Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Case for Pitch Imperfect

Last week, I saw the first Pitch Perfect.  It's a funny movie where Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson save a bunch of women and a capella enthusiasts from an otherwise bland, boring fate.

Pitch Perfect 2 is kind of more of the same.

Kendick and Wilson are back, but the heavy lifting is given all to Wilson, while Kendrick goes off and ignores her boyfriend and tries to break into the "real" music industry.

Overall then, it's not as funny as the first one.  And seemingly much longer.

Wilson almost pulls it off.  Every time she is on screen as Fat Amy saying something remarkably offensive yet also most times self deprecating, it's hard not to laugh.  Whether it is stealing the show in front of the President, hunting down men or keeping the other a capella Bellas on the level, she keeps things rolling in a way she did in a less official capacity in the first film.

So its really Kendrick who is the weaker link here, though its not really her fault.  Her character, Beca, has her own rather aca-independent story arc away from the Bellas, and while it takes digs at the recording industry and hipsters and features cameos from Snoop Dog and others, it is really out of context in this film and, as such, really dull.  Meanwhile, a retreat to a camp for the Bellas to find their mojo is definitely more in keeping with the sensibilities of the movie, but it just falls rather flat humour wise.  Similarly, an a capella showdown (much like in the first film) comes along inexplicably including German uber-nemesis a capella group Das Sound Machine, and while the singing is fine, it ends on a note (as it were) so incredibly lame (why bring an original song to a 90s mash up when none of your team will even know the song?) that it all left a sour taste in my mouth, despite some amazing performances and a cameo from a group of American Footballers. 

But the real bum note is the casting of Hailee Steinfeld as Emily, the "newbie" to the group, whose Mom (the always awesome Katey Sagal) was a legacy member (I was pretty sure the Barden Bellas was not a sorority or a college institution in the first movie, but then I might have missed that).  Steinfeld was amazing in True Grit, and can sing quite well, but her character was utterly boring and if she was meant to be funny, I might have missed that too.    

However, there are several gems that keep the movie sputtering along after an incredibly strong first 10 minutes.  Beca's infatuation with the lead singer of Das Sound Machine is hilarious (might be more my sense of humour there) and Fat Amy singing some Pat Benatar to woo back her man should be the grand finale for the movie.  

As it is though, the grand finale is a bit of an anti climax as I was more interested in the Canadian a capella group than the battle between Das Sound Machine and the Bellas (apparently this is a real group called Pentatonix!)

In the end then, even though I laughed quite a bit, I thought this film was much weaker than the first Pitch Perfect.  It was great that Rebel Wilson was promoted to top billing as she definitely is the funniest thing in the movie, but its just a shame the actual stories weren't as strong or cohesive as they could and should have been.

Verdict: Pitch Perfect 2 is a lot of laughs in amongst quite a lot more padding.  Story-wise, the film is abysmal, but there are enough jokes to keep almost everyone entertained.  Truth be told, my fellow movie goers who were more the target demographic loved the film a lot more than I did, so perhaps my review is a bit too harsh, but I am going to give this: 5 octaves.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Case for More Furiosity

I have to admit, the end of Fast and Furious 7 brought a tear to my eye.  For a series that, as a rule, is as emotionally stirring as a particularly inert slab of concrete (that is, Vin Diesel) and relationships that have two dimensional depth, the final scene in honour of the departed Paul Walker was incredibly touching and wonderfully done. 

Of course, the rest of the film was utter nonsense.  But in a great way.

Jason Statham is the big evil this one, threatening to off all of Vin Diesel’s crew.  He succeeds with the Asian member (apparently this happened way back in F&F3 no that I have seen that one as there is no Rock in it) and then… well, attempts with everyone else.  However, despite his psychic ability to follow his quarry all over the world without any discernible way of identifying how he knows where they are going nor how he manages to get there and procure the equipment he needs. 

He is chasing the F&F Family while they are chasing Five Eyes tracking device constructed by a beautiful woman over whom all the single guys leer and drool for matters completely relevant to the plot.  Also relevant is hard drive installed into the base of one of the world’s rarest supercars which happens to be parked on the top floor of one of the world’s tallest buildings (as you do).  And also relevant is Kurt Russell.  Because.

The film is a lot of action, some dumb, but there is also a bit of dialogue that foreshadows Walker’s departure, which is quite cool.

However, totally uncool is the almost sidelined Rock.  Of course, considering the plot, it makes no sense for him to be involved in most of the action, but then when has that ever stopped him from being involved?  At any rate, near the end of the film, he pumps himself full of steroids, lathers himself up in baby oil, puts on his tightest size extra small Under Armour skin tight top and joins the fray in another case of psychic synchronicity and the action storyline, which was beginning to lag, picks up its insane pace one again.  

