Jurassic World

Jurassic World, the most recent incarnation of Hollywood nostalgia, is what Jurassic Park 3 should have been. The box office receipts have broken another record, the critics lament the niggling impossible bits (sure, you probably can’t outrun a T-Rex in stiletto heels, but has anyone actually tried?), and audiences applaud the entertainment. As of writing the film broke the record for largest opening weekend ($500 million, more than tripling its budget) and is within a pterodactyl swoop of $1 billion.

For someone who grew up with the Jurassic series there are plenty of references and salutes to the original. Film students would refer to this as intertextuality, and when it is done badly you get the clumsy cameo bits we’d rather forget from the Star Wars prequels. Happily, in this case it is done well, and the references like (spoiler) the DNA strand animation from the first film that appears briefly on a screen in the busy museum, or the famous tour cars found in the abandoned garage somewhere on the island, makes it feel like the film is watching itself. Watching itself and cackling with laughter at every chomp and stomp. The film claps you on the back and pushes your frozen coke a little closer.

This is a movie I want to see again just for the sheer fun of it. The story is basic, and the same as the rest of the Jurassic movies; (a) big terrifying dinosaur(s) gets created in the lab, (a) big terrifying dinosaur(s) escapes captivity, and thrilling scenes of prehistoric violence ensue. Before you audibly yawn at the formula you need to ask yourself if you would be interested in seeing a dinosaur movie where this didn’t happen. These movies stand or fall on that simple premise, and this one undoubtedly stands.

Palaeontology has developed in the last twenty years, in my opinion for the worst. How disappointing to find that Velociraptor actually had feathers and could be mistaken for just another bird if it were alive today. Jurassic World’s raptors are vintage 1993, smooth skinned lizards that dart and hunt in packs and consider their prey with beady eyes and tilting heads. They are more like wolves or jackals, and their obedience to trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) has something more doglike than fowl. A major theme in the film is that people want to be awed by the creatures, so the scientists splice their genes to make them meaner, smarter, and more terrifying. Real science is eroding that, whence the departure from science. Whoever would have guessed that the dinosaurs that thrilled us in 1993 would turn out to have more in common with Big Bird than crocodiles.

The scientists took to twitter in a mass outpouring of nerdy disappointment when the trailer and featherless raptors hit screens everywhere. They said it was ‘retrograde’, they said it was ‘a dumb monster movie’. The inauthentic creatures were created by fusing the DNA of amphibians to the damaged dinosaur DNA, so one could make a scientific case for the Velociraptor not having feathers. But that would be unnecessary. What the scientists would get if they had their way is a movie version of the National Geographic. Something tells me this would be less, um, thrilling.

If there is one indispensable reason for the success of Jurassic World it is Chris Pratt. The guy can do humour, drama, and action with an easy flair that is outrageous. I think the reason he can do traditional masculinity without it being off-putting is because he seems to have no ego. Action stars of the past (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, even Brendan Fraser in The Mummy) have all had egos that loom before them like permanent advance shadows. Yet Pratt carries his easiness from Parks and Recreation and becomes a leading actor that does not dominate the rest of the cast. He is becoming the ideal father figure, full of humour with the ability to fight off whatever attacks, and knowing when to shut up and support the “mother” character. His bond with the raptors is certainly one of a parent and young – this is made clear when he says that they imprinted on him when they hatched and he raised them to adulthood. The ‘Pratt’ has signed on for sequels so we should be treated to more form this new-age Harrison Ford. Hooray! 

Bryce Dallas Howard performs well as the chilly workaholic manager of operations Claire Dearing, despite her feet being glued to a pair of cream coloured stilettos throughout the entire movie. Prodigiously strong her ankles must be. In the past I have found Bryce to be rather vacant and detatched, difficult to connect with on a human level. The opposite of Pratt in some ways. Yet here she is that removed person at the start, and goes on a character journey that breaks through her isolation and replaces her love of all things work related (like her smartphone) with a genuine emotional connection with her nephews. The scene where she outruns a T-Rex in heels has been ridiculed by people I can only call misguided. When the massive gate opens and the eyes of the T-Rex glint in the dark as it stomps toward the brave woman with the flare, who the hell is looking at her shoes? Leave the theatre at once you cheap entertainment philistine!

This makes me recall the guy who worked on creature design for The Lord of the Rings, who clashed with artist John Howe over the spikes on the wingtips of the fell beasts. The chap contended that such spiked wingtips do not exist in the real world. John Howe overruled him on the grounds that, well, neither to fell beasts, and spiked wing tips – though utterly fantastical – were ‘cool’. The point is that films are not made to be realistic, or hole-less in a narrative sense. Some films have more holes than Swiss cheese or pumice, but like Swiss cheese and pumice still manage to float.

Like a good adventure from the early 1990s, Jurassic World leaves you feeling satisfied, with most ends succinctly tied. The hawkish would-be profiteers get chomped (for the most part), and the family that was heading for the dissolution of divorce may stick together. And the music of John Williams keeps the whole thing feeling familiar and authentic. On that point though my sister felt it was a bit underwhelming. The tension was not kept up by the music through the softer bits. She has a good point, and the score though good was not a standout. It was composed by Michael Giacchino who tried to use the original themes of Williams to make the world feel familiar. He succeeded in that, but that isn’t saying much.

In the film (and also the trailer) the spectacle of the Mosasaurus diving out of its huge water enclosure to devour a great white shark (like a Killer Whale jumping for fish at Sea World) is a moment that is perhaps something of an inside Spielberg joke. Jaws eaten by bigger jaws. However, it seems a little bizarre in that a core theme of the film is environmentalism. The dinosaurs are bred for profit but aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet. They are living animals, deserving of respect. It is strange then to see an endangered species strung up to be eaten for entertainment. But, if they can clone dinosaurs I am sure they can keep sharks from extinction. Another humorous layer could be that an endangered species is eaten for crowd entertainment – by an extinct species. Perhaps I am reading too much into it.

I haven’t talked about the director and other main cast because I really have nothing of substance to say. The two brothers are less annoying than children from the earlier films, and they very quickly get forgotten. The older brother (I can’t remember his name and I bet neither can you) has the adolescent desire to procreate with everything, which is a reminder of the dinosaur instinct so aptly summed up by Jeff Goldblum in the first movie; “Life, er, er, finds a way…” The teenager does not I am happy to say. That is not a spoiler to say that he doesn’t spoil anyone… oh dear, how did this become so filthy?

My judgement is go and see it. It is well worth it. As always an adventure film is diminished by even the most block-busting home theatre system. See it at the cinema, and if you are in Wellington you really are spoilt for choice.

Gateway to bad logic

The slow burning matter of legalising marijuana keeps sending puffs of smoke into the public consciousness as the medical uses of the herb – and its non-toxic derivatives – become more prevalent. Short of legalising recreational marijuana use and licensing its sale, which has been done in recent years in Colorado and Washington State, decriminalising medical marijuana is looking increasingly likely.

Whether it is smoking a joint to ease the pain of cancer treatment, or more importantly the nausea, or using cannabis oil to treat the chronic seizures of a Nelson teenager, the stuff has medical properties that cannot be denied. Making the derivatives of marijuana illegal as we do in New Zealand is toxic in its stupidity. It is rather like banning morphine because it is an opiate.

Largely the intransigence of many on this issue is caused by the non-logic of ‘gateway theory’. The argument runs thus: Marijuana is not as harmful as other drugs. It is more available, and therefore more young people will use it at some point. Using marijuana will introduce them into the drug world, at which point they will use and become addicted to harder drugs.

Following that logic the law of progression is deemed to be irrefutable. Soft-core pornography always leads to hard-core pornography, then to illegal pornography. However, they miss the crucial variable of an individual’s character. If a kid smokes pot and his friends decide to try P, it does not follow that the kid will always do what his ‘friends’ do. In fact, much of adolescence is made up of feeling uncomfortable with the behaviour of one’s peers, and either confronting, abandoning, or accepting them. While I accept that the ‘gateway’ theorists can’t remember what it is like to be a teen, the experience is so etched in my memory that I will never forget it.

