The conclusion to one of film’s most joyful trilogies finds Kenny Ortega with a far higher budget and even a cinematic release. He doesn’t squander the pennies, either, in mounting a few glorious numbers, including “I Want It All”, which liberally tips its fedora to similar sequences in classic Hollywood films. Sure, as a whole it doesn’t sustain the momentum quite as well as the second film — Gabriella and Troy remain an underwhelming screen couple, and the other pairings are sidelined by a largely charisma-free bunch of new recruits (who I believe were originally intended to take the series forward into a new generation) — but it’s in the musical sequences that it finds its raison d’être. There’s little more invigorating in cinema than a good dance number, and High School Musical 3 has several, even if some of the fashions and heteronormative couplings already seem a tad old-fashioned.
CREDITS Director Kenny Ortega; Writer Peter Barsocchini; Cinematographer Daniel Aranyó; Starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu; Length 111 minutes. Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Thursday 31 March 2011 (and many more times on DVD, most recently Saturday 19 December 2015).
There’s a sense in which this new movie about a DJ and his three friends living in Los Angeles’ Valley and trying to carve out a place for themselves is like a sub-Entourage story about flagrant wealth and dudebros being alpha 4ssholes (not that I’ve seen Entourage, but that seems to be the gist of it). Except that criticism seems unfair to me. Yes the film deals with some unpleasant male pathologies of entitlement — focused around Wes Bentley’s veteran DJ James, who has the apartment and the lifestyle — but our central character Cole (Zac Efron) and his buddies are very far from the wealth and the glitz, and the film is never less than clear that their lifestyle and aspirations are rather pathetic. That’s not enough to redeem the film — just because it knows these guys are d1cks, doesn’t make it any more fun to watch them — but for me, Zac Efron’s charismatic leading role just about is. Efron is one of the finest actors of the modern era, a smouldering pin-up Disney poster boy originally, but with the ability to infuse even the most wan and underwritten characters with genuine pathos. His inscrutable air seems to lend moral depth where there probably is none, making his Cole here a compulsively watchable protagonist. Still, it’s not quite enough to redeem a film that, even for one such as myself who is not nor ever has been a dance music DJ, seem facile: there’s an over-reliance on on-screen graphics to get us into the mindset of a DJ, all x-ray vision of hearts beating, and text hymning the power of 128 beats-per-minute (even as we learn there are other dance music styles which are slower and faster than this), and when it gets to its core message about finding one’s own voice, emphasising the musical authenticity of sampling real-world sounds and actual musical instruments, it kinda loses me. It also ropes in its female lead and Cole’s love interest, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), for one particularly flat scene where she just has to dance seductively at him while he plies his magical art and mansplains a bunch of stuff that she at least has the acting talent to pretend isn’t really obvious, but the audience surely aren’t so fooled. So yeah, these guys, they’re not my friends, and I remain unclear as to why some of them are anyone’s friends, but the film makes Los Angeles look pretty special, and it proves once again that a poor script and a dudebro mentality is no impediment to the pure expression of Efron’s acting art (not that I’m about to watch That Awkward Moment to bolster my argument).
CREDITS Director Max Joseph; Writers Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer; Cinematographer Brett Pawlak; Starring Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski; Length 96 minutes. Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Thursday 27 August 2015.
The review below was written before I introduced half-marks to my rating scale, so mentions of ‘two-stars’ should be taken to mean ‘two-and-a-half stars’ (i.e. exactly 50%).
NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Lee Daniels | Writers Lee Daniels and Pete Dexter (based on the novel by Pete Dexter) | Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer | Starring Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack | Length 101 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Wednesday 20 March 2013 || My Rating likeable
There’s a certain kind of film which dominates the film schedules around the start of each year, being the type of film which is up for awards contention. These films can be good, but they also have a certain belaboured worthiness. Once that period has passed, you get lots of really interesting films that never stood a chance with awards judges, and this can often be the most exhilarating time for filmgoing, at least for mainstream audiences (the dynamic, if that’s the right word, is quite different for the arthouse). Even when these films don’t quite hit a quality threshold they can often be rather interesting. They’re what I would call ‘two-star films’, which are often unfairly overlooked when people are reassessing film history in hindsight.