Category Archives: Dance movies

Movie Week in Review: More Spies and Romance and just a little 1980s action flick.

Hey hey all you international people of mystery. I just watched Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery again, taking me back to my high school days and watching it a lot in college, with the added treat of being able to see it on the big screen.

I saw one of my favorite comedians, Kurt Braunholer, at Acme Comedy Club last night and, after making sure to awkwardly introduce myself to him, got the bat signal there would be a midnight screening of the aforementioned Austin Powers at the  ol’ Edina Cinema.

The comedy show and then laughing a lot along with my theater compatriots made for a good night and all-in-all the ingenious Austin Power worth watching again. I have been trying to stay away from repeat watches, but some films warrant a pass this year.

I also watched Can’t Buy Me Love since I last stopped here on the Internet. I wasn’t going to count it in my challenge until it set in again how behind I am. It’s okay though because I think the film is a respectable work among the 1980s classics we all know and love that also delivered McDreamy long before he would be on Grey’s Anatomy for what seemed like decades.

The first season of that show was its best and, while I watched several others, I recommend  Can’t Buy Me Love if you’re in the mood for more Patrick Dempsey.

I also fit in an unknown (to me) 1980s gem, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, this week featuring future TV starlets Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt as rebellious private school students by day and aspiring “Dance TV” contestants by night.

Janey (Parker) is raised by a military father who installs alarms on their apartment building windows and interrupts her phone calls, but that’s not going to stop her from dancing … especially after she meets Lynne (Hunt.) Lynne encourages Janey to break the rules in order to spend weeks rehearsing in an uncomfortable leotard and the opportunity to be on national television.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun was part of the trifecta of other early-1980s dance films like Flashdance and Footloose and certainly helped set the stage for the genre. It was also a refreshing visit back to the 1980s before Can’t Buy Me Love because I knew little about the film and because now I have several ideas for this year’s Halloween costume.

Moving on, the theme of spies and romance (including Austin Powers) was still part of my selections this week … primarily in Notorious.

The 1946 Alfred Hitchcock film explores politics in near post-World War II society times and the powers of “suave spymaster” (as described in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) T.R. Devlin to convince Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) to be his mole on a mission to investigate Nazis in hiding in Argentina.

Huberman, as the daughter on of a convicted traitor, ends up being perfect for the job but is faced with mixed feelings about Devlin’s (Cary Grant) motives and whether she can ultimately trust him.

I love one of the first shots of Devlin in the film as he sits at a party hosted by Huberman not long after her father’s conviction. He is completely in the dark and shadows and, as Alicia sees him come into the light, there is an instant spark leading them on a troubled path to the mission in Argentina and the complications in their relationship.

review625.jpgNotorious is a flawless and brilliant work by Hitchcock as he continued to explore common themes and characters in the film in partnership with regular star Bergman and writer Ben Hecht. They also pushed the boundaries of the production code with the longest on-screen kiss between Alicia and T.R. that brought to light chemistry between Grant and Bergman.

Another film this week, April and the Extraordinary World, pushed cinematic boundaries in terms of its animation style and creativity, at least of what I’ve seen.

I’ll refer you over to a post about the film on Joyless Creatures that says it all in such a way that is as much of an artistic accomplishment as the French film, which specifically explores post-war society survival, invention and family bonds.

My initial reaction to April and the Extraordinary World was that it’s so imaginative and unique in my world of film and now I remain inspired by the story and its style. Plus there is a talking cat to tie it all together.

The Accidental Tourist also has a strong presence of an animal used as a literary tool in the form of Macon Leary’s (William Hurt) troubled Corgi who acts after the death of Leary’s son and divorce from Sarah (Kathleen Turner.)

Enter Muriel (Geena Davis in an Oscar-winning performance) who watches the dog while Leary must travel for work to write his next travel guide for businessmen.

Muriel instantly takes to pursuing Macon, which leads to an up-and-down relationship as he tries to figure things out with Sarah and process the loss of his son. The film is heavier than I thought it would be and centers on the exploration of relationships, loss and family.

There are some humorous undertones and comic relief, although mostly in a deadpan style by all the characters, a classic line being “He ate my turkey and didn’t get sick.”

The Accidental Tourist has been on my list to watch for a while and it must have been fate that a copy was available this week at the library, in addition to the consistent three copies of American Sniper and The Imitation Game.

maxresdefaultAnother fateful encounter at the library was with a lone copy Die Hard, resulting in the fact that “yippee-ki-yay-motherfucker” is now part of my vernacular (or at least my internal monologue.)

That’s obviously one of the most famous one-liners from the 1988 film, but some of my favorites also include “cute toy” when John McClane has to use the computer at his wife’s office building as well as his commentary on terrorists’ shoe sizes and the plight of TV dinners as he worms his way through a heating vent trying to find Hans Gruber.

“You bet your ass I wish to proceed.”

The special effects in Die Hard alone set it apart in the world of cinema and action movies, especially for 1988, and certainly increased Bruce Willis’ star factor.

I think Die Hard, even having just seen it, holds up and has universal appeal. I may be partial to independent films and have a weakness for romantic comedies, but Die Hard really has it all.

Yeah baby. (Too bad that also wasn’t one of John McClane’s lines.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Movie Week in Review: Music Royalty

Hey hey.

I’ve decided to take a new approach to this challenge and not blog about every movie right after I see it. I obsess too much about my blog posts, to the point where it may be detrimental to my writing and sanity, so instead I will attempt to write weekly recaps about my movie adventures.

My decision is also based on the fact that I need to spend more time watching movies and get caught up in this race. It hasn’t worked so far, but I think it will help on the weekends when I am watching four or five movies and won’t need to pause to express my critical non-genius on the Internet.

This week in watching ended up being largely focused on films with a connection to music, including Presenting Princess Shaw, Saturday Night Fever, Born to Be Blue and the most classic of them all Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

I missed the opportunity to see the director’s cut of Walk Hard Sunday when my manager screened it at the theater, the trouble being it was at midnight and I was movied-out that day (I wish that wasn’t a thing.) I just rented it on Netflix, the non-director’s cut, but definitely could deal with another hour or so of Dewey Cox this year when I have the time. I did fulfill my original plan for Sunday to watch Born to Be Blue and Walk Hard as a double feature and, while one is a strict biopic drama and the other is a complete farce, they are both brilliant and a perfect pairing.

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Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker

I thought Born to Be Blue might be my new Whiplash (which I saw three times in the theater) this year and it did have the same effect of completely taking me into the story of the characters and the music. If I had the time, I know could watch Born to Be Blue over and over.

Born to Be Blue is a true story, depicting Chet Baker in his 40s and later in his career, with Ethan Hawke completely transforming into his character and persona. I didn’t even know I was watching him on screen most of the time, that’s how good he is in this film. Born to Be Blue is clearly a passion project for Hawke and director and writer Robert Budreau. Hawke even wanted to play Baker in a movie by Richard Linklater 20 years ago, but the project didn’t get off the ground. Hawke, in a Village Voice interview, said he’s felt like he’s been thinking about playing Baker in a movie for 20 years. That explains, perhaps, how he completely embodies Baker on screen. I didn’t even know much about Baker in real life but felt the opposite immediately upon seeing Hawke with trumpet in hand and crooning at Birdland in New York City. Hawke performs with a stylistically beautiful film in his background, juggling between color and black and white and different moments in Baker’s later life after he loses his front teeth and has to find a way to play the trumpet again. It seems he was happy in the end, but there was always a looming tone of sadness and heartbreak throughout the film — fitting with the final line by Hawke “Born to Be Blue.” (It doesn’t have spoilers, really, but after you see this film I definitely recommend listening to Hawke’s interview with Marc Maron on WTF.)

Whether you need some cheering up after Born to Be Blue or not, a good follow up is Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. It presents the perfect parody of music biopics without being too silly and the comedic writing (Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan- also the director) was top-notch in my book. It mostly follows a similar story to that of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line but crosses over with applicable themes that are in most biopics: tragedy , addiction, death, career ups-and-downs, love and of course rising above challenges. Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly), the oldest looking 14-year-old ever, has a quick rise in his career even though he has no sense of smell and goes on spiral that every young pop star with a hit like “Take My Hand” is expected to have. Walk Hard hits all the right notes (sorry had to say it) and has so many good cameos, the scene with The Beatles has to be my favorite, and shows Reilly’s continued comedic genius alongside a cast of Jenna Fischer, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, Matt Besser, Chris Parnell and so many other Saturday Night Live and improv comedy stars.

To conclude, okay I am nowhere near being done, I also watched Saturday Night Fever (a 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die recommendation) with John Travolta. I was mostly surprised about how dark the film is. It’s more a coming-of-age story about family and friendship with the 1970s Brooklyn disco scene in the background than an exploration of that era and dancing than I thought it was.

Travolta (Tony) spends his days at a paint store and nights at the disco club breaking in his platforms and bell bottoms until he realizes he really wants to dance all the time. He switches his days to the studio practicing with an older woman, Stephanie, to enter a disco competition. Tony smokes while dancing and is always in his skin tight silk shirt and bell bottoms while Stephanie is ready to work in the most uncomfortable-looking leotard. Those moments focus on the dance and bring you into the 1970s, but the film really is more about the characters at transitional moments in their lives they release through breaking out their boogie shoes until it all becomes too much. Gosh that does sound really dark, but it just is that type of film.All-in-all Saturday Night Fever somehow successfully bridges the gap between exploring a significant era in pop culture history and delivering a character-driven drama.

While it’s a documentary that may never have the fame of Saturday Night Fever, Presenting Princess Shaw could be known in that way years from now. I saw the film during the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Festival this week followed by a  Q&A and after party with Princess Shaw herself.

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Princess Shaw

Princess Shaw, aka Samantha, grew up in Chicago with a rough childhood and moved to New Orleans as an adult. There she works with patients in nursing home, often singing to them, and at home makes YouTube videos of her songs. Across the world in Israel, Kutiman explores YouTube for musician’s work to make “mashups” between instrumentation and vocals. He comes across Princess Shaw’s work, including one video where she says she is looking for a beat to go with it, and the rest is history. It’s not so much about a “YouTuber” being discovered as it is a connection between two kindred spirits across the world and how success can come in unexpected ways to the most deserving people like Samantha. She graciously answered the audience’s questions after the film and it is evident she just wants to make her music, live her life and doesn’t expect any fame from it. I learned more about that listening to her talk at the after party. My friend and I sat at a big open table only to be bombarded by board members from MSPIFF and I was one seat away from Samantha. She is humble and again gracious in answering the board member’s questions, mostly about what YouTube is and if the story about how she and Kutiman found each other was authentic or “reenacted.” It was a little uncomfortable for me (mostly because of my self-diagnosed mid-30s social anxiety and awkwardness) as more and more board members crowded our table and I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise when I wanted to ask Samantha a question. BUT when they calmed down a bit and took a break to complain about the deejay being too loud I did ask her what her favorite movie is. The answer: Zombieland because of Bill Murray’s cameo role.

I like that. A lot.

It was a honor to be in the presence of Princess Shaw’s music royalty this week, even though she probably wouldn’t describe it that way, she is really a star in life and I admire her. The film will be out soon on Amazon, iTunes and the like and you must see it.

Okay folks, that is all. I did obsess about this blog quite a bit but once a week should be manageable.

“I think a healthy dose of doubt makes you better.”

Gary Oldman on Nerdist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 of 366: Strictly Ballroom

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Strictly Ballroom is understated for writer and director Baz Luhrmann, and he really doesn’t do understated. His signature bright-colored costumes and makeup were there, but the overall the pace of the film is a bit slower than Luhrmann’s later work such as Moulin Rouge or The Great Gatsby.

The heart of Strictly Ballroom is a solid dance competition film/ugly duckling story based on Scott Hastings’ (Paul Mercurio) ballroom career and his family’s push for him to find the right partner who will keep him in the limelight and as a top contender at the competitive level.

Scott has been dancing since he was a kid and wants to do just that, not be the most popular one with the prettiest partner.

His partner jumps ship after Scott goes rogue with his own moves in an early competition, sending his mother into a frenzy to do whatever it takes for the one and only Tina Sparkle to be his next dance-floor companion.

All the while Scott, who 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die contributor Ernest Hardy, describes as “devastatingly sexy,is practicing with Fran (Tara Morice) in secret.

The rooftop dance scenes between Fran and Scott are right up there with Dirty Dancing (not to mention Center Stage and the classic Step Up) and she inspires Scott to try more new steps on the dance floor.

The line “You really are a gutless wonder!” certainly put Scott in his place early on in his partnership with Fran and I hope one day I have a legitimate reason to say that to someone.

Strictly Ballroom does have some clichés in terms of Fran’s character, such as when she takes off her big plastic glasses to dance and suddenly appears pretty and starts wearing makeup (what would later become known as the She’s All That syndrome) and how Scott’s family and coaches believe he could never date — or even dance with — a woman like Fran.

The clichés are far from weaknesses of the film and don’t take away from how it brings together ballroom dancing cliques and quarrels over the future of Scott Hastings and Tina Sparkle while he is really falling for Fran.

There have been a lot of dance movies since 1992 and Strictly Ballroom holds true to the formula of competition drama, love and music while establishing its own influence of the genre for years to come.

“If you say run, I’ll run with you
If you say hide, we’ll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower.”

David Bowie