Flashdance (1983)

I suppose that in any Art form, everyone sees something different. Many recall this movie about a scrappy welder by day/ exotic dancer by night with nostalgia alone due to its iconic soundtrack. Others can still remember their infatuation with its lead after closeups of her exercise regimen made her iconic silhouette getting splashed with […]

The Bodyguard (1992)

Fame is isolating. So is the security business. When you’re gifted above average, the spotlight will find you and make you a target. If you’re savvy enough to navigate all the pitfalls, you’re likely cynical and ruthless, yourself. Conversely, if you’re naive you’ll get taken advantage of and eventually eaten alive. It’s easy to see […]

Much Ado About Nothing (1993 & 2012)

This one’s a two-fer!

Shakespeare is tricky by any standards. Many universally human traits brought out by timeless situations are easily lost in translation from a long-gone language into modern culture. Fortunately, Billy the Bard still inspires story-tellers the world over. It continually surprises me that such a wide range of demographics appreciate his plays, though it shouldn’t, considering his original audience: the rich had plush seats up high with a stunning view of the entire stage while the commoners, who had to stand on the floor down in front got to hear all the bawdy jokes, i.e. something for everyone.

As filmmakers often attempt to adapt a classic play for the screen, it’s interesting how a scholarly approach and a layman’s view can be two sides of the same coin. When it comes to sifting through antiquated vernacular to interpret its meaning, just as much is overlooked by over-analyzing as by lack of context. With this in mind, both a classically-trained European thespian and an American Sci-Fi scriptwriter/ director have different yet complementary versions of what is widely considered William Shakespeare’s funniest comedy. Kenneth Branagh’s pre-millennium period piece and Joss Whedon’s post-millennium modern retelling (inspired by a wine-and-cheese reading party with friends) will turn anyone into a fan of Shakespeare.

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Writer/ director, Baz Luhrmann, best known for his pinache, made his moviemaking debut with this one. And what a first impression! Let’s face it: regardless of medium, most first attempts are sincere but earnest and eschew anything flashy, which is understandable. Yet this gutsy storyteller somehow manages to fully develop his characters in a short amount of time. Though the movie is fast-paced it doesn’t feel the least bit rushed; Luhrmann knows exactly when and where to move the camera around his stylized set.

Though he gradually drifted into the realm of cinematic adaptations, this story is truly unique as a perfect synergy of any element you can name. I initially remembered it being a creative little daydream (i.e. a much classier version of Dirty Dancing) that someone more sentimental than I made me watch. Over the years it periodically surfaced in various conversations, referenced by everyone but cinephiles. I finally decided to rewatch it, assuming it would be a subtle precursor to Luhrmann’s hyper-stylized version of “Romeo and Juliet,” which I loved but hadn’t connected as being from the same visionary. Though many movies with vaguely similar elements came to mind, I couldn’t think of a single one to which this compares. In my humble opinion, it remains his finest work.

Look at me/ Comme une image (2004)

Despite the French title being a book around which one of the main stories is centered, all the meta occurs outside the film; American critics have absolutely no idea what it’s about, which is precisely the plot! The snarkiness that runs throughout is the symptom of a larger problem. It’s easy to give advice about a particular situation but why not follow it yourself? Likely because you hear—yes, someone is talking, blah, blah, blah—but you don’t take the time to listen to what is—or isn’t—being said. I find it ironic that some people describe the script as “too wordy.” Everyone’s talking but never really saying what they mean or how they feel. Moreover, no one is paying any attention to what’s not being said: the eye roll, the shoulder slump, the sigh, the deliberate nudge given to a supposed stranger. Yet they all desperately want to be heard. Don’t we all? In an era of information overload, the best way to know someone is to see them—not merely look at them through a media lens; to watch them in their element. Try it. You’ll be surprised. The characters certainly were.

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Can’t decide between a 1940s gangster flick and a Kung-Fu movie? With enough imagination, you can have both. First, collect an assortment of references to iconic Chinese and American pulp-fiction and pop-culture films, homages to Kung-Fu and tributes to Bruce Lee. Next, slice and dice. Then toss the pieces into a sizzling wok. As you can imagine, the result is wildly entertaining.

Be advised: the subtitled and dubbed versions have almost completely different scripts but if you’re a true movie fan you already know that subtitles are better than imposed voice-over dialogue that’s more concerned with matching the cadence of the actors’ mouths than accurately translating what they’re saying.

Footloose (1984)

I know this one’s a pop culture classic but it’s usually dismissed as a musical. Is it about music? Yes. Does it have choreography? Yes. But it’s primarily about censorship and communication. The main point of the dancing is to represent something that’s harmless in and of itself—even beneficial for exercise and social bonding—that’s been banned due to certain connotations stemming from an unfortunate incident remotely related to it. Fair points are made about the value of community and kinship but the script has nothing to do with country vs. city or traditional vs. modern. When a character—and not even the main one—matures from rallying his neighbors in an effort to suppress free speech to speaking out against a book-burning organized by the very people he inspired with his fear-mongering, the story needs to respected rather than remade into a one-dimensional musical about mean uptight adults forced to lighten up and let kids channel their creativity into provocative dancing.

Across the Universe (2007)

Though the title borrows the more popular lyric/ song title, this film could’ve been aptly named “Nothing’s Gonna Change my World”; the irony being the massive upending of life as everyone knew it prior to the turbulent 1960s. To craft a plot from a collection of music not written as a cohesive narrative is tricky enough; to seamlessly infuse the playlist with a personification of the music and events that equally influenced and inspired each other is a true work of Art. The inclusion of live musical performance, choreography, imaginative cinematography, depiction of history and socio-political commentary take this mesmerizing spectacle way beyond a Beatles-inspired musical.

Whiplash (2014)

While I’ve heard this short-turned-feature dismissed as an overwrought caricature, writer/ director, Damien Chazelle had yet to prove his storytelling chops with “10 Cloverfield Lane” and certainly before the successful “La La Land” when he crafted his depiction of a sadistic music teacher, who he patterned after one of his own. Since the film’s release, many musicians have spoken out in support of its accuracy, which was the only compelling reason I had to watch it.

It took me a couple of days to finish this movie; due to its emotional intensity I took frequent breaks. Had it not been for sublimely meticulous craftsmanship it would’ve seemed melodramatic. It also helped that I had warm associations with both J. K. Simmons and Paul Reiser, not that it should’ve mattered. Still, overall—despite its anxiety-inducing quality—it paints a vivid picture of that fine line between focused motivation and injurious obsession. The likes of which may never be matched.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

This cartoon is unusual because, while it has the capability to exaggerate what/ whenever it wants, it’s not particularly fantastical. In typical comic fashion, the story is told through music that complements gestures and facial expressions rather than dialogue but not to accommodate talking animals or people bouncing around like a rubber balls. All the elements of design that would enhance any other kind of film are expertly utilized in this charming tour de force about a competitive French cyclist, who gets kidnapped and taken to New York City. His grandmother, who raised him sets out in search with her trusty dog in tow. The pair is taken in by an eccentric old trio of jazz musicians, who’ve been performing together since Vaudeville. The minimalist—and at times slightly abstract—style is a stark contrast to modern computer rendering but serves as the perfect medium for this story’s setting.