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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Review: High School Musical 3

Directed by Kenny Ortega

For what it is, High School Musical 3, the first theatrical release of the highly successful Disney TV movie franchise, isn’t all that bad. It’s not going to win any Oscars, but then again, that’s not what director Kenny Ortega was reaching for. He’s aiming squarely at the pre-teens and teens who watched the first two High School Musical movies in droves — and bought the CD, and the DVDs, and the posters, and the comforter set, and the Zac Efron pillow to practice kissing at night.

For what he’s aiming at, Ortega squarely hits the mark, but I don’t know that it needed to be seen on a big screen, necessarily. To be honest, my daughter probably had more fun overall last year attending a High School Musical 2 party at a friend’s house with a gaggle of tween girls, where they dressed in High School Musical attire, decorated the house like East High School, made “Go Wildcats!” posters, and ate enough snacks to finance a political campaign
— but she still had a rollicking good time at the latest installment.

The film opens, predictably enough, on a basketball game, and it sets the tone early for something new to the franchise — explicit fantasy sequences. No, not that kind of fantasy, it’s a family film. But the opener starts out feeling like you’re watching hero Troy Bolton (the charming Efron) in the midst of a nightmare about losing a basketball game. The dream segues into a real basketball game which Bolton’s team, the Wildcats — the reigning champions – are inexplicably. But, not to worry, kids, a musical sequence is going to come along to save the day!

And it does, in a rocking, creatively choreographed opener (you just have to put aside your disbelief at Troy inexplicably breaking into song in the middle of driving the ball down the court) that’s almost, but not quite worthy of the catchiest number in the first film, “We’re All in This Together.”

Yes, the plot is largely predictable and formulaic — but then, the same could be said for most books targeted at this demographic. Popular basketball captain Troy and his sweetheart, brainy songbird Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), are enjoying their senior year at East High, the most utopian high school ever conceived for a film. A brief foray into High School Musical history: At the start of the gang’s junior year, Gabriella moved to Albuquerque and East High, and turned the school upside-down by daring to show the world a smart girl can do more than one thing.

She took on the school’s reigning drama queen, Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale), who, along with twin brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), had ruled every school production since kindergarten — and she took Troy, the biggest jock in school, along for the ride. Troy suddenly came to realize his long-buried love for musical dance numbers, and two new stars were born.

The entire theme of the first film was built around the unifying idea of a school where all the kids suddenly realized, “Hey, I don’t have to box myself into a group! I can enjoy and be good at more than one thing!” And much mayhem ensued as jocks and science geeks took up drama and the culinary arts, drama dorks deigned to speak to jocks, a smart, heavy-set girl let loose with her inner hip-hop groove, and so on. But by the end, everyone was dancing together and the cliques were broken down, and all was well.

The second movie, which takes place in the summer between junior and senior year, built on that theme, but it was pretty meh, and not much happened that’s relevant to the third film, so we’ll move on.

Now it’s senior year, and thanks to Gabriella the school is unified as no high school has ever been unified before. There are no dorks, cliques or outcasts at East High, everyone is friends with everyone else. Groovy idea, if not overly realistic, but if you can accept that premise, you’ll make it through the film. If not, well, you’ll spend roughly 90 minutes gritting your teeth, groaning in consternation, and experiencing uncomfortable flashbacks to your own high school days that will have you muttering, “Hah! That would never happen!” every two minutes or so.

One thing the third film does better than the first two is that it uses some interesting fantasy sequences and creative segues to make at least some of the many song-and-dance numbers in the film flow better. This is enabled, in part, by one of the film’s key plot points: All the seniors (and some of the younger kids as well) are involved in staging a big, end-of-year musical called “Senior Year,” in which they are performing a play about … themselves.

There’s a musical number where the kids are singing about their upcoming prom, which you think at first is a fantasy sequence, but then it turns out it was a dress rehearsal for a scene in the play. There’s also a pretty cute (and very creatively choreographed) number in which Troy and best friend Chad (Corbin Bleu) sing and dance through a salvage yard where they played when they were kids, reliving the freedom of childhood and imagination. There are some
cheesy props and special effects (I rather think they were intended to play that way), but the scene overall is cute.

