New Annie trailer lacks dance numbers. Maybe they did it on purpose?

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Musicals are not typically my thing but even my coal heart couldn’t say no to the adorableness of Quvenzhané Wallis in the upcoming Annie remake.

Wallis stars as the titular character, an orphan girl living with a mean foster mother, played here by Cameron Diaz, who finds herself at the center of a media circus when a business tycoon and mayoral candidate, Jamie Foxx as Benjamin Stacks, takes advantage of the media’s love with the little girl in order to advance his career.

I was vaguely curious about the project because of Rose Byrne’s involvement and the fact that it’s directed by Will Gluck, but beyond that, I had no interest in Annie pre-trailer but now that I’ve seen Wallis being all cute and big haired and charming and stuff, I can’t help but think that this might be really sweet. Still not sure it’s for me but boy, that Wallis sure is adorable.

Annie opens December 19th.

Blindspotting: West Side Story and 42nd Street

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One of the reasons why you may not often hear as much about plot or character when discussing musicals is that they tend to use age old stories at their core. More often than not it’s all about those tunes and performances, so those familiar tales are used to provide a familiar landscape from which to launch the song and dance routines. As I sat down to catch up with a couple of classic musicals with well-worn structures – a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet set in the big city and a backstage look at the lead up to a performance’s premiere with a big break for a young ingenue – I wondered if either of these tales could be given new life via more than just their music and production numbers…While each brought moments of wonderful creativity and sparkling entertainment (in different amounts), the stories were, for the most part, still born.

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That’s not enough to dismiss either film though. In particular, West Side Story is a monument to production design and choreography. Just about every shot in the film is packed with colour from mixed pastels to bright primaries to everything in between in just the right combinations. As a series of stills it would make for an incredible photography exhibit. Of course, much of the secret to the film is its motion in the form of Jerome Robbins’ choreography (he’s also credited here as a co-director along with the master of many genres Robert Wise). It feels novel and exciting even 50 years down the road. It’s sharp and quick and powerful – in short, it’s incredibly physical. It’s an expression of the character’s youthful energy and their inability to find a place to put it, and so it ends up working perfectly during the confrontation and fight scenes where the dancing is essentially the fighting itself. If not every tune fully landed with me, the vast majority did and mostly kept me with the 2 and a half hour runtime. Mostly.

Would you like to know more…?

Finite Focus: Crazy Dance (Simple Men)

Stylish for the sake of style, very much of the 1990s, Hal Hartley may be the precursor to a variety of that decade’s indie success stories: Kevin Smith, Whit Stillman and Wes Anderson. He has a knack for using big words and big ideas for chuckles and certainly knows his way around a pop song.

While Giorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth gets a lot of credit for the its protagonist’s crazy dance, here is the Hal Hartley version, circa 1992. You cannot get much more indie cred in the early 1990s than Sonic Youth, but Hartley plays everything like a sight gag. There is a point to it all, however. As in most things Hartley it is simultaneously obvious, insincere and loaded with irony. The lead characters, foregrounded in the second half of the dance, begin a foolhardy courtship that you know (as per all Hartley joints) will end badly, dance (and song) acts as a bit of greek chorus. Characters in his films are troubled, mysterious, childish and ultimately romantic caricatures, that nevertheless capture…something.

“I can’t stand the quiet!”

Since I am guest spotting on The Director’s Club podcast this week and have been reacquainting myself with this episodes director, let’s Crazy Dance!

Bruno on Conan – OMFG

Alrrrrrrrrrrright. I don’t watch late night TV and I have no love or hate for Conan O’brien but when a good friend of mine told me I had to see Bruno’s appearance on “The Tonight Show”, I had to check it out. For some, this will be old news but I doubt everyone’s seen this. Or maybe they have and I’m just way behind the times. Either way, it’s pretty darn funny.

The video is embedded below but only for our American friends. Everyone else, you can check out the video here.

Bruno opens on July 10th.

The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien – Bruno, Part 1


The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien – Bruno, Part 2

In Defence: HSM3

HSM 3 Movie StillThere are a number of films on my “to watch” list before the end of 2008 yet I can’t seem to build the energy to sit through them. I think I’ll go and by the end of the day, I’m too drained to concentrate on much of anything. Mid-day yesterday, I threw away plans to finally watch Synecdoche, New York (our review) and decided instead to let myself vegetate for a few hours in front of High School Musical 3: Senior Year. It’s all Kermode’s fault; he said it was good.

It started off well enough with Troy Bolton’s (played by tween heartthrob Zac Efron) dance antics on the basketball court in the last game of his senior year. Admittedly, I was dazzled by the show: complicated dance sequences inter-cut with footage of the make-or-break basketball game. Not exactly heart pounding stuff but entertaining enough but then things got a little prickly with the first duet. Troy and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) sit in a tree house, looking longingly at each other and singing a too-sweet song about their longing and how they’ll always be together. It was at this point that I started to really wonder what I was doing there. I started to wonder if maybe Kermode is a closet masochist. And then I started to wonder how I’d ever missed that fact but as the musical number came to a close and story picked up at school, I found myself interested again and all thanks to a little waltzing.

HSM 3 Movie StillOutside of documentaries, when have you ever seen teens waltzing and, to my untrained eye at least, well? I was mesmerized by the moving feet, the careful twirls and lifted heels and it was at this moment that I completely fell into the movie. The musical numbers get bigger, from the catchy “I Want It All” featuring Sharpay (toodles!) and Ryan (Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Grabeel) contemplating their takeover of the entertainment world to the closing “High School Musical”, and more theatrical. It’s like a fairy tale brought to life: the problems are small scale and of course it’s going to end well. Was there any doubt? Paleaze! I was more interested in the next dance number than the dilemma of “follow dad’s plans” vs. “what I want to do”.

It’s not real; it’s never meant to be and the kids who watch it know that They go to school and deal with cliques, bullies, crushes, broken hearts and god knows what other world shattering events affect their lives on a day-to-day basis. This candy coated sweetness is a minor distraction. One could do worse.