19 October 2015

I Just Gotta Dance

Recently, I was a guest on my friends' podcast all about dance movies. We had a great time talking about our favourites, but being a podcast; we were limited on time and the ability to show visuals. Enter WWQTW?! I'm super excited to post again and glad they got me off my butt and working. You can listen to the podcast here or follow them on Facebook or Twitter by clicking on the links. It is also available on iTunes, so search for: a2b Aubyn & Brielle Talk About Stuff .

The movie that started this all was "Center Stage" (2000). To say we love this movie is an understatement. It was part of my yearly roster forever! While I was never a ballerina, I was a dancer for a number of years and I love some of the little things included in the movie like the beginning where all the dancers are getting ready for class. Sure, I think most dancers would show up with their shoes already sewn, it's good for people to see the level of customization that goes into each dancers shoes. It's blood, sweat, and tears baby!

Below is our agreed favorite scene: The finale. The choreography by Susan Stroman  is amazing. You have to have a sense of disbelief (how does she change complicated hair styles in 30 second changes??) but who cares? It's dancing!

My hosts each picked two additional dance related films they loved. Aubyn chose "Strictly Ballroom"  (1992) and "Every Little Step" (2008). Following the basic format for dance films of the Introvert/Lone Wolf who finds themselves or their humanity through their interactions with another person and through the art of dance. In this case, it's a ballroom dancer who dances to his own drummer but finds the importance of compromise with a new partner. Her favorite scene was the finale from "Strictly Ballroom". Of course! The finale of any dance movie always contains the best dance sequence.

"Every Little Step" is a documentary about the revival of "A Chorus Line" on Broadway. It follows the long and arduous process of casting a show and getting ready to perform. It's a great film about what it really takes to be a professional artist. Talent isn't enough- Everyone is talented. It takes a lot of hard work, a bit of ego, and the inability to do anything else. I love this doc as well, though if you're looking for big dance numbers you will be disappointed . If you like docs like this, I also recommend "Broadway Idiot" about the making of the Tony winning musical.

Brielle chose "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" (1985) and "Dirty Dancing" (1987). How can you have a dance conversation without talking about "Dirty Dancing"?! I just want to go to that kind of summer vacation in a resort in the Catskills. "Girls" is a great choice in this list because it speaks more to social dancing instead of professionally trained dancers. Kind of the "So You Think You Can Dance?" of it's time.

My two choices were "Shall We Dance?" (1996) and "All About Jazz" (1979). With only about an hour to cover all of this in the podcast, I couldn't adequately express my love for Bob Fosse. He is hands down my favourite choreographer. His signature style, deep lunges and back leans, finger snaps, wrist flicks, have influenced everyone who came after him. He may have been a bit of a son-of-a-bitch, but he was a talented one. Check him out in "The Little Prince" (1974):

The movements look effortless, and that was the particular hardship to his style. They were anything but easy. Every move is precision, every step thought out and rehearsed ad nauseam.

My favourite piece of choreography by Bob Fosse is in "Sweet Charity" (1969) featuring Shirley MacLaine and Sammy Davis Jr. The music, the dancing, the performances. It makes me smile every time. I can't help it!!

There are so many other great dance movies and scenes, but I would be remiss if I didn't also include a clip of Ann Reinking doing her thing. Perhaps I'll write another post with more suggestions and clips. Until then, what is your favourite dance movie or scene?

*all videos via youtube.com

01 May 2014

Getting Under Your Skin

"Under The Skin" (2014)
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson

Michel Faber's novel of the same name is one of my favourite books, possibly my favourite modern novel. I discovered it upon publication when I worked at a bookstore and immediately fell in love. I made everyone I could read it. When my boyfriend and I first got together, I made him take it with him on an extended trip with the warning that he "must read this book or don't bother coming back". Perhaps that's a bit harsh, but I kind of meant it. Faber has such a way with story telling that crosses genre boundaries. His lead, Isserly, is at once both feminine and other, child-like and sultry. She's a character in pain but who stomachs it for the greater good. I have been anticipating this film for over a year and was anxious to see how they would translate the cerebral sci-fi novel to the big screen. 

