P2

Director: Frank Khalfoun

Starring: Rachel Nichols, Wes Bentley

With most horror movies, I don’t find myself wondering what’s happening inside the mind of the villain, what his motivations are, and so forth. Too many modern remakes make the mistake of taking the originally suspenseful story and altering it so that they can spend a good deal of time showing us exactly what made the killer what he is. So why is it, when an original story like “P2″ comes along, that I should be so curious as to what pushed its antagonist into behaving as he does?

The movie begins on the night of Christmas Eve. In Manhattan, New York, a young businesswoman named Angela (Rachel Nichols) is finishing up some late night office work and is preparing to visit her family for the holidays. Unbeknownst to her, however, a sinister plot is underway to make sure she sticks around for a while. When she gets to her car down in the second level parking garage, she finds that it refuses to start. Angela looks for aid from the parking garage attendant named Thomas (Wes Bentley), but his jumper cables have no effect. Somehow this doesn’t sound off any alarms, although at the same time I can appreciate that Angela doesn’t automatically assume that her car has been tampered with. I can even understand how someone who is in as much of a hurry as she is could write off the fact that she can’t seem to unlock the front door to get to her hailed taxi cab as simply having a bad night. But she’d have to have figured something was up around the time that Thomas turned out all the lights in P2 after she returned to ask him to open the front gate of the parking garage. Moments later, Thomas knocks her out with chloroform, changes her out of her coat and work clothes into a lovely white dress and chains her to the table in his office.

When Angela wakes up and discovers her changes in scenery and appearance, Thomas very calmly sets up a Christmas dinner for the both of them to share. His first moment of cruelty (aside from the kidnapping, of course) comes when he forces Angela to call her family and lie to them about why she hasn’t and won’t be showing up. When he decides to take Angela for a ride in his car, she attacks him with a fork as he unchains her. Handcuffing Angela’s hands behind her back, Thomas takes her down to P4 where he has tied to a chair one of her co-workers who, in a drunken stupor, had attempted to force himself upon her in one of the office building’s elevators earlier that same evening. Thomas sees this man as evil for trying to have his way with Angela. For some psychos with a morality complex, beating the man’s face in with a small club would be enough… but not for Thomas. The piece de resistance of this beatdown is using his car to repeatedly ram the man, still tied to the chair, into the wall behind him until his insides are on the outside. When you consider that Alexandre Aja (director of “High Tension” and the 2006 remake of “The Hills Have Eyes”) is one of the film’s three screenwriters, you can guess that he probably had the most input into the gory details of this scene.

After witnessing this horrifying display of violence, Angela finally is able to escape Thomas’s custody, albeit still restrained by his handcuffs. She manages to slide her legs past the chain of the cuffs so that her arms can now at least face forward. As Thomas cleans up after himself on P4, Angela runs back to the office on P2 to grab her cell phone and Thomas’s key cards. At the front gate on P1, she finally manages to get a signal on her cell phone and tries to call the authorities, but drops her cell phone through the gate and can’t get to it. With a returning Thomas on the way, Angela runs for the elevator which she locks in place so she can call for help from the panel inside. The voice on the other line, unfortunately, is Thomas. He flushes her out with the aid of a fire hose, and then drops the dead body of the building’s other security guard through the roof of the elevator. Both the body and Angela are thrust into the hallway when the elevator opens up. Angela then proceeds to smash all the nearby surveillance cameras with an axe while Thomas plays “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley over the loudspeakers. He couldn’t have found a more appropriate mood setter if he’d chosen “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. Angela returns to Thomas’s office expecting to find him there. Thomas is nowhere to be seen, however he has a video cued up of him molesting her and applying lipstick to her lips as she was lying unconscious earlier on. Her response, obvious though it may be, is to smash the TV with the axe. She lingers in the office for far too long, and Thomas shows up to zap her with a taser and stuff her into the trunk of her non-functional car.

Just then, two police officers show up in response to Angela’s emergency call. Satisfied that they have found nothing incriminating, Thomas allows them to leave instead of kiling them with the axe he has kept close by. As they leave, Angela busts out of her trunk and attempts to catch up to them, but finds Thomas and his Rottweiler waiting for her at the front gate. Chased, Angela manages to kill the dog by stabbing it in the neck with a tire iron. She then enters a rental office to call 911, but is interrupted and forced to drive off in one of the rental cars. A furious chase ensues (with an enraged Thomas following in his own car), ending in a game of chicken which Angela wins, but she winds up flipping her car over soon after. Feigning injury, Angela allows Thomas to get just close enough to stab him in the eye. Stealing Thomas’s taser and keys, Angela finally rids herself of the handcuffs, chaining Thomas to the car instead. She’s quite content to leave him like that until he calls her a not so nice word that begins with “C.” Angela responds by using the taser to ignite the trail of gasoline leading from the car, Hollywood-style. This engulfs a screaming Thomas in flames, but his suffering is short-lived when the car suddenly explodes. Her ordeal finally over, Angela opens the front gate using Thomas’s keys and goes on foot into the freezing cold Manhattan streets.

When this movie originally came out, I watched it strictly for Rachel Nichols, with whom I was familiar at the time for her work in the final season of the American spy series “Alias,” and have since enjoyed her as the lead in the Canadian sci-fi series “Continuum.” That, and I love any horror movie which makes a genuine attempt at creating a claustrophobic atmosphere, which “P2″ does quite well. But I also came to appreciate Wes Bentley’s performance as well. As I said, I surprised myself by wondering what circumstances made Thomas who he was. The thought occurred to me that while Thomas is clearly crazy, obsessive and evil, what isn’t quite clear is what had made him this way. Was it the pressures and loneliness of his job? Had he been the type who’d been scorned so often in his youth that he’d become so afraid as to be unable to interact normally with women? Was Thomas the product of a strict, repressive moral upbringing that so emotionally scarred him as to explain his evolution into something of a violent, sexual deviant? Or was he simply born with a few wires crossed? The movie never tells us one way or another, and I find that I like that because I come away with questions to which I can feel free to supply my own answers.

Phenomena (1985)

Director: Dario Argento

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Donald Pleasance, Patrick Bauchau

Lost in a labyrinth of bewildering twists and turns, you would try to explain your situation, but it would only sound like madness. What you need is a light to show you the way. Sometimes, all it takes to help you get through the maze is the sight of a familiar face. Contrary to what some may believe, the first starring role in the career of actress Jennifer Connelly was not that of a young girl trapped in a “Wizard of Oz”-like fantasy world populated by Jim Henson’s Muppets and lorded over by David Bowie.

Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly), daughter of a popular American film actor, is a new student at the Richard Wagner Academy for Girls in Switzerland. Jennifer has a special talent of her very own: the ability to communicate telepathically with insects. She also has a habit of sleepwalking, and it is the latter that first leads her to witness a murder, and later to find the only person in Switzerland who’ll believe her story, Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasance). Originally from Scotland, McGregor has been in Switzerland ever since a car accident robbed him of the ability to walk. Like Jennifer, he knows things that, if spoken aloud, would make him sound crazy to other scientists.

Back at the academy, Jennifer is made to undergo an EEG examination, during which fragments of the previous night come back to her, and the discomfort that accompanies these images cause Jennifer to interrupt the procedure. Her roommate, Sophie, who is supposed to be watching over her to make sure she doesn’t sleepwalk again, leaves to go for a night out with a boy. Sophie ends up the killer’s next victim, and Jennifer does indeed sleepwalk during this time. Once outside, a firefly comes to Jennifer and leads her to a maggot-covered glove, presumed to be that of the killer. Instead of being worshipped by her fellow students given their familiarity with her father, Jennifer is taunted when they hear about her supposed connection to insects. She proves it’s no joke by summoning a swarm to surround the school before fainting. Naturally, this must mean that Jennifer is insane and possibly an agent of the Devil, so the plan is to lock her away in a mental hospital. Jennifer has other plans.

Bringing the glove to Professor McGregor’s attention, he tells her of the Great Sarcophagus fly which, because of its attraction to decaying human remains, he says will lead Jennifer to the identity of the killer. In fact, it leads her to the very same house seen by a previous murder victim (played by Dario Argento’s eldest daughter, Fiore) in the film’s opening scene. The house now deserted, Jennifer is chased away by the real estate agent. On the verge of getting close to the truth of this case, Professor McGregor is murdered in his home. Jennifer, unwilling to return to the boarding school, calls her father’s lawyer, hoping that he’ll help her to return to the United States. Alarmed by her phone call, he rings her boarding school chaperon, Frau Bruckner (Daria Nicolodi). In what would seem at first to be an act of kindness, Bruckner offers to let Jennifer stay at her far-too-large-for-one-person, totally inconspicuous home. Yeah, buddy… Bruckner is as batshit crazy as they come, but that’s what happens when you’re a former nurse at a mental hospital who got raped by the most monstrous creature in the place and gave birth to to an equally hideous and homicidal abomination.

Of the group of Dario Argento movies I sought out this month, “Phenomena” was the one I was the most eager to see. A large part of that had to do with the presence of actors Donald Pleasance and Jennifer Connelly. Seen either together or separately, they are the most consistently good things about this movie. The plot is the most unique of the Argento films I’ve sampled, mixing the standard murder mystery with science fiction. I had a feeling that the psychic in “Deep Red” was only a trial run. It works much better here, where there’s never any real attempt at realism. If you’re not a fan of Italian-to-English dubbing, be warned: the dubbing in “Phenomena” is laughable. Usually, I’d be right there with you, but somehow it made this movie even more entertaining.

Equally baffling is the score. Yes, Goblin is back… well, sort of. Only Claudio Simonetti (keyboardist) and Fabio Pignatelli (bassist) return for “Phenomena.” The group has split up, reunited and split up so many times over the years that there are now two different incarnations of Goblin currently performing, one featuring Simonetti and the other with Pignatelli. Joining Goblin on the soundtrack are Simon Boswell, Bill Wyman, Andi Sexgang, Iron Maiden and Motörhead. The result is a decidedly mixed bag. Motörhead and Iron Maiden are more invasive than anything, especially considering the scenes in which they appear: Jennifer’s attempt to escape from Frau Bruckner & the scene where Professor McGregor’s body is being rolled out by stretcher. The latter shouldn’t even have a soundtrack, much less music so loud it drowns everything else out!

Overall, I’d call this my second favorite of the Dario Argento films I’ve seen thus far. Be certain you’re watching the 110-minute cut. I made sure of it because I’d heard nothing good about the US edited version, retitled “Creepers.” Nothing good can possibly come from cutting a half-hour of footage out of a movie. Especially intriguing is seeing how talented Jennifer Connelly was at such a young age. Dario Argento put a lot of faith in the then-14 year old and she pretty much carries this movie all by herself.  I’ve deliberately left out a few early Argento films for later, possibly for the next “31 Screams” marathon in October 2015. Some have proven harder to track down than others. This one was too, but it was worth the challenge of finding it, and the time it took to sit down and watch it.

Inferno (1980)

Director: Dario Argento

Starring: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi

Curiosity first drew me to the work of Dario Argento, and it is that same curiosity which keeps me coming back for more. In total spite of that old saying which involves the grim fate of a certain four-legged animal, my curiosity demands that I press on. Dario Argento’s 1980 supernatural thriller “Inferno” is considered a sequel of sorts to “Suspiria,” with which it shares similar characteristics in both style and content. Both movies are based in part on “Suspiria de Profundis” by Thomas de Quincey. No mention of the plot from “Suspiria” is ever made, and the two films share none of the same characters (although it has been said that the taxi drivers from both films are in fact the same actor, which would not surprise me in the least). It is the connection to Quincey’s work, the concept of “Our Ladies of Sorrow” which is the only real link between the two.

