Saturday, October 25, 2008

This was the last time to get it did they?

High School Musical 3: Senior Year | rel. 2008 | dir. Kenny Ortega

Currently, a part of me wants to criticize the energetic, bubbly optimism of the obviously Disney-imagined world of East High. High school is sort of the purgatory of my life right now--I will not stand for any silly, fallacious accounts of it! Unfortunately, throughout my viewing of High School Musical 3: Senior Year, I failed to realize that I just paid ten bucks for a complete cheese fest--maybe because energetic, bubbly optimism is just as contagious as the common cold.

I felt completely "in the moment" when I watched High School Musical 3. When the Disney logo came on and Zac Efron's sweaty face (and gorgeous blue eyes) filled the screen, the audience went crazy. This was the first time I ever experienced a viewing experience when the audience reacted so strongly at everything on screen. They clapped at the end of almost every single musical number ("I Want It All" and "The Boys Are Back" received a loud, approving cheer from the crowds), went soft for every Troy and Gabrielle moment, swooned at Zac Efron every time he showed up, and laughed at every comedic moment--oh, the sweet sounds of both intentional and unintentional laughter!

Normally, I like to sink into my seat in a dark, silenced theater with only the screen blaring the sounds, but I don't think I would have had such a fun time without such an enthusiastic bunch around me. Never underestimate the power of an fantastic audience. Who knew middle-aged parents, pre-teen girls, teenage boys who have crushes on Vanessa Hudgens, and elderly couples would make such wonderful company? Honestly, I can't think of a better way to spend a Friday evening.

But even if I didn't have the company of such an energetic audience, the film itself has enough energy to last. The majority seems to agree that High School Musical 3 is infinitely better than it has to be--and once in a while, the general public is right. For starters, it is much better than its predecessors--by miles.

High School Musical 3 is every bit the predictable fluff that I expected it to be. But I never expected to be genuinely entertained and charmed by the shallow (but undeniably good-intentioned and G-rated) teen conflicts, the cast, and of course, the extravagant musical numbers. In short, I came out of the theater humming the tunes and feeling rather touched by the film's finale. Let's just say that if I were a pre-teen girl, High School Musical 3 would have set some unrealistic expectations for my future high school career.

The thin plot of High School Musical 3 is nothing but a slice of a high school fantasy. For one, the first scene concludes with the East High Wildcats winning their championship basketball game, set to the cool and catchy "Now or Never." While they may have won their championship game, the senior Wilcats at East High are uncertain about (what else?) their future. For jock Troy Bolton (Efron), he has to decide to pursue either basketball with his BFF Chad (Corbin Bleu) at his father's alma mater University of Alberquerque or consider Julliard as a possibility, where he can pursue his love for the stage. Besides, Troy's (supposedly) genius girlfriend, Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) already has her sights set on Stanford University.

Can Troy have basketball, theater, and the love of his life in one accessible package? Just use a single brain cell and you might come up with the correct answer after all... But this fun journey of teenage self-discovery is worth it.

Of course, the delightful journey includes the prom, the musical spring musical, and graduation! (Where are the tests? Finals? AP exams? Oh right, I forgot, this is high school in an alternative universe.) The senior class is staging a spring musical that chronicles their time in high school. Where there is a show, Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) is there to steal it. Her scheme? Oh, not at all as impressive as her raging antagonism in High School Musical 2, but still pretty darn conniving: She demands her twin brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) to steal Kelsi's (Oleysia Rulin) best songs, which are usually written for Troy and Gabriella. Plus, Sharpay never minds causing some friction in the relationship between Troy and Gabriella. This time around, she has recruited the help of British transfer student by the name of Tiara Gold (Jemma McKenzie-Browne). But once again, Tisdale proves that Sharpay is the drama queen to beat.

I couldn't wipe off the goofy smile on my face the entire time.

