Feldman @ the flicksPeter Feldman
Peter Feldman: Four new films are released this week to capitalise on the holiday season and these cater for a broad spectrum of cinema-goers.
Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Aly Michalka, Gaelen Connell, Lisa Kudrow, David Bowie
Director: Todd Graff
"Bandslam," is a buoyant and gratifying musical that adds a few twists and turns to a well-worn story about a high school band and its attempts to win a battle of the bands competition. Its many convivial elements make it a surprising hit for the whole family - and the music and the acting is well above par.
The characters are a tad more complicated than your average high school musical and the lessons they learn from their experiences will resonate with viewers. A bonus is the cameo appearance of the iconic David Bowie whose smallish role is pivotal to the story.
"Bandslam" is geared for the "High School Musical" market and even features Vanessa Hudgens, whose very name is likely to pull in the youngsters.
Director Todd Graff, who also directed the dance-themed "Camp," has assembled a pleasant young cast who manage to win over viewers without resorting to cloying tactics or the kind of silly, over-the-top teenage shenanigans that give the genre a bad name. It never talks down to the younger brigade.
The story focuses on a geek Will Burton (played with vigour by a fresh-faced Gaelan Connell) who has moved from Cincinnati to start a new life in New Jersey with his mother (Lisa Kudrow of "Friends" fame).
Instead of concentrating on schoolwork, Will gets caught up in his new school's obsession with "Bandslam," an annual battle-of-the-bands competition that offers a recording contract to the winner.
Though Will doesn't play an instrument, his critical ear and marketing flair attracts the attention of a reformed Mean Girl named Charlotte (the striking Amy Michalka), who wants his help in putting together musicians to challenge her ex-boyfriend's band.
Vanessa Hudgens plays a quiet, reserved student named Sa5m (the "5" is silent) but manages to extend her range beyond the "High School Musical" format, thanks mainly to a smart, more substantial script.
She catches Will's eye, not only for her good looks but also for her guitar prowess and striking voice. She needs a fair amount of persuasion to be part of the musical event.
The soundtrack is great with contributions by Glen Campbell, Nick Drake and Wilco. This is a fun holiday romp.
Cast: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover
Director: Roland Emmerich
Robert Emmerich is a director who is best known for creating disaster movies on a grand scale. This time he seems to have overstepped the mark. One critic remarked that perhaps the strangest thing about "2012" is that the bad parts of the film are among the most enjoyable, because they're so over-the-top ridiculous that it's impossible not to break out laughing. He feels it's the mediocre sections that bring the production down, and there are far too many of them for comfort.
The idea that the apocalypse is set for December 21, 2012 isn't exactly new, but Emmerich and his crew set about with some zeal in creating a scenario that is geared to scare the living daylights out of its viewers.
Emmerich, whose other screen credits include "Independence Day," "Godzilla" and "The Day After Tomorrow," throws just about every kind of imaginable catastrophe at viewers as he chronicles the challenges that confront a group of survivors as the world around them implodes.
Led by the always reliable John Cusack, this group of faceless characters try desperately to avoid an earthquake, crashing planes, falling skyscrapers and massive fires. Yes, there are some impressive scenes of havoc, they say, but they're not as spectacular as one expects.
Another problem with the disaster sequences, a reviewer observed, is that they last too long, are too repetitive, and are mixed with some of the most preposterous action scenes ever devised for a motion picture.
500 Days of Summer
Cast: Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Clark Gregg, Minka Kelly, Rachel Boston, Matthew Gray Gublert, Chloe Moretz
Director: Marc Webb
"500 Days of Summer" chronicles the 500 days encompassing the romance between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel). It is presented in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth in time to group like incidents from different points in the relationship (there's a counter that helps to keep things straight by telling us what day it is). Viewers realise early in the proceedings that things are not going to end with a happily-ever-after chapter, but the fascination comes, according to one critic, from seeing how things will evolve from the early days of fresh promise to the bitterness that inspires the bitingly funny "disclaimer" from the beginning of the movie.
One reviewer said that this is a romantic comedy that makes the concept of romantic comedies appealing again - that reminds you how resonant and transporting they can be when they're done right.'
Another likened it to Annie Hall and said what that film did for a previous generation "500 Days of Summer" may be the movie that best captures a contemporary romantic sensibility."
The casting, they say, is perfect. Webb chose leads who are familiar but not overexposed, and who are on equal footing (neither overshadows the other).
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Bill Nighy, Eugene Levy, Matt Lucus, Donald Sutherland
Director: David Bowers
Set in futuristic Metro City, "Astro Boy" is about a young robot with incredible powers created by a brilliant scientist named TENMA. Powered by positive "blue" energy, Astro Boy is endowed with super strength, x-ray vision, unbelievable speed and the ability to fly. Embarking on a journey in search of acceptance, Astro Boy encounters many other colourful characters along the way. Through his adventures, he learns the joys and emotions of being human, and gains the strength to embrace his destiny. Ultimately learning his friends and family are in danger, Astro Boy marshals his awesome super powers and returns to Metro City in a valiant effort to save everything he cares about and to understand what it takes to be a hero.
One critic wrote: "It's zippy, and the movie version has both a computerized sheen and handcrafted detailing. Because the details are cribbed from classics, parents can enjoy this 'toon as much as their kids."
Peter Feldman has been a journalist and arts critic for over 45 years and served on The Star in various capacities for 35 years, ending up as a specialist writer on films, music and theatre. During that time he travelled extensively on assignments and interviewed many international film and pop stars, both in South Africa and overseas. He also covered some of South Africa's biggest film and musical events. He is active in the freelance field and his work over the past 10 years has appeared in a variety of South African newspapers and magazines. He writes regularly for Artslink.co.za, The Citizen, South African Jewish Report, The Sunday Independent and is a contributor to "Eat Out" Magazine. He also contributes movie reviews to Chai fm Radio and has worked on TV in his specialist capacity. Over the years Feldman has been the recipient of several awards for his contribution to music journalism and the SA record industry. He wrote lyrics for some top artists, including Sipho Mabuse, and had a hit disco single, "Video Games," which was released in 1988. After retiring from The Star in April, 1999, Feldman joined the PR and events management company, Dlamini Weil Communications, where he currently works as an entertainment and media consultant.