7 posts categorized "Dance"

December 10, 2016


La La Land“La La Land” is a bore. Still, the movie has two very good things going for it, namely Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. This duo’s legendary onscreen chemistry (see “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”) reaches emotional highs and lows in counterpoint to a musical fantasy that almost brings home the bacon.

Fear not musical-film-haters, the genre isn’t about to explode with “La La Land” copycats. Gosling and Stone might be great together, but this movie leaves much to be desired. Although the film makes pained efforts to pretend it has the slightest thing to do with Jazz, the soundtrack is more akin to the music you'd find playing under a cartoon Cinderella.

Screen Shot 2022-03-17 at 1.49.17 PM

You know you’re in trouble from its mad-mad-world opening song and dance centerpiece, which occurs around and on top of cars stuck in a Los Angeles freeway traffic jam. Squeeze the millennial cheese please. It feels like a Dr. Pepper television commercial from the early ‘80s. The craned-camera sequence has colorfully dressed dancers doing backflips from cars in an attempt to cram as much hoop-la as possible onto the screen. The gaudy 10-minute sequence is more Baz Luhrmann than Bob Fosse. Easily pleased audiences will be sated but this is music video dross. 


The overblown set piece values presentation over representation in a musical that tries too hard and still doesn't earn its stripes. The cheesy champaign-pouring montage looks like it was cut together from B-roll. 

Jazz prodigy boy meets young actress who hates jazz. Red flag. Boy should know better than take up with a Jazz-hater; it will never work out. Besides, Gosling's Sebastian is too meephy for his own good. 

Stone’s actress chic Mia sits in her car, running lines for the movie audition she’s on her way to. Gosling’s brooding jazz pianist Sebastian honks at her to get moving. Fear not, they won’t be enemy rivals long.

Cut to Emma Stone’s struggling Mia going on endless tryouts. She does great acting work — as evidenced in audition bits that show off Stone's acting chops,— but she still doesn’t get any gigs. It’s tough out there, even in writer-director Damien Chazelle’s updated '50s styled L.A. fantasyland. George Lucas's "American Graffiti" would make a natural double-feature choice to go along with this film's fascination with primary colors and squeaky clean surfaces.

Sebastian can’t hold down a regular solo piano gig because he chooses to work at venues that don’t allow him to play the improvisational jazz that excites him. Sebastian thrives on rejection.

Chazelle gives an inside nod to his last film “Whiplash” by casting J.K. Simmons as the disapproving owner of the restaurant that (re) hires and (promptly) fires Sebastian for his wandering fingers on the 88s. The gratuitous casting choice does the movie no favors. Sacha Baron Cohen would have been a better choice to bring some resonance to the part.


For all of the colorful costume changes and tightly choreographed dance sequences between Stone and Gosling, “La La Land” meanders when it should glide, and rings with mood-killing alarms that interrupt more than one scene.

“La La Land” is long way from “West Side Story” or “Cabaret” — two great (determinedly tragic) musicals that this film tries to emulate. Chazelle reneges on fulfilling the film’s snappy opening tone of screwball romance. He zigs after establishing he wants to zag. This is this film's fatal flaw. Instead of bookending the joy foreshadowed in its virtuosic opening, the movie ends on a minor chord nostalgia for things to come. Yuck. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. 

Screen Shot 2022-03-17 at 1.50.37 PM

Most egregious are two distinct episode involving actual alarms (one is a smoke alarm) that break this film apart. For a filmmaker ostensibly in love with music, these jarring aural events fly in the face of responsible moviemaking. Musicians are notorious for having sensitive ears, and any that I know — myself included — say that these abrasive segments of violent soundscape manipulation are beyond the pale. But don't take my word for it; you'll know what I mean when you hear them. Rather than coming out of this musical humming a tune — the Broadway litmus test for what constitutes a good musical — you will only be thinking of these sustained sonic assaults aimed right at the audience.

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Damien Chazelle wants to bring Jazz back into America’s cultural conversation – and for that I commend him — but he unintentionally cheapens the idea with saccharine sentimentality that he mutes with a downbeat ending. Any Jazz musician or fan knows that be-bop’s intrinsic element of syncopation is all about the upbeats. "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing." La La Land doesn't swing. "Hustle and Flow" is a much better musical. 


