Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Guns of Ceraberg: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Expendables

 It is perhaps no accident that this weekend finds two potential big box office hits going head-to-head for the same tweaky gambeboy audience. One is full of old muscle head icons of the 1980s-90s; one has an anemic white kid who looks like he can barely hold a bass, let alone play one in a band but who beats an array of tough ex-lovers of a would-be girlfriend via video game-ish duels.

That's just one problem for me with SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, another is that dumb poster art, as per below:

As a former rock star bassist, I can point out at least three things wrong with this picture. One, he's playing it like a guitar - and certainly the pose is meant to inspire this thought if you're walking past it and don't immediately know the difference. (four instead of six tuning pegs atop the neck are the giveaway), second, all 'real' bass players use their top two fingers to pluck and and a thumb to slap, never do they use a pick to strum. (Of course many fine bass players including Bill Wyman and probably half of all bassists might disagree). Third, this Johnny B. Goode pose he's in is just all wrong for a bass player;  his or her job in a band is to hold down the rhythm; he mist keep the drums anchored so the guitars can circle above, or vice versa. The proper stance would be legs wide apart and leaned back - even a girl in a skirt can do it, ala Tamara Thomas (below).

Now that's a bassist stance.

If you're already not a 'great' bass player you're much better off not trying to bust rock guitar duck walks, Scott Pilgrim! Maybe the poster designers wanted to keep Scott's face a secret, in case the role went to Jesse Eisenberg. Methinks Scott Pilgrim does it to hide his face cuz he's shy. But just because I have to see this poster ad nauseum every day on the subway to work, that's not what's got my goat about Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg, it's what they've come to represent in the collective archetypal unconscious, it's 'the Ceraberg Principle.'

It's for me a heavy sadness that if there's any film to come out with a sensitive comedic white kid lead it has to star Michael Cera, or if he is unavailable, his slightly less anemic and curlier twin, Jesse Eisenberg. Nothing personal to either of them in real life, or as actors (they probably have much bigger ranges but are now pigeonholed), but isn't it sending a wrong message to the pale hipster dudes coming of age today? That they can be shaking in their ironically rhinestone-studded boots with longing for a hot chick, do nothing about it but stammer and then--when she gets bored of waiting for him to cowboy up and tries to seduce him herself--skittishly refuse her advances, since she's "ahem" drunk or has 'issues'? (As Cera did in the and here I use quotation marks, "SUPERBAD.") In real life, kids that age are terrified enough -- they turn to movies to see how to act in real life and the movies just tell them "forget it, go be heroes in the metaverse, that's much more 'cooler' than real life."

Often, a good boost of courage for these fellas can be found in alcohol! It would be nice to see Eisenberg or Cera actually grow a pair of balls after having a few drinks, but it's seldom that they seem to get much courage from the bottle. Another courage booster is to actually get them into a 'real' fight... but not even a legion of zombies can rouse Ceraberg from his--and here I use quotation marks--"adorable" paralysis.

And (SPOILER!) - don't even get me started on Eisenberg and his cheap townie move of deciding to show up like a stray kitten drenched with rain on Kristen Stewart's Manhattan doorstep at the end of ADVENTURELAND (2009). As I've said before, this sends the wrong message to the small town dweebs that hip Kristens of the world leave behind when they go off to art school in the big city. Said dweebs believe that--even if the Kristen doesn't return their calls or e-mails--all they have to do is pack a duffle and buy a bus ticket, and the girl will let them stay at her studio apartment, rent-free, until the end of time. If they were real hipsters they would know the story of the Velvet Underground's "The Gift" almost by heart, and would know that if they mailed themselves to her, they'd end up with their skull split slightly by Marsha's hammer and issuing fountains of red that pulsate gently in the morning sun.

Bosses in big city companies, for example, expect you to ask for a raise in person--not in an e-mail-- and to be strong and confident, professional and aggressive rather than meek and mealy-mouthed. What kind of good influence is it to win a girl by betraying the confidences of your friend--her boyfriend--by leading her to the primal scene of his infidelity? (ADVENTURELAND, again).

In short, the Cera/Eisenberg movies encourage wimps to stay wimps, to be passive-aggressive and expect everyone to do the dirty work of putting themselves on the line, so that they can hang back and judge from afar--safe in the lap of their laptops. An analogy would be that old comic book ad for Charles Atlas:

Now, that's all fine and good; you get a weight set; you start exercising; drinking vodka before homeroom; suddenly you have chutzpah to spare. But the Cera-berg version would change all that. Instead of bulking up and working your way towards a slot in THE EXPENDABLES, the comic book being read in the fourth panel (above) would change to an internet gaming site, the kicking over a chair and bulking would be virtual, via his elvin avatar on World of Warcraft, where he blows away the bullies with a magic bass. Hurray for Scott Pilgrim!

When he returns to the 'real,' his girl is waiting for him, presuming he's done all this to get in her pants, mistakenly believing his stutter and stammer is due to his burgeoning libido... but nope, he then stops to let her know that this sex stuff doesn't fly because, she's, um, drunk, or something...or else you get her pregnant via your two pump chumpery and never change out of your gross track team shorts... better go call "pop-pop" in prison you little Arrested Development yitz! You Max Pisher!

Actually I don't mean to imply by calling him Max Pisher that Max FISHER, from RUSHMORE (1998), fits the Ceraberg mold, for he surely does not. In fact he's a great role model... and if no more rugged than Cera he can still at least exude confidence, Jesus Christ! And he even ends up both getting even with--and befriending his main bully opponent--a gruff Scotsman who calls him "Fisha!"And Max does so through resilience, genius and sass rather than mewly-mouthed avoidance and video game wizard-sublimation. Let's see some others, wanna?

BRICK (2006)
"Along with the amazing, clever dialogue and the great use of geometric composition to establish a sense of suburban desolation at every turn, this is easily the best neo-noir since The Last Seduction, and an important step forward in showing young male viewers a protagonist other than the simple minded hunk bore who gets the girl or the coded gay best friend hysteric in the chick flick, and the sneering pretty boy, the geeky obese avenger, and so on. Enacted by Gordon-Levitt, Brandon is an inspiring character who should motivate a generation of shy teens to stand up and take their punches like a man, then throw back with everything they have, all in the name of love... baby. Lukas Haas also scores as the drug kingpin. They have some great Sergio Leone-style staring contests." (One of my very first acidemic blog posts! 11/06)

Tanner (BAD NEWS BEARS, 1976)

What Tanner (above, right) lacks in size he makes up for in foul-mouthed courage. Shown here drinking a Budweiser (which has hopefully yet to be replaced via CGI with a coke in the DVD), tanner steals the show with great lines like "You can take that trophy and shove it up your ass!" and "All we got on this team are a buncha Jews, sp*cs, ni***rs, pansies, and a booger-eatin' moron!"

Well, hey, it was the goddamned 70s! We didn't have political correctness yet, so as someone who was Tanner's age when he saw this film in the theater, I'd like to cap it off by saying: "F**k you, if you're gonna stick up for that bunch of shaky nerves on a white boy stalk, Scott Pilgrim instead of rockin' with your cock deep in THE EXPENDABLES!" While the battles Cera engages in are clearly 'not of this world,' more like challenging opponents to game of Mortal Kombat 7, or Guitar Hero: Bass Edition, Bad News Bear's Tanner unhesitatingly picks a real life fight with two kids twice his size after they humiliate his even smaller teammate. He winds up in a trash can, somehow still victorious! So once again, F**k you!

Every last kid--including the girls--
(aside from the narc)--
in OVER THE EDGE (1979)

Michael Cera is probably at least five or six years older than even Matt Dillon in this film, and yet any one of the kids in OVER THE EDGE could kick his ass, except at Mortal Kombat or Guitar Hero, which is apparently where all fights are settled these days. But don't worry, they didn't have cell phones back then, so your humiliating defeat at the hands of a kid half your age and weight wouldn't get uploaded to youtube.

So, yeah, doesn't it bother the Eisenberg/Ceras that younger, smaller kids with a lot less muscle mass and access to alcohol can beat the crap out of them, all just because not everyone is a wussy hipster with weak wrists from too much gaming who masks his fear of pretty girls via esoteric pop culture quips? 

In the real fighting world of blood, sweat, time, and endless punches to the gut and face, the 70's kids above would maybe get bloodied up if they were fighting older bigger kids (as happens to Carl the lead in OVER THE EDGE) but the next day, the guy they had the fight with would probably show them some respect, for taking their lumps like a man. Of course nowadays courage is not easily tested outside of the digital arena, or the military, or kick boxing class, as in NEVER BACK DOWN (see my Bright Lights Blog entry, "Why We Still Fight," here). 

Naturally, my anger over this issue stems from unresolved feelings of teenage cowardice on my own part--all those tender moves I was afraid to bust because my heart leapt into my throat and I thought I'd pass out as she leaned in to be kissed (or did she?)--or backed down from bullies' provocations only to kick myself for not standing up to them later--I was as terrified as Michael Cera, but one thing's for sure, if the girl did actually bust a move herself, or gave me any sort of clear sign, I didn't leave her hanging with a lot of lame excuses. And if I got in a fight, I didn't run, I just went for 'the sweet spots' like a dirty fighter, like the son in HISTORY OF VIOLENCE.

So Michael Cera, Jesse Eisenberg, isn't it time you stopped being girly men, and learned to bow down to the muscle! Bow down to the manly muscle men of the 1980s, who happen this very week to be exhumed en masse in a final box office blow-out of becrunched limbs and rapid fire Contra-killing fury, here to beat your puny girl arms to shaky pulps ("You crushed my guitar hero finger!") in this weekend's no prisoners war for total box office victory, THE EXPENDABLES!

(Yeah, I know.. they don't have a chance. 
Damn you Scott Pilgrim! Damn yoooou!)


  1. Thank you for writing this--these wimps and their pernicious influence are a plot, a damnable plot, I tells ya, to weaken America from within!

  2. "Tell Erich that I read his latest update and was definitely not happy with his stance," I said with a playful chuckle. The message was relayed and, I must say, my hat is off to you. You clearly saw through my passive-aggressive flame bait(tactically inserted into the conversation as benign banter whilst I disassembled my bed) and demanded a show down worthy of Scotty P himself.



    I come first with hat in hand. I had never read your blog before, but I had noticed the glimmer of the words "Scott Pilgrim" whilst scrolling through my news feed earlier and, still high as a pixelated kite from the previous day's viewing of SPVTW, I dropped a cursor on that shit. Without the context of your prior posts, you have to understand how easy it would be for a noob (that's tween vidja game speak for "novice") to the blog to take everything you wrote at face value. Sincerity is the new sarcasm, man. That said, I still must take you to task for a few things. First, Michael Cera is such an obvious whipping boy at this point that to spend so many paragraphs riding him like that is just so beneath you. Gosh, he's twee and frail. Great point you just came up with for the first time. B) Same as above for "hipster." That word has become the equivalent to how I used "gay" in 6th grade: a catch all for whatever group/person/thing I just didn't like. It's tiresome to hear it bandied around with such reckless abandon. Next, there's the obvious age issue. I won't claim to know what it was like for you growing up, but if you're anything like the majority of the rest of this film's detractor's, there's a strong correlation pointing to your birth year being a deciding factor in the film's appeal to you.

    Even if everything you said was in jest, there's a kernel of true bias poking through there. And why shouldn't there be? It's your damn party. Just, as you suggested to me, man up about it. Own (or "PWN") that shit.

    I suppose it seems a bit silly to rile myself up over something as trivial as a movie on a blog like this. I mean, you can't be higher than 50 Worldwide in Alexa or Quantcast rankings, right? But, as the gf has hopefully told you, I'd like to make THIS my life's work. And I truly found SPVTDubs to be the quintessence of everything good missing from movies today. I'm agonizing over the low box office figures this weekend pulled as if my own child had been picked last in dodgeball. Obviously, then, these cheap swipes (as I view them) hit a nerve. So, I put it to you to give the movie a chance. See it for yourself and if you still find it to be faggy cinema HFCS, bash away. We'll always be able ot patch things up over season 4.5 of Venture Bros.

  3. Thanks Ivan! But clearly we were wrong. America is still as fascist and immovable as ever, as the box office receipts of the weekend show.

    Justin -please accept my apologies for tromping over your dodgeball. If I'd had any idea--and I don't think anyone else did either--that The Expendables would trounce poor Scott Pilgrim at the box office this weekend, I never would have written this blog entry. I felt (on Friday) that Michael Cera represented a concrete threat to our nation's security, but I see now that it's just the opposite. The difference was that those who dig Pilgrim are a very vocal on the internet bunch, while the Expendables types probably dont use computers much except to price survivalist gear on ebay.

    In other words, though I blasted and teased him, I wanted Scott Pilgrim to win, the way John Wayne wants Jimmy Stewart to win at the end of THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, which maybe you haven't seen, but it translates to mean that in my generation the Stallones have always won, and the geeks like me--always picked last in Dodgeball (in real life, I always was, every time) always lost - except for smug Mat Broderick in WAR GAMES - and I've hated him ever since. And now, learning the Stallones still win handily, my feelings are not joyful, but sad.

    In short, as long as Cera's an underdog--picked last and hounded-- I like him, which I'm now afraid might make me some kind of geek version of Uncle Tom. Anyway, I appreciate your lengthy and impassioned post! More than anything, I like to stir things up by saying what no one else seems to be saying, and assuming I'll get at least one counterpoint to balance things out... and yours is most timely and welcome.

    Go Team Venture!


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