Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Screening Log - Step Up 2: The Streets

This latest variation on the 'hip hop meets ballet/ballroom' dance movie is so formulaic, it almost could have come straight from those plotting graphs my high school writing teacher used to hand out. Remember that early peak, where the protagonist meets a challenge from the antagonist and loses badly, only to return to face down that same challenge victoriously in the finale?

In Step Up 2, that translates to: Team of misfits puts together a dance crew and eventually challenges the reigning champs at a club, where they get stomped. Later, they face down those same reigning champs in a final contest. (Spoilers? Come on. You already knew they win in the end.) Insert a couple of romantic sub-plots, and you've got yourself a movie. The formula is tried and true. Don't believe me? Hey, guess what - if you substitute 'dance crew' and 'reigning champs' for 'Team USA' and 'Team Iceland', and 'club' and 'final contest' for 'World Junior Hockey Championships', you wind up with D2: The Mighty Ducks.

All that being said, though - a formulaic plot didn't stop me from enjoying some great dancing and lots of pretty people. Briana Evigan pulls off her role as simultaneously tough and feminine Andie, and by the standards of this sort of movie, she makes a relatively interesting female lead.

The bottom line is this: Step Up 2 is a fun riff on an old theme. If you liked Step Up 2's predecessors, you'll like this one, too.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Last one, I promise

How could I forget? One last Sex and the City link - my own round-up of SATC tour info, over at World Hum:

Move Over, Frodo: 'Sex and the City' Tourism Takes Off

Zingers of the Week - SATC Edition!

Finally! My self-imposed ban on SATC reviews and responses is rescinded. This'll be a round-up of worthwhile Sex and the City movie links in general, with some zingers thrown in.

Over at CBC.ca, Katrina Onstad has a review that's mostly laudatory, not to mention a little misty-eyed about the glory days of the TV show and what it meant to so many women.

"Women with sexual appetites choosing their own futures, subverting expectation and propriety – that’s a pop-culture image that didn’t really exist before SATC debuted a decade ago, and has faded fast since the show’s conclusion," Onstad writes. "At a time when the oldest women in popular culture are Miley Cyrus and the Gossip Girl teens, the film is sure to curry favour with female audiences who are hungry to see women – no matter how unlikely their wardrobes – on screen again," she adds later.

CBC also has this great (unlikely as it might sound) comparison between Sex and the City and Little Women, and of course, a pop quiz.

In The Globe and Mail, Rick Groen gives the flick a stinging ZERO stars - and this masterful take-down.

Want some highlights? I hardly know where to start. Here's one: "Bad summer films, full of furious hype and signifying nothing, are hardly exceptional these days, nor is the sound they typically make: the dull scrape of a culture hitting rock bottom. Yet this one seems uniquely bad; this one is a threshold-breaker with a different sound, the crack of rock-bottom giving way to a whole deeper layer of magma." Or this: "To be sure, the impending nuptials hint at the presence of something akin to a plot, which lazily diverges to include all the girls in something akin to subplots." Or how about: "The male characters, straight and gay, are essentially just window-dressing here, and since that decorative job has historically been women's work in the movies, I suppose the picture can at least claim the distinction of transferring the inequity across gender lines – hoping, perhaps, that two wrongs add up to Mr. Right."


Slate's Timothy Noah asks a provocative question: "Is Sex and the City our culture's consolation prize to Hillary Clinton's supporters?" Here's an excerpt:

Sex and the City and the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton will, at the very least, be perceived in the distant future as twin manifestations of a weirdly conflicted feminism. As the first serious female candidate for president, Clinton broke a glass ceiling. But it's problematic that this symbol of women's progress achieved prominence as the wife of a successful male politician—one whose flagrant affair with a White House intern nearly destroyed his own presidency but not his marriage. And indeed, a fair number of prominent feminists, including Barbara Ehrenreich, Katha Pollitt, Susan Sarandon, and Mary Gordon, cast their lot with Obama.

Sex and the City, meanwhile, is a narrative that on the one hand celebrates female independence, sexual fulfillment, and career success—all important feminist goals—but on the other hand portrays women as clothes-obsessed, money-obsessed, status-obsessed, and hell-bent on catching a rich husband. (Or so I've gleaned from watching a few episodes of the TV show and reading reviews of the film.) Clinton and Sex and the City both represent a somewhat compromised female dream of power. Hillary Clinton nearly won the Democratic nomination, but only after marrying Mr. Big. Sex and the City celebrates camaraderie among strong women, but don't ask these ladies to sacrifice their Jean Paul Gaultier pajamas to pay for government-guaranteed, quality universal child care.

And that's just the beginning of the coverage from Sex-happy Slate. Dana Stevens is bang-on as usual. Second only to her reference to Jennifer Hudson as Carrie's "Girl Friday", here are the highlights:

The show's values are reprehensible, its view of gender relations cartoonish, its puns execrable. I honestly believe, as I wrote when the series finale aired in 2004, that Sex and the City is singlehandedly responsible for a measurable uptick in the number of materialistic twits in New York City and perhaps the world. And yet … and yet … there's a core truth to the show's depiction of female friendship that had me awaiting the big-screen version with exactly the kind of cream-puff nostalgia the movie's marketers are bargaining for. I want to know how the girls are doing, what's happened to them in the four years since I last joined them at brunch, and what in the name of God they're wearing.

