The latest movie in the Step Up franchise aims for a politicized message behind all the flashy moves but it could do with a lot less plot and a lot more dancing. In Step Up Revolution the Miami dance group "The Mob" takes to the streets (and other random locations) to perform intricately choreographed routines with their own DJ a camera guy who uploads their videos to YouTube and a graffiti artist who leaves their signature behind. It takes at least that much effort just to get hipster New Yorkers to ride the subways without any pants on once a year; it's hard to believe that The Mob could pull off their elaborate schemes without getting caught but that's the magic of movies.
The Mob represents the more diverse working class side of Miami a young multiracial group of friends who create incredible works of art that disappear before they get shut down. One of the Mob's leaders Sean (Ryan Guzman) earnestly explains to newcomer Emily (Kathryn McCormick) that the group's reason is to give a voice to the voiceless or to be happy or to dance or something. It's not really clear but they have a lot of fun and look amazing doing it.
Once Sean and his friends find out that a greedy developer plans to raze their neighborhood to make way for another South Beach-style hotel monstrosity they have a reason to rally but until then they're just trying to win a cash prize by getting clicks on YouTube. The typical Step Up twist is that Emily is the developer's daughter. Mr. Anderson (Peter Gallagher) doesn't approve of Emily's love of dancing or other frippery and he certainly wouldn't approve of her hanging out with the people causing such mayhem in the streets of Miami.
Step Up Revolution biggest misstep is trying to give the movie more of a hook than the franchise's typical Romeo and Juliet-style love story and tap into "the Zeitgeist" (I swear that's from the studio-provided press notes) of flash mobs. The film could have cut out most of the plot and characters and still have a completely intact film insofar as the point of the film is its multimedia dance routines. The sort of productions The Mob pulls off are more akin to carefully planned art installations or music videos in terms of scope; it would have been better to at least make that somehow feasible in terms of the storyline. Yes we are here for a spectacle and we surely get a spectacle but it needs to have some roots in reality.
The dance scenes are fun sexy and occasionally a little sappy but overall quite enjoyable for people who enjoy "So You Think You Can Dance" type of shows. Kathryn McCormick and Stephen "tWitch" Boss both appeared on "SYTYCD" and their costar Misha Gabriel is a classically trained ballet dancer turned pro back-up dancer for folks like Beyoncé and Michael Jackson. Guzman doesn't have a dance background but he is an MMA fighter who obviously took his training very seriously. The entire outfit is pretty damn entertaining to be honest.
As far as the 3D goes it makes most of Miami look overcast and grey. The extra zings added in to make sure we get our money's worth like sand flicking out at us or a breakdancer whose foot seems to be aiming for our face only serves to distract from the real show at hand. There is also an awful lot of ramping and generally spazzy editing tricks that look cheap. The screenplay by Amanda Brody is definitely not its strong suit.
Step Up Revolution is the cinematic equivalent of a trashy beach novel. It's embarrassing to be caught actually enjoying it and you'll forget about it almost immediately but it's a decent way to spend a summer afternoon.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
That isn’t to say Martian Child doesn’t get to you every once in a while. It starts off with science-fiction writer David Gordon (John Cusack) telling an audience what a geek he was as a kid. Now of course he’s fabulously successful but he still feels a little like an outsider—and he is certainly not at all fulfilled. You see David has recently lost his wife and in trying to grasp at something meaningful he is contemplating adopting a child. Not just any child mind you—David wants Dennis (Bobby Coleman) a young orphaned boy who spends his days in a box and claims to be from Mars. Seems like a match made in heaven right? Not exactly. The odd youngster proves to be a tad overwhelming for the single dad especially when some of the weird stuff Dennis does actually makes sense. Is he really an alien? David wonders just that and in doing so gradually finds himself growing more attached to the boy and experiencing the transformational power of parental love. Like many other TV movies-of-the-week that masquerade as feature films by using bigger star power Martian Child has John Cusack in its corner. The actor tries his darnedest to do something different with the part playing David with much earnestness and honesty. David gets a lot of things wrong in his attempts to be a dad but his warmth and kindness towards the boy never waver--although I think the Cusack performance we should be looking forward to is his dad in the upcoming Grace Is Gone. Coleman (Must Love Dogs) also does some fascinating things as the strange little Dennis—once you get past his very high-pitched gravelly voice. The young actor plays Dennis with the right amount of weirdness and sadness as a little boy just looking to be loved. The rest of the supporting characters are unfortunately written with every cliché in mind so the actors playing them can’t really shine including Joan Cusack as David’s disapproving—and then approving—sister; Amanda Peet as David’s old friend who exudes enthusiasm ad nauseaum; and Richard Schiff as the child social services shrink who doesn’t think David can be a good single parent. There always has to be a party pooper. Apparently Martian Child sat on the shelf for a little while before being released. It could be because there isn’t really anything compelling about the film save for a few moments any normal emotional person would get choked up about. Dutch director Menno Meyjes who also directed John Cusack in the little-seen Hitler drama Max just doesn’t use enough of his imagination in Martian Child. There are endless possibilities especially since David writes science fiction and Dennis believes he is from Mars. More star gazing perhaps? Fantasy sequences in which Dennis talks to his comrades in space? Alas no. Instead Martian Child plods along its merry little predictable way. You know I’m not a director but sometimes I feel I could do a lot of the same work for a lot less money.
In the beginning of Happy Feet you might think a handful of moviegoers forgot to silence their cell phones; it’s just the emperor penguins singin’ their beaks off to one of any number of songs popular circa 2003. In Antarctica that’s how they stick together--it’s how they harmonize so to speak. But with the birth of one penguin Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) the whole colony is shaken up. Mumble has the voice of a puberty-stricken boy and is unable to keep a tune but he can dance like the dickens! His mother Norma Jean (voiced by Nicole Kidman) thinks it’s a cute habit but his father (voiced by Hugh Jackman) and the rest of the tight-knit community ostracize him. After toiling around a while with his new buddies (of which two are voiced by Robin Williams) some of whom are “Latino penguins ” Mumble realizes his only chance at redemption is to find the source of the penguins’ current fish famine--and he’ll stop at nothing not even “aliens." Robin Williams is quite the odd bird himself. Nowadays--movie-wise at least--he’s better heard and not seen (i.e. voice-over roles like this one) whereas his mile-a-minute physicality was once a necessary evil to get the full 3-D effect of his personality. His animated self obviously less in-your-face Williams’ dialogue does all the work in Feet and gives a performance that matches his beloved Aladdin Genie. Frodo alert: Wood also starring in this weekend’s Bobby hits all the er wrong notes to turn in a solid performance as the movie’s lead Mumble. Since he sounds (and looks) much younger to most people than his actual age (25) it’s another in his long line of impeccable role choices. As the unattainable object of Mumble’s affection Brittany Murphy stars as Gloria a character that if nothing else allows the actress to display her singing talents as a preview of her reported upcoming album. (Yes seriously.) The biggest names Kidman and Jackman with small parts don’t offer much besides superficial mainstream appeal but bit parts from Hugo Weaving Anthony LaPaglia and the late Steve Irwin round out the formidable cast with some zing. Penguins have long been ripe for the animating what with their waddling clumsiness and stuffed-animal cuteness. March of the Penguins outed them as lovable misunderstood Antarctic creatures Madagascar turned them into ‘toon comedians and now Feet director and co-writer George Miller (Mad Max) gives them the full treatment by animating and literally humanizing them. Miller’s labor of love which he’d deliberated over for some time encompasses all the kiddie messages we’ve come to expect while managing to toss in the rare animation curveball: ecological themes. Miller is clearly an animal lover--he also wrote and produced Babe--a passion he ties into the film without forcing. But the animation nonstop musical numbers and technical aspect of the film will truly and pleasantly surprise you. In fact a few scenes in particular involving humans juxtaposed with animated penguins make for memorable images--and messages. He and his team of co-writers Warren Coleman John Collee and Judy Morris also formulate typically quicker-witted dialogue for the primarily Aussie cast but it’s the overall heartwarming tale and execution thereof that’ll have you smiling all movie long.