Wherein unreasonably free time is dedicated to proving Jonah Hill is funnier than you.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Step Up

Why I Wanted to See It: Step Up is a cross between Good Will Hunting's genius janitor and Save the Last Dance's ballet/hip-hop fusion.[1] Usually I decry copycatting, but I'll take a pass this time because I like the templates.[2]

Why I Hadn't Seen It: Much like Accepted, Step Up didn't stand out between the hype of Talladega Nights and SoaP.

Why I Just Did: The official description of Step Up's forthcoming sequel was so cookie-cutter I initially thought it was a genre-parody:
When rebellious street dancer Andie lands at the elite Maryland School of the Arts, she finds herself fighting to fit in while also trying to hold onto her old life. When she joins forces with the school’s hottest dancer Chase to form a crew of classmate outcasts to compete in Baltimore’s underground dance battle The Streets, she ultimately finds a way to live her dream while building a bridge between her two separate worlds.
Obviously, I'm going to see that movie — almost-cleverly titled Step Up 2 The Streets — so I need the backstory, right?

Why I'm Glad I Did: De'Shawn Washington and Alyson Stoner have just the right amount of adorable in their little-sibling roles.[3] Heavy D has a "Wait, was that Heavy D?" cameo. Not since 8 Mile has "The White Negro" been portrayed so thoughtfully. Most importantly, there's ostensibly narrative-sustaining dancing. Take THAT, Hairspray.

Why I Wish I Hadn't: Lots of little things piled up to bother me, from the token douchebag boyfriend to the overly melodramatic B-stories to the randomness of the relationship between leads Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan. For the most part, I can put those quibbles behind me; they're just vehicles to get us to more dancing.[4] I am given pause, however, by the elision of both race and class conflict from the story. Conflict emerges not from the characters' different backgrounds, but because they keep making stupid, snap decisions like stealing cars and applying to Cornell.[5]

I semi-joked that Step Up is a landmark in progressive "wigger" cinema à la 8 Mile, but in the latter race was openly deconstructed as but one aspect in an individual's wider identity. Step Up has only 2 references to Tatum's whiteness before it is pushed aside and we are asked to unquestionably accept his urban authenticity as a balance to the ballet of Dewan. This reeks of a calculated attempt attempt at mass appeal, and the fact that the sequel also features two white leads can't be a coincidence.

[1] Obviously Save the Last Dance didn't invent the story of lovers from different worlds, but it's safe to say Step Up owes more to ...Dance than Dirty Dancing, let alone Pyramus & Thisbe.
[2] Ditto the pair-DMX-with-a-martial-arts-star template. I miss you, Dark Man (pause).
[3] Stoner might have been criminally underused given her dancing background, but better that than forcing her into the spotlight as with Lil Romeo in Honey. Tangentially, Washington is really good at geography.
[4] Although the dancing wasn't exactly exceptional so maybe I shouldn't.
[5] ZING!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Bottle Rocket

Why I Wanted to See It: I liked Rushmore, I like the Wilson brothers, and the title reminds me of October Sky.

Why I Hadn't Seen It: The weekend it came out I was in the Bronx watching Rumble in the Bronx.

Why I Just Did: After I told someone that The Darjeeling Limited was not made for me,[1] she said you either like Wes Anderson films or you don't, but I felt on the fence.

Why I'm Glad I Did: Owen Wilson had hair like Guile from Street Fighter. The Wilsons have great chemistry. George Lucas may have stolen Anakin's "I don't like sand" speech in Attack of the Clones from the pool scene with Inez and Anthony. No Bill Murray.

Why I Wish I Hadn't: My distaste for the post-Rushmore Wes Anderson films stems in part from their featuring the likes of Bill Murray and Gwyneth Paltrow, thus undercutting Anderson's eccentricity. Movies like The Royal Tenenbaums are pop-arthouse affairs, and although I can enjoy one or the other aesthetic, like A1 and orange juice[2] they don't go well together.

Looking back on Bottle Rocket puts me in an interesting position, because nobody involved was a star at the time, but I've only heard of the movie because its participants have since attained pop status. Can I parse my reaction to the performances from my reaction to Oh My Gosh It's Luke Wilson? Before-they-were-famous is a common framing device for various products,[3] but its relationship to the star system is more parasitic than synergistic. The star system is made for the here and now; it has not programmed me to deal with decade-old productions on shoestring budgets.


More to the point, Bottle Rocket bored me. Guess I didn't like Rushmore after all.

[1]I tend to identify with Indians more than I do with Americans, but Darjeeling is a very-American take on traveling through India.
[2]Trust me on this.
[3]Especially news and music