Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Man, this Dancing stuff Is Hard!

The best was saved for last: Derek Hough's amazing choreography.
It really seems like it's been awhile since we've had "stars" on Dancing with the Stars that have been so inept, so non-dancers, struggling so very much.

It's now Week 2, and the non-dancers are HURTING. A good half of the show was taken up with packages of people bitching and complaining (for various reasons) about how hard this is. Really, you thought learning the foxtrot was gonna be a walk in the park? Do you WATCH this show?

We had Dorothy Hamill who apparently has some kind of cyst which makes it hard for her to walk, let alone dance in heels. We had Victor the boxer, who just didn't know it was so hard. We had Lisa the reality star who was overwhelmed. We had Aly the gymnast who struggled to learn how to smile. We had Wynona (God love her) who can't dance AT ALL, declaring that her sister, Ashley would be more of a handful because "I'm the nice one." :-0  Um, ok.

And worst of all, pouty mess D.L. Hughley, who last week totalled up the dusty paddles that had FOURS on them, from all three judges (overscoring). This week, he bitched and moaned about how hard it is, and there was such "complex choregraphy" and "all those steps." The more-than-generous (and really looking stunning this season, too bad she's going home early) Cheryl Burke, tersely saying to him, finally: "Welcome to the show."

I honestly don't know how these pro dancers put up with these baby messes that pass as celebrities. She gracefully walked out. But, to her credit, came back the next day to train him some more. (They ended up getting the big FIVES across the board this time.)

Let me mince no words here. Both D.L. Hughley and Wynona Judd have two left feet. They cannot dance to save their lives. I truly wish they would both go this week, to put us out of our misery.

So, that was one bit of the show.

Oh, but the other...

Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough do an amazing jazz routine.
Saving the best for last, Derek Hough and his partner, country singer Kellie Pickler wowed us with a breathtaking display of a new dance this season, "jazz." I honestly think that the entry of both "jazz" and "contemporary" came about because the dancers get to do lifts and whatnot that are more visual and eye-catching. It does, however, as the missing Maks said in an interview, "get away from ballroom dancing." Maybe that's part of why he left.

It is kind of a mish-mosh now. Not a "ballroom dance competition" show. More like a "celebration of dance" show.

And, to get back to one of the premier choregraphers on this show now, Derek Hough, I am so grateful he has this "jazz" category in which to paint his vision of dance for us. The elegance and beauty of what he and Kellie did makes suffering through ten DLs and Wynonas worth it. Stunning and amazing.

Aly and Mark do their quickstep. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars
They weren't the only ones with dances of majesty. We were also graced with (once again) Val and Zendaya's jive. Great music, great costumes. It's week 2 and some of these folks can genuinely dance. They were a joy to watch.

Mark Ballas is sufficiently whipping gymnast Aly into shape, and getting her to smile. Karina Smirnoff came out with a genuinely snappy dance. Ingo and Kym once again stunned us with talent.

Sharna Burgess and Andy Dick. 
And Andy Dick and the new dancer Sharna did a Mad Hatter routine that was genuinely fun and flavorful. I really loved watching it.

Heck, even the Bachelor and Peta were fun to watch this show (also chose good music).

So, judging by the dances, the first week either kicked people into gear or made them panic about what they had signed up for. (Or both.) All I know is, once DL and Wynona go home, it'll be some really fun dancing ahead of us.

Zendaya and Val, one of the highlights of Week 2. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing With the Stars.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dance This! Stars Return, and some celebs too.

Dancing with the Stars is back! And oh, how we've missed you.

But let me just put things right in the DWTS universe for a minute. All the ads and the promos and whatnot are trumpeting the "stars" of this season. This is hot on the heels of the All Star season we just finished, so this season's "stars" are... well, less than awe-inspiring, in my book.

In fact, HERE are this season's STARS. Here are the ones I'm looking forward to seeing on the dance floor (no matter how ABC chooses to frame it.).

The true stars of Dancing With the Stars (in my book). Courtesy of ABC.
So, let's just take a moment, shall we? Mark Ballas has a stylish haircut, Cheryl Burke looks thinner and also has a great haircut, Derek Hough is full of energy, Tristan MacManus is going to be around longer this season (thank goodness), Peta Murgatroyd looks great, Kym Johnson does some amazing moves. There, I feel better already.

OK, fine. Let's get into the premiere episode of Season 16, shall we?

Starting with the best, going to the worst... Who was sublime?

Actually, the ones who moved me the most were Tristan MacManus and Dorothy Hamill. Ms. Hamill, previous Olympic gold-medal winner, talked about her breast cancer surgery, and how that season the other previous Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi inspired her and helped her get through her cancer ordeal. And now, she's here. I loved her dance. (It was my favorite dance of the night.) She ends it with a typical Dorothy Hamill skater-type move. Beautiful.

Dorothy Hamill and Tristan MacManus. Look for big things from them. Courtesy of ABC.
My perennial favorites, Derek Hough (dancing with Kellie Pickler) and Mark Ballas (dancing with an Olympic gymnast named Aly) were in fine form, of course, and I can't wait to see all the stuff they are going to do this season.

Andy Dick was an inspiration. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing With the Stars
Another inspirational story, actually, was that of Andy Dick. Everyone knows the trouble Mr. Dick had gotten into, and his battles with alcohol and drugs. He's now sober, and struggling to do Dancing with the Stars. Well, he got a vote from me tonight. (And seriously, his dance wasn't half bad.)

A new twist this season is that they are adding "contemporary" as a dance to this ballroom dancing competition. Which means that all the strictness that they have about "no lifts" is kinda thrown out the window if you dance "contemporary."

Last season's mishmosh of crazy styles did add "contemporary" at one point. No one can forget Val Chmerkovskiy and Kelly Monaco's amazing contemporary dance. That's where the bar is set this season. Fitting then, I suppose, that Val kicked off his first dance (with his new 16 year old partner), doing contemporary. It was pretty beautiful.

Zendaya (the youngest competitor ever at 16) and Val Chmerkovskiy.
The ones I've mentioned so far are the sublime ones, the great ones, the ones that stood out of this field of 12. There are some other people in the middle. We'll just pass those by.

Let's focus then, instead, on the ones who really and truly sucked, and really and truly deserve to go. Like immediately. It's been a couple seasons since we had folks this bad.

The dance didn't get much better from here.
So, DL Hughley, please don't let the door hit you on the ass. His dancing was so bad, he received a 12 as a first score. FOURS, people. I honestly cannot remember ever seeing a score that low, and I've been watching for quite a few seasons now. But, he was really dreadful. The phrase "two left feet" comes to mind. I would not be at all surprised to see him the first one bounced.

Almost as bad, in a female version, was Wynona Judd. Tony Dovolani, her partner, is the current reigning champion of Dancing With the Stars. Too bad they had to saddle him with her. They are going quickly too. She was also pretty dreadful.

And lastly, in this nauseating practice where ABC gets the most of anyone they have on any show (although I did love Kelly Monaco--from ABC's General Hospital), by repurposing them anywhere possible, we have Sean Lowe. Previously, he was filling up our Monday night screens as The Bachelor. He picked his true love, they got engaged, and now we have to suffer through him also dancing? Good grief, people! Enough already.

The luminous Peta Murgatroyd saddled with this year's Bachelor. Courtesy of ABC.

Thankfully, he will be voted out quickly too. He's dreadful as a dancer. Good to see Peta Murgatroyd always, but her moves this season will be short-lived.

So, the top are easy to predict. The bottom are, too. It's the ones in the middle that could vary.

All in all, I'm very excited about this new season of Dancing With the Stars. I hope you are, too.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Our Wizard Has Arrived

"Oz the Great and Powerful," with James Franco and Mila Kunis, directed by Sam Raimi.
What you have here is really an insurmountable task. You have a beloved classic ("The Wizard of Oz," of course) that most people have seen anywhere from 10 to 100 times, and is a movie of which people have visceral sense memories. You have a canon of literature attached, such that "Oz" purists are ready to attack, should anything out of place be noticed. You also have a public really kind of burnt out on sequels, prequels, remakes, the constant rechurning of old classics for a quick buck that seems to be Hollywood these days.

