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Bandslam
Directed by Todd Graff

Review by Tony Sheppard
“Bandslam” follows a bunch of unwritten rules for this kind of movie. It’s like a variation of the musical genre in which everybody always knows the words and the choreography despite having just met, or having never met. In a movie about a teen band, that translates into being unable to play songs that have been rehearsed extensively when that’s comedic, but being able to play songs with full and unique orchestration without rehearsal when convenient.

This is a movie that has to have a slightly nerdy girl who nobody notices. In “She’s All That” (1999), Rachael Leigh Cook had to take off her glasses and let her hair down to be noticed. In “Bandslam” Vanessa Hudgens goes the Mary Stuart Masterson (“Some Kind of Wonderful” – 1987 – RIP John Hughes) route of hiding in the open and just frowning a lot. And there’s another girl, Charlotte (Aly Michalka) who’s edgy and weird. We know this because she tells us that she won’t explain her actions (“I don’t do whys”) and won’t use her turn signals (“Nobody needs to know my business”).

But the central character, and the person who makes the movie worth watching, is the delightfully geeky Will Burton (Gaelan Connell). Will is the perpetual outsider in high school and delivers the obligatory psychographic rundown of the students in the cafeteria. But he knows a lot about music, idolizing and corresponding with David Bowie in a parallel form to the kids in Todd Graff’s earlier “Camp” (2003), who were less into indie pop and more into musical theater, thus idolizing Stephen Sondheim.

Will’s mom is played by Lisa Kudrow in a pleasantly low-key performance. There are several other helpful supportive performances in the unlikely band that Will joins/manages/creates at school. What’s also neat and noteworthy is that the students/actors all sing their own parts, and the other bands in the final battle of the bands are real youth bands performing original music. Of course, that said, as soon as anybody breaks into song, they sound like they’re in a studio and microphone placement never seems to matter. But that’s another one of those “rules” we expect from the genre.

I’d recommend this one for Gaelan Connell alone. I look forward to seeing what he does next. He’s like the alternative to some kind of nerd-cross between an early Shia LaBeouf and Michael Cera, only cheaper than either of their personal assistants.  

DVD Pick

Waltz with Bashir

Review by Malcolm Maclachlan
A few years ago, but not that many, I idly picked up a book about that Israeli-Palestinian conflict off of a bookshelf at a friend’s house. Leafing through, everything it described seemed to match the headlines coming out of the region every day. But when I checked the publication date, it turned out be from 1967.

I was reminded of this while watching “Waltz with Bashir.” The film challenges those of us who think we know the major pieces of the Kabuki theater that seems to describe the endlessly-repeating conflict. There are more players here than the Israelis and their Muslim enemies, and their stories are not familiar to many of us in the United States.

Writer/director/producer Ari Folman describes the film as an “animated documentary.” It consists of interviews with real people, their stories told in pictures as they speak. Inspired by his inability to remember many of his experiences as a 19 year-old Israeli infantryman during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, he sets out to interview many of his now-middle aged former comrades.

What he finds is that many of them are as confused and haunted as he is. Despite two years of training, all find they lose control when the fighting actually starts. They freeze up or fire endlessly, at anything, often with devastating consequences to the many civilians stuck in the war zone. While some vignettes show characters surviving combat against extremely long odds, Folman notes in an interview in the “special features” section that no one comes off as especially heroic.

The film has a dreamy, disconnected quality. When a psychologist interviewed talks about how one soldier got through much of the experience by pretending it was a movie, you’ve already had an hour to see exactly what she means. The effect is furthered by the animation, which effectively brings a comic-book style to the screen. Harsh dark lines contrast with colorful backgrounds; action is either slow and languid or so fast you can hardly follow it. For describing such horror, it is a beautiful film to behold.

The many stories seem disconnected as well, but Folman eventually ties them together through the event that he and others seem to have the hardest time remembering: the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in refuge camps by Lebanese Christian Phalangists bent on avenging their slain leader, Bashir Gemayel. While the Israeli’s didn’t commit the massacres, “Waltz” makes their complicity clear. In the end, Folman makes no explicit moral judgments—but he does show you, quite explicitly, the results.

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