Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bring It On - Tenth Anniversary

It's the tenth anniversary of Bring It On, which I saw for the first time on August 26, 2000. Opinions will vary but Bring It On has to be considered by most to be one of the great feel-good movies of all time. I decided to watch it again on this, its tenth anniversary.

The plot is simple. A high school cheerleading squad with a history of winning national tournaments hits a few difficult patches and agitates a rival team, whom they meet in the finals.

It's been a few years, maybe five or six since I last watched it all the way through. With fresh eyes, the memory of seeing it many times, having watched the bonus features and listened to the director's commentary, I noticed something right away: Bring It On has no business being as good as it is. The story is clearly a basic teen formula and the dialog is peppered with lingo that was  dated even ten years ago.  Yet...

Judging by the deleted scenes and director's commentary, the movie was intended to be both more of a drama and more vulgar.  Up & coming starlet Kirsten Dunst wasn't known for comedy and probably wouldn't have been anyone's first choice for Bring It On as a finished product. Bring It On, then, must have been saved in the editng booth. It's a trim 1:34, including credits, usually a sign that lots of stuff was cut.

No matter. Why is Bring It On such a great movie?

It's fun, plain and simple. I dare you to watch and not smile all the way through. From the simple touches, like the high school's name, Rancho Carne, and the lead's obliviousness to her obviously gay (and overcompensating) boyfriend, to the toothbrushing scene, where Dunst and the new love interest flirt and advance their relationship - wordlessly - in a way I've never seen before or since (genius!). Any serious romantic comedy should be so lucky as to have a scene like that (I'm talking to you, Katherine Heigl, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson and Amy Adams).

Then there's the cheerleading routines. There is something primal about music and movement that draws a person in. The most serious and cynical person can get drawn in by musicals.  It's probably genetic, as our ancestors would have have had nothing else for entertainment but singing and dancing around campfires for millenia until the modern age. Even now, musicals do well in plays, movies and TV (Glee, anyone?). Bring It On gives us dance set to 11.

We don't even see a real cheer routine until 54 minutes in but once they start, the movie kicks into high gear. The plot points get advanced quickly and get out of the way of the routines. Although I don't believe the movie has a moral or a message, it's very uplifting the way the competition ends, fences are mended and the final scene devolves into a very effective crane shot of all the teams celebrating.

Then, there's the credits. If you don't feel good at the end of the story, the credits add a fun music video featuring outtakes and a little vamping for the camera. Like I said, a great feel-good movie even if it should have been nothing more than a B movie.

The cast featured a core of talented young actors that have been working solidly since. Superstar Kirsten Dunst, of course, Jesse Bradford, Gabrielle Union and Faith/Echo herself, the wonderful Eliza Dushku. Oddly, I didn't discover Buffy the Vampire Slayer until after its network run, so Bring It On was my first real exposure to Eliza. She's always been Missy Pant One for a fraction of a second whenever I've see her in Buffy, Dollhouse or wherever. The supporting cast is less well known, including Nicole Bilderback, Nathan West, Huntley Ritter and Bianca Kajlich, all people you'd recognize even if you don't recognize their names. Lindsay Sloane chewed the scenery as the outgoing captain. Her career started with Sabrina the Teenage Witch and was most recently in She's Out of His League. Rini Bell had a recurring role on Gilmore Girls (Real first name: Honorine.  How cool is that?). A year after Bring It On, Clare Kramer would find cult TV immortality as the ubervillain Glory on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Minions!!!

Other things of note. There are almost no adults in the movie. A little guidance from teachers, parents or a cheer coach would have saved the kids from a lot of bad decisions but that would have killed the movie. During one viewing, years ago, I started imaging that the writer drew inspiration from Charlie Brown (wah wah wah).

If you know me, this next part will come as no surprise. I time every movie I see from the first studio logo until the end of the entertaining part of the move (usually when the credits roll). My watch easily toggles from clock to stopwatch and when I stop the stopwatch, out of habit, I flip the watch back to being a clock. At the end of Bring It On, on August 26, 2000, I clicked the stopwatch at the end of the music video/outtake part. 1:34:01. I flipped to the clock. The time was 1:34:01. I had to watch the seconds change to understand what I was seeing. The movie had to have started at exactly 12:00:00. It was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. And would you believe it happened again this month? When I watched The Kids Are All Right on the 10th, the 11:55 start time was pushed by previews to noon, so at 1:42, when the movie ended, the stopwatch read 1:42, although the seconds didn't match. Still.

If you haven't seen Bring It On, go rent it. If you've seen it, you know it's worth seeing again. Don't wait until the 20th anniversary.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ramona and Beezus

Let's do this in reverse.  Here is my conclusion: Ramona and Beezus is the sweetest, cutest movie I have seen in ages.  If you're looking for a great feel-good movie, see or rent Ramona and Beezus.

I was planning on skipping Ramona and Beezus after seeing only one promo for it.  After all, it screamed "Kid's movie" and even my inner child is acting pretty old these days.  But after the movie opened, I glanced at a few reviews.  It may seem odd - I only read reviews of movies I DO NOT plan on seeing - it's a way to avoid spoilers.  Some critics that I trust - and there aren't too many of those - said this movie was pretty good even for adults.  That wasn't quite yet enough to send me to the theater.  Then my sister-in-law CJ said she loved it, so I had to go.  CJ never steers me wrong.  She never goes to see the movies that I recommend to her, but she never steers me wrong.  I'm not bitter.

Ramona Quimby is a whip-smart and imaginative nine-year-old klutz who tries hard and carries the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Beezus is her not-too-tolerant 15-year-old sister (and there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for her odd name).  As movie families go, the Quimbies are genuine and warm, and not at all too perfect, except in the looks department.  When the father loses his job, Ramona takes it upon herself to save the family finances and wreaks all kinds of...  Well, you can guess.

Like I said, it's a terrifical feel-good movie.


Charlie St Cloud

I was not prepared to like Charlie St Cloud as much as I did.  After all, the promos made it look like a typical tear-jerker with supernatural overtones, so I was actually going to skip it.  Then something Tony Scott of the New York Times said made me reconsider.  Plus, I'm on vacation this week, so I'm attending one movie a day, whether I need it or not.  Oddly, I needed Charlie St Cloud but didn't know it.

Teen heartthrob and generally underestimated Zac Efron plays a high school graduate who is planning on leaving a beautiful seaside town for college on a sailing scholarship (how cool is that?) but whose life collapses when his 11-year-old brother dies in a car accident.  Charlie can still talk to young Sam, and stays in town so he can play catch with his brother every day.  Creepy, yes, but as Buddy Lembeck said in the fourth episode of Charles in Charge, "Man, that guilt's a killer."

Everything is normal, if a bit gothic, in Charlie's world until Tess shows up.  She's an old classmate who was his gender opposite equal in the sailing department and is preparing for a solo race around the world.  Tess tempts Charlie to leave Sam for about a minute, which shows you just how pathetic Charlie's life is, because Tess is a knockout and she has the coolest boat.

Some stuff then happens, Charlie and Sam reach a kind of closure and some people live happily ever after.  I think it's the mood of Charlie St Cloud that drew me in.  It's a gorgeous movie, set on Puget Sound with many scenes happening around sunset (indirect lighting is good lighting for actors).  I especially liked how the movie just followed Charlie around for a while, letting us get a feel for his constrained and unsustainable life.

The movie is based on a novel and I'll bet the novel is very detailed.  I could tell that some minor characters must have had more importance in the source material but that is the nature of adaptations.  Efron played his role convincingly and maybe a little understated (that's a big complement from me).  Amanda Crew was wonderful as the sailbabe, being genuine and natural and did I mention a knockout?  Although the category of Supernatural Romance has been a little crowded in recent years, don't let that wave you off of Charlie St Cloud if you like the genre.  This one is a cut above.


