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Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 3

Pitch-Perfect-3-poster last callThe newest installment of the Pitch Perfect franchise about college a capella competition and the fictional Barden Bellas finds them mostly retreading greatest hits and tapping into the formula that has made the previous two films so charming, but it ends up a little flat in key places.

They simply can’t top the zaniness of part two, making this seem a little more lackluster. It’s still the Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson show, although the film does try to give some extra time to heretofore less explored characters, to varied effect. But the film’s central conceit of “getting the band back together” for a nostalgia-fueled USO tour just doesn’t work except seemingly as a backdrop for our stars to travel through Europe. All of our characters seem to have the same problem– life isn’t working out exactly as they planned one year out of college. While this seems a decent commentary on the plight of the entire millennial generation, it just isn’t interesting enough to sustain itself.

It shines best, as in previous films, in the lavish musical numbers the Bellas put on, this time joined by an all-girl rock group names Evermoist (yes, really), and alt country band Whiskey Shivers plays a group called Saddle Up. All of them are “competing” for a spot to share the stage with DJ Khaled (played unconvincingly by himself) in a final show, and here’s the real showstopper: Khaled is a black hole of charisma, and every moment he’s on screen the film grinds to a screeching halt.

Another problem lies in a strange side-plot involving Amy’s father, played by John Lithgow with a not-quite convincing Aussie accent. Apparently he’s an international arms dealer trying to reunite with his daughter. This allows for a strange third act where Rebel Wilson gets to play action star while the rest of the Bellas perform Britney Spears’ “Toxic” to distract him. It’s fun, and it’s good to see Wilson stretch herself as an actor, but it’s strangely off-tone and just doesn’t work as part of the larger film.

Matt Lanter (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Timeless) also shows up as a military officer assigned to escort the Bellas, and ends up being a romantic interest. Lanter personally is fine (and indeed charming), but his character has nowhere to go. What’s really missing from this are some of the more interesting male foils from previous films (Adam DeVine, Flula Borg, and Ben Platt. . .  oh, how we miss you, Ben Platt). This was obviously a deliberate creative choice to focus on our female cast, and I applaud that. But compared to their previous films, Lanter and Lithgow just sort of take up space. DJ Khaled takes up negative space and drags the entire movie down.

And, as with all of the movies, I can always use more Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins.

Fans of the franchise will likely enjoy this movie– its script is still chock-full of jokes and the musical numbers. . . err. . .  hit all the right notes. It’s too bad the entire package is not quite as good.

2.25 out of 5

Movie Review: Interstellar

interstellar-photos-pictures-stillsAfter seeing the first few trailers, I was psyched to finally see director Christopher Nolan‘s new movie Interstellar. Written by Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, the movie is a mess of a film that attempts to do too much, and does none of it well.

The world is dying, and a team must head through a mysterious wormhole to explore worlds that might hold the key the mankind’s salvation. Headed by Matthew McConaughey‘s Cooper, the team includes Amelia played by Anne Hathaway, Doyle played by Wes Bentley, and Romilly played by David Gyasi. The cast also includes Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, John Lithgow, and more. That star power, that directorial and writing pedigree, and the subject, we should have an instant classic. Instead the film is my biggest disappointment so far of 2014.

Where to begin with the issues…. the film can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it an homage to Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant 2001? Is it a visual follow up to Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity? It attempts to be both, and throw in Contact and a little bit of Nolan’s breakout Momento too.

If the film instead focused on one or two items, it could have been brilliant, but instead it’s a muddy mess. At times we see flashes of the horror in space that was 2001. At other times we see what could have been a movng story about family and loss. But, with a twist ending that makes Contact look like a solid payoff, and visuals that fall flat compared to the directorial amazement that was Gravity, and you can see where I’m going with this.

Nolan at times is visually amazing. Nolan often times puts out a fantastic concept, or concepts, that don’t quite pan out in the actual story. As a director and writer Nolan to me is more hype than delivery. The film felt like an art film student given a big budget. He’s a hi-brow Zack Snyder, who also delivers fantastic visuals and stories and characters an inch deep. Nolan is Snyder for the artistic set, who enjoy debating philosophical concepts through movie visuals, and in it all miss the mark and come off as too good for a popcorn blockbuster. Think the counter jockeys of High Fidelity debating interstellar travel and the bending of time and relativity.

Interstellar will be a movie that polarizes folks. They’ll either love it, or they’ll hate it. I’m clearly in the latter.

Direction: 6 Acting: 7 Plot: 5 Overall: 6