RED DAWN *1/2 (out of five)
In 1984, at the height of the Reagan-era Cold War, the original Red Dawn was the talk of the town, and became a cultural touchstone for its combination of jingoistic nationalism and its reputation for being, as The National Coalition on Television Violence deemed it, “the most violent movie ever made”. This remake has none of the cultural currency of the original, nor its violence nor campy panache. It is a cowardly, irrelevant thing, eschewing the obvious enemy (terrorism in the form of a group such as al-Qaeda) in lieu of… wait for it… an invasion of the United States by China. At least, that’s the story that was filmed, more than two years ago.It’s taken that long to hit our screens because, once it was in the can, it was decided that to alienate one of the world’s largest potential markets for Hollywood Studio product was counter-productive, so the Chinese invaders have been digitally altered so that they’re now North Korean. There’s a film with the courage of its convictions! Awful dialogue and ludicrous contrivances are further hampered by the constant feeling that, over those two years, people were worried and kept hacking at the film, because scenes butt into each other jarringly and confusingly; either there’s a lot of material on the cutting-room floor, or the script was never ready. This is one of those really ill-advised remakes that should never have happened, but at least will be forgotten very quickly.
PITCH PERFECT **
I was really looking forward to Pitch Perfect. I think Anna Kendrick, the film’s lead, is a terrific screen presence and the trailers – mostly showing off the musical numbers – looked great. It was terribly disappointing then that the filmmaking is so ham-fisted. The predictable tale – of a college freshman (Kendrick) joining, and re-vitalizing, the campus all-female a cappella group to take on the campus all-male a cappella group – has all the right characters and all the right story beats, but each individual scene is just badly made; it’s like a good album played at the wrong speed – it should be right but it’s really wrong. Kendrick’s bag of tricks is exposed in the harsh light of the film’s unsubtle direction (Jason Moore) – her main expression of “whatever” is used about a hundred times too many – and the romance plot between her character and that of Jesse (Skylar Astin) had me physically uncomfortable, cringing in my seat. There are other great young actors all over the project – including Brittany Snow as one of the nicer girls in the group – but many of them are encouraged to seriously overplay their particular stereotype, which makes the film grating (and repetitive: watch the extremely quiet Asian Girl be extremely quiet… over and over and over and over and over and over again… but we got the joke the first time, didn’t we?)
Out of all this, the musical numbers and Rebel Wilson rise up; the former are legitimately well done and the latter gets all the laughs (her lines often seeming improvised, which wouldn’t surprise). Obviously green-lit in the wake of Glee, the film early on makes a joke at that show’s expense: it shouldn’t have, because in doing so, it sets up a challenge, which it then fails to win. Most episodes of Glee are far better than this.