[Film] Water (2005)

The era is 1938 India. Chuyia is an eight year old girl who has just been told she is a widow.

“Do you remember the day you got married?” asks her father. “No,” she replies. Her husband was a grown man and she didn’t know him.

Now that her husband is dead, Chuyia has few alternatives: according to custom, she could throw herself onto her husband’s burning body, marry her husband’s younger brother, or live among other widows in an ashram in exile for the rest of her days. Chuyia’s choices have narrowed even more since as a widow, she is forever a marked woman. Widows are considered bad luck, and unwanted. Keeping her at home would mark the family. Her father sees no choice but to ship Chuyia to the ashram.

The ashram is situated in town, close to the river. The water itself is the lifeblood of the town where people go to bathe, and cleanse themselves spiritually. Weddings and funerals happen here. The minute she arrives, Chuyia is lead to the water to be cleansed of her identity; her long hair is shaved off and she is given the standard issue uniform of a white sari. The ashram itself is a dilapidated building devoid of beds or food. Widows sleep on the floor and beg for money. Chuyia is confused and upset by this environment and wants to go home, not realizing this is her new normal. And there is no comfort coming from the ashram’s leader, Madhumati, a cruel rotund woman, who has afforded herself the luxury of a bed and gets fed most of the food the ashram attains. Chuyia is the youngest widow among the group and has nothing in common with most of the other widows.

Soon after her arrival though, she meets and develops a close bond with Kalyani, a young widow in her late teens who was herself a child bride. Kalyani is striking, and unlike the other widows, she curiously has been permitted to keep her hair long. The reason for this though, is a dark secret that would not be understood by Chuyia: Kalyani is being forced into prostitution by Madhumati to make money for the ashram. She is the youngest woman of age and the most attractive; she is compliant and obedient, and although she hates this, she has little choice.

Despite her predicament, Kalyani holds her dreams and aspirations for her life close to her heart, with a realization she will never be able to fulfill them. That is, until one day she and Chuyia run into Narayan, a charming upper-class young man who falls for Kalyani instantly. Narayan has just graduated University and is getting pressure from his mother to marry the girl she chose for him, which he abhors. Having a progressive view of the world, and having become of a follower of Mahatma Gandhi’s tenets, he feels people have a choice who they should marry. His heart is set on Kalyani – and her’s on him. He gets flack from friends and family about marrying a marked woman, but he doesn’t care what they think; Kalyani is perfect.

This is good timing for Narayan and Kalyani: a new law has been enacted that allows widows to remarry even though society hasn’t adapted to the idea. Like one character in the film says, “We ignore the laws that don’t benefit us.” This becomes a harbinger of bad fortune as young Chuyia blurts out to Madhumati the news of the impending marriage. Madhumati is none too pleased with Kalyani; the ashram’s only true source of income is getting married? Madhumati can’t have that! What happens next to the young widows is unexpected and shocking.

Water is the third film by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta that follows her Elements trilogy series (Fire (1996), and Earth (1998) preceded it). When I was in Grade 13 (OAC) Sociology, I remember studying India’s caste system and how widows had very little affluence afforded to them. It was also at this time I learned what was a funeral pyre (thanks to Light My Fire by the Doors for the first exposure to the term). Shockingly, I also learned that these traditions still exist today, and how fervently some will protect this tradition. This is no more evident than how Water was writhe with production problems – there are people who still believe in the original traditions of widowhood in India as Mehta’s movie sets were continuously sabotaged, plagued with public protests, and insofar as to have her life under threat. Production for the film was eventually moved to secret locations in Sri Lanka.

With that said, can Mehta make a movie, or what? She is fast becoming a favourite of mine. I loved Water – all of it. The beautiful first shot of waterlilies in the water, the sublime music, the actors that are foreign to me yet gave such rich performances…The movie takes a steady unapologetic shot at life in India at a time of suppression and never shies away, but is also gentle in its execution. In an early scene, for example, Chuyia is at the edge of a wagon, and the camera lingers on her little feet, where she is wearing anklets of tiny bells; so simple, yet memorable.

If you are in Canada and happen to sub to a movie package on satellite or cable, I can tell you Hollywood Suite and the Movie Network have been airing Fire and Water periodically over the last year. SET YOUR PVR!! If you loved Fire, Water is even better. I highly recommend it!


Now to find Earth…

Dir: Deepa Mehta
Starring: Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, Jon Abraham and Sarala Kariyawasam

Don’t forget to catch my Fire (1996) review!


[Film] Satisfaction (1988)

Jennie is a rising star from a rough neighbourhood in Baltimore. Valedictorian of her high school class and accepted to all the colleges she applied for, she is ready for her life to start. But first, summer’s here and she and her friends are up for some fun. The girls like to get into shenanigans, which sometimes results in one of them getting in trouble with local gangs or law enforcement, but Jennie is a friend to the end and a real voice of reason.

For starters, she knows how to spend the next few months. You see, Jennie and her buds are in a rock ‘n roll band called The Mystery and they will get outta this town this summer if it kills them. They have big plans: head down to West Palm Beach, Florida to audition for a local dive bar owner. Hopefully, they can get the gig of a lifetime!

Obstacles get in their way, however, but nothing they can’t deal with. Jennie’s brother and caretaker refuses to let her go fearing her high ambitions for band life will trump her pursuits at College (he obviously relents). Daryle, the bassist, got engaged to her boyfriend at graduation, and now doesn’t want to leave, but quickly decides the opportunity is too good to pass up and dumps his sorry ass for Florida. The band’s keyboardist, Amy, is in the clink, so Jennie hastily recruits her neighbor, Nick, a budding classical pianist, to perform with them. Drummer, Mooch, ticks off a gang member who destroys the band’s ride. In return, Mooch and fellow guitarist, Billy, rip off the gang member’s van when he wasn’t looking. See? Problems solved! Nothing can stop the girls now! Everything is in motion as The Mystery drive into the sunset singing Iko Iko; just the girls plus one dude.

They arrive in West Palm Beach only to get to the local bar, Falcon’s, to find it shuttered and the owner, Martin Falcon, nowhere to be found. They track him down at his home drunk as a skunk and reluctant to let them audition, but eventually relents. Marty Falcon’s lingering eyes take a long look over all the pretty girls and the band gets hired for the summer. And really, The Mystery are more than pretty faces, they are the best cover band in the land! They can sing well enough, and damn, Jennie is a whip with the cowbell. …So much cowbell…

I remember seeing Satisfaction the weekend of its release in February 1988. Those were the days when my sis and I pretty much went to every movie released in the theatre in Sudbury, without much regard to what the film was about. Really, though, with a film about an all-girl rock band struggling to get their fame right out of high school; we were all over it. The film starred Justine Bateman as Jennie (Family Ties, anyone?), Scott Coffey as Nick (Some Kind of Wonderful), Julia Roberts in her first feature film role, playing Daryle, and Debbie Harry in a 2-second role as Tina, Marty’s sometimes lover. This fantasy story where parents let their teenaged daughters the freedom to drive from Maryland to Florida by themselves for summer break was foreign to us, but that plot element really stuck with me. When it recently popped up in the guide, I decided to watch it again 30 years later and see if it stood up. Thankfully, I had forgotten most of the dark themes laid bare in Satisfaction, because, this band road-trip movie could have been fun, but watching it back today, it is more of a cautionary tale.

To start, I would definitely be remiss if I failed to mention Liam Neeson was in this film as Martin Falcon, and *spoiler alert* how he quickly becomes Jennie’s love interest in the film. Before you calculate the math, Liam was 35 years old in ’88…and Justine was playing someone who was 17. Does this qualify as “it was a different time?” ‘Cause, I can tell you that watching this May-September romance made me feel squeamish – even in 1988. I remember my sis and I joked uncomfortably in the theatre how we’d never get with someone like Liam; he was OLD! And besides him not being George Michael, Neeson’s teeth were stained, and breath likely smelled of all the baccy he was chain-smoking on film. Bleh! What’s worse, Jennie fell hard for Martin, but he did not reciprocate those feelings, so when she proposed she move in with him, he balked and just wanted to keep things physical. Ouch. Not a feel-good outcome.

Then again, there are even darker themes in Satisfaction that don’t make one feel great. Aside from the socio-economic predicament the band find themselves, how about an attempted rape scene between Julia Roberts’ character and some guy she picked up at a party? Or Billy on pills because she can’t handle the pressure?

On a lighter side, the film tries too hard to back-pedal away from its themes of drugs and violence against women to a gaggy cuteness. How about the beach volleyball game that went on way too long where the band play against professionals (and you can only guess how that went)? Or when Billy befriended Martin’s guard dog, Hamlet? Or the musical cut scenes where the band starts singing acapela with each other using sticks and bottles as instruments? Blech.

Let’s talk about the music which, aside from maybe two original songs, are mostly cover tunes. On the menu are (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Mr. Big Stuff, Iko Iko, and Knock on Wood, which were pretty much rotated several times throughout the movie and heavily accompanied by so much cowbell. Justine Bateman steps in as the singer for these tracks, which pretty much comes off as very karaoke.

Satisfaction tries really hard to be something cool but its story is overworked and does way too much to try to cater to every genre. Is this a drama? Is this a romance? Is this a comedy? Because it didn’t do either very well. As a result, it really doesn’t hold a candle to the teen movie greats of the era.

2.5 / 5

Satisfaction (1988)
Starring: Justine Bateman, Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts, Scott Coffey and Debbie Harry

[Film] My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016)

The “BIG FAT…WEDDING” idea has become a reality TV show catch-phrase these days. But, back in the early 2000s it was comedy gold in the form of the charming My Big Fat Greek Wedding, starring comedian and writer Nia Vardalos, and a cast that included Andrea Martin, Michael Constantine, John Corbett and Bruce Grey. The film, based on Nia’s own family experience tells the story of Toula Portulakos, a single 30-year-old, born from Greek immigrants whose family is huge and in everyone’s business. She has forever lived with the old-world Greek traditions and gets daily affirmations from her father (Constantine) that she is too old not to be married. She gets tired one day of working in the family restaurant and decides to enroll in community college to take “computer skills” and soon becomes gainfully employed at her aunt’s travel agency. Big changes are afoot too when she meets and quickly becomes engaged to College Professor, Ian (Corbett). She is soon in the thick of Greek Wedding central, courtesy of her intrusive but loving family who make decisions on aspects of her wedding without much input from her.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one of those mindless movies that I gladly tune in to if I see it’s on. Entertaining and cute, I never identified with Toula or her family, having been raised in a very small family myself. But, I loved the family dynamic the movie depicted. The cast was fantastic, especially Michael Constantine who played the patriarch, Gus, who believed firmly that Windex cures every problem in existence, and his constant belief that every word can be traced back to Greek. Let’s not forget Andrea Martin, the consummate comedienne, who played Toula’s aunt hilariously.

I know I am supposed to talk about the sequel to this movie, but let’s just say My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 caught me by surprise. They made a sequel out of this? Seriously, do we need a sequel?? I don’t think so…said I when I saw the movie in the guide recently. But, I was curious, so I watched it. And it’s not bad for a sequel…if you don’t expect much from it going in.

In part 2 we are 15 years into the future from the first film. Toula and her husband have a 17 year old daughter, Paris, set to go to College. Toula is back in a rut, working at the family restaurant since the travel agency she worked for closed down. Her parents are still working, and as feisty as ever. Her Windex-loving dad is still up to shenanigans, and out to prove a theory that he is a direct descendant of Alexander the Great. While filling up info on an ancestry website, he checks out his marriage certificate, and discovers it was never signed by a priest, therefore making his 50 year old marriage to his wife null and void. There ensues the crux of the title. People, we have another wedding to plan! The family springs into action, and, well, yeah! There you go; that is basically the film.

Now, I can hear the crowd moaning at the plot, but bear with me. I thought this wasn’t bad as a sequel. The entire cast from the first movie reprised their roles (including Yia Yia the grandma who was old even back then!). I thought there was something charming and comforting in the familiarity of the plot. I knew what to expect, I even knew how it would end. There was even another cheesy wedding planning montage that included the family taking to the streets in track suits.

So, there was a lot of mirroring of the first film. But, the plot also dove into young Paris’s perspective growing up in such a big family, with the same expectations for marriage and family that Gus had bestowed on her own mother. Paris tries her best to pull away and assert independence, while Toula looks on trying with all her might not to dote or cling too much. This plot turn with Paris was sweet, and struck a nice flavour from what could have been a very bland film. There are other tiny surprises touched on within the film that closed the circle on some characters’ lives from the last film that also made the story told a little more complete.

I akin My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 to something like a sitcom reboot: It wasn’t necessary, but I’m glad they took a stab at it. It was entertaining and I enjoyed the ride.

3 Spanokopitas out of 5.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016)
Starring Nia Vardalos, Michael Constantine and Andrea Martin

[Film] On an Endless Loop: Heavenly Bodies (1985)

Have you ever had one of those memory flashes triggered by something – music…a film…even a commercial where you see it or hear it and all of the sudden you recall a film from a long time ago…but the name eludes you…It’s driving you crazy…until the answer arrives when you least expect it?

In 1985 I loved nothing more than to dance around to music (the hubs would say I still do – ha!). My sis and I would come up with faux dance routines, and sing along like we were rock stars on MTV. My mom had decided that September 1985 was time to put this energy and interest to use. Aside from having our necessary weekly piano lessons, we took dance classes – Jazz to be precise. I took dance consistently for years well into high school until school work and jobs competed for my time and energy. I really did enjoy that time I took jazz and learned a lot about physical balance, coordination and timing – big things for me as I can be unsteady on my feet. I always wished I was good at team sports, but I just…am not. Dancing, however, was fun and physical, and in my own way, I was being sporty…with jazz hands.

Back in the 80s, Jazzercise as a theme was a big thing in films (see Flashdance, Staying Alive, Perfect, Dirty Dancing…). There was a succession of dance-themed films, and I knew about all of them. If there was dancing in a movie, I was watching it. Time has faded the memory of these films to a certain extent, however…until one of them caught my eye in my satellite guide recently… and those memories came flooding back.

Anyone remember a little Canadian movie called Heavenly Bodies from 1985? This gem used to air on Canadian TV so often from ’85 to ’88 that the dialogue, music and scenes of this film were burned into my brain. I couldn’t tell you if it was a movie channel I originally watched this on, or just plain old Canadian network TV Can Con fare, but regardless there was a time it seemed to be on every month, and I would catch it every time.

Samantha and her friends are dance fanatics working the day-job grind in gritty 1985 downtown Toronto. They have met their limit with their secretarial jobs and decide to quit. They find an old warehouse to rent, and open their own Jazzercise studio they name Heavenly Bodies. The place gains media attention as the hot new “it” aerobics studio; everyone is going, and Sam and her pals are watching the cheques come rolling in. Business is great, which is drawing ire from the big boss of the big hot-shot fitness club in town that used to have the curb on the workout market. Now his patrons are choosing to spend their dollars at Heavenly Bodies instead.

Sam, the main instructor in the studio, is a lifelong dancer, and has endless energy to jazzercise all day. Believing in her abilities, her friends encourage her to audition for the top spot on a new TV fitness program pilot. She is soon picked as host above a number of contenders, including the hot shot fitness club owner’s girlfriend. Her success irritates him and his jealous girl enough to threaten Sam to shut down Heavenly Bodies…and he can do it because he owns the property on which Sam’s studio sits! In typical fashion, no 80s dance movie would be complete without duelling fitness clubs having a danceathon, and Heavenly Bodies does not disappoint.

Heavenly Bodies is true 80s in style and soundtrack. Plenty of flammable leotard and leg warmers here! Some might say Heavenly Bodies is for mature audiences…for sure, when we are talking about people barely dressed, you will have the camera panning a little too long on some areas of the human anatomy, and no one sex was spared. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention other social factors addressed in this film, such as Sam being a single mom, and there being some surprising violent scenes that were impressionable on me as a kid. Being raised by a single parent, I could easily connect with Sam’s struggles raising a young boy alone. Thankfully, the violence bit never came into play at my house growing up.

Aside from the themes of sexuality and violence, there is something sweet and hopeful about Heavenly Bodies‘ story. The “dream come true” shallow easiness of the plot is appealing. With so many dance-themed movies at the time, it’s easy to draw comparisons between this film and Flashdance (another great film). But, what sets Heavenly Bodies apart from Flashdance is Canadian actress Cynthia Dale who played Samantha. Unlike Jennifer Beals who in Flashdance, had a double for most of her dance scenes (using cut shots of moving legs and her sweaty face to make it appear like it was her dancing…). Dale is a trained dancer who did ALL of her own dance scenes and stunts, and did them WELL, might I add. That girl worked her ass off for this film and gets kudos from me today. Even at age 11, she earned my respect: She could grand jeté, plié and spot turn anyone under the table – and I wanted to dance just like her.

The music is something that I definitely remember from my childhood. It’s not all good, let’s be honest. One song by the Sparks called, “Breaking Out of Prison, Baby” is pretty bad, and is unfortunately played several times in the film. Other artists, such as the Tubes (known for “She’s a Beauty”) and Gary Wright (“Dreamweaver” fame), also make an appearance. Of note is a song by Toronto New Wave band, Boys Brigade, whose song “Into the Flow” is probably the best song on the soundtrack. A little known fact about this song: it was produced by non other than Geddy Lee! You can sample the soundtrack here.

Heavenly Bodies is quite a rarity. I haven’t been successful in finding it anywhere for sale on DVD, to download or to stream (at least in Canada). Hollywood Suite (a Canadian movie network) seems to have an old VHS copy they must have pulled out of the dumpster somewhere as that print they aired is pretty darned gnarly. I’d love to find this cleaned up for sale somewhere. For now, I’ll have to settle for the recording of Heavenly Bodies on my PVR. Heavenly Bodies is for sure a hidden gem that brought up some great memories in me. If you are Canadian and subscribe to Hollywood Suite on Satellite or cable, be sure to check this blast from the past!

Heavenly Bodies
Starring Cynthia Dale

[Book] Into the wild / Jon Krakauer (1996)

In this world of expectation, structure, busy-ness, and bills, it has always interested me to come across people who abhor these tangles of everyday life and live like nomads. I recently came across some YouTubers who travel the United States, living out of their RVs or vans full-time and loving it. When I thought of this kind of lifestyle in the past I thought of the sad Matt Foley character from SNL “living in a van down by the river”. I am not convinced their life isn’t without its hardships… nor bills… nor eliminating “THE MAN” from their lives completely, but these people do their best to make their cramped quarters and vagabond lifestyle look very attractive. I know myself very well, and can adapt to living without the finer things like a flushing toilet for a few months in the summer. But, living this way as a lifestyle forever? Nope. I likes my heated home with running water.

For many, though, this way of life is a philosophy, a mantra, a necessity. It’s quite curious and intriguing to see the world through their lens. So when I recently reactivated my library membership after a long drought, a virtual trip to the eBook portal landed Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild onto my tablet, and next thing you know, I found myself immersed in one of the more recent stories of an infamous American vagabond, Chris McCandless, a young man who took the concept of nomadic living to extremes.

Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild tells the true story of McCandless, a headstrong, fiercely independent guy who felt more at peace alone in nature than anywhere. Raised by strict parents, he always went against the grain, never thinking a career was important, and that schooling was a waste of time. Following parental expectations was difficult for Chris, but he managed to tow the line, eventually making it through college with honours, with plans for law school. However, he had enough of the litanies of life the day after he graduated, packing up his things and leaving his life behind forever. He gave his life savings to OxFam, burned his Social Security card and embarked on a journey that saw him tramping his way around the U.S., with the eventual goal to live in the Alaskan wilderness in complete solitude. He even assumed a new name: Alexander Supertramp. His family never heard from him again…until his body was found in a remote forest in Alaska by a Moose hunter.

McCandless in Alaska

Jon Krakauer gives some context and understanding to Chris’s thought process by recounting his life, childhood and relationship with his family. To round out the book, he interviews other folks Chris met on the road, living a similar nomadic life. In telling these stories, it shows the many layers to Chris McCandless. He wasn’t simply a naive guy with big dreams; he was a guy determined to live out his philosophy at any price. And what one could gather from the book, he touched many lives in profound ways.

I found Into the Wild to be incredibly immersive, balanced and very thoughtfully written.  Might I add, there is a reason why the book is on many “top books to read before you die” lists. It’s good – very good. Get your hands on it and start reading. I highly recommend it!


Into the wild / Jon Krakauer (1996)


And while we are here…

[Movie] Into the Wild (2007)

Starring: Emile Hirsch, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart

So, I thought, what the hey…let’s watch the movie for comparison.

The film follows the book very closely. I’d hazard it was a visual representation of the book, but not a thorough one.

The one thing I noticed: Sean Penn, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, stole A LOT of direct dialogue from Krakauer’s book – seriously. If I hadn’t just finished the book, I would not have noticed…but he does. If I were Krakauer, I’d be taking him to court. And yet, Krakauer only got a “based on the novel by…” credit, which I thought was also a little strange for the amount of the book Penn used.

I didn’t overly enjoy Into the Wild: the movie. It wasn’t terrible, but didn’t do McCandless any favours. It missed the heart and soul of McCandless, showing him as a sort of untouchable, someone you could never get close to and who was completely ignorant and wonton. In fact, I remember when the movie was released, there was a lot of criticism from people saying McCandless’ ways were glorified in the movie, and that no one should take his lead if they think they can survive in Alaska without being properly equiped. The book does well to give more context to McCandless, and to the people who knew him. Besides the fact, I found the book much more enjoyable (isn’t that typical?). Do yourself a favor:  Get your hands on the book!


Into the Wild (the movie)

[Film] Wonder Woman (2017) #100WordChallenge

Me: “Please don’t suck…please don’t suck!”

Wonder Woman didn’t.

Me: “Please, don’t hypersexualize the women by putting them in skimpy outfits!”

Wonder Woman didn’t.

Sad that as a woman, I think this way, and went in half expecting it. But, I can’t help myself. It’s the world we live in.

Wonder Woman repped women awesomely, showing them strong, kicking ass in battle, and fighting the enemy. I think there will be a ton of WW costumes come Hallowe’en 2017…

Wonder Woman was such a f*cking great film, every girl, boy, woman, man, trans, non-binary individual should see this. Go.

The end.

[TV Movie] Dirty Dancing (2017)

Why would a television network ever try to tackle a remake of one of the most beloved movies from the 80s, Dirty Dancing? It’s a question I asked myself last week, and practically discarded, until curiosity got the better of me.

In case you’re not familiar with the movie, the premise of Dirty Dancing is a coming of age story seen through the eyes of Frances “Baby” Houseman, who in the summer of 1963, spends a three-week vacation with her family at Kellerman’s Mountain Lodge, a five-star resort in the Catskills in New York State. Baby is a smart, wholesome girl with plans to go into the Peace Corps out of college. She always does right by her parents and always follows the rules. A secret crush on one of the male dancers at the resort prompted Baby to curiously sneak past the “restricted to staff only” signs one evening. There, she runs into a friendly staff member who needs help carrying watermelons into the staff quarters. She then enters into one of the secret and frequent after-hours parties the working-class employees at Kellerman’s throw to blow off steam. The music is loud, the room is smokey, and the dancing is dirty! It is here that Baby meets the object of her crush, Johnny, and along with his dance partner Penny, a different world opened up to Baby from her sheltered upbringing. Johnny taught her how to dance and soon the two became inseparable…much to Baby’s father’s chagrin, who disapproves of Johnny’s sketchy pedigree… but don’t worry, folks, cue the Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, and there you have your happy ending…Baby had the time of her life…she arrives a girl, but leaves a woman.

The original Dirty Dancing is one of the core movies from my childhood. I saw the film in the movie theatre in August 1987, and later was able to re-watch a taped version off of VHS (and since have bought the DVD and Blu-ray). It was one of those films that was on a constant loop at our house, and I never got tired of it. There was something magical about it. The pairing of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, their dancing, and the love affair that the two emoted on screen was nuclear. Here was a girl who had a crush on someone and was able to actually attract the object of her affections, fall in love with them and live happily ever after; a dream come true for any teenage girl. Not to mention, the dancing and music were a perfect pairing. For a girl on the verge of teenhood, Dirty Dancing was a film that will forever resonate.

While watching the 2017 version of Dirty Dancing, I couldn’t help but make comparisons to the original. I found myself swearing, cringing, guffawing and shaking my head in disbelief. As a matter of fact, the first raw critical thought I wrote down after watching it was:

“This did everything wrong.”

As I was trying to formulate this review, everything came up negative with me – EVERYTHING. I realized after my third attempt to write this blogpost that objectivity would be difficult here; I was too much in love with the original! So I did something I don’t normally do: I re-watched Dirty Dancing 2017 and tried to find some good in this film.

The 2017 version of Dirty Dancing stars Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) as Baby, Colt Prattes (dancer in Broadway productions) as Johnny, Sarah Hyland (Modern Family) as Baby’s older sister Lisa, and Nicole Scherzinger (Pussycat Dolls) as Penny. We also see Debra Messing and Bruce Greenwood in a surprise pairing as Baby’s parents. Other recognizable actors were here too – Tony Roberts, Billy Dee Williams and Katey Sagal also make an appearance. This reboot follows the same plot from the original 1987 version, pretty much scene for scene, including soundtrack. Certain key characters’ plots, though, have been expanded upon here where they were glazed over in the original, particularly Baby’s parents and their marital troubles, as well as Lisa’s attraction to an entertainer.

The one major difference with Dirty Dancing 2017 is that practically every scene has the actors singing and dancing, using this as a plot device to move the film along, unlike the 1987 original. Every character here was made to sing: Johnny, Penny, Baby, her parents…everyone. With so much of its production focused on singing and dance routines I concluded that Dirty Dancing 2017 is actually more of the musical rendition of the original, as opposed to a remake of the original. With this thought in mind, re-watching this film was a lot more palatable for me.

What was a hit for me pretty much came down to casting for this film.

Abigail Breslin as Baby. At first viewing, I thought Breslin was mis-cast as Baby. She is almost too wholesome and fresh-faced to pull off dirty anything, let alone dirty dancing. But, honestly, I think she is a match – a bit clumsy, but purely honest. You can see her feelings in her facial expressions. I also liked the fact she doesn’t look totally polished here like a lot of the actresses we see nowadays.

Lisa, Baby’s sister. I really liked the relationship development between Baby and her sister. The 1987 version saw Lisa as aloof, selfish, and frankly a bit mean to Baby. It wasn’t necessary to expand her story-line, but I am glad there was a bit of breadth to Lisa’s character. The remake had them different from each other, but close sisters, and this is where Hyland and Breslin shone. Cue the scene where Baby reveals she is in love with Johnny – these two light up the screen. It was cute to watch.

