Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday at the Movies #11 - May I Have This Dance (Movie?)

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Dance is already something special. Combine it with a compelling story, good camera work and the right cast, it can add a lot to the experience of a film.

A Chorus Line - One of my favorite Broadway shows ever, I can't give the movie quite as high of a nod, because they did stray from the tight focus on the audition and only the audition. In the stage version, we never see the male lead, only hear his voice, and while I understand that might not translate well to the screen, it still rankles. That said, the heart of the story remains; a sometimes disconcerting but ultimately inspiring look into the lives of the professional dancers showing up for yet another audition for yet another chorus line. Every dancer has a story, and we are invited into each of their worlds, from a married couple to the ticking clock an older dancer faces, individuals shaped by ethnic or sexual identity issues, and a fallen star desperate to claw her way back into the game. Ironically, she is the one dancer who wants to be seen as a number and not an individual, but her connection with the director makes that impossible. Anybody who has ever been through the audition process will appreciate the versimilitude. This is actually one movie I would like to see remade, preferably with dancers playing dancers.

Staying Alive - Normally, I don't go for sequels. I like a story complete unto itself, but once in a while, there is an execption. This is one. If Saturday Night Fever was the 70s, Staying Alive is the 80s. As the trailer says, it's five years later and the fever still burns. John Travolta brings us once again into Tony Manero's world, as Tony did indeed leave Brooklyn for Manhatten and went from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond. Still, he has everything that made him great back home and is determined that will make him great on the Broadway stage as well. No longer a boy, Tony must deal with life as both a professional dancer in the city with the most professional dancers on earth, and learn how to stand on his own as a man. Suffice it to say he finds reason to repeat that iconic strut. I humbly suggest a third installment to see where Tony is now.

Shall We Dance? - Richard Gere shows us how nuance is done in his portrayal of staid big city businessman John Clarke, who takes a giant, impulsive leap out of his quietly desperate existence and into a world he never knew existed - that of ballroom dance. John learns far more than steps when he meets his instructor and fellow students, their worlds melding with his. It's rough going at first, and John is hesistant to share these new developments, even with his wife, played by Susan Sarandon, but things are going to get rockier before they smooth out. Which they eventually do, in beautifully romantic fashion. Jennifer Lopez, who started as a dancer, is in her element as John's teacher, and Stanley Tucci takes what could have been a throwaway comedic role and turns it into a powerhouse of masculine liberation. This is a remake of an Asian film, and I would love to see the original version.

Take the Lead - Based on the real life story of dancer Pierre Dulane who began teaching ballroom dance to inner city students, this film does take some liberties. Most notably, making the students teens instead of elementary school age, but for dramatic purposes, it works beautifully. Antonio Banderas' Pierre challenges the students not only to learn dance, but to respect themselves, their bodies and each other. Courtesy and chivalry are presented to young men as positive masculine qualities and Pierre makes a case for young women learning to value themselves and not let the wrong sort of boy interfere with their dreams. Two rival boys are forced to learn how to compromise and get along, and one young man must make a choice between the rough life he has always known and the promise of a new way out that Pierre's lessons provide him. Thankfully, they have a great teacher and great choreographers as well.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Happy Dance Friday Lucky Thirteen - Everybody Samba!

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I may be missing the big party (okay, they have lots of parties) at Nationals this week, but that doesn't mean we can't feature the party dance.

First, let's take a look at the basics...if you can call this basic:

I'd like to credit the dancers, but what I thought was their names translates to "ballroom dancing" in Polish.

I will resist the urge to make some pun about a spicy samba - Mel B and Maksim Chmerkovskiy's performance speaks for itself:

Alec Mazo & Edyta Sliwinska do this at home all the time. You know they do. Party at their house.

