movieguru (2008-06)

I Wanna Be a Rock StarThe Naked Prey

Movie Guru

Hannah Montanaâ’s Best of Both Worlds gives the kids what they want

by Matthew Everett

I felt a little uncomfortable buying a ticket for the new Hannah Montana 3D concert movie. Thereâ’s something not quite right about a 35-year-old man going to see a movie like that, especially when heâ’s alone, and especially at 10:30 on a Sunday morning. The two guys in line beside me buying tickets for the action thriller Untraceable didnâ’t make me feel any better.

Neither did the auditorium full of 9-to-12-year-old girls and their parents. But I had a job to do, and I made every conceivable effort to let every adult around me know it by brandishing my notebook as conspicuously as possible, holding the tip of my pen thoughtfully in my mouth, and making utterly illegible and useless notes in the dark. (Thereâ’s something in there about why these kids werenâ’t in Sunday School and parents making up for missing the concert here in Knoxville last fall, I think.) But itâ’s hard to look serious when you have 3D glasses on.

The revelation of the movie, for those of us familiar with the phenomenon of Hannah Montana but not so well-versed in its details, is that Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour is a rock show. Itâ’s not quite Gimme Shelter or The Song Remains the Same, but itâ’s not an extended dance-pop diva act, either. The music is live, performed by a more-than-competent band made up of studio and session professionals, and itâ’s based almost exclusively on big stadium-rock drums and guitar power chords. Cyrus is a capable singer, but not in the scale-topping Christina Aguilera/Mariah Carey mold. The only pyrotechnics were the real fireworks featured in nearly every song. Cyrusâ’ models are Avril Lavigne, Ashlee Simpson, and the Kelly Clarkson who sang â“Since U Been Gone.â” When she appeared as herself, dressed in black leather pants, white biker boots, a distressed leather vest, and fingerless gloves, she could have passed for a member of The Donnas. Itâ’s more than just a superficial comparisonâ"The Donnas are as manufactured an act as Hannah Montana, just on a smaller scale, and by damn she sounds like them on â“Rock Starâ” and â“Start All Over.â”

The Hannah Montana show is, of course, intensely choreographed. But so is nearly every arena concert tourâ"Kiss, the Rolling Stones, Van Halen. Cyrus appears first as Hannah Montana, dashing around the stage and out onto the three walkways that extend into the first few rows of the audience with set poses and tightly scheduled winks into the camera. Dancers appear at regular intervals. Most of the concert was filmed from the stage, so itâ’s not even like youâ’re at the show. Its more like youâ’re in the middle of it. (I went to the Brad Paisley concert at Thompson-Boling Arena on Friday night and had good seats, just to the right of the stage in the first balcony, and those were nothing compared to the virtual seats in Best of Both Worlds.)

The 3D technology is still clumsy, but itâ’s far beyond what was provided for monster movies in the 1950s. It works best at simply providing depth and perspective; the flashier effectsâ"a drumstick or guitar head pointed into the camera or the shattering-glass graphics of the opening creditsâ"come off as tricks. Good tricksâ"the little girl next to me was frustrated that she couldnâ’t grab what she sawâ"but tricks nonetheless.

Two moments of creepiness stood out. During backstage footage of one of Cyrusâ’ 30-second costume changes, Cyrus appeared frail, tired, and pitiful. She looked like a teenage girl caught in a celebrity tug-of-war. My notes read: â“Who would do that to a 14-year-old?â” And while all that was going on, the Jonas Brothers, another Disney act, was covering the intermission. The two older brothers are 18 and 20, so their love ballad directed at 20,000 preteen girls struck exactly the wrong chord.

But Best of Both Worlds isnâ’t about the supporting band or what goes on backstage. Cyrus nailed her rock-star act, and thatâ’s what all those kids lined up outside for the sold-out 12:30 show were there to see.

Rental Hygiene

The plot of Cornel Wildeâ’s 1966 The Naked Prey boils down to six words: One man runs, other men chase. The comprehensible dialogue probably wouldnâ’t fill up a college-exam bluebook, even double-spaced. But the fact that the running man is white and his pursuers are black complicates everything about this vintage actioner in all sorts of interesting ways.

Actor-turned-low-budget-auteur Wilde based his film (new to DVD in a typically luxe Criterion Collection edition) on a true story about an interloping hunter captured by indigenous people, stripped of his weapons and clothes, and given a slim head start before he became hunted himself. The real hunter was after buffalo, his pursuers Blackfoot Indians; for budgetary reasons, Wilde chose to shoot in South Africa instead of the American West, transposing the buffalo hunter into an elephant hunter (Wilde himself, bearded and buff) and the Indians into African tribesmen. The warriors (spearheaded by Ken Gampu) humiliate, torture, and kill the party of white men it waylays, except for Wildeâ’s unnamed upright type, of course. Something in his uncondescending bearing, or maybe just his proto-Rambo studliness, makes them give him a sporting chance.

The sight of a nearly naked white man outrunning and outfighting black men across their own turf must have carried quite a loaded punch in 1966; today it seems more ridiculous than reactionary. That said, The Naked Prey escapes pigeonholing as a black-and-white polemic, so to speak. The setting allows Wilde to indulge in some killing-and-eating wildlife footage that resonates with the savagery onscreen, and that savagery isnâ’t limited to the tribesmen. The villagers are preyed on by slavers of indeterminate race, and Wildeâ’s hunter is the only white not portrayed as piggish and cruel. Clearly, itâ’s a jungle out there. â" Lee Gardner


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