(On Cable TV, November 2018) The self-described Pitches are back for a third and perhaps redundant outing in Pitch Perfect 3, and from the action-packed first moments we’re clearly in a familiar kind of sequel template: Our protagonists thrown in international intrigue, far from home and their element. Fortunately, as the story flashes back to how we got here, there’s a little bit more to it: The post-college years have been inconsistently kind of the acapella signers of the series, and some of them are clearly pining for another go at past glory. An opportunity comes along in the form of a USO tour, landing them in picturesque surroundings even as the series strings along familiar hits and even more familiar plot devices. The result is fine for fans of the series, but even they may admit that there isn’t essential about this third movie, and that Pitch Perfect 3 should remain the final entry in the series. Anna Kendrick once again provides the dramatic lead, while Rebel Wilson is now dangerously close to over-exposure as her supporting character has now attained leading status. The blend of comedy with action is generally amusing, and while the result is filled with the overwhelming joy of the first instalment, there’s still quite a bit of fun in seeing the Bellas musically battle against Ruby Rose and friends, include John Lithgow (and DJ Khaled) in the universe of the series, and escape from certain death. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins once again offer commentary, meaning that the film has made a good-faith effort to include everything funny about the previous movies in this one, even when it doesn’t quite make sense. The direction is fast-paced enough to skate over the most puzzling moments. Pitch Perfect 3 isn’t dishonourable, but if anyone has any sense it should stop there before a fourth instalment definitely damages the series. The fat lady has sung—it’s over now.
(Video On-Demand, August 2017) The first John Wick was a small surprise: a lean and mean action film the likes of which hadn’t been seen in a while from big studios. It made Keanu Reeves cool again, showed why stunt-minded filmmakers could thrive in an age of CGI and made nearly everyone hungry for more. John Wick 2 arrives with self-awareness of what fans want to see, and the result is obvious from the opening action sequence bringing car stunts to the table. After that, the plot kicks in high gear by delving deeper in the comic-book-inspired mythology of the series, which features a shadowy underworld of professional assassins with hard-coded rules. The plot isn’t complex, but it works and its minimalism narrative leaves enough space for maximalist execution. Once again, the details and small action beats help sell the wild fantasy of the premise, such as pinning down an opponent while reloading, in the same movie where two assassins have a silenced gunfight in the middle of a subway station or a hallucinogenic hall-of-mirror sequence. Reeves is, once again, very good as the titular assassin, trying to get out of the hired-kill life but being drawn back even deeper. There are able supporting turns by Lawrence Fishburne and Ruby Rose. John Wick: Chapter 2 concludes on a note that is either an exhilarating set-up for a third volume, or a realistic acknowledgement that there is no end to violence and no happy ending for the character. Much of the original film’s surprise is gone, but it’s been supplanted with bigger-budget execution and much more of what made the first film so effective. There will be a third movie, and it’s eagerly awaited.