Warning: Spoiler Alert for the comments.

The Kids Are All Right

Don't believe the promos.  The Kids Are All Right is not a comedy.  There are funny parts but it is not a comedy.  Nor will you hear any songs by The Who.  Having said that, it is a good, even great movie.  I'll categorize it as a light drama.  Believe the rest of the hype - go see it.


Toy Story 3

I saw Toy Story on December 9, 1995.  I enjoyed it, I guess.  The guys at the office, all of whom had children at the time, liked to quote lines from it - ad naseum - but it didn't realy stick with me.  I saw Toy Story 2 on Febuary 13, 2000.  Again, I thought it was good but it didn't stick with me.  They were just good movies and I've not seen them since.

So what are we to make of Toy Story 3?  I had to go see it but it's been better than ten years since the last.  I didn't remember much of the precursors.  Well, it turns out memory is optional.  Toy Story 3 is a good movie on its own merits and after a few minutes, I knew exactly who the characters were and what they were up to.  Plus, the opening scene was almost worth the price of admission itself.

I understand that Toy Story 3 is promoted as a kids movie, but like all Pixar movies, I think it's an adult movie that just features kid-friendly plots and props.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Catching Up - Broken Computer Edition

After extended periods of not posting, I sometimes give you little excuses for my absence. I hope I don't have to use this one ever again: My computer broke. It was in the shop for two weeks and then my usual laziness kicked in to make it a full month between posts. I'm sure I'll be using the laziness excuse again sometime. Probably soon.

Here are capsule reviews of some of the movies I've seen since my last post.


A decent adventure flick using some familiar villains. Dropping humans onto a Predator moon was a nice touch ("It's a game preserve and we're the game!"). The ending is kind of a cheat but at least it kept the movie from running too long. Good for renting.

Ever since The Pianist, I've not cared for Adrien Brody. Even if he won the award for Best Actor, that movie sucked. Period. Almost surrealistically, I had flashbacks during Predators, where I thought I saw a classically trained pianist being chased through a Warsaw ghetto by unstoppable aliens. Worth the price of admission right there. Brody earned a few points back last year in the amazing movie, The Brothers Bloom. Be sure to rent that movie sometime, too.



I kind of missed the party on this one - everybody's been talking about Inception. I'll just say that I enjoyed it a lot but it ran a bit long and there were too many conventional gun battles at the end. Still, a must see.


The Sorcerer's Apprentice

A movie conceived by Disney executives to grab a piece of the Harry Potter franchise they don't own. SorcApp has no real reason to exist and offers nothing new or interesting. In fact, the ending is pretty ridiculous.



Now Salt is an interesting movie. Is she a double agent or not? Is she trying to commit a crime or prevent one? How does she do all these death-defying stunts without breaking any bones or even a sweat?

Angelina Jolie shows why she is a Movie Star and Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ojiofor show that they are among the best side-men in the business. Salt is a thrill-a-minute movie that keeps you entertained for every minute of its running time and leaves you wanting more.

Despicable Me

An animated movie that gets a little sappy at times but is very visually stimulating and never really drags.


Twilight - Eclipse

I avoided the first two Twilight movies, mainly because they were promoted as teen romance flicks. But since they just won't stop making these dang movies, I thought I would check them out. I rented the first two, Twilight and New Moon, then went to see Eclipse in the theater.

I was surprised at how enjoyable all three Twilight movies are. They tell an interesting story with interesting characters and great visuals. I didn't get wrapped up in the romance thread but I found plenty of opportunities to snarkilly wonder why the werewolves weren't naked more often since they shredded their clothes when they morphed.

I'm actually looking forward to the next installment of Twilight, due in about a year. And for the record, I'm on Team Jacob. But tell the guy to put on a shirt, please.