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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Pitch Perfect 2 / Pitch Perfect

PITCH PERFECT 2 (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Elizabeth Banks, 2015

Any movie sequel that starts out by having its costar moon the President of the United States and the First Lady at Lincoln Center obviously doesn’t suffer from a lack of self-confidence. And I guess you could say that the massive box-office receipts for Pitch Perfect 2 last weekend — when this sequel to the hit 2012 a capella musical comedy out-grossed  Mad Max: Glory Road (in its first week) — prove that confidence was justified.

I didn’t like it as much as the first myself, but that’s mostly because it’s a typical sequel, and typical sequels almost always suffer from too much déjà vu and too little real spark and invention — which is what the first Pitch had even when it was drowning in clichés. A second go-round for Brilliant Beca (Anna Kendrick), bad mouth Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson the mooner), driven Chloe (Brittany Snow), feisty Cynthia (Ester Dean), Audrey (Anna Camp) and all the other sprightly members of the Barden University Bellas — with more songs, more groups, more gags and more girl power — Pitch 2 obviously didn’t disappoint either its faithful fans or hordes of newcomers. And I think we can safely anticipate an eventual Pitch Perfect Trilogy, in which the Barden Bellas may even get a few politicians and world leaders to moon them.

The aforementioned tush exposure scene occurs right when the Bellas — who’ve apparently been winning ICCA a capella contests ever since Beca’s stellar Freshman year and introduction to the group back in 2012, — seem to be secure in their maximum moment of triumph, performing before the Prez at Lincoln Center, when Fat Amy lets too much of it hang out. And her fat faux pas allows the tight-ass dean of Barden (Bryant Banks) to banish them from the next competition, right when things seemed rosy and a prospective new Bella — Hailee Steinfeld as the sparkly Emily — has arrived on campus.

Disgrace is nothing new to the Bellas, of course. They began the last movie trying to survive a projectile vomit incident, during performance, again by the irrepressible Fat Amy, who can probably be counted on for something even more embarrassing in the now inevitable Pitch Perfect 3. So, the Bellas hunker down, get some new songs and some new arrangements and (some of them) some new flames, and they hurl themselves into an international a capella competition which no Yanks have ever won and which is regularly taken by an obnoxious German team called Das Sound Machine, headed by the supremely arrogant and evil-looking diva, the Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorenson) — who looks like the kind of singer/dancer/actress Ingmar Bergman might have hired for a Swedish stage version of “Cabaret.”

The other competing or at least present groups include that inevitable bad-boy band, the Treblemakers — the Bellas’ nemeses from the last movie — plus such red hot harmonic aggregations as The Cantasticos, The Singboks, the Pentatonix, the Filharmonics, and more, including, so help me, a rump group from The Green Bay Packers, moonlighting as song and dance footballers in the tradition of the 1985 Chicago Bears and their immortal showstopper “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”

So the Bellas plunge into melodic combat once again and once again they appear to be underdogs. But music hath charms, and so do Beca and Fat Amy. The play list for their grand tour and showdown (or, at least, for this movie) includes such evergreens as “Doo Wop,” “We Got the World,” “Poison,” “Cups,” “Insane in the Brain,” “Bootylicious,” “Lady Marmalade” (“Voulez-vous couchez avec Moi?”), “Wrecking Crew,” “Bang Bang,” “Any Way You Want It” and that immortal song, worthy of Schubert, “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty.” (Not since “Abbey Road” has there been a lineup like that. They wish.)

In the main subplot, which has Beca seeking a recording career with a Svengali-like music boss played by Keegan-Michael Key, Snoop Dogg shows up and fuzzies a peachy nostalgia duet with Beca on a “Play a Simple Melody”-style mashup of “Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland” (Snoop) and “Here Comes Santa Claus“ (Beca). Romance is supplied by the liked of former nemesis Bumper (Adam DeVine), The Breakfast Club fan Jesse (Skylar Austin), and, in a weird way, Birgitte’s Kommissar. Zillions gather to cheer on their faves. Lights wave. Hearts pound. Booties shake). In a stunning surprise, the competition is finally won by…..


The Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing a medley of The Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and — you guessed it — “Shake (Shake, Shake, Shake) Your Booty!” (Just kidding.)


As the competition heats up, so does the movie. Among its many celebrity guests, cheering the Bellas on, are Jimmy Kimmel, and the hosts and judges of American Idol, The View, Morning Joe and The Today Show. All of this is brought to us with another snide and sneering running commentary supplied by that snide and sneering pair, John Michael Higgins and his equally snide and sneering cohort, Elizabeth Banks. Banks also (once again) co produced the show and this time, directed it as well. And she’s pretty good, especially when she’s helming herself and Higgins, snidely sneering. And snarky.

There was such a lot of fuss over Rebel Wilson and Fat Amy in the first movie, that maybe Anna Kendrick didn’t get as much credit as she deserved. But she richly deserves it. After all, she is the star and she is a super-talented pitch perfect top-notcher. So let’s give the gal her due. Yay! You go girl! (Again.) And give our regards to Snoop.

Anyway (you want it), I must admit I liked this (now) franchise series better when it wasn’t a franchise, and they didn’t have eighty zillion guest stars and when they actually were — like the original Beca-led Bellas — an underdog. You can be more forgiving when someone or some movie is coming from behind. But writer Kay Cannon, back again to provide snappier quips than movies like this can usually muster, makes sure the Bellas, and especially Fat Amy and Beca, have amusing stuff to say as well as hot songs to sing. After all, the musicals of the old classic Hollywood days (at least the ones that weren’t translated from Broadway) often spouted a lot of clichés and silly stuff too, and we often forgave them.

Now, even though there’s a lot of the above (c. and s.s.) here, I was glad that Pitch Perfect 2, like the big-grossing or well-regarded recent musicals Chicago, Frozen, Les Miserables, and Into the Woods, and others, have signaled a seeming change — and that the movie musical, which had seemed a largely moribund genre ever since the ‘70s, could come roaring back like this. Maybe, some day, some how, somewhere, we’ll see the day when we get a lot more musicals, and more masterpieces like Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris and On the Town and Top Hat and Swing Time and The Band Wagon and Meet Me in St. Louis and The Red Shoes and High Society and Gentleman Prefer Blondes and Cabaret and The Wizard of Oz and Footlight Parade and West Side Story and A Hard Day‘s Night. For that, I’ll put up with a zillion other choruses of “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty.”

Well, maybe two. ________________________________________________________________________________



U.S.: Jason Moore, 2012

In the mood for an all-out, unflinching movie musical comedy about college boys and girl a cappella groups? Want to watch (and hear) a bunch of enthusiastic unaccompanied singers slugging it out in something called the ICCA (International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella), with unaccompanied (sort of) renditions of songs like Whip It, Turn the Beat Around, Like a Virgin, and We Came to Smash in a Black Tuxedo? Want to watch (and hear) a movie where star Anna Kendrick does a Psycho shower scene parody, while playing a tattooed, ear-pierced mash-up Freshman queen named Beca who joins a failing a cappella group called the Bellas and is pursued by a persistent Freshman boy singer called Jesse (Skylar Astin) — a sweetheart of a guy who thinks the world’s most moving movie (and one of the five best-scored) is The Breakfast Club? Have you been waiting around and hoping for something like this? I didn’t think so. Serious little devil, aren’t you?

Well, as Rebel Wilson’s character Fat Amy might say, never judge a book (or a song) by its cover, even if the book is a boxed encyclopedia (sort of like Amy). Defying all reasonable expectations, Pitch Perfect (whose title is one of the most overused descriptions in movie criticism) turns out to be a cute, smart, funny show, well-directed (by Jason Moore), well-acted (by Kendrick, Wilson and a cast of dozens), well-sung (there are lots of songs and they’re usually fun) and (this is a shock) well-written. Pitch Perfect is full of clichés of course. But it also has a lot of surprisingly sharp wisecracks and snappy dialogue — courtesy of 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon, and maybe of actresses like Wilson and Kendrick, riffing.

