“Spy” and “Pitch Perfect 2”

After a week of scholarship and insight at Indiana University’s Mini-U, it is time for a balance by reviewing summer comedy and snarky spoofs.A fellow friend and film blogger had seen “Spy” and enjoyed it enough to wish to see it again. My husband had seen a review on “Pitch Perfect 2” and asked me to join him even though we had not seen the original. Below are my thoughts on both films.

Never really a fan of Melissa McCarthy, I must say I loved her in “Spy”. She is more vulnerable here and less vulgar,even in a wait-until-the-credits-roll-by outtake. (Worth waiting for because McCarthy can’t even believe she allowed her ad lib to be included.)Let’s just call it her thumb review! Likewise,Jude Law is stellar: the perfect stance,facial expressions and timing. In his James Bond role,as Bradley Fine, he looks mighty fine,too!
I thought the entire cast with the exception of Allyson Janney was top notch. Janney was too
one dimensional for me~never wavering from the hard boss. While Rose Bryne,Bobby Cannavale, Miranda Hart and Jason Statham brought a natural and balanced vigor to their roles. Loved the creative name-calling and word play from “Shits Carlton” to you dress like “a slutty dolphin trainer”. I consider Paul Feig’s “Spy” most summer-comedy worthy with double agent action to keep you guessing.

“Pitch Perfect 2” bored me with the use of the divided screen highlighting pillow-fight hijinxs and campfire singalongs. I liked the word play in this comedy as much as the a cappella singing. “Deutsche bag” and “treblemakers” struck me as creative.By the way,the German singers had the staging and the voices. Das Sound Machine out did the generations of Bellas in my estimation. The contest co-hosts Elizabeth Banks And John Michael Higgins were less than hysterical.The Christmas album with Snoop Dog was inspired as was the “songs about butts ” category and the gift card to Dave and Busters. Product placement advertising is rampant in “Pitch Perfect 2”: Cover girl and Pantene star.

One of the most beautiful shots is in Copenhagen with drizzle and sun rays on the colored facades and umbrellas mirroring all. Fat Amy and “muffingate”, or Southern exposure to the Commander-in-Chief was as silly as “sucking vodka from a maxi-pad”, sophomoric at best.I did not much care for Anna Kendrick or Rebel Wilson. Skyler Astin was energetic more than memorable.Fans of “The Voice” may find this film “the kicker of the ass”,I just didn’t.

“Danny Collins”

What an incredibly well-acted “slice of life” drama awaits in the film “Danny Collins”! Al Pacino’s charm and depth captivated me. I was ready for a has-been debauched old stoner, not for a self-deprecating and self-reflective “heart-of-golder”. Pacino is marvelous. He makes you care about him because of his flaws, not despite of them.

The storyline is all too familiar. A talented young lyricist’s earnestness gives way to selling out for fame and remuneration. Major mistakes are made and regret takes hold. Pacino’s Danny knows that fame and money open doors,but it is not enough. The way these advantages are used is central to underscoring his self-distain.”I haven’t written a song in thirty years. I was the real thing once. I gave up. I’m broken.” He is worldly tired of people’s response to his fame.  Yet, Pacino plays Danny as personable and playful,rather than depressive. His funny “I like your lawn” brings laughs, but somehow he seems genuine.He has the performer’s need to please.Drugs are the aged rock star’s crutch. We just put up with his unbuttoned shirt,neck scarf and chest hair. Forget the dye,drink and polish.

Supporting cast members are flawless,too. Christopher Plummer,as manager Frank,doubles as savvy friend and wise sage. Annette Bening is so real in her print blouses and patter that you appreciate how she can keep in character and not outshine the lead because we know she is capable! Her Mary Sinclair is solid and honest,and yet surprised by how smitten she is with Danny’s attention. Jennifer Garner is fresh and different as daughter-in-law Samantha, a role that could have been easy to schlep through. Her facial control and line delivery near perfect. “Shame on you,you missed out on the perfect daughter-in-law” was understated,but heartfelt.Bobby Cannavale has the hardest part. He makes sick, angry and appreciative meld with exasperated, scared and nurturing. He has so many emotions to portray that the viewer’s own rise and fall at roller coaster speed. If the above is not a call to view this movie on the big screen, consider the best performance ever by a first-grader in need of an IEP (Independent Educational Plan).Giselle Eisenberg’s energy exhausts you,but keeps you smiling long after she exits the screen. As the symbolically named “Hope”,I found her spontaneous,and well ~amazing. The backyard- kiddy- pool scene is evocative of every postage-stamp-backyard family. Her answering the front door is adorable and singing “itsey-bitsey spider” and repeating her father’s slow nose-breathing poem will melt every grandparents’heart.

In fact,this film is scene driven often with two people in dialogue. No fancy camera work or scenery, here. The final setting in a doctor’s examination room is a stunner. Down to the tap on the door, we are there director-Dan Fogelman-style.

While the symbolism is a tad overdone,that framed prized letter from John Lennon unites Danny’s progression from awed-desire to letting-it-go gift-giving. Be prepared for good dialogue and snappy humor. “Hey,Sylvia Plath”, “gumming licorice for two hours”, and “that’s fucked-up in a lot of ways” and “wear a shirt with some buttons”,”sweet and weird like I like them” all resonate in a long,but smart script.

The Beatle’s lyrics “love is real” and “Love is wanting to be loved” and Danny’s “Autumn leaves do fall” work as layers on a theme. “I’m walking blind on this road in search of higher ground.Don’t look back,don’t look down” does not seem coying. It fits like the bag of bagels.Danny’s huge tour bus pulling away from a residential New Jersey curb tears off tree limbs and leaves a great frame of Tom Donnelly (Cannavale) amidst twenty bags of Toys R Us detritus. As a sub-theme states “Only you can corrupt your art”. This is a chord this film does not play as Pacino lets go of his past and “lives for today”. A tad schmaltzy,but an actor’s must see.