Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Dance Movies

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. To join, just pick three films from the genre she's chosen for the week and write a bit about them.

YES. This is what I LIVE for. It is, after all the name of my blog:

DANCE MOVIES

I will see ANY dance movie. You name every single one that has come out in the last twenty years, good or bad, and I've seen it. Here are three of my favorites, with my favorite dance scene (that I can find) from each.
Take The Lead (Liz Friedlander, 2006) Antonio Banderas changes the lives of inner city students THROUGH THE POWER OF DANCE! No really, he does. Because this is a true story! Also known as the first time Yaya DaCosta, America's Next Top Model runner-up, showed the world she could act. In this scene, Banderas has had it with trying to make his detention students do some kind of dance other than hip hop bump-and-grind, so he brings in one of his best, sexiest students to show them just what he can teach them.
Shall We Dance? (Masayuki Suo, 1996) Don't bother with the 2004 Hollywood remake with Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere. Just don't. Because this is the real thing, and this is where it's AT. Genuinely sweet and funny, with a heart as big as any movie could hope for, this Japanese gem is very nearly perfect. In this scene, Shohei Sugiyama is taking a dance lesson from the lovely woman he has seen in the window as he passes by on his way home from work, and she and a fellow student teach him how to really dance - not just with your body, but with your heart. And by the end of the movie, his heart truly has opened, in the most beautiful way.
Step Up Revolution (Scott Speer, 2012) The Step Up films have basically only gotten more and more ridiculous over time, but they've proven themselves to be a playground for some of our most talented choreographers, and have some shockingly great cinematography to match. The fourth in the series, Revolution, is by far the craziest in terms of plot (it involves an "underground" group of flash mobbers trying to win a YouTube competition because reasons) and probably has the most tenuous grip on reality. BUT, the dancing? OUT OF THIS WORLD. I included the Art Gallery scene as part of my entry for Andrew's Fistful of Moments blogathon, and it's a stunner, but when push comes to shove, I would probably pick this one as my favorite from the whole movie. Maybe even from the whole series. "The Mob" has finally decided to use their dancing to actually try and effect change, and do so in pretty stunning fashion.

BONUS PICK
Mad Hot Ballroom (Marilyn Agrelo, 2005) The documentary that inspired Take the Lead. And really, it's all you could ever want in a documentary. The kids are ADORABLE (the crowd goes wild when they start doing the rumba, and you will too - with good reason!), it looks at real social problems through a unique lens, and shows the positive impact this program has on these kids' lives. Keep the arts in schools, people. They do a world of good.

27 comments:

  1. Haven't watched any of your films. But I got hooked by Shall we Dance.

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    1. The Japanese version is SO GOOD. Take the Lead and Step Up Revolution are really underrated.

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  2. Haha, I knew you would have loved this one!

    I've heard of Take this Lead, think I even caught a bit of it on TV. Certainly want to watch the whole thing.

    Almost anything with Jennifer Lopez is pretty much an avoid in my book.

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    1. Hehehe was it that obvious? ;)

      Take the Lead is really quite good. I love Alfre Woodard as the principal of the school, too.

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  3. I haven't seen any of these. I'm not crazy about the Step Up films, but you're right about them showcasing very talented choreographers.

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    1. The Step Up films (except for the first one) pretty much fail on basic story and character and acting levels, BUT the dancing and cinematography are pretty much always incredible. And the use of 3D is better than in most action blockbusters.

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    2. I've seen the first one and I think the other was Step Up 3D, and yeah the 3D had not much of a story and basically was just an excuse to showcase dance.

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  4. I like your picks, a little bit of everything here - Matt shared the documentary!

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    1. I LOVE Mad Hot Ballroom. Makes me grin from ear to ear.

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  5. I had no idea your blog name had to do with your love of dance movies!

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    1. Well, it has more to do with my love of dance in general - I've been a tap dancer since I was 10 (after I first saw Singin' In The Rain). The love of dance movies is an extension of that. But I do genuinely love all dance movies. The blog started as a way to talk about dance on film but I got off track. I'll get back on eventually, after I get into the habit of writing regularly.

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  6. I wrote on Fisti's blog that I loved the original Shall We dance and Take the Lead which both are wonderful. Shall We Dance (The original) is so much better than the Hollywood remake even if I like Stanley Tucci.

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    1. So glad someone else likes those movies! Sad thing is that if the original Shall We Dance was released even ten years later it wouldn't have been anywhere near the modest hit it was, since foreign films don't get the same level of distribution or marketing in America anymore.

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  7. Haven't seen any of your choices, but thinking of watching Take The Lead soon!

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    1. Take the Lead is highly enjoyable, as these things go.

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  8. Even though I'm a day late commenting I was anxious to see what you'd select knowing that your blog's title derives from your love of dance and dance films so I'm sorry to say I haven't seen any of these. Yikes!!

    I've seen the American remake of Shall We Dance and really like it and have always meant to get around to this one but haven't had the chance but someday. With Take the Lead I have a limited patience with Antonio Banderas who always strikes me as a self satisfied jackass which comes through on screen so I bypassed it but I LOVE Alfre Woodard so I'm going to check it out. I thought the first Step Up was one of the dumbest things I ever saw so I've never watch any of the follow ups. I'm most intrigued by Mad Hot Ballroom which I was only vaguely familiar with.

    Here's my three for the week, I'm curious if you've seen them all, I'm positive you've seen one but the other two are more obscure.

    Bootmen (2000)-Story of a man who works in a steel mill whose ambition to dance professionally looks like it can happen when he tries to organize his own troupe but might be derailed by conflicts caused by his troubled brother. Director Dein Perry, who conceived the stage show Tap Dogs, based this on his early life. Set in New South Wales, Australia the cast includes a pre-fame Sam Worthington and talented dancer Adam Garcia.

    Stepping Out (1991)-Liza Minnelli plays a former Broadway dancer who moves to Buffalo and opens a dance studio where a disparate group of women take her tap class. As the movie moves along they find new strengths as a group as they prepare for the big show. Great cast, Andrea Martin, Jane Krakowski, Julie Walters, Shelley Winters and of course Liza pep up this little known drama.

    The Turning Point (1977)-Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine play long time best friends who had met as promising ballet students but whose lives have taken them in different directions. Anne has stuck it out and is now a prima ballerina nearing the end of her career while Shirley married, had three children and runs a dance school in Oklahoma City. When they are reunited and it seems one of Shirley's daughters has what it takes to make it to the top old rivalries re-emerge. Somewhat hackneyed story is bolstered by strong performances by the main pair, Anne is better than Shirley, and wonderful ballet performances including some by Mikhail Baryshnikov at his peak.

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    1. The original Shall We Dance is really a lovely film. Hugely enjoyable. Banderas's persona really works in Shall We Dance (Woodard is barely in it but she's her usual wonderful no-nonsese self). I think everyone should be required to watch Mad Hot Ballroom. It's so good and, in its way, an extremely important film.

      I haven't had the opportunity to see Bootmen, but I've heard of it (HUGE Dein Perry/Tap Dogs fan). I can't believe I didn't think to include Stepping Out, which is such fun. And I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I have not yet seen The Turning Point - although the mention of Baryshnikov is now making me sad I didn't include White Nights, which makes me think of Gregory Hines, and now I'm sad I didn't include Tap...

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    2. Stepping Out is NOT the film of those three I was expecting you would have seen! I thought it would be Turning Point for sure, what I think surprises me even more is that you have seen White Nights but not the Anne/Shirley starrer. Haven't thought of Tap or White Nights, which has that great supporting cast-not that they are put to very good use, in years. While neither is sensational both are enjoyable films. I think you'll like both Bootmen and The Turning Point, again neither are "great" films but each has its pleasures.

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    3. Yeah, I know... the 70s and 80s are the weakest decades of film viewing for me, and The Turning Point falls squarely in that range. I've seen White Nights because tap dance is my specialty and I've made it a point to see every film I can that features it. And you're right, neither that film nor Tap are great films on the whole, but they have some spectacular scenes and the most sensational dancing, and are very entertaining on the whole.

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    4. Bootmen should be right up your alley then since it looks at a different kind of tap, actually the lead character is in a fancy tap show at one point.

      If tap is your specialty you must be an Ann Miller fan. I came around to greatly respecting her talent as an artist, and when she was older her memories were fascinating, but it took some time. When I first became familiar with her on talk shows during her Sugar Babies era with her mountainous immovable hair, one step away from clown makeup and phony laugh she made my eyes twitch. But then I saw several films where she was amazing, spinning like a dervish seemingly without effort and began to re-evaluate her.

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    5. Ann Miller is fantastic (I especially love her in Easter Parade and Kiss Me, Kate), but a little of her goes a long way - you're right about that laugh of hers.

      If you really want to see a great female tapper, seek out Eleanor Powell. She's not as well-known today as Miller but she's an even better dancer. Her duet with Fred Astaire to "Begin the Beguine" in Broadway Melody of 1940 is legendary, and rightfully so - Astaire himself said he was somewhat intimidated by her talent. She also does an absolutely nutty number in a giant pinball machine in the otherwise forgettable Sensations of 1945. And of course, the famous "Fascinatin' Rhythm" number from Lady Be Good.

      Unfortunately, none of her starring vehicles were very good, so her fame didn't last much beyond her era (there was a brief revival with her inclusions in the That's Entertainment! films, but not much beyond that), but she's always the best thing about the films. She's much more of a "natural" performer than Ann, who is often too much of a ham, and the dancing, just.. WOW.

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    6. Oh I LOVE Eleanor Powell!!! Sadly Sensations of 1945 is one of two of her films I haven't seen yet, The Duchess of Idaho is the other. That number with Astaire is a beautiful thing. So many of her numbers are ridiculous but she sells them, I remember a particularly out there one in the film Ship Ahoy. And of course they all took place on a stage that could not possibly fit in a real theatre but that just adds to the general splendor of them.

      Eleanor and Ann are quite a study in contrasts. The quiet Eleanor actually was more convincing in leads than the brassy Ann, even their production numbers have a different energy but both were immensely talented women.

      Based on their screen personas it's not surprising that Eleanor retired early, though I always thought she and Glenn Ford were an odd match, while Ann was hoofing for as long as her joints could stand it. I think part of Ann's determination came from the fact that she began dancing at a very young age at her doctor's suggestion because she had been struck by rickets and he recommended it as an avenue to ward off the deformity of her legs. I read an interview with her where she didn't state that flat out but alluded that it was something she always remembered and was leery of what might happen if she was to ease up on her discipline. She also mentioned in the same article that she had rehearsal shoes, they had names!, that she's had for about twenty years that she guarded because they had taken so long to become just right and she had another pair that in about five years would be broken in too.

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    7. Oh YAY! Somehow I was certain she wouldn't be completely unfamiliar to you...

      I haven't seen The Duchess of Idaho, either, but from what I understand she basically only has a cameo in it - playing herself! I've seen that number and it's a corker (Esther Williams apparently felt bad after she saw that Powell had practiced so hard that her feet bled, in order to make sure the dance was perfect). Even past her "prime" she is still gorgeous and so effortlessly dances circles (literally) around all her contemporaries.

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    8. Hi Dan,

      Just thought I'd drop back in to say I watched Take the Lead and enjoyed it. You were right Banderas was far less unctuous then usual and his main story was interesting knowing that it was based on fact. The surrounding stories were variable, some really feeling like screenwriting 101. Alfre was her usual fierce self, even if her wig, I hope it was a wig!!, was ghastly. Thanks for the tip.

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    9. So glad you enjoyed it, Joel! It's true that some of it is very "screenwriting 101", which is pretty par for the course with these things, but in most cases the performances lift it to something enjoyable. I just love Alfre in the scene where Banderas dances with her (I don't remember her wig being janky, but it's possible it was intentional since this was an inner city school). The way she adjusts herself after is such a fun moment. And the final tango trio is so great.

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  9. Take the Lead has become a family favorite around the Dell house. Very cute movie.

    I've not seen either version of Shall We Dance? Maybe one day.

    I have a weird relationship with the Step Up franchise. My wife and daughters go crazy over these movies. I don't like them...most of them...but watch them anyway. I did like the first because it's clearly the best movie. I also like the last one (All In) because it almost totally dispenses with the notion of being a movie at all and knows it's just a collection of dance scenes. That said, my favorite dance scene in the entire series is from my least favorite film of the bunch, Step Up 2 the Streets. The closing dance number in the rain is just all sorts of phenomenal.

    Great picks!

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    1. That's very true about Step Up All In. The less the Step Up films focus on silly things like "plot" and "character", the better they are. And I totally agree on the final dance in Step Up 2. The film is all kinds of awful but that number is a stunner (although each time I watch it again it seems slightly less impressive).

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