On Wednesday, we returned to the city of champions.
By that, I mean Atlanta. Naturally.
Episode 3 of So You Think You Can Dance brought us back to the illustrious city that produced Melanie Moore, the most recent Favorite Dancer of the Year: the dirty ATL, home to one of my only loves, Mr. Decatur-Till-I-Die . For the occasion, Cat wore a giant gray leopard, and this week’s fabulous guest judge was Debbie Allen, better known as Jackson's mom and Richard’s play thing from Grey's Anatomy. Love her.
It’s easy to see how this city produced our most recent champ: These people can straight up dance. It truly wouldn’t be surprising if half of the finalists came from this crop.
First up was The Girl Who Farts With Her Elbow (don't ask), Audrey Case, who was a beautiful dancer — she possessed the most admirable combination of balance and flexibility we've seen thus far in Season 9, and her personality was infectious — so it's a shame that she'll forever be known as That Girl Who Farts With Her Elbow. Alas, everyone must have his or her thing. She got a standing O from the studio audience, Nigel called her magical, and she was granted an auto-ticket to Vegas.
The three hip-hop dancers who followed — all of whom live in a tiny apartment with "millions of other people" (actually seven) — were a bit more exciting. Boris Penton, the first of the three to audition, performed a stilted, robotic routine to a piano version of "Love the Way You Lie.” I’m always so impressed when the dancers can maintain a completely still countenance even while the audience is going nuts. Actually, Boris kind of reminded me of a cheaper version of The Exorcist. (Yes, I will bring him up in every recap until Vegas begins and we are finally reunited.)
Nigel was absolutely smitten with this dude, and Debbie even pulled out the Kara DioGuardi Special and used the word "artistry" at least five times in her 30-second critique. Unsurprisingly, he got sent straight to Vegas. The funny thing about this audition is that Nigel made a big show of worrying that Fart Girl wouldn’t be able to adapt to other styles of dance, whereas he didn’t even bring it up with this guy, who seems like a pretty clear-cut hip-hop specialist.
The next roommate to take the stage was Andre Rucker, whom we shall call Chris Bosh. After he began his routine by hatching from an egg, he took the robot motif a step further and gave us what was easily one of the most impressive performances this season. In his intro package, he said he wanted to create a style that was completely new and innovative, and he definitely achieved it; he honestly, truly looked like a robot. Even his mouth moved in this weird, stilted way.
NEXT: Glitch in the system.
The third and final roommate, Cyrus "Glitch" Spencer, aimed to move like a "robot anime popper," and you had to figure that the one the producers saved for last had to be the best. You would be right. Cyrus was the most natural, the most fluid and also the most dramatic and artistic of the three. Robot anime characters would definitely look like that. I'm a sucker for dubstep as it is, but Cyrus truly moved like he was being manipulated by some crazy video editor’s magic mouse. He was scary and awesome and impossible to look away from; in fact, he might have even seized The Exorcist's throne.
Actually, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The judges saved their most effusive praise for Cyrus and sent him straight through to Vegas. The moment was compromised by some unfortunate pit stains, but we shall ignore that.
Eighteen-year-old Joshua Alexander was one of the best male dancers we've seen so far, at least as far as ballet goes. He was so graceful, so fluid – there was so much ease in his movement that it was impossible to ignore his raw talent, plain and simple. He also looked so darn happy while he was dancing. When he was finished, each judge wordlessly held up a ticket to Vegas, and Joshua accepted all three, which confused me because there was only one of him.
The most pimped audition of the night — the one we've been seeing in promos all week — was that of Tim Conkel, who used karate to conquer childhood bullying. Before long, he transitioned from the martial arts into dancing in the hopes that it would help him get girls. In fact, he brought his favorite girl onstage with him in the form of a purple Selena Gomez backpack.
Despite the fact that the secondhand embarrassment I experienced rivaled anything I’ve ever felt while watching The Bachelorette, there was no denying that Tim Conkel was absurd. True, he made the white-girl-dancing face several times, but it didn't matter. He was half-break dancer, half-insane gymnast. The worst parts of the routine, weirdly, were the karate moves, which seemed like afterthoughts thrown in at the end and simply didn't mesh.
The judges were all concerned that Tim couldn't dance any other styles, so on the spot, they asked him to put his limited ballet training to the test, which provoked a series of deafening belly laughs from the lady judges. Nevertheless, he got the ticket to Vegas. I still don't think he's making it out of there alive, but we'll see.
NEXT: Fire in the belly.
