Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India Movie Review

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Review:

I’ve seen a few Westernized Indian movies, like Bride and Prejudice and Monsoon Wedding, but Lagaan was my first experience with a real Bollywood film. I think it was a pretty lucky first choice.

The main plot of Lagaan revolves around a poor farming village in 19th century India, which is stricken by a horrific drought and unable to pay the taxes (lagaan) it owes to the British Raj. The hero, Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), makes a bet with the arrogant and cruel officer in charge of collecting the tax that if the villagers can beat the British in a game of cricket, their debt will be forgiven. But if they lose, their tax will be increased by three times.

What follows is good old-fashioned, feel-good fun. Although I’m not much of a sports fan and know almost nothing about cricket, I found it easy to get swept up in the film’s story, and it rarely lagged despite clocking in at nearly 4 hours of running time.

You always hear about Bollywood’s fantastic music and dance numbers, and several of the dances in Lagaan blew me away with how good they were. My favorite was Radha Kaise Na Jale:

Since there’s no subtitles in this copy of the clip, here’s what’s going on: Gauri (Gracy Singh) is in love with Bhuvan but fears he is falling in love with a British woman who has taken pity on the villagers and is coaching them at cricket. During a religious celebration in their village, Bhuvan and Gauri re-enact a ceremonial dance for the villagers (and the British woman) about a goddess (Radha) jealous of her flirtatious lover (Krishna), while Krishna tries to reassure her that his heart belongs only to her. Of course, there’s a double meaning in every line and gesture.

Great film! I highly recommend it.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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First Position Movie Review

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Review:

After several years without it, I decided to sign up for Netflix again a few days ago. The first full movie I watched was First Position, a ballet documentary that popped up on my recommendation list. When I noticed the date, I was a little surprised that I’d never heard of it before, as I love dance and watch lots of movies and documentaries about various forms of it, but I clicked play and quickly made up for lost time!

First Position is a well-made and interesting documentary that gives a good feel for the lives of the young dancers it portrays. As someone who studied ballet for many years myself, I didn’t learn as much as I did with something like, for example, Jig. As a result, my attention wandered during some parts because I already know stuff like how hideous ballerina’s feet are and how much many of them actually eat. However, my personal experience had advantages as well. With Jig, I could be impressed by the speed and rhythm of Joe Bitter’s set dance without fully understanding what I was seeing. With First Position, I knew exactly what I was seeing in performances such as 12 year old Miko Fogarty’s variation on Don Quixote, and why these kids were so amazing.

The documentary follows a good mix of kids and teenagers of various ages and backgrounds and makes you care about them and feel for the incredible sacrifices they and their families have made to pursue their dreams. To paraphrase Baryshnikov, most of them don’t just love to dance, they need to dance, and their innate passion and talent has driven them to incredible heights for their age. Miko Fogarty and Aran Bell in particular amazed me, since I was still studying ballet myself at ages 11 and 12 (I quit at 16) and could really compare what I was capable of doing at that age to what they were. (Needless to say, they were miles ahead.)

Because the movie was filmed back in 2010, several of the older dancers have since gone on to professional careers, including the Columbian Joan Sebastian Zamora (pictured on the cover), who currently dances with the English National Ballet, and the girl from Sierra Leone, Michaela dePrince, who is currently dancing with the Dutch National Ballet. First Position’s Facebook page also recently announced that Aran Bell, now 15, will be dancing with the American Ballet Theater’s studio company this season, and Miko Fogarty (now 16) also seems to be keeping busy with both studying and performing, if her Facebook page is any indication.

If you love ballet or want to learn more about it, you’ll love this documentary!

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My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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Strictly Ballroom Movie Review

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Review:

Strictly Ballroom has some of the same problems with over-the-top caricatures instead of characters that mar Buz Luhrmann’s other films, but at heart it’s a charming and feel good boy-meets-ugly-duckling romance with lots of outstanding dancing.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Take the Lead Movie Review

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Review:

Based on an inspiring true story about a ballroom dancing instructor who taught inner city kids. Like many movies about inner city schools, Take the Lead resorts too frequently to cliches, but overall this is an enjoyable, feel good film with a good performance by Antonio Banderas as the instructor, Pierre Dulaine, and some nice dance scenes, including a particularly hot tango with Lithuanian-Canadian dancer Katya Virshilas.

 

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights Movie Review

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Review:

This movie is a bit of a mess, but it scrapes by on the charisma of its two young leads. The plot tries mostly unsuccessfully to combine a fluffy, feel-good story about a girl gaining self-confidence through dance with the more serious backdrop of political and social revolution in Cuba, and relies too heavily on formula with both plots.Additionally, the dialogue is mediocre to outright cringe-inducing.

However, Romola Garai and Diego Luna are charming and manage to sell the partnership and budding romance of their characters. Patrick Swayze also makes a brief but enjoyable appearance as a dance instructor. The dance scenes are enjoyable to watch, although some of the extras have noticeably more skill than Luna and Garai.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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Jig Movie Review

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Review:

This documentary is a very enjoyable foray into the world of competitive Irish dancing that really shows the hard work and years of dedication that it takes to be a top dancer.

I was especially charmed by shy John Whitehurst and chatty Brogan McKay, two of the younger competitors the documentary follows, but as far as the dancing goes, the star of the film is John’s idol and training partner Joe Bitter, an American teenager who moved to England with his parents to train with former world champion John Carey. Joe delivers a set dance at the end that will knock the socks off even casual fans.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Bring It On Movie Review

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Review:

This movie belongs to the same class of high school tongue-in-cheek comic masterpieces as Mean Girls and Easy A. Though it doesn’t quite reach those heights of brilliance in dialogue and plot, it does come with the bonus of some truly fantastic cheerleading routines, and will give you new respect for cheerleading as a sport.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Center Stage Movie Review

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Review:

Okay, this is not a good movie. Let me just state that right up front. The plot is cliched, the characters are stereotypical, the dialogue is sometimes cringe-worthy, and the acting is competent at best. However, it does have some great dancing, including ballet, Latin, modern, and jazz, and that makes it worth watching for anyone who loves dance. 2 stars for the movie itself, but a bonus half for the dancing.

My rating:2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

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Singin’ in the Rain Movie Review

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Review:

Before I watched this movie, pretty much the only thing I knew about it was the iconic titular scene, so I knew the singing and dancing were going to be amazing, but I expected the plot to be some sort of corny romance.

I was therefore very pleasantly surprised to discover that much of the movie was actually taken up by a hilarious plot about the bumpy transition from silent films to “talking pictures.” Really the only thing I didn’t like was the strange “Broadway Melody” sequence, which had great dancing courtesy of the legendary Cyd Charisse, but was just kind of weird and out of place.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Bride and Prejudice

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Review: 

Not my favorite Austen update, but fun and enjoyable, with some fantastic music and dance numbers, as you’d expect from a Bollywood version of Pride and Prejudice.

My rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

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