Send the kids out of the room. It's time to burn the floor:

Better keep the kids out, as we finish with Lacey Schwimmer and Danny Tidwell. I saw this live on tour, and I would not be surprised if meteorologists scratched their heads at a sudden increase in electrical activity in the air. MrsJMunch, this one's for you.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saturday at the Movies #10 - Across The Pond
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Over the years, I have developed a soft spot for British movies. Not merely any movie filmed or set in England, or any movie having British people in it. Nope, movies made in the UK for UK audiences, that may or may not cross the pond. Since it has been said that the British do things differently, and while my YouTube searching skills are indeed legend, I haven't been able to find trailers for everything, but clips will suffice.

Gideon's Daughter - Bill Nighy (the British actor, not the American science guy) portrays Gideon Warner, a public relations genius whose private relations are at the other end of the spectrum. At odds with his newly adult daughter who seeks both his approval and her own independence, and tasked with the Herculean feat of spinning the millenium, Gideon doesn't count on love coming into the picture. Especially not in the form of a grieving mother whose marriage crumbled in the wake of an unspinnable tragedy.

Fan-made (not me)trailer:

and scene:

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain - Long title, long clip, but a trailer could not do this story of post- WW1 Wales. Hugh Grant plays a land surveyor come to the village to verify that their one claim to fame, a mountain, is indeed that. He finds the object of his study to be a few inches short of the goal, but the populace bands together to distract the surveyor while they make up for their shortcoming. Truly delightful, atmopsheric and a truly inspiring ending. Extra points for Colm Meany and a plethora of ginger-haired babies.

The Girl in the Cafe - Bill Nighy portrays Lawrence, a man who has nothing at all in his life except his job as a civil servant. His job is his life, not because of grand passion, but because that's what he has. Everything goes by rote, until one fateful tea break when he shares a table with a stranger at the cafe near his office. Kelly MacDonald's Gina opens Lawrence to the fact that he has a heart at all, and his trembling, tentative blossoming is nothing short of art to watch. When Lawrence invites Gina as his guest to the G-8 summit on poverty, (Iceland being a perfect metaphor for Lawrence's life) both his professional and personal lives explode. The political message might have been handled more subtly, but the acting gets an A++++ and Lawrence's final dilemma can spark some interesting speculation.

Bright Young Things - The original 1980 miniseries of Brideshead Revisisted is probably my favorite movie ever ever ever, (okay, yes, technically miniseries, and it was on television, not in cinemas, but my blog so my rules and it counts)so when I found that another Evelyn Waugh novel had a movie treatment, I pounced on that sucker like a cat on catnip. Same result, too. Adapted from the novel Vile Bodies, we dive headfirst into a world both dazzling and desolate as we, along with the characters, spin wildly out of control in 1920s England. With Stephen Fry directing and a cast that includes James MacAvoy and David Tennant, this is one wild ride worth every minute.

Link to actual trailer here:

and scene:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Happy Dance Friday #12 - solos

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Haven't been able to see much of this week's SYTYCD, so will be indulging in that here. One of my favorite things about the show is getting to see the various solos. Dance in one of its purest forms, stripped down to one dancer, an empty stage and their own creativity.

Katee Shean came in second in her year, after almost getting cut at the final decision. While her dancing is exquisite here (note the finger flutter in her finish) it's the expression of pure unbridled joy on her face that sells it for me:

I came home late during an episode that featured Alvin Ailey dancers as special guests, flipped the TV on pronto as I didn't want to miss them. The screen immediately filled with Will Wingfield's solo. I thought it was one of the Alvin Ailey troupe until his numbers flashed at the bottom of the screen.

I am delighted that Travis Wall is now in the stable of choreographers for the show, and would love to see him as a guest performer now and again.

Denise Wall gets major good dance mom points for having not one but two sons place second in their seasons. I have had the chance to see Danny Tidwell live, and that is pure beauty in motion.

In my rational mind, I know that Allison Holker has the same muscles everybody else is born with, but the way she moves with such apparent ease and bliss, I still have my theories.

This Mollee Gray clip isn't from a SYTYCD episode, but it is set to one of my favorite songs of all time. I love her energy.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday at the Movies #9 - Spectacle

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For certain movies, I like to sit as close to the screen as possible. If a movie is going to have dazzlingly gorgeous visuals, I want the full immersion experience. For this, I blame Fantasia. (By which I mean the Disney movie, not singer Fantasia Barrino, whom I do not blame for anything. She's cool. She was also not named after the movie, but a china pattern.)

For pure try-to-look-everywhere-at-once factor, with added ear-dazzle from the eclectic, over the top and somehow perfect soundtrack, often sung by actors who are not singers (Oh, Elephant Love Medley, you own me) there is Moulin Rouge. Having an artist for a father, I knew what the Moulin Rouge was before I knew what McDonald's was; didn't every three year old know about Toulouse Lautrec and have the ability to identify his works? So when I first heard about this film, I knew it would have that whole more is more is more gloves off spectacle factor. The fact that it was a gorgeous story of an idealistic writer played by Ewan MacGregor who falls in love with Nicole Kidman's Satine, a gorgeous, infamous courtesan/performer with a secret, I was sold before word one.

Chicago - Being a kid in NY in the 70s, I knew who Bob Fosse was, and his choreography is the first thing that "All That Jazz" brings to mind. I was of course far too young to be able to see Chicago when it was a stage show, but there was always something about the little I knew about it that pulled at me, so when the Catherine Zeta-Jones/Renee Zellwiger/Richard Gere version came around, I had to see it. Oh my. Oh my. Dark and dense and definitely not for children. Beautiful in its own twisted way.

The Phantom of the Opera - Andrew Lloyd Webber is always good for spectacle, so I could stop right there. I could not possibly pick between my two favorite shots - the ruined opera house or the wintry graveyard. Not a single shot in this movie went without some degree of jaws dropping. (for the curious, I adhere to Gaston Leroux's version of the phantom, so I'm a Christine/Raoul gal)

The Lovely Bones - content may be triggering for some, but today's choices are based on the visual dazzle factor, and The Lovely Bones has that in spades. Not what one might expect for a story about a fourteen year old girl who watches from her self-created "in between" as her family goes on after her death, in their search for justice and healing. The special effects as we see the in between, which can change at any moment, in any way, since it is created by the one who lives in it, have the wow factor for sure, but that's not the only draw. The everyday shots of her family beginning in 1973 suburbia and moving forward are spot on perfect down to the colors and the entire feel of the film. It's like a time machine. Snapshots taken by the budding photographer main character, and developed after her death (not of the crime, which is never shown) add extra impact.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Happy Dance Friday #11 - Tango edition

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A dance for grownups this week.

Feeling a little punk? How about a punk take on the tango? Dancers Tomasz Mielnicki and J.T. Damalas carry this off rather well, I think.

SYTYCD's Allison and Ivan perform the Argentine tango, which is not the other kind of tango. There is a difference.

For pure spectacle (and a bit of education on the background of the tango) set to a creative take on a Sting classic, El Tango de Roxanne from Moulin Rouge

How about a three-person team tango? This from the Antonio Banderas film, Take the Lead.

The Cell Block Tango number from Chicago is dark, both in content and lack of light, which is the perfect foil for the dance. The spoken word portion in Hungarian is a jailed woman protesting her innocence.

One more Argentine tango, because watching Chelsie Hightower in her element is like watching birds fly...and can you believe Joshua Allen is not a ballroom dancer? Seriously? Natural talent there. It's all good.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My day is already made. Older gentleman approaches me in Panera and asks if I've been a bad girl.

Me: Why are you asking me that?

Him: You're sitting in the corner.

Me: That's so I can see my enemies and smite them from a distance.

Him: Good for you. :makes namaste gesture, bows and leaves:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saturday at the Movies #8

When a local housing development was briefly dubbed "Howard's End," my first reaction was to turn to the friend I was with and mention that I thought that was a horrible name for somebody's home. Friend, who also appreciates Merchant-Ivory could only agree. Apparently somebody else did, as the development's name was changed to something generic. I should have taken a picture of the Howard's End sign when it was there. I will always regret that lack. :sniffles into handkerchief: Emma Thompson, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Helena Bonham Carter all in the same Merchant-Ivory movie cannot possibly go wrong (Academy also thought so and gave Ms. Thompson...oh when will I be able to type Dame Emma?... an Oscar for her unforgettable performance. It's 1910, and a pair of unmarried sisters think to help a young man in need, hold onto a family home also coveted by a wealthy older gentleman. Things go horribly, horribly wrong, but in a very proper manner.

Enchanted April - 1920s England was a time of change for women, and for four women, strangers to each other, who all arrange to spend the month of April at a European villa, that change is deeply personal. Each woman comes from a different place in life and society, and each hopes to find something from this impulsive idyll. Through getting to know each other and themselves, they, and the men in their lives, go through lasting change in more ways than one. I went into this movie expecting a certain outcome, and was pleasantly surprised when the story went in a different direction.

Stage Beauty - The term "Dude looks like a lady" could apply to all of English theatre prior to the Restoration. With women forbidden from appearing on stage, all female roles were played by men, and the best actors who played female parts were superstars indeed. So what happens when Charles II decides that he would like to see women onstage? What does this do to a man whose sole means of livelihood has been banished with the stroke of a pen? Especially if his former dresser, a woman with her own talent and drive equal to his takes his place on the stage...and dares him to take his own, as a man? If Billy Crudup and Claire Danes, with Rupert Everett as Charles II are involved, this:

Somewhere In Time - some movies should never be remade becasue the original was so flat out perfect nothing else can come close. This may well be one of them. Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, two of the most stunningly beautiful people to ever draw breath turn in compelling performances as lovers separated by time but determined to do whatever it takes to find each other. In the modern day, Richard is knocked out of his everyday life when an elderly woman presses something in to his hand and begs him to come back to her. He later discovers a photograph of Elise, a young actress in 1912, and embarks on a journey into the unknown to return to the only woman he will ever love. This began my love for time travel romance.

To round out this week's film festival, we get one of them forge...forieg...French movies. The Widow of St. Pierre takes us back to the mid 19th century and the French island of St. Pierre in the north Atlantic. Juliette Binoche plays the noble Madame La, married to the common but sternly principled governor of the island, played by the spectacular Daniel Autuiel. Two vagrants engage another in a drunken brawl, and the man dies. The men go to trial, the one responsible for the death recieving the only proper penalty, execution. The only problem is that St. Pierre has no guillotine (the "widow" of the title) and no executioner. The governor must jail the prisoner until both of the above may be obtained. Madame La decides there is no sense in a man merely sitting there when he is big and strong and can't they put him to work? Well, yes, they could. The prisoner becomes a contributing member of the island, even falling in love and fathering a child. He wants to be able to leave his new wife and child something when he dies, as he knows he must. France finally sends a guillotine. A story of choices, consequences, redemption and justice that stayed with me for weeks afterward. Best watched in the original French with subtitles:

Friday, July 09, 2010

Happy Dance Friday #10

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In celebration of actually being able to watch SYTYCD when it aired this week, we'll focus on some memorable performances that have that punch to the gut emotional impact. Carrie Lofty, this week is for you.

Not sure what's going on with Katee's hair, but I remember quite well being socked in the gut by hearing Adele's "Hometown Glory" for the very first time while watching Katee and Joshua in this Mia Michaels piece:

Kayla and Kupono's chemistry is amazing, as previously seen in their "Addiction" dance. "Eyes on Fire" has its own impact and I love the whole mood of the piece:

Melissa and Ade with Tyce D'Orio's choreography. There are no words:

With a song titled "Your Ex-Lover is Dead" how could I not count this Ryan and Ellenore performance?

Since Fridays are happy dance days, I'll include Mollee and Jakob:

For pure romantic value, Ashleigh and Ryan DiLillo, SYTYCD's first married couple finalists, connect the heck out of this Travis Wall piece. Actual performance ends at about 2:06 and then it's judges nattering.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Saturday at the Movies #7

I never know exactly where I'm going with these entries until I open the window to start the post, and then things start to suggest themselves. Today is no exception. I'd thought to theme things around the Fourth of July, but nope, British Isles historical dramas:

The Lion in Winter (2003 version) - Normally, I'm not one to advocate remakes of the classics. If the female lead was Katherine Hepburn, it's a good bet that the movie people got it right the first time around, but this historical tale of a real life dysfunctional royal family (that just so happens to be in charge of a good portion of the free world) is spellbinding from beginning to end. Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close in the same movie? Must be Christmas. No embedding on this trailer, so click here.