The film opens with Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) finding an old book called “The Three Mothers,” written by a man named Varelli. The book tells of three evil sisters (i.e. witches) who dwell in separate homes in Rome, Italy, Freiburg, Germany, and New York, USA. Rose, a New York native, believes that she lives in the domain of one of these evil sisters. She’s right, of course. Following a clue provided by the text, she investigates the cellar. Dropping her apartment keys down a hole in the floor, she discovers a flooded ballroom. Inside, there is at least one rotting corpse floating around. How this ballroom came to be flooded, who the dead person is, and why Rose doesn’t just ask her landlord for a spare set of keys instead of recklessly diving into that hole in the floor are things which are never explained. You’ll find that to be a common theme in this movie.

After this admittedly well-produced sequence, the focus shifts to Rose’s brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey), a music student in Rome. In class, he attempts to read a letter from his sister, but a female student’s gaze has him distracted. Although she’s never named on-screen, this “music student” is really one of the three evil sisters: Mater Lachrymarum, the most beautiful of the three and, as we’ll discover in a later film (2007’s “The Mother of Tears”), the most powerful as well. She’s already down one sister. Mater Suspiriorum (“Mother of Sighs”), or Helena Markos as we knew her, was vanquished at the end of “Suspiria.”

First on the chopping block is Sara (Eleonora Giorgi), another student in the music class who reads Rose’s letter to Mark after he leaves it behind, and is inspired to seek out a copy of “The Three Mothers” at the library. Someone else there recognizes the book, a mysterious figure who attacks her and sends her racing home. Uncomfortable with the idea of being alone, she asks a neighbor to stay with her. Soon, both are killed. Arriving at the scene too late, Mark sees the “music student” again through the window of a passing taxi cab.

Not long after a phone call with her brother is cut short, Rose dies in another elaborate murder sequence. Having survived for nearly half the film, she’s the “Janet Leigh” of this movie. Unaware of his sister’s fate, Mark travels to New York, where he meets Countess Elise (Daria Nicolodi), a friend of Rose’s, as well as the wheelchair-bound Professor Arnold, his nurse and Carol, the building’s caretaker. Odds are pretty decent that one of the three women will turn out to be Mater Tenebrarum (“Mother of Darkness”), the antagonist of the film. The others will be innocent victims. But what’s up with the guy in the wheelchair?

A bit more dreamlike than some of Dario Argento’s other early films, “Inferno” is also that much more confusing. Its greatest assets are the cinematography and the bait-and-switch it pulls at about the midway point. The way the plot moves in the early-going, you’re led to believe that Rose is meant to be the main character. It’s too bad she wasn’t, because her brother is a poor substitute. I get that Argento was likely trying for an everyman with Mark, but he’s just a little too weak for it to work for me. The ending is also somewhat of a letdown. The set-up to the confrontation with Mater Tenebrarum is good, but the execution once we get there falls a bit flat. Reminds me of the reveal of Donald Pleasance (who, coincidentally, features in Argento’s “Phenomena”) as Blofeld in the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice.” Once it’s done, it can’t be undone, and the film suffers for it. I would have also liked to hear another score from Goblin but, alas, that was not to be this time. Argento wanted a more laid back musical composition, and so turned to Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Where “Inferno” may be lacking in other areas, it does make up for a little bit by being beautifully filmed. Like with “Suspiria,” certain scenes are dressed in reds, blues, greens and yellows. These brilliant colors, like the soundtrack, are more subdued this go-round, but that adds to the disorienting atmosphere the film creates. “Inferno” is by no means a bad movie. You will want to stay with it through to the end. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it won’t kill you. Just don’t go in expecting something on par with “Suspiria” or “Deep Red.”

Deep Red (1975)

Director: Dario Argento

Starring: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Clara Calamai, Macha Meril, Glauco Mauri, Eros Pagni, Giuliana Calandra

In order to truly solve a mystery, one must have a proper and complete picture at hand. You’d better have all your facts straight. How else can anyone take you seriously? Otherwise, you’re just fumbling around and spouting off scatterbrained nonsense. The same is true of anyone who tracks down Dario Argento’s “Deep Red.” If you’re not careful, you’ll wind up watching the wrong version. Although the story will mostly play out the same regardless, up to a half hour’s worth of movie can be missing. Italian horror films take this kind of hit all the time when released in the US, sometimes by the director’s own hand, but it never gets any less frustrating. It’s hard to know how to talk about a movie when you’re not quite certain whether or not you’ve actually seen enough to have an informed opinion.

Marcus Daly (David Hemmings), jazz pianst, is sidetracked from his chosen profession when he gets caught up in a murder investigation. Marcus wants to find out who killed psychic medium Helga Ulmann (Macha Meril). His problem is that he can’t seem to figure out what’s become of a painting he saw among the several which hang on the walls inside Helga’s apartment. Each time he (and we, the audience, along with him) get close to figuring out whodunit, another person who might have some idea dies horribly. In spite of the danger, and with the help of reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), Marcus presses on. No matter the outcome, the investigation is sure to leave Marcus a changed man.

Watching “Deep Red” (a.k.a. “Profondo Rosso”), it was like seeing an improved version of “The Cat o’ Nine Tails.” Both are Italian gialli, centering around a plot where a man becomes curious about a murder, acquires the help of a reporter, finds it difficult to work on the investigation when all the clues and witnesses keep disappearing/dying, and winds up having to take on the thoroughly psychotic killer by himself in the end. Both also have their share of pacing, dubbing and editing issues, but that’s where the comparison ends.

Dario Argento improves upon his previous work in each of the following very crucial categories: Acting, musical score and cinematography. David Hemmings shows his familiarity with the murder mystery, having also featured in 1966’s “Blow-Up.” He’s the perfect man to play Marcus Daly. Gabriele Lavia is also quite a hoot as Carlo. The cinematography is superb. Maybe not on the level of a “Suspiria,” but there’s definitely some fine camerawork going on here. I especially enjoy the first-person POV shots of the killer, which later became a regular staple of the slasher genre. This is another one to which movies like “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” and others of their kind owe a great deal. By the way, when you see the killer’s gloved hands, that’s Dario Argento himself. The murders themselves are well done, although shorter cuts of the film do make unfortunate edits to many of these scenes. The dolls seen throughout the movie are effectively creepy, especially the one that was a clear inspiration for the tricycle-riding Jigsaw doll from “Saw.”

The best part of “Deep Red” for me is its soundtrack. The score by rock band Goblin, their first of many collaborations with Dario Argento, is one of their best. Interesting to note: Goblin wasn’t the director’s first choice. The original composer, Giorgio Gaslini, had produced a score which was decidedly not to Argento’s liking. He’d decided the film needed a much different sound, which explains why he wanted Pink Floyd (a band as “different” as they come). Who knows what the movie might have sounded like with them on board, but it would almost certainly have been glorious. Cosmic, even. Unable to get his preferred choice, Argento went with Goblin, who turn out to be perfectly suited for “Deep Red.” As with certain tracks from “Suspiria,” you won’t soon be able to get “Profondo Rosso” out of your head anytime soon after you’ve heard it. I am eager to find out if other Argento/Goblin team-ups are as outstanding as the two I’ve sampled up to this point.

Here’s my problem: The version I’ve seen is the US theatrical cut which is missing 20 minutes, give or take. I can’t very well grade the portions of the movie I haven’t seen, and I can’t help but wonder how they would affect my overall impression. As it is, I’m not as in love with the movie as some are. It slows down in the early-going, and I’m not crazy about the inclusion of a psychic in a story which is otherwise grounded in reality. (Fortunately, she’s dead before you know it!) All of that being said, the positives of “Deep Red” far outweigh the negatives. You are kept guessing as to the identity of the killer. I myself incorrectly thought I had it figured out twice before the final reveal. I do believe this one to be worthy of further examination at a later date, at which time I would hopefully be able to track down the 126-minute version.

The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971)

Director: Dario Argento

Starring: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak

Mysteries are irresistible. They must be solved. The mystery of what the filmography of Dario Argento has in store is one I’d gone without solving for far longer than I should have. Until now, all I knew of the man’s career was that he’d directed at least one masterpiece of horror (“Suspiria”) and had co-written one of the all-time great Westerns (“Once Upon a Time in the West”). Those credits by themselves would be enough to cement his place in film history, but the question remained: What else did Argento have to offer me? More of a random choice than anything else, 1971’s “The Cat o’ Nine Tails” ended up being the first one I pounced upon.