A new study in the United States which took data on young people using marijuana in 48 states from 1991 – 2014, found no correlation between youth rates and the availability of medical marijuana. The states which have legalised medical use (like California) already have higher than average rates of young people smoking pot, but no spike after laws were passed. In fact, many medical marijuana states saw youth rates decline as teens viewed the drug as a medicine rather than a recreational drug.   

If we want to isolate the true gateway drug we are sniffing the wrong plant. The sugarcane is the true gateway, not just to drugs, but to addiction more generally. Children learn from the cradle to crave the reward of sugary treats, and thus the dopamine response is tailored for exploitation by harder substances. Sugar is the root of addiction, and it is killing us. We can’t get it out of our foods. People load up on energy drinks to sustain them for a long day at the desk. Movie snacks are packed full of the energetic stuff, why? Because we are so physically active when watching the latest Hollywood clunker?

I have never tried marijuana, not by design, but because the opportunity has never presented itself. My sweet tooth left me in recent years – a good thing considering the higher risk of diabetes I have with my condition. If marijuana was found to have benefits for me I would not hesitate to try it, but I have no greater ambition to try heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, cocaine, or ecstasy. Fortunately I do not have an addictive tendency, and I am of reasonably sound mind, which leads me to my final point.

The ‘gateway’ brigade don’t want to rely on the sound mind of others to decide for themselves on matters which only concern themselves. This is not alarming because it is stupid, but because it is menacing. The brigade wants to exert control upon everyone else to prevent them from doing things the brigade does not approve of. This is illiberal, and if it manages to bind the government to a certain course of action then it is a tyranny. It needs to be exposed, and it needs to be opposed. Now is a good enough time to puff oxygen on that spark.

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Christopher Lee 27/5/1922 — 7/6/2015

It didn’t take a stake in the heart, nor a bullet from 007, but the sunset after a day lasting ninety-three years. The great Sir Christopher Lee has died.

He became late on June 7, and the news was released late so that the widow could contact the rest of the family before the obituaries started rolling out.

To say he was a screen legend is to badly understate things. He had a massive body of work. It was massive twenty years ago, and his status was secure with his portrayals of Count Dracula, Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun, and widely praised part in The Wicker Man. In the last twenty years he has gained new generations of fans with his roles in the Star Wars prequels, several Tim Burton pictures, and most famously The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

His deep voice was used in films, and on various tracks of Heavy Metal music. Looking over the things he put into his ninety-three years one can be drowned in the swelling digital ocean. He spoke five languages fluently, and was proficient in many more. He was once engaged to the daughter of Swedish Count Fritz von Rosen, and had to get permission from the King to marry her. They ended their engagement after he had decided that the financial insecurity of the shabby world of acting would be an insufficient support for such a noble woman.

Before acting, Christopher Lee had a shadowy role in the Second World War in RAF Intelligence, and was in the precursor to the SAS. He took his secrets with him, and his participation in Special Operations remains highly classified to this day. Sir Peter Jackson said that Lee was oddly specific about the behaviour of someone being stabbed in the back, when he was rehersing for the death scene of Saruman on the top of Orthanc in Return of the King. The scene was deleted from the theatrical film to his immense sadness. It was restored for the extended DVD, thus making the four hour version of the film the only one worth re-watching.

It is difficult to try and summarise a life of such complexity, and if one can’t do it right it is better not to do it at all. So I shall simply say what Sir Christopher Lee meant to me, in the hope that is might bear some resemblance to what he meant to others. A sinister man, with a voice belonging to a gothic cathedral on a stormy night, and a truly imposing stature (at 6ft 5inches he is tied with Vince Vaughn as the tallest leading man). And yet he could fit his characteristic style into a plethora of characters, some real and many literary; not always villainous, and be the stern cinematic grandfather of many generations.

The Hobbit trilogy, for all its faults in scrambling for a place in the shadow of The Lord of the Rings, was at its best for including Saruman, and giving Christopher Lee an appropriately magical send off. Despite his age he did not have the gradual winding down we have seen from other elderly ‘stars’, like Richard Attenborough. Lee was active until shortly before his death, and only a month ago signed on to make another film. He did slowdown of course, but the marvel of our time is that just as you can email, skype, check online banking etc. without raising your head from the pillow, the infirmities of age a getting less restrictive. Lee was clear that he couldn’t manage a journey to New Zealand to be in The Hobbit, so Peter Jackson took a crew to London and shot his scenes there. All the parts with Saruman taking part in the White Council (see the film, I’m not going to spell it out) were done first in NZ with the other cast, then Lee’s bits were put in with him before a green-screen. The technology for putting the face of one actor on the body of another is so seamless you wouldn’t know unless you were told.

Perhaps that should be regarded as part of Lee’s legacy, that he lived right up until he died. Bravo I say; now if you will excuse me, I have to catch up on the two-hundred or so films of his I haven’t seen yet.

Running out the clock; Obama’s patient Foreign Policy

President Obama is a cautious man. Cerebral, reserved, patient. But nearing six and half years in office I am beginning to think that he doesn’t have a clue what he wants to achieve.
He started off with the clear message that he isn’t George W. Bush. And as time has passed this maybe the only thing he’s clear on. He wanted to end wars rather than start them, and he pre-emptively won the Nobel Peace Prize on that basis in 2009.

Unfortunately, other players in the world have very different, and more belligerent, ambitions. The Arab Spring altered the geo-political climate as the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya crumbled. Syria disappeared into a fog of civil war, and against the advice of Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defence Panetta, and General Petraeus, Obama didn’t intervene. Instead we watched in horror as al-Qaeda in Iraq crossed into Syria, morphed into ISIS, and crossed back into Iraq where it swept through Mosul and Anbar Province, taking the arms dropped by the fleeing Iraqi Army, which had been so hollowed out by a paranoid Shiite government in Baghdad.

Still Obama stood idle; sensitive to Democratic Party opinion should he appear to be anything like Bush. This after he had won re-election therefore removing the need for him to take the pulse of his party support like it was 2008. Only when the ISIS advanced towards the capital of the Kurdistan autonomous government in northern Iraq, and a humanitarian crisis among the only people in the region who have a chance at securing their own peace and security, not to mention liberty and civil society (a rare find in that part of the world) finally forced his hand. The President swung into action and ordered supply drops and eventual air strikes from the cover of an international coalition. How did we end up with a US president so feckless?

Since the no-fly zone was introduced by President George HW. Bush in 1991, the Kurds – by far the largest nation in the world to not have a state of their own – were granted autonomous control over three provinces in Iraq. This represents a very small part of Kurdish land, which sits on the divide between Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Turkey. Statehood has been a very difficult question to address because of the fear these other nations have of the effect it would have for their own territory. The picture is changing though. Syria no longer matters; the words ‘Syrian Government’ no longer have meaning. Turkey just had an election which saw the ruling AKP party, which President Erdogan formally led as Prime Minister from 2002 till last year, lose their Parliamentary majority. Erdogan’s constitutional plans to give himself supreme power as the ‘executive President,’ have been scuttled.

The Kurdish minority in Turkey now has political representation, as their party received 12 percent of the vote. Something tells me that Turkey’s obstinate refusal to allow the Iraqi Kurds to declare independence on pain of invasion, may well change. The Kurds are definitely in favour of their own state, as 98.7 percent voted in favour of it in a referendum in 2005. They are pragmatic though, and their priority is defending themselves against ISIS. Statehood is a lesser concern.

If they make a significant step towards statehood before January 2017 when Obama leaves office, I’m sure some democrat demagogue will try to tack it onto the outgoing President’s paltry list of foreign policy achievements. Anything to distract from the list of failures, but ironically any credit due to America belongs to the two Bush administrations.

Obama’s weapon of choice in foreign matters is the predator drone, and his kill list with over a million names. Foreign Policy used to be an area of undisputed presidential power. Enter the president of the red lines, who will shrivel up and cower if you cross him. Remember his warning to Syrian President al-Assad that there would be consequences should he use chemical weapons on his own people? You can still smell the sarin and chlorine on the rubble of Syria. Vladimir Putin stepped in to save America’s face by negotiating to remove the weapon stocks. I am sure the de facto tsar of the new Russia noted the shallowness of Obama’s resolve, and kept in mind when he annexed Crimea.

Obama has some genuine desires. He wants a nuclear deal with Iran, but he is willing to give up everything to get it, either that or he simply doesn’t care. I think he is just an academic with a bad case of tunnel vision.

The President’s international failures include the failure to make any progress on the Israel-Palestine conflict. No nuclear deal with Iran. No nuclear deal with North Korea. The abandonment of Iraq and Afghanistan to the devils and demons of ISIS and the Teleban. Breaking his promise on the closure of Guantanamo Bay. Allowing Putin to dance all over him whilst believing that international isolation and pressure will convince Russia to toe the line. That’s worked so well in the past.

Let’s not be ungenerous. He’s warming relations with Cuba and he ordered the raid which killed Osama bin-Laden. As the character Leo McGarry says to the President in The West Wing; “This office isn’t always about doing something. Most of the time it’s about not doing something.” Obama has taken this lesson to heart, but he has forgotten the obvious proviso: Sometimes you have to actually do something.

Perhaps I am being too hard on the President. He has done well in other areas of Foreign Policy where his style has found a receptive audience. The pursuit of US interests in the Asia-Pacific – vulgarly known as the ‘pivot’, has been a marked success. Obama has rebuilt America’s relationship with Malaysia, and forged strong defence ties with the Philippines. Stationing slightly more US garrison troops in Australia has kept the land of dingoes and mines happy enough in its sphere of influence. All this doesn’t counter the rise of China, which is still locked in a maritime dispute with several neighbours over its rights to the South-China Sea. But if the Bush policy of rusted indifference continued for the last six years America would be looking decidedly absent from the Asia-Pacific hemisphere. And they would have no way in at this point.

It has laid the groundwork for climate change agreements with China that could actually lead somewhere, and we may not appreciate that for many years to come.

The refocusing of US interests from Europe and the Middle East, to the Asia Pacific, is a strategic move that has potential benefits for future presidents. Obama’s ability to get along personally with other leaders in the region, to work on areas of common agreement, and to do so peacefully, is of huge importance for the future. International crisis will be addressed by the US and China, and they need to have a working relationship with mutual trust, that assures the peace and security of the smaller players in the region. The things that may be possible in future decades if we get this combination right are far reaching, and well worth the effort it takes us.

Persuasive cases are being made supporting the splitting of Iraq – the failed British imperialistic experiment, and nation building experiment that it is – and giving rise to a situation similar to that of the former Yugoslavia. The Kurdish north is an obvious successor state, perhaps too a state for the Sunni minority to prevent the sectarian power struggle from continuing. I am certainly out on an idealistic limb here, and if states were to pop up willy-nilly in Mesopotamia one might well wonder why a Palestinian State is such an impossible task. I am sure the bible thumpers of the US who support Zionism from the belief that Armageddon will be brought on if every Jew travels to the Holy Land, would start spouting frothy gobs of hateful spit at that. But of course I digress, we must return to the matter at hand.

Obama has been reluctant to arm rebels and Syria and elsewhere, although he has followed through on some occasions. I agree with his hesitancy on this point. Weapons have a tendency to end up in the mischievous hands of those they were not intended for. A small group of men with guns can cause a horrendous amount of terror and villainy, and arms are notoriously difficult to track. The usual cranks on Fox News tend to wail on about the need to arm ‘moderate’ Muslims (harder to identify than they think) while in the same breath – but a slightly different tone – demand the presence of guns in American homes. It doesn’t pay to put the lunatic in charge of the madhouse, so sensible leaders ignore the demands of the Fox contingent.

