Pitch Perfect 3: Third Installment an Aca-tastrophe Worth Seeing

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Pitch Perfect 3 Poster
Image from https://www.themoviedb.org/

Pitch Perfect 3 is the third installment in the musical comedy series about  a cappella and  the bonds of sisterhood.  If you enjoyed the other two and want one last hurrah with the Bellas, then you should embrace your inner completionist and seek this out.  And, even if you’ve never cared for this series, I would still recommend it purely to watch the film morph from a generic comedy into a ridiculous action film.  No I’m not kidding.

This film sees the Bellas reunite post-graduation to take part in an international USO tour and encountering rival groups Evermoist (yes you read that right) and other unimportant bands, who all use actual instruments!  The goal: to  to impress and open for DJ Khaled (playing himself).  However, things get complicated with the intro of Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) criminal father (John Lithgow sporting a horrid Aussie accent), who essentially forces the movie into a bizarre (yet still enjoyable) direction.  John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks also appear as the sexist announcers, this time following the Bellas around for a documentary.  Because of course they are.

This is a bad movie.  Most of the musical numbers feel forced and aren’t memorable like previous entries.  The comedy is self-mocking, almost as if the film was originally supposed to satirize the formula before being overhauled, and the final 3rd becomes a Rebel Wilson Action Movie.  I don’t know who made this decision, but I would like to personally thank them for doing so.

Pitch Perfect 3 is both a beautiful aca-tastrophe and a passable swan song to fans of the franchise.  The musical sequences should get the toes tapping, but the plot and characters are hilariously thin and the final act was clearly rewritten to get more buts in seats.  It’s time to close the aca-curtains on this series, while it still has a shred of dignity left.

Rated PG-13 for Crude And Sexual Content, Language, And Some Action

Tron: Legacy: Sequel to Disney Cult Classic has Great Visuals, But Generic Plot

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is mostly bad)

Tron Legacy Poster
Image from https://www.amazon.com/

In 1986, Disney released Tron, a film about a computer programmer (Jeff Bridges) getting zapped inside of a computer game and his quest to escape it.  Though the story and characters were criticized for their generic nature, the visuals pushed the boundaries for what could be done with a computer at that time, earning critical acclaim as well as a devoted cult fan base that waited hungrily for a sequel.  Their wish was granted in 2010 with Tron: Legacy, a film that suffers from the exact same problems as the original.  The visuals were top-notch in 2010 (and look fine to this day), but the story is ho-hum and the characters are forgettable. Tron: Legacy should entertain fans of the previous film, but will likely confuse or bore anyone else.

The film follows adrenaline junkie Sam Flynn (an emotionless Garrett Hedlund), son of legendary video game developer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges reprising his role). Sam spends his days parachuting off of buildings and being angsty about dad  disappearing on him 20 years ago.  Because I’m sure that the 10 year-old boys this movie appeals to will totally identify with a 20-something with daddy issues.  Anyway, Sam receives an unexpected visit from stand-in father figure Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner also returning) who informs him that a call was placed from his dad’s old office.  Because this number has been disconnected for 20 years, Sam decides to check the office out and see what’s going on.

Once there, he discovers the old Tron console along with the laser that blasted dad into the game all those years ago.  After putting 2 and 2 together, Sam blasts himself into the game and starts on a quest to find Kevin and bring him home.  Along the way, Sam befriends a program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde doing the best that she can) and discovers another named Clu (also Jeff Bridges), who has nefarious plans for the game world.

The best thing about this movie is its visual style. The visuals in the game are immediately eye-catching and unique.  I can admire the work that went into creating the world of Tron, as it likely took thousands of man hours to make everything look as cool as it does.  The action sequences are decently exciting, especially the motorcycle race frequently teased in the trailers.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t have much else going for it. Jeff Bridges is having fun revisiting his character as well as playing a villain, easily standing out among the cast.  Unfortunately, the movie falls on newcomer Hedlund, who is unable to properly emote any of his lines.  I believe his extreme sports obsession, but could not buy him as a computer hacker in the slightest.  Also, Sam doesn’t seem very happy upon finding his dad, the supposed emotional moment of the film.  The two of them have a fun conversation, but I never get the sense that the character is excited to see his father again.  Hedlund has gone on to star in other films (his most recent being Pan, a financial embarrassment), but it is hard to tell if he or the script is to blame for his characterization.  Wilde does okay in her role, but this is her least engaging performance.