So unfortunately, if you skip Pitch Perfect — and it sometimes deserves to be skipped — you‘ll be missing all the bouncy a cappella scenes, which even survive a projectile vomit gag or two. And you’ll miss the girl group-boy group battle to Toni Basil‘s “Mickey” and Madonna‘s “Like a Virgin,” and all of Wilson’s one-liners, including the already immortal zinger where Fat Amy says she invented her nickname herself so “twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.” And you’ll miss Fat Amy too, one of the raunchiest, most amusing, let-it-all-hang-out characters in any recent movie.

You‘ll miss the smart-ass contest commentary delivered (to what and to whom?) by chatty announcers John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who also produced the movie). And you‘ll miss the scene — a heart render really — where Anna Kendrick’s character Beca watches (on the computer) Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club pumping his fist to the Simple Minds song “Don’t You Forget About Me,” and she can’t hold back the tears. Finally, you’ll miss all the aca-jokes, where Amy and others take the prefix “aca” (from a cappella) and stick it into every other word or phrase they can — like “aca-mazing” and “aca-stonishing” and “aca-demic“ and “aca-mon, give me a break.“

In short, you’ll miss the best Movie of its kind since, I don’t know, Bring It On. Or maybe The Breakfast Club. But that didn’t have any a cappella, did it?

The movie is based not on what you’d expect — a few nights’ worth of old DVDs — but on the non-fiction book “Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate a cappella Glory,” by Mickey Rapkin, which gives the actual lowdown on these kind of contests and probably should have been made into a concert documentary itself and maybe will be. So even though this show is corny and predictable, it speaks (and sings) with some authority, even when Higgins and Banks are doing the aca-commentary.

The story is simple and unoriginal and could have been really bad. Cool little Beca (played very coolly by Kendrick) wants to go away to college. But her professor dad, Dr. Mitchell (John Benjamin Hickey), wants her to go to his school, Barden, for at least a year and he wants her to participate in Barden school activities (ac-activities), which will eventually include the Bellas. Said Bellas, led by tight ac-assed boss Bella Aubrey (Anna Camp) and fervent Chloe (Brittany Snow) are trying to recover from a disgraceful aca-ICCA competition, which was climaxed by that projectile-vomiting, and they’re recruiting new talent, which includes both Beca and Fat Amy.

There’s also a nasty, over-competitive boys group called The Treblemakers, creating disharmony, led by the obnoxious Bumper (Adam Devine), but also including persistent nice guy and Breakfast Club lover Jesse. The girls sing and have spats. The boys sing and sneer. Somebody gets hired for an L. A recording session. The girls find themselves. The contest is on. In a stunning surprise, the ICCA competition is its won by…..


The Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Pat Benatar‘s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” (No, just kidding.)


Well, we don’t go to these movies for the stories, do we? Anyway, Pitch Perfect made me laugh and I liked the music, and that, after all, has been the fundamental appeal of most teen-oriented movie musicals since Babes in Arms — except that nobody here is as good as Judy Garland or Mickey Rooney. (That‘s okay: Nobody in Babes in Arms, not even Rooney, is funnier than Rebel Wilson.)

Jason Moore, who directed Broadway’s “Avenue Q,” keeps things zipping along. Writer Cannon (or should we say writer Aca-nnon) keeps the badinage popping. The choreography, by Ac-Aakomon “A.J.“ Jones, is nifty, as is the music by Christophe Beck and Mark Kilian. The only objections I have to the singing or the song selection (which includes Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.“ and Ace of Base‘s “The Sign“) are that they used Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” and not Billy Joel’s — and also that they completely ignored that semi-a cappella masterpiece “Runaround Sue by” Dion. (“Hurt! Hurt!…Well, I shoulda known it from the very start! This girl will leave me with a broken heart! So if you don’t want to cry like I do, Keep away from Runaround Sue!” )

How can you pass up a chance like that? But maybe the song is too misogynistic, even though it‘s a doo-wop masterpiece. And Sue or no Sue, this show is entertaining. The cast is delightful, a lot of the time. Anna Kendrick, well, she’s a sugarplum, tattooed or not, in or out of the shower. You go, girl! Yay! As for Rebel Wilson, she‘s Bitch Perfect: a sugar-cantaloupe, an encyclopedia of wit and wildness and avoirdupois. This woman deserves an Aca-demy Award for sass. Take that, you twig bitches.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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