Sunday, March 12, 2017

DWTS Season 23, Semifinals: Handstands, Tears and a Sad Goodbye

Ladies and gentlemen: The semifinalists of Season 23 of Dancing with the Stars
When last we left our lovely couples, these are the ones remaining standing at the Semifinal round of Season 23 of Dancing with the Stars: Lindsay and Calvin, Sharna (now back in the lineup after an injury sidelined her) and James, Jana and Gleb, Laurie and Val, and the always wondrous Terra and Sasha (whom I'm still rooting for). The semifinals includes the favorite Trios round.

I'm sure it must've been killing Sharna to see Jenna dancing with James instead of her. So she returns with a vengeance (also, I'm sure knowing that one has to up their game in the Semis to move forward). She dances a delicious Argentine tango blindfolded with James. Stunning. (Let me also note that Peta was acclaimed for performing a blindfolded number a few seasons back with Nile, but she only did it for part of the dance, then removed it. Sharna's was only removed right at the very end. She performed the whole dance with it.)

And just when you're thinking: WOW! Sharna! James does this at the end:

Absolutely incredible.

Judge Julianne says it well: "We've seen a lot of Argentine tango this season. It's been hard, it's been fast--but THIS, this is what an Argentine tango is: Controlled. Sexy."

At this point in the competition, I am rooting with all of my heart and soul for Terra and Sasha to win. There have been many competitors with special obstacles in their lives, and usually much is made of that, as they go on to then win the Mirror Ball. For my money, Terra Jole has, in each and every dance, been an inspiration to everyone that if you want something, go for it. This song, with the lyric, "you're beautiful, just the way you are," encapsulates the message that Team Terra has tried to put forth in every dance.

She and Sasha knock me out each and every time. Even though this was a rumba, and it wasn't the normal sexy rumba, it was very much about owning one's own power, and walking through life with confidence. It was beautiful and fluid, and I loved it. I love them.

Carrie Ann, in tears at the judges' table, says: "Every movement was executed with the utmost perfection and quality and care. The quality of your movement is like the quality of you. It is untouchable."

Julianne: "I, 100%, thought this was going to be a very difficult dance for you. You, 100%, proved me wrong."

PERFECT SCORE for Sasha and Terra.

OTOH, if I had to pick a couple from these five that I would eliminate going forward, it would be this one. I've never liked them all along, and I would easily drop them now. I dislike their song choices, their set, their concepts. Just everything.

So all I'll say about their quickstep is that, boy, aren't these costumes great this episode?

And here we have one of those "fast and hard" tangos they were talking about earlier. But, it's to The White Stripes' "Seven-Nation Army" (as opposed to that wimpy bad song we just heard), so it's OK. I also love Calvin and Lindsay and if you take Jana and Gleb out of the mix, I'd be happy with each of those four couples winning the Mirror Ball, for different reasons. They are truly the creme de la creme.

Sixteen-year-old Laurie has just lost her grandmother. Despite this, she's a trouper, who not only carries on, but does an amazing foxtrot with Val. PERFECT SCORE, of course.

Tom Bergeron, who had his own bout with death in his family not long ago, shares Laurie's pain.

1. James and Sharna's Argentine tango (blindfolded!)
2. Laurie and Val's tango
3. Terra and Sasha's rumba
4. Calvin and Lindsay's tango

And now! It's on to the Trio round.

James starts off the package with: "Welcome to our Threesome," which causes both Sharna and Jenna to laugh. Ah yes, let your mind linger there for a moment... Ahem...

I am pretty convinced that to really excel on this show you have to not only have a great dance, but also great music. Those who understand this distinction go far.

The song is an old Motown classic, "Gimme Some Lovin' " (Spencer Davis Group) but as James jumps out over the actual car in which he had his major accident, and there's Sharna, now recovered from her leg injury, with Jenna who helped them both out, the chorus of "So glad we made it" resonates more than a little. And I love love love watching this Canadian racecar driver dance almost as much as I love watching Sharna and Jenna dance (almost).

Carrie Ann: "The best thing was the unison. Nobody beats you, matching the girls perfectly." (So true.)

Julianne: "That was one hot pit crew."

