sweethearts: (l-r) Efron and Hudgens in High School
Musical 3: Senior Year.
School Musical 3: Senior Year
by Kenny Ortega
got hooked on High School Musical a few years ago when
Santa deposited both the DVD and CD under our tree. I had
heard about it, of course, and seen countless promos for it
when my guys watched the Disney Channel, but I snootily assumed
it was, well, stupid. I was happily surprised by how much
I enjoyed the toe tapping, gotta-sing-and-dance nature of
it, and even more pleased when my girlfriends admitted their
own happy discovery of the same (whispered as one would confide
to a gal pal about an affair, or an obsession with the Bedazzler).
High School Musical 2, set during summer vacation,
was cute but not at as intoxicating as the first, but it was—to
use the parlance of its chief characters and target market—waaaay
better than what’s now playing at your local cineplex. High
School Musical 3: Senior Year has all the same characters,
only now they’re all good buddies. It’s devoid of a good story,
compelling dancing, and memorable tunes.
opens with the East High Schoolers facing graduation, and
the fact that they’re all moving in different directions.
Troy (Zac Efron) seems destined to join best bud Chad (Corbin
Bleu) playing basketball at the local university, but he’s
bristling at the idea that his life, by dint of his athletic
prowess, is all mapped out. He really wants to sing and dance,
preferably with girlfriend Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), only
he’s still uncertain about what voicing that opinion will
really mean. For her part, Gabriella is accepted into a freshman
honors program at Stanford, meaning she’ll miss Troy, the
prom, and singing the lead in the new play. (Feel free to
insert an “Aw, geez!” here). Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) tries
to steal the show, while her choreographer twin Ryan (Lucas
Grabeel) cuts a mean rug while working with composer Kelsi
(Olesya Rulin). Just in case we think that East High is, well,
too Loudonville, African-Americans Chad and Taylor (Monique
Coleman) skirt the edges of the dance sequences.
to its television predecessors, East High has grown enormously,
as Troy’s basketball victory party and the kids’ play performance
house as many people as populate a small Third World country.
No expense is spared in hiring all these extras; unfortunately,
they add nothing except mass.
time around, the songs and most of the dancing are decidedly
pedestrian. The rare exception, such as when Troy and Chad
reminisce about the old days on a junk-car lot, borrows much
from earlier numbers. Only a prom number, featuring the difference
in expectations of girls and boys, with girls singing about
the fulfillment of a lifetime dream and boys kvetching about
having to sport tuxes, has any personality and verve. Disturbingly,
Disney expends a lot of film ogling Efron’s cut physique from
every angle. Now that I mention it, perhaps that was the only
redeeming quality of a number in which Zac channels his inner
Billy Squire and tries to sing-scream-fist-pound his frustrations
away. Not even an incongruous homage to Fred Astaire’s dancing
on the walls in Royal Wedding can salvage that.
the best things about the first High School Musical
was the sense of romantic yearning between Troy and Gabriella,
which, despite one’s own high-school memories, struck a chord.
One really sensed the various chasms—socioeconomic or what
have you—that existed between them. One also got the impression
that while certain cliques are normal in terms of basic survival
and cultural sorting, they can be extremely limiting. High
School Musical 3 has none of that, albeit limited, tension.
The entire school population seems to thrill at merely witnessing
the cute thing that is Troy and Gabriella, and we are expected
to follow suit through three monotonous duets.
who was accused earlier of having a vocal double, comes across
as surefooted (no pun intended) as a performer, whereas Hudgens
annoys with her helium-soaked Minnie Mouse vocal delivery
and rickety pas de deux. Tisdale is just really, really loud,
with no chance to show the considerable comedic skill she
has displayed on Disney’s TV hit The Suite Life of Zack
& Cody. The only characters who warrant our interest,
in fact, are Kelsi, tricked out in hippie duds, and Ryan.
As Ryan, Grabeel demonstrates phenomenal skill as a dancer
of the ilk of Gene Kelly; he is also not afraid to look stupid,
effete, or just plain odd in pursuit of nailing the heart
of a character, and, in the process, knocks our socks off
with his talent and skill. One wishes that there had been
more of Kelsi and Ryan—and in so wishing, can we perhaps be
thinking of a fourth installment?
by Brad Anderson
Harrelson) and his wife, Jessie (Emily Mortimer), are looking
for adventure when they board the Trans-Siberian Express,
the longest train route in the world. Roy is a hardware-store
owner from Iowa, Jessie is an amateur photographer, and they’re
riding the rails to Moscow from a church-sponsored charity
jaunt in Beijing. Because of its popularity with drug dealers,
the train is patrolled by fearsome narcotics agents, but Roy’s
enthusiasm is only slightly dampened by a warning from another
passenger to avoid the Chinese police, who use torture, and
even more so, the Russian police. Their first night in the
dining car, the couple are regaled with barbarous tales of
the Soviet Union by hard-drinking survivors and old-timers.
is a psychologically suspenseful version of the murder-aboard-the-overland-train
genre, and as such it offers exotic locales, lurking dangers,
and the tension of innocents abroad interacting with much
savvier travelers. Roy and Jessie share their tiny compartment
with another couple, Carlos (Eduardo Noriega), a rakish Spaniard,
and his young girlfriend, Abby (Kate Mara), a drifter from
Seattle. Carlos and Abby have been on the road for two years,
and are evasive about their source of income (among other
things). Despite Carlos’ flirtation with Jessie and the obvious
disparities in their backgrounds, friendships develop between
Jessie and Abby, and Roy and Carlos. Also aboard, however,
is an ex-KGB detective (Ben Kingsley), whose suavity covers
a murky agenda.
and co-writer Brad Anderson (Next Stop, Wonderland,
and The Machinist) is especially talented with nuances
of personality, and he deftly conveys the simmering tensions
between, and within, the characters, especially in how Carlos
gets under Jessie’s skin to bring out the self-destructive
girl she used to be. Noriega has a wolfish charisma, Harrelson
is convincing in his return to playing an average guy, and
Kingsley is exceptional, as usual, and as a pre-perestroika
realism adds to its ambience of moody unpredictability: It
was shot in Lithuania, and the route’s harsh and haunting
landscapes offer more foreboding than relief from the claustrophobic
train and its chaotic depots. Though the climax is more suited
to an actioner and ties up frayed ends, and psyches, a little
too neatly, Transsiberian keeps the audience transfixed
to the end of the line.