Playing Catch-Up With 6 Mini-Reviews: Amy, Gloria, Pitch Perfect 2, Sisters, Spy, Trainwreck


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Amy (dir by Asif Kapadia)

Amy opens with brilliant and, in its way, heartbreaking footage of a 14 year-old Amy Winehouse and a friend singing Happy Birthday at a party.  Even though she’s singing deliberately off-key and going over-the-top (as we all tend to do when we sing Happy Birthday), you can tell that Amy was a star from the beginning.  She’s obviously enjoying performing and being the center of attention and, try as you might, it’s impossible not to contrast the joy of her Happy Birthday with the sadness of her later life.

A star whose music touched millions (including me), Amy Winehouse was ultimately betrayed by a world that both wanted to take advantage of her talent and to revel in her subsequent notoriety.  It’s often said the Amy was self-destructive but, if anything, the world conspired to destroy her.  By focusing on footage of Amy both in public and private and eschewing the usual “talking head” format of most documentaries, Amy pays tribute to both Amy Winehouse and reminds us of what a great talent we all lost in 2011.

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Gloria (dir by Christian Keller)

The Mexican film Gloria is a musical biopic of Gloria Trevi (played by Sofia Espinosa), a singer whose subversive songs and sexual image made her a superstar in Latin America and challenged the conventional morality of Catholic-dominated establishment.  Her manager and lover was the controversial Sergio Andrade (Marco Perez).  The movie follows Gloria from her first audition for the manipulative Sergio to her arrest (along with Sergio) on charges of corrupting minors.  It’s an interesting and still controversial story and Gloria tells it well, with Espinosa and Perez both giving excellent performances.

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Pitch Perfect 2 (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

The Bellas are back!  As I think I’ve mentioned a few times on this site, I really loved the first Pitch Perfect.  In fact, I loved it so much that I was a bit concerned about the sequel.  After all, sequels are never as good as the original and I was dreading the idea of the legacy of the first film being tarnished.

But the sequel actually works pretty well.  It’s a bit more cartoonish than the first film.  After three years at reigning ICCA champions, the Bellas are expelled from competition after Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally flashes the President.  The only way for the Bellas to get the suspension lifted is to win the World Championship of A Capella.  The plot, to be honest, really isn’t that important.  You’re watching the film for the music and the interplay of the Bellas and, on those two counts, the film totally delivers.

It should be noted that Elizabeth Banks had a great 2015.  Not only did she give a great performance in Love & Mercy but she also made a respectable feature directing debut with Pitch Perfect 2.

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Sisters (dir by Jason Moore)

It’s interesting how opinions can change.  For the longest time, I really liked Tina Fey and I thought that Amy Poehler was kind of overrated.  But, over the past two years, I’ve changed my opinion.  Now, I like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey kind of gets on my nerves.  The best way that I can explain it is to say that Tina Fey just seems like the type who would judge me for wearing a short skirt and that would get old quickly, seeing as how I happen to like showing off my legs.

Anyway, in Sisters, Tina and Amy play sisters!  (Shocking, I know.)  Amy is the responsible one who has just gotten a divorce and who wants to make everyone’s life better.  Tina is the irresponsible one who refuses to accept that she’s no longer a teenager.  When their parents announce that they’re selling the house where they grew up, Amy and Tina decide to throw one last party.  Complications ensue.

I actually had two very different reactions to Sisters.  On the one hand, as a self-declared film critic, it was easy for me to spot the obvious flaw with Sisters.  Tina and Amy should have switched roles because Tina Fey is simply not believable as someone who lives to have fun.  Sometimes, it’s smart to cast against type but it really doesn’t work here.

However, as the youngest of four sisters, there was a lot of Sisters that I related to.  I saw Sisters with my sister, the Dazzling Erin, and even if the film did not work overall, there were still a lot of little scenes that made us smile and go, “That’s just like us.”  In fact, I think they should remake Sisters and they should let me and Erin star in it.

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Spy (dir by Paul Feig)

There were a lot of very good spy films released in 2015 and SPECTRE was not one of them.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am with the latest Bond film.  It’s not so much that SPECTRE was terrible as there just wasn’t anything particular memorable about it.  When we watch a film about secret agents saving the world, we expect at least a few memorable lines and performances.

Now, if you want to see a memorable spy movie, I suggest seeing Spy.  Not only is Spy one of the funniest movies of the year, it’s also a pretty good espionage film.  Director Paul Feig manages to strike the perfect balance between humor and action.  One of the joys of seeing CIA employee Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) finally get to enter the field and do spy stuff is the fact that there are real stakes involved.  Susan is not only saving the world but, in the film’s best scenes, she’s having a lot of fun doing it and, for that matter, McCarthy is obviously having a lot of fun playing Susan and those of us in the audience are having a lot of fun watching as well.

Spy also features Jason Statham as a more traditional action hero.  Statham is hilarious as he sends up his own macho image.  Seriously, who would have guessed that he could such a funny actor?  Here’s hoping that he, McCarthy, and Feig will all return for the inevitable sequel.

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Trainwreck (dir by Judd Apatow)

There’s a lot of great things that can be said about Trainwreck.  Not only was it the funniest film of 2015 but it also announced to the world that Amy Schumer’s a star.  It was a romantic comedy for the 21st Century, one that defied all of the conventional BS about what has to happen in a romcom.  This a film for all of us because, let’s just be honest here, we’ve all been a trainwreck at some point in our life.

But for me, the heart of the film was truly to be found in the relationship between Amy and her younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson).  Whether fighting over what to do with their irresponsible father (Colin Quinn) or insulting each other’s life choices, their relationship is the strongest part of the film.  If Brie Larson wasn’t already guaranteed an Oscar nomination for Room, I’d demand that she get one for Trainwreck.  For that matter, Amy Schumer deserves one as well.

Seriously, it’s about time the trainwrecks of the world had a film that we could truly call our own.

Trailer: Pitch Perfect 2


Pitch Perfect came out in the fall of 2012 and to say that it surprised many would be an understatement.

A film about acapella singing and battling wasn’t something that should’ve appealed to many. It sounded too much like the singing version of the Step Up series. From the day of it’s release the film garnered such a collection of positive reviews from critics that the public quickly came around to wanting to see this little film that could.

So, with the success of the first film it was just a matter of time (not much dilly-dallying) before a sequel was green-lit and this week we see the first trailer for Pitch Perfect 2.

The sequel brings back the entire cast with some new notable additions in Hailee Steinfeld and Katey Sagal.

Pitch Perfect 2 is set for a May 15, 2015 release date.

Lisa Goes Back To College: Pitch Perfect (dir by Jason Moore)


At this point, during my cinematic journey back to college, I paused and considered the films that I had already watched. I had watched three films about campus political activists and one film about a college tennis team and the results had been mixed. How, I wondered, could it be that watching none of these films, with the possible exception of R.P.M., was as much fun as actually attending college?

And then it occurred to me that a huge part of the problem was that I really couldn’t relate to any of the characters in the previous films I had watched.  Political activists bore me to tears and, for that matter, so do jocks.  So, for my next college film, I decided to take care of that problem by re-watching a movie that I actually could relate to — 2012’s Pitch Perfect.

Pitch-PerfectI was recently shocked when a male acquaintance of mine told me that he loved Pitch Perfect.  Don’t get me wrong — I love Pitch Perfect, too.  But it’s never really struck me as a film that guys would like.

“Really?” I said, “I love Pitch Perfect!  What was your favorite part?”

“The shower,” he said.

And suddenly, it all made sense.

In Pitch Perfect, alienated college student Beca (Anna Kendrick) is taking a shower at her dorm and, thinking she’s alone, she starts singing.  Earlier in the day, she had turned down a chance to audition for an all girls a capella group, saying that she really couldn’t sing.  However, as this scene shows, she actually has a wonderful voice.

However, one of the members of the a capella group — Chloe (Brittany Show) — is over in the next shower stall and, as soon as she overhears Beca singing, she confronts her with, “I knew you could sing!” and she and the reluctant Beca end up singing Titanium together.

(And, of course, they’re both naked while doing it, which I imagine is the reason why, whenever I mention Pitch Perfect around any guy, the shower scene always seems to come up.  Of course, none of them ever mentions my favorite part of the scene, which is when the cute guy who was taking a shower with Chloe pops up and tells the girls that they sound really good.)

Even though I’ve never been invited to be a member of an a capella singing group, I could relate to that scene, if just because I also sing in the shower and, during my first year at college, I lived in a dorm with a communal shower as well.  Every time I took a shower, I would sing — not to be obnoxious but just because that’s what I had always done and, when I was living at home, nobody ever seemed to have a problem with me singing.

And, like anyone who has ever spontaneously broke out into song, I guess there was always a part of me that hoped it would inspire a complete stranger to tell me how talented I was.  I didn’t necessarily want anyone to interrupt my shower but there was a part of me that always hoped someone would say, “I knew you could sing!”

So, one morning, I was down in the Bruce Hall cafeteria and I overheard two girls who lived on the same wing as me talking.

“Oh my God,” I heard one of them say, “did you hear her singing in the shower this morning?”

“Oh my God,” the other replied, “she has got the worst voice I have ever heard.  I’m just like, ‘Bitch, will you shut the fuck up?'”

Now, I’d like to say that I stood up for myself and told both of them off, because that’s what would have happened in a movie like Pitch Perfect.  Unfortunately, however, I wasn’t in a movie.  I was in the real world, I was 18, I was insecure, and I was living away from home for the first time.  So, instead of turning around and challenging those two mean girls to a sing-off, I went back to my room and cried.  Then I got mad and said “Fuck them!”  Then I cried some more.  And this went on for a while.

Finally, my roommate Kim got tired of watching me pace back and forth, alternatively crying and cursing.  Standing in front of me, she said, “Lisa, do you like to sing?”

“Yes,” I replied, in between sobs, “and how dare they–”

“If you like singing, then sing!”

To this day, those six words make up some of the best advice I’ve ever been given.  As soon as I heard them, I felt better.  And yes, I did take Kim’s advice.  Every time I took a shower, I would sing.  Of course now, I made it a point to sing as loudly and as with much twang in my voice as possible.  If I couldn’t be the best, then I was happily going to embrace being the worst.  The important thing is that I enjoyed singing so that was what I was going to do and if they didn’t like it, that was their problem.

But anyway, this review is supposed to be about Pitch Perfect and what can I say other than it’s one of my favorite films of all time.  The plot is predictable — of course, Beca joins the a capella group and of course, she, Fat Amy (played by Rebel Wilson, who is like a hilarious force of nature in this film), and a bunch of other unlikely singers go on to compete and win.  And yes, in the end, Beca also gets a really cute boyfriend.

Pitch Perfect really is pretty much Bring It On with a capella replacing cheerleading.  But, who cares?  The music is great, the cast is full of good actors (and Elizabeth Banks has a hilarious cameo as a commentator), and it’s just a very likeable and enjoyable movie.  If you’re not happy after watching Pitch Perfect, then there’s probably no hope for you.

In other words, it’s a movie that makes me want to sing.

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6 Obscure Films Of 2013: The Call, Copperhead, It’s A Disaster, See Girl Run, UnHung Hero, Would You Rather


Well, it’s that time of year when I look at the list of the films that I’ve seen over the past 12 months and I realize that there’s quite a few that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet.  Here are my thoughts on six of them.

The Call (dir by Brad Anderson)

Abigail Breslin is kidnapped by a serial killer.  While trapped in the trunk of the killer’s car, Breslin manages to call 911.  Breslin’s call is answered by Halle Berry, a veteran operator who is recovering from a trauma that — by an amazing and totally implausible coincidence — was caused by the same guy who has just kidnapped Breslin.

Before it became a feature film, The Call was originally developed as a weekly TV series and, as I watched, it was easy to imagine weekly episodes that would all feature a different guest star calling 911 and needing help.  For the first hour or so, The Call is well-made and acted but undistinguished.  However, during the final 30 minutes, the entire film suddenly goes crazy with Breslin running around in her bra, Berry turning into a blood thirsty vigilante, and the killer suddenly getting very verbose.  However, those 30 minutes of pure insanity were just what The Call needed to be memorable.  There are some films that definitely benefit from going over-the-top and The Call is one of them.

