4 posts categorized "dance"


'Glee' rocks the house for marketing geeks

Over time, some memories begin to blur or, in other cases, super-size.

I don't recall Grand Prairie High School music assemblies of a few decades back rockin' the house like what you'll see, hear and feel in "Glee:  The 3D Concert Movie."

I add "feel" to the mix because no bass drum stomp or guitar riff has rattled my insides like what we hear in th "Glee" concert opus since The Who smashed their guitars and drop-kicked the drum set on the Memorial Auditorium stage in Dallas in the early '60s.

Very slickly produced, "Glee:  The 3D Concert Movie" is directed by Kevin Tancharoen, who called the shots on the "Fame" big-screen revise a couple years back.

Full disclosure:  I'm not a fan of the wildly popular Fox TV series, which harmonizes into its third season next month.  I am a fan of Jane Lynch, who portrays salty Sue Sylvester on the show.  Truth is, I never could stomach the TV show long enough for Lynch to appear.

The concert film, though, is something else.  I could do without the insertion of real-life geeks (the dwarf cheerleader, the gay guy outed in the eighth grade, etc.) that's peppered throughout.  Come on guys, if you're going to cut Lynch out of the concert film, which apparently someone did, also 86 the cheesy pathos.

"Glee 3D" doesn't need that.  The cast members who sing, all tangled in high school drama on TV, set a very high standard vocally.

Lea Michele, Rachel Berry to "Gleeks," belts out a rousing version of Barbra Streisand's signature "Don't Rain on My Parade" that may have the rafters still humming at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, NJ, where the concert film was lensed over two nights.

Plano native Kevin McHale is also a show-stopper as Artie, the geeky kid in the wheelchair.  For those of you unfamiliar with Artie's dream in the TV series, the lively number recreating the event on the concert stage might leave some cynics in the audience -- if they're allowed into the movie auditorium at all -- scratching their heads.

Normally, I'd say a movie like this would be for "Glee" devotees only.  The choir (or glee club) singing to the choir (or glee club) as it were.

Not this time.  I encourage all marketing majors as well as music majors, singers and anyone who enjoys a pulsating musical act on stage to attend as well; perhaps with a set of earplugs.  

Present and future marketing execs may be overpowered by the rush of music and put off by the corny theme of "geeks as gods."  Publicity professionals could take notes on how a well-oiled stage show can rumble along so magnificently as a cash cow marketing vehicle, though.

That's something to "don't stop believin.'" For sure.


Tormented, driven birds of a feather

You probably need to be a little nuts to twirl around on bloody tippy-toes in a tutu as a serious ballet dancer.

Perhaps not as bonkers as the prima ballerina Natalie Portman embodies in Darren Aronofsky's macabre psychological thriller "Black Swan," though.

Nina (Portman), the daughter of an overbearing former-dancer mom (Barbara Hershey), appears to see a new reality (or is it?) with every spin of her  sculptured (and barely fed) body.

For those who might not recall, Aronofsky is the daring film-making visionary who provided a comeback and an Oscar nomination last year for Mickey Rourke as the tormented title character in "The Wrestler."

Aronofsky doesn't hesitate to link "The Wrestler" and "Black Swan," since both deal in what the filmmaker has called "bodily extremes, souls in turmoil" and a film-making style "that pulls the audience inside the character's fascinating inner worlds."

From this aisle seat, "Black Swan" takes tortured flight as a horror movie.  Portman's Nina is so tormented by the quest for perfection that her fragile mind wobbles off pointe way before her body follows.

Portman (Queen Amidala in the "Star Wars" franchise), an Oscar nominee as the stripper in Mike Nichols' "Closer," is no stranger to ballet, having studied seriously in younger years.  Portman has said she's kept it up as exercise throughout her acting career.

Like Rourke, Portman is primed to nestle deep into a tormented psyche.  As Nina, she's chosen to portray the Swan Queen in a New York City production of a leaner, meaner "Swan Lake."  "I want to strip it down to the core," flirtatious artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) croons.

"Black Swan" is shocking throughout, and not just because the artistic director of a major ballet company is straight.  Nina's determination to capture both the gentle innocence of the White Swan and the sensual, unbridled aggressiveness of the Black Swan sends her spiraling in at least the madness zip code.

When she finally does get in touch with her bad self, as ordered by her artistic director (portrayed with ample verve by Cassel), Nina opens her eyes to the shock that her mother (the definition of a helicopter mom) has parked herself in Nina's bedroom.

"Black Swan," unlike Aronofsky's almost unwatchable sci-fi fantasy "The Fountain" of 2006, channels the director's wildly creative talent into a hellish vortex of progressively surreal dark energy.

In addition to Portman, who turns in the performance of her career so far, Mila Kunis ("The Book of Eli") dazzles as Lily, this tale's dark side of self.

Hershey hovers nicely as the mom who never quite made it to the ballerina spotlight herself but may (or may not) be pulling for her daughter to over-achieve.  Also, Winona Ryder has some impressive pouty or fit-throwing moments as Beth, ballet's Cinderella who fights a forced exit when fame's clock strikes midnight.

What happens to Nina in "Black Swan" reminds me of Jack Nicholson's grim descent into madness in "The Shining."

Know this, though.  All work and no play doesn't make Nina a dull girl.  Not for a chill-down-your-spine moment. 


