Archive | Movies

Movie Review: “Anonymous” ***

Posted on 07 November 2011 by Kevin Benninger

To see or not to see “Anonymous:” that is the question. In telling the story of Shakespeare, one would hardly expect to find even close to the same brilliant dialogue, political intrigue or depth of human emotion that embody a large portion of Shakespeare’s work. Yet, it seems that writer John Orloff was intent on at least reflecting these features in his story about Shakespeare, or actually, the story about the person that some argue actually wrote the Shakespeare plays. Brilliant acting, intriguing plot and a wonderfully imagined London (including, of course, the Globe Theatre) bring the world of Shakespeare to life in ”Anonymous.” While it is a good movie, it is no “dish fit for the gods.”

To say that this story is “ahistorical” would be an understatement. The history in this movie is about as historical as Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The timeline, and the events are arranged to the plot in a very favorable way, and there were certainly many creative liberties taken with the historical portrayal of the characters. Despite how much these things may have bothered me, I had to remind myself (as I think others should) that it is a movie meant for entertainment, not a serious Shakespeare biography that answers whether he did or did not write the plays for which he is famous. Even with the obvious inaccuracies, I still found the story to be tremendously entertaining. Shakespeare the drunk, Ben Johnson the jealous and Elizabeth I as a lustful young woman are all intriguing portrayals of historical figures never seen quite in this same light before. If one truly disregards the inaccuracies and takes it as the entertainment that it is meant to be, it is really a fun movie.

Rhys Ifans leads the cast as Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford and the proposed “true writer” of the Shakespeare plays. Along with David Thewlis (Harry Potter films) as William Cecil and Joely Richardson (The Patriot, Nip/Tuck) as the young Elizabeth I, the film has a solid cast. Edward de Vere’s story is one of politics, betrayal, lust and the struggle to express the human soul above all else. As it turns out, despite having the inheritance and heredity to become one of the most powerful men in England, de Vere chooses to be a writer. Despite all that the film entails, the story sets out to show that the power of the words are more important than the politics or violence that surround it. In fact, without giving anything away, it is in one of the scenes where Ben Johnson finally tells de Vere what he thinks of his writings, where one of the most emotional exchanges in the movie takes place.

“Anonymous” has some bothersome flaws besides the inaccuracies, however. The introduction and departure of various characters without much explanation or characterization is a bit overwhelming at times. Also, there was significant room for development of Robert Cecil’s character and his relationship with de Vere, an interesting aspect of the story that seemed to be ignored for too much of the film. Overall, though, it was a highly entertaining take on the true history of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. So, back to our question from the beginning, and here is my answer: “Anonymous” is a flawed but entertaining film. I say, see it.

by Kevin Benninger
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Milwaukee Film Festival: Date Night ****

Posted on 09 October 2011 by WarriorAdmin

The Milwaukee Film Festival is one of my favorite events in Milwaukee. If you haven’t gone to any of the films in the festival in the past, make sure you try to attend in the future. It is really great when something like that is right in your city. If you are a student, it is something you must attend before you graduate. Not only does the film festival allow people to see films they otherwise would not (low budget, foreign, etc.), but it is also allows people to access another almost forgotten side of film, a side that shows that film is more than just entertainment – it is, or at least can be, a legitimate form of art. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend much of the Film Festival this year, but I did get the chance to see a great selection of short films entitled “Date Night.”

In “Date Night,” each short had its own unique flavor and style. They were only truly united by their focus on romantic relationships that tended to be perverse or dysfunctional. Beginning with the brilliant “An Evening with Emery Long,” the story of one middle-aged man’s comical attempt to make meatloaf for his first “date” with his co-worker, and ending with the minute and a half Spanish short called, “The Screamers,” the short film collection was entertaining all the way through. One highlight was the second to last film, “Gayby,” about two friends, one a gay male and the other a female who has given up on relationships, trying to make a baby together. This plot is just one example of the creative twists on relationships that was prevalent throughout the shorts.

Probably the most creatively filmed and edited of all the shorts was “Animal Love.” Featuring Selma Blair (“Cruel Intentions,” “Hellboy”) and Jeremy Davies (Daniel Faraday from “Lost”) as two strangers who arrange to meet up using a date website. Although they seem to meet purely for sexual purposes, it becomes apparent that both characters are actually two lonely individuals looking for something more. The film really shines in the way it is presented, including a dating game show style introduction of the two main characters and a few shots through the point of view of a runaway pet guinea pig. Complete with music by (appropriately) Animal Collective, “Animal Love” was certainly a highlight of the short films, and a great mix of originality and flawed romance.

Overall, “Date Night” was a lot of fun, especially for the couples in the audience. My only complaint was that it dragged a little during the French film, “Dear Abbot,” which was disproportionately longer than the other films and could have been cut about five to ten minutes shorter. Still, I enjoyed each film for the creative ways they presented love, relationships, religion, sexual orientation and even baby-making. The variety in “Date Night” makes it a fun and unusual movie-going experience. It is just one of the many jewels the Milwaukee Film Festival can bring to this city.

by Kevin Benninger

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Tom McCarthy delivers a ‘winning’ film with “Win Win” (****1/2 rating)

Posted on 26 April 2011 by Kevin Benninger

As much as I try, I can find little wrong with “Win Win.” Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, most recognized for his work with both “The Vistior” and “Up,” this film exhibits his great understanding of simple human interaction and emotion. In an age of so many BIG films, the epic emotion displayed in movies like “Inception” and this year’s “Battle: Los Angeles” seems almost too easy. What about the little guy? What about the emotion most people can really relate to? McCarthy masters this without trying to be too deep or existential, which is so common with small budget films.

“Win Win” is the story of a struggling attorney and high school wresting coach, Mike Flaherty (played by the always fantastic Paul Giamatti), whose misguided attempts to support his family leads to a new relationship with an unexpected visitor named Kyle (Alex Shaffer). When Alex shows up at his grandfather’s house, Flaherty’s life becomes much more complicated. Having been granted guardianship of Kyle’s grandfather, Leo, through some quasi-illegal dealings, Flaherty finds himself caught up in the family affairs of the troubled Kyle, his recovering drug addict mother, and his dementia stricken grandfather. Encouraged to house the boy temporarily by his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), Flaherty discovers that Kyle is actually a really sweet kid and an incredible wrestler who might just be exactly what his downtrodden wrestling team needs.

The acting in “Win Win” is superb. Newcomer Alex Shaffer plays a perfectly quiet and deadpan Kyle who struggles with definite domestic issues. He is especially charming through his interactions with Flaherty’s daughters and his friendship with the nerdy Stemler (David Thompson). Amy Ryan (star of “The Office” and “The Wire”) does a fantastic job as Mike Flaherty’s wife and moral support throughout the film. Also worth mentioning is the laugh-out-loud comic relief from Flaherty’s best friend, Terry (played by Bobby Cannavale), who takes particular interest in the wrestling team once Kyle joins as a way of getting over his failed marriage. Then, of course, there is Paul Giamatti. ‘Nuff said. Most importantly though, the actors manage to keep the film real and relatable as intended by McCarthy, and this is where the success of the film lies.

Overall, “Win Win” is a near perfect film. While it lacks the grandeur of bigger box office pictures, it deals perfectly with its subject matter. McCarthy manages to capture the subtleties of emotion and personal revelations that come out of simple human events and interaction. From scenes depicting the farcical interactions in a civil court to those that involve the characters sitting at a table and eating pancakes without any spoken words, “Win Win” depicts real emotion and the joys of everyday life. Backed with an original song by the The National, this film is the complete package. I hesitate to give the movie five stars because it did not blow me away, but with great acting, great music, and well developed characters and plot, “Win Win” is a win for the makers of the film, and a win for the audience.

by Kevin Benninger
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Movie review: “Somewhere” ***

Posted on 16 February 2011 by Kevin Benninger

SomewhereBeware the all too common desire to compare “Somewhere” to Sophia Coppola’s masterpiece, “Lost in Translation.” Comparing them is an injustice to the good but not as good “Somewhere.” Although it returns to the similar focus of men who have become successful, famous and desperately lonely, Stephen Dorff’s Johnny Marco does not seem to reach to complexity or freshness of Bill Murray’s Bob Harris.

In “Somewhere,” the aforementioned actor, Johnny Marco, suddenly finds that his wealthy bachelor life of fast cars and easy women is in for a serious change of pace when his daughter from a past relationship shows up at his bedside. When her mother decides she needs time to take care of some unspecified personal issues, Marco is given a chance to reconnect and spend some quality time with his daughter, Cloe (played by the fantastic Elle Fanning). Marco is a shallow, lonely and famous womanizer who seems to have a drink, cigarette or both, at all times of the day. Yet, despite all of his flaws, he truly desires a substantial relationship with his daughter. Unfortunately, the more he tries, the more he realizes how much he has faltered as a father figure and a person for that matter.

Stephen Dorff does not turn many heads with his performance, although that may not be his fault, but rather, the fault of an unoriginal character. So much of Johnny Marco seems cliché by this point in visual entertainment. The ‘lonely at the top’ movie star was successfully played by Murray as previously mentioned, and the rugged, alcoholic, drug abuser who is irresistible to women but finds his life unfulfilling is the same story that I have seen countless times before (Hank Moody from “Californication” anyone?).

Although my initial thoughts may be somewhat negative, I do not mean to give the impression that “Somewhere” was a bad movie. Once again, the difficulty with comparing this movie to “Lost in Translation” is the fact that the viewer will undoubtedly notice that this movie is not nearly as good as Coppola’s best work.

One cannot let this fact overshadow what this movie does well – which is its portrayal of real, everyday emotion and conversation. The little moments that simply pass through the average film are the focus of Coppola’s work. Watching a man joylessly drink a beer alone in his room or simply hang out and play Guitar Hero with his daughter does not seem like much, but Coppola has mastered the art of revealing so much in so little. A short scene where Marco sits outside on his hotel balcony and listens to people enjoy themselves in the distance reveals how deeply he desires human connection while he wallows in his life of luxury.

Of course, some of the best moments of this movie are the sweet moments between father and daughter eating gelato late at night or discussing “Twilight.” Further delight comes from the comic relief from “Jackass’s” Chris Pontius who plays the friend of Marco that is surprisingly great with children.

Although it falters in originality, I still enjoyed “Somewhere” because of what Coppola captures so well: the real, everyday moments. This movie is worth a watch due to its charming father-daughter dynamic, but do not expect it to really pull your emotional strings, unless you are a person who cannot get enough of the anguish of rich and the famous.

I wish I could say that “Somewhere” takes you somewhere truly new, but it just doesn’t.

by Kevin Benninger
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Midnight magic: A muggle’s look at Harry Potter and midnight showings

Posted on 08 December 2010 by Matthew Mueller

For the past three and a half years of my life, I have been an employee of a local movie theatre. It’s not very difficult work (or extremely well paying work for that matter), but the people there are fun, the benefits are nice, and you get to see things that most people would never even imagine. Don’t worry; I’m not going to get all sentimental and sappy about life in the workforce. I’ve seen things that I will never be able to un-see, and Lord knows I’ve tried. People-watch at a local theatre for five minutes and I can almost guarantee that you are bound to see some great examples of strange human behavior. Add a pop-cultural phenomenon and sleep-depravity into the mix, and you have the potential for the zaniest antics to hit a theatre since somebody spiked the Icee machine.

I arrived at the theatre around 6 p.m. for the advanced employee screening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” and, for what it’s worth, I liked it. However, it wasn’t my favorite in the series by any stretch. The pacing and flow in the first half of the film was clunky and slow, and I keep getting the feeling that these past three movies have just been filling time and not really doing much in terms of plot. The movie was entertaining enough, though, and the acting and direction keep getting better. It’s almost even getting to the point that I can tolerate Daniel Radcliffe.

However, the movie was the least entertaining part of my evening. After the credits rolled, I put on my ill-fitting tuxedo and bowtie and took my place at the ticket-ripping podium. Every single Harry Potter nerd, which by the end of the night was 1,200 people, was going to be going past me. I was essentially the bouncer for the hottest book club in town. When I had arrived at 6 pm., there were only about six people in our designated “Harry Potter Midnight Lounge,” which was a blocked off parking lot. As I took my post at 9:15 p.m., it was completely full. Seven sold-out theatres worth of people were standing outside in 35-degree weather, many of which were wearing costumes Lady Gaga would find tacky. I have worked several midnight showings before, but this was a whole new level of commitment. Take that, Twilight fans.

Eventually, we released the masses into the theater. They all piled in, and I greeted every single one. Amazingly, everyone seemed very calm and composed in their wizard outfits. Most of them had probably been to midnight showings before and knew that there were seats for everyone. In comparison, “Eclipse” was a nightmare; everyone was screaming and running, and any person daring to skip would feel a wrath unlike anything seen before. It also probably didn’t help matters that I had brought my picture with Robert Pattinson, which made many fans act like zombies, grabbing for my Edward-blessed self. One person actually hugged me; I yelled for help.

As the throngs of fans entered the theater and thrusted their tickets at me, I got a better look at the costumes on display. The most seen costume was easily Hermoine, which ranged from Accurate Hermoine to Skanky Hermoine. One young Hogwarts schoolgirl even brought along textbooks with fake class names on them. When I asked about them, she said that studying for biology is a lot more fun when you say that it’s defense against the dark arts.

The best costume on display was a person dressed as Hedwig the owl. If you asked anyone in the theater about the feather girl, they knew exactly who you were talking about. She was covered in white feathers and a strange bird beak mask seemingly pulled out of my worst nightmares. When I first saw her, I thought she was some kind of eagle demon. Then I thought I was seeing things like Natalie Portman in “Black Swan.” I finally determined that she was, in fact, a real person. I was going to ask how much homework had been skipped in order to make that winged monstrosity, but I had 500 more tickets to rip, so I guess the world will never know.

The fans were finally all seated, the food was all sold, and the films were nearing their starts. In many of the theaters, some fans acted out the YouTube phenomenon, Harry Potter Puppet Pals, in front of the entire auditorium. Others studied for tests while the lights were still up and the movie had yet to start. Eventually, however, the movie started, and school would have to take a backseat to wizard duels, horcruxes, and tragic Dobby-related deaths.

So what is it about Harry Potter that creates moments like this? Why do fans come out in throngs at ungodly hours on school nights to see a movie that will be the same at noon the next day? The fact that we’ve all read the books and become invested in the J.K. Rowling adventures plays a good role, but that alone cannot explain the effect of the movies.

I think, when it comes down to it, we’ve come to take these film characters as friends. Warner Brothers allowed audiences to actually grow up with these characters. We’ve seen them as kids, teenagers, and now basically adults. It’s a connection unlike any film series, which may actually be the most magical part of Harry Potter.

by Matt Mueller
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Movie review: “127 Hours” **

Posted on 08 December 2010 by Matthew Mueller

Director Danny Boyle deserves a great deal of the credit for making 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire” one of the best movies of that year. However, he must also take responsibility for most of the flaws with his latest film, “127 Hours.”

The film follows the true story of hiker Aron Ralston, who was stuck literally between a rock and a hard place for 127 hours before eventually cutting his own arm off and finding rescue. To say that the film is a tribute to human survival is a massive understatement.

Unfortunately, the film is just too overwhelming for the senses. Boyle, who has always been like a kid in a candy store when it comes to camera tricks, goes way overboard, over-directing almost every frame of the picture. Some of it works, but his best moments come when he lets the story and camera speak for themselves.

Even more tragic is that Boyle has a great story and an equally great performance from James Franco to work with. If he just let those two elements drive the film, we could be looking at one of the best films of the year. Instead, it’s just another 2010 disappointment.

by Matt Mueller
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Movie review: “Paranormal Activity 2” ***

Posted on 10 November 2010 by WarriorAdmin

Paranormal Activity 2When the original “Paranormal Activity” came out last year, it was like a breath of fresh air to the horror genre. With “Saw CVIX” and other torture porn offerings filling up movie theaters, an original movie based on suspense instead of blood and guts was something to be cherished – surprisingly, the R rating was only due to language. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was scary enough to deserve attention and offered a new experience.

So what do they do? A sequel, which is, by definition, one of the most unoriginal things Hollywood can produce. So I was pretty cynical walking into my screening, which makes my next sentence all the more incredible.

It is almost just as good as the original. Well played, Hollywood. Well played, indeed.

If you saw the original “Paranormal Activity,” and considering its box office results, the story here will feel exceptionally familiar. Instead of a couple, the sequel has a family haunted by some sort of ghostly demon that has a irritating habit of slamming doors and dragging people down stairs. Every night spooky things happen through either handheld camera footage or security camera footage, building up to a final night of…well, I’ll let you watch.

If “Paranormal Activity 2” owes its success to anything, it’s the epic failure of “The Blair Witch Project” sequel. “Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows” was eternally hated by horror movie fans because it strayed from the handheld realism of its predecessor and emphasized (sigh) blood and guts. “Paranormal Activity 2” already scores points by not only sticking with its original aesthetic, but adding to it with several security cameras. As a result, new director Tod Williams has an entire house to play with instead of a single room. In addition, though the movie still sticks with its now infamous nighttime scenes, Williams moves some of the intense moments to daytime.

Surprisingly, one of the most interesting parts of this new installment is the plot. Instead of going with a standard sequel or a story completely unrelated to the events of the first film, the writers create both a prequel and a sequel. It explains the origins of the paranormal shenanigans from the first film but also explains what happened afterwards. It’s a unique idea and is much more clever than one would expect from a movie that cost about the same as “Transformers” catering bill.

The important question one must ask when it comes to a horror movie is: Does it scare me? And yes, I must admit, I was scared. The inclusion of daytime scenes creates one of the better surprises in recent horror movies. Also, the ending is much more satisfying, in this humble critic’s opinion, than the original. There is also a baby in the household, and when you throw children into the mix, the ante is guaranteed to go up.

However, even though the series is only two years old, many of the scare tactics are becoming familiar. Another person is thrown into a camera; another person is dragged away by unseen forces; and another person’s face turns demonic. These tactics all still effective, but they’re also showing their age. In less subtle words, another sequel is a bad idea. There’s technically loose plot threads that could possibly be tied into a third movie, but they’ve stretched the gimmick to its limits. Plus, does anybody want another “Saw-like” series of films that eventually flame out with an unsatisfying finale? In poor 3D nonetheless? I think not.

But let’s not talk about potential terrible things. Let’s discuss “Paranormal Activity 2.” Here’s a basic test: If you needed to change your pants after the original “Paranormal Activity,” you’ll probably react the same way to the sequel. It’s basically the same film. However, if you thought it was a waste of your time, this one won’t make you a believer in demons or sequels.

by Matt Mueller
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Movie review: “Due Date” **

Posted on 10 November 2010 by WarriorAdmin

Due DateA summer ago, “The Hangover” hit theaters like no other R-rated comedy before. With a killer combination of clever advertisements, surprisingly positive reviews and good word of mouth buzz that spread so fast that the Black Plague was jealous, the film became the hit of the year. Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis skyrocketed to fame, Mike Tyson almost became relevant again and Warner Bros. Studios instantly ran outside with a jar in the hopes of catching lightning once more. Unfortunately for viewers, instead of catching lightning, they ended up with a dying-out sparkler called “Due Date.”

For those who have seen “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” or any other road trip film ever made for that matter, the plot here will seem extremely familiar. Robert Downey Jr. plays the Steve Martin-esque straight man. Galifianakis plays the John Candy role of kind-hearted doofus who continually makes mistakes, generally messes things up and feels the deserved wrath of Downey Jr. Through a series of ridiculous and contrived airplane shenanigans, the two end up on a no-fly list and must travel from Atlanta to Los Angeles with limited cash, room and patience for one another. Jamie Foxx, drug dealers, pesky children, abusive handicapped people and border patrol cops all show up as well to make the journey as easy and stress free as possible.

Much of “Due Date” feels identical to “The Hangover.” Both films’ zany hi-jinx involve various drug dealers, abusive to and from kids, and not-quite-ethical police work. In addition, director and co-writer Todd Phillips trades out the annoyed, yet loyally waiting bride-to-be from “The Hangover” for an annoyed, yet loyally waiting mother-to-be. However, what Phillips and his three other writers forgot to bring over from their monster hit was relatable characters and scenarios. A large part of the success of “The Hangover” was that audiences could take the three main characters (or four, if one of your friends matched the non-existent personality of the missing groom) and match them to themselves and their friends. Who was the oddball?; Who was the handsome one?; and Who was the worrywart? It was basically “Sex and the City” for guys.

Sadly, instead of playing up the relatable aspects of his characters, Phillips plays up the ridiculousness, especially when it comes to Galifianakis’s character, Ethan. In “The Hangover,” his character successfully straddled the line of excessive ludicrousness. On the other hand, Ethan in “Due Date” sprints over that line like Usain Bolt running from a hungry jungle cat. He’s stupid, rude, stupid, insensitive, stupid, socially handicapped, and have I mentioned brain-meltingly stupid? He has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, so when the end of the film tries to make Downey Jr. and Ethan friends, I wanted to drown myself in the butter flavoring at the concession stand. He has a couple of funny lines, including several that you’ve probably already seen in the previews. But overall, he suffers from “Dinner for Schmucks” syndrome, or in other words, being too ridiculous to exist.

The creators, though, were kind enough to give us Downey Jr., who may be the most awesome and watchable actor working in Hollywood right now. If his latest film was a six-hour, uninterrupted reading of the phone book, I’d probably think it was a questionable career move, but I’d still see it. He’s that fun to watch, and his performance in “Due Date” almost saves the film from being utterly painful. It would have been an easy performance to mail in with little to no interest at all. The hapless straight man role has been played into the ground by the likes of Ben Stiller and Paul Rudd; it’s boring, and I don’t like it. However, Downey Jr. plays Peter Highman as a powder keg of anger and ranting, similar to Paul Rudd in the clever comedy, “Role Models,” from several years back. It’s a character that’s funny, unpredictable and realistic in his imperfection. His fury is hilarious and understandable, which makes the sentimental friendship hokum at the end of the film ring even more falsely.

One cannot talk about “Due Date” and things ringing falsely, however, without mentioning the contrived plot. Comedies as a genre normally have their share of contrivances, but when a movie consists almost solely of preposterous moments, it feels forced and lazy. A sequence involving border patrol cops, drugs, a trailer and a high-speed car chase stands out as a premium example of what happens when you give a small infant a typewriter. Speaking of lazy, a subplot involving potential infidelity between Foxx and Downey Jr.’s wife is randomly thrown in for about five minutes, but then almost immediately disregarded.

Is “Due Date” an awful movie? Absolutely not. There’s actually a decent amount to laugh about here, and there’s never anything as contrived and irritating as “Dinner for Schmucks,” which I almost walked out of due to reasons of hatred. However, for the talent involved, it is a disappointment. There’s no doubt in my mind that “Due Date” will make immense amounts of money – it’s already made $33 million in its opening weekend, so the odds are good it’ll make its $65 million budget back in spades, – but I doubt it’ll have the cultural impact like “The Hangover.” I guess we’ll just have to wait for “The Hangover 2” then.

by Matt Mueller
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High School Musical 3: One dimensional fun

Posted on 06 November 2008 by Molly Petitjean

Before I went to High School Musical 3: Senior Year, I read a review in Rolling Stone by Peter Travers that called it a “nonthreatening sexual marshmallow.” I wasn’t expecting too much from this movie. After seeing HSM3, I saw plenty of marshmallow, but it ended up being part of its charm. Without the fluff and circumstance, it would never be what its fans expect.

The music in the third installment of HSM was by far the best and the dance sequences were better than anyone could have expected. Everything is bigger and better – Disney on steroids. Two of the songs that demonstrate this gargantuan endeavor are “The Boys are Back” and “I Want It All.” While both songs were completely unnecessary to the advancement of the plot, both were larger than life and included a huge array of cast members and dance routines. The visual stimulation was great and the characters were as lovable as ever.

One of the new character twists introduced to give this movie a semblance of a fresh take is a hint of romance between Ryan and Kelsi. Apparently, he was only waiting for Kelsi to pick up on his hidden yearnings.

Disney was also smart enough to introduce some new characters to the scene. The first is “Rocket Man,” a newbie to the Wildcat basketball squad and all around stalker of Troy. He is always the fall back boy, on the court and on the stage. He has his own side-kick Donny and together they make an eerie duo that we may or may not have seen before in the movies.

The other new Wildcat of note is Tiara, a diva-to-be waiting to fill Sharpay’s bedazzled stilettos the moment the opportunity arises. These new characters were set up to continue the series should Disney ever choose to keep milking the cash cow they’ve created. The prelude to the extended Disney series was a bit overdone and too similar to the plot of the original.

The characters the audience has become familiar with like Troy, Gabriella, Chad and Taylor were the same as always. They haven’t changed a bit and no one bothered to add any depth to them for the big screen; their problems are still the same and the plot is no different, just set one year later.

Overall, the movie was light on content but big on fun and show-stopping musical numbers. This closet High School Musical fan gives it a B, but that might be a little high for what it actually is. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a catchy tune and that there are plenty in this cotton candy film!

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Barackumentary: 30 minutes of successful propaganda

Posted on 06 November 2008 by Remington Tonar

Note: this piece was prepared before November 4, and as such does not reflect the results of the 2008 presidential election.

On October 29 the Obama campaign unleashed a 30 minute documentary-style advertisement that aired during prime time on many of the major networks. The special was a huge success with an estimated 30 million people tuning in to watch it, scoring a Nielsen rating of 22 – meaning that 22 percent of all households with televisions in the nation watched the program.

The program itself begins with a short introduction by Obama, accompanied by a beautiful scene of golden wheat blowing in the wind and a soundtrack that is reminiscent of the score that Randy Edelman composed for the movie Gettysburg.

After the brief introduction Obama introduces the first of many families that are struggling to afford healthcare and pay their bills, desperately concerned about “making ends meet.” Following this touching characterization of the average American family, Mr. Obama blithely pins the blame for the current economic crisis on President Bush and “eight years of failed policies.” This point is used as a transition into a short segment on Barack Obama’s economic policies, none of which are actually enumerated, but simply alluded to in an amorphous way meant to appeal to the emotions of the viewer.

It isn’t until about 12 minutes into the program that the viewer is actually given specific numbers and information regarding Obama’s policy proposals. Occasionally, notable supporters appear on screen to share their fervor for these proposals, including Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google.

The program continues to profile American families and workers that bring forth numerous grievances, complaining about the economy, taxes, cost of living, of healthcare and unemployment. One cannot but help feeling sympathy for these families, which is precisely the reaction that the entire advertisement seeks to elicit.

The program touches on education, using Obama’s own modest childhood to help bolster his credibility. Following this, about 20 minutes into the program, Obama begins to talk about his personal life, as the show displays clips from the campaign trail that highlight Obama’s vision for America’s youth.

Michelle Obama makes an appearance and talks shortly about her husband, and is followed by a string of prominent Democratic politicians that similarly praise Obama’s credentials and political prowess. As the Obamamentary passes the 20 minute mark the tone shifts to convey Obama’s hopes for America, very broadly presenting the policies not previously mentioned in the program, like Obama’s plans for the military. Shortly after these remarks the program begins to conclude, as the inspirational music returns with Obama speaking passionately in the foreground.

From a cinematic perspective, the Obamamentary was well produced. The entire concept of having a half an hour primetime special is unique and is certainly a testament to the originality and ingenuity that the Obama campaign has brought to this election. However, from a political perspective, one must hope that an Obama presidency would be more concrete than the thirty minutes of emotional appeals that characterized this advertisement.

For some this program was undoubtedly inspirational, and for others most certainly entertaining in a sarcastic sort of way. Either way, millions of people tuned in last week and millions more have viewed the corresponding YouTube video. So, whether the program influenced votes or not, it has certainly earned the right to be called a success.

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