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Step Up 3D hardly revolutionizes storytelling.  It doesn’t even break the mold of the “inspirational arts and/or sports film” subgenre.  There are your typical characters – attractive and confident or nerdy and awkward, but always likable – and their struggles are always the same – “I want to pursue my passion, but my parents want me to do otherwise,” “We’re a scrappy band of outsiders and we want to follow our dreams, but someone is standing in our way!”

This time it’s floppy-haired Moose (Adam G. Sevani), who looks like a young David Krumholtz but dances like the rubber-boned, b-boy offspring of Michael Jackson, who has given up his passion for dance to live out the dream his parents have for him.  He starts the film as a freshman at NYU, pursuing an engineering degree, but quickly – like, before orientation is even over with quick – falls in with Luke (Rick Malambri) and his rag-tag dance crew, The Pirates.  Luke is like a more wholesome, young, attractive version of Charles Dickens’ Fagin, or maybe like a dancing Robin Hood.  He plays the father figure for his crew and houses them at a giant warehouse called the Vault, which his late parents converted into a rehearsal and living space.  But time and money are running out and his rival Julien (Joe Slaughter), a trust-fund baby and leader of rival dance crew The Samurai, is looking to buy the Vault.  So Luke must figure out how to win the World Jam and care for his patchwork footloose family while also romancing the mysterious Natalie (Sharni Vinson).  Meanwhile, Moose must juggle his new position as boy-wonder superstar with The Pirates, his actual school work, and his relationship with BFF/love interest Camille (Alyson Stoner).

The story is warmed over and scarcely “inspiring,” and the romantic sub-plots are paint-by-numbers.  The dialogue can be painful and some of the acting (especially Malambri’s performance) is sub-par.  What does make Step Up 3D exceptional is that it utilizes this new 3D trend in a truly original way.  Unlike recent “3D” posers such as Clash of the Titans and Avatar:  The Last Airbender, which were converted to 3D after filming, Step Up 3D was actually shot in the 3D format.  And there are plenty of crafty visuals to take advantage of that format.  One thing this film does as opposed to the previous two Step Up films is that it features more than one big dance scene.  The other two would show plenty of practice scenes – just to let us know that the characters could dance and were putting the time in – but they saved the truly awesome stuff until the very end.

The makers of Step Up 3D know that you aren’t there to see the same characters act out the same plots for the third time; if you’re shelling out $12 a ticket for this film, you want to see some dancing.  And they deliver.  There are at least three big dance battles, and plenty memorable scenes in between with the dancers performing for the camera, their arms and legs coming directly at the audience.  They utilize their atmosphere, too.  In one scene, dancers send clouds of dust wafting from the screen.  In another, they slosh across a soggy dance floor, spraying water everywhere.  The final dance ups the ante with more tricks and crazy visuals, including some that would be impressive even without the added bonus of the 3D.

On this blog, I’ve knocked other films that fancy themselves to be more thought-provoking or that aspire to a higher level of “art” than Step Up 3D does (like James Cameron’s Avatar, and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland).  But what made me appreciate Step Up 3D was that it’s a self-aware film.  It’s not set-up to be some breathtakingly original spin on an old classic, or an award-grubbing movie with a message.  It aspires to nothing less than to entertain the audience for a while, and to give viewers exactly what they expect.  Sure, the plot may be mind-numbing at times, but the dance numbers and the sheer thrill of experiencing a 3D film like it’s supposed to be presented nearly outweigh any artistic follies.

And, perhaps accidentally, the film has opened a door into a new film-making possibility.  The sheer abandon and pure spectacle of Step Up 3D hints that this may be the format that suits dance films, and maybe even big-production movie musicals, best.  I’m not usually a fan of the “just turn your brain off and enjoy the film” argument, and so I’m not going to make it.  There is a better reason to enjoy this film, and that is to appreciate dance on the big screen in a flattering new light.  Not to mention that it may be the best entry into the new canon of 3D films.  If Hollywood insists on making more of them, here’s hoping that they resemble Step Up 3D.

Grade:  6/10

For many, the phrase, “down the rabbit hole” connotes something quite enchanting and memorable.  For me, Tim Burton’s journey down that bunny’s burrow was quite the opposite.  Instead of the magical world of Wonderland that we know, filled with beauty and whimsy and all that inspirational hooey, we’re given a half-hearted attempt at a “sequel,” of sorts.  It comes across more like a dull retread of the original story, advanced a few years and with a “girl power” ending tacked on. Read the rest of this entry »

I think this second entry features a strong batch of films, for me at least.  I even have two documentaries listed!  Let’s hear it for me being all kinds of diverse.  The more time I spend writing this list, the more certain I feel that I need to watch a greater number of films.  Now, onto the best of what I have seen.

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I’m finally cracking down and getting this done.  I’m still not entirely set in the rankings, and I’m having second thoughts about putting certain films  on the “runners-up” list as opposed to my top 30 list, but as Carole King once said, “it’s too late, baby, now it’s too late.”

30.  El laberinto del fauno [Pan’s Labyrinth(del Toro, 2006)

An intense, chilling fairy tale, laid out beautifully by the very imaginative Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth is eerie and dark, the way most fairy tales were before Disney laid claim to them.  Even the Faun, one of the “good guys,” is slightly terrifying, but he pales in comparison to some of the vicious baddies here, like the Pale Man and our heroine’s unusually cruel stepfather.  Unlike the candy-coated Princess tales of late, Pan’s Labyrinth doesn’t end on a decidedly happy note.  But then, it has a strong tether to reality, much more so than faries and fauns and mandrakes would first lead us to believe.

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I got a little out of control and ended up with 50 films on my “top films of the decade” list.  While I’ve seen a lot of films from this decade, I know that I haven’t seen nearly enough.  So, the list will be a mixture of my personal favorites (even the rather stupid ones that I just love to watch over and over again), and the ones that I think are the best.  And that’s 50 films.  Whew.  I’ll rank the top 30, and do write-ups for some, if not all, of them.  For now, here are 20 honorable mentions, just in alphabetical order.

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Like a complete dork, I decided to keep a list of the films that I saw in 2009.  I gave them a letter grade, too, depending on how good (or bad) they were.  The final count was 107, which isn’t too shabby.  I’m going to do better this year, though, because I’m going to join Netflix, which is going to be awesome.

List after the jump.

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Do I even need to tell you that there are spoilers here?

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Yes, summer has ended, and so I thought I might compile some facts about my summer in a series of handy lists.

Movies I Saw in Theaters This Summer:

(list behind the cut)

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The new trailer for Wes Anderson’s upcoming film, an animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”  Visually, it looks very interesting and different.  It’s still quite obviously an Anderson film, though.  Can’t wait to see it.

270222_0When one finds oneself laughing at non-humorous moments in a film about a teenage girl who is dying of cancer, one comes to question whether or not one has a soul.  And by “one,” I mean “me.”  

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