Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

Tag Archives: Elizabeth Banks

ANCC: Power Rangers (2017)

GO GO ALL-NEW CULTURE CAST! Follow up to last weeks episode, the Gorehound and Nick talk the new Power Rangers theatrical release, along with some follow-up discussion on the original. What worked? What flopped? It’s morphin’ time!

To listen to the episode, click here or on the image below!

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Pitch Perfect 2 (or How To Make a Good Sequel to a Movie that Didn’t Need a Sequel)

May 19th saw the release of Pitch Perfect 2, the long awaited sequel to the 2012 surprise musical/comedy sleeper hit.  And the follow-up is pretty much the exact same thing as the original and a hell of a lot of fun.

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The story picks up three years after the Barton Bellas won their first national championship.  Since that time, the group, led by Anna Kendrick’s Beca, have become a little too complacent and have begun to rely more on special effects during their shows than letting their singing be focused.  They begin their senior year with disastrous show which ultimately suspends the group from preforming in an official light.  However, they strike a deal that if they are able to win a world championship (where they meet stiff competition from a snobbish German team), they will be reinstated.

During their trials, the Bellas encounter sing-offs, new members, original songs, and rock-bottom fall-outs.  If you haven’t already figured this out, Pitch Perfect 2 pretty much follows the exact same story beats as its predecessor (kind of like Ghostbusters 2).  However, none of this bothers me at all.

One of the saving graces is that the movie is fun.   The cast is having a blast, and that was infectious. Everything is light and breeze, and the film embraces what it is.  This is one of the key ingredients that makes this sequel completely work.

Pitch Perfect 2 also doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to be too cool and hip, because the first was surprisingly popular.  The movie doesn’t rely on needless gimmicks to make it seem relevant.  Most of the goofy stuff here was introduced in the original and grew organically in the sequel.  There is nothing in it that feels out of place.  Even the extended cameo by the Green Bay Packers (an idea that sounds awful on paper) actually works given the way they were introduced into the film.  The film didn’t try to accommodate the Packers.  Instead, the Packers accommodated the film – which is how something like that should be done.

Director Elizabeth Banks gives the film a good balance and also smartly doesn’t completely rely on the first installment’s breakout characters, Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy and Banks’s and John Michael Higgins’s inappropriate announcers, to carry the film.  Not to say they do not have a presence, but they are not overused to the point of being obnoxious (they probably have as big of a role as they do in the first installment).  This could have easily been the Fat Amy movie, but Banks didn’t go that route, and Pitch Perfect 2 is better for it.

I like Pitch Perfect 2.  It was fun to revisit these characters and this world.  It is also an example of how to do an unexpected sequel correctly.  I’d be down for a third movie in this series if the same creative staff stayed intact.  Given the runaway success that this sequel has had already, I think we’ll get that third movie.  Here’s hoping they continue the trend they started here.

~N

The Questionable Release Date of “Pitch Perfect 2”

Pitch Perfect was a surprise hit in the September 2012.  I do not know what the studio’s original expectations were for the film (usually with a movie released in September/October, they are generally low), but with it gaining high critical praise and earning more than six times its budget, sequel talk quickly began.  A sequel became a sure thing with the DVD/Blu-Ray flew off the shelves during the 2012 holiday season.

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But then something strange happened.  It was announced that Pitch Perfect 2 was going to be released in 2015.  Zack and I were talking briefly about this the other day.  Why would Gold Circle Films and Universal wait three years before returning to these characters?  Pitch Perfect’s success was unexpected, and while I am not one who thinks a sequel needs to be pushed out for the sake of pushing it out, wouldn’t the window for a non-franchise follow-up be pretty small before audiences stop caring about it?

Granted, there are likely a lot of factors surrounding this decision.  The biggest one would probably be that Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, and Elizabeth Banks are all bankable stars (in Wilson’s case, Pitch Perfect really put her on the map), and are all in demand with various projects in various development stages.  Since a Pitch Perfect 2 was likely never part of the original plan, no contract was put in place for them to “reserve time” to film a potential sequel.  Getting these people back to star (and in Banks’s case, direct) would have to be worked around the other projects they are already on.  The 2015 date might just have been unavoidable due to scheduling issues (not too different from the long wait between JJ Abrams Star Trek films).

Running with the theory that any time before 2015 was not going to happen, something else perplexing happened: Pitch Perfect 2 is scheduled for summer 2015.  For those unaware, that summer is going to be an insane summer full of blockbusters including, but not limited to more Marvel movies, Fast & Furious 7, Tomorrowland, Jurassic Park 4, Despicable Me 3, Terminator 5, and Ted 2.  Up until recently, Star Wars and Batman/Superman were slated for that same summer.  2015’s summer movie season is going to be as busy if not more than 2013’s.  I know Pitch Perfect was a good, fun film, but can it really compete with these other movies?  Or will it lost in the shuffle.

Making matters even worse is that it is slated for release on May 15, a mere two weeks after The Avengers: Age of Ulton – the sequel to one of the biggest films ever made.  Regardless of quality, somehow I doubt that interest for that film will fade after two weeks.  I honestly do not see Pitch Perfect 2 being the success the studio might be hoping for and it pulling a X-Files: I Want to Believe (which flopped partly due to being released a week after The Dark Knight).  Wouldn’t it have been better/safer to release the film in the late spring or early fall – where there is less competition?

Like everything else, I do not want to be a doomsayer, but I am just perplexed at some of the scheduling decisions being made about Pitch Perfect 2.  Will there be enough interest for it to be successful?  And if there is, will it be enough to overcome all of the other popular films slated for release around the same time?

I guess it could be worse.  It could be like the upcoming Hot Tub Time Machine 2 – a sequel to a film that never made the pop-culture impact that Pitch Perfect did, but also lost its original lead and is coming out nearly 5 years after the original.  Yeah…good luck with that one.

~N

The Lego Movie Podcast

This time, Zack and Nick discuss the early 2014 mega-hit film The Lego Movie, written for the screen and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller and featuring the voice talents of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Elizabeth Banks, and Will Arnett. What will they have to say about this well-received animated film? Listen and find out!

Click HERE or on the image to listen to the podcast.

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And as always click HERE to follow us on iTunes!

-Z-

I saw The Lego Movie

Children’s entertainment can pretty much go either way for adults. Generally speaking, it can be either entertaining and a solid waste of time for both children and adults, or it can be insipid, mind-numbing crap so bad that it makes you wonder how anyone could watch it, small children or otherwise. Thankfully, the last ten years or so has been filled with amusing children’s entertainment suitable for adults as well, mostly thanks to the efforts of studios like Pixar. Disney has caught on as well, releasing Wreck-It Ralph and then Frozen in simultaneous years. Even Dreamworks has gotten in on this, with last year’s The Croods being a fairly pleasant diversion. The latest in this trend is The Lego Movie, stemming from an unlikely source in Warner Bros. Animation.

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Warner’s biggest hits in the field of animation include both Happy Feet films, and the second one was a pretty notable flop back in 2011. So when The Lego Movie was announced, you could be forgiven for not being all that interested. Fortunately, the film stems mainly from the minds of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the creative pair responsible for MTV’s cult hit Clone High as well as 2012’s well-liked 21 Jump Street feature film adaptation/remake. With Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt as the main character Emmet, The Hunger Games’ Elizabeth Banks voicing the rebellious Wyldstyle, and comedy stalwart Will Ferrell bringing life to the big bad Lord Business (president of the dubious Octan Corporation as well as the city of Bricksburg), The Lego Movie boasts considerable acting talent. And while it doesn’t always hit its mark, it is an admirable and entertaining effort well worth the time.

When President Business steals the mysterious Kragle (a Macguffin I won’t spoil in this review), it is up to regular, everyday Lego minifigure/construction worker Emmet to fulfill the prophecy foretold by ancient wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and save the world with the help of Wyldstyle, Batman (voice of Will Arnett), the dread pirate Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), Uni-Kitty (Alison Brie), and 1980s spaceman Benny (Charlie Day). Together they must unite to stop President Business as well as his henchman Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) from their nefarious plot and save the day for the Lego universe (which includes, in addition to Bricksburg, a pirate land, wild west land, and “Middle Zealand” – an obvious reference to Lord of the Rings as well as the popular knight-themed Lego sets of the 1980s).

While the film is light on plot, it is fast, energetic, colorful, frenetically paced, fairly funny, and often incredibly charming. The script is filled with decent quips and jokes throughout its running time, many of which are based on the Lego characters’ limited movements (doing “jumping jacks” side to side for example) or their ability to tear down an entire city and construct the same thing again every single day as a viable job. The voice talent is considerably strong throughout, with Arnett’s performance as Batman being a notable highlight. Arnett portrays him as a spoiled, snotty jerk type of character, which is a total 180 from how you might expect Batman to act. Ferrell is also great as Lord Business – perfectly cast I would say. Chris Pratt’s energy and dumb optimism makes for a great blank slate character as well. Oh, and the music – done by Mark Mothersbaugh – is fantastic.

The Lego Movie is a trifle for sure, however. There’s not that much dept there, certainly not as much found in something like Ratatouille or Toy Story 3. The script is fast and well paced, but it can also be shallow in areas and relies on a lot of character cameos and a few dumb gags. There’s a bit of sentimentality towards the end that isn’t entirely earned, but it is fairly well done – I won’t spoil it here, but I was not expecting where it took the story. I’m not sure if I liked it, but it was different and I will at least give it credit for that. There’s still a ton of creativity to be found in this movie. I imagine it will appeal more to adults than kids, but I still had a good time throughout its thankfully average 100-minute running time (any more time spent in this film would have just been superfluous). Check it out for a fun, if not particularly deep, time at the movies.

