Title: Pitch Perfect
Release Date: 5 October 2012
Production Co:Brownstone Productions
Genre:Comedy | Musical
Recently, I’ve been seeing references to Anna Kendrick everywhere, as if the universe wishes for me to know of her existence. So I decided to watch this musical comedy which has a reputation as a cult classic. I went to a college with a big a cappella scene, but the fictional college in this film takes it to a new level, where vocal groups are the highly competitive center of campus life (and apparently members have incredible recall for song lyrics and instant harmonies). The plot leaves a lot of questions (“why if the Bellas routines are so stale & boring do they keep finishing in the top 3?” “does anyone realize that Beca’s plan to use mashups as the basis of their new performance is something already called a medley?”), but this isn’t a movie you watch for the plot. Instead you watch it for the funny dialogue, the showstopping musical numbers, and strong comic performances from Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, and Ben Platt. It’s kind of Animal House with harmony, but with the heart of an 80s John Hughes film (with a very obvious shout-out to The Breakfast Club as a plot point). So, put me down as a fan of Kendrick and Pitch Perfect. I’m ready for the sequel.
The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge are annual family tradition. My first Revels experience was in Washington in 1996. After moving to the Boston area, the Cambridge Revels were an annual event from 2001-2006. We missed the show in 2007 due to a newborn, and in 2008 due to a blizzard, but have been regular attendees since 2009 (that same year I actually sang in the chorus!). So, I calculate that I’ve seen 13 different Christmas Revels performances. Each year is delightful and surprising in its own way.*
This year’s Revels is set in Victorian England, with music halls and the Crystal Palace playing center stage. The first act shows two teams of buskers competing on the streets of a Northern England town as the Crystal Palace manager Harry Colcord and composer Arthur Sullivan seek an alternate performer after a cancellation. In the usual Revels’ way, everything comes together as the buskers join forces to create a performance of music, tricks, and a “panto” of Cinderella. The second act is treated as a command performance at the Crystal Palace (complete with life-size wooden cutouts of the royal family in the mezzanine).
Highlights of the show:
- comic busking performances by Marge Dunn, Billy Meleady, Mark Jaster, and Sabrina Selma Mandell
- singing a round of “Row the Boat, Whittington”
- David Coffin’s solos on “It Was My Father’s Custom” and on the melodic “Christmas Bells at Sea”
- the sing-a-long and acting out of “When Father Papered the Parlour”
- the “Panto” of Cinderella, which while not a true Panto (oh no it isn’t!), we did get to shout “Don’t touch Billy’s eggs” several times
- And of course, the Revels traditions of “Lord of the Dance” (and dancing out into the lobby), “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “The Shortest Day,” and “Sussex Mummers’ Carol.” Unfortunately, the “Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” was conspicuously absence in this year’s performance.
There are five more performances from December 26-28, so if you’re in or near Cambridge, get a ticket and go!
* I also recently discovered that the Revels website has a list detailing the theme of every performance from 1971 to present. Now I need to discover time travel technology so I can go back in time and see each and every one.
Title: The LEGO Movie
Release Date: 7 February 2014
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Production Co: Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures
Country: United States
Genre: Animation | Adventure | Comedy
You’re reading this correctly. I’m reviewing a current film that’s in theatrical release right now. My son and I went to see it yesterday.
The LEGO universe is an Orwellian dystopia, albeit a cheerful one as minifigures go about their days exulting in consumer excess and carefully following written instructions. Emmett is an ordinary construction man who through a series of misadventures is believed to be the “Special” who will save the world from the evil President Business. He joins a group of Master Builders – people who can build things using their imagination out of pieces they find around them rather than following the instructions – and heads off on a series of comical adventures. What The Pirates of Caribbean was able to do for movies based on theme park rides, The Lego Movie does with movies based on toys (of course, it also owes a debt to the Toy Story franchise). The movie works on several levels: a meta-commentary on LEGO toys and their collectors, a satire of consumer culture, a slapstick comedy, a post-modernist agglomeration of popular culture references, and a family adventure film. It really pieces together a lot of things (see what I did there) to make a movie more complex than it looks on that surface. Oh and that surface is some really excellent animation of what a world of LEGO bricks would like.
