Friday, July 3, 2009

Renter's Adventures, Part One

12 Rounds (2009, Renny Harlin)

On Blu-ray 12 Rounds, the creaky B-movie actioner from hit-and-miss director Renny Harlin, has some clear imagery and fine booming explosions, but those do nothing to mask the horrid noise the plot makes as its gears turn. It stars John Cena – a professional wrestler with solid screen presence – as a police officer who runs afoul of a criminal mastermind (Aidan Gillen) who creates a series of convoluted scavenger-hunt style traps, most involving morality lessons, stuff that blows up, or both, for his foe to navigate. Though Cena holds his own as a competently compelling action star – it’s no worse than early Dwayne Johnson stuff like The Scorpion King – the villain never seems threatening, nor does there ever seem to be any real menace behind any of the traps. By giving us the outline – 12 rounds – in advance, it never seems to matter what happens moment to moment. The gears turn. On to the next round. I barely cared enough to shrug.

Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience (2009, Bruce Hendricks)

The filmed Jonas Brothers concert (aptly called Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience) is not a great concert film. There’s no thought or artistry behind the presentation (like Stop Making Sense or The Last Waltz), no immediately obvious historical importance (like Woodstock or Gimme Shelter), but it looks good. The boys are polished performers and their songs are catchy enough even though their sometimes antic movements (spins, flips, and cartwheels) ring false and their lyrics err on the side of bland. In Blu-ray, the image really shines. The lights, fireballs, water and smoke pop off the screen in vivid, dazzling ways. Freed from the burden of being forced to watch the film through a hazy 3D veneer, the image is beautifully striking.

The movie’s shoddily constructed, though, with dumb clips of crazed fans and staged moments that are awkwardly inserted and quite unnecessary. A chase sequence that opens the film harkens unflatteringly to the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, a film – and group – with infinitely greater energy and style. A clip package of hysteric fans seems to border on poking fun at these people who are ostensibly the movie’s target audience. Another package of clips showcases Jonas Brothers impersonators. Why are they in this movie? I doubt even the director has insight into this inclusion, with no possible motivation other than padding the runtime. During the performance itself, an oddly phallic symbol is brought out – if you see the film, you’ll recognize it – but luckily it’s discarded fairly quickly. Surely, though, someone amongst the Disney/Jonas Empire would have been juvenile enough to point it out before it made it to the tour, let alone get recorded for a film.

Beyond all that, though, are great visuals and sound that dance across the screen and speakers, capable of creating a superficially enjoyable experience for the open-minded viewer. If you walk in hating the Jonas Brothers, there’s no hope for you. It’s strange, though, to note that the Jonas Brothers seem to be as slickly commercialized, and often robotically disengaged from the pure act of performance, as the Rolling Stones in last year’s equally callously corporatized Shine a Light. (Though, to that film’s credit, it also looked and sounded great, with the added benefit of some of the best cinematographers in the business and a better, more diverse, catalog of songs). Have the Jonas Brothers been hollowed out so soon by corporate interests? Let’s hope not. They have genuine talents and I sincerely hope they get a better chance to use them.

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