Review: Pitch Perfect 2


DIR: Elizabeth Banks • WRI: Kay Cannon PRO: Elizabeth Banks, Paul Brooks, Max Handelman, Jason Moore • DOP: Jim Denault • ED: Craig Alpert • DES: Toby Corbett • MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh • CAST: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Katey Sagal, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks


The Bellas are back! Anyone unfamiliar with the first film can easily be brought up to speed with this handy recipe: You take the mismatched underdogs of The Mighty Ducks (but a group of college girls), the subject matter (minus the nuns) of Sister Act 2, the risqué comedic commentators of Dodgeball and the knack for apparently spontaneous choreography and harmony of High School Musical/Glee. I don’t want to oversimplify it, but you may now be fully qualified to claim knowledge of the first Pitch Perfect film, except for the fussy little details of who people are or what actually happens.

It’s about a college acappella group.

Now you’re definitely fully qualified.

Pitch Perfect 2 rejoins the Barden Bellas a few years after the events of the last film and boy, so much has changed. And by that I mean one of the two characters who was a senior in the first film has graduated and moved on and no other character has developed in any respect. The roster of Bellas is pretty much entirely unchanged, with the exception of Flo Fuentes, who is very openly there to serve as the “Mexican, Guatemalan, it’s all the same” stereotype and the new girl, Emily, whose entire function is to replace the new girl from the first film, Beca. This fails somewhat, particularly because Beca is still a valued member of the Bellas but that can be overlooked because she has a fairly bare side story this time and no real character development whatsoever.

The film starts off with the Bellas performing for the president of the United States when an unfortunate mishap onstage leaves the group humiliated, ridiculed and with the future of the Bellas apparently hanging by a thread.

That’s right.

This film is pretty much a blow-by-blow replay of the first film with bigger versions of the same jokes and plot points scattered throughout. The inexplicable competitive riff-off being replaced by… exactly the same thing except in a fairly creepy mansion. The generally obnoxious all-male rival group from the first movie has been replaced with a much larger and more efficient, evil team from Germany (you know they’re evil because their routines use fire effects and they’re only physically capable of wearing entirely black outfits).

The awkward, incredibly needy and persistent forced love story about a geeky guy who likes (stalks) a girl has been replaced by an awkward, much nerdier and persistent forced love story about the uncomfortable magic enthusiast who’s friends with the geeky guy and his courtship(stalkship) of a much younger girl. The plot is far from fresh but it’s the jokes that were really the staple of the first movie and, well, you’ll get to see a lot of those old favourites again. The misogynistic male commentator continues to be a complete pig, which was funny, when the other characters and the audience were rolling their eyes at him together, but the Latina Flo makes constant references to her life in Latin America that reinforce so many negative stereotypes with absolutely no apology. The one joke that was an absolute pleasure to see again was everything said by the hauntingly hilarious Lilly, whose murmurs sound like the stuff of Tim Burton’s small talk and it hasn’t lost its punch.

It’s perhaps not fair to judge this film too much by its plot. This film is there to be enjoyed and there are laughs aplenty. What jokes are used are well executed and the cast is well and truly on point, with the main exception being Snoop Dogg and the Greenbay Packers in a pair of fairly clumsy cameos. Physical comedy walks hand in hand with gross-out laughs and this film really does work, when it stops trying to convince us that it has an (or five) emotionally significant storyline(s).

Pitch Perfect 2 is much less than a follow-up to the first film and more like a very well executed remix of the exact same thing. To paraphrase the film, “It’s not an original, it’s a cover”, but it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

Ronan Daly

12A (See IFCO for details)

114 minutes
Pitch Perfect 2 is released 15th May 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 – Official Website



The Voices


DIR: Marjane Satrapi • WRI: Michael R. Perry •  PRO: Roy Lee, Matthew Rhodes, Adi Shankar, Spencer Silna • DOP: Maxime Alexandre • ED: Stéphane Roche • MUS: Olivier Bernet • DES: Udo Kramer • CAST: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick

Humble reader, I come before you a conflicted man. There’s a lot to be said and to discuss about this movie and while I want to do that, that task will be near impossible without giving away some of the surprises the film has to offer. So the short version of the review is: go see it, go see it right now. I’m not going to go into specific plot spoilers but even talking broadly about what this film is referencing and the subjects it’s dealing with, will in its own way give away more than I sense the film wants you to know going in. If you enjoy pitch black comedies with incredible casts, that skirt the line of bad taste and occasionally trip over it and then repeatedly stab that line in self-disgust, this is the film for you.