Hollywood probably has boilerplate scripts for the “need to be an individual in a world of conformists” theme as well as the “we can succeed with teamwork” trope, but rarely to you see both of them brought together with nuance. Another theme of “toys should be played with imaginatively like kids do” rings a bit hollow since LEGO has spent a lot in recent years targeting adult collectors. If I have any other criticisms of this movie is that the relentless pacing of the movie doesn’t ever let it breathe. The only time it slows down is during the live action segments with The Man Upstairs, and I’ll contradict myself here because that part drags on a bit. I’ll also sound like a cranky old codger when I say this, but I missed a lot of dialogue because it was drowned out by the music and sound effects. That being said, these things are not likely to bother most audiences and I think this is an enjoyable film and an instant classic.
Some stray thoughts:
- Benny the 80s-something space guy is my favorite because I had that set when I was a kid, right on down to the broken chin strap on the helmet. I built some cool spaceships for him back in the day
- Every time I see Will Arnett, I’m convinced someone else is doing his voice. Now I know that it’s a Batman minifig.
- Shaquille O’Neill, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams could voice their own characters, but Harrison Ford could not? Mark Hamill basically does voice acting for a living now, so maybe they should have found a place for him instead.
- I want a bunk couch.
- I expect “commence micromanagement” to become a catchphrase in offices across the nation.
- Everything is AWESOME!!!
Seriously can’t get this out of my head. For a song so deliberately bad, it’s actually pretty good.
Title: Slap Shot
Release Date: 25 February 1977
Director: George Roy Hill
Production Co: Kings Road Entertainment
Genre: Comedy | Drama | Sport
Another classic comedy that I never got around to seeing until now. With the closing of the local factory, the Charlestown Chiefs are likely to fold at the end of the season. Aging player-coach Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman) carries out a series of Machiavellian schemes to increase the teams value so that it will be sold to another owner. This primarily involves having his team use goon tactics, which successfully draws in the crowds and helps them win games. Concurrently, Reg also plots to reunite with his ex-wife and reconcile the strained relationship of the Chiefs’ top scorer and his alcoholic wife.
This movie exudes the 1970s in the clothing, music, sexual liberation, and a carefree attitude in a world falling apart. There are a lot of great gags and lines with much of the humor coming from silly characters like the Quebecois goalkeeper and the uber-violent (and extremely dumb) Hanson brothers. But there’s also a gravitas underlining the film that keeps it from being just a screwball comedy although not enough to turn it into a “dramedy.” The ending of the film is utterly bizarre, but it it’s appropriate to the movie.
Title: Frances Ha
Director: Noah Baumbach
Production Co: R.T. Features
Country: United States
Genre: Comedy | Mumblecore
This stylized b&w film follows the foibles of a 27-year old dancer in New York over the course of a year in which her prospects for work, relationships, and even a place to live dwindle. It would be very easy to classify this movie as white whine, especially Frances with her poor decision-making skills and nervous way of interacting with other people is not the most sympathetic lead. But then I remember how stupid I was when I was 27. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not liking this film because it could easily rub one the wrong way, but I warmed up to Frances and her story.
Title: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Release Date: 25 November 1987
Director: John Hughes
Production Co: Paramount Pictures
Country: United States
This is one of those supposed classics that I never got around to seeing until now, so I have no nostalgia connected to this movie. A lot of the gags in this movie that I expect are supposed to be laugh aloud funny didn’t even make me chuckle, especially all the “funny car” gags in the latter parts of the film (and I was spoiled for the “that’s not a pillow” gag years ago). The one exception was Steve Martin’s tirade at Edie McClurg. So this comedy didn’t make me laugh, but fortunately John Hughes’ writing goes beyond just laughs and I was impressed by how he develops the central idea of empathy among the two characters. It helps a lot that while “wacky opposites” they’re more than caricatures, and Martin and John Candy play them perfectly. It was also a nice little time capsule of the United States in 1987, and well, that made me nostalgic after all. So even though I didn’t find Planes, Trains & Automobiles to be all too funny, I did think it was a decent movie.
Title: In The Loop
Release Date: 17 April 2009
Director: Armando Iannucci
Production Co: IFC Films, BBC Films
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Comedy | Satire
This satirical film depicts mid-level government officials in Britain and the US as they work towards declaring war against an unnamed Middle Eastern country (an obvious parody of the run-up to war with Iraq). Some of them hope to avert the war due to the obvious holes in the rationale behind the invasion, but most of the characters simply want to do whatever will advance their careers. Every character in this movie has sharp acerbic wit and insults are hurled left and right. Kind of a mix of The West Wing and The Office and Dr. Strangelove. It is funny with a lot quotable dialogue. On the other hand, the general mean-spiritedness of the affair leaves a bad feeling in my mouth. Good performances by Peter Calpadi, Tom Hollander, Anna Chlumsky, James Gandolfini, and others carry the film.