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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

Tonight’s episode of Glee couldn’t have had a more appropriate title, for it did indeed put me into a “Funk.”  But all bad puns aside, seriously, it was a hot mess.

Before I go on what will assuredly be a rambling tirade of anger and confusion, let me say that I’ve heard that this episode got switched with last week’s big GaGa episode for reasons unbeknownst to me (probably for ratings, as it was a much talked about episode, and it was following the American Idol finale), so a few scenes had to be cut to make this a possibility.  At least that’s what I’ve heard.  But even if this is the truth, it’s no excuse to spit in the face of continuity altogether.

The biggest, most obvious chunk of plot missing was whatever caused a rift in the Rachel and Jesse relationship.  Last we saw Jesse St. James, he was telling Ms. Corcoran that he was starting to really like Rachel.  Then, he was noticeably absent from the last episode, so clearly nothing happened there to cause the bad blood.  But this episode starts out with him flaunting his Benedict Arnold-ness and bitterly saying that the New Directions kids treated him terribly and never listened to his opinions (which we never saw exemplified on-screen).  He cruelly sets Rachel up to be egged by his Vocal Adrenaline cohorts in the McKinley parking lot, then takes a turn at it himself, saying, “I loved you.”  LOVED, in the past-tense.  SO WHAT IN THE NAME OF CELINE DION HAPPENED?! Read the rest of this entry »

One would think that musicals based on the rags-to-riches life stories of controversial politicians’ wives rest solely in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s wheelhouse.  Yet, he now has some competition in the forms of David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) and Fatboy Slim (the DJ best known for his hit “The Rockafeller Skank”).  The two recently teamed up to release Here Lies Love, a sprawling pop-rock opera based on the life of Filipino first wife,  Imelda Marcos.

The project is imagined as a musical heavily featuring Marcos and Estrella Cumpas, a servant from her childhood who also reappeared at various important points in Imelda’s life.  Byrne and Fatboy Slim recruited a gaggle of trendy, fresh female vocalists (and a few trusty veterans like Cyndi Lauper and Tori Amos) to take on the role of Imelda or Estrella in each song.  St. Vincent, Florence Welch, Sharon Jones, Santigold, Sia, Nellie McKay, Martha Wainwright, and Shara Worden all make appearances.  Male voices are scant, but Byrne himself takes a turn at the mic in “American Troglodyte” and “Seven Years,” and Steve Earle pops up on “A Perfect Hand.”

The epic album starts off with the title track, sung by Welch (of Florence and the Machine).  It serves as a great introduction to the album, setting the tone of the music and the story.  The track has a solid disco foundation that seeps its way through a good majority of the album, and guides us directly into “Every Drop of Rain,” a bouncy duet between Candie Payne and St. Vincent (as Imelda and Estrella).  Despite its apparent sunniness, the lyrics make a stark point about Imelda’s destitute childhood, and the feeling that accompanies poverty in general:  “When you’re poor/it’s like you’re naked/and every drop of rain you feel.”  It’s a touching duet that establishes the closeness of these two women, just before their paths diverge like two negative magnets.

Like the sweeping Broadway epics penned by Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber, Here Lies Love also features quite a few throwaway tracks.  Some that fall in the middle are considerably less memorable than the few that we begin and end with.  Certainly, the project is consistently good; it’s just not always consistent in its stubborn catchiness.  But, this could be said of almost every album ever made.  The benefit of a rock opera or musical is that the album has a distinct story and each song is a chapter.  Take one song out and the story doesn’t advance in the same way.  Knowing the background of each song is unbelievably beneficial to the listener, and the information is readily available, in detail, on  Of course, this also makes the listening experience a much more involved process – an aural journey, perhaps.  Besides a few select songs that could act as singles, the project is best ingested as a whole, and with a fully devoted mind.  This is ideally how every well-crafted album should be treated, but Here Lies Love almost demands it of its listeners.

Pic source

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

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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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So, finally the show that I’ve been anticipating for months has premiered, and I can definitely say that it didn’t disappoint.  It was smart, funny, and moving, just as I’d hoped (and secretly knew) it would be.

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Wet_Hot_American_Summer-145I’m watching this right now on one of the awesome movie channels that my dad now gets.  It’s my third time seeing it, and it’s such a detail-oriented comedy, that I’m still noticing new things to laugh about, just tiny things in the background.  If you’ve never seen it, and you’re not easily offended, then I suggest checking it out ASAP.  It’s a smart, hysterical send-up of those old summer camp comedies, like Meatballs.  It also has a ton, A TON, of really awesome comedic actors, like Paul Rudd, Michael Showalter, Janeane Garofolo, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon, Michael Ian Black, David Hyde Pierce, and even Christopher Meloni.  It’s pretty much a Who’s Who of people who make me laugh, and there’s lots of retro music and clothes to be had.



The origins story is an interesting medium in Hollywood.  They walk a very thin line.  They could be a shameless ploy for money, with producers and studio heads hoping to draw in an old crowd and a completely new one with a sleekly packaged popcorn flick (see:  the Star Wars prequels).  In the end, they typically leave old fans disappointed and the newly initiated confused.  Or, they could set out to honor the source material with the hope that fans both old and new would find something fun, exciting, entertaining, and welcoming there (see:  Batman Begins).

J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek sets out to accomplish this latter goal, and it succeeds.  I never once felt that they were doing all of this only for money.  In fact, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, via an interesting plot twist, didn’t necessarily write this as a re-imagining of the original series.  Rather, they presented a story that hadn’t been told yet, that resided in the same universe.  There’s even a great homage to the original series in the (kind of surprising) inclusion of the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy in the cast.  It truly couldn’t be more honorable.

In casting this film, they had to remain true to the characters already sculpted in the original series while also adding something new (no one really wants to watch a younger actor rehashing William Shatner’s halting dialogue as Capt. Kirk).  Ultimately, I think that the overall strength of this film lies in the cast that’s assembled here.  No one is too well-known.  Chris Pine (Capt. James T. Kirk) had previously appeared in The Princess Diaries 2 and the Lindsay Lohan vehicle, Just My Luck.  Zachary Quinto (Spock) plays the evil Sylar on the NBC show, Heroes.  Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin round out the Enterprise crew, with Eric Bana taking over villain duties.  They are all adept at their roles, particularly Quinto and Pine, who make a convincing transition from extreme enemies to fledgling friends over the course of the film.  The many quick cameos are fun too (whoa, there’s Winona Ryder!  Is that Tyler Perry?).

It was also a pleasant surprise to not be completely confused by the plot.  Seemingly, everything about the film divines that the newly initiated viewer will be confused.  A story that’s been around since the ’60s?  Check.  Directed by the man responsible for Cloverfield and the TV show Lost?  Check.  A plot involving time travel?  Check.  It was truly a relief to actually have a firm grasp on what was unfolding on screen.

Truly, this was a wonderful installment to a timeless universe that spans both film, television, and literature (and, I’m sure, even more mediums that I’m not even aware of).  For the new viewers, it can be a fun ride that’s simple enough to go down easily, but complex enough to make it stand up as a notable entry to the sci-fi genre.

Grade:  A-



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May 2020

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