Tag Archives: John Michael Higgins

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

PP2

I wasn’t as fanatical as most others, but I admit I quite liked the first Pitch Perfect. It was easy to like, with a soundtrack full of catchy, classic tunes, witty, irreverent humour and a brilliant cast led by the lovely Anna Kendrick and fan-favourite Aussie Rebel Wilson.

The film’s smashing success meant an inevitable sequel was forthcoming, and I remember thinking upon hearing it had been green-lit that the chances of Pitch Perfect 2 being as good as the original were zero.

And of course I was right. Notwithstanding that I really wanted to like it and despite it being perfectly acceptable fun, Pitch Perfect 2 was just a notch or two below its predecessor in every department. The “wow factor” of the A capella is mostly gone, the jokes are less funny, and the cast doesn’t have the same life to it, even with the addition of the talented Hailee Steinfeld.

Was it bad? No. Was it good? I suppose so. Ultimately, the reaction that best sums up my feelings about the movie is a shrug and  an “OK.” It was a sequel that didn’t have to be made but got made because of money, and everything about it reflected that. It has its moments, but by and large it’s exactly how you would expect a sequel like this to play out: bigger stage, higher stakes, new conflicts, and a dash of fresh blood.

Since winning the national title three years ago, the Bellas are now three-peat champs. The predictable fall from grace happens very early on, and from there the Bellas need to start over and aim higher at the same time by entering into an international competition where they are pitted against the best of the best, including a campy and nasty German juggernaut. The Bellas argue, they bond, they have relationship troubles and setbacks along the way, before eventually coming together for the finale.

This time the film is directed by Elizabeth Banks, who also reprises her role as commentator Gail alongside the legendary John Michael Higgins’ John Smith. Banks has a good eye and ear for comedy, and she infuses the film with a light mood and a sweet tone (pun intended), though there’s nothing particularly flashy about her execution.

Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson are still really good, but both are less funny than last time. In fact, everyone is just a little less funny than last time. There were lots of politically incorrect jokes — be it about race or nationality or fat people — which I ordinarily love, by the way, though for some reason it’s not as punchy and laugh-generating as it should have been. Maybe you just need to be in the right mood for the comedy to hit the same high notes.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed Pitch Perfect 2 as a whole relative to most other musicals or comedies. I guess it’s slightly better than I had expected but not as good as I desperately wanted it to be, even though I knew that would be the case.  Still, that means this formulaic, by-the-book sequel is probably good enough for its target market: fans of the original and audiences satisfied with some stylish singing and dancing, a bit of light humour, and familiar characters doing familiar things.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Bad Teacher (2011)

When I first saw the trailer for Bad Teacher I recall leaning across to the person next to me and saying, ‘This might as well be called Bad Movie.’  It certainly looked like it — a title and concept ripped off from Bad Santa (the one with Billy Bob Thornton) except with a teacher played by Cameron Diaz, who I personally think has the least attractive face of any A-list Hollywood female star in recent memory.

Nevertheless, with nothing else on at the cinema that I haven’t seen (apart from Larry Crowne, which looked like a snoozer), I accompanied my sister, who was visiting from out of town and works in education, to watch it.

And you know what?  Bad Teacher is not Bad Movie.  Not great, somewhat forgettable, but when all is said and done a slightly above average, highly inappropriate comedy that had some decent moments.

Diaz plays Elizabeth, a mean, selfish and nasty middle school teacher who wants nothing more than to find a rich man to settle down with.  She doesn’t give a stuff about her job or her students and is more focused on making money whichever way she can to pay for cosmetic enhancements.  It’s set up as your typical ‘bad person eventually becomes good’ scenario, except, to the credit of the filmmakers, it doesn’t quite play out like one.

