The Week in Film by Robert Mann – Week Starting 14/8/09

Bandslam *****

With Zac Efron and Ashley Tisdale both having moved on from their High School Musical characters it is now the turn of Vanessa Hudgens to do the same and her latest film Bandslam has given her the chance to do just that, providing her with the opportunity to play a different type of character to that of Gabriella Montez whilst still making significant use of her singing abilities. While Gabriella was very much a girly girl type of character, shy but also sweet and open hearted, the character that Hudgens gets to play here is much more of a loner, emo type, a character quite different to her previous role. As well as showing a new side to Vanessa Hudgens, however, Bandslam also showcases some new rising talent in the form of Aly Michalka and Gaelan Connell who, if this film is as big as I think it will be, could soon be stars on the level of Hudgens herself. So, with a considerable amount of hype and potential surrounding it, is Bandslam the next High School Musical or is it more like Camp Rock, entertaining but forgettable?

Teenager Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) lives in his head, and his head is filled with music. When his mother, Karen Burton (Lisa Kudrow), gets a new job in New Jersey, Will starts his junior year at a new school only to find the old cliques still apply, but rock-n-roll rules the scene. Perpetually a misfit Will strikes up a friendship with like-minded outsider Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens) – the 5 is silent. They are both surprised when the school’s “it” girl, Charlotte Banks (Aly Michalka) recruits Will to help assemble a band to compete in Bandslam, a battle of the bands that is “Texas High School Football BIG”. Charlotte’s ex-boyfriend Ben Wheatly (Scott Porter) is poised to win with his band Glory Dogs – Springsteen wannabes down to their hats. For the first time in his life, Will finds he is uniquely suited to not only participate in something, but to truly make a difference.

Bandslam is not the next Camp Rock. Nor is it the next High School Musical. It is so much better than that. Combining serious drama with lighthearted humour, sweet romance and fantastic music, this is about as good an example of a feel good movie that you’re likely to see this year. Pretty much everything is perfect about this film. To start there is the fantastic storyline which is far offers far more than you would expect, providing plenty of opportunity for genuine drama, something that makes it far more than the average tween movie. The script is excellently written, packed with everything needed to make a great movie. The dialogue is superb, often being very witty and funny and despite all the serious drama that’s going on there is a strong vein of humour that is constantly present, the source of the humour being genuine character moments and situations rather than lame gags. The impact is all the greater due to the fact that much of it rings very true to life, and the inclusion of some nice visual touches, e.g. certain scenes are filmed on a camera phone, really helps to bring everything down to earth. Overall, this may be a feel good movie but there is a genuine sense that what happens could really happen and this makes it all the more enjoyable. As well as entertaining, however, the film also offers an interesting – and, of course, enjoyable – exploration of teen relationships and friendships, and the way in which music can change things for the better. The film’s success in this area can be largely attributed to the actors who are outstanding across the board, sharing genuine chemistries with one another and relationship and friendship dynamics that are truly believable. The development of the characters is also superb – partly due to the great script of course – with the changes all the characters go through feeling organic and genuine, reflecting the kind of experiences that real life teenagers face. Each individual actor brings something particular to the film as well. Gaelan Connell perfectly portrays the role of an outcast teenager who just wants to fit it but finds himself left out at every turn, paying the price for the mistakes of his alcoholic father. He believably captures all the difficulties his character is facing and makes us really empathize with what he is going through. Vanessa Hudgens is also excellent, showing that she is very capable of playing roles different to Gabriella. Here she handles the portrayal of an abrasive, loner type very well and her character’s growing closeness to Connell’s character seems really sweet and authentic, with the two sharing a great on-screen chemistry. Aly Michalka also excels, believably capturing the essence of a person who has done bad things in the past and is really trying to turn her life around. The character’s inner turmoil really shows boldly on screen and despite knowing certain things about her past we really do route for her. The rest of the cast also do well in their performances. It’s not just the performances that are good, though, but perhaps more importantly, the music and the singing. Vanessa Hudgens’ vocals are just as excellent as in HSM, Aly Michalka also has an amazing singing voice and the instrumental music from the band’s members – Charlie Saxton, Tim Jo, Ryan Donowho, Elvy Yost and Lisa Chung – is also great. And they are given some great songs and musical numbers to perform too, making the most of their talents. The film also showcases numerous other musical talents at various points as well as boasting a great soundtrack of classic rock songs. The focus on indie rock music rather than pop music is extremely refreshing, and while many of the film’s cultural references, not to mention a cameo appearance by one David Bowie, will no doubt go over the heads of many of those in the target audience – although they should be appreciated by accompanying parents at least – it is great that the film is trying to introduce young people to a side of music that they may be unfamiliar with. One thing is certain – this is the perfect movie for music lovers. So, Bandslam is a film that really has much to offer a wide range of moviegoers. As with most films made by Walden Media this is far more mature than the average family/teen movie, being something that be enjoyed and loved by children, teenagers and adults alike. Truly, it is the feel good movie of the summer.


