Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) by Elizabeth Banks

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Waiting for this movie has been torture. Watching trailers and clips has been torture. Two and a half years of torture. And then it came out and I’m not in Berlin anymore and can’t get my hands on an original copy and have to watch it in German – worst TORTURE!

pitchperfect2.5I’m over this now. So let’s look at what it’s about:

The Barden Bellas (among them Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean and Alexis Knapp are banned from competing on a collegiate level because of a mishap involving the president of the U.S. and Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) vagina. But since they’re reigning national champions (for the third time in a row), they are invited to the World Championship. If they win it, future generations of Bellas can compete again. But the competition is great and the reigning World Champions, an intimidating German team, are not going to give up their title without a fight. Gay things happen and the Bellas win.

Sorry for the spoiler, but you didn’t actually think they wouldn’t, right?

Is this movie as good as the first one? No. Is it bad? No, far from it, actually. It’s a lot of fun; it is pitchperfect2.7 pitchperfect2.4entertaining and well-timed. Love the music. But there are a couple of things that are off. Namely, why are the Trebles still in the big picture? Why is Beca still with Jesse (well, I think they’re together despite the fact that their relationship feels like an awkward brother and sister-thing)? Why did they have to make every other Bella a one-line joke (honestly, most fanfictions have better character development)? And why does Chloe behave like Aubrey at times (minus the throw-up)?

I’ll be writing about these things on my other blog. I’ll probably write about PP quite a bit again. But here and now, let me tell you: just seeing the Bellas together again, is heart-warming. I missed these girls; most of all Beca Mitchell who is still a lovely, sometimes awkward character who can be a dick sometimes. The music numbers are great, even those who are over the top. You can see that the actresses worked their butts off and it still looks effortlessly in the end. The chemistry is still there. Not just between Beca and Chloe – which is, of course, the heart piece of the Bellas as a group – but between Amy and Aubrey, between Stacie and Cynthia Rose and Jessica and Ashley. They brought most beloved characters back for the sequel, and I honestly only missed Donald, because the Trebles lost all their cool without him.

So, yeah, I enjoyed Pitch Perfect 2 – not so much the German version, and let me also add how pitchperfect2.2embarrassing it is for every German to have a group called DAS Sound Machine, when it is grammatically incorrect and you could hear it repeated and whispered throughout the theater whenever someone says it on screen. It could have been better, yes, but, oh boy, it could have been so much worse!

As part of an obsession: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012) by Kirk Jones

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I remember watching the trailer and thinking: no way I’m going to watch that. I’m not sure if it was the way it was presented in said trailer or whether I didn’t pay enough attention to it but I was convinced that this was a movie about becoming a dad… somehow the ‘dude group’ got stuck in my mind as the main focal point and that was certainly no movie I wanted to watch.

Another problematic expectation for this movie was certainly that it was going whattoexpect2to be heteronormative to a fault – and at least on that account it delivered. But let’s look at what’s happening:

People are having babies. In this movie, there are five different couples in Atlanta who are expecting something small. Some rather unexpectedly, others after having tried for awhile, one couple is adopting. The different ways to deal with this are shown sometimes comically, sometimes tragically, even satirically.

Of course, most people know that there’s a book of same title out there, trying to prepare future parents for the big step of having off-spring. And I guess, it’s a helpful book – not having children or wanting children, I’m no expert on self-help books for expectant couples.

The storylines interweave in this movie, the couples are at different points in their lives, it’s all more about the comical element than representation of truth. It also tries to convey that pregnancies are diverse just as the women who are pregnant are diverse.

whattoexpect1It’s a little hard to talk about the different storylines of the film because there are several and all cast quite brilliantly. Of course, my focus was on Anna Kendrick as the young woman who got pregnant from a one-night-stand but miscarries. She probably has the most dramatic story-line and really builds a relatable character in a short amount of time. The ending to the relationship to Marco (Chace Crawford) is a little forced it seems. The movie is so adamant in creating a happy ending for all the stories that reasoning flies out the window in this one and we don’t really understand why Kendrick’s character Rose has a change of heart when she told him before that seeing him was too painful.