Despite my prejudices towards Diaz, she’s actually quite good here, and clearly does not have a problem with playing a total bitch.  For me, however, the true stars of the film were her co-stars: the marvellous Lucy Punch as the arch rival Amy Squirrel, Phyllis Smith (from The Office) as the sidekick, John Michael Higgins (my favourite lawyer from Arrested Development) as the principal and Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel as the potential love interests.  They were all brilliant and quirky in their individual ways, and Timberlake in particular surprised me with his comedic timing and willingness to make fun of himself (for a second almost making me want to break my vow of avoiding Friends With Benefits like the plague).  Segel was also excellent with his one-liners, delivering some of the best laughs of the film, but unfortunately his role was smaller than it should have been.

Having said these nice things, Bad Teacher is nothing special.  It has a few funny moments and one-liners but hardly anything that tips it towards ‘hilarious’ on the laughter scale.  While it is raunchy and risque in some parts, it could hardly be considered pushing the envelope in this day and age.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing given some of the crap films of late that try to shock more than amuse, but I had a feeling that, given the potential of the premise, a lot more could have been done to make the film much much funnier, and consistently so.

One thing that needs to be said about Bad Teacher is that it’s a film targeted firmly at adults who can appreciate inappropriate and black humour.  Having seen the doco Waiting for Superman, I understand that there are undoubtedly teachers just as bad as or worse than the ones depicted in this film, but one should remember that it’s all supposed to be this out of control and farcical.

Ultimately, Bad Teacher was nowhere near as horrible as I expected it to be, but at the same time it left me strangely disappointed because I knew it could have been a lot better.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Ugly Truth (2009)

ugly_truth_ver2

Expectation can be a funny thing.  When I first saw the poster for ‘The Ugly Truth’ directed by Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde and 21), I had zero interest.  None whatsoever.  Sure, it had King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and the pretty girl who starred in and then trashed Knocked Up, the film that made her a star (Katherine Heigl), but I couldn’t even care to find out what it was about.

But then a friend told me his wife watched it and thought it was pretty good.  My brother-in-law then recommended it.  A third person (who I can’t recall) suggested I should watch it.  And so I found myself watching ‘The Ugly Truth’, all of a sudden expecting it to actually be a great film!

Well, I came out of the cinema perplexed.  The film wasn’t as terrible as I had expected when I saw the poster for the first time, but it was miles off the superior romantic comedy I had anticipated when I stepped into the theatre.

I don’t like giving away the plot of any film, so I’ll keep it brief.  ‘The Ugly Truth’ (about male-female relationships) is what Gerard Butler’s character spews out unashamedly on his TV show, and Katherine Heigl is a TV producer who tries to prove that his theories are untrue.  Think He’s Just Not That Into You but with only 2 characters (yes, I watched that too…).

The film’s biggest problem is predictability.  Anyone who has seen more than a couple of rom-coms will be able to guess exactly what happens in ‘The Ugly Truth’ several scenes in advance.  Think of the most cliched situations possible and chances are you will see them in this film.  There were definitely a few ‘this better not happen next’ moments, followed by ‘I can’t believe it really happened!’ moments.

It does, of course, attempt to separate itself from other rom-coms with the vulgarity and political-incorrectness of the conversations and jokes.  More sensitive viewers may be turned off, but the younger generation that grew up on American Pie, Superbad and The 40 Year Old Virgin may find the jokes more down their alley.  However, most of the jokes didn’t elicit more than a subdued chuckle from me.  It was no more or less funny than your typical rom-com starring Katherine Heigl (eg Knocked Up, 27 Dresses).

Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins
Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins

So in the end, a bit of a disappointment.  I do like the leads and I am a  fan of John Michael Higgins (everybody’s second favourite lawyer on Arrested Development, Wayne Jarvis).  Some of the ‘wisdoms’ espoused by Butler’s character also ring true to me, as I am sure they will to many other male viewers (and I believe this is probably where the film’s charm lies).  But at the end of the day, ‘The Ugly Truth’ is an average, somewhat forgettable film with just a passable laugh quotient.

2.5 stars out of 5

[PS: I kept waiting for the moment where Butler would scream ‘THIS – IS – THE UGLY TRUTH!!’ and then kick Heigl down an endless black pit.  Then flex his abs.  That alone would have been worthy of 2.5 stars.]