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Entries in skylar astin (2)

Friday
Mar012013

21 and Over

You should know exactly what you’re getting when you walk into 21 and Over because the title explains it all. It’s another teen comedy that romanticizes the 21st birthday threshold and treats alcohol like it’s an all healing elixir. This isn’t a movie for those old enough to have actually experienced the night though. This is for those who dream about the day they can pop out their driver’s license and strut into a bar legally for the first time ever. Those people will find 21 and Over amusing, while in the process building up their dream birthday night even further, but the older crowd will walk out of this unimpressed, finding the shenanigans the characters get themselves into to be outlandish, despite some inevitable reminiscing on some of their own crazy nights. But what kills this movie from the same writers of The Hangover isn’t that it’s absurd (so was The Hangover); it’s that it’s not funny. At all.

Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) is a pre-med student, pressured into becoming a doctor by his pushy father (Francois Chau). In the morning, he has a very important medical school interview, so he needs to stay in and get some sleep, but it's his 21st birthday and his best friends, Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin), have surprised him with a visit and have other plans. Although they promise to have him home at a reasonable time, they end up getting him completely wasted. Soon, Jeff can't even speak and they don't know where he lives. Miller and Casey quickly find themselves in a race against time, doing their best to get Jeff hope and prepped so he doesn't miss the most important interview of his life.

Writing a comedy must be hard. Comedy screenwriters typically aren't consistent, at least not in the way a dramatic writer like Aaron Sorkin is. No, they can produce a hit, one that manages to keep the laughs coming at a consistent pace, but that in no way guarantees they'll be anything more than a one hit wonder. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writers of 21 and Over can attest to that. A quick glance at their filmography shows writing credits for Four Christmases, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, The Change-Up, The Hangover and The Hangover Part II. Precisely one of those movies was funny enough to be good. If their last couple movies are any indication, what they're doing now is no secret. They're trying to capture the magic that was The Hangover, but comedy requires surprise. It requires fresh ideas, not rehashes. They basically remade The Hangover with The Hangover Part II and now they've done it again with 21 and Over.

As with The Hangover movies, the story here revolves around a mystery: where exactly does Jeff live? They're give clues of course, but they're so blatantly obvious, it's insulting. When the characters finally figure it out 45 minutes to an hour after you already have, it means nothing. The story exists solely as a means for the characters to get in wacky situations and force as much alcohol down their throats as possible. This gives way to slow motion puking and the eating of a tampon, which, I suppose if you're really that drunk, could look like a candy bar.

This type of humor is of the lowest form. It grosses out to gain laughs, it tries to convince that the mere sight of a naked man is somehow funny and it overvalues the otherwise normal day that is someone's 21st birthday by devaluing things that actually matter like friendship and happiness. 21 and Over is the most wrongheaded party movie since last year's Project X, which shared a similar skewed view of the world, one that would be easy to dismiss were it not so sad. I don't want to over exaggerate; this is not a cinematic travesty—it contains at least a few legitimate laughs—but it's repulsive, immature and poorly written. It's a retread of Lucas and Moore's previous work, so why waste your time with it when the same, but superior film exists elsewhere?

21 and Over receives 0.5/5

Friday
Sep282012

Pitch Perfect

If there is ever going to be a movie that is going to make a cappella cool, it’s Pitch Perfect. In fact, it exists in a world where a cappella is the cool thing to do. The popularity pyramid is distorted from reality, to the point where those who are able to sing harmoniously alongside others are at the top. One hilarious scene shows the leader of the Treble Makers, a college a cappella group, shun a nerd trying to join the group just before matching pitch with his comrades. Such desire for acceptance into an a cappella group may seem silly now, but it won’t after watching the movie. Pitch Perfect is lively, funny, moving and just plain fun. If it doesn’t make you want to sing afterwards, you’re probably a metalhead.

The film begins at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella in New York. The all-female Borden Bellas are competing in the event against their all male rivals, the Treble Makers. Despite a solid show, one of them ends up getting sick on stage, effectively ruining their chances at winning. Flash forward a bit and a new school year has arrived. The two girls remaining on the team, Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp), are dying to get another shot at that championship and decide to hold tryouts. Eventually, they band together a ragtag group of girls, including the free spirited Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), who calls herself that so people won’t have to call her it behind her back and aspiring DJ, Beca (Anna Kendrick), who is only joining because her father has agreed to personally help move her to LA to achieve her dreams if she sticks with school for one year and participates in college events. There’s only one rule these girls must follow: do not sleep with a member of the Treble Makers. If they do, they’re off the team. It seems a simple enough rule to follow, but the charms of Jesse (Skylar Astin) may make it harder than anticipated.

What follows is fairly predictable fodder. The narrative and thematic correlation between this and something like Step Up is hard to miss—the film even has the equivalent of a dance-off, where competing singers meet to show each other up vocally—but what Pitch Perfect proves is just how vital a good cast is. Just as a terrible cast can effectively ruin a good script, a great cast can elevate a clichéd one, which is precisely what happens here. Kendrick is her usual adorable self and she gives a performance that is simultaneously hardened and vulnerable. Her character isn’t someone who is likely to earn friends on her own due to her stubborn attitude, but as she performs with the Borden Bellas, she comes to appreciate those around her, with all of their flaws and differences. This all comes forth despite her initial disinterest in a cappella. It’s easy to understand why she comes around and opens up to the group; they’re all so interesting and likable (well, almost all of them) that it would seem silly not to. In particular, Rebel Wilson is fantastic. She is absolutely hilarious here and manages to steal each scene she’s in, despite a supporting role.

But I suppose the big question is: how is the singing? To put is simply, it’s fantastic. The chosen songs are all toe tappers and they work perfectly within the context of what the performers intend to do, showcasing their highs and (occasionally) their lows. There’s something mesmerizing about how every sound you remember from the original song, from the drums to the guitars to everything in between, is recreated without instruments and through the mouths of those singing. One of the best scenes, that highlights the fascination of a cappella, comes during an early audition. Each performer sings a certain part of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” from full out lyrics to simple beats, and their auditions are spliced together to form one musical whole. The structure of this sequence is flat out brilliant and even if you don’t like the actual song, you’ll be impressed by its implementation.

Pitch Perfect is just flat out fun, though that’s not to say it doesn’t have its problems. It gets a bit grating at times with a cappella plays-on-words, like a ca-excuse me and a ca-awesome, and it goes completely off the rails about two-thirds of the way through with an extremely out of place puke scene that rivals a similar scene in Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Team America: World Police. As if the prolonged upchucking wasn’t enough, one of the characters then falls into it and, instead of getting up in disgust, makes an angel. You also have to sit through a few painfully overdramatic plot turns, but sticking with Pitch Perfect proves to be a fulfilling and inspiring experience. It may follow a narrative trajectory explored by countless dance movies before it, but this time it’s handled with care by the filmmakers and performed by actors who can actually do what their profession implies.

Pitch Perfect receives 4/5