Whitney Carson makes a promising debut in Dancin' It's On. A young person's film made by 79 year-old actor, dancer and director David Winters (The Last Horror Film, West Side Story). Winters' film has a great deal going for it.
I must confess a fondness for what I call kitchen sink movies: movies where a bunch of themes, tones and types of character are thrown against the wall to see what sticks. Juraj Jakubisko and even Godard do this on a lot. Dancin is not at the level of the best from those to masters, but it's very good. This film has a kickboxer father who runs a luxury hotel that hires circus performers, a mime, dancing golfers, death and Shakespeare.
Not all of the themes work. The Winters character's secret is not handled well. The Romeo and Juliet comparisons are a stretch, and the two side characters display more growth and likeability than the two leads. But the themes that do work work very well.
For a film that follows a tradition of young rich girl falling for poor boy romances, Dancin displays a great deal of imagination. There are moments that are just as joyous as the musicals of old. What is wrong with breaking into song and dance once in a while?
The film also has something that most films lack, sincerity. I think it helps that the people that were hired to act in this film are dancers taken from competition shows. The film is about training for a competition and these performers add a certain depth that an actor who just learned to dance might not have. Sure, not everyone in here shines, but no one feels inauthentic. Even the father, a rich former kickboxer, was an actual kickboxer. They hired the right people to display a love of dance that Winters obviously has. The character Winters wrote for himself is the weakest in the film, but one could also see this project as an old dancer's attempt to show he still has some moves left, and that is quite touching.
My fiancee and I had the theater to ourselves, a sad situation for the film, but we had a great time, liked every montage and marveled at Jordan Clark who has big things ahead of her.
I suspect Jon M Chu was chosen because he had taken a Hasbro production to success with GI Joe Retaliation and made two very sucessful Bieber documentaries. Much like Jem, which was once an 80's cartoon that followed He-Man, Chu's work appealed to men and teen and tween girls. Jimmy Fallon has a cameo in the film explaining that though Jem is for girls, he likes it too. I have seen none of Chu's work, but I would say he certainly is quite good at filming musical sequences and has heartfelt and kinetic energy in this work, all of which serves Jem and the Holograms very well. Aubrey Peeples stars as Jerrica. She has sisters and cousins and an aunt and a dead father (no mention of a mother). The whole family is musically inclined. Jerrica is the more introspective of the family and probably the most intelligent. She quietly records a song that gets uploaded on Youtube and becomes a viral hit, a great song in fact that could become a viral hit in the real world, under the name Jem. The film is litered with real Youtube videos of people trying to showcase various talents. It is a very nice touch.
The film is about hiding under names in an online, viral world, the deceptive world or marking and trying to maintain personal intergrity. A young rock girl is trying to help her aunt by signing a solo rock contract that will create tension with the rest of her family.
The silliest aspect of Jem is the sci fi subplot in which Jem's dead father attempted to leave her daughter with life lessons through a robot he created called Synergy. But the silly aspect, the film's weakest aspect, is also fairly entertaining in a kitchen sink sort of way. There are questions left on the table. Just how old is Jem's keeper and could he really run the business without it being held up in court for years? Why didn't Jem reveal her identity sooner insuring that her aunt would get some money through a TV exclusive on the story? In the end though, it is kind of touching what Jem chooses to do with her identity. The film is sincere, has fine music and positive characters. It also has more of an 80s vibe to it then other attempts at recapturing the decade. That might sound odd because of all the Youtube references but it's there The very end, a montage of fan videos, is an obvious love letter to fans of the series. And any true fans of the cartoon should like this film.
I saw As Fabulas Negras (The Black Fables) Wednesday at Tucson's fantastic The Screening Room. It was part of the Arizona Underground Film Festival. Since it was the North American premiere and only eight of us were there, I feel I should say something about the film.
Almost no information was available about this film. I knew that Coffin Joe had directed one of the fables; this is an anthology film. Sadly, he does not play his usual character in the film.
The film is an anthology film four short Brazilian horror fables by four Brazillian directors. Like most anthologies, it could ditch its framing story that ideally links the stories together and just have four stories, one after the other (as New York Stories did). The framing device in this film is among the worst I have seen; children play paintball then discuss fear, and what the say scarcely matches the story that follows.
I do not know who is responsible for which film except for the film by Coffin Joe. The first film is simply disgusting. In this fable, the black is likely shit, since shit is splattered about and discussed at length. The film has something to do with waste disposal and creatures growing from poor waste disposal, as appealing as it sounds.
The second film is something a bit special
A werewolf story with some original bits and pieces. The locale, old-world feel and even the casual racism in the dialog, fit the characters. The werewolf looks silly (every attempt at a creature looks super fake, likely due to budgetary limitations that should have made some of these guys thing twice or try something different), but there is some genuine tension and sensual intensity in the story.
The biggest disappointment follows the werewolf, some kind of woodland creature terrorizing a small village. Coffin Joe directs in a noisy off-putting manner. It displays none of the creativity of his 60s work. It is garish and boring, but then the garishness isn't as bad as the predictable fourth entry that plays like Candyman on sedatives.
I give the film one star. I give the werewolf entry 2 and a half though and will seek out more from that director once I know which one did it. I will continue to hope Coffin Joe makes further Coffin Joe films.
This is his fourth and worst film as director. There are some themes from past films. The outsider perspective is there, as it was in the other films. If the last films had existed post gentrification, this is a film (somewhat lost in time) that takes place in a place fighting gentrification. The lost in time, somewhat fable element, is new to McCarthy and does not serve him well. McCarthy has never been particularly funny, though The Station Agent is great and good for a few human chuckles, not sure why he put Sandler in this virtually humorless (unless the ending is meant to be a commentaryon the glut of superhero films, then that at least is hilarious) not sure why he cast Sandler. Other directors of note that put Sandler in dramedies at least used his man-child character or his sense of wonderment to good dramatic effect.
Every film starring Adam Sandler (post Billy Madison) is an Adam Sandler vehicle where he is the auteur. If you believe in the auteur theory, then you would have to believe, I think, that certain actors shape the type of film it the thing ends up becoming more than a director or writer: Bogart, Beatty, Nicholson, Dangerfield, Seagal come to mind. There are some themes here from past films, an obsession with old ladies, a strong sense of family and ethnic identity, a cast of Sandler regulars and a plot that if directed by Dennis Dugan could have been as zany as his early vehicles or his newest one Pixels. I would have enjoyed that one more.
There are a lot of WTF moments in this film. Sandler experiencing walking through Chinatown as a Chinese man with a sense of glee that is a bit much. The ending, which I will not give away here is crazy. Dustin Hoffman is paired with a women (in a film earlier this year he was paired with Judy Dench) who seems old enough to be his mother. He is probably near her age but still way vibrant. Lastly, and most troublesome, the film, by virtue of the things the cobbler does when he becomes a black man or a tranny, is racist and sexist. Funny Sandler films have always been sophmoric and sexist but at least they were funny.
Marc Lawrence has made four Hugh Grant comedies. He seems to understand Grant's abilities better than anyone. Hugh Grant in the right vehicle is as effective as Cary Grant. Lawrence favors good one liners, interesting settings and strong supporting casts. His version of the Grant character is less fumbling and romantic, more sardonic and a bit of a cad. There is a touch of a con man to this character that works well.
One should skip Did You Hear About the Morgans. The fish out of water scenario, Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker hiding out from danger in Wyoming, is light on laughs and there is no chemistry between Grant and Sarah Jessica.
One should start with Two Weeks Notice. Grant is charming. Sandra Bullock is used effectively as Lucy who has ideals is not the prettiest girl in the room but has efficent smarts and makes Grant's millionaire cad, George totally reliant on her.
George Wade: Before you came into my life I could make all kinds of decisions now I'm addicted I have to know what you think. What do you think?
[holds up cufflinks] Lucy Kelson: I think your the most selfish human being on the planet. George Wade: Well that's just silly. Have you met everybody on the planet?
The masterpiece is Music and Lyrics
It has spot on representations of 80s music. Alex (Grant) is a washed up singer that used to be in a Wham type group. It has a spot on parody of Britney Spears, played by Hailey Bennett who will never be better. It has able support from everyone especially Drew Barrymore. This is the film that best captures her easy to love nature. The film makes an argument that although pop songs may seem silly, the right ones are just as important as those things we call art and mean as much if not more to us. This is a classic pop song of a movie, perfect in its way.
Almost as good is The Rewrite. It is about a screenwriter (Grant) who won an Oscar but is now down on his luck and teaching at a small college. JK Simmons is the head of his department, and his part is touching. Chirs Elliot is a Shakespear professor (!), and it works. Every student, from the easy lay to the Star Wars nerd are given lines that flesh them out in suprising ways. The students are so interesting that it is easy to see why Grant would (spoiler) want to stay and teach them by the end. This is a film about teaching and less about romance, though it is billed as a rom com. Marisa Tomei is the love interest but not in the usual meet cute way. What is cool is that she likes him and he likes her but they do not need each other. She shows Grant around town, in the best scene, to a spot where the carousel episode of the Twilight Zone was filmed. Maybe there is something in the film that mirrors that episode about growing up and moving forward. But what is being offered most is good screenwriting, good screenwriting tweaks expectations in an interesting way.
George Lucas has said for years that he wants to make small art films that would not be popular. But he is a popular artist, and that is what he is so good at. He should be happy to be so good at something.
Mr Lucas has said that Strange Magic is for his daughters. He might even be the model for the overweight and protective king.
His daughters should probably love this film. And anyone with young daughters should go out to see it because it introduces in Marianne a character who does not pine for love, who learns to fight and take care of herself and others before falling in love.
If anyone was ever bothered that Fiona had to turn ugly to be with Shrek or that Belle could not make love to a sexy beast and had to settle for a wimpy prince, this is the film for you.
Marianne and the eventually reformed villian of the film find romance. He is craggly, but they have much in common and both sacrifice for each other. This is how love works and is miles away from the bathos in those later Star Wars films.
The look of the film is very Labyrinth. The feel of the film is American Graffiti, in that music is essential and constant. Is there anything as moving here as the Smoke Gets in Your Eyes dance scene in AG? Yes, the love songs here all prove simple, direct and true and help move the story forward. Many of the folks in my screening were getting teary eyed.
There is also great voice work particularly by Bob Einstein. I really liked this movie.
I should say a few words about Bill Cosby in film since this is a film blog and I saw him do stand up last night.
His TV and stand up seems rooted in reality. Oddly, the films that followed the huge fame of The Cosby Show were high concept silly films. Leonard Part 6 and Ghost Dad are silly and not very good. His Fat Albert film is a different story. It is high concept. Fat Albert and his gang go from animation to the real world. And yet there are good lessons about citizenship and how to be a good person. For instance, when walking with a woman, the man should always walk nearest the curb in case a car swerves or water is splashed onto the sidewalk.
If his stand up is to be believed, Cosby was not a good citizen as a very young child. He took money from the church donation box to buy a four scoop ice cream that he dropped. He killed his younger brothers imaginary friend! Here is the image that greeted the audience until he hit the stage.
There were cops there
Everybody was there for a good time. My sister should up with her guy. It was nice seeing them. There was one lone protester outside, but I never saw her.
I did hear this exchange
Old Man (who came in a group of four others): So what is this a play?
One of Group: No it's Bill Cosby.
Old Man: WHAT!!!
Old man aside, everyone seemed there to see Bill, and we all laughed. He did twenty mintues on football and how his grandson bet against New England because they win too much.
Mostly, he did routines about childhood, a very funny bit about his uncle and a stork, a bit about pinatas not coming with candy.
The only reference he made to current events is mentioning that he is no longer on the Temple University board of directors. He ended with a story about being at a Temple ceremony that was a hilarious showstopper.
My favorite moment of the show:
"I don't understand comedians who say we were poor but didn't realize it. In my family, we realized it. We were informed." It was a night of great comedy from a man who, ideally, will still be doing this for years to come.