Don't go to the 'Cabaret,' I mean 'Burlesque'

I liked "Burlesque" much better when it was called "Cabaret" and won eight Academy Awards back in 1972.

"Burlesque," a shameful, blatant rip-off of one of the greatest edgy musicals of all time, nonetheless provides a couple of decent showcase seats in a starring vehicle.  That would be for present-day sultry songstress Christina Aguilera and Cher, who occupied that throne for a couple of decades.

Writer-director Steven Antin, a rookie feature film-maker, uses his experience as a music video director to trump musical cues with gusto.  In fact, Antin shows promise, executing quick edits that mean something musically with skill rarely seen since "Hair" burned draft cards in Central Park back in  1979.

Antin might be selling his soul to the devil a little by taking on this project, however.  "Burlesque" shamelessly rips off "Cabaret" from the gifted young singer fighting for a break -- Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles in "Cabaret," Aguilera as Ali here -- right down to the retro nightclub decadence and Alan Cumming doing a poor Joel Grey impression as the flamboyant host of vague gender.

If you must go for the glitz, the hype and the frequent in-movie concert performances by Aguilera, just know that Mr. Antin is no director Bob Fosse and "Burlesque" can't hold a feathered fan to "Cabaret."

Ignorance, which is not usually really bliss, is here.  If you have no knowledge of "Cabaret" (and my question would be "Why not?"), it might be possible to stretch your disbelief to an extreme where you go along with an old fashioned, World War I era burlesque club existing today on Hollywood's Sunset Strip.

Even then, though, the whole affair is laughably preposterous.  One of the girl dancers calls The Burlesque Lounge a "strip club."  Yet the only nudity  in this sappy musical is that of semi-leading man Jack's (Cam Gigandet) rear end.  Butt I digress.

This one's all about the music, and "saving the farm" (club) from the bank.  Sad economic times are about as close as this film ever gets to anything resembling reality.  A huge balloon mortgage payment is due in days.  If Tess (Cher) and Sean (Stanley Tucci, who's slumming, but still good), her soul-mate stage manager, can't wrangle a miracle, the party will be over.

Movies like this are all about pulling off the unthinkable, of course.  Why else would the filmmakers rattle the "Cabaret" bones and hope ("Oh please, oh please") that no one notices the crossing of the line from homage to downright thievery?

Aguilera, a bona fide belter with brass pipes, passes well enough as the driven new girl in her feature film starring debut.  Ali's a recent L.A. import from Iowa who wants to get from here (a waitress job) to there (the Burlesque Lounge) in the worst way.

Cher, as the stubborn matriarch to a coven of hip shakers, proves once again that she can not only sing, but act as well.  In a cheesy musical full of contrivances, I didn't mind so much when Cher, as Tess, parks herself on a stool in the middle of a dark stage and blows the roof off the joint with a throaty "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me."

Of that we can be sure.

If we never saw the first of "Burlesque," however, that wouldn't be such a bad thing.


'La Danse' to the music

"La Danse:  The Paris Opera Ballet" is the ultimate backstage pass to the fascinating world of tutus and pointe shoes.

A must-see and, in fact, euphoria for ballet aficionados, veteran documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman's study of gifted dancers preparing for seven ballets offers enticement for dance novices as well.

Mostly in French with subtitles, "La Danse" drops the audience backstage with absolutely no fanfare and no set-up.  Wiseman, taking a minimalist approach, offers no narration and no indication of who's who.

Instead, we're privy to every nook and cranny of the Palais Garnier, which has served as the renowned ballet company's home since 1875.  Wiseman and cinematographer John Davey have obviously set a lofty goal of celebrating what Wiseman has referred to as "the highest level of achievement in the conscious use of the body to express feeling and thought."

Noted choreographers put les étoiles (the stars) through sometimes grueling rehearsals, pointing out what appears to a novice as the tiniest flaw.  When dancers and choreographer are finally in sync, Wiseman ("Domestic Violence," 2001), who's been making documentaries for four decades,  moves on.

But not always to more rehearsals of a mixture of modern and classic ballets ranging from the old chestnut "The Nutcracker" to "Orpheus and Eurydyce" from avant-garde choreographer Pina Bausch.  Wiseman's camera often wanders the storied halls.  He focuses for a while on a worker painting a door, then visits the lunch room (the fish looks good).  He even takes us up on the roof to see what a beekeeper is up to as he (or she, can't tell really in that protective suit) gathers honey.

Unless you're keenly familiar with ballet on the international level, chances are that company director Brigitte LeFevre is the only person you'll get to know well.  LeFevre offers an in-depth primer into what it takes to mount a world-class ballet.

She holds business meetings to decide just how close serious patrons (with donations of $25,000 and up) can get to the dancers during a hobnob luncheon.  In another meeting, LeFevre emotionally nurtures (but not too gently) one of the dancers one-on-one in her office.

The focus, of course, always returns to the sometimes breathtaking flow of body parts as some of the most gifted dancers in the world generate fluid motion in search of ballet perfection.

Those unfamiliar with ballet, or perhaps only mildly interested, might squirm a little in their seats before this exquisite backstage pass expires.  After all, "La Danse" occupies the screen for over two and a half hours.

If you love ballet, however, "La Danse" makes its intimate exclusive access pointe and then some.