A rant on Step Up Revolution

Step Up Revolution; the fourth sequel to Step Up, so long awaited by dance fanatics, finally aired over the summer. I was so excited for this movie that I was ready to write a review so gushy that happiness would just ooze right out of the page, but now that the initial spasm of joy has dissipated, I’m left sitting here not really knowing what to say. Step Up 3 was pretty amazing (1 and 2 were decent as well, but not as eye-popping) and we know that as a movie series goes on, directors have to try harder and harder to keep the audience interested. Well, the fourth movie to this series certainly is a novelty with numerous fresh ideas, but perhaps the directors could have used a little more time to plan.

Allow me to elaborate: The plot revolves around Emily (Kathryn McCormick), a young woman who comes to Miami with her father in hopes to join a dance company and pursue her dream of becoming a professional performer. She meets Sean (Ryan Guzman), a member of a street dance crew that appears in random public places to put on amazing dance performances then disappear, leaving behind just their name, “The Mob”. Wanting to learn to dance with more spirit and feeling, Emily convinces Sean to let her join the crew while practicing to audition for a prestigious dance company. Meanwhile, her father, who is a developer, makes plans to tear down dozens of homes of an old tight-knit community of people in order to construct a modern park. Among the rather poor but very caring families living in the designated area are members of The Mob. The dance crew wants to change this ill fate of their community and the members decide they had “enough of performance art; time for protest art!” With their dances, they start sending out messages to the public, speaking out against the city’s plans. During all this, they are trying hard to win a $10,000 online-dance-video award, which they presumably desperately need. However….  In the dances, they use expensive cars and suits and costumes, and in one there are even bills being tossed all over the place. So yeah, on one hand, you’re really poor and scraping and scratching to make ends, but, on the other hand… It seems like the few thousand dollars shouldn’t even make a difference to you.

I was looking forward to this movie so much that I don’t really want to criticize it too much for this. However, I do recognize that the real good movies are the ones that don’t have ridiculous plot holes like this, and having to turn a blind eye isn’t really good criteria for being able to say that a movie is good. They shouldn’t leave it to you to try to find a way to wrap your head around what the heck is going on, and it just makes the story seem like a poorly glued together collage of ideas that don’t really tie into each other at all. So, sadly, I cannot muster up much defense for this film. Maybe the crew had some really lucky connections and was able to borrow the cars and suits, or they “borrowed” with no intention of returning? Either way, the logic of the film is not very impressive.

Another aspect that’s a bit of a damper is the acting. It really wasn’t the best: many people complained about Emily and Sean’s acting performances, much like the ones of many other members of “The Mob”. The best actor was truthfully probably Emily’s dad, and he was barely even there. That’s just what happens when you have a movie that focuses on dance; actors are chosen for their dance performance, and acting takes a back seat. Only the characters who are there just to fill in non-dancing roles are chosen for their actual role-playing talent. This is pretty understandable but it doesn’t make the movie any better. If we turned a blind eye again, we could say this could potentially be beneficial by taking some attention off the main characters, who, good acting or not, are the central focus of the entire story. The main characters would thusly be the stars of the dance scenes while the non-dancing parts are dominated by the minor characters. Objectively speaking, this provides a good balance of attention coverage and focus, bringing out all the components. That being said, poor acting isn’t ever really a positive thing.

I was hoping I could say that the dance parts are the saving grace of the movie, but I’d have to be lying. The dances can make a pretty cool impression on a 3D screen, when you’re just seeing them for the first time, but with a closer look you’d see that they are just made of quite simple and repetitive movements. The only really impressive thing about them would be the costumes and effects used to complement them. I thought the artistic ideas and concepts of this movie were pretty original and creative but they lack a good foundation to build on. It’s as if you have beautiful decorations and frosting but on a dry and crumbly cake.

Well, I think that basically sums up my general impression; the movie had some great ideas that could have made it really amazing, but it lacks forethought and fails to tie up the loose ends. I tried as I could to find some praise to say, but I run up short. The only good thing I can sincerely say about Step up Revolution is it incorporates some ideas that would have been amazing if organized well (and almost make it worth watching), but sadly that amazingness was not attained. To tell the truth, this is the movie I’d say the phrase “a disappointment worth seeing” describes best; There are several very inspiring concepts weaved in the story, but they’re not developed very well, so the whole thing seems a little frayed, and well, “unfinished”. Streetdance, which on its own has its own handful of debatable components, was a much better-crafted dance movie in comparison.

Rather like Jim Carrey’s Yes Man, Step Up Revolution has all the potential to be amazing groundbreaking masterpiece, but is a let down from that expectation. People who turn a blind eye to the shoulder-shrugging components could really enjoy this movie, but for the skeptical critics, the most enjoyable part may turn out to be the popcorn.

Movie review: The Words

So far in the movie industry, we have seen movies made about dance mobs, figure skaters, hockey players, football players (the list of sport teams goes on), pianists, magicians, even hobby-less people… I was delighted to see a new one come out about a writer: The Words, by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal.

I was amazed at how inspiring this movie was- I walked out of the theatre with a crazy urge to go dig through antique shops and buy a typewriter and click away at it all night. The pacing of the plot, the narration, mood, setting and use of soundtrack music; it all pulled you in and soaked you up. I don’t think I was this impressed with a movie’s directing and narration since I saw The Illusionist. 

My biggest surprise was that the movie was not quite what the trailer suggested;  it was about a book that was about what the trailer suggested. Granted, 90% of the movie was dedicated to this book’s plot-line (within which there was also a book with a sub-story, pulling you even deeper into the plot), but there would be the occasional and perfectly timed withdrawal to the “real world” in which the fictional story teller is reading the tale. I thought this push-and-pull aspect, much like the various levels of dreams we saw in Inception, was marvellously done and subtly enchanting. It can be quite challenging to arrange such a complex and multi-stranded plot- so that the audience does not get confused, or you don’t jump too many levels at once and disrupt the story’s fictional dream- but The Words pulled it off perfectly. It was able to give the audience more insight with discrete insertion of thought-provoking dialogue and details at each depth. 

As far as the acting of this movie goes, it was pretty impressive. Every emotion seemed authentic, the characters displayed great feeling that made them believable and played the role they needed to in order to move the audience. The old man, played by Jeremy Irons, was an especially great character in my opinion, and also the principal reason why the whole movie can make a person ponder on how these things happen in real life and what the implications would be.

The only set-back I can see regarding this movie might be the occasionally slow pace. Others that watched this movie told me that they were compelled to check the time during a few instances, suggesting that the plot was boring them. I do agree that it’s rather slow – but the alternative, it being rushed, would be much worse. In my opinion, even if the pacing is slow, it is near optimal, because it adds to the thoughtfulness of the story. It allows the audience to go through the emotions that the characters portray, and it allows the meaning of everything to sink in. If the subject (writing) and style of the movie is appealing enough to the audience, then they will still be entranced. 

If this movie was a book, it would be just as mellifluously written as the novel that the protagonist, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), pretends is his. The ending is a bit of an ambiguous one, but this movie is a drama meant to transmit emotion and meaning, not a comedy just seeking to provoke laughter and entertain. I think the key objective of this film is to make people wonder about what such circumstances as the ones that are in it would cause. But, of course, each person has their own favourite part.

Joint movie review: The Lorax and Brave

Amongst the thrilling science fiction movies, primarily The Hunger Games and The Amazing Spiderman, playing on the screens this summer, were two cheerful animations; The Lorax and Brave. With the rush to go see the other two incredibly hyped action films, these two colorful Universal Pictures and Walt Disney films, respectively, were almost forgotten. However, their popularity was still high enough on the ladder for me and a couple friends to go see it. The Lorax worked as a cute story somewhat following the storyline that Dr. Seuss wrote, but Brave had more mixed reviews. Nevertheless, both left me feeling a little surprised but not disappointed.

The Lorax doesn’t include much to satisfy the action/adventure fanatics, unless you count the main character Ted’s tedious motorcycle-driving maneuvers. The story is perky, disputably loyal to the original book version, interesting, funny, and capturing. It doesn’t lack anything for the people who enjoy this type of movie – laid back, light humor, and a vibrant “fairytale”-like story with a subtle moral.

That being said, the “cutesy” animation style of this film causes a considerable loss of the original story’s moral, that is: the environmental damage that follows poor decisions and forethought. My praise for this movie was said regarding the entertainment value, especially for kids, however, I’m a little doubtful if this is the best story to present in such a style. The romance and childlike comedy that was added to the narration certainly did provoke laughs, but at the same time it removed most of the deep significance that was supposed to accompany the tale.

Brave gives me a harder time searching for words to express my thoughts on it. One online review called it “A disappointment worth seeing” – I’m not sure if I would use quite those words to describe it, but I agree that it was overall an entertaining watch however not without a few frown-provoking details.

The whole style of the storytelling and tools it uses seems to be targeted to children; the lively narrative tone, the wide palate of quirky and emphatically expressed characters (particularly in the different suitors and leaders from the clans), the presentation tools of the plot – it appears to be made to be as interesting and captivating as possible, specifically to capture a young child’s attention.

Yet, fights break out numerous times over the movie and there is an act of violence, big or small, in practically every scene, and the movie makes it seem like the violence isn’t even a big deal. I heard many small children in the theatre whimpering in fear more than once at the brawling. I understand that this is a part of the barbaric background and setting of the story, but I don’t like how the movie is essentially sending out the message that such violence is normal, a part of everyday life, and totally okay.

Another thing is the immaturity of some moments in the movie; boogers, mooning, and armpit hair pulling are just a few examples. Is this how the media wants to raise kids to be? The message they send out with these movies gets repeated, and repeated, and repeated, and becomes a habit for real people.

But if you can look past those downsides, then the plot line is well paced, twists and challenges occur at comfortable intervals, the storytelling is captivating enough, frequent jokes provide comic relief without derailing the chain of events, and many storytelling devices are used to keep the movie interesting- not to forget the realistic presentation of the characters and the ever present scottish music and culture. The only thing I found wrong in the storyline were the plot holes; for example, how naive Merida was when visiting the witch. Oh yeah, just take the flask and let a loved one drink it without even bothering to wonder what’s in it. That’ll solve all your problems! Why does she even ask for that kind of potion in the first place? It doesn’t seem neither logical nor well thought out. The father’s ignorance when Merida is trying to stop him from going out with his huntsmen near the end is more believable, as he is of course filled with rage and desperation. But this wasn’t expressed as distinctly as it could have for optimal audience sentiment … like I said, the movie was made for a younger, less critical audience who is just looking for a fun movie to entertain.

Nonetheless, the approximate 1.5 hours spent at the theatre for each movie was not regretted. I do recommend watching these movies, perhaps as an uplifting weekend study break or just as a fun night out with friends.