Short of putting a significant number of troops on the ground, I doubt Obama can achieve his objective of securing the territorial integrity of Iraq. In point of fact, this policy is already dead and buried. While we may be so used to American intervention as the ‘global policeman’, it is a historical anomaly. The Monroe Doctrine of securing American supremacy in its own hemisphere and leaving the rest of the world to its own devices, is underpinned even now by a temptation to return to isolationism. Obama’s doctrine is not Monroe’s, but nor is it Bush’s. The use of military force is a last resort, and diplomacy is the weapon of choice today. Might the next president use the military more freely? Yes, if it is Mrs Clinton who succeeds. Her husband had no qualms about deploying the might of his military to distract from his indiscretions with a young intern. Such reptilian ruthlessness is part of Hillary too, and I suspect she will wield power like a Rottweiler.

In conclusion, I say that Obama has disappointed me hugely, and I don’t hold out much hope that is final months in office will add much to his legacy. But, as the economy improves he might rise in respect and approval as a decent President who tried his best. There hasn’t been a large scale terrorist attack on the US on his watch (the Boston bombing was horrific, but conducted by lone-wolves), and for better or worse he hasn’t invaded anyone. Like many in America, I am starting to look restlessly for who’s next.

Practically Living; a tribute to Helen Kelly

Helen Kelly was diagnosed with lung cancer on February 18th. Bad genes. Bad luck. She’s a non-smoker. Her ‘metastatic’ cancer is incurable, and successive rounds of chemo are aimed at prolonging life by months, not years.  Kelly might be described by the inarticulate as being a ‘fighter’, to use the cancer cliché. Sure enough, four rounds of chemo have run off her back leaving her a touch fatigued, but not in any way compromised in her efforts to improve the lot of working people. She won’t be standing for re-election as President of the Council of Trade Unions in October, but until then will continue to put everything she has into the job she’s performed since 2007.

I’ve never met her. Helen Kelly first became known to me when she was the face of efforts to fully unionize the New Zealand film industry by triggering an international actors blacklist of The Hobbit. I was angry and disgusted with her. Not that her objective was bad — it was absolutely good and right — but she picked a fight she was sure to lose. The CTU was fighting on too many fronts. Against Warner Bros. Against the government. Against Sir Peter Jackson. The PR battle was over before it began. This is the chronic problem with the left, that they think it is enough to be right, and the public will follow. But you can’t stop at the right idea.  You have to win.

All Warner Bros had to do was signal that they might take the movies offshore and it was checkmate. A centre-right government was never going to call their bluff. And at the end of it all John Key was furnished with a nice cudgel to bash the unions. What a blunder, I find such tactical stupidity hard to forgive. However, I think it speaks to her character that she fought at full intensity even when it was hopeless. That takes guts, a commitment to principle, and a humility immune to humiliation. When the smoke cleared there was a Helen Kelly shaped hole in the wall and she was off to fight for her cause elsewhere.

As I have said, I do not know Helen Kelly. Therefore my observations are not sharpened by a personal connection. She is handling her malady with a practicality I find almost intoxicating. You simply cannot control life, but you can keep from losing control. A self described atheist and fatalist, Kelly is not unsentimental. She got married last month and celebrated with hundreds of friends. In facing death Helen Kelly is living life.

This is not an obituary. Kelly is not dead. I hope to meet her at some stage and discuss the great questions, the vital struggles of our time, and come to a fuller understanding of her. Then, perhaps I will manage to enhance these lines. I hope not to write that obituary for a long time yet.

Finding Bohemia

Finding full-time work as a public servant; considering my future through a more conventional lens than before, is awkwardly taking me from the proverbial country of Bohemia, across the gentle frontier that marks of the land of conformity.

Or does it? I refer to the cultural movement rather than the historical kingdom. Is this bohemia a state of existence, or merely a state of mind? As much as one informs the other, I think it is both. I’ve got a steady and reputable job, but no fixed abode. I’ve got a camera, but no subject. Life is good, yet it is still directionless, like a meandering stream coiling this way and that until it meets a larger body of water and disappears in the superior current.

Wellington is a curious place to be when considering such notions. The hipster subculture grips the city like a stream punk earring. The hipsters use the aesthetics of the bohemians, but neglect the mental condition Oscar Wilde referred to as “playing gracefully with ideas.” To me the hipsters are garishly self centred. Others don’t get their dress sense, their compulsive need for unencumbered self expression. The tattoo joints ride a wave of economic success, and let it not be said that the results are always bad. The pink haired woman with the flowery sleeves, dark make-up, and heavy leather boots turns heads for a reason. Not necessarily a negative one.

When it comes to the quality of their minds I cannot hope to measure it. I am invisible to them — as many disabled people are to those they’d probably get on well with. That is what makes a physical impairment a social disability. As if we gave up our youth when we accepted the wheelchair. Do the hipsters play gracefully with ideas? Or are they completely lost in the crowd of individuals?

I have been wandering the streets of the city with my camera, as a silent witness, a shadow on the pavement, a wallflower. Among the beards and thick glasses are the homeless, the destitute, those safe in their flocks of friends, and those desperate for a place to go. I think Bohemia is all of it, and I hope that my two years as a public servant doesn’t rob me of the sense to perceive it.

Pitch Perfect 2 (review)

For those that liked Pitch Perfect, the sequel is sure to please. It is just as funny, irreverent, and like its predecessor quietly disses everything from Glee, to Bring it On.
It also has the good grace to take itself lightly, and bank on what worked last time around.

At times, this can be tedious, especially when supporting characters repeat the same joke several times. The Latina in the Bellas (the acapella group) has six or seven lines and every one of them is an immigrant joke. A chuckle at the first few gives way to a disappointed sigh. Repetition like that is not funny, and immigrant jokes have a short shelf life anyway. Thankfully Rebel Wilson reprises her role as fat Amy, dolling out oddly funny lines every so often. I’m not sure if they are funny on their own merits or just in Rebel’s Australian accent. I suspect a bit of both. Her love interest on screen is Bumper, played by the energetic Adam DeVine, who seems more of Jack Black’s doppelgänger than ever, but who has so much earnest talent I truly cannot fault him. Two Jack Black’s in this world is a marvellous thing.

Anna Kendrick is witty as ever, and her singing is even better than last time. I cannot get over the sharpness of her features, she’s cut like a gemstone and puts in another great performance. Her character is struggling to balance her future ambitions (she wants to be a music producer) with her commitment to the Bellas. An embarrassing accident has led to the group needing to either win the world acapella championship in Copenhagen (which America never has done) or face dissolution. Kendrick’s verbal jousts with the fantastically attractive leaders of the German team are among the funnier moments, as Kendrick never manages to execute and insult because she is so overcome with appreciation for the enemy. “Just because you’re making me very sexually confused doesn’t mean you’re impressive!”

Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit played the new addition to the group, as Emily Junk, a freshman with a passion for song writing. As soon as I recognised her I knew she would handle herself brilliantly, and happily I was right. Steinfeld is an actress with talent leaking from every pore, and she showed her comic timing in scenes where she had to be an awkward and slightly embarrassing newbie, but not so embarrassing that your eyes want to leap from their sockets and roll away.

John Michael Higgins and director Elizabeth Banks play the two acapella commentators, and are generally quite funny, even if the format is somewhat overused at this point in cinematic history. All politically incorrect schmuck commentators owe a debt to Fred Willard and his role in 2000s Best In Show. That is well worth digging out if you can find it.

Pitch Perfect 2 is proving wildly popular if ticket sales are anything to go by. It blitzed the gross of the original film in its first weekend, and has surpassed School of Rock as the highest grossing music comedy film. The critics are rating it at a solid 7/10, which feels about right, but I can’t think of a truly stand out moment. It is just a good time — exactly what it should be.