karaoke

February 6, 2014

Matt Simply Loves Anna Kendrick: Pitch Perfect

GUILTY

Pitch Perfect – Guilty

I’m really going to put myself out there with who I love this month. I could be cliche and pick an actor the likes of Mike Ruffalo (who I still might) or perhaps even Joaquin Phoenix, but I’m singing the praises, fittingly enough, of one special lady who by all accounts would be Jennifer Lawrence if Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t Jennifer Lawrence, if that makes sense.

I’m sucker for short girls with attitudes, and its the reason why I married one.  I guess I like a challenge and someone who can keep up with my smartassness.  That’s why I love Anna Kendrick.  She’s the perfect combination of spunky, deadpan, and cute.  She’s a proven indie darling and has the chops to hang with some of the biggest actors in Hollywood.

One thing I do find surprising about Kendrick, and I’ve mentioned this before in my “50/50” review, are all the negative comments she gets from critics, mainly over the things that she says.  Yes, she has a little bit of a potty mouth, but that’s what makes her even more charming and real.  So many young actresses want to act prim and proper and act like they need to impress everyone in order to get jobs and gain fans.  My belief is that being yourself is the only way to endear yourself to a much larger audience.  Just take a look at her Newcastle ad, it’s pure Anna, and it perfectly sums her up.

For the most part, you won’t find me watching many films that have a lot of musical numbers, or feature music as a main plot point.  What you might find me watching, however, are films that are either directed by Christopher Guest, which is ironic because I love “This is Spinal Tap” and “A Mighty Wind.  Again, ironic, but there are exceptions to rules all the time, and 2013 found me watching “Pitch Perfect” starring the wonderful Anna Kendrick, over and over again.  Yes, it’s my biggest guilty pleasure of this past year.

“Perfect” is in fact pretty perfect, if you’re looking for unexpectedly funny performances, catchy-as-f*ck songs, and of course, Anna Kendrick.  Now, there are some cliches of course.  Anna plays the typical outsider role, full of angst and a tongue as sharp as her wit.  You have the Type-A leader, played by Anna Camp, who is also extremely extremely charming, and of course the fat girl comic relief, played by Rebel Wilson.  Yes, you’ve seen glimpses of this film if you’ve ever seen a “Bring It On” or “Step Up” film, but what sets “Perfect” apart is it’s dry wit and it’s actors who you might not think can bring the funny, and pleasantly surprise you.

As previously mention, “Perfect” follows Beca (Kendrick) a college freshmen who is more interested in moving to L.A. and paying her dues than her Intro to Philosophy class.  After an ultimatum by her father to move her out to California if she joins an extra-curricular activity, Beca decides that “organized nerd singing” is the way to go, as she joins the Barden Bellas, an all-female A Capella group.  Of course hijinks ensue, tension is created, and finally we have redemption come the very end where the Bellas win.  It’s typical of the “go to college and have an adventure” genre, but there is enough humor and heart to set it apart from the rest of a tired genre.

While “Up In the Air” garnered her her most critical acclaim, and “Twilight” gave her her largest film roll out, “Perfect” is Kendrick’s star-making performance.  It allows her to act, bring the comedy, and of course, sing.  Now again, I’m not the biggest fan of singing and musical, but for some reason, I find myself singing just about every time I watch this film.

Despite the fact that Kendrick is playing another teen cliche, as I mentioned earlier, she is still able to create a character that feels new and interesting.  The “mysterious alternative girl who secretly loves things” has been done since “The Breakfast Club” but Kendrick brings her wit, and spunky personality to the role that’s the harbinger for the entire film.  She’s the heart, soul, and engine that guides the story.  Beca is that girl you saw in school that you always wanted to say something to, but you noticed the giant “F*ck Off” on her forehead.  “Perfect” shows you one thing;  girls have a soft spot for 1980s films, and if you have an even half-way decent singing voice and red hair, you got a shot at that girl.

All in all, “Pitch Perfect” is one of those films that you might feel guilty for liking, until you see how many people actually love it.  So much so, “Pitch Perfect 2” is being fast-tracked, with the ever amazing Elizabeth Banks behind the camera, and Kendrick likely returning in the starring role once again.  So you’ll have to aca-scuse me, I have some singing to do.

Fun Fact:  Sorry Kristen Stewart fans, but Kendrick is the only actor from the “Twilight” series that has been nominated for an Academy Award in 2010’s, “Up In the Air.” 

July 20, 2013

Only God Forgives (DJ’s Take)

BLANK

All my cards on the table.  I love the film Drive.  I own the dvd, I own the soundtrack, I own the poster, and to be honest, I was a second thought away from owning that satin scorpion racing jacket.  I get really frustrated when the now overly cynical, “If something is trying to be cool I’ll automatically hate it” film critic says they despise Drive.  It is a perfect example of minimalism done right.  Minimalism used in an action/drama film that made it into something fresh and different.  So, when I heard that star Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn were teaming up again, I was excited.  However, after watching their new film Only God Forgives, I have to say that this is an example of minimalism done wrong.  When word got out of audience members booing and walking out of the premier at Cannes, I was very puzzled.  I can always understand not liking a film afterwards, but booing and walking out during, baffles me.  What could be so bad?  Well, within the first ten minutes there are certainly reasons to warrant a conservative audience uprising.  As a whole, the film has subject matter offensive and violent enough to have me second guess the rating.  However, the film’s biggest crime for me was the emptiness of it.  Only God Forgives provides little in the way of plot and character development.  And the crime is, that it is set up to give you so much more.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking.  How could you criticize Only God Forgives for using a style that Drive also uses?  Well, Drive was originally intended to be another cliched action vehicle much like The Transporter.  There was nothing really there originally that we hadn’t seen already in regards to the story and characters.  A mysterious rebel who wants to do good but is pulled back into a life of crime to protect the woman he loves.  Winding Refn’s decision to pull back on the cliche and make Drive more dramatic and serious and realistic separates it from the rest in the genre.  Only God Forgives, on the other hand, is not a traditional action/drama set up.  Yes, you could say there is a revenge angle going on.  However, the setting of the film, the symbolism of the film, and the creepy family dynamic of the film are all begging to be explored.  It really isn’t.  In Drive, despite Gosling’s man of few words gimmick, the supporting characters give you something to chew on.  Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, and the amazing Albert Brooks fill in the gaps the film’s stoic hero leaves.  In Only God Forgives, we are left with only one character that does that.  The deplorably offensive Crystal, played to perfection by Kristin Scott Thomas.  Unfortunately, she can only fill so many BLANK spaces before you’re left wanting.  In Drive, the BLANKS were there but in fewer frequency.  When they did show up, because it was material you were familiar with, your imagination could fill them in.  So, an uncomfortably sweet conversation in the hallway with Gosling and Carey Mulligan isn’t as jarring.  The world of Only God Forgives is very unfamiliar.  The characters are very unfamiliar.  The situations are very unfamiliar.  So, when you’re searching for the motivations and thoughts of a character, you’re just left with a BLANK.

If you think Gosling’s Driver said and expressed little in Drive, just wait until you see Only God Forgives.  Julian Thompson feels like a stranger to us throughout.  Gosling’s perpetual sphinx-like expression hurts the character more than adds to his mystery.  One could assume this was done to heighten the effect of Julian’s later emotional outbursts as was done in Drive.  However, Winding Refn’s stripping down of his personality and emotion seems to have passed the breaking point.  Though it may be the dialogue fiend in me, but he just seemed like a character that would be better suited talking a good game.  He’s a fight promoter for crying out loud!  I personally think Gosling is a very good actor and when given more things to do emotionally and expressively, he usually knocks it out of the park.  He’s grasping at straws here.  The…um…villain I guess (He’s more reactionary if you think about it.  And God himself if you REALLY think about it.), played by Vithaya Pansringarm, is another great character with sadly minimized background.  It works more for him seeing as the mysterious villain is a familiar concept.  However, when the protagonist and antagonist of your story are both practically mute, their dynamic suffers.  Drive, again, didn’t have this problem because Albert Brooks filled those BLANKS.

The one true positive and apparent focus of the film is the stunning cinematography.  I got a hint of this during the trailer, but it barely scratches the surface of the amount of breathtakingly beautiful shots you’ll see.  I haven’t seen scenes this colorfully vibrant and skillful composed since Skyfall.  Props should be given to acclaimed cinematographer Larry Smith of Eyes Wide Shut fame and Winding Refn himself.  However, the look of the film seems to be the only place where Winding Refn spent his time.  There really could have been some great material fleshed out of that script if he wanted.

It is thought to be a good thing to leave the people wanting more.  However, a film with too much of too little can run the risk of appearing unclear, disjointed, and lazy.  Now, I know Nicolas Winding Refn isn’t lazy.  He’s a terrific filmmaker.  The style of Only God Forgives seems to be a choice.  In my opinion, it wasn’t entirely the right one.  Crank up the karaoke machine…roll up your sleeves…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

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