Another standout was Palestinian belly dancer Janelle Issis, who was discovered in church (yes) and performs regularly at nursing homes. That must get the blood flowing. Yes.
Her routine was easily my favorite of the night. It was somehow modern — probably because of the hip-hop track — yet still authentic, and every part of her was invested, physically and emotionally. It was impossible to look away. Nigel, too, was grossly infatuated and sent her to choreography, where she prevailed and earned the ticket to Vegas.
Danielle Dominguez came to the audition with her mom, and her sit-down with Cat revealed her to be the real-life girl from SNL who thinks her parents are the coolest people in the world. She also had a really gross infatuation with bacon, which she enjoys eating by the plateful. Literally, the plateful.
Because Danielle is willowy and thin, Nigel suggested that perhaps she could begin a Bacon Diet movement — you could feel the hole forming before he even began his next thought — and he then suggested that Mary and Debbie take part in this groundbreaking diet. Both female judges were then predisposed to hate our friend Danielle, a self-described "weird dancer” whose routine didn't seem incredibly technical; it was more of a collection of sensual movement, enhanced by her double-jointedness. The judges, alas, liked her uniqueness and sent her on to Vegas.
Courtney Kirby actually did pull a Bachelor when she brought her grandmother to the audition to distract Nigel. Nigel invited Grandma to sit in his judge's seat, and they spent several minutes giggling and nuzzling before Courtney began her routine. Do we need to go over this? She made it straight through to Vegas.
Now, for the routine: Her technique was excellent, but it was a bit much for me in the hairography department, and the ending was straight-up weird. It was far from the most impressive thing we saw all day, but sometimes, cute grandmas get the best of our emotions.
The most intriguing audition of the night was that of Asher Walker. He dressed like a frat boy and talked like a cast member from Straw Dogs, and the self-professed redneck taught himself to dance in his garage by watching videos. Now, he aspires to be a Justin Bieber backup dancer. Truth.
He may not have had a grandma with him, but he had the charm to make up for it, and the chops, too. Aside from the fact that he could move at all in such tight skinny jeans, which already should’ve earned him a ticket to Vegas, his routine was all rhythm and hip-hop and a little bit of corndoggery but, alas, charming. He quite obviously didn’t have as much technical skill as most of the other hip-hop enthusiasts we've seen this season, but he certainly has raw talent and he's totes adorbs. Mary likes to throw out this phrase a lot, but this really is the guy people are going to pick up the phone and vote for. On to Vegas he goes.
Brittany Ortner, who needed seven takes to record her pre-audition interview, is from a tiny town in Florida and believes Uncle Nigel is the only genie in the world who can save her from Chicken Town. This girl was half-Taylor Swift, half-Miley Cyrus – a deadly combo – but she was pretty good. Kind of raw, but skilled. On the scale of Anna Faris to Kate Winslet, she was a solid Shailene Woodley. The judges liked her personality, but they sent her to choreography and eventually on to Vegas.
At the end of the night, we were treated to the resurgence of Damon Bellmon and Deon Lewis, who auditioned for Season 8 and performed a “tribute” to a Les Twins routine, which was "misinterpreted" as dance plagiarism. In their defense, they admitted in their pre-audition sit-down last year that their routine was inspired by group, but the producers cut it.
This year, they did their own routine – pinkie swear – to "Moves Like Jagger," which was alternately awesome and unwatchably corny. The best part came during a dubstep break in the middle, where they were really able to use their buddy-cop routine to their advantage. They got a standing O from the audience, but Nigel wanted to see how good they could be with female partners rather than each other, so they went on to choreography. Damon proved that he can indeed roll with the ladies, but in a dramatic turn of events, Deon was cut. He was happy for his bro, anyway.
What did you think of The Dirty? Was the robot anime trio worth all of the pimping it got from the judges? Who didn’t deserve the ticket to Vegas? And most importantly, what animal-printed couture will Cat treat us to next week?
[Image Credit: FOX]
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If you grew up on a steady diet of action movies if your bones hardened every time a muscle-bound guy dove away from an explosion in slow motion if you hit puberty the first time you saw the hero of the hour bed his scantily clad damsel in distress then it’s impossible to resist the allure of a movie like The Expendables. It’s the superband version of an action movie. It was created by an action star its cast consists almost exclusively of action stars and the only reason it exists is to put a smile on the face of action fans. And invariably it will do just that.
The question is how wide one’s smile will be. The answer depends on how forgiving one is willing to be of The Expendables' faults and there are many. It’s a little slow-going at first the characters are very thinly defined some of the acting is spotty and on the production front Sylvester Stallone’s knack for action scenes is thrown under the bus by a ton of visual shortcuts (CGI blood being perhaps the most egregious) that belie the film’s obvious low budget. That said Stallone’s knack for gory ultraviolent action is indeed so strong his mind so tuned to the quirks and cliches that make action movies beloved despite their faults that The Expendables kicks more than enough ass by the time credits roll to be worthwhile beyond just the novelty of seeing Stallone Statham Li Lundgren Austin Rourke Couture Crews Willis and Schwarzenegger all under one explosion-filled roof.
That was actually my biggest concern at the offset of the film that the only ace up star/co-writer/director Stallone’s ripped sleeve was his cast but the best thing about The Expendables is that it could have worked with a roster composed entirely of no-name actors. It’s fantastic to see some of these action movie titans go head to head (particularly so in the case of Lundgren) but the headliners surprisingly neither make nor break the movie. The script which involves a gang of mercenaries overthrowing a South American dictator who has become a puppet of a rogue CIA agent isn’t particularly strong but no one goes to an action movie expecting it to be a David Mamet-scripted battle of wits. The story just needs a firm enough framework to allow for enough scenarios for our heroes to punch kick stab shoot and explode an army of bad guys. To that end Expendables could have been given to a cast and crew of newcomers and still stomped in tons of face.
What actually hurts the film the most is that it is filled with veterans and promises of a return to old-school action an era where the only thing bigger than the heroes’ muscles was the body count left in his wake. The only thing wrong with the body count in The Expendables is that it takes too long to begin piling up whereas the rest of the movie feels too small too amateur hour considering its cast of pros. Nu Image the chief studio financing Stallone’s grand endeavor is known primarily for making low-budget straight-to-video movies; sadly The Expendables isn’t going to shake that image any time soon.
There is a disappointing amount of poorly-rendered CGI blood and flames throughout the film which completely goes against the “do it old-school” mindset one expects from all involved. It’s hardly unwatchable but there are times where the look of the film brings to mind the Syfy channel and as any brave soul who has ever wandered into a Syfy Original Movie knows all too well that is rarely ever a good thing.
However even with lackluster production values The Expendables still manages to be a wild throat-slashing elbow-dropping grenade-throwing trigger-pulling and limb-dismembering good time. The last forty-five minutes alone are packed with more carnage than most action movies today can dream of delivering throughout their entire run time. The slow beginning gives way to a glorious orgy of death that generates a body count that would warrant UN intervention were it to have occurred in the real world. And since fictional armies getting absolutely obliterated by a fictional team of the manliest men on the planet is all anyone really requires from The Expendables it’s easy to turn your back on the few obstacles that stand in the way of that holy goal.
Poor Shrek (Mike Myers). The irascible ogre just can’t catch a break. First he has to leave his beloved swamp to rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz). Then he marries her and has to go meet the in-laws. NOW he’s stuck in Far Far Away as its de facto ruler after the frog king croaks. Oh and he finds out Fiona is pregnant too. All this throws the great green one into a tailspin because 1) impending fatherhood scares the bejeezus out him and 2) he believes he has no business being king. So Shrek sets out with his pals Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to fetch Artie aka Arthur (Justin Timberlake) Fiona’s cousin and next in line for the throne. Thing is Artie’s just a teenager—and kind of a loser one at that; he really doesn’t want to be king either. Meanwhile on the home front Fiona and her merry band of princesses have to defend the castle against the vain Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) who’s hell bent on getting revenge and taking over Far Far Away. And so the high jinks ensure. But it’s OK it all works out in the end. Certainly part of Shrek’s charm is its vocal talent. Myers Diaz and Murphy are all old pros by now—which is actually a good and bad thing. They are definitely more comfortable with their roles but Shrek isn’t nearly as charmingly irritable as he once was and Fiona not as feisty. Guess they are growing up. And Murphy used to get all the best lines as the jittery Donkey. Now that job has been delegated to the likes of Banderas as Puss as well as side characters such as the Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon) Pinocchio (Cody Cameron) and the Three Little Pigs (also Cameron). Also adding to the humor are the various princesses especially SNL alums Amy Poehler as the sardonic Snow White and Maya Rudolph as turncoat Rapunzel plus Amy Sedaris as the dimwitted Cinderella. Timberlake is sweetly goofy as Artie while Brit comic legend Eric Idle voices the New Age-y on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown Merlin the magician with aplomb. It’s these characterizations that make Shrek the Third zing. Much like Shrek 2 this third installment ultimately comes off as a retread. They just haven’t been able to recapture the magic created in the original. Instead the filmmakers regurgitate the same comic set ups and in some cases the same jokes. Maybe they won’t ever be able to reach that same plateau. But you’ve still got to give the Shrek franchise props for being the granddaddy of fairy-tale spoofs. Even if the sequels don’t measure up the Shrek phenomenon on the whole has set the bar creating a certain charisma in the let’s-make-fun-of-traditional-lore milieu. Shrek the Third highlights include: Worcestershire High School where Artie goes to school which is full of John Hughes teenagers talking in medieval oh-thou-di’nt-just-say-that speak; Charming being relegated to doing third-rate dinner theater; Pinocchio trying to talk his way around not lying and more. Oh who cares what us dumb critics say anyway. Kids are going to love Shrek the Third regardless of whether it hits the mark or not.
Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) never aspires to become one of the youngest people ever to make the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List--it just kind of turns out that way. His adventures begin in 1967 when he runs away from home at 16 just as his parents are divorcing. He finds himself alone in the Big Apple unsuccessfully trying to cash fake $20 checks. One day Frank notices how much respect is given to two airline pilots and he decides impersonating a Pan Am co-pilot might be just the ticket so to speak. Thus begins his brilliant three-year run as a master of deception. After infiltrating Pan Am he changes careers--he's a pediatrician then a lawyer--all the while perfecting his forgery skills. Cashing fake checks all over the country Abagnale amasses millions and quite literally becomes a kid in a candy store buying sports cars and fancy suits losing his virginity and pretending he is James Bond. Still the fact remains Frank is just a kid. Even after all these adult experiences his main objective is to get his father Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken) a down-on-his-luck store owner hounded by the IRS back together with his now-remarried mother (Nathalie Baye). Frank's nefarious activities eventually catch the authorities' attention and Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) a no-nonsense FBI agent in charge of the bank fraud division is soon hot on Frank's tail. But Frank doesn't mind. Part of him wants to get caught and he baits Hanratty to never give up the chase. Hanratty never does and finally brings his man to justice.
Catch Me's acting ensemble shines. Given the fact DiCaprio is in two high-profile movies this holiday season--this one and Gangs of New York--puts the actor back on the radar after a hiatus (perhaps he was licking his wounds after starring in the disastrous 2001 The Beach). Yet if you were to match the performances DiCaprio's stellar turn as Abagnale definitely stands out as the better of the two (the Golden Globes feel the same recently giving DiCaprio a nod for best actor in a drama). He fits the part like a glove--all at once charismatic childish vulnerable and deadly intelligent. DiCaprio easily shows how Frank isn't necessarily a sociopath but more a needy kid looking for acceptance. Say what you will about DiCaprio's movie star qualities he still has the acting chops to make it work. Walken as Frank Sr. also gives one of the better performances of his career playing a sad man who knows the apple doesn't fall from the tree but who is too proud to admit his mistakes--even to his son. Hanks is superb as well (is there anything this man can't do?) playing the by-the-book Hanratty completely devoid of emotion--but making us laugh anyway every time he comes on the screen. He doesn't mean to of course but to see Hanks play something so obviously straight somehow brings out the humor in the situation even more. Just don't ask Hanratty to tell you a joke. TV's Alias honey Jennifer Garner also makes a nice cameo as a prostitute--watch out folks she's heading for the big screen.
Based on the real-life memoirs of Frank W. Abagnale Jr. Catch Me If You Can is a fascinating study of a brilliant mind which isn't by nature criminal--just slightly misguided (ironically the real Abagnale now in his 50s is a legitimate businessman who also acts as an consultant for the FBI's bank fraud division). Under the skillful hands of director Steven Spielberg Catch Me has a great deal of fun going for a very '60s tongue-in-cheek Pink Panther feel from the opening credits to the ease at which Frank goes about his merry way conning everyone including himself. The motto of the film has to be "never deny." Frank accepts everything and things just fall into his lap. Even when Frank tries to tell the truth to the father (played by Martin Sheen) of a woman he wants to marry it works to his advantage. Yet the meat of the film is Frank's inner turmoil at the breakup of his parents of wanting his family back together again and of his need to come clean. Frank secretly wants to be disciplined told what to do and that's why Hanratty becomes so important almost a fatherly figure to him. The film probably plays about a half hour too long especially in explaining what happens to Abagnale after he gets caught but otherwise it totally engages you.