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.
Instead of following a ragtag team of brutes hired for a suicide mission to destroy an Earth-bound meteor Seeking a Friend for the End of the World plays out the apocalyptic "what if?" scenario from the everyman vantage point. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) the film pairs average joe Dodge (Steve Carell) with wallflower Penny (Keira Knightley) for a journey across the east coast a hunt for Dodge's college sweetheart. Scafaria takes a character-first approach to her anti-blockbuster examining the end of the world with a pitch black sense of humor. But the road trip loses steam as it chugs along with the film's insistence to avoid Hollywood disaster tropes taking a toll on the entertainment value. Dodge and Penny are so normal they aren't that interesting to watch. In turn neither is Seeking a Friend.
Worse for Dodge than the whole "destruction of humanity" thing is the fact that he's facing it alone; his wife leaves him he has no real family and he hates nearly all of his friends. While everyone he knows is either hooking up or shooting up in hopes of going out on a high note Dodge buckles under the weight of an existential crisis that feels all too familiar. To his rescue is next-door neighbor Penny who insists the two hit the road together to go find Dodge's one-that-got-away. They don't have much of a choice as New York City is quickly overrun by Malatov cocktail-hurling riots.
When the catastrophe and societal chaos is seen through Dodge's eyes and Carell's complex interpretation of the straight man Scafaria hits all the marks. Watching Dodge tell his cleaning lady to go home because "What's the point?" is heartbreaking while his good friend's descent into frat boy madness for the same reasons nails mankind's vile tendencies. And through it all it's funny thanks to Carell's impeccable timing. When Dodge is eventually paired up with Penny the film meanders the two never unearthing what it is about each other that keeps them sticking together. The duo run into a kindly truck driver (who's hired an assassin to off him when he's unaware) a TGIFriday's-esque restaurant full of zany drugged up waiters and even one of Penny's ex-boyfriends whose locked down with automatic rifles and Ruffles chips in anticipation of the end. But Dodge and Penny's quest is mostly about the in-between moments the quitter grounded human reactions to the apocalypse. Even with great performers at the helm Seeking a Friend doesn't organically shape those moments so much as contrive them. In one scene Penny fondly recalls the wonders of listening to music on vinyl Dodge listening carefully and learning. It's a soft and low key discussion perfect juxtaposition against the big-scale problem at hand but when a twenty-something is explaining records to a guy nearing 50 it comes off as twee instead of truthful. The problem infiltrates most of Seeking a Friend's character moments.
Scafaria has an ear and eye for comedy but Seeking a Friend boldly reaches for something more. Sadly ambition doesn't translate to success a messy tonal mix that fail to make it all that engaging or emotional. Carell and Knightley serve the material as best they can but this is the end of the world an even that requires a little weight a little sensationalism and a little more than a casual road movie.
We can be sure that Cathy Jamison will stay alive and well for at least one more year. The Big C is renewed for a third season.
Laura Linney plays Cathy, a suburban mother and high school teacher who develops Stage 4 melanoma. The first season saw Cathy rekindling her relationship with her bipolar brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey), undergoing a series of marital problems with her husband Paul (Oliver Platt), and developing a new friendship with her elderly, bigoted neighbor Marlene (Phyllis Sommerville), all the while hiding her cancer from pretty much everyone. Cathy denied the severity of her disease and erupted with outrageous behavior, including arsen and extramarital affairs.
The second season sees Cathy settle down a bit. She and Paul repair their marriage and are now cooperating in the fight against her illness. Cathy takes a student (Gabourey Sidibe) into her home, develops a close friendship with a fellow cancer patient (Hugh Dancy), and continues to try tirelessly to form a close relationship with her sex-addict teenaged son Adam (Gabriel Basso), who has recently taken up a friendship with the much older "fellow child of cancer," Poppy Kowalski (Parker Posey).
Cathy's progress with her disease opens up for many possibilities with the show. Perhaps she will experience varying levels of health. Perhaps she will lose some members of her support system, but collect new ones. Perhaps, even, she will find herself freed of the illness, but will regret the loss, as she has come to define herself very much by her cancer.
Plenty of possibilities may be explored in the remainder of this season, and in those to come.
Watch The Big C on Showtime Monday nights at 10:30 p.m. ET.
S2E1: It seems like The Big C is setting up for a five-season formula, with each season representing one of the five traditional stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) as Cathy and her family deal with her melanoma.
Last season was a liberal interpretation of Denial. Cathy hid her cancer from her family and friends, she refused any sort of medical treatment for the bulk of the season, and she focused more on marital (and extramarital) issues, the weight of her student Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe was conspicuously absent from the Season 2 premiere; let’s hope she returns next week), and “living freely.” If my theory holds up, and this episode was any indication of a seasonal theme, then this season will represent the Anger stage.
The premiere offers Cathy one conflict with each of the main characters. Dr. Todd displays an unwillingness to support Cathy’s new “hopeful side,” which really masks his romantic feelings for his patient. Cathy’s son Adam is not dealing with the trauma of her disease in a way she deems healthy, as you can see in the clip below, and she urges him to see a therapist who he adamantly resents.
"We should skip the therapist and take him straight to the gastroenterologist." - Paul
And, of course, there’s the simple matter that Cathy is seeing the ghost of the deceased Marlene—not to mention that she almost kills the dog Marlene asked her to look after.
All these instances, as well as Cathy’s persistent attempts to get an appointment with a renowned doctor who won’t return her calls, contribute to her eventual breaking point in the waiting room, wherein she bursts out at the staff and patients, explaining that as a Stage 4, she is entitled to medical treatment.
To the show’s credit, it seamlessly incorporates a large number of plotlines without feeling at all clumsy or cluttered, though some have yet to prove themselves entirely “relevant” to Cathy’s journey. One could argue that the near-death of Marlene’s dog, Thomas, could represent Cathy’s loss of control over her situation, equally represented by the presence of Marlene’s ghost—which could also just be an outlet for Cathy to speak earnestly, as Marlene was her confidante in Season 1. (Of course, it could just be a way to keep the actress around after having offed her. People talk to ghosts all the time on TV. Dexter. LOST. That one episode of Scrubs.)
Anger might be this season’s thematic arc, but it might not take form in Cathy herself. In this episode, Cathy, in a fit of frustration, reveals to her brother, Sean’s, girlfriend (and the mother to his unborn child) Rebecca, that she has cancer. Rebecca, displaying a new level of the selfishness that we saw hints of in Season 1, makes the news all about her. She grieves on behalf of herself and her own journey of “having to lose a friend” and, despite Cathy’s pleas to the contrary, Rebecca breaks the news to Sean (he was the final major character to be unaware). Sean, who the writers spontaneously decided to diagnose with bipolar disorder, lashes out at Cathy, accusing her of being filled with evil, lies and poison.
Sean’s was the only conflict that isn't resolved at the end of the episode. Dr. Todd gives in and pulls some strings to get Cathy and appointment with the acclaimed doctor; Cathy submits to Adam dealing with the grief in his own way; and Thomas (the dog) survives an accidental overdose. This could lead to a season arc of Cathy vs. Sean and their relationship is my favorite in the series, so any additional focus on them -- even in an antagonistic way -- would be enjoyable.
The first season employed a formula that, while flawed at times (and not exactly reaching its potential) worked. Many shows will bank on a formula that works, and play it out beyond its expiration date. But Season 2 seems to be the organic next step: Cathy is trying to get better. Her family is aware of her disease. Some are helpful. Some are scornful. And there are ghosts. All in all, the Season 2 premiere lends hope for more character development, and a natural advancement of the story.