Franco Arnò (Karl Malden) enjoys mysteries, as well. At one time an investigative journalist, Franco retired from that position after going blind. Literally in the dark now, this has not deterred Franco’s fascination with puzzle-solving. When a witness to a break-in at a medical facility is murdered, Franco seeks out fellow journalist Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), who wrote an article about the break-in. Soon, the photographer who snapped the picture of the murder is himself killed. Well, of course, this only makes the two all the more curious about what’s going on.

It seems this all has to do with research at the lab involving the XYY syndrome, a 1 in 1,000 occurrence whereby a human male is born with an extra chromosome. Supposedly, so the story implies, this can lead to violent tendencies. So, whomever your killer is also has this extra chromosome. Everybody got that? Good. The problem is not in figuring out what’s causing the killer’s need to kill. It’s the identity of this person that remains a mystery, especially since he’s offing everyone who closes in on solving that particular riddle.

The title of the movie refers neither to an actual feline, nor the whip of the same name, but to the set of clues which the two protagonists follow. With each successive murder, their list of leads continues to dwindle. Soon, their own lives will be threatened. This includes a suspenseful, drawn out scene involving a poisoned carton of milk in Carlo’s apartment. Actor James Franciscus, whom I thought did well as the lead in the all-too brief “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (which I actually like, in spite of all its flaws), gets another chance to shine here. Carlo will get to the bottom of this mystery and nab himself one hell of a story, even if it kills him.

Disappointing about “The Cat o’ Nine Tails” is both the pacing of the story and the musical score. The story moves at a slow pace that could cause some to glance at their wrist watch a time or two, but that much is made up for by the film’s competent leads. As the rock band Goblin wouldn’t even be formed until the following year, Dario Argento wouldn’t be making use of their talents until later. Instead, Argento calls upon the incomparable Ennio Morricone. So what’s disappointing about that? Well, the unfortunate thing is that “The Cat o’ Nine Tails” is one of Morricone’s least memorable scores. As this was just the second film directed by Dario Argento, he still hadn’t quite refined his skills at this time. Missing is the more colorful cinematography which makes “Suspiria” such a joy to watch. At least the murders are graphic enough… by 1971 standards, anyway. I can’t say this is one I’ll be revisiting any time soon. However, because of my interest in the film’s director, I still don’t feel as though my time was wasted in exploring “The Cat o’ Nine Tails.”

Scott Pilgrim (2010)

Director: Edgar Wright

Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman

Perhaps the hardest genre to translate into film seems to be video games. Pretty much every attempt made by Hollywood has resulted in either a bland nice try or a complete disaster. 20 years+ and I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the “Super Mario Bros.” movie. I hope some very high ranking studio heads lost their jobs over “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation,” a sequel that was so bad that it made the first MK film seem like a masterpiece by comparison. Don’t even get me started on the never-ending series of putrid “Resident Evil” movies. The list of bad video game-based movies is so long that I actually take pride in knowing that “The Legend of Zelda” has yet to be tarnished in this way. (Knock on wood!) Question: If it’s so hard to do a film that’s directly based on a specific game or series of games, then is there an alternative? Answer: “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”

The movie’s opening seconds clue us in on what kind of movie is about to take place. No, I’m not talking about the opening scene. I mean the Universal Studios logo which precedes the film. The usual Universal theme and logo are replaced by the kind you would see and hear on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Those of us who, like me, grew up on that system and the classic video games associated with it will smile a very wide grin when the modified studio logo comes up.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is the bass guitarist for a Toronto, Canada garage band called Sex Bob-omb (a name which makes more sense if you get the “Super Mario Bros.” reference). He lives with a gay roommate named Wallace, also his best friend. None of Scott’s friends quite understand his relationship with the 17-year old high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), nor his resistance to tell Knives when he’s lost interest in her. One fateful day, Scott meets Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an American girl who delivers a package via Amazon.ca. Scott is instantly smitten, yet also doesn’t mention to Ramona that he hasn’t officially broken up with Knives yet. No reason to think that will blow up in his face later on….

The movie’s main plot revolves around a Battle of the Bands competition sponsored by Gideon “G-Man” Graves (Jason Schwartzman) which Sex Bob-omb (with music/singing provided by Beck) is entered into. Around this same time, Scott is attacked by an ex-boyfriend of Ramona’s. His enemy, when defeated, explodes into a pile of coins. Although Scott is victorious, there are to be six other such battles in his future. Each has their own method of attack and powers which are also unique to them. The most absurd and hilarious of these has to be Evil Ex # 3: Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), who also happens to be the current boyfriend of Scott’s ex, Natalie “Envy” Adams (Brie Larson), and is the bassist for her band, The Clash at Demonhead. Todd’s powers come directly as a result of being vegan, which Scott cleverly finds a way around, although not before being smashed through a brick wall or two.

The acting in the film is way over-the-top but, for a movie that employs characteristics of comic books, video games and anime, this is a must. As endearing as the two leads are, the best performances in the film come from Kieran Culkin and Jason Schwartzman. Proving himself to be the most talented of the Culkin family, Kieran Culkin has come a long way from playing the bed-wetting Fuller McAllister from “Home Alone.” Wallace gets to play the part of the sage whom Scott comes to when he needs advice on how to proceed in his hero’s quest. He can be dickish sometimes, but always while making a very keen observation. He better than anyone else can see through Scott’s bullshit. Jason Schwartzman, a veteran of oddball smart comedies, has played the role of the weak, nerdy guy before, so it must have been a thrill to be the bad guy. Still a little nerdy, but definitely evil, G-Man is the Ganon to Scott’s Link. He’s the guy Scott has to go through to rescue the Princess/Ramona. Like any good “dungeon master,” he seems impossible to defeat until the correct strategy is learned.

The “Legend of Zelda” references don’t even end there. At different times in the film, hints of music from “Legend of Zelda” can be heard, including a dream sequence and also in a rather hilarious trip to the bathroom. Scott even comes face to face with his own shadow, just like in “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.” At one point, when Scott “dies” (before remembering the 1-UP “extra life” he’d acquired earlier), he is transported to what amounts to a GAME OVER screen. Little details like this make the classic gamer in me very happy.

I haven’t been the biggest fan of director Edgar Wright. I liked “Shaun of the Dead” well enough, “Hot Fuzz” was worth seeing once, and I admit to being more than a little disappointed that he never did expand upon his “Grindhouse” fake trailer for a 1970’s-style Hammer Films gothic horror movie entitled “Don’t.” There is no question in my mind that “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is his best work. It’s sad that it did so terribly in the theater, but that’s probably due to the fact that most people (myself included) didn’t know what the film really was when it was originally released. It’s now a cult classic, and deservedly so. There may never be a “Legend of Zelda” movie, and I’m okay with that. I still have “Scott Pilgrim” and the nostalgia the film creates for those games my generation played when we were kids.

Interstellar (2014)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin (voice), Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, Mackenzie Foy

If there’s one thing I truly envy my parents’ generation for, it’s that they were the ones who got to witness firsthand the beginnings of manned space exploration. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated by the endless possibilities of what’s “out there.” But, with the US space program largely placed on the shelf, the chances of manned expeditions to Mars or beyond taking place within my own lifetime grow smaller with each passing day. That’s where science fiction steps in. We can go on these odysseys without ever leaving the comforts of our homes or movie theaters. The trouble there is sifting through all of the crap to get that sense of awe and wonder that should always come with stories like this. A lot of the time, it’s just going to be a larger-than-life action movie. Few science fiction films ever make the attempt to challenge our minds, or even inspire a sense of awe and wonder. Quite possibly the last one to truly accomplish this was 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” However, most sci-fi fans will agree, when prompted, that 1968’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is the standard-bearer of this type of motion picture. Count director Christopher Nolan among them.

