Sunday, May 17, 2009

Movie Review - Every Little Step

This riveting documentary by Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern is a look at "A Chorus Line" then and now as dancers/singers audition for the revival of this most personal yet classic musical. We're also treated to archival footage of interviews with Michael Bennett, Donna McKechnie and Bob Avian (who is also featured as the producer of the revival) which offer inside scoop on how this amazing, innovative musical was created, along with stage scenes of the original cast. As I watched "Every Little Step" memories came flooding back to me: sitting in the Curran Theater in San Francisco decades ago, thrilling to that opening number where the performers line up with head shots held in front of their faces; the revelation of the closing song when all these individuals whose widely diverse stories the audience has experienced finally become one uniform, high kicking chorus line in top hats; the privilege of watching Sammy Williams (the original Paul) dance. It's always been my favorite musical (along with "Rent") so the chance to relive those marvelous moments is pure joy. Pretty impressive, too, how well the music and choreography holds up today.

The iconic numbers from the original are all back for the revival with a new batch of "Chorus Line" hopefuls who are just as much fun (although there isn't enough time to get to know any of them too well). In the age of "American Idol" there's no shortage of aspiring singers, but the glimpse we are given into the lives of the professional stage performers we see here surpasses anything the popular TV show offers. The audition process is fascinating but brutal, focusing on the selection of a small handful of performers auditioning for the pivotal roles of Cassie, Paul and Sheila. While the limited scope is a wise choice given the large number of characters in the musical, I missed seeing a more inclusive range of casting selections. Jason Tam, reading for the part of Paul, is a revelation, delivering one of those electrifying performances that make you understand how stars are born. Following Tam's audition , Bob Avian remarks "Sign him up" after the brilliant young actor/dancer leaves the room. Amen. As hundreds of hopefuls from an open casting call are slowly narrowed to 2 or 3 finalists for each of the leading roles we can almost feel the tension and exhilaration of these talented performers who find themselves close enough to touch a dream. And after all, that's what "A Chorus Line" is all about.

Things to love about this movie: Savoring a glimpse into the lives of these talented performers who put their hopes on the line; hearing those marvelous songs again; lots of terrific singing and dancing; the exhilaration of those selected as they share the good news
Things to hate about this movie: It has to end (yes, I could have "danced" all night)
Pleasant surprises: Footage of a 16 year old Michael Bennet dancing; Bennett's Tony Award acceptance speech
Unpleasant surprises: Could have used a little more focus on the guys

Monday, May 11, 2009

Movie Review - X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I'm just a sucker for those X-Men, so on opening weekend I'm uncharacteristically off to a big budget, F/X heavy chapter in the ongoing mutant saga. The delectable Hugh Jackman stars as Wolverine, one of the most appealing mutants of the series. We encounter him this time as Logan, before those infamous shiny steel claws became part of his persona. Unfortunately there's nothing especially original about this story. We have an evil government man (played with relish by Danny Huston) performing secret, nasty experiments on imprisoned mutants; a lovely, loyal, boring love interest (Lynn Collins) for Wolverine; a creepy nemesis named Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber); mutant-on-mutant slashing. Although the story reveals the origin of Wolverine's talons and his history of fighting off various enemies, it remains a bit of a mystery how he really started out in life or how his mutant state has effected him.

There's an interesting cast of characters who keep the action moving, including Ryan Reynolds (having a lot of fun with the wise cracking, chatterbox Wade Wilson), Dominic Monaghan as Bolt, Will i Am as John Wraith and Kevin Durand as The Blob. Taylor Kitsch is also a good addition as Remy LeBeau, a nefarious but charming New Orleans gambler I would expect to make another appearance in a later X-Men movie. Director Gavin Hood gets good performances from his eclectic mix of actors but it's pretty challenging to really bring much to these parts except cartoon level portrayals. It's not quite enough to make the movie thrilling or involving in the way the first X-Men film was for me, but it's just enough to make things entertaining. Wolverine does a lot of roaring and knashing of his teeth and claws, maybe a little too much, but he sure looks good doing it. The big reveal about Wolverine's origins was somewhat of a disappointment with a so-so ending.

Things to love about this movie: Hugh Jackman is terrific; some cool F/X
Things to hate about this movie: The movie is mostly action with very little time spent getting to know any of the mutants
Pleasant surprises: Wolverine running around buck naked in one scene (though I'm sure it's a body double)
Unpleasant surprises: A supporting character I enjoyed was killed off earlier than I expected