FlixChatter Review – Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

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Directed By: Trish Sie
Written By: Kay Cannon, Mike White based on the book by Mickey Rapkin
Runtime: 1h 33min

I’ve had mixed feelings on the Pitch Perfect movies. As a choir nerd, I appreciate the music. As a film fan, I’ve been unimpressed with the writing, finding the plots forgettable and the comedy (with a few exceptions) underwhelming. I didn’t go into this movie expecting to hate it, but I didn’t think I’d like it any better than the first two.

In Pitch Perfect 3, we see the Barden Bellas a couple years out of college, struggling to find their places outside of the world of competetive a capella. At a performance of the younger Bellas (led by Hailee Steinfeld‘s Emily), the group decides to participate in the U.S.O.’s annual European musical tour and relive their glory days. Once there, they discover that they will be competing against three other musical groups for a coveted spot opening for DJ Khaled at the tour’s final performance- and, for the first time, they will be competing against musicians who use instruments.

While the third installment isn’t by any means a brilliant movie, I was still pleasantly surprised, mostly by how much the cast has improved. Individually, there are plenty of talented members, but I never felt like the girls had any real chemistry until now. They genuinely seem like a good group of friends and their quirky personalities mesh surprisingly well. While they all give solid acting performances, the stand-outs for me are Hana Mae Lee as Lilly and Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. Lee’s delightfully weird Lilly barely has any lines, and the few she does have are barely audible, but her physical comedy is on point. Wilson’s performance in the first two movies underwhelmed me, but I think that’s more the writers’ fault than hers; the majority of her “funny” lines were about her weight, and that much one-note humor is really only good for a few trailer highlights; it’s not enough to support a whole film. However, they give her a little more to work with in this film, and it shows; while she still shines comedically, she has a few more dramatic moments that show a more serious, sincere side of her, and she handles it incredibly well.

Despite the stronger acting, however, the writing still struggles a bit in this movie. It’s unsurprising that the story centers around a singing competition again-they’re a competetive a capella group- but the way the musicians the Bellas are competing against aren’t very well-handled. At first, it seems like they’re being set up to become friends (or, at least, not enemies) with the Bellas, when the three other acts (Saddle Up, DJ Dragon Nutz, and Evermoist-led by Ruby Rose‘s Calamity) all start performing together during their riff-off against the Bellas, implying that it’s more fun to sing together than to sing against each other. However, they quickly fall into the catty, condescending competitor trope pretty quickly afterwards. The fact that, past the riff-off and the first concert, we never see them perform again, makes this tense competition lose some of its edge as well. It’s a shame, because while the Bella’s numbers are all well-done, it would have been fun to hear more of the other groups than just the couple numbers at the beginning.

There’s also this weird B-plot involving Amy and her supposedly-reformed criminal father (played by John Lithgow doing a pretty awful Australian accent) in an attempt to add a little action to the movie, and while some of it is entertaining (especially this Mission Impossible-esque scene of Amy sneaking through a yacht), it doesn’t fit the tone of the film or the series as a whole. Its inclusion kind of reminded me of the Spice World, but with less commitment to the ridiculousness. It’s a change from the other movies’ formula, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The biggest problem is that, while it feels like all of the Bellas get more equal focus than they have in the previous two, the script tries to fit in too many individual backstories and conflicts in one movie, leading to clunky exposition and shoehorned-in resolutions-some, like Anna Camp‘s Aubrey, not even wrapped up until after the credits start rolling. I admire that they’re trying to add a little more dimension to the characters, but the movie isn’t well-paced enough to do so.

Despite all of this, Pitch Perfect 3 might be my favorite of the series, thanks largely to, of course, the music. As usual, the soundtrack is as fun, pretty, and polished as the Bellas’ costumes, hair, and makeup (seriously, I want to invest in a few sparkly dresses after seeing the wardrobe in this movie). While all of the performers are capable singers, Anna Kendrick as Beca especially shines with her clear, bright tone, and is given plenty of opportunities to do so. And as talented as the Bellas are, the musical highlight for me is the “Riff-Off” mash-up with the other bands, showcasing and blending the musicians’ different styles in a creative arrangement.

If you’re not a musical fan, you may want to skip this, but if you enjoyed the first two, you’ll definitely like this one. The acting is strong, more jokes land than in the first two, and the soundtrack is fantastic. The final installment of Pitch Perfect 3 certainly ends on a high note.

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Have you seen ‘Pitch Perfect 3’? Well, what did you think? 

MSPIFF 2015 Reviews: Belle et Sébastien + The Keeping Room

MSPIFF15reviewsBelle et Sebastien

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Despite being sometimes sappy and overly safe, Belle et Sébastien still mostly succeeds, primarily because Sebastian (Felix Bossuet) and Belle (a dog) are captivatingly adorable. It helps that their bond of friendship is keenly developed, as well.

The film opens with a group of mountain men, including Cesar (Tcheky Karyo), Sebastian’s primary caretaker, hunting a beast they believe has been killing their farm animals. The beast turns out to be a now feral, recently abused dog, whom Sebastian quickly dubs Belle. The two take their time forming an affectionate bond but soon become inseparable. Meanwhile, a friend of Sebastian’s adopted family, Doctor Guillaume (Dimitri Storoge), is sheparding fugitive Jews through wintry mountains, taking them to safety in Switzerland, all while the local Nazis wreak havoc on the village.

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Eventually, of course, the two stories merge, which is good, because initially they are so tonally different that they feel mismatched. One is mostly lighthearted fair fit for younger audiences while the other is dark, obviously intended for older audiences. But writer/director Nicolas Vanier and his co-writers never immerse in the second narrative, instead opting to let it exist on the film’s fringes. As such, the World War II specific subplot is shorted, and the characters specific to it are underdeveloped (this is especially true of Angelina, played by Margaux Chatelier).

Still, despite these narrative flaws, Belle et Sébastien avoids failure, if only because the child lead and his canine friend remain captivating. So too does the relationship between Sebastian and Cesar, and later that between Cesar and Belle.  Moreover, the picture’s imagery is positively stunning. Vanier captilizes on his mountain setting in ways that always impress.

All of which is to say that Belle et Sébastien is imperfect, maybe even forgettable, but it still accomplishes what it sets out to do: tell a sweet story about a boy and his dog.

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The Keeping Room

“War is cruelty . . . The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” ~William T. Sherman

This quote opens The Keeping Room, a part home invasion, part relationship drama, part female empowerment, part anti-war film, and the picture’s plot, about which I will purposefully say little, sets out to prove it, from the opening to the conclusion. So it is we know the sort of movie we’re watching.

Tone is not director Daniel Barber and writer Julia Hart’s only success. So too is their stunning imagery.

And their investigation of people’s potential for cruelty. Moses (Sam Worthington, utterly terrific) does evil things, but he never feels evil. He feels like a person trapped in a system, doing things even he knows he shouldn’t. When he says, “I don’t know how to stop,” we believe him because Barber and Hart have so masterfully shown it to us.

TheKeepingRoom_stillsThe writer and director adeptly characterize Augusta (Brit Marling, every bit Worthington’s equal) and Mad (Muna Otaru, very good), as well. These are two complex women, both of whom we like even though we sometimes question them.

Barber and Hart capture Henry (Kyle Soller) and Louise (Hailee Steinfeld), less well, however. The former is an archetype, a terrible person who does terrible things because he’s terrible. Henry’s behavior is probably no more or less twisted than Moses’, but the filmmakers fail to nuance the former as well as they do the latter. Louise, too, is borderline archetypal, at least until the end of the picture. (Note: despite this flaw in characterization, when Steinfeld and Soller share the screen, they produce The Keeping Room’s most catching scene.)

The movie’s other notable flaw: pacing. The opening is overdrawn and the finale a little rushed, especially insofar as Louise comes alive in the end, transcending the ‘spoiled teenager’ archetype on which we spend so much time at the The Keeping Room’s onset.

Still, here the merits well outweigh the flaws. This film is worth viewing.

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Have you seen any of these films? Well, what do you think?

FlixChatter Review: 3 Days to Kill

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A dying Secret Service Agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter is offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment.

Ok, the fact that McG directed this from Luc Besson’s script doesn’t exactly spell ‘must see’ on my list. Heck, the last film by those two I saw were This Means War (even w/ Tom Hardy in it, it’s only worth seeing when killing time on a plane!) and the abysmal The Family respectively. But I gave this a shot because I’m a big fan of Kevin Costner and it’s nice to see him in a leading role again.

So the film begins with a shoot-out at a hotel between a CIA agent Ethan Renner (Costner) and the agency’s biggest fish, a nasty terrorist in possession of nuclear bombs. The operation was a bust partly because Renner passed out as he’s apparently been suffering from brain cancer. So he’s given only a few months to live and he decides to spend it with his estranged wife and teenage daughter in where else, Paris. That’s classic Besson as he has such a penchant for setting his films in his hometown the City of Lights.

What surprised me here is that this flick is not just all action and car chases, though of course you can expect a lot of that from McG and Besson. There’s equal drama here in the form of a father-daughter relationship. I don’t mind that part even if it all looks familiar and somewhat schmaltzy at times. Hailee Steinfeld is quite good as his bratty teen Zooey who’s slowly warming up to her dad, she makes her character more interesting than otherwise would under a less capable young actress. Connie Nielsen doesn’t get much to do as Costner’s estranged wife but it’s been a while since I saw her in anything so it’s nice to see she’s still working.

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The resemblance to Taken is uncanny given the action paired with father/daughter drama. But the fact that there are more preposterous action scenes in the Liam Neeson vehicle, Taken was decidedly more entertaining. It may seem that Neeson is giving advice to Costner to be another aging seasoned action star, but to be fair, Costner was already doing action flicks early in his career, even played a spy in No Way Out and most recently a CIA mentor in the latest Jack Ryan movie. I must say he’s still got it, and still looks good doing it, too.

I think the weakest link in this movie is Amber Heard. Her character is so darn cheesy, the clichéd femme fatale of a blond seductress with stiletto heels & red lips, complete with corny lines like “I’m everybody’s type” as she shamelessly flirts with Ethan. There’s an apparent disdain that Ethan is showing towards Vivi which is nice to see as I share his dread. All the scenes with Vivi is so lame and cringe-worthy. I was never fond of Heard since I saw her in The Joneses, and she proves to be a one-note actress here.

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Mixing genres is always tricky and I don’t think the filmmaker/writer involved are skilled enough to make it work here. It ends up working more of an action comedy with some drama thrown in. The espionage stuff is used more in a gimmicky manner that I can’t even call it a spy thriller. There’s also a subplot involving an African immigrant family staying in his Paris flat that feels awkward here. I think it’s meant to show Ethan’s softer side but it’s rather overkill as we’ve already got that from his relationship with his daughter. Plus that whole baby delivery is so unrealistic that it was utterly risible. There are some genuine laughs to be had though, especially the scenes involving Marc Andréoni as the bad guy’s limo driver. There’s also a droll running gag with Ethan’s phone, set to Icona Pop’s perky tune I Love It (I Don’t Care) by Zooey, that keeps going off at the most inopportune time.

All things considered, I find this movie fairly entertaining as I didn’t take it too seriously. Much like True Lies where there are more plot holes than bullet holes in the cars the hero’s shooting at. The Paris scenery are nice to look at and there’s the obligatory car chases and shoot-outs that should please action fans. I definitely think Costner still makes this one worthwhile in my book. He’s watchable even in the the repetitive scenes of him being disoriented from the cancer drug. At 59, he’s still got his movie-star charisma and presence to pull off an action hero role. I’m certainly glad this turns out to be better than McG and Besson’s previous films I mentioned above. So if you’re a fan of this genre and Costner, I’d say this is well-worth a matinee viewing or a rental.

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Have you seen 3 Days to Kill? Well, I’d love to hear what you think!