A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 439 – Stomp the Yard

Stomp the Yard – May 13th, 2011

I would like to include some excerpts from an email exchange between myself and my husband before I get into my review. The first is a response to a list of movies Andy sent me for approval:

The only one I’m iffy on is The Devil’s Backbone. I mean, Stomp the Yard isn’t one I’d have picked up otherwise (I don’t watch every dance movie, honey), but I’ll watch it. The Devil’s Backbone looks to me like horror, and I’m not big on horror, if you hadn’t noticed. I know it’s del Toro, but it’s still horror.

Andy responded thusly:
Okay- I’ll hold off on Devil’s Backbone. Is Stomp the Yard worth owning for $6? And will it hurt me?

And my email is the last response:
$6 isn’t much, but I’m not rubbing my hands in glee at owning it, so ditch it if you want.

When I got home Andy showed me what he had bought. And in the stack was this movie. I asked why he’d bought it. Oh, he said, you told me to. I had to pull up the above email exchange to prove that no, I had not told him to buy it. He made that decision all on his own. Not that I mind! I just don’t like having anyone put words in my mouth. But really, I don’t have any problem with Andy having bought this movie. It wasn’t anything super new for me, but it was fun and had some entertaining scenes and more than a few nods to the ladies.

There are a lot of men in this movie. I’m not sure who the target audience for the movie was, but the majority of the cast is male and there’s certainly a lot of machismo on display here. Men with attitude get up in each other’s faces and act tough and argue over who gets the girl. And what’s on display here is most certainly a bunch of dudes doing dude stuff. The movie is about rival fraternities training for a national step competition with the lead character being a young man who’s come a more street background than the other guys he ends up with. This movie doesn’t precisely read as a chick flick. And yet there’s no shortage of good looking guys and our main character, DJ, seems to have no problem taking his shirt off to show off his chest and abs. And there’s a nice strong plot in here involving the female lead, April, and both her and DJ’s objections over other men in her life trying to make her decisions for her. So what I’m saying is that I think this movie’s doing a nice job of being appealing to a wide crowd and I like that.

The plot is fairly predictable. I knew about ten seconds into the movie what was going to happen and it did not disappoint me. DJ and his brother get their crew involved in a hardcore dance competition where there are some very nice moves (one in particular had a guy bouncing off his shoulders in a circle and yeah, that’s sexy) and a lot of what looked to me to be krumping. But then, I’m most certainly not an expert. There was a lot of big movement, hard hitting sort of stuff going on though, which is what I expect from krumping. There was also a lot of other stuff and I don’t have names for the moves being performed but it’s an aggressive opening. One brother worries about the crew they’re going up against and the other says it’ll be cool and come on. With an intro like that you know someone’s going down. Fast forward a bit and the surviving brother is off to Atlanta to go to college and stay out of trouble. But since this isn’t a movie about a young man studying and mowing lawns you know there will be trouble. That’s how these movies go.

Trouble appears in the form of two rival fraternities, Mu Gamma and Theta Nu. Mu Gamma’s step team has won the national step championship for many years running and Theta Nu is looking for an upset but their team just can’t quite cut it. DJ sees the teams, decides they’re all a waste of time and he’d rather go after this girl he keeps seeing, April. It comes as no surprise to find that she’s dating one of the Mu Gammas and he’s an asshole. It also comes as no surprise that DJ is set up to be her alternate love interest. Even before DJ joins one of the frats he’s getting cozy with April, taking her out for drinks and getting her to tutor him in history. But what I like about the whole April thing is that DJ’s approach to her is largely to see how her current boyfriend, Grant, treats her and to point out to both of them that she doesn’t need to take that crap. She deserves better. It’s a theme that comes up again later when the inevitable drama happens and DJ finds himself off the step team right before nationals and yet again a man in April’s life is trying to use her as a bargaining chip. It’s heavy handed, yes, but I don’t midn a movie that explicitly states, more than once, that a woman isn’t a thing to be traded and decided for. She gets a say over her own life. Nope, not protesting that at all.

What I do protest is that so little time was spent on DJ’s decision to pledge. You knew he was going to. That much wasn’t a surprise. But there was this lead up with both fraternities coming to him knowing he would be good for their step teams and him saying no, he doesn’t want to join a frat. And then he goes to Heritage Hall and sees how the Greek system has a pretty awesome background for people of color and that’s it. Suddenly he’s pledging. It’s a scene with no dialogue that takes about thirty seconds and I’d have liked a little more of a journey for him. This is not to say that the reasoning the movie gives him isn’t legitimate and it is followed up at the end of the movie, it’s just that it’s not given nearly the time I’d like to have seen it get.

My only other real problem with the movie is the plot point near the end where DJ’s suspended from school and therefore benched from the team. Oh, the part where the rival team digs up information on how his brother died and DJ’s whole rough past? That I saw coming and I’ve got no real problem there. It’s how this sort of movie goes. But then there’s the set-up with April being the Provost’s daughter and the Provost telling DJ “Stop dating my daughter and I’ll get you reinstated.” And I’ve got to say, while DJ was brought before the ethics committee for lying about his criminal record it seems like the Provost’s actions would be an ethics violation in and of itself. I mean, really? That’s pretty low. Sure, it adds drama and all, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear concrete proof that people in positions of authority in universities have done shady things with said authority. But no one bats an eye at this aside from making it more personal. But whatever, this movie isn’t really supposed to be ultra-realistic. It follows a set formula and the drama had to come from somewhere.

Really, the purpose of this movie isn’t the plot or the romance or the dramatic tension, though I’ve got to say that while none of them were terribly surprising they were fairly well played. The point of the movie, though, is the stepping and dancing and competition. Of which there is plenty. There’s the wild and frenetic dance battle at the beginning and then the more orderly step challenge when DJ gets to college. There’s some less wild battling in a club and then more stepping once DJ pledges and then more stepping and dancing and stepping and dancing and rehearsing and practicing and one more battle before we get to the big climactic scenes at the national championships. And I’ve got to say, I love the dancing. I never took dance classes as a kid and while I like to think I have some rhythm, I am not a dancer and never will be. Not any style of dance. But man do I love to watch people with skills show them off. Which is why I wanted to glue the camera down every time the dancing started.

Seriously, I enjoyed the acting and even though the script wasn’t subtle and the plot wasn’t shocking I did have fun watching it all. But the camera work during the dance scenes started to work my nerves by the end. It’s all full of jump cuts and fast movement and it circles around the dancers and gets in close to see their faces and I don’t want to see their faces! They are dancing! Let me see them moving! And the fast cuts just end up obscuring more than they reveal. Then, to top it all off, things will slow down into slow-mo for a few seconds, then jump cut to another angle. And the music just keeps playing, which makes me feel like it’s more layered on after the fact than something the people on screen are actually dancing to. It’s frustrating as hell because there’s some good stuff going on there and I wanted to see it all. If you’re making a dance movie, you’ve got to find a way to display the dancing. I realize that the cinematographic choices were likely made to try and enhance the mood of the dance going on, but they ended up leaving me feeling like I wanted to see more of what actually happened.

Now, it might seem that I’ve had a lot of criticism to vent about this movie and yes, I have some issues with it. But really, those issues aren’t enough to make me dislike the movie. Sure, I’d have liked to see more of DJ’s decision to pledge. Yes, it would have been nice if someone had said “Seriously, there has to be an authority we can report this to,” when the Provost tried to bribe DJ. Some less frenzied camerawork might have been nice for a few of the dance scenes. But put that against an attempt at some depth of character for DJ, which I think was accomplished. Put it against the nicely handled plot with April standing up for herself and DJ not selling her out. Put it against the wealth of dance scenes and choreography. And it just ends up not being too big a deal. There’s good acting here and a story that could have been fleshed out more but gets enough meat to it to be interesting. There’s a more seriously handled plot than I was expecting and it’s all coherent and cohesive and it’s just plain fun to watch.

