Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2: My review

Is it possible to see a summer movie these days that doesn’t have 2 in its title? Yes, I know there are exceptions -- reboots like MAD MAX where they just keep the original title. Most times, unless it’s THE GODFATHER or TOY STORY, 2’s are not better than 1’s. Such was the case for me with AVENGERS 2 and it was certainly the case with PITCH PERFECT 2.

I loved PITCH PERFECT 1. It was a delightful little surprise – funny, sweet, and certainly peppy. And you could almost believe Anna Kendrick and the other actresses were of college age. But the sequel? Yikes – this was your typical Hollywood ridiculous, by-the-numbers money grab with only moments of goodness instead of entire sequences.

Good movies start with a good story, a point, a point-of-view. This one started with “Okay, now what do we do?” The artistic exercise here was to jam in all of your favorite characters, do bigger production numbers, shoehorn in love stories, and up the stakes. If in the first one they had to win a collegiate competition then in the second they have to win the world competition. And once that’s established ten minutes into the film they then have ninety minutes to fill until the actual competition.

So what you’re left with are idiotic spontaneous singing competitions, absurd retreat sequences, and Rebel Wilson fat jokes. Every character is a cartoon, every story-turn silly. Did anyone involved with this even see PITCH PERFECT?

Yes, it’s a movie geared to kids (and it’s doing well in the boxoffice), and when I was a kid we had these stupid music/comedies too – classics like HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI. But they were B-movies, fodder for the drive –ins. They weren’t the big studio summer releases.

So what were those moments of goodness? Some of the production numbers were well-done, (although this was an acapella competition and at no time in the film was there not musical accompaniment). There were funny moments between Elizabeth Banks (who also directed) and John Michael Higgins as commentators, but it was a routine clearly ripped off from BEST IN SHOW where Fred Willard did it first and funnier.

The one true saving grace of PP2 it was Keegan-Michael Key as a record producer. He was hilarious and stole every scene he was in. He also seemed to be in a different movie. He was dry, subtle, and real, and the rest of the film was broad, goofy, and over-the-top.

Sequels are a bitch. I’ve been involved in two of them and liked neither. You’re just trying to manufacture more of the same. You’re following formulas, grasping at gimmicks, hoping to recapture the magic of the original. So sure, they’re rarely as good. But here’s the sad part -- Hollywood doesn’t give a shit. Their only reason for greenlighting these movies is to make boatloads of money. Summer movies are not ranked by quality or good reviews. They’re ranked strictly by boxoffice. PAUL BLART: MALL COP 2 got a humiliating 6% good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Only 44% of audiences liked it (which is woeful). But it’s taken in $65 million so far. The studio could not be more thrilled. It’s a home run! As a lifelong hardcore movie fan; as someone who once lived to be in the movie business – I find this heartbreaking. It’s one thing to lower the bar – but 6%?

PITCH PERFECT 2 did better. It scored 67% on Rotten Tomatoes – still not great but certainly decent. You won’t hate PITCH PERFECT 2. You might very well like it. Yes, but will it like enough to go see a PITCH PERFECT 3? That’s the only question Hollywood is asking. If yes, then get Anna Kendrick back on campus even if she’s 35.

37 comments:

MikeK.Pa. said...

Since a lot of major newspapers stopped letting Rotten Tomatoes use their reviews, I don't trust RT ratings any more. Part of the problem of sequels is that the joy of the original is discovering the characters. The sequels' task is to develop and evolve the characters. Most times they only repeat the same formula as the original, probably at the studios' behest.

Bill Jones said...

Sounds a lot like Major League II. Boy, that was a stinker.

Johnny Walker said...

Is that true, Mike? I'd not heard it before, but it certainly puts me off relying on it as much as I used to.

Sequels must be tough, but the best ones (and so I assume the ones that, long term, make the most money) don't retread the originals. BACK TO THE FUTURE 2 was largely a terrible re-tread of first movie, but the third part, which was much more original, was a far more enjoyable film.

That said, TEMPLE OF DOOM tried to do something different with Indiana Jones, and it stunk, too. So I guess being original isn't the answer.

Matt said...

My sister, who was a big Pitch Perfect fan, told me it was the same movie. The group has an early catastrophe from which they must make a comeback. They work hard, go to "camp" and in the end redeem themselves.

She said she liked it, but wouldn't recommend it because it was the same movie as Pitch Perfect, but not as good. She would just watch the original again.

Covarr said...

"reboots like MAD MAX where they just keep the original title"

Uh, wasn't the new one called MAD MAX: FURY ROAD? This movie isn't quite a reboot, either. Writer/Director George Miller has stated he never really thought of the films as having a continuity in the first place, and he really doesn't care whether people think of it as a reboot or a sequel.

Covarr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oat Willie said...

Rotten Tomatoes is respectable now and it's the go-to reference for Wikipedia. "Freshness ratings" compiled by busy white coated scientists who take time away from the lab to contribute to blogs.

Dan Ball said...

Oh man, you didn't see MAD MAX, Ken? I really hope you did and the review's coming tomorrow.

My friend and I are debating how long of a shelf life FURY ROAD will have, but I just see it as a movie that picked up where good blockbusters left off somewhere in the 80s and 90s. It shouldn't be seen as re-inventing the wheel or incredibly groundbreaking. It should just be appreciated for being good and telling the right story the right way. Don't repeat the action, repeat the method.

Not only that, but a septuagenarian just mopped the floor with all these young hotshot directors that are behind THE FAST & THE FURIOUS series and other CG live-action cartoons. At a time when most people his age are living off social security and taking it easy with retirement, George Miller's just done probably the most impressive work of his career and most directors half his age. Scorsese and Spielberg seem to be slowing down in their advanced years, but Miller just put Red Bull in the Fountain of Youth and re-entered his prime.

I'm half his age and I worry about getting to my 70s and what I'll do to stay relevant (if I even care by then). Until FURY ROAD, I didn't have much hope for that judging by the way the masters are discarded these days. Now I have a little bit of hope. It would be nice if this creates a lot of opportunities for the more experienced filmmakers to do what they do best so they can come back on the scene with more prominence. I know that lessens the opportunities young pucks like me will have, but I'm used to it. At least I'll have good movies to watch as escape. :)

VincentS said...

As with all sequels, Ken, I refer to Williams Goldman's excellent book, WHICH LIE DID I TELL? in which he unequivically states, "Sequels are whore movies."

Curt Alliaume said...

My wife and son saw the movie last weekend and liked it (although my wife was honest and said it wasn't as good as the original).

Anna Kendrick can still pass for college age on a good day - but it must have been odd having Hailee Steinfeld (who's actually the same age she's playing) opposite a bunch of actresses in their late 20s and early 30s.

(By the way, did anyone see the Instragram picture of Alyson Hannigan released this weekend? She really *still* looks like a teenager.)

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Usually these sequels have nothing to do with the original, and the original actors (except one or two secondary characters) usually keep away...

Here are a couple of awful sequels: Grease2 (though Michelle Pfeiffer in Leather gives it 5 stars), any Meatballs, Mannequin2 (sorry Ken), CaddyShack II, Blues Brothers 2 (some good music though), Speed2 (wise move Keanu)

Anthony said...

Ironically enough, I believe controversial Best Picture winner CRASH had a 68% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes so the sequel is in good, but questionable company.

Bill Haren said...

Off topic, but curious as to your thoughts on today's avclub.com look at afterMASH. It seemed to be a thoughtful and fair analysis of the successes and failures in trying to pull off the spin-off. And it quotes you, of course.

John in Ohio said...

Blues Brothers 2000 was an absolute disappointment. It truly did follow the original formula, but worse, for much of the movie. I agree that the challenge of a sequel is developing the characters, not discovering them. It's also (IMHO) why adapting a movie to TV is so difficult. You cannot just do the same schtick every week - even the fanboys will get tired of it.
The reverse is probably also true. Converting a TV show to a movie does not have a good overall track record. The fans of the show don't want to sit through character introduction, they just want to get to the meat. People who didn't watch the show need introduction, so going straight for the meat turns them off.
FQ: Have you ever been approached/involved in a movie->TV or TV->movie situation from the development stage? Any insights into why a few work (Mash, Heat of the Night, Buffy; The Fugitive, commercially Charlie's Angels, some others I don't remember) and most don't (too numerous to list, although I thought Miami Vice should have had a chance at a franchise).

Joseph Scarbrough said...

What I don't understand is how these movies are doing so well when they're clearly a blatant rip-off of GLEE - and not only that, but GLEE's hype finally died out a couple of years ago; I've never known a rip-off to be just as successful as the original.

And why do we have to have a third one?

Hamid said...

Johnny

Back to the Future Part II was a terrible retread of the original? Putting aside that you dissed one of the greatest sequels ever made, I don't know what movie you saw but calling it a retread is just bizarre. They go 30 years into the future, then return to a nightmarish 1985, before going back to 1955 where rather audaciously and ingeniously the lead characters witness some events from the first film from an alternate perspective. How is any of that a retread of the first film? It's not as good as the first, of course not, but it was also not a throwaway cash grab sequel but actually made the effort to do something fresh and ambitious. You just don't see any blockbuster movies even try the clever storytelling that took place in Back to the Future Part II. The scene where Doc tells Marty he has to stop Biff and his gang from getting hold of the other Marty in 1955 or else it'll prevent that Marty returning to 1985, thereby creating a paradox, that scene alone has more ingenuity than 99% of "event" movies now, which just consist of tiresome pop culture references, white characters speaking Ebonics, because of course that's just so hilarious, and buildings being blown up.

The sad truth is you couldn't even get the original Back to the Future made today because the plot would be deemed too complicated for the masses and the script would be rewritten to dumb it down for morons with 5 second attention spans who text during movies and look up at the screen every ten minutes to whoop at the latest building being blown up.

Dave Creek said...

I suppose movie scripts are just a different beast, but it amazes me when studios take three and four years or even longer to come up with sequels while, in the meantime TV showrunners are turning out 13 or 24 episodes of series every year. And imagine the quality of MAD MEN in its earlier years and JUSTIFIED pretty much all the way through. And each of those episodes has a much smaller budget, involves all the same characters and background, and each episode has to be exactly the same length as every other one.

Jon B. said...

I don't know if it is fair to say that MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is a sequel or a reboot. What is fair to say is that it is GREAT. If you think you liked ROAD WARRIOR way back when, you will love this movie. If you like action movies, you will love this movie (whether or not you saw any of the previous Mad Max movies.

As for PITCH PERFECT 2, it was enjoyable enough for anyone who liked the first one. Not great, but kind of fun.

A. L. Crivaro said...

To Hamid, I'll say: Yes, thank you. Back to the Future 2 was great. So was 3, for that matter. Never understood the bad wrap it got...

To Joseph Scarbrough, I'll point out: Glee was a blatant rip-off of the movie Election. They basically took the EXACT same premise and characters (and composition, for that matter) and threw in singing and dancing because--my God--do you SEE how much money the High School Musical franchise is making?!?!?!

And to Ken: Toy Story 2? I LOVED Toy Story 3. Better than the original, I thought. Have to agree to disagree with you on 2 though.

Question Mark said...

Pitch Perfect is less a ripoff of Glee than it someone saying, "this show had a good germ of an idea but terrible execution, so why don't we simply do a good version of it?"

Ken, surprised you didn't mention (your discovery) Katey Sagal's role! Though frankly, that was a bit of a letdown too...you cast her as this veteran great singer but then don't give her any solo time? She just pops up at the end with the rest of the Bella alumni and that was it.

Johnny Walker said...