As we join things in progress at the beginning of “Interstellar,” we find that the Earth is in deep doo-doo. A blight has claimed most of the world’s crops and reduced the human population, and it seems destined to finish the job sometime in the not-too-distant future. Heavy dust storms have become a regular occurrence. Former NASA astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) runs a farm with his father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow), son Tom and 10-year old daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy). Cooper would much rather be flying in the skies or the stars than attending PTA meetings with Murphy’s teachers, who insist the Moon landings were propaganda films. They’re lucky that Buzz Aldrin isn’t in the room, or he’d be arrested for murder. Murphy’s a smarter young lady than the idiots who run the school give her credit. She’s currently tracking a “ghost” in her room, one which appears to be sending messages using binary code. I put the word “ghost” in quotations because this is a science-fiction tale, not a supernatural horror movie. Many who watch this movie will have figured out the true nature and identity of this phenomenon as soon as the word “ghost” is even uttered, although the movie won’t reveal that card outright for another two hours. That’s okay.

It turns out that the messages being sent by Murphy’s “ghost” are coordinates. Together, the father/daughter team discover that the coordinates lead to a secret NASA base, headed by Professor Brand (Michael Caine). The Professor tells Cooper of a plan to ensure the survival of humanity, involving relocation on a new planet. NASA has sent “Lazarus missions” to three planets in orbit around a black hole on the other side of a wormhole they’ve discovered near Saturn. The hope is that one of these three worlds will be found to be hospitable enough for humankind to start a new colony there. Along with a crew that includes the Professor’s own daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Cooper is asked to pilot the Endurance, the craft that will fly out to collect the “Lazarus missions” data and find out which of these planets, if any, is our last best hope.

Even with the advantages presented by the wormhole, the disadvantage is that everyone back home will age at a far faster rate than those on board the Endurance. Each hour the crew spends on one of the three distant planets will equal roughly seven years back on Earth. Amelia’s father will die while she’s in another galaxy. Cooper’s children will grow old and have children and grandchildren of their own. As Murphy ages, she will be played by three different actresses: Mackenzie Foy (age 10), Jessica Chastain (young adult), and Ellen Burstyn (senior citizen). It should be obvious from the get-go, but Murphy’s role in the progression of the plot will prove to be just as pivotal as that of her father, if not more so.

The acting in this movie is quite superb. Much of that is thanks to the caliber of the talent, as there are quite a number of previously Academy Award-winning and/or nominated actors present, among them McConaughey, Caine, Hathaway, Chastain, Burstyn and Matt Damon (as a screenwriter). Even the voiceover work from Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart is reminiscent of Douglas Rain’s performance as the HAL 9000 computer from “2001,” as they are meant to be. Irwin and Stewart portray the artificial intelligence crew members TARS and CASE, each of whose solid black rectangular structure makes them resemble the Monoliths from “2001.” But it may be little Mackenzie Foy who gives the best performance of them all.

More than the characters or the plot, what I find is most stunning about “Interstellar” is the visuals (surprise, surprise). Any time the scene shifts back to the dust bowl that Earth has been reduced to, I wait for the return to the stars. Each of the three worlds the Endurance crew visits, having been named for the scientists originally sent there, couldn’t be any more different from one another. The first is a world composed of water for as far as the eye can see. This one will destroy any spacecraft that lands there and lingers for too long, shattering its hull with immense tidal waves. Surf’s up! One of the remaining two had better be suitable for our needs, or we’re screwed. You know the second planet they visit isn’t going to work out, or else “Interstellar” would be about an hour shorter than it is.

There was a moment where I was scared that the movie was going to degenerate into just another “blow shit up” action movie, and it very nearly could have. Much of the plot is familiar territory. You can almost count the moments leading up to the scene where one character reveals their cowardice and betrays the group. This was the only part of the plot I got wrong, as I had misjudged who the person would turn out to be. But given that “Interstellar” is Christopher Nolan’s tribute to all the science-fiction films which have made a lasting impact on him, he has presented us with the kind of science-fiction movie I would hope to make if I were in his position. It’s also the first time since I saw “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” that I’ve felt transported to another world, and saddened once the adventure came to a close. I finally understand what my father has been talking about all these years when he says that “2001: A Space Odyssey” begs to be seen in the theater. “Interstellar” is that same kind of experience, immersing you in all of its beauty and inspiring that sense of awe and wonder that sci-fi fans crave.