And yet, much like the people of Oz themselves, you have many of us, who in our hearts truly believe that a wizard can come along and give us the magic that is Oz once again, complete with all the latest technologies and visions.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have such a wizard, and his name is Sam Raimi.

Other bad reviews to the contrary, I'm here to report that "Oz, the Great and Powerful," is stunning in its majesty. All the nods to the original that you expect to be there: the black and white into color, the "tornado"/dream sequence, the yellow brick road, Glinda's bubbles and, of course, Munchkins, are all there.

Added to that, we have the technology of today: 3D, where the gorgeous flowers of Oz literally pop out into bloom into your face. It is truly breathtaking. The visuals absolutely knocked my socks off.

Also, there is the challenge of story. While there are many books about what happened after Dorothy landed her house in Oz, there aren't any "before" books. What's up with those sisters anyway? How did they come to be "good" and/or "evil"? And, in laying down that story, you have to be darn sure to lay a really good path to the movie we know and love. Screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abbaire acquit themselves quite nicely. The story rocks.

Much like "Wizard of Oz," you have to have a journey, and you have to have traveling companions. We get a wonderful monkey, with callbacks to the original film with his character; and you really need a little girl. There is a whole universe (in the "Oz" books) about the villages made of China that I was unaware of, but we get the cutest little China Doll you ever have seen.

Let me say at this point that I loved, loved, loved this film and you will, too. So don't listen to anyone else, don't even read any further, just get your ticket for the 3D version. Read the rest of this later.


Cause I also want to talk a bit about the things that bugged me. While we are on the story elements, without giving anything away, there are two things. First, in "The Wizard of Oz," isn't it made clear that there is a Wicked Witch of the West, Wicked Witch of the East, Glinda is the Good Witch from the North, doesn't there also have to be a witch from the South? This really wasn't explained at all to my satisfaction in this movie. Plus you have a little sleight of hand at the beginning (no spoilers) which doesn't make sense to me. (Given the above statement.)

But for me, if you put some of the Tin Man's oil into the first twenty minutes, to ease you into the next part (once the Wizard is traveling with his companions), it's quite wonderful. From there to the end. Story is great.

Really the biggest letdown to me (and it's a big one) is the caliber of the acting. I walked into the theater with biases against the acting of James Franco, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams. That is to say, I don't think much of it at all. Don't like the way they act, don't think they are good—all of that.

Franco somewhat acquits himself. In fact, he's pretty much fun to watch throughout.

What bugged me about Michelle Williams is that Glinda is light and airy and ethereal, a portrait of pure goodness. Michelle Williams' version is dragged down a bit by the real world, but I suppose you could put it down to this being the earlier one, and once Dorothy gets there, she's had a chance to be really happy. Still, I would've preferred more pure giddy happiness and goodness from her.

I walk gingerly around the Mila Kunis bit now. Let's just say that I really would've preferred to see more heartfelt sappy love in the beginning, swoony over the top love that's palpable, to have the ending make sense. Also, she was a few rehearsals away from really owning that character. (Too bad films don't do that anymore.) She has moments, angry moments, crying moments, where she just rocks it, but overall, I felt strongly that her performance was uneven.

Rachel Weisz is easily the best actress among these, and she was fun to watch.

But as in the Star Wars movies, where really you just wanna see the Death Star blow up, in "Oz," you just wanna see the flying monkeys and the scary guards and the Munchkins dancing, and you get all of that. And so so much more.

So the quibbles I have with acting and story are really minor, in the end. You watch some real accurate Oz fun that's good for the whole family? This is it.

Some final applause/tech credits, all amazing: Peter Deming, Cinematography; Danny Elfman, Score; Robert Stromberg, Production Design; Gary Jones, Costumes. And a big sweeping final bow to all the VFX wizards who worked on making this amazing movie happen.

"Oz, the Great and Powerful," directed by Sam Raimi. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures and Roth Films.