27 May 2010

The Dark Side of Dancing.

Saturday Night Fever (1977), Fame (1980) and Flashdance (1983): three films about finding fame as entertainers shaped my teenage views of the industry -- or did they?

At only 8, I was not old enough to see Saturday Night Fever in the theatre so all I knew of it at that age was from the soundtrack and the many pop-culture references to Tony's (John Travolta) famous dance sequence on the disco floor. To me, it was all about the dance competition; it wasn't until years later that I saw the full movie and got to see just how crappy the rest of Tony's life was.

Again, with Fame, I'm not sure I saw the film in the theatre but I did watch the TV show, at least in its early years (did it really run until 1987?). I know that I eventually saw the film on Pay-TV (Superchannel, likely) and/or VHS. Unlike the TV show, the film included nudity, swearing, and even drug use, highlighting the inner-city side of the students' lives.

Flashdance I definitely saw in the theatre and I watched it over and over through my teens and early 20s on VHS. I was willing to overlook that the dancing was done by a body double and that the movie started the trends of torn sweatshirts and leg-warmers simply because Alex taught me how to take off a bra without removing my shirt.

More important though, was what the movies taught me: if you work hard enough, you can be an entertainer. There was never a question of luck, or money, just hard work and determination, oh, and making the "right" choices (don't do topless lap-dances, come back and work at the skeezy artsy dance house!) -- your basic American Dream scenario.

Unfortunately, it the characters lives are actually all pretty dark and miserable. They are surrounded by suicides, teen pregnancies, crappy day jobs and estranged parents. The films even look filtered and muted -- while this was typical of the era (a more realistic view of the world in contrast to Technicolor), in comparison to today's hyper-color-corrected and digitally enhanced films they just seem that much more gritty and depressing.

Perhaps I succeeded in distilling these films down to their dance sequences through listening totheir soundtracks; eventually, the scenes in between just faded away. Seeing each of them recently, I kind of wish I'd let those sleeping dogs lie.

I still recommend all of these films -- maybe even as a triple bill over a weekend -- but be prepared for the bumpy ride before you get to the inevitable happy ending of each one.

05 May 2010

Date Night (2010)

Tina Fey and Steve Carell are such an obvious comedic pairing it's almost a shame that this is their debut. Almost. The two of them are good enough comedians to be able to elevate this rather average mistaken-identity action-comedy beyond simply "watchable" to "amusing."

Date Night takes average people out of the suburbs and drops them into the middle of an unlikely evening of excitement in the big city -- think of After Hours, Adventures in Babysitting, even Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. The mistaken identity plot line isn't particularly fresh either -- think of North By Northwest, The Big Lebowski, and countless others -- but Fey and Carell have a genuine screen chemistry and make the most of a thin script.

All they want is a nice dinner in Manhattan; what they get is a not-quite-madcap dash throughout New York City, complete with gunfire and car-chases. Unlike couples in so many romantic comedies the Fosters are happily married and, while they might be in a rut, they seem to genuinely enjoy each other's company and support each other. They work together to get out of the mess they are in -- from finding unlikely help in Manhattan to the saw-it-coming-down-Main-street showdown at the climax.

Date Night is not a long movie. Clocking in at only 88 minutes, the movie doesn't have too much time to drag. Throughout, there are plenty of laughs that run the spectrum from knee-slapping guffaws to uncomfortable chuckles and while most are care of lines delivered by Fey and Carell, other actors get to shine, too. I doubt that Date Night will find a place in the rom-com cannon but it's a decent date flick, worth the admission price.

If you go, be sure to stay through the credits; two of my biggest laughs were at the out-takes.