Tag Archives: Rebel WIlson

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

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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: Pain & Gain (2013)

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I had no idea Pain & Gain was a Michael Bay film until the credits started rolling at the end. I was surprised, because the film was, for the most part, perfectly adequate. Even fun.

Supposedly based on a true story from the 90s, Pain & Gain follows three dimwitted body builders — Marky Mark Wahlberg, The Rock and Anthony Mackie — who kidnap their dickwad of a wealthy client (Tony Shalhoub from Monk) and try to steal everything he owns. Naturally, being nitwits, their plan goes all kinds of wrong, especially as a private detective (Ed Harris) starts looking into the case. It’s a cautionary tale about how the American Dream can become the American Nightmare — if you are a moron.

It’s one of those “so crazy it’s gotta be true” stories. Being a rather violent kidnapping film, Bay could have tackled Pain & Gain as a really sharp dark comedy in the vein of say Fargo, though he decided to make a straight-up crime goofy comedy. The problem is that in taking this route, Bay had to make our protagonists likable — albeit immensely stupid — dudes, even though from their motivations and actions we can tell they are clearly some nasty people. Misguided and naive, perhaps, but still difficult to root for. Just because you find their stupidity amusing doesn’t mean you have to like them. Sure, their victim is a twat, but there’s only so much a director and good actors can do to make this trio affable. The rest is up to the audience’s disposition and tolerance.

Marky Mark, The Rock and Anthony Mackie are, under ordinary circumstances, a fun trio to be around. The Rock, in particular, stands out as a thick-headed and tick-bodied lost soul trying to balance his violent temper with his desire to please God. Marky Mark, on the other hand, shows a bit more of a mean streak as the ringleader, while Mackie kind of fades to the side a little more, getting overshadowed even by his own love interest, played by the always-brilliant Aussie gem Rebel Wilson. The other female role, a semi-retarded Russian bimbo (played by Bar Paly) is also a hoot, though neither female character does much to improve the perception of how Bay treats women in his movies. (Also gotta mention Ken Jeong, who does his best Ken Jeong impersonation in a small role as a motivation speaker.)

That said, for a Michael Bay film, Pain & Gain is actually pretty good. It’s fairly funny, especially in the first hour or so, and the satirical bite had a surprisingly strong edge to it. The mood was light despite the violence, though the further the film progressed the more serious — and less compelling — it got. At 129 minutes, it was also far too long, and my interest waned dramatically as the film stumbled to a predictable conclusion. However, on the whole, and by Michael Bay standards, I’d still call Pain & Gain a relative success.

3.5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 3

That’s My Boy (2012)

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Adam Sandler, Adam Sandler, Adam Sandler. What the heck happened to you? That’s the question I kept asking myself throughout That’s My Boy (and every Adam Sandler movie I watch these days).

To be fair, I actually think That’s My Boy is one of Sandler’s better efforts in recent years (it’s not easy being worse than Grown Ups and Jack and Jill). It is a film that will divide and infuriate audiences because it is so politically incorrect, but I ascribe to the school of thought that as long as the material is funny it gets a pass. Sadly, not much of it is funny.

Sandler plays Donny Berger, a 14-year-old who impregnates his teacher (played by Eva Amurri and later on by her mother Susan Sarandon). I suppose this kind of behaviour was less frowned upon in 1984, because Donny becomes a huge celebrity and is high-fived everywhere he goes. Fast forward to present day and Donny has become a bum in need of cash, and his one life line is his estranged now-adult son, played by Andy Samberg (of the Lonely Island fame).

Most of the film is about Sandler trying to get back into Samberg’s life as the latter, who is clearly carrying emotional scars from his childhood, prepares for marriage to his wealth fiancee, Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester. It’s typical Sandler immaturity comedy, and a little bit of it pays off, but most of it doesn’t.

That’s My Boy tries to shock with themes such as paedophilia, statutory rape, incest, and so forth. The obscenity will offend, but I doubt it will produce laughs. The biggest problem with the film is a recurring theme in pretty much all of Sandler’s recent films — it comes across as mean-spirited. Tasteless I can stomach, but not this.

1.75 stars out of 5

Red Lights (2012)

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I am a huge fan of the unknown and supernatural powers, so naturally I was drawn to Red Lights, which received surprisingly little buzz.

Cillian Murphy plays a young psychic debunker working with Sigourney Weaver. The pair become drawn into a nasty confrontation with Weaver’s nemesis, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), who disappeared from public view 30 years ago after his biggest critic died under mysterious circumstances. Weird stuff happens, the stakes rise, things get dangerous, and the debunkers become more and more frustrated as Silver seems to be revealing himself as the real deal.

While Red Lights is not as good as it probably could have been, I found myself really enjoying it. Maybe it’s my fascination with the subject matter, but it was interesting watching how psychics are debunked and wondering whether there really are supernatural powers that can’t be explained by science. The film has some tense moments, but it’s the intrigue that holds it together. It’s just unfortunate the script could not have brought out more from the characters.

I liked the ending, but I didn’t love the excessive explanations and exposition that came along with it. On the whole, it’s quite a flawed film, but my personal fascination with the occult made it a worthwhile experience.

3.5 stars out of 5

Magic Mike (2012)

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So I keep hearing rave reviews about Magic Mike, a supposedly semi-autobiographical film about Channing Tatum’s time as a male stripper. But I reckon people just liked it because ripped guys took their shirts off. Talk about double standards.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film, and I can definitely see it’s appeal, but in my opinion Magic Mike is overrated. The main character of the film is actually Alex Pettyfer (otherwise known as Number Four), a young stud who gets introduced to the lucrative and sordid world of male stripping by Tatum’s character, the titular Mike. At first Pettyfer is shy and nervous working for boss Matthew McConaughey, but as he finds his confidence he starts to become brash and loses control.

It’s the typical coming-of-age, rise-and-fall tale where the protagonist learns some valuable life lessons by the end of it all. So what’s good about it? Well for starters the execution from director Steven Soderbergh is excellent — it’s a sensitive and insightful portrayal that doesn’t sanitize what happens behind the scenes of a male strip club but does it tastefully and without that sleazy after taste. Secondly, the acting is very good, and this was highly unexpected for me because I never thought Tatum or McConaughey could act. The supporting actors are also solid, with familiar faces such as Olivia Munn (The Newsroom), Matt Bomer (White Collar) and Adam Rodriguez (CSI: Miami) rounding out the cast.

Magic Mike is billed as a comedy-drama, but it’s predominantly a drama where the comedy comes naturally from the antics of a strip joint. The film gets darker and more serious as it plods along and ditches the comedy completely before the end. It’s no wonder why I found the first half much more enjoyable.

3 stars out of 5

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012)

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You don’t need me to tell you that any ensemble cast movie based on a pregnancy guide book (!) is going to suck. But I will tell you anyway. What to Expect When You’re Expecting sucks. Balls. The film is so far off what a real pregnancy is like that it should have been called What NOT to Expect When You’re Expecting.

The film actually starts off strongly with a hideous-looking Cameron Diaz and Glee’s Matthew Morrison participating in a celebrity dance competition that also includes NBA star Dwyane Wade, which was kind of amusing. But everything goes downhill from there, especially as we start jumping around from pregnant couple to couple, each suffering from a different set of circumstances that is supposed to reflect real life.

We’ve got JLo and Rodrigo Santoro dealing with adoption, Elizabeth Banks unexpectedly feeling awful throughout her pregnancy, an old Dennis Quaid and a young Brooklyn Decker, and a young Anna Kendrick and young Chace Crawford. All of them are having babies! And there is a father’s group where a bunch of fellas , including Chris Rock, gather to bitch about their problems. Oh, the humanity!

Aussie Rebel Wilson stole some scenes with her random boganness, but in general the film was an disingenuous money-grabbing turd that had almost no laughs and way too much sappy melodrama, feigned joy and manufactured elation. Don’ watch this film if you have a child or intend to have a child. Actually, just don’t watch this film.

1 star out of 5

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect (2012)

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Pitch Perfect by Hubert Widjaya — watercolor and pen on Canson paper.

Note: Huge shoutout to Sydney artist Hubert Widjaya for providing the wonderful artwork for this post. See below for a casual chat we had about the film following my review.

I’m not ordinarily a fan of musicals, especially ones that look like they are riding the wave of a popular trend to make a quick buck at the box office. But as it turned out, Pitch Perfect was one of the my biggest surprises of 2012, and I must admit that I was completely wrong to prejudge the film as simply a two-hour episode of Glee.

So what made Pitch Perfect so good? It had a formulaic premise — a new girl, played by Anna Kendrick (Twilight, Up in the Air, 50/50, End of Watch — she’s obviously killing it right now) joins an all-girl a cappella group full of misfits and leads them against a rival campy all-boy group in a battle to capture the national title. It was also a little hit and miss at times, as most comedies involving teens and college students can be.

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Original film poster

But Pitch Perfect was funny — very funny, and unexpectedly so. Full credit to director Jason Moore (former TV director) and screenwriter Kay Cannon (who worked on 30 Rock — that explains a lot) for making the humour dry, quirky and satirical, without overstepping the mark (for the most part).

Massive kudos to Aussie Rebel Wilson, who appears to be conquering Hollywood with one scene-stealing role after another. Here she plays Fat Amy, easily the standout character of the whole group and the provider of the best laughs. The rest of the cast, which includes Skylar Astin (Spring Awakening), Anna Camp (The Help) and Brittany Snow (Hairspray), as well as the always welcome Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins, were also all very good.

Oh yes, and the singing. I was pleasantly surprised by how excellent it was, especially considering much of the main cast, as far as I know, aren’t known for their vocal cords. I’ve only ever heard bits and pieces of Glee but it was easily just as good as any of the singing in that.

Singing is, of course, just half of the equation. What made Pitch Perfect a real treat for me was the classic songs covered by the singers. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you’ll find yourself nodding along to the Bangles, Ace of Base and the theme from The Breakfast Club, among others, many of which are given fresh interpretations or mixed with more recent hits to form catchy medleys.

While you’re likely to forget about Pitch Perfect in a couple of years, you’re also likely to have a great time while watching it. I certainly did.

Conversation with HW:

PJM: Are you a fan of Glee? Chances are, Pitch Perfect is  an attempt to cash in on the success of Glee, which I thought would have been a recipe for disaster, but I think they pulled it off. What did you think?

HW: Haven’t seen Glee. Judging by the ads Glee looks like its aimed at a girly/female audience, whereas Pitch Perfect had a streetwise chick vibe — which is why I saw it. It solidly lived up to expectation. Great one liners and natural performances.

PJM: Who were the standouts for you?

HW: I have only seen Rebel Wilson in this, but can see why she’s popular. She has a sweet but dirty vibe, and isn’t forcing her charisma, which she does apparently in Bridesmaids. Anna Kendrick though is a standout; she brings the heart, and sweet emotional center to what could have been a low-brow teen flick. In fact, it loses a star for two ill-judged vomit scenes. Like they were trying to appeal to teen boy market.

PJM: I never expected Anna Kendrick to have such a great set of pipes.

HW: You’ve raised a good point. Do you know if they all sing for real or if it’s dubbed?

PJM: I understand it’s all real voices but recorded in the studio. It’s not live like in Les Miserables.

HW: Right.

PJM: How does this film compare to other musicals you’ve seen in recent years, if any?

HW: Only really seen Chicago I think at the cinema, but that was brilliant too. Pitch Perfect was almost like two forms of entertainment for the price of one. A movie and entertaining songs within. Where does it lose marks for you?

PJM: It’s not really losing marks as opposed to not gaining marks. Some of the jokes were a little hit and miss and enjoyment depends on your musical tastes. It’s a good film for people who grew up on the classic songs they sing but have not given up on more modern hits. So what would you give it out of five?

HW: A solid, sing songy 4 stars.

PJM: Me too. 4 stars out of 5.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F03N-ApQdmw