This week on The Shelf we recommend college a cappella flick Pitch Perfect, the solid action movie Total Recall, and men-in-arrested-development indies Sleepwalk With Me and Liberal Arts.
We didn’t say much about Pitch Perfect when it was released in theaters a few months ago. We should have. Pitch Perfect is the type of fun, balanced comedy that literally has something for everyone to enjoy. The film follows Anna Kendrick’s Beca as she goes to college to appease her dad and gets sucked into the hyper-competitive world of college a cappella by joining the Barden Bellas, the school’s all-female singing group. As in real life, the college a cappella scene is full of ridiculous characters and personalities that would ordinarily never be in the same place. In college, those groups are a great cross-section of tastes, and the movie is admirable in that the characters feel real and respond to things in a mostly realistic fashion. The movie is addictive, with great music performed in highly choreographed, big musical numbers and highly quotable dialogue that you’ll find yourself reciting days later or dropping into polite conversation. I earnestly want you to be surprised by the wittiness of some of the lines, so I will refrain from quoting it here myself. Pitch Perfect is also loaded with more than one breakout performance. While Anna Kendrick is quite good, the Bellas steal the movie out from behind her. Rebel Wilson owns this movie outright, as almost all of her dialogue was ad libbed in some form or another and is some of the funniest you’ll get to hear this year. Hana Mae Lee is also equally hilarious as Lilly, the quiet stereotypical Asian girl role played on its ear. The smart dialogue, wholly-formed character arcs for the entire cast, and some dazzling musical numbers for theater geeks make this one of my favorite movies this year. And it was here the whole time.
For as much as we loved the original Total Recall, the film was slowly paced and filled with a lot of bad exposition. There’s still a hell of a lot of exposition in the remake (too much is lifted from the original film that isn’t in the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” to really consider this a fresh adaptation), but the movie has so much energy and well-done action that it’s hard not to appreciate it a little more. I don’t know how many of us are out there, but I genuinely like this Total Recall better than the Arnold take. The film is bright and modern and horribly outdated and grungy at the same time. That’s not a balance that you can pull off often. As for the characters, Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel are fine as straightforward good guys, but the standouts in this one are the villains. A major expansion of the Lori Quaid character played by Kate Beckinsale makes for one of the meanest, most unflinching and unrelenting villains we’ve seen in a long time. Sharon Stone was a one note joke played to add some sex appeal to the original film, and while Beckinsale does bring plenty of sex appeal, she also makes for a legit badass threat. Bryan Cranston’s Cohagen is equally duplicitous and Machiavellian, and is brought to life with a creepy glee that only Cranston could manage. The movie is a fun bit of futurism (the grav highways are pretty badass) that deserves a little more credit for breathing life into something that no one thought was a good idea at first. The Blu-ray is also worth picking up for the pretty thorough behind-the-scenes features showing how some of the biggest scenes in the movie were visualized and performed. The Science Fiction vs. Science Fact featurette is also a nice look at the use of futurism in the film and trying to base the movie in as much of a realistic future as possible… well, a realistic future that has a giant tunnel running through the center of the Earth, at least.
For more about the film including its visual comparisons to Mass Effect, Jessica Biel on her stunt work, and Kate Beckinsale on strong women in genre film check out our interviews with the cast and director now:
Mike Birbiglia’s semi-autobiographical one man show gets turned into a semi-autobiographical movie about a young comedian grappling with somnambulism after he starts feeling the stress and pressure of his relationship heading toward marriage. The film also contains appearances by a slew of other comics like Hannibal Buress, Marc Maron, and Jessi Klein. For more on the movie, check out our full interview with Mike Birbiglia and producer Ira Glass. Or listen to Mike on the Nerdist Podcast.
Josh Radnor’s follow up to his impressive first feature Happythankyoumoreplease is a poetic and earnest look at growing up when you’ve supposedly been a grown-up for a while. When Radnor’s Jesse returns to his alma mater to help a retiring professor say goodbye, he connects with a current student named Zibby (played adorably by Elizabeth Olsen). Jesse spends the rest of the movie trying to balance his attraction to the mature seeming 19 year old and what he feels his place in her world should be. If you like In the Land of Women, you’ll enjoy Liberal Arts.