Less successful is a rather painful number featuring Sharpay persuading her brother to dream big with her; this song went on way too long, the choreography was awkward, and the song musically was rather banal, even for a musical aimed at teens. Another problematic number is a solo for Efron in the third act, when he’s agonizing over what decision to make about college. This song was just painfully cringe-worthy in every respect, and Ortega makes it worse by smacking us around metaphorically with lots of stormy weather and crashes of lightning to make sure we get that Troy’s in a dark mood.

Of course, we have several heartfelt, pining duets between Troy and Gabriella — one of them is even a waltz in the rain, in a rooftop garden. The duets get a little wearing after a while, and musically they all sound very much the same, with nearly identical use of harmony over and over again, but Efron and Hudgens do have an electric on-screen chemistry that works very well for making their relationship feel believable.

To up the ante and add some dramatic tension to the mix, drama teacher Mrs. Bolton (Leslie Wing) announces that representatives from Julliard will be attending the performance of the school musical to evaluate four of the seniors — composer Kelsey (Olesya Rulin), Sharpay, her brother Ryan, and Troy — for one full scholarship slot at the prestigious arts school. It’s a bit contrived, but it does serve nicely to pit brother and sister against each other, as Ryan starts to realize what a self-serving, spoiled diva his twin sister is (this arc started in the second film, and is brought to a nice conclusion in the third).Meanwhile, Sharpay’s about to get her comeuppance in the form of a Tiara Gold (Jemma McKenzie-Brown), a Brit-import personal assistant who may not be quite what she seems.

Where the theme of the first high school musical was coming together, the theme of the third is growing apart — or rather, growing up, and leaving behind childhood tree-houses, toy robots, games of pretend and superhero capes … and even best friends. Troy and Gabriella are struggling over college decisions that will put them many miles apart; Gabriella’s not sure if her mother’s dream of her attending Stanford is really her dream; Troy ponders whether he’ll go to the University of Albuquerque to please best mate Chad and his father, or follow his own path.

Efron (aside from the aforesaid solo-angst number, and that’s more the fault of the dreadful song than him) is quite good in the third film; he’s a talented performer with an on-screen warmth and charm that connects with his young female fans. He was better in Hairspray, but this is the best of his High School Musical performances.

Hudgens went through a rough spot over some racy photos earlier in the year, but she recovers nicely and retains that oh-so-innocent Gabriella glow. Tisdale, who was pretty good as Sharpay in the first film, seems to be pouring it on a bit thick at times, as if making up for Hudgens having more screen time by trying to be bigger and more impressive; it mostly makes her feel strident and annoying throughout this film.

Overall, though it’s often hopelessly clichéd and a lot of the songs are (to an adult, anyhow) terminally cheesy, High School Musical 3 is everything the
young fans of the series will absolutely love. From a parent’s perspective, although its view of high school life is idealized, the film has a lot of positive
messages for tweens and teens about resisting peer pressure, being true to yourself, and accepting others for who they are.

Ortega also gets major props for bumping up the role of Martha, played by KayCee Stroh. Stroh plays a heavier-set girl who loves to dance hip-hop; she was more of a background dancer in the first film; the second film saw her moving up the food chain, and this time around she’s billed with the other second-tier pals of the six leads. Stroh looks like she’s lost some weight since the first film, but it was very nice to see curvaceous Martha front and center as a cheerleader, and featured in several dance numbers, in spite of not looking like an anorexic supermodel wannabe. In fact, most of the girls cast as cheerleader-dancers looked muscular and healthy, which, as a mother of a pre-teen daughter, I was very glad to see.

The film winds up with a big graduation song-and-dance number that I wished would have flowed into a final round of “We’re All in This Together,” but I wouldn’t start worrying too much about this being the final film in the popular franchise. The plot sets the stage for the next generation of kids to step into the shoes of the graduating leads, and High School Musical 4 is tentatively listed on IMDB. Casting is rumored at this point, but a couple of the characters from HSM 3 had story lines that will flow along into the next year.

If the fourth film does get made, look for it to center around Jimmy Z (Matt Prokop), the zany kid who idolizes Troy and serves as his understudy for the school play (he has “Disney’s Next Flavor of the Month” written all over him), Donny (Justin Martin), Jimmy Z’s best bud, and Tiara Gold, the drama-queen-in-waiting who’s eager to step into Sharpay’s stiletto heeled boots.

You can bet that if High School Musical 3 does well at the box office with its target demographic, more Wildcat musical action will be coming your way; what remains to be seen is whether the tween attention span will hold for the franchise in the absence of its charismatic leads.

-Kim Voynar

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So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon