Trolls World Tour (2020)

Trolls World Tour (2020)

Directed by: Walt Dohrn, David P. Smith (co-director). Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom. Runtime: 1h 30 min. Released: April 10, 2020.

The Trolls are back in a new adventure, as the queen of hard-rock, Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) aims to unite all the trolls under one music: rock. When Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake), of the Pop trolls, learn of Barb’s plan, they set out to stop her.

First, they learn about the origins of their land and how all trolls had six strings to represent the kinds of music at the present at the beginning of their world. Those are Funk, Country, Techno, Classical, Pop and Rock. These types of music are represented by strings, and that’s Barb’s objective: Go on a world tour from town to town, pillage, and collect these strings and play a righteous tune on her guitar that would unite them all under her vision. The premise literally sounds like she’s Thanos who watched Tenacious D: In the Pick of Destiny too many times.

The story is more interesting than the first film where the trolls learned to be comfortable with your differences and you don’t always have to be happy to be a troll. Here, the same tune is played as they learn (again) that their differences are what makes them united and makes them individuals. Unfortunately for adults in the audience, that message is obvious long before the summarizing message for the kids at the end of the film.

There’s a better secondary message of listening to others and their points of views and opinions. That’s shown through Princess Poppy who always gets an idea in her head, sticks to it, and fails to listen to her friends like Branch. Kendrick and Timberlake are both still solid as the two main characters, but, like the adventure, it feels like they’re going through the motions. The listening aspect is the only character work that feels like there’s effort given to it, as most of the returning characters feel stunted in growth because they learned most of these lessons in the first film.

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Rachel Bloom and (spoiler) as Queen Barb and King Thrash in Trolls World Tour (IMDb)

Trolls World Tour is also more obnoxious than I remember the first film being. Much of that comes from Queen Barb. Her music is solid, but as a villain she’s so irritating. Her rock posse roll around in a convoy copy and pasted from that of Mad Max: Fury Road (complete with a drummer instead of flame guitarist). Barb shreds a version of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” specific to the film’s message in this scene, and it’s legitimately fun, but her actual dialogue is cringeworthy. The only tolerable thing about her scenes is the musician voicing King Thrash (I won’t spoil), but it would be nice if he had more to do than just hum “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

The voice talent for the new characters is impressive. The most interesting casting choice is Sam Rockwell as Hickory, a centaur-type troll that Poppy, Branch and Biggie (James Corden) meet in the country town. He helps them escape prison after they show the country citizens pop music through an obnoxious mash-up that would make Kendrick’s character in Pitch Perfect beg them to stop.

The juxtapositions between the music is bizarre, as they enter the town when Queen Delta Dawn (Kelly Clarkson) is singing an original called “Born to Die.” Poppy comments on the melancholy song that feels out-of-place in a colourful film: “They must not know that music is supposed to make you happy, that’s awful.” There is some clever commentary like that here, but it’s few and far between. Clarkson is a solid casting choice, but the fact that she barely has any actual dialogue is strange. She’s just called to sing an original song on the soundtrack basically, and I think that shows the priority here is making a soundtrack that bops, and not an enjoyable film.

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Jamie Dornan as Chaz in Trolls World Tour (IMDb)

My favourite part of this film are bounty hunters that Queen Barb hires to find Poppy, but they are so underutilized. The hunters include a smooth jazz specialist named Chaz (Jamie Dornan), a reggae group called the Reggaeton (led by J Balvin), a K-pop gang and the yodelers. They get some screen time but I was much more interested with them as the villains than Barb, and how they branched off from the main strings of music and made their own tunes.

There’s much more time focused on a mediocre solo journey of self-discovery with Cooper (Ron Funchess). It leads back into the story, and I’m a Funchess fan, but there are no laughs on his quest. In fact: For a well-animated, colourful, free-spirited movie, where cotton candy seems like the main food group, there are more eyerolls than chuckles here. You’ll tap your feet to the music, especially when the film unleashes the “funk,” but the humour leaves a lot to be desired. That’s the major problem with Trolls World Tour, it has bursts of creativity but so much of this just feels like a passionless product.