I respectfully disagree Hamid :)

BTTF2 was a mixture of fan favourite moments from the first film (being woken up by his mum, the same cafe sequence, a skateboard sequence around the same square... but this time on hoverboards, they even go back to 1955 to you can relive the finale of the previous film) and an overly complex plot that wasn't emotionally involving (perfectly summed up by your summation of it: "Doc tells Marty he has to stop Biff and his gang from getting hold of the other Marty in 1955 or else it'll prevent that Marty returning to 1985, thereby creating a paradox").

It was clever, but it wasn't a patch on the first one.

H Johnson said...

Didn't see Pitch Perfect 1 and won't see 2, but I have to jump into the Back To the Future discussion.

Hamid is right on. The movie was written as a trilogy with 2 and 3 filmed at the same time. I consider it to be one, if not the best film series ever.

I applaud complex story telling. Make's you think. There is a difference between complex and convoluted, which is what a lot of films end up being.

Johnny Walker, grab some of your namesake, settle back and give it another try. I bet you change your mind.

Aloha

gottacook said...

I saw Back to the Future Part II in the theater, having gone 3-4 times to the original four years earlier, and it disappointed me primarily because the ending included a few minutes of scenes from Part III, which had been filmed at the same time; that is, the movie ended with what was essentially a commercial for Part III, which would arrive months later. My other problem with Part II was that as clever as it was, it just wasn't funny.

I wish the pressure to make the sequel(s) could have been resisted in this case; the first movie ended perfectly, and I always was repelled by broadcast or cable versions that for many years would stick a "To Be Continued" title at the end (which never appeared in the theatrical version).

DBenson said...

Lesser sequels go way back, although the old model tended to be a series of B movies trading on the name of the original A (or B+) movie.

The Universal monsters are the prize example. The first appearances of the Frankenstein monster, Dracula, the Mummy and the Invisible Man were big ambitious pictures. Then the characters -- each played by various actors -- ended up as foils in late-period Abbott and Costello films.

Tarzan started out in epics full of sex and horror; then they were cleaned up, toned down and kiddie-fied on low budgets.

The Dead End Kids, originally a bunch of tragic juveniles, eventually became the Bowery Boys.

The original "Planet of the Apes" followed a similar trajectory, despite flashes of clever ideas here and there.

James Bond is the striking exception, at least through the Moore years. Each installment was bigger and more successful, even as their critical reputation was sinking.

YEKIMI said...

Since I still manage a theater (drive in) I think I can weigh in on this and say that so far this year sucks. All the films that were expected to be huge....gigantic flops, at least at my and a few others. Expecting a sell out of The Avengers 2, ended up that my best weekend high didn't even break 100 cars. Furious 7.....I was furious that its best night was just over a hundred cars. If San Andreas dies, I'm going to have to let employees go. Talking with customers, they tell me they're tired of seeing the S.O.S. (Same Old Shit). Hollywood.....get your head out of your ass, pry your lips off the behind of the studio heads you're trying to suck up to AND MAKE .MOVIES CUSTOMERS WANT TO SEE! Best film of 2014 as far as my theater was concerned was Guardians Of The Galaxy......and the customers loved it. So guess over the next couple of years I can look forward to the knockoffs of that movie being dumped at my theater and the bean counters scratching their heads and wondering why it flopped.

Lou H. said...

Pitch Perfect and Glee all owe a debt of gratitude to Bring It On.

See you at regionals!

Mike said...

@YEKIMI: Mad Max: Fury Road should be ideal for a desert drive-in, with a competition for most heavily customised vehicle.

Gary said...

Saw Pitch Perfect 2 in a sold-out theater on opening night. Everyone there had a great time and laughed non-stop. I haven't experienced that at a movie in a long time, and had almost forgotten how much fun it can be. Sure, the film wasn't Citizen Kane, but it was a totally enjoyable two hours, and you can't ask for much more than that.

Ron Parker said...

I've always thought a serious, modern-day MASH update with Gould & Sutherland would(could?) be fascinating. I true take on where these guys are at the point-in-life that's age appropriate to them today (so, set in the 90s maybe to be true to post Korea?).

I'd also like to see a Alec Baldwin/Jack Ryan movie that ignores the Ford/Affleck/Pine eras & has Baldwin as President. Maybe for HBO? While I doubt they'll quit trying, the Ryan movies clearly can't catch on & aren't becoming a franchise, despite the best efforts. A quality flick could reinvigorate the franchise. I suppose I can see a scenario where it's too expensive or Baldwin's no longer a big enough star to be 'Above the Title' or his politics keep him from playing Ryan true to the Clancy version but on the rare occasion a star has a chance to revisit a role decades later, I always enjoy it.

H Johnson said...



To: gottacook

The original theatrical release of Back To The Future DID have the "To be continued..." tag at the end.

Aloha

Barry Traylor said...

I agree with everything that Dan Ball said about MAD MAX FURY ROAD. Charlize Theron is amazing in it. I am not a fan of a cappella singing so I never wanted to see PITCH PERFECT so naturally have zero desire to suffer through PITCH PERFECT 2.

Tobi said...

I used to show the classic adventure film, "The Man Who Would Be King" to my classes for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because it's so good. The ending traumatized my students. Don't want to give anything away...but there's never been a "Man Who Would Be King -2".

Mike said...

@Tobi: Probably wrongly, I regard The Man Who Would Be King as the end of an era of classic adventure film making.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes Spoiler.
But sequels can never be killed. Charlton Heston only agreed to appear in the sequel to Planet of the Apes on condition that his character was killed off in such a way that he could never reappear. So they killed off the character and blew up the entire planet. Subsequently, there were three sequels/prequels, two reboots, another sequel, a TV series, a cartoon series, a musical...

VP81955 said...

"Pitch Perfect 2" might be run-of-the-mill as sequels go, but its astounding success should lead the way to more directorial assignments for Elizabeth Banks (a Facebook friend), and that's encouraging given the industry's well-documented story of minimal opportunities for female directors. I'm certainly not claiming that as actresses/directors go, Banks will become our generation's Ida Lupino, but I think she possibly can handle a wide range of styles and not be confined to the "women's film" or "chick-flick" ghetto. (Note I did not refer to "Pitch Perfect 2" as a romantic comedy -- or its horrid abbreviation, "romcom" -- because it really doesn't fit that tag.)

MikeN said...

Buffy was successful on TV because the writer had abandoned the movie version as not the vision he wanted. It was essentially standalone.

Firefly->Serenity worked.
the A-Team was successful.

gottacook said...

H Johnson: I'm not sure when you saw it, but I went to first-run showings of Back to the Future three times in two different cities during summer 1985 (probably the last time I went to see the same movie in a theater more than once), and in no case was there "To Be Continued" at the end. The first time I saw such a thing was in a TV cut with cleaned-up substitute dialogue here and there, years after all three had been in theaters, and it was quite jarring to see "To Be Continued" as if it had been there all along. Several years ago I picked up the three-DVD set of all three movies, and the first one doesn't have it, just like the original release I saw.

Diane D. said...

I was desperate to go to my favorite place---a movie theatre, but there was nothing playing that I wanted to see so I went to see Pitch Perfect 2. It's not the kind of movie I would ordinarily set foot in. For some very strange reasons that I won't go into, the only kind of music I really love is Classical, Show tunes (from the classics like Camelot, My Fair Lady, etc), and certain songs by individual artists. Be assured that I consider this limited ability to appreciate a wider range of music a serious flaw in my DNA.

When I saw the trailer for Pitch Perfect 2, it made me nostalgic for the days when my daughter was in several High School Musicals (Oklahoma, West Side Story) and it made me really want to see young people singing and dancing. There's just nothing like it. I fully expected the music to be an assault on my sensibilities.

To make a long story short, I had the same experience that GARY (above) had. It was not a great movie, but it sure was fun to see so many talented young people singing and dancing their hearts out. What a lovely surprise, and the music didn't even offend me. As Gary said, "it was a totally enjoyable two hours" and sometimes that is quite enough.