Rated PG-13. 128 mins.

2 Stars


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November 24, 2010


Back In Black
Natalie Portman Soars and Swoons En Pointe
By Cole Smithey

Black_swanDarren Aronofsky's voyeuristic psychological thriller about an upstart prima ballerina's descent into madness employs the same subjective dancer's-point-of-view that gave "The Red Shoes" its sense of frenetic authenticity. Dario Argento's "Suspiria" (1977) is another obvious influence.

Black Swan (2010) — The Movie Database (TMDB)

Natalie Portman gives the most dazzling performance of her career as Nina, an entirely believable ballet dancer consumed with proving to her manipulative choreographer that she is capable of possessing the duality of the Swan Queen role in his version of Swan Lake, as both the innocent "White Swan" and the erotically possessed "Black Swan." The ubiquitous Vincent Cassel dominates in his role as New York City Ballet choreographer Thomas Leroy whose proclivity for sleeping with his lead dancers is widely known.

Black Swan' Review: Why Real-Life Ballerinas Still Hate the Film - Thrillist

Leroy bullies, neglects, and seduces Nina into expanding mental and physical boundaries set in stone by her neurotic mother Erica (Barbara Hershey). Nina still lives at home with mom in their Manhattan apartment. In this dysfunctional setting, echoes of "Carrie" reverberate along with abstract corporeal elements that tip toward Cronenberg's cinema-of-the-body surrealism. Portman's estimable abilities as a ballet dancer give the film a foundation of disciplined substance that Aronofsky liberally attacks with brushstrokes of subliminal menace.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 9.10.46 PM

As is the habit of ballet dancers, Nina is compulsive about her art. At home her mother continually prompts her about her obligations to dance. At her Lincoln Center residence, Nina feels threatened by the other dancers in the corp. Lilly (Mila Kunis) poses the most direct threat to Nina's tenuous grip on the "Black Swan" role that she fights to keep. The lesser trained Lilly is certainly better equipped to play the sexually omnivorous part, but is perhaps too worldly to embody the "White Swan" purity that Nina effortlessly possesses. It comes as a shock when Cassel's Leroy gives Nina a homework assignment to go home and "touch herself" as a backdoor into the mentality of the "Black Swan."

mxdwn Movies Presents: Ranking the Decade's 20 Best Films - mxdwn Movies

Aronofsky takes the opportunity to detonate the film's most shocking revelation as Nina masturbates on her bed in the relative privacy of her room. The filmmaker captures a shocking nightmare moment of performance anxiety crossed with the intrinsic embarrassment of a rehearsal process that inhabits every molecule of Nina's being. It's an unforgettable scene that marks our unreliable protagonist as the victim of a volatile structure from which there is no escape.


Regardless of how much or how hard she rehearses Nina is dislocated from her body and from the latent power of her erotically charged imagination. Perpetual bloody scratches on her shoulder blade signify an inner demon attempting to claim its latest victim. An impulsive decision to go out clubbing with her rival Lilly on the night before the opening performance, puts Nina in a drugged-out state that allows for a reverie of lesbian attraction. Flashes of "Rosemary's Baby" arise when paranoid Nina is challenged over whether the Sapphic event was real or not. Indeed, the sex scene brims with an exotic sense of vertigo that sticks in the viewer's mind like a mirage of palpable narcotic fantasy.


Leroy instructs Nina that "The only person standing in your way is you." The line serves as an inciting challenge that puts Nina in a private ring with the repressed desires she has funneled into dance all her life. In her determination to embody the Black Swan, Nina becomes lost in a maze of her own mysterious design. More than anything, she wants to martyr herself for her art in a way that will obliterate all notion of any dancer who has come before or after her. Nina has seen the unhappy fate of the prima ballerina she replaces — Winona Ryder as Beth Macintyre. No brand of sex or romance can compete with Nina's secretly-held vision of a dancer whose transformation into her character is a Gothic revelation of Christ-like ascension.


"Black Swan" comes at a troubled economic time in America when culture has been relegated to the same dust bins that once held the shredded bits of legislative truth that protected it. Artistic passion has become an unaffordable luxury. Only those willing to throw themselves entirely on its long rusty sword have any business pursuing such commercially bankrupt froth. To dream of art is to dream of death. But you can't help feeling that Portman's mythological Black Swan represents a Phoenix whose rebirth will be nothing short of magnificent.

Rated R. 108 mins.

4 Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

March 17, 2008


Gettin’ Jiggy Wid It 

International B-Boy Battle Buzzes Onscreen
By Cole Smithey

Bboy The mid ‘80s urban dance form of breakdancing is alive and well in director Benson Lee’s joyful celebration of the ingenuity and energy expressed by international "B-boy" dance crews competing in Braunschweig, Germany at the 2005 "Battle of the Year."

The director sketches the essential elements of early hip-hop rebel culture — consisting of graffiti, DJ spinning, and the dance moves that sprung up in South Bronx streets during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Clips from influential breakdance movies like "Flashdance" and "Breakin’" show Hollywood’s calculation of the underground dance movement that inspired young audiences to take up hip-hop dance.

Planet B-Boy Reviews - Metacritic

For the typically impoverished boys from all corners of the globe, performing their outrageous choreographies in front of 10,000 fans at the Battle of the Year is more than a competition; it is a statement of individual character and national identity.

Planet B-boy – Spin cycle | Edinburgh Festival

In France, a dancer who calls himself "Crazy Monkey" does head-and-shoulder windmill spins on the floor that are mind-blowing. He levitates upside-down like a spinning top. Crazy Monkey’s gymnastic athleticism also enables his tall frame to flip in mid-air like a life-size cartoon character. Beside Crazy Monkey is a 12-year-old white kid who clearly knows how to "pop and lock" as a way of confronting his parents’ self-admitted racism with an in-your-face approach. Known for their strong sense of nuance and style, the French dance crew exhibit polished dance skills that illustrate why they are among the top five teams competing for the title of World’s Best B-boy Crew.

Hit The Floor: A B-Boy/Girl Workout Mix : NPR

In Las Vegas, a crew of comparatively spoiled hip-hoppers call themselves "Knucklehead Zoo." They practice a theatrically stagy brand of breakdancing that comes with a Vegas-approved slathering of left-over Vaudville cheese.

A Brutal, Dazzling World War: Planet B-Boy - Slant Magazine

The film’s astonishing displays of physically demanding dance moves become evermore compelling as it compares the raw power of the South Korean "Gamblerz" team against their rival squad "Last for One." Dancers make human pyramids, dance atop one another, and use the floor as a trampoline. Their energetic displays are explosive yet controlled, and tempered with humor. Politics rears its ugly head as one dancer explains South Korea's policy of a compulsory two-year military service that will end his dance career once the event in Germany is over. Glimpses like these into the cultural realities of the dancers' personal lives gives the movie a heart and soul beyond the flash and spectacle of the film’s cliched contest-climax format.

Vudu - Planet B-Boy Benson Lee, Thomas Hergenrother, null Gamblerz, null  Ichigeki, Watch Movies & TV Online

However, the unavoidable strength of "Planet B-Boy" comes from B-boy booster Thomas Hergenröther who created and organized the not-for-profit "Battle of the Year" (called BOTY) in Hannover, Germany in 1990. Without Hergenröther’s global vision, it’s entirely possible that the art of hip-hop battle dancing might have all but vanished by now. Hergenröther presides over the battle of the culturally diverse festivities with an egalitarian passion for the hard work that goes into each of the teams’ performances. He admires the cultural differences that bring contrast to the dances.

john kwon's <I>always be boyz</I>

Dance is an ever-changing art form that has been enriched by the liberating efforts of B-boy dancers who stamp their personalities on every hand gesture and stomp they crush into the ground. "Planet B-Boy" takes a step toward bringing together foreign communities by sharing a communal model of freedom of expression--the freedom of movement.

Not Rated. 95 mins.

3 Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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