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Scott Pilgrim Versus the World: Movie Review

 (Warning: some spoilers) When they decided to turn this Canadian comic into a movie, I’m not sure they were aware of what a cult smash hit this would be. Topping the charts for Blu-rays on the first day it was released on home video, it’s also been on several top ten lists. It appeals to a younger generation and nerds everywhere with its pop culture references and video game atmosphere. Even the basic premise sounds like it was pulled from a classic arcade game: Scott Pilgrim must defeat love interest Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes to win her heart.

Awkward Scott Pilgrim’s (Michael Cera) love life is anything but ordinary. Ramona Flowers is Scott’s dream girl (literally), and he has to choose between her and his new high school girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Ramona is a pink-haired, too-cool badass with a mysterious past, and Knives is a sweet girl who all his friends say is too young for him. After Scott and Ramona get involved, Scott’s band Sex Bob-omb enters into a Battle of the Bands, which turns out to be a real battle after Ramona’s first evil ex shows up. The rest of the movie involves Scott’s battles of all 7 evil exes using all sorts of cool methods, from a bass guitar to some sweet ninja moves. When the past comes back to bite you, the characters in this movie bite back.

The musical qualities of the movie were equally as important as the plot and visuals. The soundtrack to the movie is epic, including a song about a garbage truck. Some of the featured artists with originals and covers from the movie include Beck and Metric (bands also featured on Rock Band 3). There’s also plenty of 8-bit inspired music as well, such as the Zelda fairy fountain theme. What’s more impressive is the actors actually learned how to play their instruments and are featured on the soundtrack.

Some of the original comic style has been preserved in the movie: an introduction to Scott’s apartment includes labels on the items in it, straight from a comic panel, and some of Ramona’s flashbacks are cartoon/comic style. Video game references abound in this movie as well; enemies explode into coins and give Scott points when defeated, for example. Scott and Knives play a rhythm/martial arts arcade game called Ninja Ninja Revolution, and Scott’s pickup line for Ramona is a story about the origins of Pac-Man. The band is named for the Mario Bros. enemy. There are tons more; for a list of every video game reference in the movie click here: http://blogs.ocweekly.com/heardmentality/2010/08/every_video_game_reference_in.php

The movie is a quirky blend of fantasy, drama, comedy, and romance with great characters. Scott has a lot of great one-liners, and the other characters in the movie are all funny in their own way, from Scott’s gay roommate and rock star ex-girlfriend to his pushy sister and angry drummer. These characters are definitely not cookie cutter Hollywood cutouts.

I’ve seen this movie three times and everyone I’ve recommended it to has really enjoyed it. So if you feel nostalgic for the arcade days or you’re in the mood for a unique comedy, pick up a copy today and prepare for a fun action-adventure game on your TV screen. Game Start!

Games in Pop Culture

As video games have become more popular and accessible to everyone, they’ve been featured in more tv shows and movies than ever. No longer do people plug away at the Nintendo GameBoy “brick;” now Grandma’s got a Wii in her living room (and has no idea how to use it). Yet the changes in the way games are depicted in popular media have largely been superficial, and often make certain implications about games and the people who play them.

When people play games in movies or on tv, it’s usually a teenaged or young boy with a handheld device that makes the same sounds as old arcade games. Yes, the same stereotype that men are the only ones who game prevails quite often, though sometimes young girls play games too (Gaz from Invader Zim kicks way more gaming ass than her brother). Perhaps the reasoning behind the beeps and pews is because the earliest games for the masses were games like Space Invaders and Mario, and that’s the only exposure many people have had to games. The GameBoy is certainly one of the most recognized symbols for games even after the switch to the PSP and DS, though now it’s more common to see a PSP-like handheld in the media.

Haven’t games moved beyond 8-bit graphics and music? For that matter, most people mute games when playing in public, and to always assign annoying beeps and pews to every game not only assumes games lack finesse in musical qualities, it also assumes that gamers are thoughtless, selfish, and undiscerning. This is not to denigrate Mario, with some of the most often played video game music of all time; this is simply to say that not all games look and sound like Mario. Games now run the gamut from racing and puzzle to FPS and RPG, all with a variety of music, and tv and movies have not changed to reflect this.

Popular media sometimes features people talking about or playing Xbox, or maybe Wii. But the 360 is usually a symbol for the hardcore gamer, or someone who has no life (see Grandma’s Boy). The computer is a more commonly seen console now, although many interface elements are eliminated for the sake of the uninitiated viewer (World of Warcraft is featured in Zombieland and a recent episode in South Park). It’s rare to see people playing racing or shooting games, and when people play DDR in movies they look like “retards trying to hump a doorknob” without regard for actually hitting the buttons (–Dodgeball).

The way people play games on tv is often mindless. It is the same attitude people take when playing Mario Kart; concentrating and competitive. They never seem happy or smile; their eyes are glued to the screen as, emotionless, they go about some noisy task.

Games in commercials are completely different. Players are usually only featured in Wii games, because the focus is on the player and less on the game. Nintendo wants people to see people having fun doing traditional activities in new ways, like cooking or bowling. They have people of all ages, races, and genders enjoying playing trivial games together, or fit women exercising. This is partially because many Wii games are for casual gamers, and it doesn’t really matter to these people if they’re playing Wii Lacrosse or Wii Luge, as long as they perceive that they are “having fun.” Most other game commercials simply feature the game, because they are targeting people who actually know something about games.

Gamefly ran a funny game commercial with people freaking out, screaming, crying, throwing tvs and controllers, and generally carrying on. Their tag was ‘never buy another bad game again.’ This is a pretty accurate depiction of how frustrated gamers can get if they lose their save, die and have to redo everything, or generally are playing a bad game. I think this commercial also reflects how engaged gamers get in the virtual worlds they temporarily inhabit.

Stereotypes are powerful things. The more people are aware of these stereotypes, the more they’ll use them. Sure it’s funny to watch people leaping furiously at a game of DDR, but it may offend the true gamer in its complete inaccuracy. All of these depictions reflect a different kind of genre/gamer. Playing Mario Party with casual gamers can bring the kind of laughter so common in Wii commercials, and playing Bejeweled or Peggle may turn you into a zombie, but I believe it’s more common to see people getting engaged in games for their own sake. Maybe years from now, when the current gamer generation grows up, we will see middle-aged moms on tv  playing Final Fantasy, or old men reminiscing about the Wii’s great retro games. The landscape of gaming is changing, and media has a lot of work to do to catch up.

Best of Video Game Music

Games nowadays are made more like movies. It’s pretty much mandatory to have a compelling storyline, voice actors, special effects, and, of course, music. Game soundtracks, like movie soundtracks, can either be strictly instrumental background music, or they can sometimes have powerful songs in their own right. Here are a few game soundtracks worth a listen, beyond the popular Mario, Zelda, and Final Fantasy tunes.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

If we’re lucky, they’ll keep some of the music from the games for the upcoming movie, because this game has some spectacular and unique music. It matches the theme and time period, but with kind of a modern flair, like mixing traditional Middle Eastern singing with electric guitar.

Stubbs the Zombie

Stubbs is a 1950s retro-futuristic zombie game. It’s Fallout 3 meets Fido, where you actually get to play as the zombie starting the zombie uprising. I won’t spoil one of the best parts , but I will say this: “You dance like Shirley Temple… with her legs chopped off at the knees!” The music is appropriately poppy and tongue in cheek, with covers of songs like “Strangers in the Night,” “Earth Angel,” and “If I Only Had A Brain.”

Castle Crashers

This is a great soundtrack to work out to. It’s all fan-made instrumentals, and the songs in this side-scrolling RPG include an eclectic mix of heroic, upbeat, creepy, and techno, reflecting the diversity of the levels.

Silent Hill

Slow, mellow, and somehow disconcerting when it’s not hardcore verging on emo, the music of Silent Hill matches the unbalanced and tense atmosphere and mental state of its characters. It’s not warm and fluffy music to listen to on a roadtrip; it’s better if you want a sad ballad to sing to or something different for background music.

Overclocked Remix

Finally, the next time you’re feeling nostalgic, look up retro games like Final Fantasy or Super Mario World, or some of those old games you used to play like Zombies Ate My Neighbor or Monkey Island, on OC Remixes. Chances are good you’ll find a remix of some of the songs. They vary from techno versions of Zelda songs to piano renditions of Donkey Kong Country songs, so take a peek and I’m sure you’ll find something neat.

Off Brand Programs Part 1

Left 4 Dead proves that generics work just as well as the real thing.

Left 4 Dead proves that generics work just as well as the real thing.

Why pay full price for something just because everyone else uses it? You’re just paying for a name, for the advertising, right? Is the same true of computer programs? I’ve grown up using the popular ones — Windows operating system, Microsoft Office, iTunes. I never knew there were many other options. So for all those people who used to be like me, here is my review of a few nifty ways to save some money and support freeware.

Great alternatives to iTunes: Winamp, Mediamonkey

I received an iPod as a gift, so naturally I downloaded iTunes to manage it and all my music. It worked great for a while, until I noticed how messy the organization system was. iTunes made double copies of all my music folders, and so I went in and re-organized it all myself, which took a while but freed up some space. And for some reason all of my music was physically downloaded onto my iPod, which took some time to sort out.

Anyway, you can blame my low knowledge of iTunes for most of that stuff, which was mostly just based on ignorance of what the crap iTunes was doing to my music. So, instead of dealing with iTunes on my next computer, I made the switch to Winamp. I’m still getting used to all the functions, and it was not nearly as easy to manage my iPod at first, but I figured it out eventually and now Winamp runs much more smoothly on my computer than iTunes ever did. It uses 1/3 the CPU power (see below site), among other things, and has tons of plugins and support.

After re-formatting my old computer, I decided to check out my other media player options and found this site: http://www.skytopia.com/project/articles/music/players.html I gave Mediamonkey a try, but I couldn’t figure out how to import my ipod playlists, and lots of people had had the same problem, so I’m back to Winamp.

My particular problem aside, Mediamonkey is actually slightly better than Winamp at things like customizing tags, smart playlists, being able to burn MP3s to CD, etc. So, though MM didn’t work so well for me, it’s an interesting player to try without dumping Windows Media Player and iTunes bloatware on your comp.

Overall: Winamp’s my favorite so far, but Mediamonkey would be a close second if its iPod support was improved. This post has gotten a bit longer than I expected, so let’s make it a two-parter and finish it off later with a review of Open Office and Mac/Linux vs. PC.