Maybe it is because the movie tries to tell too many stories and to do them all justice. But it is not the only problem this movie has. While the acting is excellent all around and the funny parts are really funny, some of Hollywood’s biggest problematic chlicées are reinforced. For once, people of color are rare. Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro play a latino couple and while all the white people in the movie are capable of having children of their own, these two are the couple who adopt. I guess that’s the heteronormative equivalent of having the only woman of color in a movie play the gay/bisexual character. Another one: Chris Rock plays one of the dads in the ‘dude group,’ the wisest, most whattoexpect5informed, cool dad – but also the one with the most kids, planning on more. African-Americans having a lot of children while his white buddies all stop at 1.9? Seriously? Of course, one can talk of satire in his case, as most of his role seems to build on it. Still, when you look at the set-up of the film you can’t help but feel that the people of color are pushed to the sidelines, especially with the multiple birthing-scenes all intertwining while the adoption scene is set apart. It would have been nicer if the adoption had been interwoven as well, showing that adoption isn’t something ‘less’ or something ‘other’ than having a baby in the ‘traditional’ way if you want.

Which also brings us back to the problem of heteronormativity. No queer characters, not even lesbian moms. I’m not sure where the book stands on that but the movie lacks on that aspect. Straight couples having babies – or not, or unwillingly, or predictably. Because there is realy something predictable how it is set up for just the right audience – white, straight folks.

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I already said that the acting was excellent but let’s elaborate a little. I was probably most impressed with Elizabeth Banks. And I don’t know where I know her from or why I haven’t paid much attention to her before but she is a really good actress. Someone who delivers lines in the best comical way. Anna Kendrick, of course, is amazing. In a movie that is funny and droll, she’s the one who has to pull out the big dramatic guns and she’s amazing at it. Jennifer Lopez – I think she is underestimated in whatever she does. She’s a brilliant performer and has grown as an actress. As a woman who is that successful, she’s criticized left and right but is always giving her best and you can see it in this movie where she shows a lot of depth and inside. And then, there’s Rebel Wilson and her role is really small but she’s just great. I loved the interaction between her and Elizabeth Banks’ character, the only real sense of – if not friendship then – camaderie between women that you get throughout the movie. And maybe that is its biggest mistake – it puts too much emphases on men connecting through fatherhood but isolates the pregnant woman… just a thought.

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As part of an obsession: Up in the Air

Up in the Air (2009) by Jason Reitman

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I just scrolled through the list of nominations for this film – and Anna Kendrick sure made an impression with the critics and the audience with this movie.

I didn’t watch it at the movies but on DVD. Movies about the oh-so-important crisis of men usually take a backseat on my to-watch list and, yeah, I’m aware that there’s a slim chance that I might miss a good movie that way – it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Up in the Air http://teaser-trailer.comRyan Bingham (George Clooney) earns his money with firing people – that’s the service his employer provides. He travels to different locations throughout the U.S. and informs employees that they are let go because the employers are too chicken to do it themselves. Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is an ambitious young woman who wants to help cut costs for the company Bingham works for by grounding everyone and having the work done via computer.

Ryan isn’t happy about this because he likes to be on the road – or rather: in the upintheair3air. He has the aim to reach 10 million miles of flying, and then there’s the lovely Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) who leads a life similar to his and whom he can only meet and connect with in the realm of life without boundaries.

I like this one – I don’t love it, though. The three leads, as presented on the poster, are the real appeal of it. They work so well together. The writing is good, the conversations feel real, close to heart. Just look at the scene with the three of them talking in the entrance hall of the hotel. It’s probably one of the most captivating scenes in any movie in which the protagonists just talk.

The reason I don’t love the movie are the conventions that are being upheld. Natalie is 23 and has her life planned – and this life includes moving to Omaha for a boyfriend, wanting to be married with kids as fast as possible and having a career. When her boyfriend breaks up with her, she breaks apart. I am aware that this is a critique of a system that tells women to be exactly like that – but is it recognized as a critique? When Natalie lectures Ryan about his relationship to Alex and later turns out to be right – that he’s lonely and secretely in love with Alex – doesn’t that validate her convictions about love rather than criticize them?

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And did Ryan really have to turn out to be sappy and secretely unhappy, instead of the cool guy he’s on the surface? Hollywood is the greatest promoter of LOVE. The undying, the one true, the happily ever after LOVE. It is not possible for Ryan to just be casual about Alex – the way she is casual with him – he has to be in love. I’m not saying that Alex isn’t a worthy object of admiration – she’s a captivating character, I found myself falling for her – but Ryan’s love for her becomes too much of a convention. Because we expect it – the movie makers would argue, because we want it to happen. But really, is it so bad for a upintheair6main character to be alone and happy? Hollywood makes single people, people who rather live alone, feel bad about themselves. And it makes me sound like a total loser because I promote this way of life. I may not agree with Ryan’t whole philosophy of the empty backpack but I do believe there are people who like to live that way, want to live that way. But Hollywood tells us in a million ways each year that this is wrong, that everybody needs somebody to love (not just Hollywood, the music industry is probably second in line).

Up in the Air promotes this point a little too vehemently, too. And the only consolation is that Ryan doesn’t get what he wants. Alex is unavailable. And he’s back in the air where he suddenly doesn’t want to be anymore. He ends up the victim of society’s expectations. But it doesn’t feel like a critique of the system, it points at Ryan and tells us: look at this poor sob, he waited too long, he wasted his life frivolously, and now he will never find love.

And that is just wrong.

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As part of an obsession: Camp

Camp (2003) by Todd Graff

camp1You may have noticed a slight change in the look of my blog, the header is different. This has something to do with my current obsessions: Pitch Perfect and everything Anna Kendrick. And when you’re obsessed you make poor choices – one was watching this movie.

Camp is about just that – in both meanings of the word. A summer camp full of music enthusiasts meet to hone their talents in acting, singing, and dancing. And these kids are certainly talented. But the story that is being told has little to do with what goes on on the stage. Vlad (Daniel Letterle) is kind of an oddity: he’s straight and he still likes to flirt with his gay roommate Michael (Robin de Jesus) sometimes. Michael is thrown because Vlad is cute but also very active with the ladies in the camp – especially Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) who has some insecurities of her own and is coincidentally Michael’s best friend.

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There are other kids as well, of course. One is Fritzi (Anna Kendrick) and Fritzi has a crush on Jill (Alana Allen). But Jill is a bitch and uses Fritzi as her personal doormat until the younger girl cracks and starts to sabotage the pretty girl who gets all the good parts just because of her looks.

The problem I had with this is rather simple: why make a movie with multiple queer characters, that is called Camp of all things, and then make the biggest part of it about the budding romance between Vlad and Ellen? There was potential there and it was certainly hinted at. But Vlad’s bisexuality never really materialized, he’s more of a tease than an experimental guy. And the makers took the conventional way out. Another thing: while the gay male teens are positively (if stereotypically) portrayed, the lesbian (if we can call Fritzi that) gets the weirdo treatment and then turns mean… certainly, she is talented but look at that temper! Oh, please. Her sexuality is more of a fetishized wet dream than part of her personality.

camp2The acting all around wasn’t as good as it could have been but the story is the major let down of this movie. While it is willing to promote queerness in teens it still pushes heteronormativity down our throats via its two main protagonists and when even Michael jumps onto the bandwagon (if only for one night) things get a little out of hand. There’s an ambiguity at work here that makes me admit: yes, these are kids, their sexualities aren’t set into stone, experiementing is a healthy thing… and I certainly agree with this take, however, it seems that the queer teens are lured into straight experiments more than the straight teen into gay experiementing. The ambiguity is actually a double-standard.

A word to Anna Kendrick: she was amazing. Her role isn’t very big but her character is certainly the most memorable and I was blown away by her performance of Ladies Who Lunch from Sondheim’s Company – the man makes a guest appearance as himself by the way. You should check it out on youtube, it’s a killer. The movie is not, though.

Star Camp / Camp

Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect (2012) by Jason Moore

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(Okay, I decided to do this new thing – snapping pics of my tix and posting them with the review [these are only this year’s Pitch Perfect-tickets; I have another one from last year]; just for fun, y’know. And yeah, I’m aware that’s an ugly background, it’s my carpet; I will try to find a new one.)

As you can see, I haven’t been to the movies lately – money is hard to come by these days. But I didn’t want the world to end without having watched Pitch Perfect, so, this was the first movie since July I indulged in (I’m not especially sad to have missed most of summer’s blockbusters). As so many others I watched the trailer and just knew it was good – and for once, I am able to say that I was not disappointed by the product that was put out.

Is the story innovative – hell no! But who cares:

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Beca (Anna Kendrick) is pressured by her father (John Benjamin Hickey) to attend college although she would much rather move to L.A. to become a DJ. Her roommate Kimmy Jin (Jinhee Joung) hates her, and the only person paying any attention to her is this guy Jesse (Skylar Astin) who obviously just wants to get into her pants. Campus has four a cappella groups, among them the all-boys Treblemakers and the all-girls Barden Bellas. They are declared enemies but as life – or Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet much?) – has it, Beca ends up with the Bellas, while Jesse joins the Treblemakers. Hilarious ensues, the girls get their shit together and finally win the nationals, everybody wins – and Jesse gets into Beca’s pants (it is indicated, fortunately, we only see them kiss).

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As I said, the story isn’t really innovative, the love story’s kinda boring but it’s not the center of attention which is good. The main attraction is young people singing a capella and trying to be cool doing it. Yes, it leans heavily on Glee but it also makes fun of the show (the shower scene with Beca and Chloe wasn’t only hilarious, it was professedly gay – and a female rip-off of all the times the gleeks sang in the shower).

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Anna Kendrick is a wonderful lead, she is talented, she is captivating, she rocks this movie – and so does her cleavage (and if you tell me you weren’t as distracted by it as I was you’re lying). And then there’s Rebel Wilson playing Fat Amy. How do I explain Rebel Wilson – she is flawless… if you haven’t seen her in anything yet make sure you watch her in Pitch Perfect – she rules this movie, she is badass, and I am saying this with the utmost respect for her and all her abilities. She’s funny.

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With so many women packed into one group, gay ensues. I wasn’t entirely happy with the obviously gay character Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) (and it wasn’t a surprise that with all the white girls in the Bellas, she was one of the few women of color) but then there was the chemistry between Anna Kendrick and Brittany Snow. And it’s not just about the shower scene, the first time these two meet, Snow is eye-sexing Kendrick so obviously that even I saw it. And it wasn’t the only time either. With all the things being said between these two during the movie, I actually scratched my head at the end of it when Beca kissed Jesse – I had quite comfortably leaned back into my head-canon and assumed that the two girls would end up together. Well, Hollywood says no and all the fans start writing BeChloe fanfiction.

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Update: I have now watched it four times and that’s only at the movies – and it still rocks. I’m actually rather obsessed with it and count myself as one of those fans who write BeChloe fanfic… what can I say: I love those awesome nerds.

Just dropping a note: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) by Edgar Wright

I don’t know if you know days like this but there are days when I crave going to the movies – and there’s nothing on. And even I didn’t want to see ‘Salt’ again (yes, I have watched it and not written about it but I still have the perfect headline for a blog-post: ‘Salt – or was it Bond, ca. 1980’ – can you envision the post from that headline?) so I picked what Germans call ‘das geringste Übel’ – the minor evil (which is not a good translation at all). Well, the least likely to be a total disaster (other than the Heigl-movie) was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I had seen the trailer (which didn’t do it for me at all) and for me it was just another movie about a loser getting a hip girl – so unlikely.

Fortunately, the makers of Scott Pilgrim did not think it any more likely than me and left the trashy grphic novel look about it all which made it more surreal than real. And it is fun, too. At first, of course, you think, wtf but then the dorky character of Scott (Michael Cera) grows on you (much like he did in Juno where the idea of him impregnating Ellen Page is quite disturbing). And not just him. I must say that Kieran Culkin is by far my favorite Culkin and seeing him play gay is even better than watching his brother Macauley in Party Animals.

It was fun watching it, not especially deep or moving or whatever, just fun. It did not make me want to read the comic, and it did not make me want to write a paper about it, which is a good thing since I’ve got far too many papers planned that I will probably never write. It also did not make me want to write a long blog-post which you have probably already gathered since I am rambling.

Bottom line is: Good movie, watch!