Saturday, August 22, 2009
I can't cite the link but I ran across a post on another blog the other day in which the author made a case that August's reputation as a dumping ground for movies is quickly becoming undeserved thanks to releases like Tropic Thunder and this year's District 9. (Other examples were also mentioned; no endorsement of Tropic Thunder implied) I'll deal with District 9 and some other high profile releases in my vacation catch-up post tomorrow, but two small scale films go further to making the point that August can't be safely ignored as a month for new films.
As Rob reported last week there's a feeling building that Bandslam got screwed by its own studio, which attempted to market to fans of Vanessa Hudgens and Aly Michalka's Disney work. Bandslam, directed by Todd Graff, couldn't be further removed from the High School Musical trilogy or whatever it is Michalka is known for. The socially awkward Will(Gaelan Connell) arrives at a new high school where he almost immediately falls for the iconoclastic Sa5m ("the five is silent"), played uncutely by Hudgens. Will is also adopted by a senior named Charlotte (Michalka), who wants him to be the manager of the rock band she has formed to compete against her ex (Scott Porter of Friday Night Lights, much too old) in a regional contest known as "Bandslam." Neither Hudgens nor Michalka have many acting surprises after their characters are established as Baby Goth and reformed Mean Girl respectively, but they make appealing poles for the genuinely geeky Connell to travel between. There's a first kiss scene between Hudgens and Connell that's played with a genuine sweetness that I don't remember ever seeing anything quite like, and the fraught relationship between Will and his Mom (Lisa Kudrow) is made lived-in by both actors. So what if the climactic song performed at Bandslam sounds like a No Doubt B-side? The respect Graff pays his characters is more than a little refreshing; the thoroughly winning Bandslam doesn't deserve to be a box office irrelevancy.
I'm not sure if Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo is quite as thematically rich as Spirited Away (which I might appreciate more with a Masters in Japanese religion) or Howl's Moving Castle but if possible the animation looks even more beautiful. There are moments in this gentle story of learning to respect the oceans that genuinely look like a children's book come alive. Although the story of a Sosuke (voiced in the English version by Frankie Jonas) and the fish named Ponyo (Noah Cyrus) he adopts rolls to a close as opposed to ending, Sosuke's journey to rescue his mother (Tina Fey) after a flood is as gripping as anything I've seen at the movies this summer. Miyazaki is a creator or worlds in the truest sense; watching one of his films feels like eavesdropping on the totality of someone's imagination. So it's unfair to say to much about the magic contained in Ponyo, but if you're new to Miyazaki listen up: there's something in his work for adult and child alike. It's a core of humanity I never felt while watching Up. Are you listening Pixar?