I was a little long winded in my reviews this time around, so I’ll keep my intro short this week.
This weekend saw the release of a couple brand new movies on video-on-demand. The first of which is a tragic tale of two friends torn apart by a violent street war, and the other is a musical remake of the 1983 film “Valley Girl.”
Let’s get to the reviews.
First up is “Blue Story.”
Best friends Timmy (Stephen Odubola) and Marco (Micheal Ward) go to the same high school in Peckham but live in neighbouring London boroughs.
When Marco’s beaten up by one of Timmy’s primary school friends the two boys wind up on rival sides of a never-ending cycle of postcode gang war in which there are no winners, only victims.
It seems reviewing movies about gang warfare and young people caught in a perpetual cycle of violence is a running theme for me these past couple weeks. First “All Day and a Night” and now this film.
It definitely isn’t something I planned out in advance, but it is interesting to see how similar these films are in theme, yet differ so dramatically in the way they deliver their messages.
Mostly because “Blue Story” is able to convey it’s themes so much better than “All Day and a Night” could.
Where Jahkor, the main character in “All Day and a Night,” is ridiculously unlikeable and difficult to relate to, Timmy and Marco are good-natured and instantly sympathetic.
Their lives aren’t perfect, and there are clear tensions brewing due to their differing neighborhoods, but in the first third of the film none of that matters.
They and their friends are just a regular group of London teenagers who enjoy each other’s company. Fun people to be around in general.
This makes it all the more heartbreaking to see their world come crashing down, with increasingly violent acts turning these inseparable friends into bitter, hate-filled enemies.
This is far from a unique story.
You even see these kinds of narratives in movies made for kids. One that comes to mind for me is Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound.” An animated film where a young fox and a puppy become best friends as children, yet are turned against each other as adults.
But I think it’s a common tale for a reason. It’s effective and it gives you a chance to get to know the main characters before their circumstances or environment place each of them at odds. It certainly works a lot better than whatever “All Day and a Night” was trying to do.
Despite its conventional story, there is one very notable aspect that definitely sets this film apart.
Many movies have narrators in them of course. Some are the internal monologue of the main characters from the present or future, while many others are just a nameless voice never to be seen by the audience.
But instead of either of those options, this film is made distinct because it’s narrated by the movie’s very own writer and director. All of which is done through the medium of rap.
At various points in the film, the movie’s director Andrew Onwubolu, popularly known as Rapman, will come out and explain to the audience what’s happening, or to recap important events, all through rhyme and verse.
It’s a very unique storytelling device to be sure. In fact, I can’t recall seeing a film use rap as a narrative device in such a way before. That isn’t to say it hasn’t been done before, just that I haven’t come across it.
Personally, I think the rap aspect of the film works quite well here. It certainly fits the style of the movie more than any other plain jane narration would.
I suppose my only major complaint with the rapping narration as a whole is that the film relies entirely too much on the narration to tell large portions of the story.
The narration even undercuts some of the movie’s more dramatic scenes, oftentimes telling the audience how a character is feeling and thinking instead of just showing us through the actor’s performance.
While the rapping started as a unique and interesting storytelling device, by the end of the film it felt like Rapman was using his own narration as a crutch.
A tool for when he couldn’t figure out how to progress the story visually. Or perhaps he simply didn’t have the budget to show it. It’s hard to say.
Either way, I truly don’t want to be too harsh with my criticism towards this film or its filmmaker. Afterall, this is Rapman’s first feature film and there really is a lot to like here.
I’m certainly interested to see more of what he comes up with in the future. And despite any narrative shortcomings, the story here was still incredibly impactful.
Sadly, I do have one further caveat that I do have to mention. Something that makes this film very difficult to recommend to most people living in the United States.
As I mentioned before, this film takes place entirely in London. And being authentic representations of these neighborhoods, the characters featured in this film aren’t exactly speaking The Queen’s English.
There is a lot of British street slang here, and if you aren’t at least mildly familiar with some of the words and phrases commonly used by people from that area, you’ll likely find yourself feeling very lost, very quickly.
Even with subtitles on, I often found myself having difficulty parsing together what some of the characters were saying. I almost felt like I needed a translator at times.
Regardless of my inability to understand everything, I still managed to follow the film for the most part. A credit to the movie’s writing and the performances from the young actors.
Overall, while I have trouble recommending the film wholeheartedly, I certainly am glad I watched the movie.
“Blue Story” is a familiar tale with a clever storytelling twist. Add in some easy to like characters, plus a compelling narrative that never pulls its punches, and you have a movie well worth your time. At least as long as you can get past its street vernacular.
“Blue Story” is rated R.
The other film this week is “Valley Girl.”
Julie (Jessica Rothe) is the ultimate ‘80s Valley Girl. A creative free spirit, Julie’s time is spent with her best friends shopping at the Galleria mall and making plans for senior prom. That is, until she falls hard for Randy (Joshua Whitehouse), a Sunset Strip punk rocker, who challenges everything the Valley and Julie stand for.
Despite push-back from friends and family, Julie must break out of the safety of her world to follow her heart and discover what it really means to be a Valley Girl.
It’s honestly kind of surprising how much of a wealth of films I’ve had the opportunity to write about considering the fact that nearly every movie theater in the world is closed right now.
Take “Valley Girl” for instance.
A remake of the 1983 film starring Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman, which itself is basically a loose retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in Los Angeles, this film follows an unlikely pair on a coming of age romantic journey of acceptance. A story which is painfully easy to predict, even if you haven’t seen the original film.
But who cares about story when you have a movie filled to the brim with energetic song and dance numbers, all set to a soundtrack of your favorite ‘80s beats.
That’s right my friends. This is a jukebox musical.
But unlike something like “Mamma Mia!,” this film isn’t just limited to songs from one artist alone. Oh no.
This movie throws in just about every single catchy 1980s song the filmmakers could possibly fit in there.
You want “Safety Dance” and “Dancing with Myself?” You got it.
An over-the-top mall themed dance number set to “We Got the Beat?” That’s just the opening number. You gotta think bigger than that.
How about a mashup of “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Material Girl,” I Can’t Go for That,” and “Tainted Love,” set in a gym with all the main characters wearing garishly colorful spandex workout gear? Now that’s the good stuff right there.
I swear I was so unashamedly giddy watching this film’s most outrageous moments.
There’s just something so wonderfully pure about a musical that just says no to realism, and embraces the inherent silliness of the medium.
Sadly, this movie did seem keen to undercut its own inherent over-the-top nature by continually poking fun at itself and trying to be self-aware.
You see this mostly in the form of Julie’s parents, played by Judy Greer and Rob Huebel.
Things like Julie’s dad bringing home a fancy new camcorder, in awe of how small this shoulder mounted device is, while basically winking at the audience.
Or throw away lines like Julie’s dad randomly bringing up stock investments out of the blue, only for the audience’s sake because of course we know which companies will succeed or fail.
“Valley Girl,” I don’t need you to shine a spotlight on how wacky the ‘80s were. You don’t have to act too cool for me.
I know giant ‘80s song and dance numbers are silly. I know the ‘80s had some things that we would think are absurd by modern standards. There’s no need to constantly remind us that you know it too. Just roll with it and have fun.
That’s all I want. Ridiculous, unbridled, and enthusiastic fun.
And while there is quite a bit of fun to be had here, there was less than I might have hoped.
I still enjoyed the movie quite a bit though.
This was helped substantially by the film’s lead actress Jessica Rothe, who has seen smaller roles in films, including a minor part in another popular musical, “La La Land.”
But she never truly came to my attention until her brilliant starring performances in the comedy horror films “Happy Death Day” and “Happy Death Day 2U.” I dearly love both of those movies, and Rothe’s presence is a huge reason for that.
Jessica doesn’t quite stand out as much with her performance in here, but she still makes for a pretty great valley girl.
The real shocker of a casting choice for me though was the film’s addition of infamous YouTube star Logan Paul.
Paul originally gained a following on Vine, the now defunct video sharing app owned by Twitter, and has since moved onto YouTube.
These days he’s probably best known for amature boxing matches against another YouTuber named KSI, and of course for uploading a video to his channel featuring the corpse of a man who recently committed suicide back in late 2017.
The latter event caused YouTube to remove Paul’s channel from Google’s preferred ad program, and a subsequent “pattern of behavior” in early 2018 caused Paul to temporarily lose monetization on his channel all together.
This is also the reason why “Valley Girl,” which was originally scheduled to release June 2018, was delayed for nearly two years.
The film was still supposed to get a theatrical release last weekend, but COVID-19 had other plans and MGM decided to just cut their losses.
Anyway, despite his poor reputation, I thought Logan Paul was perfectly fine in this movie. He gets to play Julie’s stereotypical ‘80s jock boyfriend, which of course is in stark contrast to Joshua Whitehouse’s counterculture punk rock character.
Paul’s character is a complete tool, and he performs the role quite well. That’s not me being snarky. Despite any misgivings I may have towards the man, I thought Logan Paul made for a good antagonist in this film. His antics certainly make him one of the more memorable aspects of the movie.
Overall, while I may have not loved this movie quite as much as I might have hoped, I still had a good time watching it.
If you’re someone like me, and you get a kick out of over-the-top movies with ridiculous song and dance numbers set to catchy songs like the greatest hits of the 1980s, then this fun film is definitely right up your alley.
“Valley Girl” is rated PG-13.