Copperhead (dir by Ronald Maxwell)

Copperhead is a historical drama that takes place during the Civil War.  In upstate New York, farmer Abner Breech (Billy Campbell) is ardently opposed to both the Civil War and the union cause.  In most movies, this would make Abner the villain but, in Copperhead, he’s portrayed as being a man of principle who, by refusing to compromise on his views, is ostracized and ultimately persecuted by the rest of his village.  Abner’s views also bring him into conflict with his own son, who is pro-Union.

Copperhead is a slow-moving film that features some rather good performances along with some fairly bad ones.  However, I’m a history nerd so I enjoyed it.  It certainly tells a different story from what we’ve come to expect from American films about the Civil War.

It’s A Disaster (dir by Todd Berger)

Of the six films reviewed in this post, It’s A Disaster is the one to see.  In this darker than dark comedy, Julia Stiles brings her new boyfriend (David Cross) to Sunday brunch with 6 of her closest friends.  During the brunch, terrorists explode a dirty bomb in the city.  With everyone trapped inside the house and waiting for the world to either end or somehow revert back to normal, long-simmering resentments come to the forefront.

To say anything else about It’s a Disaster would be unfair so I’ll just say that it’s a very funny film, featuring excellent work from both Stiles and Cross.  If Jean-Paul Sartre was alive and writing today, he would probably end up writing something very similar to It’s a Disaster.

See Girl Run (dir by Nate Meyer)

Bleh!  That’s probably the best description I can give you of this film.  It’s just a whole lot of bleh.

Emmie (Robin Tunney) is unhappy with her boring marriage so she runs back to her Maine hometown, stops wearing makeup and washing her hair, and pines for her high school boyfriend, Jason (Adam Scott), who works at a sea food restaurant.  Jason also happens to be friends with Emmie’s depressed brother, Brandon (Jeremy Strong).  It’s the same basic plot as Young Adult, just with no humor and a lot more talking.  In Young Adult, it was hard not to admire Charlize Theron’s wonderfully misguided character.  In See Girl Run, you just want to tell Robin Tunny to take a shower, put on some clothes that don’t look like they were stolen from a hospital storage closet, and stop whining all the time.

It’s difficult to put into words just how much I hated this movie.  This is one of those films that critics tend to describe as being “a film for adults.”  I have to agree — this is a movie for really boring, depressing adults who like to talk and talk about how their lives haven’t worked out.  If See Girl Run is what being an adult is like, I’ll just continue to be an immature brat, thank you very much.

UnHung Hero (dir by Brian Spitz)

So, this is not only the worst documentary of 2013 but it’s also quite probably one of the worst documentaries ever made.  The film opens with footage of Patrick Moote (who claims to be a comedian) asking his girlfriend to marry him.  As Moote goes on (and on) to tell us, she turns down his proposal and then dumps him because, according to her, his penis is too small.  Moote spends the rest of the film talking to various people and asking them whether size really matters.

Well, he could have just asked me and saved a lot of time.  I’m sorry if this endangers any fragile male egos but yes, size does matter.  If Moote’s penis really is as tiny as he claims it is, I probably would have turned down his proposal as well.  Then again, Moote could be hung like Jamie Foxx and I’d probably still refuse to marry him because, quite frankly, he’s the whiniest and most annoying person that I’ve ever seen.  He’s like an even less charming version of Morgan Spurlock.  What Patrick Moote never seems to understand is that size matters but personality matters even more.

Would You Rather (dir by David Guy Levy)

Would you rather have a root canal or sit through this piece of crap?  Having seen Would You Rather, I can tell you that it’s not an easy question to answer.

Jeffrey Combs plays a sadistic millionaire who invited a bunch of strangers (including Brittany Snow, John Heard, June Squibb, and Sasha Grey) to his mansion and forces them to play an elaborate and deadly game of Would You Rather.  Unfortunately, none of the characters are interesting, the film’s sadism is more boring than shocking, and talented actor Combs is totally wasted as the one-note villain.

Film Review: 96 Minutes (dir. by Aimee Lagos)


Bleh.

I’ve read a lot of really over-the-top laudatory reviews of 96 Minutes, an independent urban crime film that’s opening in limited release this weekend.  Reviewers and bloggers are describing this film as being insightful and powerful and important.  Here’s a quote from one review that was posted over on the IMDb: “I would encourage all of those who see the (film’s) themes as stereotypical to get outside of their own box for 2 minutes and spend some time with those who will you give example after example of how the youth in this country still struggle with the same things as they did 10, 20, and 30 years ago.”

And again, I say “Bleh.”  I saw 96 Minutes last night.  It’s a movie that’s full of good intentions but so what?  A bad movie is a bad movie, regardless of the noble intentions of the filmmakers.

The film starts out with four people in a car.  Dre (Evan Ross) is driving while, in the passenger’s seat, his jumpy friend Kevin (J. Michael Trautman) points a gun at two girls huddled in the backseat: Carley (Brittany Snow) and her friend Lena (Christian Serranos).  Lena, by the way, has been shot in the head.  The film proceeds to show us (by jumping back and forth in time) how this situation came to be and guess what?  It all unfolded exactly how you think it did so the end result is like being stuck with someone who continues to tell you the same long story even after you’ve said, “Yes, you already told me all this.”

From what I’ve been able to gather from online research, 96 Minutes was (much like Crash, which this film resembles) inspired by an actual carjacking that involved the film’s director. As such, 96 Minutes starts out by informing us that the film we’re about to see is “Based on true events.”  That should have been a warning because, while the whole “based on a true story” thing is usually a good sign when it comes to an old school exploitation film, it’s almost always the kiss of death when it comes to well-meaning but overly earnest independent cinema.  Ironically, films that are “based on true events” often feel rather false and predictable and the end result is a movie that comes across like an overlong version of one of those awful Mutual of Omaha “Ah-ha Moment” commercials.

(“My name is Carley and this is my Ah-ha moment.  Oh my God, we were getting carjacked!  At that moment, so many things went through my head…”  “Brought to you by Mutual of Omaha, proud sponsor of life’s Ah-ha Moments…”)

In the film’s defense, it is well-acted (especially by Evan Ross, who has a very quiet power) and director Aimee Lagos comes up with a few strong visuals but ultimately, it doesn’t add up to much.  The film feels predictable and the fractured narrative structure doesn’t provide any unexpected insight into the characters or their actions.  The scenes with Kevin and Dre feel as if they were clumsily lifted from a hundred other urban crime films, right down to the predictable pairing of a complete psycho with a sensitive criminal who wants to go straight.  Meanwhile, Carley and especially Lena come across not so much as actual characters but more as dramatic devices.  This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if this was a 15-minute short film about the quirks of fate but stretched out to 96 minutes, the film’s characters and themes feel quite thin indeed.

In many ways, 96 Minutes reminded me quite a bit of last year’s Another Earth.  Much like Another Earth, 96 Minutes doesn’t have much to say but it pretends like it does and I imagine that a quite a few gullible viewers will be tricked into thinking that they’re watching something powerful and important play out in the screen in front of them.  If they’re anything like the members of the Another Earth cult, they’ll probably get really offended over any suggestion that the film they’ve just watched isn’t a masterpiece.  Well, my reply to them is this: If the film was really as great and important and insightful as some people are claiming then you wouldn’t care what I have to say about it.  If this review makes you defensive, it’s because you know I’m right.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Prom Night (Directed by Paul Lynch)


As I mentioned in another post, my sister Erin and I spent Tuesday night watching the Killer Party Marathon on Chiller.  One of the movies we saw was the original 1980 Prom Night, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and directed by Paul Lynch.  Prom Night, of course, was remade two years ago with cross-eyed dumbfug Brittany Snow as the star.  If, like me before Tuesday night, you’re only familiar with the tepid and bland remake than the original Prom Night is a surprise indeed.

The original Prom Night is an old school slasher film, one of the many that came out in the two years immediately after Halloween.  It even stars the star of Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis.  Prom Night also stars a lot of Canadians because it was one of the many low-budget B-movies that was made in Canada in the early 80s.  Apparently, Canada was offering tax breaks to film companies willing to shoot up north.  Several web sites have said that the setting is obviously Canadian but I couldn’t really tell.  Of course, I’m from Texas.  Anything above Arkansas looks like Canada to me.

Plotwise, the film is pretty much your traditional old school slasher film.  There’s a terrible tragedy in the past, an innocent man is blamed for it, and ten years later, teenagers end up getting killed at some communal event.  In this case, the tragedy is the death of a young girl who is killed during a truly demonic game of tag.  The children responsible for her death lie about what happened and a disfigured drifter is convicted and imprisoned for her murder.  As for the communal event, in this case, it’s prom night.  The killer stalks the prom, which is what I suggested my classmates call our prom way back when.  They disagreed and that’s their loss.  The Killer Stalks The Prom would have been a story to remember.

Anyway, here’s a few random thoughts about the original Prom:

1) As with all old school slasher films, it’s interesting to see just how much of the early products of this all-American genre borrowed from the Italian giallo genre.   Everything from the elaborate, past tragedy to the black gloves worn by the killer to the attempts to keep audiences guessing who the killer actually is to even the supporting character of the burned out cop simply screams giallo.  The main thing that the Americans brought to the giallo format was the idea of having the murders revolve around a previously innocent gathering or holiday.

2) Especially when compared to recent “slasher” films, Prom Night is a relentlessly grim film.  Prom Night’s killer doesn’t waste any time with comic relief or one-liners.  He’s too busy savagely killing people.  And our victims aren’t the usual collection of bimbos and soulless jocks.  No, this is the type of movie where even the token virgin ends up getting her throat ripped out with a gigantic shard of glass.  There’s not a lot of deaths in Prom Night, just six.  But they all hurt.

3) I usually just think of Jamie Lee Curtis as the crazy woman selling Activia on Lifetime but this movie shows that she’s actually a pretty good actress.  Even working with a script that isn’t exactly full of brilliant dialogue or multi-faceted characters, Curtis is a sympathetic, likable, and most of all, believable heroine (which is all the more remarkable when you consider that she, like everyone else in this film, appears to be far-too old to still be worrying about the prom).  She even manages to make the film’s ending rather touching and even poignant.  And how many slasher films can you say that about?

4) Prom Night is as much about tacky — yet insanely catchy — disco music as it is about spilling blood.  Seriously, if I owned the soundtrack to this film, I would listen to it 24/7 for two years straight.  I’d force all of my friends to listen to it too and eventually we’d all go insane and just spend the rest of our lives wandering around going, “Prom night!  Everything is alright!”

5) One last thing — Prom Night showcases what has to be the most believable, cheap, and tasteless prom ever put on film.  The theme is Disco Madness and the students are all very chic in that way that even they know will be painfully dated in another two years.  Indeed, this is one of the rare films that understands that the perfect prom is nothing less than an unintentional camp spectacular.  For someone like me who, as the result of seeing too many episodes of Saved By The Bell: The New Class, grew up with an unrealistic expectation of what the senior prom would be, the original Prom Night remains a refreshing breath of fresh air even 30 years after it was made.

And always remember: “Prom Night!  Everything is all right…”

Scenes I Love: Prom Night (1980)


So, it was Tuesday night and me and Erin were watching the Killer Party movie marathon on Chiller and what should happen to come on but Prom Night?  No, not the really crappy Brittany Snow film that came out two years ago.  This was the original Prom Night, the one from 1980 that starred Jamie Lee Curtis.

As we watched this movie, me and Erin discovered two things.  Number one, the original Prom Night is seriously one grim movie.  And number two, there’s an awful lot of dancing.  It makes sense.  The movie only kills about four people so obviously, there had to be some serious padding to get this thing up to 90 minutes.  And most of that padding is musical.

Included below is one of my favorite new scenes that I love.  As Jamie Lee says, “Let’s show them what we can do…”