On Pitch Perfect 2.

Film Last night after watching Pitch Perfect 2 and tweeting that I'd watched Pitch Perfect 2, a friend asked if I'd posted a review anywhere because she wanted to know what I thought and having yet not had the time but not wanting to disappoint her, I spent the next half hour having an opinion. Given that it's a good four or five paragraphs of words and sentences, it seems a waste not to put it here in some form and so here it is, my insta-reaction to Pitch Perfect 2, cleaned up somewhat for grammar and sense. It's a bit rough, and the Sixth Doctor wouldn't like the number of times the word 'I' is used. It's also full of spoilers for this and Rocky so don't venture below if you haven't seen either films yet. If you haven't seen the film yet, I'd recommend it. There aren't many female led films of this kind and there are moments of pure joy amid the obvious cash grab of making a sequel to a film which was already perfectly fine.


On Pitch Perfect 2: I enjoyed it. I love musicals anyway and will tolerate all kinds of shenanigans in relation to weak storylines and gaps in logic if the songs and dance numbers are good enough which they are here despite the contemporary propensity for shots lasting nano-seconds so that its nearly impossible to take in what are clearly highly choreographed and highly rehearsal sequences. I even cried at the end when the legacy of the Bellas appeared on stage even though it defies all logic that they’d all pitch up in Stockholm and also be the finale if the German group were supposed to be the returning champions.

I tend to prefer films with female protagonists, especially if they’re about friendships (cf, Frozen). At a certain point I grew tired of films by men about men doing men things. This was directed by Elizabeth Banks and although the credits indicate a fair amount of men in the crew everything about the music was also female led. Plus the male characters, despite the odd moment of agency, are very much secondary characters and every shift in a relationship in a scene is presented from the female POV and there's no desperation to shoe-horn in a male figure designed to relax why-exes. These are humans and that's quite enough.

There are plenty of moments of pure cinematic joy, like the slow motion shots of the Bellas in the water park and the routines of Das Sound Machine with their wall of verbal sound and extraordinary dexterity (which actually makes the Bellas's win at the end somewhat ludicrous.  I was half expecting the Rocky approach especially since the film also ditches the sports-films structure of the first.  Some of the running jokes work really well, like Kendrick's inability to say horrible things to the lead singer of this rival band played by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen.  It's also clever to have Hailee Steinfeld's character effectively filling in Kendrick's role from the first film and making her distinctive enough that it doesn't feel like a retread.

Nevertheless half way through I realised it doesn't quite cure its unexpected sequelitis in that the first film was a pretty complete story in and of itself and with no real narrative to speak of going forward doesn't quote manage to find its characters something convincing to do or a decent enough challenge. Most unplanned follow-ups have to deal with this if the source material isn't already inherently serialised and it's rare that they manage to produce something cohesive especially if it doesn't have a specific lead character. City Slickers 2 definitely can't deal with the fact that the whole first film was about trying to make Billy Crystal's character smile again and has to then create a spurious reason for him to be sad again instead.

PP2 also suffers from the problem of one or two of its actors becoming more famous in the meantime / because of the success of the first film and so Rebel Wilson’s given a romantic subplot bits of which are genuinely funny (the moment with car) but would have worked better, just as it did in the first film as part of the crowd. Kendrick’s story feels entirely “manufactured” and in parts feels like it was written in such a way as to deal with her schedule clashing with a different production rather than the needs of the story. In a couple of her scene it’s almost as though she’s not interacting with the other characters on screen having been shot against a green screen and CSOed in later. I have no idea if this is true, but there are some weird shots at the car show were the lighting on her face doesn’t seem to match and she doesn't touch anyone.

But most "importantly" some of the elements which seemed sweet and campy in the first film have become forced. At times, it’s difficult to know if the off-colour jokes are being pushed for irony or whether they’re actually are the thing you’re apparently supposed to assume are parodying the propensity for that sort of thing. Is it ok to have so many “fat” jokes if they’re about Rebel Wilson and if her character’s name is Fat Amy? Is having a character whose only dialogue is about having a grim South American past ok? Homophobic undertones? The flat out racism and notable sexism of the hosts?  The CinemaSins video above is recommended for its survey of the key issues. It's noticeable that the host Jeremy and his writers have become increasingly intolerant of sexism in films over time and embarrassed of their own early running jokes in that vein.  They really hate this.

I don’t know and I'm not sure the filmmakers do either. I didn’t laugh in these places mainly because I wasn’t sure what I was laughing at. Having the whole story kickstarted by the shame of Fat Amy ripping her leotard in front of the President and the world doesn’t seem in keeping with the first film and a push towards a wider audience. Except it's confusing because the film was notably popular with and made for a predominantly female audience and did huge business, so either I'm not in on the irony, or understand the irony and it's just not my sort of humour or that it's just simply problematic and everyone should take a long hard luck at themselves.  I tend to have similar issues with Seth MacFarlane films, especially when he's making rape jokes.

I see that they’re making a Pitch Perfect 3 even though again, there is not story especially since they’re core gang is supposed to have graduated by now. My guess is it’ll be about Kendrick trying to get the group to make it in the music business which will probably lead to more cameos and some of the product placement that weighed this down. What I’d like to see is more characterisation of the rest of the group, giving them more to do than be punchline machines although I understand that that to an extent the series is supposed to be about Kendrick’s character. All of which said I like most of the these actors well enough to turn up for it – or at least watch it when it's added to a streaming service.

An A-Z of BBC Three.

TV Just before BBC Three didn't properly leave television, the BBC iPlayer was updated to include an A-Z list of programmes for a given channel.

When the channel stopped linear broadcasting, the link to a live stream was taken down from the BBC Three iPlayer page, a module which also included a link to this handy A-Z list.

But it still exists.  It's here.

This list will become increasingly useful as the programmes broadcast in the channel's final month drop off and we'll be able to see how much new content is actually being added or "broadcast" though it's noticeable already that online only programmes have a far longer window for watching, anything up to a year so it'll always look relatively busy.

"Interesting" sidebar:

For all the other channels, the a-z link is structured thus:


But the BBC has an extra layer:


The BBC One link 404s if you add the /tv/ bit back in just as the BBC Three link does if you take it out.  I wonder why.

Jaimie Alexander on Wonder Woman.

Film Brief, and I'm sorry, sponsored interview from Variety in which the perfect choice for Wonder Woman (before she was effectively Remmington Steeled from the role) says as much then precedes to shit talk the potential employer:
"Not at all. I’m excited to see what she’s going to do with the role. I was one of a few people that were an obvious choice for Wonder Woman, but it was never going to happen. I’m contracted with Marvel and it would (be) strange. Sif, in her way, is Marvel’s Wonder Woman. They’re both ethereal and have armor and a sword, and have special abilities; the physicality of the role is very similar. The thing I really enjoy about Marvel is that they start with a character first and all the explosions and costumes, the glitz and glam, are secondary to who the actual character is deep down. That’s something I haven’t really been able to find with DC Comics. I know that’s a bold statement, but it’s been my experience."
Pretty much convinced me that once Thor's done, they should continues that corner of the franchise with a series of Sif films. They wouldn't even need to produce a new poster. This would do it.

Leonard Nimoy in Vincent.

Theatre Added to Amazon Prime yesterday was the extremely rare ($117.99 on dvd from Amazon.com) recording of Nimoy's one man show about the life of Vincent Van Gogh. The style is similar to the various Simon Cowell staged biographies of Shakespeare and Dickens.  Nimoy's approach (inspired by an earlier play) is to assume the character of the painter's brother Theo, explaining the important his sibling's work to an imagined theatre filled with his family. friends and peers, utilising the letters collected by Theo's wife after both of their deaths.

Watching it tonight, I was struck with just how gifted Nimoy was, making his wariness at become synonymous with the Vulcan, as mentioned in this textual explanation for the play, at that time somewhat understandable.  This would have been between the Motion Picture and Khan, when having reluctantly returned to the role having refused initially when Trek was going to revive as a television series, he obviously saw the potential for typecasting to continue.  Though a glance at the imdb indicates on screen at least he didn't play many more characters than Spock in this period.

If you don't have Prime you can hire the stream for £3.99 (£1.99 on YouTube) and it's definitely worth it even if you're just interested in the history of arts television.  As well as a recording of the stage production, Nimoy appears as himself inside his dressing room apparently before and after the performance to provide further exposition on Vincent and Theo of the kind which which wouldn't have worked in the context and footage of the various locations mentioned in the play such as Vincent's cell at the asylum and his final resting place, that appear to be clips from this thing.

Here's Nimoy himself just prior to his death talking about the play on the occasion of a New York revival, with clips of Jean-Michel "additional voices in Frozen" Richaud taking on the role:

Leonard Nimoy on Vincent from Jean-Michel Richaud on Vimeo.

The Doctor's message to South Africa.

TV This absolutely gorgeous trailer was produced for the South African broadcast of Series 7b back in 2013 [via and via]. The costume's an interesting mash-up and which suggests this was filmed quite close to Matt's final moments on the show. As a bonus, here it is again semi-dubbed into Polish and this I'm the Doctor supercut.

BBC Three's New Secret Schedule. An update.

TV Did you set your PVR? Did you? Did you see it?

As you'll remember the other day, I published, straight from the EPG, the fact of BBC Three still being broadcast on television but in the middle of the night with its new schedule.

Well, last night, at 2am, BBC Three effectively did go back air for two hours.

Here's what happened:

"BBC Three has moved online" said an announcer over the new BBC Three ident, "and you can continue to watch all your favourite BBC Three shows at bbc dot co dot uk forward slash BBC Three or on BBC iPlayer."

Then, counter to all that she continued, "Some Girls here through the night and this one contains strong language."

Cue the second episode of Some Girls with a massive translucent dayglo pink DOG in the corner of the screen saying that BBC Three has moved online with the URL below and so it went through the next three episodes.

After the final episode there was a trailer of Life and Death Row which cut to the "We've moved" test card with the yellow huskies or wolves or whatever they are.

So yes, BBC Three continues to broadcast for two hours in the middle of the night perhaps as a contact suggested on the Twitters, so that the channel can retain its EPG slot notably on Sky where there are rules about how much content must be supplied in a day.

Sidebar.  Although eps 2-4 of Some Girls were broadcast last night, they're still only available for six days on the iPlayer not the usual post-broadcast month.

I wonder how long this will carry on for and how far into the archive they'll plunge.

Spooks: Code 9?  Please?

Romola On Directing.

Film Future Doctor, Romola Garai is interviewed on the above (two year old) podcast about directing her first short film and her favourite directors.

She says lots of nice things about Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady which puts that on the list.

Oh and spends two minutes talking about my favourite, favourite film When Harry Met Sally. Calls it a masterpiece.  Squee etc.

Also turns out I've been mispronouncing Romola's surname for years. I've been saying it to rhyme with aye-aye, but as she illustrates it supposed to rhyme with Gary. Which obviously makes more sense.

BBC Three's New Secret Schedule.

TV BBC Three isn't closing.  Sort of.  Well of course sort of. It's going online.

Except, as mentioned at a516Digital, EPGs show that Freeview broadcasts of actual programmes are continuing between 2am and 4am in the morning from tomorrow night, my guess is because of an iPlayer requirements in relation the BBC Trust, the televisual equivalent of parliamentary trains or ghost trains. Who fans will remember this sort of thing from when podcast commentaries for new were broadcast on BBC7 also in the middle of the night (could also be a Sky EPG thing).

And so, for fun, here's BBC Three's secret schedule for the coming weeks.

Wednesday 17th February

2:00am Some Girls
2:30am Some Girls
3:00am Some Girls
3:30am Some Girls

Thursday 18th February

2:00am Some Girls
2:30am Josh
3:00am Josh
3:30am Josh

Friday 19th February

2:00am Josh
2:30am Josh
3:00am Uncle
3:30am Uncle

Saturday 20th February

2:00am Russell Howard
2:30am Uncle
3:00am Uncle
3:30am Uncle

Sunday 21st February

2:00am Don't Tell The Bride
3:00am Don't Tell The Bride

Monday 22nd February

2:00am Russell Howard
2:30am Russell Howard
3:00am Don't Tell The Bride

The line is drawn there for now. Set your PVRs etc. Be interesting to see if these have all the BBC Three idents, announcers and bells and whistles or of they're simply going to be programmes.

Updated 17/2/2016:  I've posted an update on this.

My Favourite Film of 1959.

Film Let's talk briefly about bad films.

The first time I read about Plan 9 From Outer Space was in The Golden Turkey Awards, Harry and Michael Medved's 1980 humour book which listed what they judged to be the worst films of all time across a range of categories, suggesting nominees and a winner. Most Embarrassing Movie Debut (Paul Newman in The Silver Chalice), Most Ridiculous Movie Monster (Ro-Man from Robot Monster), Worst Performance by a Popular Singer (Tony Bennett in The Oscar) and Worst Title (Rat Pfink a Boo Boo). The decision Ed Wood's film was a hold over from their early tomb, sorry tome, The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. Both books were key parts of my early film education.

Except outside of their snark, there's an argument that Plan 9 From Outer Space isn't that bad in as much as at least it's entertaining. For all the cheap special effects, amateurish acting and applauling scripting, there are few lulls in its near eighty minutes even in the section in which the elderly Bela Lugosi has literally wandered in from another film (Wood utilised footage shot with the actor before he died and repurposed them in the later film). Having now seen a fair few B-pictures from the period with their poe-faced acting and clanky plotting not to mention equally amateurish special effects, Plan 9 at least has some atmosphere.

Which is sort of the problem. There's rather a lot of films with their one-star reviews and "worst films of all time" labels which objectively aren't. Scroll through Netflix and you'll find a stream of astonishingly average horror films with monosyllabic titles which fail at the basic level of actually being scary and so are pretty unwatchable on that level, and are bad. But none of them are really the worst because the people behind them aren't usually trying too hard. They have a script which has been good enough to pick up some financing and they've done just enough to get a return on their investment. The Cannon approach essentially.

It's important to add in here that I also don't tend include the comedies of Adam Sandler and his pals, Eddie Murphy, the Transformers films or any of that Kermodian rantable shit. Again, these things are awful, unwatchable tripe, but again the filmmakers have an audience and segmentation they wish to entertain and although there's always the argument that a lot of people might turn out for a film but not enjoy it (and yes, I've seen all of those Transformers films), and they are bad, they're not bad, bad. Artistically they achieve whatever it is the filmmakers have set out to accomplish even if the bar is lower than the lowest thing that's low and lower than that.

No, my argument is that for a film to be "bad" as in "the worst film of all time" it has to have been conceived with a certain level of hubris at some level (probably the studio) (most often this happens when there's been some studio interference) either because it was produced by someone who has otherwise turned out some good work or because the filmmakers genuinely believe they are producing a world turning piece of art but have failed to notice the results are laughable. Quite often these things actually get distribution. Some of them have appeared on over a thousand screens in the US.

Here then is short list of bad films released in my lifetime and that I haven't been able to blot out of my memory:

Love Actually
Bee Season
August Rush
The Juror
Man of Steel
Film Socialism
Hector and His Search For Happiness
The Women
Cassandra's Dream
Angel (Ozon)

That's eleven.

Some of those are pretty obvious and I there's only the odd item which people would argue against.  A few more could have been added thanks to the Simon Pegg smugness scale in which the quality of a film tends to dip considerably depending how smug his character is, and although it was tempting to put How To Lose Friends and Alienate People instead, he's supposed to be a hate figure in that whereas we're very much supposed to like Hector even though he's a cretin.

All of these films are creative failures and near impossible to watch.  Bee Season has whole sections in which Richard Gere lectures people about Buddhism while Juliet Binoche plays a kleptomaniac.  The Women remakes one of old Hollywood's cleverest, funniest greats with some of our best contemporary actresses but has them play vapid, idiotic versions of themselves.  The Juror has one of the oddest final acts of any legal drama ever.

Somehow, for some reason, I watched these all the way through.  Partly it was an obligation, as part of a watching list or some such and sometimes as is the case with the utterly bizarre August Rush, about a Violin prodigy called August Rush, you have too keep watching because you have no idea where the story is going to end up because the script seems like it's been thrown in the air and filmed and edited in the order it fell to the floor.

But what do I know?  There are people who adore Love Actually.  There are spirited defenses of Fan4stic on Amazon.  New Yorker critic Richard Brody called Cassandra's Dream one of the best films of the 2000s.  Ozon clearly conceived Angel to be purposefully kitsch as a pastiche of particular type of film making.  Film Socialisme has won many awards.  I happen to think these films are bad, but some people clearly enjoyed them.  It's confusing.

Ride Through The Night.

Theatre Advertising rules were recently changed in the UK so that critic quotes on posters had to reflect exactly what was originally written. In some cases, PR firms have responded by replacing well known wordsmiths with members of the social media class. Well. This New Yorker article about sleeping on subways includes a different, rather novel approach:
"A musical comedy called, simply “Subways Are for Sleeping”—one with impeccable pedigree, book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, music by Jule Styne, and starring Carol Lawrence—débuted on Broadway in 1961. (You can listen to the romantic song “Ride Through The Night.” above) The concept was that well-dressed homeless people, a self-chosen underground sect, secretly lived and loved on the subways. The show got so-so notices, and then produced one of the most notorious stunts in theatre history, when the incorrigible producer David Merrick placed an ad with quotes from all the leading newspaper critics of the day—it was a day when there were many—praising the show only for the world to discover that these were not the actual critics but fellow-New Yorkers with the same names: a sort of straphangers’ revolt against the professional reviewers. (Someone at Encores should revive the show for this New York moment. The score sounds terrific.)"