And that’s all there is to it.  It is a pretty awful film really, and not as much fun as the last two instalments, but the story itself is fun enough if you are not demanding too much besides macho nonsense, and to be honest, the final scenes in memoriam leave such an amazing and uplifting while at the same time sad sensation, it really does make the film seem so much better than it probably is.

Verdict: Fast and Furious 7 is a great tribute to Walker in all the ways the franchise made him and the rest of the crew famous: amazing cars, fast women, heart stopping and frankly unbelievable action, terrible humour, but with a sense of heart underneath it all.  I am sure the heart will be buried come the next sequel, but with this film, you know there is some sincerity underneath all the bollocks.  7 revs out of 10.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Case for Citizenry

Citizen Four, the documentary about the Edward Snowden revelations, attracted a very diverse group of cine-buffs to an early evening session at one of the smallest of the Lighthouse Cuba cinemas.  There were young and old, suited and students, groups and singletons – the latter myself.

The documentary itself is not the most engaging one I have ever seen, but the subject matter itself made up for a lot of the film’s faults.  It follows the story of how Edward Snowden approached Glenn Greenwald, seeking assistance to reveal the extent of US and other governments ability to tap into the electronic communications of their citizens and the fact that they are indeed doing so.

As crops up a couple of times in the TV footage when the story breaks, so what?  Surely we knew all this already?  Surely the government would never do anything that wasn't in the best interests of the people?

Well, that depends on how trusting you are.  And what the information ends up being used for.  And rights to privacy and things like that.  And the fact there has been a huge... one can't say conspiracy but established deception to hide what is going on, the extent of what is going on, and how the information can be used.

Snowden flees Hong Kong for asylum in the Russian Federation; Greenwald and Snowden's family is subjected to intimidation and harrassment; the media doesn't quite know what to do and (besides the usual suspects) which side to take.  Obama and Republicans end up on the same side.  The world basically goes a bit wobbly for a while.

Snowden comes across as a really nice guy.  He seems fiercely intelligent, a strong sense of honour and morality that transcends national security to how he views the founding principles of the United States.  

And the documentary does a good job of showing him in a good light, and showing the reaction to both his revelations and Greenwald's style of publicising them to the world.

The fact that several years later it all seems like nothing has changed even though it is "out there" was the strange feeling that haunted me when I left the movie theatre.  Sure, the US oversight committees have got more pressure on them now, but after a bit of a broohaha at most of the English speaking world's security agencies, it all pretty much seems to be a bit forgotten now.  

Though not for Snowden of course.  He is still on the bad guy list.  Perhaps forever?

Verdict: CitizenFour is a good documentary that sometimes focuses a bit too much on the people telling the story than the story itself.  It will be interesting to see the follow up to this documentary, charting what happens in the aftermath of the revelations.  Perhaps less sensational, less exciting, but in the long run, probably more to the point of what Snowden hoped to achieve.  7 wikileaks out of 10.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Case for being Sheepish

A TV show called Shaun the Sheep.  Aardman Productions.  Put them together in movie form and you have magic.

Odd that for a movie with basically no dialogue, I laughed more than I would have in any of the most recent comedies I have seen advertised starring Adam Sandler.  I deliberately avoid those as I am a snob and want to save myself for the delightful treats of films like this, where subtle and obvious and old and immature humour combine and mush together to form overall a great ball of woolly fun.

The plot is super simple.  Shaun and his dimmer flossy friends conspire to send their beloved farmer to the city so they can live a life less ovinely ordinary.  However, after a short period of Gremlins like behaviour, the sheep realise they miss their nominal master and set off into the city to try and get him back.  Mirth and merriment ensue.

As I went to the latest session at 6pm, it was not that surprising to find that the audience (about half full in one of the smaller Readings cinemas) was mostly adult, but it was wonderful and a bit surprising to hear regular laughter as many of the jokes and japes hit home.

There is not much else to say besides the fact that this was short (for a film), sweet and stupid all in amazingly wonderful measures.  Fashion, driving, animal control, mesmerism and what constitutes beauty all get covered and used for amazing effect, and in the end, everyone left the film with a smile on their face.  

I still have no idea what half the lyrics to the Shaun the Sheep theme song are about, but I was humming it on the way home nonetheless.

Verdict: Another Aardman classic, this one with barely a comprehensible word.  Masterpiece.  8 shearings out of 10.