-Z-

Pitch Perfect Podcast

Zack and Nick largely sing the praises of the surprise 2012 hit Pitch Perfect starring Anna Kendrick.  The film impressed them so much that they decided to join various acapella groups just so they can be in on the ground floor of what is clearly going to become a new trend.

Click HERE or the image to download the podcast!  Also, check out Zack’s review.

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As always, click here to follow us on iTunes!

I Saw Pitch Perfect

In an earlier post on the Culture Cast, I referred to Cabin in the Woods as 2012’s biggest surprise. I still feel this way, but I would be remiss not to mention Pitch Perfect, which I first saw just last week, as another huge surprise in cinema from last year. The movie, which appeared on the surface to be a feature-length version of awful hit television show Glee (seriously, ugh), ended up being an incredibly pleasant surprise for me, anchored by a great performance from Anna Kendrick and a script that is highly reminiscent of something like Mean Girls. It isn’t all peaches and cream, but Pitch Perfect was wholly entertaining and worthy of a viewing.

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Pitch Perfect is the story of all-female a cappella group the Bellas, a group of singers from the fictional Barden University. The Bellas face scrutiny after a disastrous performance at a national competition the year before, and see a chance to seize the first title for an all-female group (and thus repair their reputation) with the addition of talented freshman Becca (Anna Kendrick) and a rag-tag hodgepodge of newcomers to the group, including the enigmatic Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) among others. In order to do this, the Bellas must place at least second in a regional competition and then go on to upset their rivals, the Treblemakers, who are led by obligatory college douchebag Bumper (Adam DeVine) and Jesse (Skylar Astin), who is also Becca’s love interest.

One of the biggest strengths in Pitch Perfect is in its writing. Kay Cannon, long-time Tina Fey collaborator, 30 Rock producer and writer, and producer on Fox’s hit sitcom New Girl, is responsible for the script, which she adapted from a non-fiction novel by Mickey Rapkin. Characterization in Pitch Perfect is predictable and somewhat typical for a college-set movie, but characters are incredibly well-written for such a trite setting. The best example is in Anna Kendrick’s Becca, who expresses realistic frustration about various situations presented in the movie, and Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy, who is just a hoot as the devil-may-care nonchalant comic relief. Even supporting characters Chloe (Brittany Snow, in my favorite performance in the film) and Aubrey (Anna Camp, who needs more work after a fine performance here) are incredibly well-done. In the cases where characters are a bit underwritten, as is seen in Becca’s love interest and rival Jesse, the acting is still good enough to over-look the lack of character development.

The performances generally transcend the writing, which is a compliment to the actors involved considering the strength of the script. As noted earlier, Anna Kendrick gives a great performance, and Brittany Snow and Anna Camp do a heck of job in supporting roles. Rebel Wilson gives a star-making performance that could have easily been a major tonal distraction, but just plain works. Skylar Astin holds his own, and Elizabeth Banks (who also produces) and John Michael Higgins cracked me up as sideline commentators for the various a cappella competitions (reminiscent of Gary Cole and Jason Bateman’s roles in Dodgeball). The music, which is mainly the works of a variety of newer artists like Bruno Mars, Miley Cyrus, Flo Rida, Rihanna, and Cee Lo Green mixed with a few older artists like Madonna, the Bangles, and Ace of Base, works incredibly well too. I did not expect this to be the case, considering artists like Miley Cyrus and Bruno Mars are incredibly cheesy acts, but the film’s a cappella music plays well throughout.

If there is a noticeable flaw in the film, it is definitely in the direction. Directed by first time filmmaker Jason Moore (who helmed Avenue Q on Broadway), Pitch Perfect is passable, but lacks visual flair in many of the musical numbers. The acting and choreography are fine, and the music as noted earlier works well, but the film could definitely have benefitted from more dynamic direction. I’m not expecting Michael Bay-like bombast from a film of this variety, but that’s not to say that some more dazzling direction wouldn’t have been welcomed. The film definitely borders on the laughably cliché at some points as well, but this is a manageable flaw. The sharp dialogue and principle actors are so talented they manage to elevate some of this as well.

I ended up being quite taken with Pitch Perfect. It is a mature and well done college-set comedy. It has its fair share of gross-out humor for a PG-13 film as well, which was quite shocking and funny (as well as well-appreciated). The script as a whole was very well-written, and Kay Canon deserves great credit for her adaptation. Anna Kendrick, who has really developed into one of the finest young actresses out there, gives a very funny, nuanced performance, and Rebel Wilson is definitely a scene-stealer in her first substantial Hollywood role. Though the film nearly falls into a cliché-filled trap and the direction could have used some more razzle-dazzle, Pitch Perfect ended up being a very funny, surprising film.

-Z-

What Went Wrong?: Vol. 7

This week’s installment of our feature What Went Wrong? will be all about two under-performing films I recently rented from the Redbox. As such, I will go much more in-depth with these two films. The feature may look a bit different than in other weeks, and I may go into some plot-revealing details and spoilers. Please keep that in mind!

Man on a Ledge (2012)

This is actually a pretty great teaser poster. It’s just too bad the movie doesn’t resemble it all that much.

In this 2012 thriller film, Sam Worthington plays Nick Cassidy, an ex-cop/convicted jewel thief who is so intent on proving his innocence he can barely contain his Australian accent. Also starring Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, a wasted Edward Burns, and a bored Ed Harris, Man on a Ledge is a would-be taut thriller film about what happens when an innocent man is pushed too far. Worthington performs much of the film whilst standing on the concrete overhang, or ledge, of a building talking to Elizabeth Banks. Meanwhile, his younger brother (played by Bell) and his brother’s girlfriend are out to steal the real diamond, thus proving Worthington’s innocence in the process. This seems like it would be the perfect kind of movie for Sam Worthington to do well in (I like him a lot in generic action films) and Banks is pretty hot right now in Hollywood, but the film was dead on arrival when it debuted in theaters in February 2012, grossing a scant 8 million dollars in its opening weekend domestically. So, what exactly went wrong?

Man on a Ledge is a mish-mash of several films we’ve all seen before, and many of those films did things much more competently, if not better outright. This film is highly reminiscent of the awful 2009 Gerard Butler/Jamie Foxx movie Law Abiding Citizen (except without the gratuitous violence of that movie), which is not a good sign. Man on a Ledge also has a bit of the Ocean’s series of films in its roots, but completely lacks anything resembling the fun or style of those movies whatsoever. That is perhaps the biggest crime perpetrated by this film; it just isn’t any fun at all. Direction is uninspired and bland, and nothing about the film is dynamic whatsoever. The only actor who seems to be in on the fun is Titus Welliver, who does his best as an underwritten villain. Other actors are completely wasted in their roles (Edward Burns) or clearly just there for the paycheck (Ed Harris). I’m sure there are many statements about contemporary culture that Man on a Ledge intends to make, including our 24-hour media and our sometimes bloodthirsty populace. But these statements are either too on-the-nose or just haphazardly inserted into the film without any hint of subtlety. In the end, the lack of any fun or originality in the film probably killed any chance this film had of succeeding. That’s too bad, because Man on a Ledge has a real shot of becoming a sleeper hit.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

(See also: Nick’s review of the first Ghost Rider film)

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is the 2012 sequel to the 2007 original Ghost Rider film. There are, however, many differences and changes from the first film to the second. Nicolas Cage stars once again as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, but most of the cast of the first film has been completely dumped from the sequel. Johnny Whitworth stars as the villain Blackout, Ciaran Hinds takes over the Peter Fonda role from the first movie, and Idris Elba (in an hilarious role), Christopher Lambert, and Italian actress Violante Placido (the would-be love interest/mother of the devil’s child in a role I actually liked a lot) are all supporting players. Some have described Spirit of Vengeance as a reboot of the franchise, but I feel like it fits as more of a sequel, even if it is a lot different from the original. Incredibly different in tone from the first movie, Spirit of Vengeance is basically Terminator 2 in plot details. The Devil (Hinds), along with minion Blackout, pursue young child Danny (the half-human son of the devil), and it is up to the Cage as the titular Ghost Rider to protect Danny and his mother. I’m not a huge fan of the first movie (in fact, I hated it the first time I saw it … though it did grow on me eventually), but I rather liked the bulk of Spirit of Vengeance. So what exactly went wrong?

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance always had an uphill battle. Directed by the pair Neveldine/Taylor (Crank, Crank 2, Gamer), the movie was going to be radically different from the already not well-liked original. Neveldine/Taylor are known for essentially doing their best to turn away a mainstream audience (though I appreciate their work). Additionally, the over saturation of and continued performance art piece that is Nicolas Cage’s life in the past half-decade or so has turned movie-goers off almost completely. Cage hasn’t starred in a hit film since 2009’s Knowing, and that movie doesn’t exactly have the best of reputations to begin with. It didn’t help that Marvel promoted Spirit of Vengeance through their generic Marvel Knights line (this being the only movie under that production label other than the underrated Punisher: War Zone). Seemingly, the studios involved had little faith that a Ghost Rider sequel would do well. Audiences agreed, and the film grossed less than half of what is predecessor made domestically (though it did somewhat better overseas). It is too bad, as well, because Spirit of Vengeance, after a so-so beginning, actually turned out to be a lot of fun.

-Z-

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