After having watched the film, I wish more reviewers had pointed out this is a very loose adaptation of the book. Perhaps then I wouldn't have found myself waiting patiently for the climax to unfurl or confused by the complete departure from my beloved text. One must assume the departure was that of budgetary constraints. The novel is sparse in terms of locations (Scottish Highlands, car interior, barn), but leaves so much up to the reader to interpret. In Glazer's film version, the lead is now Laura; a vaguely English rose with exotic features that convey safety and sensuality. Johansson plays her not as a stranger in a strange land or as a tortured soul battling physical pain and adolescent awkwardness, but as a brooding silent type with her eyes and thoughts only on the mission at hand. That mission is to pick up men on the street, take them back to her house, and do god knows what with them. The film allows the reader inside this sanctuary much sooner than in the book and that's a godsend. Once inside this onyx room, we get a glimpse into the big picture. It's only after Laura picks up a man with facial deformities that her interactions with her subjects up to the point begin to weigh on her. It's the first glimmer of a nurture verses nature argument and one of the better I've seen. She wanders the countryside, aimless and intrigued. Could she run away from her purpose? Could she hide here in Scotland forever?

Jonathan Glazer does a great job at creating a haunting, nightmarish dream scape of a film that begs to be watched repeatedly even if doing so will fuck your mind again. I walked from the theatre in a daze, the last time doing so having been Mike Nicol's "Closer". The script is almost dialog free. The visuals (from Daniel Landin, mostly of music video fame) are really the main character. Glasgow stands in for Inverness and it's people all the background you need. Much is shot with hidden cameras and the men Johansson talks to are not actors but real passerby. It lends a realism that is comforting while making their outcome all the more disturbing.

This film is for those who love avant garde, experimental, foreign, and quiet films. It is not for the sleepy. The score by newcomer Mica Levi sounds like Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Howard Shore on a synthed out trip through some crazy mind freak. Fans of the book should be advised to leave their memories of the text at the door and simply give in to the experience that will beg to be discussed at length with other viewers after the show.

22 August 2013

Hello Old Friend

Today I had an interesting conversation with my boss and a few regulars about blogging. My boss has read my blog and likes it. That's heartening, but I feel like I don't have as much time to write as I used to. Perhaps this has something to do with not being at an office job anymore. I certainly had more than enough time to devote thirty minutes a day to typing out a review when sitting in a cubicle. I also had more time to watch movies and go to the theatre when I worked a 9-5. Since moving into the bar scene, I find that all I want to do when I get home is catch up on TV and sleep. My days off are crammed with all the tasks that MUST be completed for me to continue living. Add to this the lack of internet at my house and you get a pretty lazy blogger.

The positives: I think I'm finally starting to find a balance after over a year of being a paid night owl. I am also consciously choosing to watch the movies that languish in my queue or on top of my DVD player. I miss writing about what inspires, drives, and truly nourishes me. That may sound cheesy, but film and to a slightly lesser extent TV have been my touch stones. I have always been interested in what makes them good, what other people think, and how they factor into my life. I don't know what I would do if my TV broke. Actually, I do; as that happened to me not too long ago. I borrowed money from my parents to replace it ASAP.

As a welcome back to blogging, I want to talk about a movie I just saw.

"Would You Rather" (2012)
Director: David Guy Levy
Starring: Brittany Snow (also Exec-Producer), John Heard, Enver Gjokaj, Sasha Grey, Eddie Steeples

"Would You Rather" is perfectly described as a cross between "Hostel" and "Ten Little Indians". The concept isn't particularly new, but the approach and acting elevate it beyond previous works. We meet Iris (Snow) as she interviews for a job. She just quit school to take care of a sick brother after both parents have died. Money is tight, and she doesn't seem qualified for much. Her brother's doctor introduces her to Shepard Lambick (Jeffery Combs), the head of some huge corporation? Endowment? It isn't explained very well. Needless to say, he's rich and giving away money. Would Iris be interested in attending a dinner party, playing a game, and potentially winning enough to make all her and her brothers' dreams come true? Sounds too good to be true, and that's our first red flag. WYR doesn't try to be smarter that other films of its ilk, it simply understands that you, the viewer, know what's going to happen, and speeds along until hitting pay dirt.

Iris agrees to go to the dinner where she meets a cast of characters plucked from the pulp headlines: a gambler down on his luck (Heard), a saucy minx (Grey), the token black guy (Steeples), the ex-military guy (Charles Hofheimer), the little old lady (June Squibb). Dinner seems pleasant until the game is introduced.

It's a simple children's game. We've all played it: Would you rather? In our version, the choices are usually between bedding some famous actor or the weird guy at school. Drinking some weird concoction or kissing a dog. Who knows? The possibilities are endless! Of course, this is a horror/suspense film, so the stakes are much higher. I don't want to ruin some of the ingenious ways Mr. Lambick has devised to torment and test his potential beneficiaries, but I will pose this offered question: Would you rather electrocute yourself or your neighbor? How much are you willing to risk to chance?

At times, WYR made me cover my eyes. It was a nice change of pace for me truthfully, where nothing is usually weird or disgusting enough that I've not seen it before. In this case, I may have seen it before, but I cared more for the characters involved that I didn't want to see what I knew must happen.

Is this torture porn in the same way Hostel may be categorized as? No. Is it equally, if not more, disturbing? Yes. What would the average person do in these"Exam" or "Cube" that "Hostel". It's really about what makes a person human? What limit is too far? What would you do to achieve what is most important to you? It is in these questions that WYR succeeds.

circumstances? As one character expressed, we'd like to think we know but as the timer runs down, what would we really do? Thinking on this now, I think the film has more in common with

Would you rather??

05 May 2012

Quothe the raven...

"The Raven"
Director: James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta")
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans ("Immortals", "Clash of the Titans"), Alice Eve ("Entourage" TV, "She's Out of My League"), Brendan Gleesen

*** (3.5 stars)

I have been waiting for this movie to come out for what seems like forever. I find myself saying that often about the movies I review and for that I'm sorry. However, when you pair John Cusack (hello, gorgeous) with Edgar Allan Poe (uh... not so gorgeous), every depressed teen's entry into depressive poetry, you know it's going to be a film like no other.

Some suspension of belief is required to truly enjoy this movie, the lack of physical similarities between the lead actor and his real life counter part not withstanding. One must also suspend any knowledge they have of Poe himself. Yes, it is true there is no record of Poe for the three days proceeding his untimely death; but I hardly think he did it in the joie de vivre spirit shown in the film. It's also hard to think of him as a man capable of getting out of the bottle and drugs long enough to have a love life or any real life for that matter. That being said, there are many facts and facets of the movie that come directly from real life and from what is known.

Baltimore, Maryland- 1849. Poe is back in his adopted hometown and desperately poor. His only salvation is the off-limits daughter (Eve) of a well to do businessman (Gleesen). She is is inspiration and the only thing he thinks about more than booze, dope, money, and fame. Soon, grisly murders begin to happen that only the new detective (Evans) can explain- they are based on the work of Poe. He then enlists the help of Poe to try and solve these murders. Who will guess the killer first, the audience or the detectives?

What surprised me most was how bloody this film was. Thinking back on it I can't imagine why I was surprised, but I was. I guess it's just been a while since I've seen a person cut in half or disfigured outside a "torture-porn" or more traditional horror flick. The FX by Szilvia Paros ("Pillars of the Earth" TV, "Hellboy") are well done and support cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann's ("In a Savage Land", "Little Fish") epic shots.

Cusack toes the line between curmudgeon and scholar well, though it takes a while to warm to some of his acting choices. Eve really shines in a scene that finds her playing out "The Tell-Tale Heart" (not a spoiler, it's the clip she's been showing on appearances). I hope Evans makes more pictures that require acting and clothing (not that I mind him being half naked in the least). His weathered face reminds one of Daniel Craig and he has the potential for the same silent glances heavily weighted in meaning as well.

The only downfall to "The Raven", and responsible for the 3.5 rating instead of 4, is the somewhat disjointed storytelling. It is as if the film didn't know how to start itself or how to end. The middle, the investigation of the crimes, is well executed. Each murder points a finger towards the next and Evans and Cusack make a great team in trying to decipher them. Without giving too much away, the revelation of the killer was a bit of a downer as well. The obligatory confession that even villians not in a James Bond film must give felt like an after-thought.

Fans of the actors, subject, or genre will appreciate this film; though I'm not sure it needs to be seen in the theatre. Rental will allow what I hope to be good special features beyond the usual making of. A featurette linking characters in the film with their real life counterparts would play well. As would one exploring the many theories surrounding Poe's death.

20 April 2012

A Pair of Star-Crossed Lovers

Every once in a while, I get on a genre kick. Sometimes it's horror, sometimes comedy or foreign. This week I was all about biopics.

First up:
"Bright Star" (2009)
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Ben Whisaw (Keats), Abbie Cornish (Fanny), Paul Schneider (Mr. Brown)

** (2 stars)

Based on the poet John Keats secret love affair with Fanny Brawne near the end of his life. Fanny comes from a somewhat established family and is of the age when she must think about marrying, and more importantly, marrying a man with money. Her best prospect is family friend and failed poet Mr. Brown, who teases her life a child on the playground. Enter young Keats- poor, mysterious, talented. Fanny is immediately drawn to him and their secret rendez-vous commence. Tragedy strikes when Keats contracts TB and is sent off to Rome to convelese. Months later, he is dead at 25- a failed poet.

If this sounds like spoilers, I apologize. However, history tells us these things so I don't feel I'm ruining anything. That you know the romance is ultimately tragic was part of the marketing campaign.

The film has a great premise. Part biography, part history, part love affair; how could it go wrong? But, wrong it does. The film feels overly long dispite coming in just under two hours long. The acting is good, Cornish and Schneider especially. Cornish displays the naivity and ideality young woman possess, and that many a heroine of romantic lore have been written around. Schneider, perhaps best known for independent films "All the Real Girls" and "Lars and the Real Girl", has a fantastic Scottish accent and teases Miss Brawne as if it's an Olympic sport. Whisaw is fine as Keats, but it does not compare to his "star making" turn in "Perfume" or more recently on BBC's "The Hour".

Furthermore, the film is boring. Too much film is spent on voice over's of letters written and poems being tried out when it could have shown the action to a much better result. Campion is the champion (pun intended) of quite, moody, romantic fare. Her approach is no different here, though I feel she was far more interested in her subjects personally than she was at making us fall in love with them.

The movie did make me want to know more, mostly because I was left knowing so little, so I jumped to Wikipedia for an overview. Five minutes browsing the internet left me with a much better taste in my mouth. Why didn't they play up the secrecy of their affair? No one knew until Fanny's death when she bequithed the love letters to her children. Her life was far more intersting during and after her time with Keats, I wish the film had focused more on her.

Next, I finally say Cronenberg's "departure" film.

"A Dangerous Method" (2011)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel
Awards: Golden Globe nomination, Best Supporting Actor- Viggo Mortensen, London and Los Angeles Critics Association Best Actor- Michael Fassbender, Venice Film Festival Golden Lion- David Cronenberg

****(4.5 stars)

Just after the turn of the century and prior to World War I, a destraught Russian woman, Sabina (Knightley), is delivered to Jung's Zurich clinic. She is histerical and fights help with every fiber of her being. Jung begin's what was then refered to as "the talking cure" on her, based on his readings of Freud's papers. As Sabina gets better, so does the relationship between student and teacher, both of Jung and Freud and Jung and Sabina) developes. Together, Freud and Jung work to develope and create what becomes psychoanalysis. As Sabina gets better, she begins a long-term affair with the married Jung that releases him from his own mental confines. She goes back to school and becomes a therapist herself. However, this love triangle soon becomes toxic to many involved ending in the infamous rift between these two masters of the mind.

The biggest surprise in this film may be Knightley. She physically embodes a woman suffering from past trauma's and guilt. The opening scenes in which her whole body fights her revelations is brilliant. Fassbender may be the most exciting actor of his generation. Jung could easily become an unsypathetic character, yet he creates a man flawed and accepting of his own flaws. Mortensen and Cronenberg should have a contract, along the same lines as Time Burton and Johnny Depp, and make as many films together as possible. Both bring the best out of the other and the unscene relationship that must be evident off camera bleeds into the performance.

The film makes clear the stylistic differences between Freud's and Jung's approach to the psyche that is easy for the layman to grasp. Again, it is the female character that is almost more interesting. Sabina graduates and becomes a respected psychoanalyst. During the war, she moves back to Russia with her husband and family. During World War II she refuses to leave her home and is killed, along with her children, by the Nazi's. That she is no longer forgotten is wonderful.

I would certainly recommend this movie to anyone interested in the birth of our understanding the mind, to those with a major crush on the actor's or director (guilty!), or to anyone interested in a movie that makes them think. I certainly understand you may need to be in the right mind set for such a film, but try to get there!

Cronenberg is a director that continues to grow even though he doesn't need to. Having made his name as the Canadian father of horror, he know puts that same eye to detail, destruction, and psychology to more realistic forms. His next project, "Cosmopolis", takes him back to the future armed with the character development he has perfected in recent years. Not even the presence of Robert Pattinson is enough to turn me off this film.