“The merging of ballroom and hip-hop sensibilities, via musical mash-ups and an integration of styles, is likely to make Take the Lead more appealing to the entire family, making the obvious (but not always acknowledged) point that the specifics of popular culture may change, but the intent and inspiration are very similar. But given that the movie’s main message is about the value of ballroom dancing, things get awfully muddled toward the end. As in Mad Hot Ballroom, the story builds toward a climactic dance competition, which would inherently be quite traditionalist. Yet they expect to win it by using You Got Served stylings?”
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(a capsule-version of the above piece is the second review of mine to run in the Village Voice)
Quick takes after the jump…
As a writer, James Gunn has consistently, hilariously riffed on pre-existing pop culture without merely regurgitating it – though literal regurgitation has certainly been fair game, as when he took on Shakespeare in Tromeo and Juliet. So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that his directorial debut, involving a slimy living virus from outer space, references a vast number of cult horror movies: Basket Case, The Blob, The Toxic Avenger, Rosemary’s Baby, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and many more are name-checked. Those unfamiliar with the antecedent films may enjoy the movie greatly, but, for those of us who grew up on the same films Gunn did, a little less referencing and a slightly tighter edit would have done wonders.
Don’t get me wrong: I love movies about dumb-ass country folk being attacked by mutant slugs and merging together into giant blobs just as much as anyone, and I certainly appreciate Gunn’s casting of less-than-attractive actors for most of the locals, with leads Nathan Fillion (Serenity) and Elizabeth Banks (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) the only real beauties. But, honestly, while it may score you cool points with geeks to name the mayor after Kurt Russell’s character in The Thing, it doesn’t really serve the story at hand. Cutting out the script’s dead spots would. Still, Slither also gave me the most genuine laugh-out-loud moments of any movie so far this year; it is very funny, and intentionally so. As a director, Gunn is finding his footing; as a scribe, he’s still very much the guy who did The Specials.
LARRY THE CABLE GUY: HEALTH INSPECTOR (combined review)
To paraphrase Larry’s colleague Jeff Foxworthy: If you’re wondering how a cable guy can also be a health inspector…yyyyyyou might not be a redneck. Originating as a comedic persona used to harass the hosts of radio call-in shows, Dan Whitney’s “Larry” persona has long since dropped the part of his shtick that involves actual cable, except inasmuch as his last couple of movies with Foxworthy and friends have debuted there (and of all those “Blue Collar Comedy” guys, Ron White deserves a movie the most).
As with Andrew Dice Clay in his heyday, it can be hard to tell exactly the degree to which Larry the Cable Guy is a mockery of his target audience or a wholehearted part of it, but it doesn’t matter much…rednecks have always loved to laugh at themselves, as the popularity of the late Jim Varney’s “Ernest” movies proved. Imagine those films with more sex jokes, along with a heaping helping of diarrhea humor and lots of farting, and you get Larry’s movie. The plot, such as it is, involves Larry working to uncover a conspiracy to rig a food contest, and there are cameos from Joe Pantoliano, Lisa Lampanelli, Kid Rock, and Back to the Future villain Thomas F. Wilson. It’s admittedly gross and poorly scripted, but amiable enough for those who enjoy dumb Southern-fried fun. Like Tyler Perry’s Madea movies, its niche is already predefined and probably won’t win new fans, but if Pabst is (unironically) your drink, this just might be your movie. It’s funnier than you might expect, but the curious should really wait for the inevitable Comedy Central airing.
STAY ALIVE (CityBeat)
When three teens are found murdered while playing a videogame, the first thing all their friends do … is attend the funeral. The second thing they do is immediately load up the game, an illegally obtained prototype called Stay Alive, which features revolutionary voice-recognition technology. After their first night of online play, however, the least successful participant (Adam Goldberg, sounding like he’s aping Paul Giamatti) is found murdered in exactly the same way his character died in the virtual world. It takes a few more deaths before anyone figures out there’s more than coincidence at work.
Yes, it’s The Ring with a computer game, down to the evil female spirit contained within, who in this case is the infamous Hungarian Countess Bathory (Maria Kalinina), inexplicably relocated to New Orleans for this storyline. The game within the film looks like a lot of fun – certainly more fun than the copycat killings. You’ll probably wish you were at home playing something similar instead. If any of these characters were halfway decent gamers (or even hackers), their problems would be solved, but none of these numbskulls even tries to simply beat the game. Note to parents: For a PG-13 movie, Stay Alive contains semi-shown kinky sex, lots of drug references, brief realistic gore, and lots of digital gore. Note to adolescents: It still isn’t as much fun as playing an actual game.
With the “dirty South” finally being acknowledged as an important source of hip-hop music, it’s about time we got a black youth movie set in Atlanta, which, needless to say, has a whole different vibe from the traditional east and west coast schools of rap.
Director Chris Robinson (not the Black Crowes frontman, who’s also from Atlanta), captures the atmosphere of the urban South effectively with a story loosely based on the life experiences of producers Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Dallas Austin, and a script by Antwone Fisher, who already got his own autobiographical baggage out of his system. Initially, the movie throws way too many names and characters at us, most of them played by unfamiliar faces, but as you settle into the groove of the thing, the story of two orphaned brothers — one a janitor (Tip “T.I.” Harris) and the other an aspiring drug dealer (Evan Ross) — comes to the fore.
Adding some heft to the cast are Keith David as a successful businessman who disavows his own past, Mykelti Williamson as the orphan boys’ selfish uncle George, and Outkast rapper Big Boi as a wise-cracking local crimeboss. It’s fun to just soak in the vibe of the whole thing, but then Robinson seems to suddenly remember that urban youth movies need to get tragic/didactic at the end, and the movie, having solidly entertained for most of its running time, goes out in a blaze of cliché.
THE LADY IN QUESTION IS CHARLES BUSCH (Village Voice Media)
A documentary following the career of Busch, an actor and playwright primarily known for his performances in drag in such cult plays as Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Theodora, She-Bitch of Byzantium. From a small cult following in the East Village to Off-Broadway, then a short stint as a more “serious” playwright before returning to what made him a star, the journey is all documented here — though his first brush with Hollywood, making a movie of his Psycho Beach Party, is swiftly glossed over in a fake newsreel segment. His movie starring debut Die Mommy Die gets a little more time, but this movie doesn’t bother to ask why that movie didn’t do so well translating stage to screen, or even acknowledge that it wasn’t a huge hit. Nonetheless, this movie makes the case for the worthiness of Busch’s cult, and serves as an entertaining overview for neophytes. Shot on video, though, it isn’t very cinematic, and might be best enjoyed on TV at home.