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Every year, thousands of aspiring dancers enter one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions, the Youth America Grand Prix, where lifelong dreams are at stake. In the final round, with hundreds competing for only a handful of elite scholarships and contracts, practice and discipline are paramount, and nothing short of perfection is expected. Bess Kargman’s award-winning documentary, First Position, follows six young dancers as they prepare for a chance to enter the world of professional ballet, struggling through bloodied feet, near exhaustion and debilitating injuries, all while navigating the drama of adolescence. A showcase of awe-inspiring talent, tenacity and passion, First Position paints a thrilling and moving portrait of the most gifted young ballet stars of tomorrow. — (C) IFC
D picked this documentary for me knowing how much I love ballet. Though the dancing here is, of course, paramount, there is so much more to these stories. If any of you doubt the athleticism of ballet dancers, this movie will make you a believer.
I found myself laughing, cringing, crying, and cheering as we meet the dancers; young phenom Aran Bell, survivor Michaela Deprince, siblings JJ & Miko Fogarty, high school “princess” Rebecca Houseknecht, struggling for a better life Joan Sebastian Zamora, and Aran’s young Isreali friend Gaya Bommer Yemini.
At just 11 years-old, Aran is a powerhouse, spinning and leaping like a mini Baryshnikov. As a military brat, the sacrifices his family members are willing to make differ from the others, but you can see he is not about to let those sacrifices go to waste. I would love to see how he grows and matures in the dance.
Michaela, adopted from war-torn Sierra Leone, combines her fierce determination with explosive strength in a graceful package. She is the embodiment of a childhood fantasy brought to life – through incredible hard work and commitment.
JJ & Miko‘s pursuit of balletic perfection is encouraged by their tiger mother, and financed by their entrepreneur father. You will be wondering if both of these children are as jazzed about a future in the arts as their mother is.
Of all the dancers, Joan Sebastian seemed the least inspired by dance. His motivation tips strongly to the financial. For him, a good showing at the Grand Prix means the opportunity for “nice things, his own apartment” (as his mother back home in Colombia reminds him).
Least interesting was Rebecca. She is, to me, the stereotypical privileged, suburban, high-school dancer. She’s beautiful, she’s talented, she’s spoiled, she’s a bit grating…I couldn’t really get invested in her story. She is a lovely dancer, though.
As our main dancers make their way to the competition, we meet Gaya, a young friend of Aran’s. She is introduced as almost an afterthought, but quickly earns her place in the spotlight. Though her classical ballet is beautiful, she truly shines when performing modern works. I am generally not a fan of the disjointed, dissident contemporary dances, but Gaya’s performances are mesmerizing.
If you are a dance fan, do yourself a favor and check out the bonus features; the full-length performances of our competitors, and some additional dances including Gaya’s Cartoon Girl, Aran’s Mad Hatter.
A dance-centric film would generally suffer on my Word of Mouth scale, not everyone appreciates the arts, after all . This documentary, however, is about dreams and the dedication and hard work that goes into achieving them. I think anyone in my circle will find this movie interesting – and perhaps inspiring. I’m giving it the full 5 of 5.
First Position Official Trailer
Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 96%; Audience 87%
Based on the legendary true story of the Red Dog who united a disparate local community while roaming the Australian outback in search of his long lost master.
I love that D is so open to quirky titles he finds on the shelves at Blockbuster. Longtime readers will see a pattern of small movies I had never heard of, that D brought home to “check out”, that we end up loving. Red Dog is no exception.
Unlike some animal movies that tug at your heartstrings, this one lets you know up front the ending is sad. The story begins with the discovery that somehow Red Dog has been poisoned with strychnine. In a way, that knowledge lets you off the hook a bit, but it also makes some of the following scenes that much more poignant.
As the residents of Dampier gather at the club where the veterinarian is tending to their furry friend, they share stories of how they met Red and how he impacted their lives. Confidante, matchmaker, lifesaver…Red filled many roles. He truly represents all the wonderful canine qualities that make me glad humans decided dogs should be domesticated.
In fact, though the entire cast is competent and colorful, a big part of the magic comes from the perfect casting of our hero. If you don’t fall for Red (and Koko, who plays him) you have no heart.
Familiar faces include Rachael Taylor, Josh Lucas, and Keisha Castle-Hughes (all grown up). I don’t think you could make a movie in Australia without including Bill Hunter; always good for a smile, he delivered here in a very brief appearance (sadly, his final film role).
As they say; you’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You’ll also enjoy the ride – and you may want to go find yourself an Australian Kelpie to love. Great small movie for young and old.
Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 81%; Audience 82%
D has a great talent for finding small movies, indie gems and documentary gold. This week he found the compellingly told story of a Medal of Honor winner that NetFlix was streaming. When he put it on, I didn’t expect to be sucked in to the narrative. Boy was I wrong.
If Hollywood were to make a feature based on the heroics of Desmond Doss during World War II, most viewers would dismiss it as far-fetched nonsense. Terry L. Benedict’s documentary about Doss, “The Conscientious Objector”, illustrates how truth can often outdo fiction.
It’s hard to imagine a greater combination of morality, religious faith and courage than that which emerges in this story of an aging Virginian who received a Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman.
I found myself exclaiming “Wow” out loud, more than once. Truly a story that sounds like the stuff of a dime-store WWII paperback novel, told here by the men that actually lived through it.
If you want to know the specifics of the CMH citation, you can read it here, but I would recommend watching the film. So much more compelling to make the full journey with Doss from childhood through “outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty”.
A rare 5 of 5 on the Word of Mouth scale because I can’t imagine anyone in my circle who would not appreciate this well made flick.
Rotten Tomatoes: Critics N/A; Audience 88%
By tying thousands of balloons to his home, 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. Right after lifting off, however, he learns he isn’t alone on his journey, since Russell, a wilderness explorer 70 years his junior, has inadvertently become a stowaway on the trip.
This gets a rare 5 of 5 rating for me, as there is something for everyone. Romance, adventure, comedy, drama…all well done and all palatable to young, old, male, female. You’ll remember that my ratings are based not only on the quality of the product, but on the likelihood of my recommending it to my family and friends. A perfect score of 5, therefore, doesn’t mean I think this is a perfect movie – just that I believe it will appeal to most everyone I know.
In tracking down the Rotten Tomatoes rating, I found this review by Ian Freer that tells you all you need to know. Here is an excerpt:
It’s a character study of a cantankerous old git. It’s a buddy movie where the buddies are separated by 70 years. It’s a love story where the love transcends death.
If it had lived up to its golden first five minutes, Up would have been the film of the decade. As it is, it remains the best animated flick of 2009, a funny, moving, beautifully made argument that dreamers can move mountains.
In that golden beginning is one of the most touching montages, animated or otherwise, you are ever likely to see.
Rotten Tomatoes: 98% critics; 94% users
This is one of my favorite movies of all time. Great message presented in a pleasant, and entertaining, package.
Ideological changes in post-Civil Rights movement America were at the heart of legendary African-American actor Sidney Poitier’s films in the late 1960s. One such film is this powerful drama, which stars Poitier as Mark Thackery, an unemployed engineer who applies for a teaching job because he needs the paycheck. He lands a job at a school in London’s East End that’s full of unruly teenagers who are profoundly uninterested in learning. After several failed attempts to reach the students, Thackery abandons the textbooks and conventional teaching methods and, treating them as young adults, he prepares his students for the job market. His unorthodox style is effective–the students begin to respect Thackery and absorb his lessons. But his substantial accomplishments are weighed in the balance when he is finally offered the engineering job he had been waiting for.
Poitier’s proud, defiant figure stands tall against the rowdy, aimless swinging-sixties London teens, but one of the film’s strengths is the respect that is paid to the disruptive students as human characters worthy of a better future. Lulu, who delivers a strong student portrayal, also sings the popular theme song.
One of Poitier’s greatest strengths is his ability to command respect in his roles. Neither he, nor any character he portrayed, demanded respect as a black man – he made it clear he deserved respect simply as a man. And he got it. He was truly a role model for all young men of the time and this movie was a wonderful accompaniment. Add a great supporting cast and you have a movie I recommend to everyone in my circle.
Amazon.com essential video
Novelist James Clavell wrote, produced, and directed this 1967 British film (based on a novel by E.R. Braithwaite) about a rookie teacher who throws out stock lesson plans and really takes command of his unruly, adolescent students in a London school. Poitier is very good as a man struggling with the extent of his commitment to the job, and even more as a teacher whose commitment is to proffering life lessons instead of academics. The spirit of this movie can be found in such recent films as Dangerous Minds and Mr. Holland’s Opus, but none is as moving as this one. Besides, the others don’t have a title song performed by pop star Lulu. -~-Tom Keogh
Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 100%, Users 89%
tuesday, i worked a solid 25 out of 29 hours between sept 11 and 12 to get a new design up for the my company’s entertainment section.
i got home at 12:30pm. all i wanted to do was sleep.
i’ve admired these guys since i first heard “the commander thinks aloud” on kexp.
frontman john roderick was really funny and played off the crowd quite well. the first song they played was “ultimatum.” it’s very slow and heart-felt. i was nearly moved to tears while they were playing it.
i was going to give a rundown of the setlist in order they were played, but i was really tired at the time and while trying to write this, i couldn’t remember the order of the songs. here’s my best guess:
2) blue diamonds — he seemed a little perturbed about playing this
3) carparts — my request
4) cinammon — great song
5) rich wife — from the new album, a more electric song, but sounded great acoustic
6) pushover — their favorite song from the new album at least at the time of the performance
john was a really cool guy. i got to chat it up with him a little bit after the performance. i must of looked like a madman because i was working off zero sleep. i asked him they put a faster version of “ultimatum” on the new album. he simply said, “because i felt like it.”
“fair ’nuff, john.”
we shared a laugh.
“i just wanted to make this a little bit of a faster, more rockin’ album. you never know, the next will be so slow that it’ll bore you to sleep.”
could he tell i was high on sleep deprivation?
they were playing at the rhythm room that night. i really wanted to go, but my lack of sleep caught up to me. i passed out as soon as i got home and woke up at 11:30. to say the least, i was pissed.
none the less, though, the put on a great performance, and i was very happy to see them.
keep a look out for this band. they’re gonna be big some day.
fire island, ak
the anticipation is finally over.
the movie that has captured the attention of internet geeks around the country has finally been unleashed on an unsuspecting public.
SNAKES ON A PLANE!
the plot is simple the story is predictable. just by looking at the title, you know what the movie is about.
Agent Flynn, played brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson, has to escort a key witness to a mob hit from Hawaii to Los Angeles to testify. All the cliches are there: its a flight attendant’s last day; kids are flying alone for the first time, there’s a dog, a baby, a celebrity, and a lil’ sex in the bathroom.
the movie practically writes itself.
why did i find it so good? i didn’t expect anything out of it. i knew there was going to be a high level of cheese. i knew the plot was totally ridiculous. i just wanted to see a fun movie. plus, sam jackson is the man.
snakes on a plane is completely enjoyable from start to finish.
i’m gonna say it… greatest movie ever!
i attended a noon showing with some people from work, and we all had a good time. i couldn’t imagine what it would be like to see it in a crowded theatre.
it could easily gain the cult status of a rocky horror picture show.