REVIEW: Step

11 08 2017

As a part of its acquisition deal out of the Sundance Film Festival, Fox Searchlight purchase not only Amanda Lipitz’s documentary “Step” but also the remake rights. It was a smart decision for the studio in many ways – and perhaps ultimately the best one for this inspiring story of #BlackGirlMagic involving several stepping Baltimore teens. That’s not because their journey needs fictionalization to reach a larger audience; rather, “Step” could use the freedom of narrative cinema to unlock the full reservoir of emotion contained within.

In many ways, it appears that Lipitz is putting together the pieces of a narrative already, but she’s hampered by a fidelity to reality. She bends time and chronology (mostly under the radar, given away by small details like college application deadlines or the release of Beyoncé’s “Formation”) to give her documentary a more thematic structure as opposed to a chronological one. Lipitz also ham-handedly creates a foreground/background dynamic, with the character-building training of the step team at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women taking place on a larger canvas of the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent murder of Freddie Gray.

To watch “Step” is to at once be aware of Lipitz’s grand ambitions and unfortunate limitations. She’s envisioning spectacle but lacks the resources or the know-how to execute it. This becomes most apparent in how she shoots the step dancing competition sequences. They’re clunkily edited and shot from strange angles, yet there’s evolution over time, suggesting that Lipitz has put in the work to improve even during the course of shooting.

It’s also possible that she treats her subjects more as characters than people in the documentary. Moments like Coach Gari McIntyre’s field trip with the team to a memorial for Freddie Gray, well-intentioned though it might be, plays like the kind of inspirational perspective-altering moment in a Disney sports drama. That might not be how it happened, but it’s how the scene plays in the way Lipitz positions it. She renders figures like the school’s college counselor Paula Dofat, an indefatigable advocate who will stop at nothing to get every girl into post-secondary education, into little more than her function. There’s no curiosity about her inner life.

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Marshall Takes Cannes: Day 5

20 05 2012

Well, folks, the burnout has finally arrived.  This morning, after a brisk sprint to make it to a screening on time, I settled into my seat in the Lumiere and promptly fell asleep for 20 minutes.  I almost contemplated just going back to my hotel room and sleeping for the most of the afternoon, but then I remembered the existence of Diet Coke.

Day 5 – Sunday, May 20

I got up early for a screening of Michael Haneke’s “Amour” at 8:30 A.M.  However, even though I was ready on time, my bus passed me by because it was already full … yanking my comfortable cushion and leaving me wondering whether or not I would even get to see this movie at all.  The next bus came in ten minutes or so, and when it arrived at the stop, I ran off and sprinted to the Lumiere.  Surprisingly, even that early in the morning, it was one of the most attentive I had been in a screening … and it was subtitled too!

After that, I had a little bit of down time to write before attending three all-star panels at the American Pavilion.  The first was with independent film directors Rodney Ascher of “Room 237” (a documentary on “The Shining” that I’m planning to see tomorrow evening), Adam Leon of “Gimme the Loot,” and Ben Wheatley of “Sightseers.”  The blogger in me enjoyed it, although the conversation was pretty much directed towards aspiring filmmakers, something which I am not.

Then, there was a panel about film marketing and advertising, a field that really fascinates me, and the conversation largely centered around the art of the trailer and satisfying your core audience even if you believe you can hit one of the other “four quadrants” (male, female, old, young).  The panel included Doug Wick, the producer of “Gladiator” as well as Cannes competition film “Lawless;” I got to shake his hand and congratulate him on the movie’s success.  (That is, I’m assuming it will play well with audiences – snooty critics looking to crown the Palme D’Or will surely not like it much.)  Oh, and David Poland of Movie City News was also there to provide a different perspective.  I gladly thanked him for what he does for long-form journalism.  If you are a real movie fan, then you NEED to be watching his DP/30 interviews on YouTube.

Finally, there was the State of the Industry, a packed panel and a packed crowd.  Speakers included Nancy Utley, President of Fox Searchlight, and Tom Bernard, President of Sony Pictures Classics.  Mrs. Utley spoked about how Fox Searchlight chooses their slate of releases, which range from widely appealing commercial vehicles like “The Descendants” all the way down to smaller niche films like “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”  She said that if one person on their team is a passion advocate for a film and can find a way to convince the rest of the team that it has an audience and a path to success, then they will be willing to take a chance on it.  Glad to see what incredible artistic integrity they can maintain while building brand identity.  (And further blogger geekdom: got to meet Anne Thompson of IndieWire, who moderated the panel, and thank her for being one of my main sources for forming opinions on Oscar season.)

Other than those four events, it was a gross, disgusting rainy day in Cannes.  Definitely didn’t come here for this weather.  Yet somehow, in spite of the grossness of the icky day, Cannes still looked remarkably beautiful.  Houston makes me depressed in the rain (except now, when I rejoice for rain in our drought-riddled state).  But Cannes, on the other hand … just wow.  It made me think of a certain scene in the rain, and then I remembered that sometimes magic can happen no matter what the weather.





Random Factoid #519

29 12 2010

How had I never noticed this, being the “Black Swan” fan that I am?  The original poster underwent a massive PhotoShop makeover to produce something entirely different!

It’s like one of those seek-and-find games in newspapers or magazines asking you to find the ten differences between the two pictures.  Here are some of the ones that I found.

  1. Eyes changed from dark red to a dark pink
  2. Eye makeup thinner, lighter shade of black
  3. Color of lips changed to a lighter shade of red
  4. Longer hairline
  5. Face made skinnier by airbrush
  6. Added shadow under chin
  7. Increased visibility of neck muscles
  8. Shoulders raised slightly
  9. Tiara more in focus
  10. Natalie Portman’s name billed above co-stars

In summary, it’s an increased emphasis on Natalie Portman.  The first poster made her look demented while the second one made her look beautifully demented.  It’s an attempt to sell the movie more on her, something Fox Searchlight is keen on doing in their ad campaign for the movie.  I’ve noticed that some critic called it a “wicked psychosexual thriller,” and in the ads, Fox has put the word psycho in smaller font so the casual reader will see “WICKED SEXUAL THRILLER.”  Curious move selling the movie as something a little different than what it is, but it’s clearly working.

(Thanks to this blog for having a nifty image pop up while I was doing a Google Image search for the movie.)





Oscar Moment: “Crazy Heart”

9 12 2009

Here’s a little Oscar story for you, told just like a fairy tale!

Once upon a time, there was a studio called Fox Searchlight.  This was a specialty studio, so their job was to release movies that would be critically acclaimed and win lots of Oscars.

But in September, it was becoming inherently clear that things weren’t quite panning out for Fox Searchlight.  “(500) Days of Summer” and “Adam” weren’t really Academy-type movies, and “Amelia” was a huge bomb with critics.  With only Wes Anderson’s animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” left to release, they didn’t seem to have any viable candidate for big categories at the Oscars (although some author’s commentary: Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt deserve to be nominated).

Fox Searchlight, who gave us last year’s Best Picture “Slumdog Millionaire,” had to do something to put themselves on the awards season map.  So they used a trick play and moved “Crazy Heart,” originally scheduled for release in 2010, up to December 2009.

“Crazy Heart” is about an aged, washed-up country singer who falls in love with a younger female journalist and begins the trek back to the place he loves the most: the stage.

Does this sound familiar?  Think back to just last year…

“The Wrestler” is about an aged, washed-up wrestler who falls in love with a younger female stripper and begins the trek back to the place he loves the most: the ring.

But the comparisons shouldn’t stop there.  Both movies feature a sort of “rebirth” performance from their lead actors who have been ignored by the Oscars previously.  Jeff Bridges, the main man of “Crazy Heart,” has not hit the depths quite like “The Wrestler”‘s Mickey Rourke, whose struggles with drug abuse were widely publicized.  Bridges, on the other hand, has been doing rounds as a valuable character actor over the past few years and has deep respect in the industry.  However, Fox Searchlight wants to make sure that we know that he has been an Oscar bridesmaid four times.  They also make the somewhat hyperbolic claim that this is “the performance of a lifetime.”  I think its pretty safe to say that all the hopes of this movie ride on Bridges’ shoulders.

And just look at the trailers.  They are practically the same, even down to the guitar-strumming melodies behind them (the tune for “Crazy Heart” is Ryan Bingham’s “The Weary Kind”).

So, will this be a fairy-tale ending for Fox Searchlight?  That’s largely up to you, the moviegoer, who makes the business, and the critics, who give the awards and write the reviews.  At the moment, the latter have not shown much love.  The Washington, D.C. Film Critics did not even nominate Bridges for Best Actor.

One interesting note: Mickey Rourke lost the Oscar to a gay man played by Sean Penn.  Could Bridges lose to Colin Firth, who plays a darker homosexual in “A Single Man?”

We’ll find out the ending on a Sunday night in March…

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Song (“The Weary Kind”)

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal)