Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion 1997 ****

romyPower sucks, or certainly the abuse of it does; whether convictions are the result of the on-going MeToo revolution or not, it’s to be hoped that the film industry will no longer be a place where one man can successfully blacklist a wronged woman. Mira Sorvino has made accusations of exactly that nature, and it’s pretty much apparent that her career took a nose-dive from Oscar winner for Mighty Aphrodite to Hallmark tv movie queen. Two years after her Academy Award, she did some of her best work in this delightfully feather-weight Touchstone Pictures comedy which pairs her with Friends star Lisa Kudrow. While everything from Bill and Ted to Dumb and Dumber gets prequels, sequels and reboots, Romy and Michelle has been left on the shelf, and that’s a real shame, because it’s a funny, likable film with strong female characters.

The point of origin is a play, Ladies Room by Robin Shiff; one that gave birth to the characters of Romy and Michelle, played by Sorvino and Kudrow respectively. The tagline, The Blonde leading the Blonde, reflects the fun that’s had with the heroines being somewhat gauche; the gag is that Romy and Michelle are losers, but they resolve to fake it until they make it, specifically because they’re headed home from LA for a high-school reunion which they hope won’t reflect their penury. A chance encounter with Heather Mooney (Janeanne Garofalo) in a Jaguar repair-shop inspires the girls to deceive their old friends and foes alike by pretending to have invented Post-It stickers and other white lies. Of course, the internet hasn’t happened yet, so it’s quite possible to get away with such untruths, since fact-checking seems to have been an unknown art in 1997.

There’s lots of fun to be with David Mirkin’s film; early roles for Justin Theroux and Alan Cumming, who has a wild dance scene set to Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time in the film’s celebratory climax. But Sorvino and Kudrow are a revelation, with great comic timing, just enough pathos, and two characters who should have spawned a franchise for sure. And this is a story where the girls kick ass, take on the bullies and braggarts, and win in a most satisfactory way. There’s no way to accurately assess the injustice done to actresses like Sorvino, but giving Romy and Michelle a dust down, or even a sequel, might be a tiny step in the right direction.

Boy 2010 ****

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There’s been an understandable rush of enthusiasm for Taika Waititi on the back of strong comic work with original properties Eagle Vs Shark, What We Do In The Shadows and putting en engaging personal stamp on Thor: Ragnorok. That style has developed, but it’s also seen in early work like 2010’s Boy, a coming of age story featuring James Rolleston in the title role and Waititi himself was the boy’s father. Boy is a slow-burning film, but one rich in compassion and delicate in intent. And a post-credits scene, featuring the whole class perform a choreographed dance routine to 80’s hot Poi E is an absolute delight, and a perfect ending to a film that commands respect and admiration in equal measures.

Suspiria 2018 ***

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Not exactly here in terms of merit as a good film, Suspiria is at least a memorable piece of horror cinema. Dario Argento’s original film is stylish but stabby and incoherent; Luca Guadagnino’s much anticipated remake seems intent on turning the original film inside out, and as an act of deconstruction, it’s not without interest. Dakota Fanning arrives at Tilda Swinton’s dance school, only to find a coven of witches are using it was a front. The punch-line of Argento’s film becomes the jumping off point for Guadagnino, but nearly two and a half hours later, not much of any value has been added to the pot. There’s extreme gore (the final orgy features volcanic blood and bile vomited from innards as heads snap back like Pez dispensers), some political allusions (from Baadar-Meinhoff terrorists to WWII concentration camps) which don’t really help, and a smattering of indelible images, like the table of aging witches at the back of a restaurant, or the execution by dance of one of the pupils. Its hard to know what those unaware of the original film will make of this; Argento purists probably deserve to be annoyed, but at least this Suspiria isn’t some bland PG 13 remake for teens; in fact, it really is quite horrible to watch, and presumably that’s the intention.