The Time Traveller’s Wife ****½

2009 is turning out to be quite a year for Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. Both out of the spotlight for some time, this year sees each of them appearing in several high profile films, Rachel McAdams in State of Play and Sherlock Holmes, and Eric Bana in Star Trek and Funny People. And, of course both of them are in The Time Traveller’s Wife, the movie adaptation of the best selling book of the same name by Audrey Niffenegger. Combing romantic drama with elements of science fiction a la The Lake House, the idea behind this film is certainly a very intriguing one and with great acting talents like McAdams and Bana in the lead roles it certainly has actors who can do justice to the source material. Whether or not the director is also up to the challenge, however, is the big question, with director Robert Schwentke’s last directorial effort being the underwhelming 2005 thriller Flightplan. So, does the film enchant in the way it should or will you find yourself wishing you could travel through time so that can get the last 1 hour 45 minutes of your life back? Fortunately, I think it is the former that is true.

Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) has spent his entire life suffering from a rare genetic condition known as chrono-impairment, a condition that causes him to uncontrollably travel through time during periods of extreme stress. The ability, which forces him to live his life on a shifting timeline, bouncing back and forth through the past, present and future of his lifespan, is both a gift and a curse. It is through this ability that he meets Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams), a beautiful young heiress who falls head over heels in love with him, and in spite of the huge difficulties created by his condition the two of them begin to build a future together. Despite the fact that Henry’s travels force them apart with no warning, they eternally remain loyal to one another through to the very end.

As with anything that involves the concept of time travel The Time Traveller’s Wife is not one of the easiest films to follow. The manner in which Henry randomly jumps through time and the fact that we are witness to events involving versions of Henry from different time periods, often without it being clear which version of Henry we are seeing, means that the film is at times quite confusing. However, despite such a setback, which could have rendered the film a failure, everything does come together quite well in the end and the manner in which the concept of time travel is handled is quite exemplary. When time travel is factored into anything it often results in paradoxes and contradictions and in films this can easily result in massive plot holes that make it impossible to find a sense of logic to what is going on. This is not the case here. Despite being somewhat hard to follow exactly what is going on at times, there is a distinct sense of logic that can be applied to the overall storyline and, as such, the film is free of any obvious plot holes that could derail the storyline. In fact, the closest the film comes to a paradox is when Henry has a discussion with geneticist Dr. David Kendrick (Stephen Tobolowsky) over who actually coined the name ‘chrono-impairment’, a scene which seems like a riff on the chicken and the egg paradox. Despite difficulties in figuring out which Henry is which, the mechanics of time travel displayed in the film are fairly straightforward and easy to follow. While it seems that the rules are based on or inspired by established conventions from other movies and perhaps even genuine scientific theories, all explanation of Henry’s ability is done completely free of scientific mumbo jumbo and techno-babble explanations, and is in fact used less as a science fiction plot device and more as a metaphor for distance in relationships. What is really at the heart of the film is the story, which is essentially an exploration of the difficulties created by Henry’s ability in his relationship with Clare. Their relationship has an almost magical quality to it at times but it is also tinged with sadness, with Henry’s frequent absences creating a tremendous strain on Clare. This is certainly as much a metaphor for real life relationships as it is a work of science fiction. The development of the relationship is extremely well executed and the way that each encounters the other for the first time already knowing almost everything about them allows for some very interesting dynamics between them. The success of the representation of the relationship is as much due to the strong chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana with the two convincing as a couple who desperately try to stay together despite massive obstacles that stand in their way. Eric Bana perfectly captures the inner turmoil of Henry as the negative implications of his condition become increasingly obvious and Rachel McAdams are convinces as Clare suffers the strain of a relationship with a man who can just disappear for ages without even a moments notice. Above all else, it is this relationship that is at the heart of the film and what really makes it work. So, overall, The Time Traveller’s Wife is a very moving and at times quite enchanting film that works so well thanks to its central love story and its allusions to real life relationships. Anyone who sees this for the time travel elements may well be disappointed, in spite of the film’s successful handling of them, as this is a tale about love and nothing else really matters.


Aliens in the Attic **

Now that the High School Musical series as we know it has come to an end, several of its stars are moving on to different things in their careers. Earlier this year Zac Efron hit it big with comedy 17 Again and this very week sees the release of Vanessa Hudgen’s latest film, the music drama Bandslam, which also looks certain to be a hit. Ashley Tisdale, however, seems to have drawn the short straw with her latest film, Aliens in the Attic which, when compared with her former HSM co-stars, doesn’t exactly seem like a great addition to her list of credits. Trailers thus far, while being amusing, have done little to make the film stand out from the crowd of better looking family films and both reviews and box office numbers from across the pond have been extremely poor. Nonetheless, with kids off school for the summer there are bound to be those who will see and enjoy it but with so many better choices out there right now is it really worth the price of a cinema ticket?

When the Pearson family heads to a remote house for summer vacation little did they expect that they would experience the greatest adventure of their lives but this is exactly what happens when Tom (Carter Jenkins), Jake (Austin Butler), Bethany (Ashley Tisdale), Hannah (Ashley Boettcher), Art (Henri Young) and Lee (Regan Young) are dragged along by their parents. Not long after they arrive they find the house under attack from little aliens who are determined to take over the world and who are searching for something that will help them to do so – something that is apparently buried beneath the house. And the Pearson children are the only ones who can stop the aliens’ insidious plans. But the aliens prove to be a tough enemy, utilizing mind control devices to take over Ricky (Robert Hoffman), Ashley’s boyfriend who has tagged along. Soon the house turns into an all out war-zone as Nana Rose (Doris Roberts) also comes under the control of a mind device but one under the control of the children. With time running out before the invasion begins, the kids find assistance from an unlikely source, one of the aliens, the friendly Sparks (voiced by Josh Peck), who utilizes his technical abilities to give the children an advantage against his fellow aliens.
Aliens in the Attic is one of those family films that kids may well enjoy but parents most likely won’t be able to stand. Across the board there are few positive things that can be said about the quality of this film. The acting is extremely poor with actors who have shown themselves to be quite capable in previous acting roles being completely wasted in roles that require nothing of them, Carter Jenkins (from TV show Surface) and Ashley Tisdale in particular, Robert Hoffman spending almost the entire film acting like a complete idiot and the adult actors clearly being present just for the paycheque, with their roles being so insignificant that it’s hard to imagine any other reason why they would choose to appear in the film. The one good thing among the cast is Doris Roberts (best known for TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond) who is extremely game for some of the film’s funniest scenes. The target audience, however, are unlikely to notice or care much. The film is weak in other areas too, with unimpressive visual effects, a virtually non-existent plot and some rather cringe-worthy dialogue at times. The humour is the only thing in the film that really has any value but much of that revolves around the alien mind control devices and the character of Ricky slapping himself in the dace, gags that wear thin pretty quickly. Certainly anyone with a vaguely sophisticated sense of humour will find puerile and unfunny although kids are likely to have a great time, even if they won’t be begging to see it again any time soon. So, essentially, Aliens in the Attic is a film that is likely to be enjoyed only by undemanding children and that parents may find quite torturous to sit through. If you’ve scene every other family film in cinema right now and you want to see something else this may be an option worth checking, but you should see everything else before you even consider watching this.


Reviews by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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