She goes on to note: "The movie is mercifully light on those self-searching Carrie-at-the-computer scenes that were one of the series' recurring disappointments: Why did she have to be such a bad writer?" But, in the end...

If you bear even a grudging affection for the show's utopic vision of female bonding as the greatest love of all, you may get choked up when Carrie appears at Miranda's door one shitty New Year's Eve (clad only in pajamas, a sequined cloche, a full-length fur, and what appear to be patent-leather spats) and reassures her friend, "You're not alone."

More from Slate: The Medical Examiner column on the sexual habits of city girls vs. country girls. Julia Turner wonders when Carrie became a label whore. ("On Sex and the City, clothes have always served as a metaphor. Carrie's sartorial creativity symbolizes what's most appealing about her character: her openness to life and her belief that there are countless good ways to live it. The film shows us a Carrie with narrowed horizons—both sartorially and romantically. Television Carrie created her own fantasies; movie Carrie gets hers off the rack.") The Moneybox column tackles the movie's jam-packed product placement schedule. And, finally, four Slate writers really dig in and assess the movie - spoilers and all.

Every review I've read has mentioned Jennifer Hudson's character - Slate's sister site The Root offers a full article on "Saint Louise" and the phenomenon of the Black Best Friend (BBF).

Finally, fittingly, we'll close with Ella Taylor of The Village Voice:

The show's lifeblood — its trippy, backtalking, très gay script — sags into the garden-variety sassiness you'd find on any network sitcom. After sampling the movie's bloodless dialogue, I missed the show's bitchy one-liners like hell. And despite the pubic hair, well-hung penis, and mildly graphic Malibu copulating that won the movie its R rating, there are more bad sex jokes than good sex.

And so ends the chick flick event of the year.

Screening Log - Sex and the City

The genius of Sex and the City, the television show - in addition, of course, to the tightly-paced, funny writing, the occasionally revolutionary messages behind the gals' sexual behaviour, and the fabulous Manhattan backdrop - was the way each episode hung together while following four distinct story arcs. Every week, Carrie's over-arching question linked the action in each woman's life; that question, as much as the brunches and Cosmos, was what kept the ensemble together.

It's that tight, linked plotting that the movie lacks more than anything else. Instead, Carrie's story dominates all the rest. (I know, I know. She's technically the "main" character - but she's also most fans' least favourite. Didn't the producers get the memo?) Samantha's and Charlotte's lives are practically reduced to footnotes; Smith, Harry, and Stanford Blatch to virtual cameos. Miranda, meanwhile, has big things happening in her life - but her friends, inexplicably, ignore her storyline to obsess about Carrie's. Jennifer Hudson's "Saint Louise" is an odd, somewhat forced, deus ex machina - and also one of the more shameless bits of tokenism I've seen in awhile. And did anyone else think the extended intro/re-cap was reminiscent of the first chapter of a Baby-Sitters Club book?

The dialogue is uneven, with some moments finding the old spark and others that are cringe-worthy. There are at least two instances of totally gratuitous slow-motion. And Smith Jerrod, in the few times we see him, just isn't as smokin' hot as he used to be.

But with all that said, we all know reunions can be hard. I laughed. I cried a little. And even with the awkward moments, it was still fun to spend a couple of hours catching up with four old friends.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Screening Log - Breakfast at Tiffany's

I checked this classic out just before I left for New York, and I've been puzzling over what I thought of it ever since. I had expected to love, love, looove it - Hepburn + NYC? What's not to love?

Of course, Audrey Hepburn is delightful as always, and I definitely had a crush on George Peppard. But there wasn't as much of a "travel porn" factor as I'd expected (read: lots of juicy Manhattan close-ups) and I had trouble wrapping my head around Holly Golightly. What motivates her? Is she enjoying her life? If she really has more substance than what she shows to the world, then why is she so certain that gold-digging is the only way to go?

And of course, Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi is one of those awkward, tough-to-stomach caricatures that can make a classic slightly less 'timeless'.

Still an enjoyable movie, though - just won't be an annual must-watch for me.

Waiting For Manolo

I know, I know - I've gone silent during the biggest Chick Flick week of the year.

But I have an excuse! I was in New York City all last week, getting my Miranda and Samantha on. I had a few good wanders through Greenwich Village, the East Village, Soho, the Bowery, Chelsea and more of the gals' stomping grounds. And everywhere I went, posters and billboards for the Sex and the City movie watched me pass...

Friday night, when the movie opened, I was stuck on an Amtrak train somewhere in upstate New York, getting welcomed home (and by that I mean interrogated) by Canadian customs. So no, I haven't seen it yet. (I'm holding out for Cheap Tuesday - very un-Charlotte of me, I know.)

I also haven't read a single review or talked to anyone who's seen it, and I plan on keeping it that way for another 24 hours. So no spoilers!

I'll be back tomorrow night with a Screening Log and a belated Picks of the Week from the zillions of reviews out there.