The inspirations for the musical span several decades: There are touches of classic Hollywood and eighties-MTV in these Disney-glossed tunes on the High School Musical 3 soundtrack--in a good way. I've always been a fan of catchy Disney tunes (however nasally they may sound) and High School Musical 3 has one of the most mind-blowing Disney soundtrack that I have heard in a while. (Yes, mind-blowing.) All the songs are made of pure win--even the lesser ones. I was busting a move in my seat like an insane maniac: "Now or Never," "The Boys Are Back," "Scream," "Right Here, Right Now," and "I Want It All" really got me moving to the beat. Nothing makes me happier than fun, catchy pop tunes. The impressive choreography (especially in "The Boys Are Back") and higher-budget set designs are a sensational plus. Director Kenny Ortega never seems to shy away from an occasional comical flair.

The returning cast can all sing and dance well. But the film belongs to the major characters, and rightfully so!

There is no arguing that Sharpay is a stereotypical villain, but Tisdale constantly makes Sharpay something more. Sharpay's grand entrance into a typical East High morning contains as much unspoken drama as the character herself. But Tisdale's moment of glory is in the face of defeat. The audience wants to see Sharpay get back up again and when she does, we cheer for her--thanks to Tisdale--because she is every bit as vulnerable and human as the rest of us.

After several months doubting Efron's acting talent, I want to issue an apology: Efron is the true star of this film. Finally, a young actor worshiped by pre-teen girls (and many others) who can act, sing, and dance! Efron possesses a certain kind of genuine charm as Troy. The awkward teenage boy and troubled jerk from the previous films are no longer there. All that there is left is a sympathetic, all-around nice guy who just can't decide which path he wants to take in life. Efron's performance is the crux of the film; it's the kind of performance that convinces me that Hudgens's unapologetic blandness is pretty darn close to irresistible sweetness.

I can safely say that I spied an ounce of chemistry between Efron and Hudgens. I've been waiting for this moment to happen for a while... How essential, since this is a romance.

As much as I enjoyed High School Musical 3, the film isn't without flaws. There are moments thorughout the film that feels somewhat rushed. Some of the musical numbers--as amazing as they are--still have some room for perfection. The transitions still have a bit of an awkward made-for-TV quality--something they should have left out when they switched to widescreen. The three freshmen who are supposedly taking over our beloved class of 2008 in an upcoming High School Musical 4 are weak and uninteresting. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Tiara, Jimmie, and Justin!) And like any filmgoer, I would have appreciated a little more conflict.

Calling High School Musical 3 cheesy or predictable isn't much of a criticism. In fact, it's almost a compliment since it must have been exactly what the film was aiming for. But it's perfectly cheesy and predictable--and that is, by the way, the compliment of a highest order I can give to such a film. The film is about 112 minutes long, but it is probably one of the fastest 112 minutes of my life. High School Musical 3 may be a cavity-inducing Valentine for its core audience, but it also ceased all rain and thunder in my life that Friday evening. Being a teenager who just recently discovered that her entire future may unfold at any moment, I related to the premise of High School Musical 3. Like Sharpay, I want it all. But fortunately, I sat through a movie that almost has it all.

Rating: 8.5/10

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place."

The Breakfast Club | rel. 1984 | dir. John Hughes

The Breakfast Club
is often hailed as the greatest high school movie ever made. When I realized that I was one of the very few high school students who had not yet witnessed the pure brilliance of this John Hughes classic, I felt a little left out. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Before I delve into my opinion of this film, I want to discuss my experience as a high school student thus far. I attend a suburban high school with a lovely campus, much like the setting of The Breakfast Club. My high school has its share of nerds, jocks, cheerleaders, preps, and some others who would fall into the misc. category. But people kind of just mind their own business at my school. There is a lot of cross-pollination going on at my school. One can have brains and be involved in a lot of social activities. Nerds can be fantastic athletes. People have a choice to make friends or be a loner. I don't know if I'm just extraordinarily lucky or not, but I go to a pretty accepting school. People know each other and generally treat each other with respect. If a cheerleader were to speak to a nerd, it would not tarnish either party's social record.

Everyone is a little bit of everything around here.

I think one of the advantages of attending a fairly liberal school is that stereotyping is pretty minor and kept at an inoffensive distance. Perhaps that creates a more friendlier, less conflicted environment. Teachers are more aloof. Students choose to light up away from the school. Complete and total rebellion is kept at a minimum.

(I bet if several of my friends read this, they would give me the look the average middle-class person would give to President George W. Bush whenever he insists that America's economy is strong. But it's all about generalities and perspectives, my friends.)

Because of my experience (or lack thereof) as a teenager and high school student, I could not relate to or care for The Breakfast Club. I guess the most plausible explanation is that the film is simply dated. It has elements of the eighties glossed all over it--the fashion, the music, the hairstyles, etc. Then again, I love the eighties, so that couldn't have been a factor in my dislike of the film. But isn't stereotyping supposed to be a timeless message? Of course it is. Even if it doesn't happen at my school, I'm sure it happens in other schools. But I don't think Hughes executed his message about destroying the concept of stereotypes at all. In the end, I was completely lost in Hughes's mixed message about the world called high school.

The Breakfast Club centers around five teenagers who show up for a day-long detention at the school library: the brain (Anthony Michael Hall), the athlete (Emilio Estevez), the basket case (Ally Sheedy), the princess (Molly Ringwald), and the criminal (Judd Nelson). At first, they can't stand each other; conflicts are created. But little by little, they reach over their comfort zones, start talking each other and realize they have more in common than they initially thought.

All this felt forced and rather dull. The conversations aren't engaging and the characters aren't at all likable. I can't blame the performances--the young actors are quite good--but the characters definitely feel underdeveloped. Hughes is an interesting storyteller and creates somewhat authentic characters, but something is missing in his dialogue. Something doesn't ring true. So even though it might seem like it sometimes, no one is ever black and white. Okay, I get it... Then why couldn't these characters look each other in the eye before?

Apart being branded with their stereotypes, how do these kids really feel about the people they associate with everyday who are also branded with a similar stereotype? How do they feel about being part of such a group? Perhaps all my answers are answered somewhere in the film, but everything seems to be muzzled by excessive, annoying, and hard-to-relate to whining. Hughes doesn't really create a world for the high school, which makes his smaller world between these five teens harder to believe.

A major problem I have with the film is the ending. Comfort zones are broken down. Characters are changed. But do they change for the better? Do they finally accept who they are? Why must one of the characters change completely just so she could be accepted and loved by another character? (Yes, I'm referring to Sheedy's character.) Sure, I can understand how The Breakfast Club is a teen classic (Nostalgia? Maybe.), but it is nowhere close to one of the best high school movies ever. The film contradicts itself too much and lacks the truest emotions and wonders of being at such an interesting and sometimes difficult age.

Rating: 6/10

I will be re-watching this film as a companion piece to The Catcher in the Rye in my English class some time during the spring semester. So yes, this film will be re-reviewed to see if my feelings toward this film have been changed or not.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Alive and kicking: 7 Films

For the past month, my blog has been the perfect model of Super Neglection of Film Blog, unfortunately. I have been busy with life, which has been unfairly dominated by the multiple horrors of a new school year. It has only been a month and I'm already nerd-failing Pre-Calculus. Really. But enough of teen angst, let's talk movies.

I have seen seven movies since my last review of all three versions of Little Women. Seven. I'm pathetic, I know. My weekends are now not only dominated by school work, but also volunteer work at the library. I'm kind of on a path to be a (lol) librarian. I mean, I have to pretend to get somewhere in life and library science seems, well, not too bad.

Anyway, about all the films I've seen since my last post. Behold, incoherence!

- The problem I have with Princess Mononoke is that it is practically Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind all over again. I really, really, REALLY like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (thanks to J.D.'s recommendation--and surprisingly, it's pretty much my BFF's favorite Miyazaki film). Princess Mononoke is just a better-animated version (no, that's an understatement--the animation in Mononoke is insanely spectacular) of Nausicaa, with different characters. Both films have a strong environmental message and the way the message is executed feels so...similar. I understand environmentalism is a theme that Miyazaki often explores in his films, but he could have created a brand-new story. I mean, Miyazaki is so extraordinarily imaginative (duh) that any striking similarities between his films would result in some minor disappointment. I expected something new from the filmmaker. But even Miyazaki's lesser films are true works of art--and that is the case for Princess Mononoke.

- Newsies is awesome in a sort of, "Lol, it's a Disney musical directed by the director of High School Musical and it stars Batman" kind of way. But seriously, I love the songs. "Seize the Day" is my favorite. Not the best family film, but I like it a whole lot. And I'm in love with the soundtrack. How can you possibly NOT love Alan Menken?

- Okay, am I really the only person out there that did NOT know the "twist" in Psycho? Hitchcock is the man when it comes to slow revelations. I'm sort of like a filmmaker's ideal audience: Ignorant and guillable. I don't force myself to think ahead when I watch a movie. I just kind of sit there and enjoy the ride. But I love Psycho. It is probably my favorite Hitchcock film right now. For someone who loves fascinating fictional characters, Norman Bates is practically my obsession right now. I love the way Anthony Perkins portrays him. At first, Norman just appears charming, shy, and rather lovable. Perhaps that is his true nature. I don't know. I'm still waiting for Shawn's take on the character in his Hitchcock Marathon. All I know is that Perkins humanizes a character that has been so often villified in pop culture. But that shower scene is still badass.

- My thoughts on Amazing Grace is kind of "meh." It's okay, I guess. My mom wanted to see it because her sister said it was a great movie. The performances are decent, but it is kind of boring on the most part.

- Enchanted is really all about Amy Adams's performance. I love it more than Marion Cotillard's in La Vie En Rose and Ellen Page's in Juno. I smiled all the way through the movie, mainly because of Adams's fantastic performance. It is predictable and silly, but lots of fun. The story is, well, amazingly imaginative. I just thought, "Why didn't I come up with this story?" I also really like James Marsden in the prince charming role and--surprise, surprise--I actually really love Patrick Dempsey as the single father/divorce lawyer/possible love interest (c'mon, that is NOT a spoiler). I was really impressed by his performance, considering I've only seen him in the first two seasons of "Grey's Anatomy." The part where Dempsey begs Adams to not sing is just a little piece of comedy heaven.

- Charlie Bartlett has several entertaining aspects: It is a fairly intelligent teen comedy and a fairly decent coming-of-age story. Robert Downey Jr. and Hope Davis both give amusing performances. I kind of like the film...but I kind of don't. There are some things I didn't really care about, such as the central romance of the film. I didn't really sympathize with the Charlie Bartlett character. Plus, I didn't find the film to be very funny either. The film had trouble finding a balance between comedy and drama. I guess it tried to be too many things at once that I ended up not caring about any of the things they wanted me to care about. And honestly, it felt like a slight rip-off of Rushmore.

- I loved the first Anne of the Green Gables. The sequel, appropriately titled, Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel, is well, has several melodramatic and dull moments, but all in all, it's all about Megan Follows' lovely, enthusiastic performance as Anne Shirley. It's a touching coming-of-age story about finding a place to truly (cheesey moment) belong. I realize that Kevin Sullivan totally raped L.M. Montgomery's books to make his Anne sequels, but I kind of like his more epic take on the stories.

I'm kind of fascinated by the Jonas Brothers right now. Not in a, "Wow, they're hawt and their music rox" kind of way, but I just love memorizing random facts about them. I've watched tons of their music videos for no particular reason and a lot of the videos are really, really funny. In their "S.O.S" music video I love the part where Kevin Jonas gets so pissed at a text message he receives that he throws his entire cell phone away. Okay, nobody needed to know that. Anyway...

I hope you're all doing well. I've been trying my best to keep up with all of my favorite film blogs. Even though I rarely comment, trust me, I lurk.