Mini-Review: The Suite Life Movie (2011)

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Suite Life Movie(2011)

A funny and silly sci-fi tale wherein twin brothers face off against a mad scientist.

I believe in judging everything on what it is and what its goals are. Therefore, a DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie for the uninitiated) cannot be judged against Citizen Kane. Each are doing very disparate things. Another caveat for those who will point out that this is a TV movie I’ve allowed them to be eligible before both for the good and the bad in my awards (Note: Only winners are linked to) therefore I should try and see a few each year or bar them and essentially the aesthetics are the same, the commercial break on streaming merely turns into a fade to black and then fade in.

Having said all that this film really works for what it’s trying to do and I was surprised that I enjoyed it quite a bit. Both Cole and Dylan Sprouse, who are no strangers to film acting, have far more naturalistic interpretations of their characters in this film than they do in a typical episode of the show. The film also manages to be rather self-contained and doesn’t require one to be overly-familiar with the show to enjoy and appreciate what’s going on. The mad scientist involvement is one not seen much these days but can definitely still be employed to great affect.

It’s funny, silly and even gets emotional with a point to be made. I’m not saying it’ll be in the year end fray but I was pleasantly surprised by it as it is one of the most enjoyable DCOMs I’ve seen in some time.

10/10

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March to Disney: Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000)

This was a title that I wanted to discuss during 61 Days of Halloween, however, one of the good things about having multiple annual topics is that you will frequently find overlaps. Such is the case with Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire. Yes, it’s another DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie), and another from the earlier days of Disney Channel’s sojourn into made-for-TV films.

The title is indicative of a few things: 1) what it’s about 2) That it’s at least partly (actually mostly comedic). The release date also give you a hint that said date is not seen as a good thing, seeing as how this is pre-Twilight.

As is the case with any of these titles that work a lot of the debt is owed to the cast, and this one runs pretty deep with Charlotte Rhea, Charles Shaughnessy, Robert Carradine, Matt O’Leary, Jake Epstein and Myles Jeffrey. More on that to follow.

The films begins with a movie-within-a-movie which sets the stage first for some of the comedic aspects, for the gothic (read: traditional) treatment of vampires, sets up characters and is used as a point of reference for rules when the kids find they are faced with a real vampire.

It is a an extremely structurally sound film as nothing is superfluous and things that seem like they are just fenestration do play a role later on and play into the plot everything from the desire to see a band called the Headless Horseman at the Harvest Festival, the promise of a date, the mention of mom (Rhea) having been in a band before, and more.

Typically in reviewing I avoid over-focus on the acting – not because it’s not important but mostly because it’s just one aspect of the film that needs to be discussed. In this film it’s what I frequently remember but it’s the solid foundation, the details in terms of the use of vampires that stand out.

There are a lot of hidden jokes for fans of the genre and a great implementation of archetypes commonly found in horror films. The discovery of the threat and the willingness to believe it’s true is very tied in to character arcs in the film.

Those arcs are accentuated by how good the performances are, and similarly virtually all the characters have pronounced, well-wrought and significant ones which is in fact a rare accomplishment. Matt O’Leary, had quite a few good turns as a young actor. The fact that this rivals his performance in Frailty is a testament to his skilled reads and reactions to situations, and the material. Playing his sidekick in a small, but not insignificant role, is Jake Epstein, who was perhaps best known as one of the forebears on the new-age Degrassi he is so good in this – such a different character than I saw him in afterward.

A perfect example of the cast’s work is a scene wherein Adam (O’Leary) is grounded (again set up by a seemingly innocuous improvised essay he created by reading a tabloid). It’s the kind of scene you see various times, but everyone O’Leary, Rhea and Laura Vadervoort; is so on that it works a lot better than it should.

That leads to the kids’ plotting which sets up everything that happens after that. If you’re after silly escapism, you’ll like this; if after a wink and knowing nod to the vampire subgenre, you should like this. If you like DCOM seasonal fare, you should love this. And that’s why I wanted to write about it of the Halloween-themed ones it’s by far the best and rarely airs. I had to re-screen it off a VHS recording I made in 2001. It’s a Disney title that really doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

March to Disney: Zokkomon and Disney World Cinema

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

Disney has two fairly recently initiated and under-exploited and under-publicized home video lines. I may write about them both here today, but the focus of this piece is Disney World Cinema rather than Disney Generations Collection.

Disney World Cinema, as the title implies, makes available in the US Disney-Produced titles from overseas. The selections so far a mainly original content, and not as diverse as they could be.

For example, I was once linked to a clip of a visually stunning film produced by Russia’s Disney Channel, but understanding 0.001% of the Russian language I couldn’t watch all of it. The point being there is plenty of content out there this line could make available. Out of the initial wave of releases I selected one and finally gave it a whirl for this theme.

One of the examples in this line is a High School Musical set in China. Now Foreign versions of movies or TV shows, that are remakes as opposed to subtitled or dubbed are not new. In fact, in the early days of sound, scripts used to be translated and re-shot on the cheap after an A-List feature was done. Paramount was a prime example using everything identical to the American version for Spanish features.

The film I saw comes from India and is entitled Zokkomon. Now, while simplified, there is a more indigenous approach to the film in terms of the fairly apparent themes it tackles with minimal didacticism. The feel of the film is a hybrid between a DCOM and a big budget Bollywood musical, which also includes elements of tentpole action films towards the end. Yes, there are story-commenting, fairly random musical numbers that border on non-diegitic inasmuch as a narrator/singer is introduced, but it still remains a fairly hybrid product.

While even at a relatively short 105 minutes there are a few flashback montages too many and a spare song or two, but it’s not so bloated that it weighs down the entire project. There are some universally recognizable, and identifiable fairy tale tropes updated to make this perhaps one of the more obvious titles to try this series out on. The principal cast is fairly good as a whole, namely Majari Phandis, Tinnu Anand with the standout being the young lead Darsheel Safary.

Disney has their Channel and distribution arms the world over, there are likely more markets where titles can be found for this line. Perhaps merging this concept with the also under-ultilized and under-publicized Disney Generations Collection, a disc-on-demand concept similar to Warner Archive in conception, if not in practice, is the way to go for these films, such that there’s less monetary commitment to pressing copies, thus making a larger library available. In a similar vein, a DisneyNature feature, Wings of Life, that was originally only released in France will soon hit US home video for the first time. This will be its only release here, in lieu of a theatrical run, but in time for Earth Day.

Zokkomon served as a good introduction, that had I seen it as soon as it was available may have been in the running for some BAM Awards, I may look into the other selections and you should check them out and see if any titles appeal to you.

61 Days of Halloween- Girl vs. Monster

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Whenever there is a DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie) that I am reviewing I always feel the need to remind people that my rating scale pertains to how well the film accomplishes its objective, as opposed to comparing it to things it is not and not trying to be. This is not to say that even in the microcosm of DCOMs that there aren’t films that have fallen flat on their face. Some have landed amongst the worst of the year.

Usually the key to success is being seasonal or based on a show, rare are the out of the blue High School Musical success stories. Getting back to the seasonal aspect of the film: it had been a few years since Disney did anything both Halloween/horror-related and released prior to the day, add to that the fact that it’s the first non-sequel (a la Halloweentown or Twitches) in a while and there was great promise here.

The talk of sequels brings us to the most glaringly unfortunate aspect of the film. There is a liberal bit of borrowing, mainly from Ghostbusters, that goes on. References to other works that are far more conscious and meta come in later, but that one never gets joked about. Thankfully, there are enough twists, differentiations and its own goofy brand of humor that it minimizes the encumbrance of that fact. In the end, these hunters are more like actual versions of the bogus ones on reality TV.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t state that the CG quality varies wildly, at time the lower-end is intentional, but the tenor of the film forgives a lot of it.

However, Girl vs. Monster is ultimately a very successful horror/comedy which targets a more innocent sensibility of Halloween that is the purview of projects designed for TV and younger audiences. It’s an effective tone that when well-executed takes me back. The film does well to focus, when appropriate, on comedy such that the film is always entertaining.

This film, like many latter-day DCOMS, also features music, but in a more organic way than most. A bonus is that the songs are pretty good and catchy and as opposed to many DCOMS not over-produced to Glee-like proportions, and allow Olivia Holt and Luke Benward to showcase their voices.

The story does seem like it’ll take the typical routes through Disney tropes but it does throw a wrench in enough to keep it interesting and less predictable than most. The casting is also better than most recent films. Granted Disney Channel will spin-off a star from a show into most of, if not all, these films, but the choice to not only choose Olivia Holt (Kickin’ It) who is of lower-profile than most of the current Disney stable helps this film and the viewers because she’s more quickly her character in this film, and it’s less like a star vehicle. Especially when you consider she’s flanked by a great supporting cast, only some of which are frequently seen on the networks, featuring Brendan Meyer and Kurt Ostland  (Mr. Young); Katherine McNamara, Adam Chambers, Jennifer Aspen and Brian Palermo.

Girl vs. Monster is a really enjoyable, funny and quick-paced film, which delving even further into microcosm falls just behind Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire in terms of best Halloween DCOM. Recommended for both fans of DCOMs and those who like variety in their Halloween-related viewings.

8/10