Seemingly normal factory worker but secret crazy-person, Jerry (Reynolds) lives in a small, depressing town; spending his days shipping bathtubs before returning to his lonely apartment above a disused bowling alley. His only company being his dog, Bosco and cat, Mr Whiskers. Both of whom talk to him. Because you see, Jerry was only recently released from an asylum and has stopped taking his meds. When he’s tasked with helping organise an office party, he begins to fall for Fiona (Arterton) while attracting the attentions of Lisa (Kendrick). Drinks are had, dates are attempted, well-meaning intentions lead to… blood. Oh, so much blood.

This is one of those great movies that is clearly reminiscent of/influenced by/similar to numerous other films and yet still manages to stand out boldly on its own terms and contribute meaningfully to the genre(s) it inhabits. What starts off feeling like Ted, but funnier, sadder and with real mental health issues at its centre (and Reynolds at his most Walbergian) suddenly and violently detours into Tucker and Dale vs. Evil territory before subtly revealing its true form as a sort of Killer Joe as written and directed by Wes Anderson. And an ending which (don’t worry, I wouldn’t ruin for anyone) feels almost like an homage to the 1967 Casino Royale. There’s a lot going on, basically.

Even the genre feels difficult to pin down. Black comedy seems the most appropriate but then at times it goes so far and delves into such bleak, dark material that it becomes genuinely dramatically gripping and so emotionally raw that you have to wonder if the comedy is only a thin veneer with which to explore this subject-matter in a way that doesn’t alienate everyone. At its core, this is a character study of a serial killer but rather than going the muted, serious route of something like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, this forges ahead in the polar opposite direction. Satrapi’s familiar, stylised hyper-reality is here used as a wonderful piece of misdirection. The sickly, artificial, almost confection-like mise-en-scene (complete with a truly icky, squelchy sound design) means that when the audience, and Jerry, finally see ‘reality’, it hits like a punch to the stomach and you completely begin to question the ‘comedy’ portion of this black comedy.

The truly chilling thing about this film is that despite being really funny, this is potentially the most believable version of a serial killer and how/why they do what they do, to be put on screen in a while. Sure, it’s not ‘realistic’ and it can be highly abstract but making the logic of such a warped and psychologically damaged mind’s version of reality seem coherent, if not outright relatable, is a damn impressive feat. And there, equal credit is due to both Perry’s script and Satrapi’s direction with a healthy dose of praise to Reynolds’ performance and its impressive range. I won’t even touch the ending but it’s both weirdly perfect and utterly head-scratching in its oddness.

I honestly don’t know how a film like this gets made. If this were a small, independent film, in a foreign language and with a cast of nobodies then maybe. But with this cast, the overall level of talent on the production side and what appears to be a not insubstantial amount of money behind it; making a film as strange and potentially niche as this? Make no mistake, there will be people who are going to violently, passionately hate this movie. But I am not one of them.


Richard Drumm

16 (See IFCO for details)
103 minutes

The Voices is released 20th March 2015





DIR: Daniel Barnz • WRI: Patrick Tobin • PRO: Courtney Solomon, Kristin Hahn, Mark Canton, Ben Barnz • DOP: Rachel Morrison • ED: Kristina Boden, Michelle Harisson • MUS: Christophe Beck • DES: Joseph T. Garrity • CAST: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Felicity Huffman


Famed for comedies and romantic comedies, Jennifer Aniston has amassed an impressive filmography since her television career climaxed in 2004. While she has garnered commercial success in films such as Marley and Me (2008), Horrible Bosses (2011) and We’re the Millers (2013) critical opinion has pointed to Aniston’s inability to break free from the often hapless but endearing characters that have marked her work. Aniston has previously gone against type and toyed with more sophisticated performances in films such as The Good Girl (2002) and Derailed (2005) but the romantic comedy genre has remained a safety net for Aniston, providing an indemnity against commercial loss and overall critical maligning. Cake however, a powerful and melancholic drama, marks an immense departure from Aniston’s fluffy comedic roles, presenting a platform whereby she may showcase her merit as a serious and versatile actress.


