A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 123 – Strictly Ballroom

Strictly Ballroom – July 1st, 2010

We do own a lot of dance movies. Not that I’d really put this alongside Save the Last Dance really, though there are some similarities, but it’s a very different creature. Maybe when I review Save the Last Dance I’ll play compare and contrast. Anyhow, this movie stands out not just because it’s Australian and directed by Baz Luhrmann, but because of the style of the movie and the style of the dancing. It’s not quite parody, but not quite serious. It’s Latin ballroom, with twists that are half the point of the plot.

There’s a bit at the beginning where the main character’s mother is being interviewed by someone, crying and worrying that she’s done something wrong, alluding to a dancing career down the toilet and what a waste it was. As we find out soon, said career is that of her son, Scott Hastings. An up and coming star of the Australian Dance Federation, Scott’s been making up his own steps and getting in trouble with the judges. There’s another interview segment, Scott is identified in a freeze frame with text, we get an interview segment with Fran, a student at Scott’s mother’s studio, and it’s set up to be this sort of quasi-Spinal Tap feel. But that doesn’t stick. In fact, aside from a cut-away to a traffic accident and some flashbacks near the end, the rest of the movie is done in a far more straightforward fashion.

The story follows Scott, who wants to break free of the restrictive rules of the ADF; Fran, a beginner who plays the ugly duckling role, eventually partnering with Scott when he alienates his regular partner with his experimentation; and Scott’s family and the little circle of competitive ballroom dancers and judges. Scott’s been training for the big competition, the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix, since he was six. Fran’s only been dancing for two years and mostly does the tidying up around the studio. Now, there are some predictable turns here. You know that when the ugly duckling character starts to dance with the dashing young man, she’ll eventually turn beautiful (oh hey, you don’t need those thick glasses to see, right? oh my god! without glasses you’re breathtaking!) and they’ll dance together and fall in love. This is not a spoiler. It’s a trope. There’ll be bumps along the way, and other women who are more “traditionally” beautiful, and there’ll be tears and assumptions and all that. And then in the end there’s the climactic dance scene and of course they belong together! Bravo!

I swear, I’m not actually criticizing the movie. Sure, it follows a pretty well-traveled path in regards to Scott and Fran. And sure, I find the whole glasses = ugly thing annoying (somehow her skin clears up as she dances too – someone patent that as an acne cure!) but for one, there are plenty of new steps tossed in with the old and a good dash of humor. And for two, it’s done so very well. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a plot you know already if it’s told well. This movie tosses in some history with Scott’s mother and father and the head of the ADF (played by Bill Hunter in a decidedly less affable role than that of Bob in The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert). It’s got the flashbacks to the 1967 Grand Prix. And it’s got the immensely over-the-top ballroom.

Except, okay, everything I know about ballroom I know from a few clips of professional competitions on PBS before my parents changed the channel (they’re not fans) and from So You Think You Can Dance. I’m serious. So while the costumes seem, well, over the top? I seem to recall the dresses being, well, big. And what little I know about American competitive ballroom is enormous in comparison to knowing even if there’s much difference between American and Australian rules. So for all I know, this could very well be a Spinal Tap situation, where it’s a parody that actually manages to get many things spot on.

But really, the focal point of the movie is the dancing. Not only do we get the ballroom in the competitions and the practices, but then there’s Scott and Fran’s dancing. And we get a lot of Scott and Fran. That’s fantastic, because they’re a hell of a lot of fun to watch. They start out experimenting, and are instantly more interesting than the students in Scott’s mother’s studio since they seem invested in the dancing, not in the competing. It only gets better once Scott meets Fran’s family and really gets passionate about it, not just invested. The movie is about loving dance and doing it because you feel it and can’t not do it. I almost wish the movie had kept up the whole mockumentary thing it had to start, but then I don’t think it would have worked as well at the end. So, a little uneven, but that doesn’t stop it from being wonderful.

July 1, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 57 – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – April 26th, 2010

Let’s start this out with an admission: I know next to nothing about makeup. Everything I know I learned in theater in high school and from movies like this and shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race. I don’t wear makeup on a daily basis. I own some ancient concealer and some green powder for minimizing redness (okay, and a boatload of nail polish, but that’s different!) and I just never really learned about makeup. My mother doesn’t wear any and I was friends with more guys in high school than girls. But I know enough to know that the makeup changes in the climactic show in the movie are impossible. So there.

Not that I care, aside from being amused. The climax isn’t supposed to be at all realistic. It’s an over-the-top drag show. Of course it’s unrealistic. That’s what makes it super fabulous. And from that little tidbit, one might think this movie is all about shows and the like. And it sort of is, but really it’s a road trip. It’s just that the people on the road trip are two drag queens and a transsexual, and the point of the trip is that the three of them are taking a bit of a break from their hometown of Sydney to do a few weeks as the cabaret act at a resort in Alice Springs.

For the most part it’s a lighthearted movie full of bits and pieces of drag acts. They do a bit where they walk around downtown Broken Hill in full drag, and then they dance on a bar in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, and they practice part of their act in the desert in the middle of the night, their music accompanied by didgeridoo. All three of them, Mitzi (also referred to as Anthony when not in drag), Felicia (Adam, out of drag) and Bernadette (who was once named Ralph, but Adam finds out the hard way that it’s unacceptable), are always sewing or playing around with their enormous pile of costumes. There are off-color songs sung, jokes made, and plenty of ABBA played until Bernadette gets sick of it. Even the highly embarrassing scene where they’ve met a guy named Bob who loves drag acts and they do the dance at the bar and get upstaged by Bob’s wife and some ping pong balls? Felicia’s reaction to it makes the whole thing worth it. But then there are a few serious moments. The bus they’re traveling in gets vandalized (prompting them to paint over the hateful graffiti with a lovely coat of lavender) and Felicia, in an ill-thought-out drug-fueled trip to meet some guys in Coober Pedy, gets attacked. That last is a scene I usually can’t watch. Even with Bernadette saving the day (she does that a lot, because she’s awesome). The thing is, even though I don’t personally like watching that scene (or the one with the ping pong balls, aside from the very end, to be honest), they don’t seem really out of place. The point of a road trip movie is the stops along the way. It would be boring if they were all the same.

Yes, even if they were all fabulous drag act stops. The variety makes the trip an interesting one. And it’s full of gorgeous scenery of the Australian outback. I’ve never been to Australia, and I’ll probably never get a chance to go. I’m not a great traveler and it’s a long ways away. But it’s beautiful to look at on screen. And so are the performances. While I mentioned last night that I do enjoy watching Guy Pearce, and he really is fantastic as Felicia in this, there’s also Hugo Weaving as the star of the movie, and Terence Stamp with the best deadpan drag ever. On top of that, the movie is incredibly quotable. So, amazing costumes, awesome makeup, fantastic acting, hilarious writing, great scenery (with and without the drag queens in the shots). It all equals faaaaaaaabulous.

April 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert

April 26, 2010

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Tonight is the season finale for RuPaul’s Drag Race (Season Two) so to celebrate we’re watching the most dragalicious movie in our collection: the Oscar winning Priscilla: QUEEN of the Desert! And I’m glad we did because this movie never fails to bring a smile to my face. It’s more than the prize winning frocks and the great musical numbers. It’s the whole package (if you’ll excuse a very bad pun.) There’s a lot of fantastic cinematography that wonderfully displays the gorgeous Australian countryside. There’s a great sense of humor to the film, but also a sort of innocence and vulnerability. What makes the movie most is the fantastic cast.

The movie is a road picture about a trio of drag queens who travel from Sydney to Alice Springs to put on a show. They choose to go by bus, and so have a two week bus trip halfway across Australia. Along the way there are setbacks, adventure and revelations. The three in question are the level headed Mitzi with her mysterious past, the experienced and world weary Bernadette and the trouble maker Felicia. The movie is all about their interactions and depends on these three cast members to carry it, and carry it they do. With distinction.

Mitzi is played by Hugo Weaving who went on to play the evil agent Smith in the Matrix movies and Elrond in the Lord of the Rings movies (so we’ll be seeing him again in our project.) She’s the core of the group who instigates the whole trip and her character has some secrets from the other two which are used to great comedic effect. Then there’s Terrence Stamp as the transsexual Bernadette who has seen it all and done it all. Her husband has just died at the start of the movie and she needs to get out of Sydney and get a fresh start. The whole movie is stolen, however, by Guy Pierce as Felicia. She exists only to cause trouble, and strife, and as a result dominates every scene she is in. Her insane cackle is infectious. And it doesn’t hurt that, as my wife is no doubt pointing out in her own review, Guy Pierce is pretty easy on the eyes.

None of the three leads are true drag performers, and there are definitely some rough edges to their dance numbers, but oh, man the costumes! They very much deserved that Oscar win, especially the great Australian themed outfits from the Alice Springs show. And the famous flip-flop dress. And… just all of them. The music is catchy and the humor is touching, so who cares if there are a few missteps in the choreography and the lip syncing isn’t always perfect.

I love this movie and will watch it any time.

Now it’s off to watch RuPaul. I do hope Raven won!

April 26, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment