Todd Graff

Todd Graff

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Joyful Noise Review

Life-affirming to the point of distraction, this comedy is so warm and cosy that it never even approaches believability. If only writer-director Graff had injected the film with half as much earthy energy as he puts into the terrific musical numbers. And let the cast out of the box.

At a down-home church in Pacashau, Georgia, GG (Parton) is peeved when she's not offered the job after her choir-director father (a brief Kris Kristofferson cameo) dies. The new leader is her rival Vi Rose (Latifah), who plans to win the upcoming regional competition with pure gospel. To further stir things up, GG's bad-boy grandson Randy (Jordan) is back in town, and he's smitten with Vi Rose's 16-year-old daughter Olivia (Palmer).

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Joyful Noise Trailer

In the small Georgian town of Pacashau, Divinity Church Choir singer Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) is made choir director over the feisty GG Sparrow (Dolly Parton). Their ever-increasing conflict threatens to weaken the strength of the choir's talent as they compete for the National Joyful Noise Competition. Vi wants to stick to what is traditional in the gospel choir whereas GG wants to shake up their sound and make it more appealing to the rest of the town.

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Bandslam Review

With its squeaky-clean characters and simplistic plotting, this film is clearly targeting the High School Musical audience. It even has the same lead actress.

And it's just bright and sunny enough to work.Will (Connell) is a nerdy music obsessive who is thrilled when his mother (Kudrow) announces that they're moving from Cincinnati to New Jersey. He plans to reinvent himself at his new high school, and quickly gets caught up in the upcoming BandSlam competition, helping hot girl Charlotte (Michalka) turn her talented but scruffy bandmates (Saxton and Jo) into a first-rate band with the addition of a few more members (including Donowho, Yost and Chung). Meanwhile, Will is falling for his moody study partner Sa5m (Hudgens). The 5 is silent.The formula dictates the plot, as we know things will fall apart before they come together in the end. And where this film surprises us is in the way it approaches teen life with a blast of intelligence. The characters are recognisably complex, with some pretty serious issues in their lives and relationships that feel relatively organic and real. And the conflicts feel vaguely authentic as well, even though we know the smiles will be back before too long.

These teens are all overachievers with a lot of talent, and it's clear that the same can be said about the cast, although the rampant overacting may grate on older audience members. It's mainly Michalka's show; Charlotte is by far the most interesting, magnetic character. But everyone else gets a chance to cut loose as well, including Porter as Charlotte's cool-kid ex. Meanwhile, Kudrow adds class, and some fine comic timing, to the whole thing.Of course, this is a Disneyfied fantasy version of high school, where everyone is virginal and straight, and even the geeks are cute. And this blanding-down makes the whole thing feel less like a proper film than a pilot for a TV series that combines harmless adolescence with an introduction to rock history. But the music is terrific, and director-cowriter Graff resists the temptation to indulge in the usual hackneyed moralising. He also stirs in some terrific moments along the way that subvert the genre just a little bit.

Camp Review

If movies were the only thing we had to go on, nobody in their right mind would go to a summer camp. You either wind up with an axe in your back or spend two weeks with dim-witted counselors wearing ill-fitting shorts who Just Don't Understand Kids. There's oppressive heat, poison ivy, and lots of god-awful dialogue. So it's to Todd Graff's credit that he tried to make a summer-camp movie that gleefully tries to tweak the genre's conventions. Camp refers to its subject - a summer camp for teenaged would-be Broadway stars - as well as to the inherent silliness (i.e. campiness) of the summer-camp genre. In Camp, characters pointedly don't do the things they usually do in movies. But it's so over-earnest in its approach that the results aren't much fun.

Camp's story centers on three young performers attending Camp Ovation: The sincere but unconfident Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat), the cross-dressing Michael (Robin De Jesus) whose homosexuality ires his parents, and the charming yet arrogant hunk Vlad (Daniel Letterle). Vlad has a winning smile and a straight-boy bravado that everybody else at Camp Ovation lacks, which makes him the subject of a half-dozen crushes. But there's work to be done: The assembled kids have to put on a new production every two weeks, managed by Bert (Don Dixon), a washed-out alcoholic whose stage successes are years behind him.

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Five Corners Review

This curious indie will keep you guessing -- not because the plot is so complicated, but simply in trying to figure out who all these characters are and what they have to do with one another. At its core, the movie involves John Turturro as a just-outta-prison psycho and Jodie Foster as his once and future stalkee. Tim Robbins appears as her savior, while countless -- countless -- subplots swirl around them. Fun to watch, easy to forget soon after.

The Abyss Review

Before he became King of the World, James Cameron blew budgets out of the water, so to speak, with this little gem about aliens living on the bottom of the ocean, and what happens when humans interact with them. The original ending blows totally, but the laserdisc promises a new ending that threatens to make The Abyss a classic.
Todd Graff

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