Atonement - in 1930s England, imaginative thirteen year old Briony sees something she doesn't understand and fills in the blanks. The wrong letter gets placed in an envelope and a child is sent to do an adult's job. This small series of events has long reaching and disastrous results for not only Briony's older sister, Cecelia, played by Kiera Knightley, and Cecelia's lover, Robbie, played by James MacAvoy, but for Briony herself as she grows older, wiser and tries desperately to make things right. This film is utterly gorgeous, lavish in detail of both stately houses and the horrors of war, and most of all the human heart. Child actor Saoirse Ronan's portrayal of 13 year old Briony is a classic.

The Duchess - Diana, Princess of Wales undoubtedly left her mark by combining beauty, intrigue and living a troubled life in the public eye, but her ancestress, Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire, did it first. Putting Keira Kinghtley in period dress is box office gold, and if she's playing opposite Ralph Fiennes, whee doggies. Love, torment, drama,scandal, :ahem: unconventional relationships, two people who really really really did not suit, all amidst drop-dead gorgeous stately homes and the English countryside of the 18th century. This is a feast. I can't watch this without feeling how smothered the real life Georgiana must have been, even as I'm drooling over sets and costumes.

Moll Flanders (1996) - Full disclosure: this is not a faithful adaptation of Daniel Defoe's novel, but the flavor remains, and Robin Wright, Stockard Channing and Morgan Freeman own this. We get the high and low moments of this Moll's life, from her birth in prison, to the hard-earned freedom at long last, all amidst the squalor and spectacle that is Georgian England. There's no glamorization of the seedy underworld, and Moll's idyll with her true love, an artist with secrets of his own, is all the more beautiful for it. When that comes crashing down, she does what she does best - what she must. The final shot of the film is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen on the screen. Embedding was wonky with this one, so click here.

Tristan + Isolde - Sophia Myles and James Franco portray the classic pair of doomed lovers, bound together not only by their love for each other but their mutual regard for Lord Marke, played beautifully by Rufus Sewell, the man who mentors Tristan and becomes Isolde's husband. Obviously, something has to give here, and it's not going to go down easily for anybody. Bonus points for Thomas Sangster (Love Actually) as child Tristan. The scenery, from coast to forest, is breathtaking, and Sophia Myles is utterly gorgeous (as usual) especially in the wedding procession on the river, surrounded by glowing candles. This one hurts, but it's worth it. If you can find a copy with the Gavin DeGraw music video, watch that to get an extra level of the story. The library almost didn't get this one back. Must. Buy. Own. Copy.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Happy Dance Friday #9 (#9#9#9#9#9#9#9#9#9#9)

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Extra points for those who caught the Beatles reference. I can't believe we're at our ninth dance party here, but since Fridays keep on coming, music, please.

I still haven't seen this week's SYTYCD, but we'll start with a favorite from seasons past, Ivan and Allison's contemporary tour de force to Annie Lennox's "Why."
This clip includes rehearsal footage, so for those who want to go straight to the finished product, it starts at 1:42.

The "other" dancing show, Dancing With the Stars, featured Savion Glover on their first superstars of dance segment. Greatest tap dancer in the world? Umm, yeah.

Another tap icon, dancer/actor Gregory Hines, from the opening sequence of the movie, Tap. Must now hunt this film down and watch the whole thing.
If one dancer, in a small, dark room (with furniture in it) can be that powerful, imagine what the whole movie must be like:

Another dance film I somehow never saw, but must - White Knights. Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov. In the same movie. Dancing. Together. Yep, must find and see. In the meantime, the opening ballet. (remember kids, don't smoke and dance)

Finally, for today, a classic of modern television - Alfonso Ribiero's Carlton dance: