REVIEW: “TABLE 19” (2017) Fox Searchlight

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Director Jeffrey Blitz and The Duplass Brothers writing team takes the approach with this one that I know many wedding guests would prefer – skip the wedding and head straight to the reception. Another wise move is assembling a very talented ensemble of funny folks. This cast proves they can get a laugh from dialogue and moments that would probably otherwise not elicit much of an audience reaction because frankly, it’s only the fact that they are talented that makes it happen.

The initial set-up drags a bit as we are introduced to the characters that will soon enough populate the dreaded Table 19 at the reception. Tony Revolori is Renzo, the longing for love high schooler who might be a bit too close to his mother (voiced by Margo Martindale). Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson are Bina & Jerry Kepp, a mostly unhappily married couple who own and run a diner together. June Squibb is Jo Flanagan, the bride’s long-forgotten nanny who sees and knows more than most. Stephen Merchant plays the outcast nephew/cousin Walter Thimple, who has been recently released from his prison sentence for white collar crime. Lastly we have Anna Kendrick as Eloise McGarry, the fired maid of honor and former girlfriend of the bride’s brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell), who also happens to be the best man and is now dating the new maid of honor Nikki (Amanda Crew)
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This is the island of misfit wedding guests known as Table 19, and purposefully placed in the back corner as far as possible from the family and the other more ‘favoured’ guests. Of course we know immediately that this Team Reject will unite for some uplifting purpose at some point. Comedic timing in a group setting can often come across on screen as forced, and it’s a kudos to the cast that can bypass that..somewhat. Stephen Merchant is our shining star here on that note with his droll Brit humour.

Make no mistake though, this is Anna Kendrick’s movie. She plays Eloise as we would imagine Anna Kendrick in this real life situation. Sure, a wedding reception is low-hanging fruit for comedy, but it’s the third act where Kendrick comes up with comedy drawn from emotional pain, because we’ve all been there and thankfully can look back and laugh at it. The melo-dramatic moments that creep in are oh-so-predictable, but that doesn’t mean it’s all lost. The scenes with Kendrick and Russell are best at the emotional part, but not enough so that it would really leave you wishing for more. In actuality that’s where this film slips up. I was hoping for more comedy, less emotional drama and while we get about a 2/3 – 1/3 ratio of drama to comedy, I wish it would have gone the direction of more laughs as the emotional front isn’t enough to sustain the film as a whole.
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Don’t worry though, the film features the required wedding cake mishap, a flirtatious hot-Brit wedding crasher named Huck with a secret of his own (Thomas Cocquerel) and a drunken mother of the bride (Becky Ann Baker) singing karaoke to Etta James’ “At Last”. It’s designed to be a crowd-pleaser, and while it doesn’t quite step up enough to really down and out laugh, it does somewhat succeed as rom-com-ish with a blend of silly, cute, and emotional tugs. Just not enough laughs.

Grade: C-
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
Nationwide Release: Friday, March 3, 2017

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REVIEW: “THE ACCOUNTANT” (2016) Warner Bros.

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Having not seen a film in over a month and a half or written a review for that matter, I was truly not knowing what to expect walking into the “THE ACCOUNTANT”. What I walked out with is still to be decided.

What I did like is how far ‘out of the box’ this film is. I mean it’s leaps and bounds out of the norm of any film I’ve seen yet this year, and as we all know, 2016 has not been a good year by any means for film.
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In this paint by numbers, crazy potboiler of a film, you’ve got Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff, who seems to be just another small-town number-cruncher, doing taxes for local farmers out of a non-descript strip-mall office called ZZZ Acounting. Reality is a much different place in this one though as Wolff is actually the man whom drug kingpins and the worst of the worst in the world turn to when they find a discrepancies in their books.

