tears.

On a side note, one might almost call Black Swan “The Machinist for Women.”

Rating: 4 / 5

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a novel by Gregory Maguire

by James Gilmore

Book cover for Wicked The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a novel by Gregory Maguire, on Minimalist Reviews.

Wicked: TLaTotWWotW is a masterwork of storytelling on all fronts. It is an epic in the classic sense; a true Greek Tragedy.

Maguire’s re-imagining of Oz entails a complex plot cast against an even more complicated background, with multifarious–but utterly human–relationships which do not gloss over the less glamorous aspects of weakness, regret, and mistakes made. Furthermore, the author demonstrates an intimate understanding of culture, the succession of religions, humanity and the human condition (as is the subject of all great literature), and the oxymoronic fickleness of perspective and public opinion.

Woven throughout with a powerful spell of thematic material, which elucidates a living discussion concerning the nature of evil, the author presents us with an array of possible answers to its (non-)existence instead of a narrow, single-minded conclusion. The core of Wicked is best summed by a secondary character named Boq: “People who claim that they’re evil are usually no worse than the rest of us,” and, “It’s people who claim that they’re good, or anything better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.”

Rating: 5 / 5

Strange As This Weather Has Been, a literary novel by Ann Pancake

by James Gilmore

Book cover for Strange As This Weather Has Been, a literary novel by Ann Pancake, on Minimalist Reviews.

Aside from being slammed in the face with a sledgehammer labeled “Mountaintop removal mining is BAD” every paragraph, Strange As This Weather Has Been delivers strikingly eloquent characters and prose with unparalleled craftsmanship.

Many elements illustrate or elaborate the themes in the novel quite well while far too many seem to serve no other purpose than redundant milieu. For those who relish character work and language this is the book for you, but general readership will find it a work of willpower as they struggle to overcome breathtaking boredom due to a near-complete lack of forward story progress.

Although an enviously gifted writer, Pancake should consider serious outlining before writing her next novel or stick to her specialty: literary short stories about Appalachia.

Rating: 2 / 5

Inception, a film by Christopher Nolan

by James Gilmore

Movie poster for Inception, a film by Christopher Nolan, on Minimalist Reviews.Christopher Nolan’s Inception sports an original but difficult concept, which the film explains surprisingly well, although more could have been left to the speculative imagination. The unfortunate side effect of having a difficult concept is that it requires a lot of time to illustrate, meaning the film takes 60 minutes to get to the heart of the concept, at which point it runs with the intensity of a driven madman. The close cutting adds to the dreamlike quality of the story but cannot alter the impression that one is watching two or three films rolled into one—the total of which ultimately seems lacking in a final or third-act twist whose gravitas is appropriate to the story. Fortunately, the aggressive pacing of the story helps blunt the ham-fisted dialogue and the glaring plot hole which serves as the crux for the third act. As for acting, Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance is adequate but overshadowed by the quiet show-stealer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Overall, a slight disappointment but a supremely wonderful, well-executed concept.

Rating: 3 / 5

The Great Gatsby, a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Book cover for The Great Gatsby, a classic literary novel by F Scott Fitzgerald, on Minimalist Reviews.by James Gilmore

Calm, flowing prose on a near subconscious level floats the reader to a violent two-punch ending. Fitzgerald illustrates how careless wealthy people destroy those around them, even men destined for greatness such (as Gatsby), leaving everyone else to pick up the painful pieces. From another angle, Gatsby delivers a scathing opinion of capitalism by depicting it as superficial, debauched and criminal, as embodied by Gatsby himself, a man who came from nothing but gained everything through enterprising opportunism and less-than-legal means. It should have been a short story, but Fitzgerald dragged it out into a novel three times its necessary length, and somehow created one of the most recognized titles of 20th century literature.

Rating: 3 / 5

Ham on Rye, a novel by Charles Bukowski

Book cover for Ham on Rye, a novel by Charles Bukowski, on Minimalist Reviews.

by James Gilmore

People want beautiful lies, not the ugly truth. So here’s the ugly truth. Quintessential Bukowski (and thus also redundant Bukowski), he reduces tumultuous stages of growing up into grit and fact through simple, beautiful, stabbing prose in a human juxtaposition of outer toughness and painful inner sensitivity. One might consider this a 1982 “rewrite” of Catcher in the Rye. A must for any Bukowski fan or seekers of raw truth. An offensive piece of trash for sensitive readers and those who prefer safe masks and beautiful lies.

Rating: 4 / 5