May 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Stomp the Yard

May 13, 2011

Stomp the Yard

I’d like to stress, just for the record, that Amanda did NOT request that I buy this movie. I bought it way back at the start of the movie a day project when we were trying to get more movies that would appeal to Amanda into our collection to counterbalance all the movies I had purchased over the years without her consent. She asked me to pick up Bring it On and Drumline and in my mind this movie just kind of fit that genre so I suggested we get it as well. She wasn’t immediately sold on the idea and told me I didn’t necessarily need to pick it up. I bought it anyhow of course.

The truth is that I feel like I’ve seen this movie before (even though I haven’t) but that’s okay because some stories are worth watching again. And this version of the story did offer a couple of surprises here and there.

The familiar story is that of the talented outsider who learns how to become a member of the team and brings them to a higher level as a group. Bring it On, Drumline, Stick It and this are all cut from the same cloth. Our talented outsider today is DJ, a gifted krumper and street dancer. When he (against the advice of his wise-beyond-his-years brother) encourages his dance crew to beat and humiliate a rival LA dance crew a fight results. It costs DJ’s brother his life and subjects DJ to a quick montage of shame.

That’s just the set-up though. The real action of the movie starts when DJ’s kind aunt and uncle bring him to their alma mater Truth U. His uncle, the captain of the Hammer from the Matrix sequels, gets him a job as a groundskeeper at the college so he can work his way through school. Dispite his street roots DJ very quickly proves himself to be a conscientious hard worker and student. Of course he still longs for his dancing days. Then he discovers the local fraternities and their step-dancing rivalry.

Here we get another whole slew of cliches. There’s the studious fraternity where nobody is aloud to take the easy way out and hard work is respected. There’s the privileged frat full of spoiled guys who simply expect to win and aren’t above video-taping their rivals to steal their material. Of course the Theta Nus (the good guys) haven’t won the step dancing championships in ages and are considered tired and washed up. The Mu Gammas on the other hand strut around because they’re reigning champs with six wins under their belts. Perhaps DJ can infuse the Thetas with fresh ideas using his street background and thus bring them victory?

Things are complicated somewhat by the fact that DJ finds himself falling for a girl named April who is going out with the second in command of the Gammas. Oh, and her father is a Gamma and is a powerful bigwig in the school faculty.

Considering just how familiar this whole plot is, and how full of tired cliches, it is pleasantly surprising how much I enjoyed the movie. For one thing the dancing is great. It’s sometimes hard to follow because of the hyperactive camera work and flashy editing, but there are some astonishing dancers here and some moves I had never seen before. (Most notably there’s an awesome movie in the opening dance-off where one guy repeatedly throws himself onto one shoulder blade and rolls around to leap back to his feet. It’s so cool.)

The other thing that’s surprising about this movie, although it appears somewhat sudden and doesn’t have quite enough establishing motivation behind it, is DJ’s dedication to bettering himself, learning and becoming a part of something bigger than himself in the fraternity. At the start of the movie DJ is sullen and doesn’t want much to do with this whole college thing. When things begin to fall apart near the end of the movie, though, DJ is most concerned because his bright new future, which he has been trying so hard to reach towards, is being taken away from him. I like that arc, I just wish that there was more in the movie to explain this transformation – it just appears to happen.

My other complaint about the movie would be that aside from DJ and April nobody else in the movie is particularly well defined. There’s DJ’s room mate (in his absolutely VAST freshman double which seems to have room for about twenty people) and his sponsor in the frat, and his rival and his aunt and uncle and April’s father… all these characters who don’t really have any character of their own and exist only to serve DJ’s story. I would have liked to have gotten a feel for who some of these people were, but I never did.

The whole movie is like that I guess. It’s DJ’s story and everybody else is along for the ride. Things happen to him and he makes decisions because it moves the plot forward, not because it makes sense for his character. (Why does he obsess over April in the first place? He shows himself to be sensitive to her feelings and her desires later on, but it all starts out with him just seeing her out of the corner of his eye and in slow motion.) The dancing is really cool though.

May 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment