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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.