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A little edgier than the “High School Musical” series and a little smarter than the usual tween fare, “Bandslam” is a refreshing late-summer treat for tweens, teens, and their families from the always-welcome Walden Media, a top provider of quality family entertainment.

Will Burton (Gaelan Connell), an Ohio music-loving loner who knows his Thin Lizzie from his Velvet Underground and has mental conversations with David Bowie, is relieved and delighted when his single mother (Lisa Kudrow) tells him that they are moving to New Jersey. He is often picked on, with no friends, and he looks forward to starting over in a new school.

Though he fears it will be just like Ohio (“Different kids, same me”), the new school is different. A music group competition called Bandlam is “Texas high school football big.” A confident and popular senior named Charlotte (“Aly & AJ’s” Aly Michalka) invites him to help her take care of the day care kids, and they become friends. Once a part of the school’s champion band Glory Dogs, Charlotte and some other musicians are forming a new group. Before he knows it, Will is their manager, naming them for a line from “Waiting for Godot” — “I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On.” Will is in “uncharted territory,” making friends, separating from his mother, and even developing feelings of more than friendship for the winsome Sa5m (“The 5 is silent”) (HSM’s Vanessa Hudgens).

There are heartaches, misunderstandings, and setbacks (this is high school, after all), but there is music and there is a public apology (this is a romance, after all), and triumph (it is a movie for kids after all).

Hudgens, unfortunately, is saddled with a character who speaks in monotones. It would be nice to see her in a role that gives her more of a chance to show her spirit. Newcomer Connell is able, especially in his scenes with Kudrow, who makes the most of her underwritten mom role. Michalka has the most challenging role and handles it very capably. The characters talk rock but sing pop. Only Michalka has a rocker’s attitude. But these characters have more depth and believability than most movies in this genre. Director Todd Graff, who made “Camp,” again shows his sympathetic understanding for kids who want to perform. And, most important, this movie has a strong foundation in its understanding of classic rock that does as much as any of the writing, directing, or performers to keep us rooting for Will’s group to go on.

THE ULTIMATE HANNAH MONTANA MOVIE QUIZ!
Sweet niblets! Think you know Miley and her new movie better than anyone in the world? Well, put yourself to the test with this ultimate Hannah Montana: The Movie quiz. These questions are toughies, so make sure you brush up on your film knowledge before you put pen to paper. Good luck!hannah_montana_the_movie31.jpg
ROUND ONE: MOVIE MANIA!
These questions are all about Miley’s mega musical movie. Ready, set, go…
QUESTION ONE
Who is the first Hannah Montana character to appear on screen at the start of the film?
QUESTION TWO
What’s the name of the first song Hannah sings at the opening concert?
QUESTION THREE
What’s the name of the British tabloid magazine trying to get a big scoop on Hannah?
QUESTION FOUR
Which famous TV star has a fight with Hannah over a pair of shoes?
QUESTION FIVE
What is written on the sign above the entrance to Lilly’s birthday party?
QUESTION SIX
On which pier is Lilly’s party held?
QUESTION SEVEN
What color is Lilly’s skateboarding helmet?
QUESTION EIGHT
What color is the top layer of Lilly’s birthday cake?
QUESTION NINE
True or False? The drums at Lilly’s party are pink.
QUESTION TEN
What song does Hannah sing at Lilly’s party?
QUESTION ELEVEN
What’s the name of the town where Miley grew up in the movie?
QUESTION TWELVE
What animal can be heard when Hannah touches down in Tennessee?

Molly Ringwald has a touching tribute to John Hughes in today’s New York Times. While she had not spoken to the very private writer-director for 20 years, she and co-star Anthony Michael Hall spoke on the phone about the way he had influenced and inspired them both.

I still believe that the Hughes films of which both [Anthony Michael Hall] and I were a part (specifically “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club”) were the most deeply personal expressions of John’s. In retrospect, I feel that we were sort of avatars for him, acting out the different parts of his life — improving upon it, perhaps. In those movies, he always got the last word. He always got the girl.

Ringwald gave one of the best performances of the 1980’s in “Sixteen Candles” as the girl whose family was so caught up in her sister’s wedding that they forgot her birthday. At a time of life when most people are protective, internal, and very concerned about looking cool, Hughes coaxed her to show her vulnerability but also to create a character who knew who she was. Ringwald writes about how he gave her confidence.

John saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. He had complete confidence in me as an actor, which was an extraordinary and heady sensation for anyone, let alone a 16-year-old girl. I did some of my best work with him. How could I not? He continually told me that I was the best, and because of my undying respect for him and his judgment, how could I have not believed him?

Thanks to Laine Kaplowitz for bringing this to my attention.

The full trailer premieres before “Bandslam” this Friday!

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