James just seems in his element, and dancing this jive to a song which his dad used to play for him all the time, you could tell the movement of the music is in his soul. I just can't get enough of this one.

PERFECT SCORE from the judges.

Terra goes into this whole thing in the package about how Sasha is her little brother and Artem is actually sexy, but excuse me, Sasha Farber is plenty sexy. (As he has proven this season.) But either way, after being sent off by a really nice Three's Company homage in the package, this tango is steamy! And I loved it.

Me, I just can't get enough of the star that is Terra Jole. This was just wondrous to watch.

PERFECT SCORE from the judges.

Jana, Gleb and Alan are up next, with a nice tango trio.

Thankfully, the concept they talk about in the package (where the two guys are both policemen) didn't last until the final dance. This arrangement is much better, and serves the song better, to just have them be two dudes. Rather like her being a black widow spider, and they are her prey.

Carrie Ann talks about it being a work of art, but I surely don't think that this came out of the minds of Gleb or Jana (so congrats to the producer who came up with this beauty).

Jana, in comments, is obsessed about "making the finals." OK.

PERFECT SCORE from the judges.

Well, of course, among the crowd of semifinalists, there is always one salsa. And it makes sense that this would be the one, with Witney (Lindsay's BFF) added to the mix. You kinda know all that going in. What you are NOT prepared for are the acrobatics that they perform in this trio.

Cause WOW, they do some crazy acrobatics in this dance.

Erin calls them "Calvin and the Doublemint Twins." Crazy, fun salsa.

PERFECT SCORE from the judges.

I'm a sucker for the dances which harken back to this show's roots, when some of the early competitors actually competed in ballroom dancing competitions. Too bad Len isn't here judging this week.

The concept of this one is that Maks is teaching Val and Laurie how to dance (to compete). It's really wonderful.

Except that, as far as the trios go (this one a samba), all the other ones really had the third person in there and dancing through the whole thing, and Maks only comes in at the beginning and end, compared to the other competitors. But it was ok. It's always fun to watch Val and Laurie dance. And the story was awesome.

PERFECT SCORE from the judges.

I, like the judges, really can't rank these five competitors. They were all fantastic, in their way, and they ALL deserved to be in the finals.

Sadly, one of my favorites to win ended up going home on this night. I am so completely bummed about that, I can't even tell you. Personally, I would've sent home Jana and Gleb. But it is what it is. Thank goodness we had such amazing incredible dances from Terra and Sasha all season long.

What a blessing and a joy your dances were. THANK YOU, Terra Jole and Sasha Farber. Tom Bergeron talked about how when people ask him who his favorite people were on the show, he would mention Terra. I so agree. The combination of Terra and Sasha was really a very special mix that won't soon be forgotten. She may not have won, but she really showed how this TV show can really bring magic sometimes. We shall miss you.

POST-SHOW NOTE: Notice how at the intro, every competitor is holding the Mirror Ball, EXCEPT the person who actually wins it the following week? Hmmm.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Case for Hidden Figures to Win the Best Picture Oscar

So, here's the thing. The Oscars, the pinnacle of the year in Los Angeles, is next Sunday. (You may've heard.) And La La Land is going to win Best Picture. You may've heard that also. In fact, it's statistically impossible for it to lose. It walks into the Oscars with a record-setting 14 nominations. It has swept nearly every guild award, won the most Golden Globes ever, won the BAFTAs recently. Won the DGA, won the PGA. Only didn't win the SAG because it has two people in its main cast, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards are about Best Ensemble. (Two people don't make up an Ensemble.)

La La Land is on track (statistically) to win, and win BIG, on Sunday. Mind you, the most it could POSSIBLY win is 13, since it has two Best Songs nominated. ("City of Stars" is winning that one.) But it's been a LONG time since any film has had a big sweep like that. The most it can really hope for, by most estimates is, maybe six, maybe seven awards. (Picture, Director, Song, Score, Film Editing for sure; maybe Screenplay, maybe Actress) Still, six/seven Oscars for La La Land would be pretty amazing. And, like I said, that is what everyone expects to happen.

And, for those not in this business we call show, let me explain. The reason why La La Land is sweeping up every award in sight isn't just that it's a great film. So is Moonlight and Manchester and Hell or High Water and Lion and Arrival. But, La La Land strikes to the heart of every creative in this town. Every single person who stumbled into Los Angeles with a dream in their heart, and waited tables and did whatever to make that dream come true. And, really, that's pretty much all of us. That's why it's going to win.

Well, plus, it's pretty and fun, and who doesn't love a musical? And all those loving shots of our fair city... they just make a person swoon. So, it's all wrapped up, with a brightly colored bow. La La Land, FTW. Right?

Let's look back for a moment to the year 2005, the year everyone was convinced that Brokeback Mountain was going to win, and then, somehow, from nowhere, it was Crash instead. I would argue that of the five wonderful nominees that year (including Capote, Munich and Good Night, and Good Luck.), Crash was the most LA of the bunch. But it was also something else.

Crash really captured the zeitgeist of the moment. Captured exactly where we were at. Emotionally and spiritually.

For that reason, I am arguing now for this: Hidden Figures coming out of nowhere to win Best Picture. It hits on every deep controversy, beating at the working heart of LA: the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the women not being paid enough or working in enough positions of power (still), the things we struggle with today. I have long argued that the Best Picture winner is the one that not only makes us feel good, but makes us feel good about ourselves. And BOY, would Hidden Figures winning score a lot of points in that regard.

Plus, there is also the "Hollywood likes to throw dirt at the frontrunners" thing. La La Land has been in the lead in this Oscar horserace for so long, it's ridiculous. And here comes Hidden Figures, from out of nowhere, fresh in Oscar voters' minds. Oscar voters who don't like being told what they are going to be voting for by every other awards show everywhere.

Hidden Figures, which is about women and minorities and women minorities working hard in the background and achieving big things. About dreaming big, impossible things and having them happen. Arguably a happier ending than the movie musical that's destined to win.

Still, La La Land is all about actors (and singers and jazz musicians), and has a big audition scene that will speak to every actor voting (the largest branch of the Academy voters). To say nothing of all those who followed their big break in Paris or with a fusion band, to leave their true love behind for fame and glory, that are just going to be sucked into voting for La La Land with all their heart.

Hidden Figures is a great movie, about real people that we didn't even know existed. From a time when America was great, and had big dreams of its own. (The moon!) But it is ultimately all about math, and statistically, La La Land can't lose. Hidden Figures doesn't even have an editing nom, for gosh sakes! and you HAVE to have that to win. But then again, a girl can dream...

Miche's Oscar Predix

La La Land

SPOILER: Hidden Figures

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea


Isabelle Huppert, Elle

SPOILER: Emma Stone, La La Land

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

SPOILER: Dev Patel, Lion

Viola Davis, Fences



SPOILER: Kubo and the Two Strings

La La Land




La La Land, Damien Chazelle


OJ: Made in America


The White Helmets

SPOILER: 4.1 Miles

La La Land


The Salesman, Iran

SPOILER: Toni Erdmann

Suicide Squad

SPOILER: Star Trek Beyond

BEST MUSIC (Original Score)
La La Land


BEST MUSIC (Original Song)
La La Land, "City of Stars"

SPOILER: La La Land, "Audition"

Hail, Caesar!



SPOILER: Not sure


SPOILER: Not sure

Hacksaw Ridge


La La Land

SPOILER: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

The Jungle Book

SPOILER: Kubo and the Two Strings

BEST WRITING (Adapted Screenplay)

SPOILER: Hidden Figures

BEST WRITING (Original Screenplay)
Manchester by the Sea

SPOILER: Hell or High Water OR La La Land


Sunday, January 1, 2017

DWTS Season 23, Week 9: Broadway Dances Sparkle

The wondrous Mark Ballas returns from Broadway with his turn as Frankie Valli in "Jersey Boys."

They called this "Showstoppers Week," a new tradition in Dancing with the Stars lore. But really, every dance isn't a "showstopper," and also, it could more accurately be termed, "Broadway Week." Broadway legend Idina Menzel is a guest judge. Hometown favorite Mark Ballas (whom we miss VERY MUCH on #DWTS) is now on Broadway, singing and dancing in Jersey Boys.

So, it's fitting that the first dance to kick off Broadway night was Mark Ballas, returning to sing his new show, while friend Derek Hough and Marilu Henner dance to it.

They perform a samba to "Oh, What a Night!" Derek goes up at the end to give Mark a hug. Oh, what a night, indeed!

Lindsay and Calvin perform a gorgeous waltz to "Memory" from Cats, with Leona Lewis. They had previously been attired in Cats' outfits (when they went to NYC), but thankfully have more #DWTS-style costumes here.

After this, Allison Holker and Keo Motsepe do a stunning Contemporary bumper to "Falling Slowly" from Once, obviously choreographed by Allison. So beautiful. I miss her being in competition. Her dances are so wonderful.

The sad thing is that Sharna still has her knee injury. The great thing is that means that Jenna is dancing in her place. Here James rocks the house with a little jazz number from The Wiz. I love this pairing (and/or threesome).

Week after week, Sasha and Terra have taken the mantle from Mark Ballas of consistently having the best music. In this case, not only the best music, but the music most suited to our wonderful Terra here. Week after week. Week after week, they have been my favorite. This particular week, they rollicked through a Charleston to "If They Could See Me Now" from Sweet Charity. So perfect. So wonderful. I just don't even have enough words for how perfect and amazing these two are.

It was the only dance on "Showstoppers" Week, where Tom Bergeron actually said, "Well, you did that." (stopped the show). And they did. So fantastic.

Bruno, "They can see you in Patagonia, I'll tell you that." (They get two 10s from the judges. Shoulda gotten all 10s, IMHO.)

Also need to give a nod to the (again) amazing work that Sasha Farber is doing with Terra. This Charleston was adapted (choreography) for Terra's unique abilities. But it was stunning. She is truly a star. (And so is he.)

Then, we had a Jersey Boys bumper of "Sherry Baby," which again made us realize how gosh-darn-much we miss Mark Ballas.

Jana and Gleb give us a waltz from the musical Waitress. They receive a perfect score from the judges.

Laurie Hernandez trots out her sexy for this hot number from Chicago. The "Cell Block Tango" turns into an Argentine tango for Laurie and Val, and is just superb. The costumes (for all the Cell Block ladies) are spectacular. Even if Laurie equates some of her moves to "wiping peanut butter off" of Val... Ahem...

They, not surprisingly, get a perfect score.

Then, we had a break with Idina Menzel doing a song ("Queen of Swords") from her new album. Wonderful dancers (Allison Holker and Jenna Johnson, plus troupe members) danced along with it.

Then, we had some kind of new madness. Something called "the Team-Up Challenge," where they put two random members together to team up. These guys are The Last Men Standing. Way to plug those ABC shows!

"I was a big Megatron fan," says James Hinchcliffe. "I'm a bigger Calvin Johnson Jr. fan." The package goes on to detail their bromance. Judges give them a 37 (out of 40) for this.

So, in this paso (which is quite wonderful), James is the bandit, Calvin is the sheriff, and at the end, the women they are with (Lindsay and Jenna) hit them over the heads with bottles and take their money anyway. Nice touch.

"Jazz is like a pu pu platter of everything," says the adorable Terra Jole. Terra and Marilu do a jazz compilation of stuff, all sparkly gold and silver everywhere. Idina gushes, "Everyone hit their marks." Um...

We do find out, in case you were wondering, what "RBF" is... Also, there's a thing with a BIG dress that brings back memories of David Byrne's Big White Suit...

These guys called themselves, "Team Cubs," cause... why not?

They get a 36 from the judges.

Lastly, we have "Team Sisters," with Jana and Laurie and their partners.

And oh, the judges just ate up this Sia song done by these two dancers. Perfect score.

Marilu and Derek go home. And with that, the vaunted "Maks-Cheryl-Derek" thing that they made such a big deal out of in the beginning goes down (as I predicted). We have left those who deserve to be in the semi-finals.

1. Terra and Sasha (Charleston, Sweet Charity)
2. Laurie and Val (Argentine tango, Chicago)
3. James and Jenna (jazz, The Wiz)
4. Calvin and Lindsay (waltz, Cats)

I will say this, too, though. Marilu, in leaving, credited the usual people, plus the crew, plus the hair and makeup people and the costume people, and called out the producers by name. That's class.

Idina Menzel also was very gracious in her exit comments. The kind of judge you want to have back (except she liked everything).

NEXT WEEK: Semi-finals!

1. Jana and Gleb


Monday, November 21, 2016

DWTS Season 23, Week 8: Halloween Scares Up Some Great Dances

Halloween is always a special time at Dancing with the Stars. Usually it involves a team dance (last week). But it's always a PARTY.

Someone tell Erin Andrews she needs a Bunny tail...
First on the Halloween docket, we are sitting at the table with Beetlejuice.

Terra and Sasha are my favorite couple this season. I love them. I love everything they do. They kicked this thing off good with this Beetlejuice cha cha, even if the judges scored them lower than they should have.

The couple that I think is going to win this had a magical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory homage next. Val has always taken a brotherly attitude toward his partners who are in their teens. His relationship with Laurie Hernandez seems to be really special, nowhere noticed more than this Viennese waltz. Rehearsals evoked tears from Val (not a common occurrence).

One minor point: Charlie enters the Chocolate Factory by possessing a golden ticket (not a KEY)...

I think there's something about the childlike wonder of this dance that gets to Val, but after the dance, he again tears up. It's so sweet.

This episode also has (not clearly explained) an immunity for whoever gets the best score (they cannot be voted out). Val and Laurie get a perfect 30 from the judges. More tears backstage.

Marilu and Derek... Wow. She struggles so much, but yet... this combo just doesn't gel the way others have. I still think she's overthinking her dances, or something. "Sweet Dreams" is not a dance that one should mess up. However, they did not get a perfect score.

Calvin and Lindsay, one of my favorite couples, were a lot of fun in this Skeleton-themed quickstep. They dance to "Mr. Bones," that Julianne calls "MegaBones" now. It was great fun. And it also garnered a perfect score from the judges.

First, huge props to costumes and hair for this whole Halloween extravaganza, but wow! Cheryl's costume was just stunning. She went hardcore on Ryan Lochte this week with their tango, so he did seem better, but like Marilu and Derek, they just don't seem to have much fire as a couple.

Jana and Gleb did Gleb's first ever jazz routine to "Little Shop of Horrors," however, as Bruno said, "Where's the plant?" First we have Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with no golden ticket, then we have LSOH without the plant? WTF? If you're going to open up these worlds, know what makes them what they are. Sheesh.

Then, we had this...

Our wonderful and lovely Sharna hurt her knee in last week's Team dance rehearsal, so this week, Jenna is dancing in her place. James and Jenna do a stunning Viennese waltz to "You Don't Own Me" with James as the Joker. Quite wonderful. Costumes are great, choreography is amazing. And although I wish Sharna was dancing, I was so bummed about Jenna leaving this season so soon, so this is a nice bit for her (and us).

No surprise it gets a perfect score.

So, to recap: we have THREE perfect scores of the seven dances (Val and Laurie, Lindsay and Calvin, and James and Jenna). The immunity winner is taken from whoever had the highest judges' scores all season. Which turns out to be James and Jenna! YAY!

The nicest part about this is that neither Sharna nor Jenna had to dance the "Dance Off" since they had immunity. BTW, I hate these stupid dance-offs.

Another thing I hate about these dance-offs is that they trumpet that "America will be voting live," when really it's just the East Coast. By the time the West Coast sees it, the votes have already been counted. So UNFAIR.

So, I'll just go through this quick. Val & Laurie compete in jive against Megatron & Lindsay. Val & Laurie win.

Jana & Gleb against Terra & Sasha in salsa. Jana & Gleb win.

Marilu & Derek against Cheryl & Ryan in cha cha. Cheryl & Ryan win.

Winning couples get an extra 3 points. Immunity couple got an extra 5 points.

1. James and Jenna (and Sharna) (Viennese waltz)
2. Laurie and Val (Viennese waltz)
3. Terra and Sasha (cha cha)
4. Calvin and Lindsay (quickstep)
5. Ryan and Cheryl (tango)

1. Jana and Gleb
2. Marilu and Derek

Cheryl and Ryan end up being the booted couple this week. :-(

Next week: Showstoppers Week