Dance Movie Reviews – Step Up: All In & Make Your Move

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for dance movies. To be fair, I’m actually a sucker for good dance in general. I don’t know what got me interested in dance in the first place when I was a little kid, but it led me to joining my high school dance team (which has now been ages ago). These days I’m just a huge dance fan, with my occasional moments of dancing in my car and dreaming up choreography to songs when I listen to them.

Dance movies are by no means the best movies in the world, but I love watching them. They’re a nice distraction and the dancing’s always amazing. So anyways, I finally got around to watching two dance movies that were released last year, Make Your Move and Step Up: All In.

Make Your Move stars Derek Hough (of Dancing With the Stars) and Korean pop star BoA as Donny and Aya, two dancers caught between their feuding brothers. It’s a Romeo and Juliet set-up that ultimately makes everything feel very forced in its attempt to be more than a generic film. I was initially excited about the movie for a few reasons: 1) Derek Hough, who is such an amazingly talented dancer and choreographer; 2) NappyTabs were one of the main choreographers; and 3) They filmed it in Toronto. Unfortunately, I was excited for nothing. While most times the dancing is enough to make you forget about the plot and even the acting, this was one of the rare times where I found everything else to be more distracting than the dancing. There was promise in the dancing (or at least you’d hope so, since it is a DANCE movie), with a tap and hip-hop fusion, mixed in with taiko drumming – that was what made it unique. To me, it seemed like there wasn’t enough dancing, especially of the fusion dances. The main feature is that Donny and Aya’s brothers, played by Wesley Jonathan and Will Yun Lee, each have their own clubs, which allows for there to be a stage for our aspiring dancers to perform. Giving them a platform to dance obviously works, even if it is a convenient story device. It’s when they start doing the intricate choreography off the stage as part of their everyday life that it starts to fall apart. There’s the obligatory “love connection” dance scene (you know that one where the two leads realize there’s a deeper connection beyond dance), wherein Donny and Aya start doing some contemporary hip-hop around his place. The scene feels forced, scripted and choreographed, not the least bit natural at all. It also doesn’t help either that, try as they may, there’s no chemistry between Derek and BoA. Honestly, the script itself was an uninspired mess, filled with typical dance movie dialogue that there was nothing anybody could do to elevate it out of generic territory.

Step Up: All In is the fifth movie in the series, and at this point is more or less of the same. Watching this movie, it’s crazy to think that it all started with the original Step Up starring Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan; it just seems so different. Here, The Mob (the crew from Step Up Revolution) are struggling in their attempt to make a career in Los Angeles, especially when another crew, The Grim Knights are booking all the gigs. Feeling that they’re just not cut out for L.A., everybody except Sean packs up their bags and heads back to Miami. When Sean finds out about a dance competition called The Vortex, he sees it as one last chance at his dance dream and with the help of Moose, assembles another crew (LMNTRIX) comprised of dancers from previous Step Up installments to compete. There’s a tiny twist with The Mob entering the competition, but you essentially know what it’s all leading up to – LMNTRIX vs. The Grim Knights. When you get five movies into a series, it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that not all the installments are on the same level. While Revolution actually felt like it was trying something different in terms of storytelling, in addition to all the dance sequences, All In lived up to its title by mixing in everything/anything it could from the first four movies and see if it worked. It ended up being a little derivative and no standout dance sequence from what seemed like not very many. At the very least, the movie serves as a good feature for all the SYTYCD alums: tWitch, Marko, Comfort, Cyrus, Tony Bellissimo, Phillip Chbeeb, Emilio Dosal, Jayme Rae & Jenny Dailey, Vincent Poirier, Janick Arseneau.

Basically at the end of the day, I didn’t really like either of the movies. Both felt very bland and predictable, with nothing really spectacular about it to make you want to watch it again. I’m just a little disappointed that they weren’t better than the ended up being. So I’m just gonna go back and watch Center Stage/Step Up/Take the Lead for the millionth time.

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DVD Review: 10 Years

10 Years

I am so incredibly happy that I finally get to write about 10 Years. I had the pleasure of seeing this movie back in September 2011, when it made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and I instantly fell in love with it. The movie succeeded in getting distribution at the festival, so I waited rather impatiently for the chance to see it a second time, and now that it has been released on DVD, I finally get to watch and enjoy the movie over and over again.

10 Years is a film written and directed by Jamie Linden, who previously wrote the screenplays for We Are Marshall and Dear John. The movie is about the lives of high school friends and what they discover about each other when they come together for their high school reunion. The ensemble cast is comprised of a wonderful group of this generation’s actors, including Channing Tatum (who also serves as a producer on the film), Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Scott Porter, Justin Long, Rosario Dawson, Max Minghella, Kate Mara, Oscar Isaac, Chris Pratt, Ari Graynor, Brian Geraghty, Lynn Collins, Aaron Yoo, Aubrey Plaza, and Anthony Mackie.

Cast of 10 Years at TIFF 2011 premiere (L-R: Brian Geraghty, Lynn Collins, Kate Mara, Ari Graynor, Aaron Yoo, Oscar Isaac, Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Scott Porter, Kelly Noonan, Max Minghella, Justin Long, writer/director Jamie Linden)

Cast of 10 Years at TIFF 2011 premiere (L-R: Brian Geraghty, Lynn Collins, Kate Mara, Ari Graynor, Aaron Yoo, Oscar Isaac, Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Scott Porter, Kelly Noonan, Max Minghella, Justin Long, writer/director Jamie Linden)

The premise of a high school reunion isn’t anything revelatory or new. What Linden has done is actually make an ensemble character drama that just so happens to take place at a high school reunion. The movie takes on the questions that come up when you’re well in your 20s and are faced with an event like a reunion (How much have I changed since high school? Am I living the life I want? Am I happy with who I am with? What happened to “the one that got away”? Is life what you expected it to be?) The answers are delivered with varying degrees of insecurity and self-actualization that is expected of anybody in this situation, as well as an abundance of charm and heart.

One of the best things about the movie is that, despite the fact that they assembled an all-star cast, when you watch it, you feel like you know these people and not in the way that you’re watching actors in a movie. It happens a lot of times when movies are made with the full intention of casting a lot of actors that you get taken out of the movie and are too busy reveling in so-and-so’s presence, rather than focusing on their characters (looking at you Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and What to Expect…) With 10 Years, even with instances like Scott Porter’s character being named Scott Porter, you don’t feel like you’re just watching a bunch of actors on screen. It makes you feel like you were attending your own high school reunion and that you were friends with these people. There’s a realness to it that carries on throughout the movie, where you also get the sense that the cast are actually friends in real life, not just put together for filmmaking purposes.

10 Years is a great movie to watch, no matter what kind of mood you’re in. It’s the very definition of a dramedy – a drama with comedic elements to balance it out. It’s too bad the movie didn’t get a wider release in theaters, with proper marketing, because with this cast alone, it could have been a decent hit at the box office. That aside, it is out there and available for everyone to see now, so I sincerely encourage you to give this movie a try; you won’t be disappointed.

DVD Review: Step Up Revolution

Step Up Revolution

Back in August, prior to the theatrical release of this movie, I posted a list of some of my favourite dance movies, because I am SUCH a sucker for these type of movies. Now that Step Up Revolution has released on DVD/blu-ray and I have finally been able to see it, I have 2 main things to say about it: 1) Best film in the series since the first one and 2) I regret not seeing it in theaters.

I truly mean it when I say that I feel Step Up Revolution is the second best film in the series, behind only the original. When the first Step Up was released back in 2006, it was during a time where dance was really being accepted by the mainstream again. Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance had premiered either that year or the year before, thus allowing dance to make its impact on pop culture. By today’s standards, Step Up wasn’t your atypical dance movie – the writers of that one really did try to give it some real drama and it ended up being something special. I mean, it had to be, to justify having three sequels that were released in theaters and not just straight-to-DVD. Not to knock down the legitimacy of the first 2 sequels, but watching them, you had a feeling that the filmmakers made those movies just to show off amazing dancing, with little to no attention paid to plot and characters and it was very formulaic. With Step Up Revolution, it became a nice mix of the original and the 2 previous sequels. They really outdid themselves with the choreography, something that was the focus on the sequels, but they also really tried to give the movie a decent plot line, beyond just two crews battling each other. Kathryn McCormick and Ryan Guzman, both making their feature film debuts, paired up nicely and for their first acting gigs, weren’t too bad.

What was evident while watching the movie was that it definitely deserved to be viewed in theaters, on the big screen, something I regret not doing. Watching the dance sequences, even in the standard way, you could see how the 3D was used and how it would’ve given a different feeling had you seen it the way it was intended.  I think it went beyond the tricks of things coming at you, and actually would have given it an extra depth, which for something like dance is pretty nice to see. If we simply get down to it, it just would’ve been really cool to see it in 3D.

Is Step Up Revolution the greatest movie of all time? No. But if you’re a fan of the previous Step Up movies or if you’re a fan of dance in general, you’ll love this movie and the great choreography featured in it.

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ Delivers on All Counts

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When it was announced that Sony was going to reboot the Spider-Man franchise, only 5 years after the last installment, it was met with groans and concerns by all. Was it too soon to be rebooting a successful franchise? Was Hollywood THAT desperate that a reboot was even necessary in the first place? Even I was a little bit wary over the decision. But what most people don’t realize is that Sam Raimi and company just could not agree with studio executives over the direction of a Spider-Man 4 and so they dropped out. Sony, not wanting to lose out on a lucrative franchise, opted for a reboot with a new team at the helm – a decision that proved itself when The Amazing Spider-Man released in time for the Fourth of July holiday.

The Amazing Spider-Man is directed by Marc Webb, whose previous film was his directorial debut, the indie rom-com (500) Days of Summer. To go from an indie to a summer blockbuster, Webb was a rather interesting choice, with people doubting his ability to take the reigns on such an action-laden movie. Instead, Webb  proved doubters wrong and created a movie that seems to please the comic geeks, the action lovers, and those who simply appreciate a good movie. Sure there are aspects to the movie that may not go over well with some, but one cannot deny Webb’s skills in crafting a well-rounded movie. It helps that Webb has gone on record saying he has been an avid fan of the comic books for a long time, which certainly makes his hiring seem less haste than just hiring any big name director. Working from a script by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves, Webb takes The Amazing Spider-Man back to Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s origins, with a young Peter abandoned by his parents, sent to live with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and eventually, gets bitten by a radioactive spider (the story we all know). The approach taken with this movie draws similarities to Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman – a whole-hearted effort to really ground the movie and give it a sense of realism, as opposed to making the film “comic-bookish.” In this reboot, our hero is played with spectacular charm and wit by Andrew Garfield, best known for his role in The Social Network. We follow Peter as a wallflower photographer navigating the world of high school and it is here that we meet Peter’s love interest – no, not Mary Jane Watson like in Raimi’s trilogy, but rather Gwen Stacy played by the incredibly talented Emma Stone. In attempts to find out more about his father’s work before he disappeared, Peter is led to Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans), who becomes Spidey’s first foe, The Lizard.

There were 2 aspects to the movie that worked incredibly well to distinguish it from its predecessor. For one, Webb and the writers worked to really flesh out Peter’s character. When watching a blockbuster movie, it is not often that you see actual character development or character insight to make you understand their motives and intentions. We are very much use to seeing characters as they are and then just a bunch of action sequences to tell the story. But here, the writers make a concerted effort to show Peter as an actual human being (not just a fictional character) and we get to understand the reasoning behind his actions and how he goes about dealing with the situation he’s in. Though the writers did a wonderful job with regards to Peter’s character, I wish they had put as much thought in writing the Dr.Conners/Lizard character. It is one of the few weaknesses in the movie, whereby we get only a half-hazard explanation as to why Conners as the Lizard would wreak havoc (for lack of a better term) on NYC.

The second aspect of the movie that worked so well was without a doubt, the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Maybe it has been a while since watching Raimi’s trilogy, but it feels as though the chemistry between Garfield and Stone was much more believable than Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. (It is certainly no wonder that Garfield and Stone have begun dating in real life.) As Peter and Gwen, the actors convincingly portray young love/first love, with all of its sweet, cute, awkward qualities at play. Not to mention, Garfield and Stone are total cuteness overload (in a good way).  The last time I watched a movie and was completely convinced of the relationship on-screen was Like Crazy, starring Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, and I had similar feelings watching ‘Amazing‘ as I did watching this movie – all the emotions just felt real.

In the end, The Amazing Spider-Man gave us a very well-rounded movie. Though I saw the movie in 2D, I can certainly see how the 3D version would enhance the action scenes and the scope/depth of the backdrop that is NYC. It is a movie that is much more than just your stereotypical blockbuster; it is well worth your time and money.