The White Crow 2019 ***

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Ralph Fiennes clearly digs Rudolph Nureyev; for his third film as director, he’s attempted to capture the story of one of the world’s greatest dancers, which some success. Fiennes’ previous efforts (Coriolanus and The Invisible Woman) were real duffers, but with a leading man who looks the part in Oleg Ivenko, The White Crow is more than passable. The title refers to the Russian notion of otherness, of an individual who is separate from the pack; a black sheep in our parlance. Flashing back and forward to key moments in Nureyev’s life as he ponders defecting during a tour to Paris, the attempts to get under the waxen skin of the individual are fairly shallow; Nureyev rages at a toy-shop owner whose range of toy trains bore him, or glowers as his patient tutor (Fiennes) refuses to acknowledge his genius. But things pick up in the final stretch when Nureyev faces a choice to defect to the West or return to his family in Russia; the facts are compelling in these final scenes, and the choice is presented with some gravity. Anyone with a feeling for dance, and Nureyev in particular will be interested in this, and Fiennes doesn’t short-change us with the ballet scenes, which looks authentic and feel right. But much of the presentation is dull, the photography of Russia and Paris is so grim and deliberately out of focus that it’s hard to watch, and Hare’s script is dry and lack insight. But a bit like the Queen biopic, a film about this subject only needs to be halfway good to be watchable; the legend of Nureyev carries the film.

Staying Alive 1983 ****

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A sequel to Saturday Night Fever isn’t such a bad idea; there was plenty of juice left in the Tony Manero character played by John Travolta in the 1977 original to justify another trip to the well. But Staying Alive, despite the return of Travolta and the original writer, is a completely different animal, a pumped-up, be-all-you-can-be slice of extravagant male narcissism that plays like a comedy. Director Sylvester Stallone has an obvious affinity for training montages, and he indulges it repeatedly as Tony trains for a part in a Broadway show called Satan’s Alley. But instead of songs by the Bee Gees, Stallone has reached out no further than his brother Frank, whose music adorns the film like a lead chain. Grammy-winner Far From Over is pretty good, but much of the rest is 80’s sludge, and Travolta’s preening, self-absorbed performance as Manero doesn’t help lift the mood. An anti-hero in the first film, Manero is a complete tool here, dressed in spandex and more in love with himself then any of the women here. Staying Alive is a wonderfully awful film, full of scenes amusing because they are so far off the mark in guessing what the audience might want to see. It’s Saturday Night Fever on steroids, and the steroids seem to have rotted the thinking of everyone concerned.

click the link to find out if this film can be seen in your region…

The Tango Lesson 1997 ***

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Sally Potter is one of Britain’s least celebrated directors, but her idiosyncratic take of cinema aesthetics makes her work well worth seeking out for anyone with a yearning for original content. Her follow-up to Orlando is a personal project; she casts herself as Sally, and the film is a likably oddball drama about the trials and tribulations that she goes through as she attempts to learn the tango. There’s no Step Up dance competitions here; Sally falls for Pablo (dancer Pablo Verson) and their affair with each other, and with the dance, takes her on a voyage of self-discovery to Argentina. The Tango Lesson was accused of self-indulgence, but Potter deserves credit for putting herself centre-stage; beautifully photographed by Robby Muller, her film is a mature and passionate film about male/female relationships, rendered in the physical arena of dance.

http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/412696/The-Tango-Lesson

 

All That Jazz 1979 ***

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Having made his name as a choreographer, Bob Fosse made the grade as a director with Sweet Charity and Cabaret, and his prowess at staging electric dance routines was integrated into a strong dramatic engine in his final musical, 1979’s All That Jazz. Inspired by Fosse’s own experience of a heart-attack, the film features Roy Schneider as Joe Gideon, a successful Broadway choreographer with problems in terms of booze, coke and women. All That Jazz mixes the abrasiveness of Fosse’s Lenny Bruce biopic with ironic Broadway razzle-dazzle, and the script takes continual side-swipes at real-life theatre legends that Fosse encountered. This is cinema as autobiography, therapy and catharsis, and while the open-heart surgery and musical numbers sit awkwardly together, that’s part of the point; Gideon’s taste of external excess causes his own internal collapse, and his constant repetition of the phrase ‘it’s showtime” marks another step towards self-destruction and self-realization. A key film in understanding why the name Fosse is now a brand, All That Jazz is an intense personal reflection on love, life and death.