Review- Prom

Aimee Teegarden and Thomas McDonell in Prom (Disney)

This isn’t a review that’s easy to write and I’ll tell you why straight off the bat. It’s due to the duality of my feelings about the film in question. As I plotted it in my head it seemed appropriate that it be somewhat similar to the Win Win review, in as much as it would focus heavily on performance. The reason for that in this film is that I’m sad to say I didn’t walk away from this film liking it but in watching it and re-watching it I really did love the cast that was assembled for it and what they did with the material with which they were asked to work.

To get the negative out of the way first a lot of my dissatisfaction in the film can be attributed mainly to narrative and script. It’s a difficult task to juggle multiple storylines, especially in a romantic comedy. You’ll find varying degrees of success in this kind of film because it’s hard to balance the stories, tell enough of them, keep them fresh and make them equally compelling. A lot of the strands while they are engaging enough are all too easily predictable.

The film also struggles with believability as it does have a tendency to transpose Nova’s (Aimee Teegarden) pie-in-the-sky feelings about the prom to a few characters. In the beginning it’s contained just to her but it spreads. Aside from the strands being predictable none of them are really stories we haven’t seen: there’s the Triangle, the Jilted Girlfriend, The Presumably Imaginary Girlfriend, The College Split-Up, The Honor Student and the Bad Boy and so on. Again no inherently bad templates but there’s not enough of a twist to freshen these up and of course all these tales each have their own arc and thus we have to wait as each starts a little awkwardly and ends nicely in due course. The only truly refreshing end of any strand was Corey’s. Corey (Cameron Monaghan) being the friend who feels left behind when his friend Lucas (Nolan Sotillo) falls for Simone (Danielle Campbell).

In spite of all of this the cast does wonders with the material. The main thrust of the film is, of course, The Nova and Jesse (Thomas McDonnell) tale. It starts as love-hate as they are forced to work together to rebuild the ruined prom decorations. There is real chemistry in this pairing. Months ago I had read that McDonnell’s performance had created some pre-release buzz in the industry and it’s easy to see why. There’s a potential star in the making there. Teegarden overcomes some very clunky and awkward dialogue at times to deliver a very good performance that is a step above what she showed on Friday Night Lights and the flip-side of her Scream 4 turn.

The Triangle of the film is actually two, which is not an easy trick to pull off so the film does deserve credit for that. Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon) is dating Jordan (Kylie Bunbury) but he’s cheating on her and wants to be with Simone. Simone also gains the interest of Lucas and Lucas likes her. It’s this dynamic where you’ll find some of the better dramatic moments of the story. Nixon, while getting his comeuppance, does give a good portrayal of the guy who will never really get it and is just out for himself. Bunbury of the four probably has the least amount of screen time but she always exudes a nobody’s fool air and she’s waiting to catch Tyler in flagrante to unleash her claws. Danielle Campbell shines as she is consistently torn throughout the film once you see the crack in her facade she is a confused character pained by the situation she’s been placed in.

Nolan Sotillo and his frequent scene partner Cameron Monaghan frequently steal the show in this film. Their chemistry is great and they work really well off one another. They also bring some of the most genuine comedy to the film and genuine emotion in general. It’s that very word that popped into my head as Lucas was fighting for Simone’s affections and was getting swatted away, he and she are quite genuine in their emotion in those scenes. Furthermore, Sotillo adds a song to the soundtrack of the film which is fantastic, it’s just a shame that it’s buried as the second song in the end credits it really could’ve been a boon to the climactic moments of the film.

The next major pairing is that of Mae (Yin Chang) and Justin (Jared Kusnitz). It was in watching these scenes that I really realized the arduous task these actors were given, few if any of them deal with scenes that allowed their to be a rhythmic ebb and flow to their performance, they were either dealing in just one note or they were constantly at high tension. Yin Chang is constantly at high tension it’s just a matter of how much she shows it that changes and her performance is very good. It’s a shame, however, that the talents of these two are utilized in one of the least compelling narrative strands.

The loners of note are: Rolo (Joe Adler) who offers a necessary and perfectly offbeat dose of comic relief and Lloyd (Nicholas Braun) who is the nice guy desperately trying to find just one girl who can or wants to go out with him. As if that wasn’t enough story Lloyd also has a constant companion, his stepsister played wonderfully by Raini Rodriguez.

In the adults of this tale a few more issues are brought to the fore. Yes, of course, there has to be an obstacle to Nova and Jesse going to the prom but the machinations by which her awkwardly played father (Dean Norris) goes through to prevent it are hard to swallow. Not neglecting to mention that somehow this high school is big enough such that people can go there for four years and not speak to one another but Nova’s dad instantly knows who Jesse Richter is at the mention of his name.

Ultimately, I’d say if you want to see a group of young actors you’re likely going to want to see again in something else go out and see this film. If you’re all about narrative and don’t care about the acting, sadly I can’t recommend it and as much as I do like this cast and what they did with what they were given, sadly I can’t give this film a passing grade.

5/10

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Review- Fast Five

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in Fast Five (Universal)

As I first discussed in my review of Rio I bring quite a bit of baggage to any American-made film dealing with Brazil and I will be analyzing certain aspects that escape the notice of the common viewer. Obviously, some of these things also come into play when discussing Fast Five and I will attempt to address those as swiftly as possible and address the film as a whole.

However, with this particular film the Brazilian-ness of it and how accurately that is portrayed is a more pervasive concern as it touches many aspects of the film from dialogue, plot, believability, characters, plot points, acting and the like more so than in the aforementioned film.

Some examples: Firstly, I applaud this film for its attempt to be sneaky foreign (like Hanna) and actually include a bit of dialogue in Portuguese and even subtitling certain scenes. Most of the acting in the film as a whole is just fine, however, the noticeable sore spots are created by those portraying Brazilians who are clearly not. Joaquim de Almeida plays a drug kingpin and the mark of the major heist in this film, he does a fine job but as I suspected when I looked up the cast he’s Portuguese not Brazilian. Very noticeably a fish out of water is American Michael Irby as his second hand man. Spaniard Elsa Pataky and Israeli Elsa Godot are quite convincing, the latter not so much in one particular scene due to her look more so than her interpretation. The best Portuguese is spoken by Jordana Brewster who speaks it rarely and I wasn’t even sure she knew any despite being born in Brazil.

Issues with the story with regards to it being set in Brazil are most prevalent in two incidents that I take issue with. So far as having a druglord who has the Military Police in his pocket and corruption, I can take that. It’s an acknowledged issue that’s been long combated, however, if you want to see a film about the PM and how a good man can go bad and see a rather realistic rendition thereof watch Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite). The issues are the first scene where the American forces lead by Dwayne Johnson go up into a favela, in very cinamtically clichéd fashion all the runners and criminals brandish their guns like a territorial pissing then Johnson shows his gun and they all back away. The problem there is that that would either lead to a standoff or a firefight, which is not infrequent. It’s a movie device that really doesn’t apply here. There’s a more realistic scene where he’s baited out into the open and surrounded.

The worst scene of the film is the apparent defeat. Here for some reason the American forces decide they should drive, seemingly unnecessarily, through the elevated and undulating streets of a favela and it sets up a ridiculous confrontation.

There is enough action to carry this film along and make it a decent ride. The villain although broadly drawn does have some decent moments. The characters in the film are many so not many are developed in all that much detail but you do get a sense of them and there is a good amount of comedy mixed in which keeps things light in spite of the bickering minorities device that is employed twice.

To give this film its just desserts there is a hand-to-hand combat scene between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel that trumps anything that occurred in The Expendables and no uncomfortable undertones to boot.

Despite being incredibly outlandish in terms of what the heist is, how it’s pulled off and what the reactions of law enforcement are to it at several stages of the film it’s still an enjoyable enough flick. It’s a decent popcorn flick that actually got me in the theatre by adding the heist element to a franchise that had never interested me before. Also, plan your health break carefully and stay through the end credits for a tag teases a sequel.

As a coda, bear in mind that with the financial success of Rio and Fast Five, Brazil will likely be the go to international transplant destination for franchises everywhere. I think James Bond needs a vacation, don’t you?

6/10

Review- Thor

Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman in Thor (Paramount/Marvel)

To make it very clear I have in the past set down a list of rules regarding adaptations of any materials wherein I try to divorce myself entirely from the source material when gauging a movie. Meaning that I will not comment on adaptation choices or omissions. With Thor that task was much easier as my knowledge of both the legend and the Marvel rendition thereof is severely limited so I came into the film with a fairly clean slate.

Perhaps what is the most surprising part of the story to me is the fact that the film struck a very good balance of locations. It started for an extended period of time in Asgard establishing the characters and setting up Thor’s predicament and then after he’s exiled to earth switches back frequently. The advertising did make it seem as if it’d be very heavy on Earth-based action but I guess they just didn’t want you seeing too much of Asgard.

I think this balance serves the narrative quite well indeed. As Thor struggles to repent and reclaim his hammer at home the stakes keep on rising and events continue to conspire against him unbeknown to him. The pace is tempered so as the tale isn’t rushed and more meaning can be added to the spectacle rather than there just being a spectacle to behold and the audience “Oohs” and “Aahs” and walks out bloated by candy and soda gas.

You film buffs/comics fans out there might be aware, especially through the intimations made in prior films, that Marvel has been gearing up for an Avengers films. They have been doing so very methodically with slight dovetails in previous films. For the uninitiated where S.H.I.E.L.D. gets involved in the story has been the prelude to The Avengers. S.H.I.E.L.D. is more of a presence in this film as they cordon off his hammer in a makeshift compound and detain Thor for a while but they’re only as much of an obstruction as they have to be they never become an encumbrance to the plot as a whole.

Having said that if you should see Thor be sure to plan your bathroom trip carefully because you’ll want to sit through the end credits for a teaser and a cameo appearance.

What might perhaps be overlooked is that in a tale such as Thor where you’re dealing with gods in another realm, the Earthlings who find him and those trying to detain him is that acting is pivotal. It’s pivotal both in the casting and the direction of the film. Which is why Kenneth Branagh, as counter-intuitive as it likely sounded to you at first, is the perfect director for this vehicle. This is a man who made his name as an actor and a director by interpreting Shakespeare if anyone can infuse some comedy but also lend this kind of tale the kind of gravitas it needs to succeed it’s him. Yes, it’s strange to see his name attached to something CG-heavy but there umpteen thousand people involved in that aspect he’s just making sure the tale is communicated and it is.

Speaking of the effects they were absolutely fantastic. The most challenging thing for a film is to create a wholly new world and this clan did that with ease. There is some pretty effective creature-work in here too, chilling stuff. The effects, of course, can only do so much it’s merely an interpretation of the production design which is also great. The sets and locations, where they need to be, are grandiose and majestic and just marvelous.

And now for my token paragraph on the 3D. I did see it in 3D. I debated not seeing it in 3D. I don’t think I would’ve liked it one iota less if I had gone the conventional route. If you want to save some money go for it. The colors, scope and vistas will be just as impressive.

I will readily admit my expectations were not very high for Thor. I’ve given you the positives as there were many. It wasn’t perfect but it was darn good and enjoyable and left me wanting more no matter how I come about it (be it comics or a sequel).

8/10