Film

Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009)

A wannabe musical that doesn't have the chutzpah to stop the action and let its actress actually sing!


Hannah Montana - The Movie

Director: Peter Chelsom
Cast: Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus, Emily Osment, Mitchel Musso, Jason Earles, Moises Arias
Distributor: Walt Disney Home Video
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
UK Release Date: 2009-08-18
US Release Date: 2009-08-18

It's safe to say that Miley Cyrus has had her moment. Those elusive 15-minutes are up and the time clock toward irrelevancy is carefully ticking down. Sure, the House of Mouse can find a few more ways to milk some additional dollars out of her ever-diminishing fad phenom fanbase, but the truth is, she's like every other teen (or in this case) tween cause celeb - hot as Hades one day, working the drive-through another.

So it makes sense that after the stunning box office figures for her 3D concert experience, Disney would attempt to continue building on such bank. The result: Hannah Montana: The Movie. As much a set-up for the fourth and final season of the TV series as a way of exposing the fleeting star to the 14 and older crowd, this incredibly mediocre effort actually makes you feel sorry for the dissipating celebrity. Somehow, you sense, for all she's done for the corporate bottom line, she deserves better than this.

When we first meet Miley/Hannah, she's late for her most recent concert appearance. Later, she has a depressing diva tantrum over a pair of shoes. But when she ruins her best friend Lilly's birthday party, daddy Robby puts his foot down. He thwarts a planned trip to New York, and instead, puts Hannah (for those who don't know, the commercial cover for his real life daughter Miley) on a private plane back to their hometown in Tennessee.

Once there, they meet up with grandma, hunky teen farm hand Travis, and equally fetching female foreman Lorelai. When Miley learns that an unscrupulous land developer is trying to buy up her past, she promises to get "Hannah" to put on a concert. In the meantime, a persistent tabloid reporter is trying to uncover the secret shared by both Miley and her far more famous "friend."

Again, it needs to be said: Miley Cyrus has made the Walt Disney Company so much moolah that she really mandated a better starring vehicle than this. Hannah Montana: The Movie is a lifeless amalgamation of plot contrivances, narrative non-sequitors, and pointless pandering. It's a wannabe musical that doesn't have the chutzpah to stop the action and let its actress actually sing! Instead, like a Billboard chart backdrop, Hannah is given a few onstage screeds, while Miley makes nice with a single solo moment (with some help from her pappy). For an audience that wouldn't know a show-stopper from a slog, it really doesn't matter. Their favorite TV talent is up on the big screen delivering the sonic dross they can't get enough of. However, the uninitiated, or uninterested, will find it all very, very dull.

The biggest problem with Hannah Montana: The Movie, is length. There's no need for a film version of this character's adventures to last longer than four of her TV episodes, especially when we are dealing with a basic "fame is soulless and fleeting" formula. Director Peter Chelsom, still paying penance for the cinematic atrocity that was Town and Country (the Hear My Song filmmaker's path to redemption is littered with the likeable Serendipity and Shall We Dance? ), has a real flare for physical comedy and the sequences of slapstick tend to work. But since Uncle Walt's current meal ticket needs moments of reflection and romance, the energy built up is all but depleted. Instead, we find the narrative dragging just to get to the so-called "good" parts.

Movies are also not the best avenue for Cyrus' limited scope. She is "TV cute", meaning that film brings out the worst in her chiseled chipmunk look. Certainly she can sing -- or at least, the studio technicians who put her voice through various electronic permutations can recreate a certain sense of vocal prowess -- but Cyrus is an incomplete performer. She doesn’t know how to sell cinematic emotion. When Miley wants new boy toy Travis to "jump", we know what the line is supposed to mean. In her less than capable hands, however, it comes across as blank and unconvincing. Billy Ray has the same basic problem - he's turned the art of passive geniality into an example of onscreen stasis. We never see the turmoil celebrity is causing either 'character'. Instead, both serve the story and simply move on.

As for the rest of Hannah Montana: The Movie, its light and empty, cotton candy made out of sugar substitute, not the real sweet deal. There's never a question about saving the small town, and the creative cameos tossed about (Tyra Banks as herself, Barry Bostwick as the button-down land developer) do little to elevate the mood. Fans of the TV series will also be a bit disappointed that go-to guys Oliver and Rico are pushed far off into the background, while Emily Osmet's Lilly is reduced to a plot device. This is Miley Cyrus' moment to shine and nothing -- not even the hardworking child stars that've supported her for the last three years -- is going to get in her way. Even Daddy's potential love story is scuttled for more Hannah histrionics.

The recent Blu-ray release also underscores the Miley-ccentric approach to the production. Chelsom is on hand to explain himself, and while friendly, he seems forced to tow the cunning corporate line ("she's such a major talent…"). We are also treated to a mass of music videos, a bunch of bloopers, deleted scenes (yep, they actually filmed More stuff for this movie) and some additional cast and crew interviews. Oddly enough, the movie itself doesn't 'pop' on the new digital format. Unlike other examples of high definition totally redefining a film, Hannah Montana: The Movie, looks as made-for-TV on the fledgling format as the regular DVD version does.

All of which leaves one with the following question: Where does Miley Cyrus go from here? After this final season of Hannah Montana wraps, when another wannabe pop chanteuse takes her place as part of the Disney dynasty, what does this seemingly single-faceted 'talent' wind up doing? Does she try for country or pop legitimacy, hoping to find a Kelly Clarkson/Carrie Underwood/American Idol like transformation from product to performer? Or will making millions for her family be enough? Will she simply slip away, coming back every once in a while to introduce a House of Mouse repackaging of her productions.

If Daddy Ray is any indication, there will need to be a break, and some biology, before the Cyrus name equals stardom again. One imagines that some saw Hannah Montana: The Movie as Miley Cyrus' introduction into the big leagues. As it turns out, this may instead be her swansong.

4

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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