Wolff’s dealings with such men of notorious nature, captures the attention of Treasury director Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), who in turn blackmails his underling-with-a-past, Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into tracking Wolff down. In an attempt to stay out of trouble, Wolff takes a seemingly innocent little gig trying to find a financial leak in the books of Lamar Black (John Lithgow) who runs a state of the art robotics firm, only to attract the attention of hired killer Braxton (Jon Bernthal). Add in the films truly only awkward ‘friendship’ with whistleblower Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), whom he unseemly decides he needs to protect and a mystery phone-voiced woman who changes Wolff’s identities on the drop of a dime – and yes, each identity does have a meaning behind them to be revealed.
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To try to explain this whole plot and all it’s flashbacks, would not only suck the fun out of your viewing, but would be almost impossible since so much is going on. Yes, there is loads of violence, most of it you didn’t see coming, along with a plot twist most don’t see coming. To sum it up clearly, there are no ‘brilliant’ performances, but all of them make do and seem to be having a good time doing so. The whole thing shouldn’t add up, but yet somehow it does and while not a ‘great’ movie by any means, it is entertaining as end all.

Grade: B-
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, October 12, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Nationwide Release: Friday, October 14, 2016

PITCH PERFECT 2 (2015) Universal

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Yep…the Bella’s are back with new additions and some of the same cliches. The boy’s are there too though not so predominant this time round, even the Green Bay Packers brought a batch of a cappella linebackers to this one, along with a wanna-be group, The Tone Hangers.
But what would the story be if not for new rival a cappellas, German based “Das Sound Machine” featuring the beautiful badass “Kommissar” (Brigitte Hjort Sorensen) & her side-kick “Pieter” (Flula Borg) to duel it out with with an ending that comes as no surprise to anyone. Even so, never underestimate the power of the teen girl viewing audience as the ‘Pitches’ took down ‘Mad Max’ for top grossing film of the weekend box office. pp5

The tone of the film is set in the opening routine, in which Rebel Wilson’s “Fat Amy” has a wardrobe malfunction on stage while dangling upside down at a performance in front of the POTUS & FLOTUS no less. This unlikely set-up forms the premise that takes us through what happens when the group is suspended from competing – unless they can pull off a win the world a capella championships in Copenhagen which no American team has ever done before.
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It’s pretty much all the same crowd – our jaded commentators “John” (John Michael Higgins) & “Gail” (Elizabeth Banks – whom most impressively also directed the film); leader of the pack “Beca” (Anna Kendrick) who also has a side-plot in wanting to become a music producer and keeping her music internship a secret from the rest of the Bellas, a cappella over-achiever “Chloe” (Brittany Snow), butch girl “Cynthia Rose” (Ester Dean), will do anything “Stacie” (Alexis Knapp), the ultra whisperer “Lilly” (Hana Mae Lee), “Flo” (Chrissie Fit) immigration story survivor extraordinaire and yes, of course previously mentioned, “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson). Even “Aubrey” (Anna Camp) shows up though is graduated and running a ‘boot camp’ for a cappellas where they get their harmony back with some hi-jinks to give us a laugh or two. The films secondary biggest plot revolves around Hailee Steinfeld as newcomer “Emily”, the group’s latest addition, who writes and sings her own original music which is unheard of in the a cappella world. Steinfeld is pretty terrific and has good screen presence and holds her own as the newbie here.
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There are some solid singing and dancing performances throughout with highlights in scenes in which the rivalry between the Barden Bellas and German reigning champions Das Sound Machine comes to a head; some hilarious confrontations between lead singers Kommissar and Beca follow with a few of the one-off scenes being a bit clumsy, though the sequence at the private party sing-off is a high point as it’s fun and musically clever.
At this point though, the humour factor is getting cheap, the fat jokes are wearing thin and getting on your nerves. Others are falling hard & flat and some are just leaving a bad taste in your mouth they are so crass and offensive.
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I did like the first Pitch Perfect, but in that ‘oh it’s cute way’ that you do like some films as it gave you that ‘Rocky’-underdog feel to it. This one, while it has it’s entertaining moments, lacks that. All the plot points are stepping stones for the climactic finish in Copenhagen, when everything comes together in by far the best part of the whole film, with dynamic harmonies and rhythms, it’s just too bad the film best perks wait until the very end to grab you.

Grade: C+
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Pitch Perfect 2 is in theaters nationwide.

RATINGS SCALE: A = OSCAR-WORTHY; B = ABOVE AVERAGE; C = AVERAGE; D = NOT RECOMMENDED; F = SKIP IT ENTIRELY (+ OR – GIVES IT AN EDGE UP OR DOWN)