Score: 40/100

Noelle (2019)

Noelle (2019)

Directed by: Marc Lawrence. Starring: Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Shirley Maclaine. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: November 12, 2019.

This review contains spoilers.

When Santa Claus dies, the mantle is handed down to his son Nick Kringle (Bill Hader), but he’s scared to take on the role and runs away to Phoenix. His sister, Noelle Kringle (Anna Kendrick) must track him down and bring him back so they can save Christmas.

Noelle has some solid fish-out-of-water humour as Noelle goes to Phoenix to find her brother, which gives it an Elf vibe and there’s nothing wrong with channeling a great movie. I’m also convinced that Anna Kendrick makes any film better and it’s no different here as she brings such a charm to this film. Kendrick truly embodies Christmas spirit as Noelle, as Noelle herself learns what Christmas is all about. Bill Hader’s also good as her brother Nick, and their chemistry is enjoyable. Like Kendrick, Hader can make any film better. Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine) who helps Noelle is also great acting alongside her.

The story itself is predictable, but to be fair, it would be an honest challenge to find a Christmas film that isn’t predictable. Of course we know by the end that Noelle becomes Santa, but it’s the journey that matters. Some of the moments where everyone but her notices that should be the real Santa are sweet, notably when she speaks to a young girl using sign language though she doesn’t know sign language, as only natural Santa’s have a knowledge of every language. Noelle is a good character in her own right, but Kendrick and her general wholesomeness really makes her come alive.

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Anna Kendrick in Noelle. (IMDb)

A problem with the story here is a lack of conflict. The main conflict is getting Nick back to the North Pole so they can save Christmas because of the Christmas deadline. Meanwhile, back at the North Pole, Mrs. Claus (the delightful Julie Hagerty) is stressing because the interim Santa Claus isn’t working out. By the way, Noelle isn’t simply handed the Santa reigns from the start because the role of Santa is “traditionally” played by a man. This interim Santa is their cousin Gabriel Kringle (Billy Eichner) who works in the technology department. He wants to take some of the joy out of Christmas and deliver presents by drone, and he also comes up with an algorithm for the naughty and nice list that only has less than 3,000 “nice” children in the world because all the kids have minor infractions. The film dips its foot into this conflict but it never really feels like it comes into fruition as it’s all talk. The conflict would be nice, though it would have felt like the Toy Santa villain plot in The Santa Clause 2 if it had actually embraced it, and instead feels like filler.

Noelle’s “friendship” interest here is private investigator Jake Hapman (Kingsley Ben-Adir) who helps her find Nick in Phoenix. Her relationship with this man is fine and it’s unclear throughout if it’s platonic or a love interest, or just a friendship based on the spirit of Christmas and helping each other out. Either way, they’re fine together and Noelle’s friendship and kindness to his son Alex (Maceo Smedley) is charming.

Despite its flaws, I think Noelle is a good film as Anna Kendrick’s performance just distracts so well from any shortcomings, and it’s fun throughout, too. It’s also a solid first effort at an original film on the Disney+ service. And in terms of Christmas movies, I don’t know if I’d watch this every year, but Anna Kendrick would sure make me consider it.

Score: 70/100

Drinking Buddies (2013)

Drinking BuddiesReleased: July 25, 2013. Directed by: Joe Swanberg. Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick. Runtime: 90 min. 

Drinking Buddies is an experimental romantic drama/light comedy directed by Joe Swanberg that follows best buddy brewery workers Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) who also like each other, but they both have other romantic interests. This is a film bathed in the idea that beer taints the ability to make good decisions, and you can’t always tell if what you’re doing is right or wrong. It’s like you’re looking at the situation through a glass of beer. This is what helps this film differentiate from other generic romantic drama/comedies, even though this still isn’t good. 

The material at hand just isn’t strong. I learn that the film is entirely improvised, and there wasn’t a script written, only a vague outline of plot and order in which events might take place. This is something that does allow the acting become more believable, but it’s a film that just largely fails. There are just so many other performers who are a lot better at getting laughs from their audience. The actors in this film only get an occasional chuckle. But the cast, also including Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, is quite charming. 

The banter between them all is sometimes pretty good. They all have a great chemistry, which saves the film a bit. even when it’s a bit awkward at times. But heck, Kendrick could have good chemistry with a wall. The chemistry between everyone is very sweet. It’s a realistic look at relationships and how picking the person you’ll spend your life with is a hard decision. It’s a look at the confusing times of relationships, too. 

Everything’s a bit frustrating because the viewer probably just wants the two couples to swap partners. The film is sometimes frustrating (this is mostly the third act) and sporadically funny. This finds a strange balance between mildly charming (because of the cast) and mildly boring. The characters are okay, just simplistic. This is just all pretty boring and often frustrating, and it’s just intensely forgettable – and it all feels pretty empty by the end of it all.

Score: 50/100

End of Watch (2012)

End of Watch

Release Date: September 21, 2012

Director: David Ayer

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick

Runtime: 109 min

Tagline: Watch your six, September 21

This follows the relationship of Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, who are two best friend police officers. Soon enough, the two young officers are marked for death once they seize a small cache of money and firearms by a notorious cartel, all during a seemingly routine traffic stop.

Writer/director David Ayer brings us some of his best work since 2001’s Training Day. He once again took both good actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, and made those guys great ones. There’s something about independent films, or found footage films like this, that make the actors’ performances so genuine. The characters of Brian and Mike are so real, because they love like real people, laugh like real people, and get scared like real people. Their characters feel so real, that, they could very well be sitting in the theatre with you. They could also very well be eating popcorn out of your bag. Even though, you would probably know if they were doing that. If you didn’t know they were, you may very well be blind or have a mental retardation of sorts.

You may want to not know a whole lot of the plot going into this, because it has a slower-than-traditional pace for such a film, because it didn’t really feel like it got into the heart of the plot until at least the first hour-mark. That’s at least when they physically find the coveted cache of cha-ching and AK-47’s like the one you see Peña holding in the film’s poster. Even though it takes so long to get to the beating heart of the plot, you probably won’t mind. There’s just a lot of emotional, funny, exhilirating content to keep you intrigued and going the whole way. The most exhilirating moments are when they are on duty and when they get to a crime scene, which is a vast majority of the flick; and the last twenty minutes. The ending does feel abrupt, but it still does leave a smile on one’s face, so you probably won’t feel deprived of a great ending. The whole feature is superbly written.

You can tell that it’s found-footage by the first camera shot from the windshield of the car during that car chase which makes it feel like they’re in a good game of Need for Speed or Grand Theft Auto. Also, there are some nice gun-point views, to make it seem like they’re going to shoot bad guys in a game of Call of Duty. If any film deserves to be found footage other than a low-budget horror, it’s this. Yeah, move over Project X, you sucked. If it wasn’t found footage, their characters may not have felt so real. It feels like a lower budget, and the director certainly didn’t say, “Okay, guys. Act like stupid Hollywood stars, and I’ll give you a nice paycheck.” Other great performers in here are America Fererra (even though her role is petite), Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez.

End of Watch does for cops what Ladder 49 did for fire fighters, but it’s about twenty-six times better. It’s told to us smartly, and isn’t dumbed down for a purely Hollywood audience. It shows the dangers of the job of being an officer, the obstacles they must go through to protect us, some stress the family members must go through each day, and the general, very real lives, of the officers involved.

Watch is superbly written, has a list of great performances, and carries itself quite well. Some may say the ending was quite abrupt, and in ways it may have been, but for the majority would be satisfied by the ending. It ends off on a good note, and the finished product is generally impressive.

80/100

Pitch Perfect (2012)


Pitch Perfect

Release Date: October 5, 2012

Director: Jason Moore

Stars: Anna Kendrick, Britany Snow, Rebel Wilson

Runtime: 112 min

Tagline: Get Pitch Slapped

TV Director Jason Moore (Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill) brings his talent to the big screen with Pitch Perfect, a great music comedy.

