Music and Colonialism

Posted on September 22, 2015
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It’s been three years since 2012’s early Fall sleeper hit “Pitch Perfect” stormed the boxoffice barricades, starting out with a sleepy $5 million in its first weekend and then building during the course of the next three months — via word of mouth and repeat viewings — to a respectable $64 million theatrical (U.S.) and, later, a whopping $117 million on DVD. The story of college freshman Beca (Anna Kendrick), who joins an a cappella girls singing group at Barden University and helps the conglomeration of mean girls, sweet girls and weird girls known as the Barden Bellas become the first all-female group to win a national title, was a different kind of musical — fresh, exciting and, well, uplifting. The photo for Pitch Perfect 2 highlights of the film included the delightful and infectious singing, Rebel Wilson’s antics and the off-the-wall Greek Chorus comments by a cappella commentators John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who also produced). “Pitch Perfect 2” picks up three years after the original, with the Barden Bellas — coming off three years as national winners — performing for the president and the first lady at Lincoln Center, a performance that is botched by an embarrassing Rebel Wilson wardrobe malfunction. Striped of their U.S. performing duties, the only way the group can redeem itself is to travel to Copenhagen to face off against Germany’s Das Music Machine for the world title. “Pitch Perfect 2” fine tunes all the tropes from the original, adding in more awkward situations, meaner opponents, more sexual innuendo and, of course, more frenzied singing. If you liked Kendrick’s pensive angst, Wilson’s scatological humor and (Bella leader) Brittany Snow’s unbridled enthusiasm, then you’ll love this sequel. The only shortcoming: the addition of Hailee Steinfeld (of “True Grit”) in a weak role as a legacy newbie who helps spur the group on to success. The best part: the continued bickering and wisecracking of (now) podcasting duo John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who not only produced this edition but deftly directed it to boot). A fun outing. Scheduled for 2017: “Pitch Perfect 3.” From Universal.

A decade after he broke through with “Breaker Morant” (1980) — and one year after his American hit “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989) — Australian director Bruce Beresford returned to the theme of colonialism and its effects on individuals with “Mister Johnson,” an acclaimed film starring Maynard Eziashi (“Bopha!”), Pierce Brosnan and Edward Woodward. Eziashi, who won the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear for best actor for his role here, photo for Mister Johnson plays a Nigerian villager in 1923 British Colonial Nigeria desperate to take on British airs, please the authorities and, on the side, become upwardly mobile by making money and shunning his tribesmen. As a civil servant for a sympathetic district officer (Brosnan), Mister Johnson is at the intersection of the clash of two cultures, highlighting the ultimate folly of the “white man’s burden.” Bright and ambitious to a fault — and despite his endearing nature — Mister Johnson has a tragic downfall. Beresford captures both the humor and tragedy of the colonial situation, pointing out the foibles of both hoise who rule and those who are ruled. The cinematography is luscious, the acting superb, the story — based on a 1939 novel by Joyce Cary — imminently affecting. “Mister Johnson” ranks right up there with such great films about colonial Africa as Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Black and White in Color” (1976) and Bertrand Tavernier’s “Coup de torchon” (1981). On DVD and Blu-ray, in a new 4K digital restoration, supervised and approved by Beresford with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include new video interviews with Beresford, producer Michael Fitzgerald, and actors Maynard Eziashi and Pierce Brosnan. From The Criterion Collection. (PS: For a look at the wild and wooly Beresford before he became Americanized, check out the 1976 quirky Australian drama “Don’s Party.”)


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