Review: Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)

Anyone can make it, if they learn how to shake it.

What I love more than anything on a Saturday night, is a tremendously good and entertaining film. Mad Hot Ballroom fills the prerequisite wonderfully.

This is a coming-of-age documentary, directed by Marilyn Agrelo, follows three classes of New York City fifth graders as they participate in a ten-week ballroom dancing program. The students learn six dances including the rumba and tango (something I can’t even manage, after eight years of dance classes), in preparation for a final competition at the Wintergarden.

As we watch these children, we see how dance becomes a part of their lives, influencing most of them for the better. And although each one comes from different economic backgrounds, they are all at that awkward stage in life.

Scenes of their dance practices are pieced with discussions between the students about the differences between boys and girls, the heartache of losing, and the joy of finally realizing your dream.

What begins as a cute and lovely tale, swings into your heart and will have you jumping for joy as the eventual winner is announced.

Updated October 7, 2010

Review: Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

“Delicate, tender, poetic, and yet so daring. It is about the mysteries of sex and the enchantments of the heart.”
Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun Times

Me and You and Everyone We Know is an offcenter romantic comedy complete with wit and creative characters trying to find themselves. Miranda July wrote and directed this feature film. She also stars as Christine, a stuggling performance artist who earns money by driving an elder-cab.

On one of her outings, she sees shoe salesman Richard (John Hawkes) and falls for him, despite the fact that he set his hand on fire after his wife left him. Just as Christine is attempting to establish herself as an artist, Richard is trying to find his place as a good father to his two sons, Robby and Peter. The best scenes of the film are with seven-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliff) as he seduces adult women on the Internet, luring them with his own fascination with poop.

This is July’s directorial debut and she succeeds tremendously because she locates a common quality among this eccentric characters. She does this without delivering an overly artsy movie and it pays off. Me and You and Everyone We Know is a hilarious and heartfelt film and it is worth seeing due to July’s unique take on the world.

Updated October 7, 2010

Review: Touch of Pink (2004)

Cary Grant is back and better than ever in this little-seen diaspora cinema comedy. How can Cary Grant be back if he’s been dead for the last 20 years? That is exactly the question he asks you in the beginning of Touch of Pink. Of course, it’s not the real Cary Grant, but rather his spirit who acts as a guide to Alim, a young man living in London.

Alim is an Indian who was born in Kenya, grew up in Toronto and now lives in London to escape his overbearing mother, Nuru and his past. He works as a set photographer for the movie industry, he in a serious relationship with his boyfriend Giles and he couldn’t be happier. That is until his mother comes to visit and tries to persuade Alim to come home. There is one problem Nuru doesn’t know that her son is gay. Throughout the picture Alim hides his relationship with Giles from his mother which only creates more problems. But he shouldn’t fear because Cary Grant, played wonderfully by Kyle MacLachlan, is there to guide Alim through all of his troubles.

Touch of Pink is filled with references to many of Grant’s movies including: The Bishop’s Wife, Charade, The Philadelphia Story and most importantly Gunga Din. There is this running bit about Cary Grant has to attend an Indian wedding and he arrives dressed like his character from Gunga Din. It’s priceless.

This movie will be a treat for any Cary Grant fan.

Review: Les Choristes (2004)

Les Choristes falls into the same category as many other movies. That is the idea of a teacher who comes to a troubled school, stands up to the negative administrator, and guides the students changing their lives forever. Dead Poets Society, Stand and Deliver and Mr Holland’s Opus are all examples.

Just because Les Choristes (The Chorus) is similar to these films does not mean it is any less of an achievement. When Clement Mathieu arrives at a boarding school for troubled boys, he is expected by the headmaster to go along the often strict discipline and ignore the depressing atmosphere. Most of the boys are orphans; one stands by the gate and waits for his father to come every Saturday. The teacher became so tired from telling him that his parents are dead, that they just please him and tell the boy that his parents will come the following Saturday.

It becomes evident to Mathieu that the boys need guidance and an escape from the harsh environment of the school. Against the wishes of the headmaster, Mathieu forms the Chorus and with his passion and unconventional teaching methods, he gives the boys something to enjoy and believe in for once in their lives.

Review: Swing Time (1936)

Every Thursday night I host a classic film series where I play Robert Osbourne for the evening and talk about the greatest movies ever made. This week’s film was Swing Time.

Swing Time is perhaps the finest of all the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers collaborations. It is the story of Lucky,a vaudeville performer, played by Astaire, who is tricked into missing his wedding and in order to marry his fiancee he must make $25, 000. To earn the money, he ventures off to New York. Here he meets, Penny, a dance instuctor, played by Ginger Rogers. Lucky and Penny end up as dance partners and love interests. But of course their happiness together never really begins because both of their fiances come back to haunt them.

Swing Time is a fun dance musical (much more dance than musical) that really shares the talents of Astaire and Rogers. It combines witty humor and lovely songs to create a wonderful movie. (The song, “The Way You Look Tonight” won an Oscar in 1937 for Best Song and is ranked #43 on AFI’s Greatest Songs List.)

Take it from someone who never truly enjoys musicals, any opportunity to watch the two of them dance is worth it. Sometimes, I’ll even fastfoward through the dialogue just to watch them dance. It is as though you are swept out onto the dance floor with them.

Updated October 6, 2010