Beca (Anna Kendrick) is an aspiring Disc Jockey, who gets forced by her father to attend college before following her dreams in Los Angeles. She ends up attending Barden University, where she soon joins the school’s all-girl a capella singing group, The Bellas. She knows that they sound beautiful together, but the (ever-so A-ca-clichéd) leader of the group, Aubrey (Anna Camp), doesn’t like to stray away from her set design, or really try anything new for that matter. Beca just may be the one to change the Bellas for the better by adding energy and pizaz to the group, help them out in the competition, and make a few friendships in the process.

Going into this film, I really didn’t know what to expect. It seemed that it had pretty sweet reception, so I guess I expected it to be a little good. It’s probably one of the last films I’d see in theatres right about now, but I saw it. And you know what, I enjoyed it a little more than I’d like to admit. It’s actually rather fun, and the hot girls help a lot, too.

In the cinema world, this is all fairly original. It’s a lot predictable, but that doesn’t keep it from being enjoyable. The pay-off is pretty great. The same premise of all those competitive dance and cheerleading films is offered here. So, in that way, it feels like the atmosphere of some Bring it On flick. The romance part of it all is offered, too. It isn’t exactly the most original atmosphere, because we’ve felt it all before. What sets this film apart is that it isn’t dancing or cheerleading (obviously), it’s singing. And I can’t really recall another film that the premise was a singing competition.* I say in the cinema world, that’s a pretty darn original concept; but in the general popular cultural world, this feels reminiscent of TV’s Glee. That’s just all the music and stuff, but this does have the tendency to feel fairly fresh and new.

*Side Note: Can you guys?

The music is really great, and a soundtrack that would be really cool to add to a collection of any sort. There’s a nice mash of rock and pop and rap, and practically whatever else. There’s catchy tunes of all sorts, which really makes the film lots of fun.

The only flaws that were presented is that it could just get really predictable, and in some scenes I just felt a little worn out.

I usually really hate boy bands, but the main rival singing group of the Bellas, The Trouble Makers, is actually pretty good.

All of the characters are actually rather good and mostly likeable. Beca is really reserved, so when she breaks out of her tender shell, it’s great. Some are really annoying, but in the end, a lot of them have changes of heart. I liked the characters, and I could only count the ones that I didn’t like on one hand. There are scene stealers all over the place. Without surprise, Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy is the largest (oops, no pun intended) scene stealer, and she brings that same comedic timing as she did in Bridesmaids. You’re going to be have to be with a name like that, anyway. Some other scene stealers include Lilly, the quiet Asian girl whose eyes make her look a little like that really creepy chick from the trailers of Frankenweenie. Also, the surprise appearance by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad) and his character’s larger friend, Justin, just make a perfect team. The great thing is that every character is developed, and they all get their chances to shine at some point in the film.

At points the film does get pretty ridiculous and strange, especially when the group initiations are happening for that one scene, or like the oddball, yet hilarious, announcers for the singing competition (played by John Michael Higgins, and Elizabeth Banks [who also helped produce the film]). Like I said in my previous sentence, it’s pretty strange. Strangely entertaining, that is. The atmosphere isn’t something all that special, but it’s the characters, music, Anna Kendrick, and mostly because I didn’t have a ride home, that convinced me stay until the very end. Something Anna Kendrick’s character doesn’t like to do.* The comedy that is offered can be a little too spaced-out for my liking, but when the jokes are made, they can hit pretty hard.

*Side Note: Sheesh. I really don’t understand how some people don’t stay until the very end. That’s usually the best part!

The song mash-ups and set designs and all that are really nice and fun, and something to tap one’s foot to. The wardrobe is okay, because the Bellas’ uniform is that of a practical flight attendent. During the auditions, the filmmakers put them all together so they’re all singing the song. It’s really cool and funny; it’s something I’ve seen on American Idol (or any other singing show) before, but it’s cool to see it in a film.

Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Kelly Jakle, Alexis Knapp and Adam Devine star in Pitch Perfect.

Pitch Perfect offers a fun experience that is worth the look. It has great music, a pretty good plot, great characters, a great ensemble, and there’s just a lot of things to love about this one. It’s entertaining, and my have flaws because of its wicked predictability, but that doesn’t stop this film from being a foot-tapping crowd pleaser.

80/100