My Favourite Films #48: Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Years ago a friend of mine recommended I check out Brian Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics. I was told they were fun and essentially about a Canadian version of me. I read the series and loved it, although I realised that being compared to Scott wasn’t a compliment. When Edgar Wright (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) was announced to direct a big screen version I was pretty stoked.

Luckily the movie turned out to be a belter, not least because it bravely decided to keep the title character, played by Michael Cera, a bit of a douchebag. He’s dim, self absorbed and sort of obnoxious. It’s a nice change for Cera who while still in his geeky comfort zone at least branches out from the essentially nice guys he normally plays.

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The plot sees Scott fall for mysterious new girl in town Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) despite already dating Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Ramona turns out to have seven evil exes, and in order to claim her hand he must defeat them. This is because despite being a geeky bass player, Scott has some mad fighting skills which helps him in the OTT, video game inspired fight sequences.

Wright shoots it brilliantly with a fast, fun pacing and visual flair, there are nods to computer games, on screen sound effects in the style of the ’66 Batman series (RIP Adam West) and a plethora of sight gags and quality one liners.

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The supporting cast is brilliant across the board, particularly Chris Evans and Brandon Routh who play two of the exes. Routh plays the douchey guy who stole Scott’s ex and boasts psychic powers due to his veganism, one of many delightfully daft touches in a movie which is seriously fun.

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The Evil Exes

There are also minor roles for Audrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick and Kieran Culkin.

Cera is fantastic, with the self absorbed Scott slowly realising where he’s gone wrong and finally standing up to the final ex, Gideon (Jason Schwartzman). The fight scene sees him lose, but in a nice touch he can cash in the “extra life” he picked up earlier in the movie, and allows him another attempt, where he realises he isn’t fighting for love but his own self respect.

And in the end he realises that he has to make amends for all the stupid, selfish things he did and become a better person.

The movie is a geeky delight, and full of charm. It also cements Wright as a seriously talented director making me regret that we never got his version of Ant Man, and looking forward to Baby Driver.

A fun filled, fast flowing film which captivates me on every rewatch.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Film Review: Pitch Perfect 2

The first Pitch Perfect was a massively entertaining comedy which included a career making turn from Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. The story of the all female a capella group was well written, funny and featured a great ensemble cast, I’d loved it (it made #4 of my films of 2013 list) and so had MWG, so we were pretty keen to check out the sequel as part of my birthday weekend.

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The movie picks up the story of the Bellas two years later. They’re now three time national champions and there’s an end of an era vibe with many of the team including captain Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Fat Amy. They’re riding high until a disastrous performance for the President. The fall out leaves them banned from defending their title, auditioning new members and stripped of their national tour, which is given to world champions Das Sound Machine (DSM).

Das Sound Machine

Das Sound Machine

They decide to go to the world championships, despite being warned that no US team has ever won and gamble on winning in order to save the club. The only new Bella they can accept is Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who’s the daughter of a former Bella and an awkward, nervous freshman who writes her own songs.

Beca’s focus is divided as she struggles to make an impact at her new internship at a record label and worries she isn’t talented enough to succeed. Meanwhile, the Bella’s problems are stressing out Chloe (Brittany Snow), who has deliberately failed graduating numerous times in order to stay in the club, and their attempts to outdo DSM cause more trouble, weakening the team unity and causing them to lose confidence.

Can the Bellas find their sound again? Will they be triumphant at the world championships? Will Emily ever feel like a true Bella and enjoy her time in the club? Does Beca have what it takes to succeed in the music industry?

The Bellas in action

The Bellas in action

I did enjoy this movie, and it does have several positives, but it falls far short of the original, which I feel maintains a more consistent gag-rate. The first movie also benefited from the relationship between Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin), which was sweet and part of what helped Beca realize that she needed to open up and embrace the Bellas.

Luckily the filmmakers avoid the traditional sequel pitfall of throwing needless relationship drama into the mix, and Jesse is relegated to a minor, supporting and supportive character. This is quite refreshing as it allows the focus to remain on the ladies and I always find it annoying when a movie gets you to buy into a couple only to then mess with them in the sequel just for some drama.

With the ladies centre stage the major story is the Bellas and the friendship it creates. The team are breaking up as they all plan to go their separate ways after college and we also get to see it from a fresh perspective, with new character Emily arriving as things appear to be disintegrating and struggling to find her place in the group.

The movie is entertaining enough to keep it going and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments, but as is to be expected with a sequel it doesn’t feel quite as fresh as the original. The music is still good, full of catchy, toe-tapping versions of familiar songs and the villains, DSM, are a delight. Caricatures of ruthless German efficiency they’re not necessarily evil, just the Bellas’ rivals and it’s quite entertaining watching their ice queen leader Komissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) runs ring around the confused and intimidated Beca.

Anna Kendrick is on fine form, yet again, as the Bellas’ leader who’s still pursuing her dream of being a music producer, but who begins to struggle and worry about whether she’ll succeed. It’s an understated performance which captures the fears many people experience as they near the end of their time at university.

The rest of the Bellas do their jobs well, especially newcomer Steinfeld, who’s sweet and charming as the nervous new girl. Her budding romance with nerdy Benji (Ben Platt), is also rather adorable.

Emily with Benji

Emily with Benji

It’s also nice to have director Elizabeth Banks in front of the camera again as one half of the hilarious commentating duo, partnered with John Michael Higgins’ terribly un-PC chauvinist. This partnership gets some good laughs throughout the film as well, especially as Banks’ character Gail calls him on some of his comments.

The true star of the show is still Rebel Wilson, who delivers several of the best lines and gives the impression of having made up lots of things on the fly. Fat Amy is a fabulous creation, all sass and confidence, and one of the film’s strength is her relationship with Bumper (Adam DeVine), as the two share fantastic chemistry and bounce off each other to great effect.

Fat Amy in action

Fat Amy in action

It’s a solid movie, and it will keep you entertained but it never quite matches the original and there are a few gags that feel played out by the end. It’s predictable as well, but so is the first and so it never causes to many problems knowing how it’s going to end. Fun, but suffers in comparison with its predecessor.

Verdict: It’s great fun and Wilson is on fine form again, but it falls short of the original and lacks some of the freshness and charm. Still, it will keep you entertained and chuckling, and the music is rather well done. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Into the Woods

I’ve written before about how the “fairytale with a twist” movie genre feels a little bit played out, sure there have been some that have worked out rather well (Shrek, Enchanted, TV’s Once Upon a Time and the comic book series Fables, which is due for a big screen outing) but it’s all got a bit too crowded and the next logical step is for a swing back towards more traditionalist versions, which could start with Disney’s live action Cinderella, which seems a bit more old school.

Into the Woods is definitely in the “with a twist” camp, based on the stage musical written by Stephen Sondheim. It kicks off in a fairytale land where familiar characters abound, it wasn’t my first choice for first cinema trip, but as I was using one of the last Orange Wednesdays with MWG and her housemates, I was outvoted.

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There’s a young boy, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) who has to go sell his cow, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), all of whom are off into the woods for various reasons. Also knocking around is a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), who have been wanting a kid but discover that they’re having problems because the baker’s family has been cursed by a witch (Meryl Streep).

The baker and his wife (Corden and Blunt) on their quest

The baker and his wife (Corden and Blunt) on their quest

The witch wants her youth back, which she forfeited when the baker’s father stole her magic beans and to break the curse she requires four items- a cow has white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair the colour of corn and a slipper as pure as gold. The baker and his wife set off and their paths cross with other characters.

Cinderella meets her prince (Chris Pine), while his brother (Billy Magnussen) finds a beautiful girl, Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) trapped in a high tower. Everyone seems on course for a happy ending, but with a magic bean missing and a giant widow on a hunt for revenge will they all live happily ever after? Or is this fairytale going to curdle around them?

Here’s the thing, this movie is a total mess. The central idea of having the fairytales interconnect is fine, but with lacklustre songs and a tone that feels like it’s trying too hard. You probably can make a dark, twisted fairytale, but this is more emo than Gothic. It’s most reminiscent of later Tim Burton, where the showy, over-the-top stylings are a thin cover for a story with little depth or interest.

The performances are also patchy, and while James Corden is likable enough and Meryl Streep is an OTT delight, the majority of the rest are so-so.

Streep- an OTT delight

Streep- an OTT delight

 

Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella is a bit of a damp squib, Rapunzel is bland to the extreme and aside from one fantastic sequence where they sing and try to outdo each other, the Princes are a bit two dimensional too.

Worst though are the child performers, particularly Crawford as Red Riding Hood, who is so insufferable and cutesy that I was rooting for the creepy, unsettling Wolf (Johnny Depp) to eat her. Depp’s appearance is essentially a cameo, but he owns his handful of scenes and is missed afterwards.

Depp stealing the show as the Wolf

Depp stealing the show as the Wolf

Some of the changes to the stories are welcome and the relationship between Cinderella and her Prince is interesting, suggesting that his fascination came because this was the first woman to resist his advances is a nice touch, but otherwise it’s all a bit of a muddle.

Worst of all for a musical, it’s been less than a week since I saw this and I couldn’t hum you a single tune.

Verdict: A muddle of a movie, which gives the impression of trying too hard to be dark and interesting, feeling like a sixth form play and wasting a fine cast. The music is dull and forgettable, and it just feels like a missed opportunity. Johnny Depp has about 10 minutes of screen time, and you find yourself wondering if a film about his creepy, predatory Wolf might have been more fun. 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Top 10 Films of 2013

Okay, this is how it works- they either had to be released this year or I saw them in the cinema in the last twelve months, so if they were released in December 2012 but I only caught them in January they’re allowed on the list. Anyway, here we go.

Honourable mentions- World War Z, The World’s End.

10. Side Effects

A gripping thriller taking place against the background of America’s drug culture and boasting great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara, along with a brittle, cold turn from Catherine Zeta Jones. Gripping and interesting, with a few nice twists towards the end. Review.

9. Man of Steel

Henry Cavill impresses as Superman and Amy Adams is wonderful as Lois Lane in this enjoyable superhero adventure. The final fight is a bit overlong, but there’s plenty to enjoy here, and Kevin Costner is fantastically cast as Jonathan Kent. More than makes up for the woeful Superman Returns. Full review here.

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8. Flight

Centred around a typically charismatic performance from Denzel Washington, this is a rather entertaining thriller which leaves you in two minds, partly rooting for the hero to get away with it but knowing he needs to mend his ways. It’s a tad predictable in places, but Washington holds the attention and there’s enough humour to keep it fizzing. Review.

7. Warm Bodies

A pleasantly sweet and endearing romantic comedy with zombies, I really dug this movie and it appealed to both my soppy liking for romance and love of the undead. My thoughts here.

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6. Star Trek Into Darkness

JJ Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise moves ahead with the second installment, and ups the tension. For newcomers there are plenty of thrills and for old fans like me a few nice riffs on the old universe. The big reveal of who Benedict Cumberbatch’s character wasn’t a massive surprise, but it’s still a great fun watch and expands the Kirk-Spock relationship, although I hope we get more of Karl Urban’s McCoy in later films. Review here.

5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

As with the books the second part of the story builds on the first, expanding Suzanne Collins’ fictional world and upping the stakes. Jennifer Lawrence continues to impress in the lead role. Full review.

catching fire poster

4. Pitch Perfect

Hilarious comedy with some nice musical numbers and a brilliant lead in the wonderfully charming Anna Kendrick, even though she has the whole film stolen from under her by the fantastic Rebel Wilson. Review.

Scene stealing- Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy

Scene stealing- Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy

3. Django Unchained

Tarantino’s long anticipated Western finally arrived and was superb, gloriously OTT but with a darker, more emotional edge. Much is played for laughs, but the violence against the slaves is done in such a way that shows it’s callous brutality in painful terms. The script has the trademark QT edge and the performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and particularly Samuel L Jackson. And the “hoods scene” remains one of the year’s funniest moments. More.

2. Iron Man 3

Shane Black takes over the reins and guides it to new heights, with this hugely entertaining superhero romp which cements Robert Downey Jr as possibly the best cast superhero in movies. Deals with the fallout from Avengers and shows us a more fragile Stark. Review here.

1. Argo

Ben Affleck continues to impress behind the camera and his execution of this historical thriller is sublime. Managing to capture the edgy tension of the hostages in Iran and the humour in the CIA’s unorthodox plan to extract them, swinging between belly laughs and nail chewing suspense. Review.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Pic Post: Good Advice, Bad Answers and Unfortunate Alignment

Good Advice 1- WWBD?

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Bad Answer 1- Wipeout

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Unfortunate Alignment 1- Tempting offer

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Bad Answer 2- Kinda right, but yet wrong.

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Unfortunate Alignment 2- Tax dodging sucks

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Good Advice 2- It’s a trap!

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Hot Picture of the Week

Anna Kendrick, who I’m a massive fan of (let’s gloss over the whole Twilight thing, okay?)

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Pitch Perfect

This movie proves that even a tried and tested formula like a singing competition movie can yield great results if it’s well executed in terms of music, performance and humour.

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The plot follows Beca (Anna Kendrick), a bit of a loner who starts at college. She’s getting a free ride because her dad works there but she has no real interest in being there and wants to move to LA where she can pursue her dream of becoming a music producer. She isolates herself from the rest of her fellow students apart from Jesse (Skylar Astin), a goofy guy who volunteers at the campus radio station with her.

Her Dad offers a deal where he’ll help her move to California if she at least gives college a proper try and joins one activity or club. Having been noticed singing in the shower by the slightly manic Chloe (Brittany Snow), Beca auditions for the Belles, an all female a cappella group who had previously disgraced themselves when their new leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) vomited during the national championship final.

Beca joins the group, which given the embarrassment has fallen from it’s former glamorous ways to accept a slightly more diverse line-up including the loud mouthed Aussie “Fat” Amy (Rebel Wilson). Aubrey takes it very seriously and tries to maintain order and keep things the same as before, leading her to butt heads with Beca, who feels they would be better served by adopting a more modern and exciting style, drawing on her own skills at creating mash ups.

One of the rules of the Belles is that there can be no fraternizing with the Treblemakers, the all male group on campus and their major rivals. Jesse, who went to auditions to support his friend winds up joining the group, which causes more tension between Beca and Aubrey.

Can the girls learn to get along and work together? Can they reach the final and redeem themselves? And will Beca break the rules and get it on with Jesse?

The answers are fairly obvious, but to sound like a hippy “it’s not about the journey not the destination” and this is definitely a fun ride.

The musical numbers are well done, and some of the reworking of songs are pretty cool, particularly when Beca launches into Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” at the riff-off, and the final performance is pretty awesome. I really liked the a cappella style and they’re handled well, being polished and entertaining offerings.

The film handles the rather lame world of a cappella rather well, poking fun at it and the obsession it generates in people but still ensuring that it portrays them in an entertaining and impressive way. It reminded me a little of how cheerleading is portrayed in one of my all time guilty pleasure movies Bring It On.

But what really carries the film is the script, which is extremely funny and the wonderful performances. Aside from a couple of gross out moments the film mainly relies on it’s dialogue to get the laughs and it really pays off, it’s chock full of great lines and there are some nice touches, including the incredibly softly spoken Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) who throughout whispers some pretty surreal, dark lines which got a lot of laughs.

The film has this really sly, sarky sense of humour and there are a few little flirtations with darker gags. It’s a great balancing act between this sense of humour and the fairly lighthearted, almost cheesy music.

I know some might think “So far, so Glee” something which the film makes a nod towards by having one of the minor characters (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse who with this goes 6-0 in terms of good films in my book) make a veiled dig at the show.

I used to have a soft spot for Glee, but this film is definitely better. The reason is that the film has genuine liking and warmth towards it’s characters, whereas by the end of season 2 of Glee none of the characters were that likable and you were kind of rooting for Sue to destroy them all.

Here there’s a great deal of affection. Yes, the Treblemakers’ leader is a douchebag but he’s the film’s antagonist so it makes sense, but other than that there’s warmth for all the characters even the slightly more one-note supporting players.

Anna Kendrick is great in the lead, I’ve seen her in a couple of films and she’s always impressed me (she was one of the few good things about last year’s What To Expect When You’re Expecting). She manages to capture Beca’s standoffish nature and the chip on her shoulder in a way that never becomes irritating to the audience. Yes, there are times when she flies off the handle and you think “come on!” but it never goes too far and always feels natural for the character to respond in this way, and Kendrick ensures we never lose empathy for the character.

Anna Kendrick as Beca

Anna Kendrick as Beca

She gives a spunky, funny performance and does a good job of showing the tough cookie slowly coming out of her shell and showing her softer side to the other characters.

The rest of the group are all done well, and I especially think Brittany Snow and Anna Camp deserve mentions. Both play the preppy older members of the Belles but make their characters extremely likable. Snow plays her role with a kind of mad intensity layered over a rather dippy, sweet girl and Camp playing Beca’s rival does a good job in managing to make Aubrey sympathetic and does a good job in capturing the character’s frantic attempts to cling to control.

But the stand out is Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. From her first appearance onwards she steals the whole movie, getting all the best lines and having this wonderful comic presence and timing. One of the things I loved about the role was that despite getting a few laughs from Amy’s own swaggering confidence the film never pokes fun at her for her weight and she gives herself her own nickname. Wilson’s wit and confidence actually makes a pretty cool mix and she’s my new slightly offbeat crush.

Wilson’s had a few amusing bit parts in movies like What To Expect When You’re Expecting and Bridesmaids, but here she has more to sink her teeth into and she seizes the opportunity to do more. I can’t wait to see more of her in the future.

Scene stealing- Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy

Scene stealing- Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy

This is a female heavy film, and the guys get a pretty shoddy deal although as the romantic lead Skylar Astin is superb, he’s genuinely funny and likable as Jesse and has this extremely amiable goofy charm. The character is pretty much textbook love interest material but he pulls it off extremely well and I got a little bit annoyed that it took Beca so long to let her defenses down, as he was one charming dude.

All in all this is a very well made, extremely funny and highly entertaining movie with a few great performances and lots of good gags. The music is awesome as well.

Verdict: Kendrick gives a fine performance in the lead and the movie succeeds in getting the tone exactly right and being blessed with a funny script which raises it above it’s sometimes predictable plot. The music numbers are lots of fun and the script has some great lines. Worth seeing for Wilson’s scene stealing supporting role alone. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.