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.

Dream house

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what kind of house I’d like once I get one…. not because it’s time for me to worry about such things, but well, one can dream 🙂 and maybe if I have a good idea early on it’ll be easier.

Big houses are amazing. They feel like palaces. But I don’t think I could live in one. It would feel too empty. As long as there’s substantial place to move and walk, I really wouldn’t mind having a small house… one that feels like it’s right out of a fairytale, perhaps it used to be a goblin’s cottage or something. (Would have to be a very tidy goblin by my standards :S)

There are, however, a few things that I would remain insistent about…

1. A cat. 

A lovely, fluffy cat. Any house is suddenly that much cozier with a furry feline prowling all over the place, annexing the couch and any comfortable surface as its own. Cats are the acme of happy, and “just in time” – sitting on your homework just when you feel like your head will burst, sashaying in front of the TV just when you’re becoming a zombie from it, demanding your attention… I think people should pay more attention to their cats. If we keep pushing them away saying “no I’m busy I have to finish it, I don’t have time to play around and pet you” then well, what will we do when one day the cat is gone? Won’t we miss its soft fur and wish we had savored a few quiet evenings with the warm body on our laps, listening to its purr and stroking it? There are moments when you just have to drop everything and cuddle.

Once, my family stayed in a little bed and breakfast a few hours from Ottawa. Actually we stayed in many, but I remember this specific one because we were greeted by an utmost adorable cat waiting at the door, just begging to be petted. This is the kind of welcome-experience I think everyone should have 🙂

Our own cat is a little strange… If cats have nine lives, then I maintain that ours was in her past ones; an opera singer, a bird, and a dog. If you ever hear her miaow you won’t need to ask me about the opera singer. I added the second one to the list when I found her sitting nonchalantly on the top shelf of our dresser, where even I can barely reach… does that cat own a tiny unfodable ladder or something? 😛 My best guess was that she secretly learned to fly.

I’m pretty sure many cats used to be dogs in their past lives… does anyone else have a cat that runs to you as soon as you signal, or if you call its name? One that chases little objects you throw around the room and brings them back to you? (mind you that last one was mostly when she was more kitten-like) … No?… Anyone?…. :O

2. A piano

This picture is perfect, because my first thing on this liste goes with pianos perfectly 🙂 A purring audience that lies lazily on the couch and absorbs the sweet sounds of Chopin’s Valse, or Rachmaninoff’s prelude… Maybe it is just sleeping, but the atmosphere is just so much “warmer”.

A harp could work too. But I think I prefer pianos. I may be biased since I play the piano myself. But anyways, these majestic instruments give a home a really classical and sophisticated air.. visions of steaming hot cups of tea, ballroom dance balls, handcrafted curtains, and exquisite paintings come to mind. Well that’s just what pianos make me think of, at least when they’re in good shapes. It makes the house feel like if it had a voice, the walls would talk in british accents.

I thought about adding soundproof walls, because if it’s a small house then the piano might bother people who want to sleep, or watch tv, or focus on work… but then who would be there to listen? Soundproof walls could be a possibility for anyone who wants them. Me, I would want the piano on the top, or second highest (depending on how many stories the house is) floor, perhaps in a spacious room that has elegant couches and beanbag chairs and perhaps a rocking chair – the sitting room, I suppose. There could be bookshelves around, or a coffee-table with magazines, or a chest of board games. Or perhaps a working desk. I had always found listening to classical music beneficial when I work – there are no distracting lyrics, and the sound is very soothing (as much as I love pop and electronica style music, there is no comparing to classical). There have even been studies done that show that classical music increases mind clarity, ability to focus, and brain activity. (I’ll try to dig them up from my bookmarks and post the link here).

On second thought, I think I’d want the desk in my room, or in an office. Maybe a circular room, like a witch’s tower? ;D (oh yeah – my imagination is having the time of its life).

3. A balcony

Ahh yes, a balcony… Any piano players reading this, have you ever dreamed of playing on a little island surrounded by small, lapping waves, feeling the soft breeze? (assuming you are not stranded there). If I had a balcony, and I had nice neighbours, I don’t think I could resist one day opening the doors and pushing it out so it’s just outside, on a warm autumn or spring day, and playing the Romeo and Juliet theme, or Tchaikowsky’s Concerto in Bflat Major, or perhaps Oscar Peterson’s Land of the Misty Giants. I would, of course, be terrified of the balcony falling with the piano’s weight, and worrying about bothering others in the neighbourhood, but this is one of my most dreamed of fantasies. It’s the next best thing, at least, to being on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean.

4. An old wooden (carved) chest.

Every once in a while, I walk into Ten Thousand Villages to see what new merchandise they have, and every time I’m there, I see this one beautiful, intricately carved wooden box. It has curled flowers and leaves all over it, with a few gold-colored metal decorations along the edges. This box is amazing. I imagine opening it and finding century old secrets, or forgotten jewellery, or lost love letters. It is empty every time I actually open it, of course, but it’s just the aura it gives off (I do hope boxes can have auras). It would be the kind of box that I’d put random knicknacks in- things that I pick up from under the couch while vaccuming, or small souvenirs, or old letters from friends, or simply memories from the old days.

I’ve thought of a new sort of journaling, using a box – each day, put something small in itto remember this day by. It could be a letter, a small drawing, a note from a friend, a photo, or a scribble about a funny thing that happened, or a rock you might have picked up on your evening walk. The goal would be for each object to be special somehow- this would not only give you a great delight in digging through the box ten years later, but also make you try to make each day the best it possibly can, and “carpe” each “diem”.

5. An (air-popping) popcorn maker.

          

This really shouldn’t be important enough to be on the list. But wow, do parties come alive when you pull out the popcorn maker xD. (I actually have no idea, I’m just rambling).

That is actually all I could think of. Certainly, my list will grow over the years.

What would you want in your dream home? 🙂

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.

A philosophy on philosophy

Where have all the philosophers gone? :O One day I asked my counsellor about the “career” of philosophy… apparently, it is taught in high school courses, and even university courses, and there are available degrees for it, but it appears to be a path that leads into the abyss. What profession comes of it? A philosophy teacher? Who then teaches philosophy to other people who go on to become philosophy teachers? It’s like an endless loop that spins around and around, floating around in the universe without any further connections attached.

My counsellor laughed when I brought this up. “You’d have to be a couple centuries back to be a philosopher,” she mused. How true – indeed, most of the great people we quote to this day and call by the name “philosopher” lived around the 5th century BC. Socrates, Aristotle, Plato… what did they even do all day? Sit around sipping lemonade, scratching their chin and asking questions about everything they could conceive one for? “What is a flower?” “What makes this oatmeal, oatmeal?” “Why are my pants called pants?” “What makes the world go around?” “What are dreams?” “Are eyebrows considered facial hair?”

When I get asked who I would like to meet if I could choose anyone in the course of history and time, my favourite answer is Aristotle. Firstly because he lived in the very core of Greece, which must have been purely ravishing back then if it’s still such a lovely city today, after decades of commercializing and business growth. But the main reason is because I would love to see what kind of a person would have been someone who is considered a professional thinker. I imagine him as a short fellow with curly hair from twisting it around his finger, deep-set eyes with mysterious twinkles in them, stubble on his face, a crooked moustache, a crooked smile, and to top it off, a crooked “thinker’s” pose.

“Hmmm…..”

Maybe similar to this but without the gorilla-like nature.

Why are philosophers always portrayed leaning over, with their hand resting under their jaw? There’s a piece of philosophy for you to brood over, Aristotle. Or sometimes they have their arms crossed and their fingers gently stroking their beards. It always makes me think of a therapist that’s scrunching up his forehead in worry and asking “How does that make you feel???”

No thanks to the personal-quirks dissection. I have way too many anyways.

But what makes philosophy?? Ahh, the very acme of all philosophical questions. I have given this question quite some elaborate thought, and because that’s what philosophers are supposed to do, I am presenting my ideas in the hereso following paragraphs.

Philosophy is a universal art. All of us actually philosophize all the time. Maybe that is why career makers decided to set it aside. It’s just too popular. We cannot for a conscious moment stop ourselves from thinking and asking (sometimes useless) questions, and that is the birthplace of this mysterious and unrecognized activity. All we need to be a philosopher is an agile mind, an insatiable desire to wonder at the world, a deep-in-thought expression, and a toga (although the last one is optional).

There are school courses and degrees made for philosophy perhaps because we humans, dangerously curious creatures, just cannot seem to get rid of it. In heart, there’s really not reason to either. Philosophy helps us in all of life – whether if it’s to ask meaningless questions about the constitutionof our breakfasts, or to unravel the mysteries of the universe and all that it contains.

It almost angers me that it seems to be seriously underestimated by a great multitude of people. “What do you do?” “Nothing.” “Oh, so you’re a philosopher”. Such brush-offs are even sometimes said with disengagement, an implied dismissive wave of the arm, or culminating on near disdain. I actually take thinking seriously, and I certainly don’t think it is the equivalent of doing nothing. It takes focused attention, a skilled brain, asking the right questions, an adeptness to rearranging your thoughts or facts, mental power, and it is definitely above just sitting around immersed in apathy.

I would even go so far to say that to philosophize is an important life skill. Where would we be, if we could not make connections between things, leading to theories and hypotheses, ponder upon them, and then ask even more questions than we have answered? We would not learn a thing. Even if you are practicing something, it won’t have any value if you are not fully engrossed into it and fascinated by what you are doing. You can plunk away at a piano’s keyboard for years, but if you have no interest in knowing what makes the notes sound harmonious, and no drive to work on expressing the song in the most majestic, sweet, melodious way as possible, all you would gain is perhaps dexterity at typing and a bland ability to hammer surfaces with your fingers in creative ways. That also makes the real difference between a pianist, and a good pianist. Practice: yes, but with ignorance or attention? It is more than just reading notes off a page; what about the ability to bend the sound and create more?

So what about the ability to bend thoughts and think more? It is one of the best ways to gain knowledge and cognitive intelligence, yet it appears blatantly relinquished by most of the human race. Yet, thinking is perhaps the most important thing we can gain experience in. You can use it anywhere!

To tie up how philosophy integrates into all this babbling on thinking: using it is the core of putting attention to thought and using it to the most of its power. You are eating oatmeal, but what is oatmeal? Your sister is very kind, but what makes a person kind? An implication of what I am saying is just dawning on me; philosophy makes people better at things. I hadn’t had this in mind when I started writing this article, but philosophy itself has led me here. It makes sense – being the most fully present in the moment, in what you are doing, and engrossed with curiosity in your activities… those things form the bedrock of productive learning. How many times have coaches told athletes to focus on their movements and to be fully alert and active? How many teachers have stressed the importance of good rest before a test so that you can focus more clearly?

Philosophy, in my mind, does not receive enough credit. I know quiet thinkers that can be more productive on the couch than what “must-do-something” maniacs can accomplish in an office or library. We live our entire lives inside the confinements of our minds… but when do we take the time to actually spend some time there?? Perhaps if philosophy were an accepted daily part of our lives, we would be more comfortable in our own skin and correlatively, running about out in the world as well.

And perhaps, if it is true that our consciousness brings material to existence and our own existence into reality, then there’s not so much to scoff at in the statement that philosophy brings the world to life.