Aniston plays damaged and fragile Claire Bennett, whose physical and emotional pain tortures her daily. She belongs to a chronic pain support group but finds the meetings more beneficial as an outlet for her profound anger. When she is thrown out of the group for her flippant remarks about co-member Nina’s suicide, Claire continues on a self-destructive path, becoming heavily addicted to painkillers and alcohol. As her condition deteriorates, suicide becomes a hugely inviting recourse and out of curiosity, she orchestrates an encounter with Nina’s widower Roy and soon the sardonic Claire and empathetic Roy discover they have more in common than they initially realised.


Stripped of glamour, marked with physical scars and burdened with restricted mobility, Aniston approaches the role of misanthropic Claire Bennett with an almost obsessive-like ferocity. Claire is a deeply tortured woman who endures such intense physical and mental paralysis; her body is unwilling to heal. Suffering defines Claire Bennett and her substance abuse, meaningless sexual encounters and caustic tongue are the only means she has to insulate her daily torment.


One of the most problematic aspects of Cake is that the audience is oblivious to the root of Claire’s exhaustive distress for a considerable part of the film. Outward circumstances steer Claire’s rancorous behaviour but in the absence of a clear motivation, the focus on Claire’s increasing burden becomes a test of endurance, the audience empathising with her pain but unable to identify with her suffering. Cake contains very little in the way of a plot and as such the narrative is structured upon Claire’s trajectory from trauma to healing. As a result, the relentless pace of angst becomes both draining and distancing. While it is arguably Aniston’s most exacting role to date and the demands made of her as an actor are relentless, there is a cynical undertone that Cake is merely a vehicle whereby Aniston can demonstrate a broad range of acting capabilities and finally silence her critics.


Cake attempts to balance its profound morbidity with comedic and supernatural elements intended to disrupt the paranoia and cynicism that suffocates the narrative. Adriana Barraza as devoted housekeeper Silvana reveals a hugely different emotional landscape and her sensitivity towards her employer provides a heartening antidote to Claire’s heightened anxiety. Nina’s ghost returns, on cue, to haunt and taunt a saturnine Claire, as she was incipiently thawing through her friendship with Roy. Both Anna Kendrick as the sneering spirit and Felicity Huffman as the mawkish group support leader also bring a much welcome reprieve but alas, the supporting acts and their relationships to Claire are all too sporadic to soothe the macabre milieu Claire inhabits.


Despite a formidable and kaleidoscopic performance, there is a sense that the themes of human frailty and the will to heal that inform the film’s narrative are beyond Aniston’s abilities as a serious dramatic actress. Her physicality may be transformed and the comedic quips replaced with acerbic, sardonic jibes but her performance lacks the emotional resonance required to bring Claire Bennett from a state of complete desolation to a place of untroubled acceptance. Aniston fails to evoke the visceral reactions that have given her much currency in romantic comedies and one could be forgiven for thinking that Claire Bennett in Cake is merely Jennifer Aniston having a bad day.

Dee O’Donoghue


15A (See IFCO for details)
101 minutes

Cake is released 20th February 2015

Cake  – Official Website











Into the Woods


DIR: Penny Marshall • WRI: James Lapine • PRO: John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Callum McDougall, Marc Platt • DOP: Dion Beebe • ED: Wyatt Smith • DES: Dennis Gassner • MUS: Stephen Sondheim • CAST: Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt

To be perfectly honest (and in the name of laying out all personal biases before we start), this movie had two strikes against it before the lights even went down. One, it was a musical and two, it featured James Corden in a leading role (the third strike came when it started and it turned out he was also the narrator). So it came as quite a shock when it turned out that this is probably the most pleasantly surprising movie to emerge since The LEGO Movie and for a lot of the same reasons. Being won over by a musical isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility but a film making James Corden not only tolerable but bordering on likeable? That’s nothing short of divine intervention…

In keeping with Disney’s recent output, Into the Woods is another revisionist fairy tale. This time the twist is that several different fairy tales are happening simultaneously with an overarching story that features a baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) trying to collect four items for a witch (Streep) so that she’ll remove a curse that’s making it impossible for them to conceive. The items are, naturally, each from the various fairy tales; Red Riding Hood’s (Crawford) cape, Cinderella’s (Kendrick) slipper, the cow Jack (Huttlestone) is taking to market and Rapunzel’s (Mauzy) hair. As each of the various characters end up passing through the titular woods, the baker and his wife spend their time frantically running around trying to find the items while each of the other characters try to go through the motions of their respective stories despite the interruptions. There is singing, there are cameos and sprinkled liberally throughout is healthy dose of sardonic humour and a surprising amount of casual violence.

It’s hard to think of any movie in recent memory that wants so badly for you to be simultaneously laughing *at* and *with* it. The overall look is in keeping with a lot of revisionist fairy tales (a slightly hyper-real but ultimately authentic-looking fantasy setting) while the dialogue is made up largely of jokes poking fun at the ridiculous conventions of the very story it’s trying to tell. And in that particular area, this is Emily Blunt’s movie. Not only does she get most of the best lines and moments but in a film filled with good (and genuinely funny) performances, her particular style of acting preposterously casual in situations that warrant the opposite, or bordering on a barely subdued mania make her an absolute joy to watch. The rest of the cast are also pretty good by and large. Corden is, as mentioned earlier, tolerable, Kendrick is her ever likeable self, the child actors are surprisingly funny and Meryl Streep is… mixed. There are moments where she Meryl Streeps like she’s never Meryl Streep-ed before while for most of it, she’s merely there and then, when she finally seems to be coming into her own, the film unceremoniously drops her just when it needs a performance like hers to keep things going. Depp on the other hand…

In some ways Depp personifies everything that’s right with the movie even though he himself is a bit off. He plays the wolf in the Red Riding Hood portion and couldn’t be characterised as more of a sexual predator if he had the very words tattooed across his forehead. Dressed like what an especially trippy Japanese anime might design a caricature of a seventies pimp to look like, complete with whiskers and tail but otherwise human, he’s just downright creepy in his vocal and physical mannerisms. As I said, he typifies the movie as the rest of the film is relentless in flitting schizophrenically between high camp (Pine and Magnussen’s number where they try to have a Handsome Prince-off being a possible high point) and acknowledging the creepier, darker undertones of the stories these fairy tales are based on. If you’re wondering why this got a 12s rating, it’s for that second one. There is a lot of hilariously brutal violence in this movie, largely off-screen, but still played for laughs. And it’s wonderful.

If there’s a major issue it’s that the songs aren’t particularly memorable. They’re fine. They’re all very well produced and performed but none of them stick in your brain for even a second after they’ve finished. On top of this, the film is too long. It seems to reach a natural endpoint around ninety minutes in but then decides to turn into Disney’s Attack on Titan: The Musical for the last half an hour. Now, while the additional running time eventually justifies itself narratively in that, rather than wrapping up absurdly neatly, the whole thing ends in a bit more muddled but much more satisfying way; from a pure momentum point of view, the film really struggles to keep going after the “traditional” ending is reached and passed by. There’s a great one-hundred-minute movie in here somewhere but the two-hour film we’ve been given is ultimately just shy of being something approaching a minor classic. It is, however, nice to see a Disney film that eschews the usual good and evil dynamic and instead advocates a much more morally relativistic tone and ending.

In the end then, this is a bit of a no-brainer. Much like a film such as Airplane!, this is one of those movies where despite it being as precision-tuned as an atomic clock, it still manages to feel so effortless in its own anarchy that it almost feels like improv. If you liked The LEGO Movie and its specific sense of humour, you’ll enjoy this. Or to put it another way, Into the Woods is to Disney movies what 21 Jump Street was to buddy-cop, action movies.

Richard Drumm

PG (See IFCO for details)
124 minutes.
Into the Woods is released 9th January 2015.

Into the Woods – Official Website


Cinema Review: Pitch Perfect


DIR: Jason Moore   WRI: Kay Cannon  PRO: Elizabeth Banks, Paul Brooks, Max Handelman   CAST: Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Elizabeth Banks

Trends seem to have an unpredictable life span. The entertainment industry will clearly jump on any bandwagon, ride it (and drain it) for all it is worth and sadly still be making films in that narrow niche area long after the rest of the world has moved on.

No prizes for guessing that it’s the shadow of Glee that hangs over this college based comedy about competitive acapella singing. It’s hard for the unwieldy release of a feature to compete with a weekly TV show and still rival it for relevance. In fact, based on my cursory knowledge of Glee (I swear to God it’s cursory) I know that this film doesn’t just cover the same territory as the TV show but it also covers some of the same songs.

That said, it’s a pleasure to report that Pitch Perfect is not some dead-eyed cynical cash in. Sure it’s surprising that it needed to be based on a book in the first place but it does have a sparky undercurrent of genuine wit and is populated by amiable performers with Anna Kendrick leading the cast with her now customary charm. She plays Beca who is reluctantly attending a college where her father is Dean. Determined to remain anti-social while covertly pursuing a career as a DJ, she is reluctantly recruited to the Bellas – an all-female acapella group lead by the highly strung Aubrey (Anna Camp).

Aubrey’s conservative musical choices are boring the bejasus out of judges, choir commentators and members of her own vocal group. There’s a recurring gag about the choir endlessly reprising Ace of Base’s ‘The Sign’ to the muted despair of audiences. Predictably with Beca’s established fondness for remixing and ‘mash ups’, the two girls are on collision course. Although in terms of dramatic stakes, the battle for supremacy is a bit too gentle at times.

Complaining about corny or cringey scenes in a film like this is mainly redundant. Most of the time it’s the exact effect that the filmmakers are aiming for. The smarmy male rivals from the same campus provide plenty of such moments. On a weaker note, (ahem) there’s a regrettable reliance on projective vomiting for negligible comedic return. If anything elevates the film, it’s the impressive ensemble female cast with Rebel Wilson shining as the self dubbed Fat Amy. There’s also a hilariously soft spoken Asian girl who continually confesses terrible things at a volume only dogs could hear.

Musically, the film offers few highlights. Even Beca’s supposedly superior musical taste seems remarkably mainstream and unsophisticated. Remixing ‘Bust a Move’ may be a connective reference to the same song’s use in her breakthrough film Up in the Air but it doesn’t establish her own character in this film especially well.  However, her initially faltering version of ‘No Diggity’ that eventually clicks with her troupe is a mini-triumph. Elsewhere, my ears might be deceiving me but the actual live performances seem to quickly abandon the core concept of the music just being formed from vocals.

There are a few other incidental pleasures in the film too. Producer Elizabeth Banks casts herself as one of those ‘Best in Show’-type commentators who undercut the on-stage sweetness with a dose of acid reality. Though in an odd aberration and massive oversight the film doesn’t actually fully establish who she and co-host John Michael Higgins are actually talking to. They don’t seem to be speaking to the audience in the arena or to TV cameras so who exactly are they addressing their quips to? Each other? Maybe they’re just two lunatics with laptops who wandered in.

There’s further accidental amusement in the casting of Kendrick & Co who are all clearly a decade too old to be playing college girls. Still, even these choices add an extra air of enjoyment to a film that could easily be picked apart by nit-picking but hey, it’s hard to be too down on it at this time of year. If you know what to expect, you should have a good time. If you know it’s not your bag then steer clear.

James Phelan

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

112 mins

Pitch Perfect is released on 21st December 2012

Pitch Perfect  – Official Website


Up in the Air

Up In The Air

DIR: Jason Reitman • WRI: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner • PRO: Jeffrey Clifford, Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman • DOP: Eric Steelberg • ED: Dana E. Glauberman • DES: Steve Saklad • CAST: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey

Another Jason Reitman movie, another slick awards contender. Up in the Air, just his third directorial feature, has been building some serious buzz in Hollywood celebratory circles since it premiered at Telluride last year. Only this time, instead of tobacco lobbyists or hip pregnant teenagers, Reitman’s latest focuses on the dysphoria of the current economic climate, the dislocation of modern man. Sounds like a winning formula, right? It doesn’t hurt that George Clooney stars in a role tailor-made for his specific talents: he pours himself into it with the precision of a fully-automated Nespresso machine – potent and pleasing – but a little predictable, much like the film itself.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing expert who flies around the country calmly and efficiently firing employees from companies that no longer require their services. He also moonlights giving seminars outlining the benefits of living a baggage-free existence. ‘Make no mistake, your relationships are the heaviest components on your life’, he tells his audience – for Bingham keeping your distance and severing ties with family, friends and lovers is the key to living well. He’s suave. In control. This guy is just asking for something to come along and turn his world upside down, and alas it does; not one, but two dynamic women threatened to break open his ‘cocoon of isolation and banishment’. The poor fella might have to learn to keep his feet on the ground.

Bingham first meets Alex Goran, a fellow (female) high-powered frequent flier, played by the effortless Vera Farmiga, with whom he instantly hits it off after catching her eye at a plush stopover bar. Their form of flirtation involves comparing loyalty club cards and exchanging elitist double-entendres, before hitting the hotel room. Slightly intimidating, she’s different from most women he’s encountered in the past – apparently unconcerned with settling down, and motivated by status. ‘Just think of me as you with a vagina’, she assures him over the phone when he’s unsure of how to sensitively proceed. Meanwhile, a motor-mouth young executive named Natalie Green (rising actress Anna Kendrick) arrives in his boardroom to shake things up at the corporation. Fresh from Cornell, she introduces a scheme to eradicate the need for travel in the company and instead fire people via teleconferencing. Concerned that this might hinder the humanity of the process (but more concerned with consolidating his position), Ryan offers to take her along on the job, to learn a thing or two before she re-structures the whole enterprise and he has say goodbye to flying high.

Once these conceits are in place, the film finds a nice rhythm and sharp spectacle, as you’d expect from a production of this calibre. There are plenty of laughs, mainly thanks to Kendrick’s uptight dramatics sparking off Clooney’s calm reserve. Bingham reveals to her his goal to reach 10 million air mile bonus, to which she replies, ‘That’s it? You’re saving just to save?’. There’s a wonderful scene in which Clooney, Fermiga and Kendrick discuss relationships and commitment – the dynamic between a yuppie and the apparently content corporate high-fliers she pertains to one day be is very engaging.

Despite being written a year before the global economic downturn, the film does tap into the sense of despair currently felt by the American people. As Clooney fires a succession of decent folks who crumble to pieces at the news – these scenes are all the more effective with the knowledge that those made redundant are not played by professional actors, but by the actual recently unemployed. It gives the film a certain credibility…then again, it also highlights the reality that these multi-millionaire actors are coercing a reaction from ‘ordinary’ people for the benefit of their own elite product…within the realm of this story however, it works.

Unfortunately the film loses steam as it approaches the third act – the characters try to reassess their values and become more intimate, but the hollowness of the story shows through. Kendrick’s trilling becomes more irritating than endearing and Clooney’s conviction more monotone – yet Farmiga remains consistently compelling and is one of the film’s more worthwhile appeals. Sensing a deeper connection with Alex, Ryan takes what he sees as a huge step and invites her to his somewhat homely sister’s wedding. However, set against these ordinary characters, our leads seem more like caricatures, and the choice of switching to handheld digital for the entire wedding montage is very stylistically jarring.

In the end the film satisfies, but not as completely as it could – it’s a shame because for the most part Reitman deftly strikes the balance between sleek satire and genuine pathos. Certain reversals however are not adequately built up or elaborated to achieve the emotional response Reitman wants and the audience deserves. Ultimately, this is entertainment with plenty to recommend it but not much to truly remember. If you ever watch it in-flight you may start to forget it once you reach your destination.

Eoghan McQuinn
(See biog here)

Rated 15A (See IFCO website for details)
Up in the Air is released on 15th January 2010

Up in the Air – Official Website