Though Hedlund isn’t exactly the next James Dean, the script he is given doesn’t give him a lot to work with. After a decently tense opening act, the movie drops the potential “thriller” aspect in exchange for a predictable sci-fi narrative. It’s as if the filmmakers put 95% of their time and effort into the world of Tron, and the other 5% into creating an interesting story within it.  Sam’s character arc is generic and predictable, and the religious metaphors near the end of the film are insultingly obvious.  I like the idea of a world within a computer, but this movie simply doesn’t do anything unique with it.

Disney seriously needs to revamp its live-action division, as many of their recent efforts (Maleficent, Into the Woods) have had fascinating ideas and great marketing, but fallen short of their potential.  A third film in this series was planned due to surprising box office success, but was cancelled after the financial embarrassment known as Tomorrowland (a film whose biggest detriment was its overly mysterious marketing campaign).  It was no classic, but it was a fun family action movie with a great message and cast (George Clooney, Hugh Laurie)

All in all, Tron: Legacy is a visually appealing, yet thematically dead movie that fails to meet its complete potential.  Rent it if you want some decent action, skip it otherwise.

Rated PG for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action Violence and Brief Mild Language

 

7 Reasons to see “Episode 7”

  1. Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens Poster
    Image from https://www.amazon.com/

    New faces enter, old ones return-It’s a chance to see all of your favorite characters (well, the ones that didn’t die) from the original trilogy. They may have aged a bit, but they are still the same people you remember from the original classics. We also get some new, equally classic and relatable characters into the mix too!

  2. Strong Female Lead-This film has the best female lead of 2015. She’s fast, furious, and can kick some serious butt when necessary. However, she cares for her friends and will be strong even when she is feeling weak on the inside. My apologies to Furiosa (of this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road) and Katniss Everdeen, but this film outdoes them by a mile. I see a very bright future for Daisy Ridley, the actress who portrays this character, as she has a fantastic screen presence and immediate likability that few modern actresses possess, as well as being able to be funny and dramatic with perfect finesse. I hope to see her in many films after this trilogy ends, as her career is off to a perfect start.
  3. Strong African American lead-This film not only has a strong, unsexualized female lead, but an African-American lead as well. In a market where black people are primarily comic relief and/or side characters, it was wonderous to see one on the front lines. He is resourceful to his comrades and will do anything to help those close to him, despite the risks involved. John Boyega has unexpected energy on screen, as well as great chemistry with his co-stars. I hope to see his star rise high after this franchise is done.
  4. Humor-The trailers for this film make it look as if it’s going to be extremely dark and serious (because we don’t have enough of THAT in our multiplexes). Fear not, this film is extremely fun, with fast, witty banter between characters just like in the original trilogy. It’s not a comedy, but this film is the funniest installment since The Empire Strikes Back.
  5. Action-This movie is loaded with action. Every sequence is well-shot, superbly intense, and amazing to watch on the big screen. Every set piece outdoes the last, something that few action films can pull off. The 3D only increases their awesomeness. If you enjoy action, then this will surely satisfy you.
  6. Story-Don’t worry, I won’t give anything away here. The narrative of this film is its primary focus, a shocking rarity in modern sci-fi. The story is always engaging, always moving towards the final result with some of the finest pacing I’ve seen in a long time. It’s unpredictable to the point of craziness, and that is a high accomplishment.
  7. JJ Abrams-The final reason to see this film is its director, JJ Abrams. A huge fan of the franchise, JJ understands what people want to see, and brings the best elements of the series (great characters, humor, and action) while leaving the worst (people sitting and talking) behind. I am extremely sad to say that he will not return for the next two episodes in the trilogy. Hopefully he stays in the loop, as he has created a story that could take this franchise in exiting new directions if done correctly
  8. Bonus: You don’t have to watch those pesky prequels again to understand what’s going on here-breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Those are my thoughts on The Force Awakens .  If you like Star Wars, you have to see this.  If you don’t, then you’ll enjoy the action anyway.  I don’t normally do this, but I declare this to be my number one film of 2015.  May the Force Be With You All This Christmas

These “Guardians” Rescue the Summer Film Season

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best of the year)

Guardians of the Galaxy poster
Image from: https://www.amazon.com/

Marvel has saved the summer once again. They had “X-Men: Days of Future Past” back in May and now, they bring us “Guardians of the Galaxy”, that now-rare superhero movie that doesn’t have a brooding, depressed main character, a grave tone, or a dark score.  Marvel became solemn in the last film in its cinematic universe with “Captain America the Winter Soldier”.  I admire a series that matures with its audience, but that film was too gritty for my liking, an issue I never thought I would have with a Marvel film.  Thankfully, “Guardians of the Galaxy” doesn’t take itself too seriously, giving us a funny, action-packed sci-fi flick that is reminiscent of the original “Star Wars”.  In all honesty, this summer has (with a few exceptions), not been all that great at the movies, but “Guardians of the Galaxy” has swooped in to save us when (nearly) all hope was lost, for me anyway, of there being one more memorable blockbuster of 2014.

The film follows a ragtag group of misfits: Starlord (Chris Pratt giving a surprisingly good performance), Gamora (Zoe Saldana giving the best performance I’ve seen of hers), and Rocket Raccoon (voiced energetically by Bradley Cooper).  Vin Diesel voices Groot with not a trace of normal wooden performances, and Drax (Dave Bautista) as they race to defeat an enemy that wishes to destroy the galaxy.  The dialogue is wickedly clever with laugh-out-loud one-liners throughout.  This is the first Marvel film that I could almost call a comedy as well as a great action film.  The comedic dialogue is much more ingenious than suggested by the previews.`

What separates “Guardians of the Galaxy” from the other Marvel superhero movies is its unique approach to the superhero origin story. While most Marvel films open with narration or a cool action scene, this one opens on possibly the saddest note I’ve ever seen for a Marvel film.  I thought it was a trailer for another movie, but it turned out to be a character setup.  To add to the uniqueness, the characters don’t technically have superpowers, they are just individuals who are gifted in one way or another.  The character relationships are extremely entertaining to watch, especially that of Rocket and Groot.  Rocket is able to translate what Groot is saying even though all we hear is “I am Groot”, similar to Lassie barking at Billy and Billy knowing that some kid is trapped in a well.  Pratt and Saldana have good chemistry, making their interactions equally as enjoyable.  That said, one of the greatest personal joys was watching Glenn Close take a small role very seriously, as if she were in a regular movie.  The same applies to John C. Reilly’s cameos; but he gets more funny lines than she does.

The music in this film is a blast, using 70’s rock tunes throughout the film to set the tone for scenes in just the right way.  I don’t think I’ve tapped my toes in an action movie this much in my entire film reviewing career.  The older crowd (those who grew up in the 70’s) will certainly enjoy this aspect, while some (my mom) might argue that younger viewers will learn what good music is.

The 3D in this movie is actually worth the money, something that surprised me.  Those who read my reviews know my opinion on the use of 3D, and I was very skeptical about it, but nearly every action scene has something pop out at you in an effective way.  For once, the cost of the ticket is worth it for the 3D version, so see it if you can.

The film is not without problems, unfortunately.  The climax scene has characters engaged in both hand-to-hand combat and in space vehicles, a common occurrence in modern sci-fi.  The problem is that the scene feels overly long when in the vehicles (an issue thankfully avoided by the other action scenes in the movie), as if writer/director James Gunn briefly ran out of interesting ideas and just went generic for a few minutes.  Thankfully, the combat is engaging to watch and well-filmed.  Honestly, had the flight sequence been shorter and better-shot, this film would have gotten a four and a half star rating.

There is one other problem, this one more personal.  Marvel has always avoided having a large amount of profanity in their films, choosing instead to get their PG-13 ratings for violence (AKA an element that is required for the film to work).  Marvel films are generally pretty clean when it comes to language, and that is something I have always admired.  Sadly, that trend did not follow in this movie.  This film unexpectedly has the most swearing I’ve heard in a PG-13 Marvel movie, instead of the company’s normally classy handling of that specific area.  I know that they’ve been endlessly advertising this movie on TV for some time now, and that kids love superhero movies, but think carefully before letting young ones see this.  The language is saltier then I felt comfortable hearing with my 9 year old buddy Colin.  I hope this is specific to this franchise (yes, a release date for the sequel has been set for July 2017) and not for future installments of their popular heroes.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-fi, Violence and Action, and Some Language

“High School Musical” Graduates to the Big Screen

3 out of 5 stars (average)

High School Musical 3: Senior Year poster
Image from http://www.moviepostershop.com/

Note: Upon rewatching this film, I find it absolutely shocking that I once enjoyed it.  The acting and writing are laughable, (the former especially for Vanessa Hudgens) the music numbers, while well-produced, took me out of the films’ reality, and the self-congratulatory ending is ludicrous.  I would give it 2 out of 5 stars today (has some good moments, but is overall bad).  Despite that, please enjoy this review from my younger, less-experienced self.

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last two years, this is the third installment of a big musical franchise about diversity and the power of choices, all set to music.

Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) is East High’s basketball champion for the Wildcats team. He’s got his teammates like Chad (Corbin Bleu) and the support of his girlfriend Gabriella Montez, East High’s genius-hottie who is played by Vanessa  Hudgens. What could be better? But this is Senior Year and that means Troy, Gabriella, Chad and everyone else has to think about where they want to go to college. Troy’s father has already picked out a college for him; his alma mater the University of Albuquerque. Gabriella might go to Stanford University, very far away from Troy.

The new school year starts, and drama teacher Mrs. Darbus (Alyson Reed) announces that this year’s musical shall be about the kids’ final days at East High. Determined to see that this is her show and not the Wildcats, pink queen Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) enlists the help of her dorky brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) and exchange student Tiara Gold (Jemma McKenzie-Brown) to help her hijack the play. Meanwhile, Gabriella gets the gang to do the show, knowing this is the last time they will get to do something together. (How likely is it that the ball-hugging jocks are doing the school musical for the third year in a row?)

“High School Musical 3: Senior Year” is the worst of the HSM trilogy, but it is still good. The songs and dances are fun, but they take up too much of the movie for there to be as good a plot as its prequels. Ryan is still as dorky as ever, and Sharpay can’t seem to understand she will never get Troy’s heart.

I liked the fact that none of the actors were replaced even though they are all about 21-22 years old. The dance numbers a superbly demonstrated and almost every kind of music you can think of is in this film. There are hip hop, slow, rock, and other kinds of music.

Unfortunately, there is too much music in the movie for there to be a good plot, and Mrs. Darbus isn’t as goofy as she was in the last two movies. My friend Virgil went to see this with me (even though he’s never seen the HSM movies) and liked it. My sister Carol went to this film with a group of her friends, and they all screamed with delight (according to my sister) whenever Troy came on the screen. That happens to me whenever I walk in a room. They booed whenever Troy and Gabriella kissed though (sixth graders, yuck!)

Everyone knows about this franchise, so why did Disney take it to the big screen instead of keeping it on TV? The most logical answer in my opinion is, for the $$$$. The question is whether it’s really worth the $3.50 coke and $4.50 popcorn, plus the $6 movie ticket to see this flick. Yeah, I think it’s worth it, especially since my parents paid my way.

Rated G for Good Enough 1 hour, 40 minutes