Katey Sagal as Vivian Pressman. Vivian is a Bungalow Bunny at Kellerman’s and is a secondary character in the Dirty Dancing franchise. She basically lives at the Lodge during the week while her husband is away working. She takes dance lessons, drinks cocktails and sleeps with the staff. In the 2017 version, she is divorced, and happy about it, but still sleeping with staff. Seeing Sagal play a Bungalow Bunny was a real treat. She basically reprises her Gemma Teller Morrow role from Sons of Anarchy here. We even get to hear her sing “Fever”, and it was pretty decent.

Debra Messing and Bruce Greenwood playing Baby’s parents. Marital problems have come to a head at Kellerman’s. At first, I didn’t think exploring this avenue was necessary at all, and to a certain extent, I still don’t think so, but, I did enjoy seeing Debra Messing and Bruce Greenwood together, even if they were fighting.

Unfortunately, my optimistic lens was slightly askew and there were just some aspects of Dirty Dancing 2017 I couldn’t get past.

Jazz hands! Yes, I did say this is more of a musical. But, it seemed they shoe-horned singing routines where they should let the music play. In one scene, Baby and Penny practice some dancing, and Penny just starts breaking into song. And there was plenty more where that came from…

Hello iTunes marketing! Um, where is the classic music the original film was famous for? Most songs, with few exceptions, were remakes; even the Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley hit. What’s worse, most of it was autotuned! Can you imagine the Patrick Swayze hit, “She’s Like the Wind” remade…and autotuned? It happened! Prepare for a push of sales of the Dirty Dancing 2017 soundtrack on iTunes…this would have been partly forgivable had Dirty Dancing 2017 just been touted as a musical version…

Changing a famous line. If you are rebooting a franchise, you are allowed to take some creative liberties, and obviously, Dirty Dancing 2017 took many. But, look – never change key lines from the film. There is a famous part from the 1987 film where Baby is approached by Johnny for the first time, asking how she got into the Staff Quarters without permission, to which she says:

In the 2017 version, she says:

This isn’t the end of the world, except it was an unnecessary edit that I don’t understand the reasoning for. It was made even worse by Johnny who, instead of walking away silent like in the original, retorts:

OUCH! Sorry, but that is super lame. Why change it??

Lastly, NO CHEMISTRY between Baby and Johnny. Yes, indeed. The crux of the movie hinged on the love affair between Baby and Johnny, and I am sorry, it was missing in this film, and I blame Prattes for that. Breslin was able to convey a puppy dog crush, and all Prattes rewarded us with was an aloof jerkiness; dancing with Baby because he had to, pretending to love her because the script said so… I just didn’t feel it between Breslin and Prattes. Breslin worked her ass off here, and we got nothing but a leap off the stage and some jetés from Prattes. There was only ONE part of one scene where I actually felt there was “something” between them, but really it was Breslin and soft lighting that won it:

Armchair critics were very harsh with this 2017 remake of Dirty Dancing, and honestly, there are some inexcusable things here that are detrimental, but it isn’t all terrible. The dance numbers for what it’s worth are pretty okay, and I did enjoy the expanded sub-plots. Honestly, if I were 13 and watching this version today, I think I might have liked it a lot…maybe more than the 1987 version? I don’t know. I saw a bit of myself in this version of Baby, likewise seeing myself in 1987 Baby. There were indeed some likeable things with Dirty Dancing 2017. You may not have the time of your life, but there is no need to leave Baby in the corner.

2.75 / 5

Dirty Dancing (2017)
Aired on ABC, May 24, 2017

[Film] Fire (1996)

Sita is a young woman living in modern-day Mumbai, India, who has just left her childhood home to enter into a traditional Indian marriage to Jitan, a man who succumbed to the union through family pressure. Jitan, however, decides to continue his bachelor ways by keeping his lover, Julie, in his life, much to the chagrin of his older brother, Ashtok.

Sita wants to make the marriage work, so she quickly gives in to Jitan’s habits, and soon discovers even more dysfunction within the family ranks. Ashtok and his wife, Radha, are also in a loveless marriage. Radha was deemed infertile 13 years ago, squashing any hope Ashtok had for a son to pass on the family line. Ashtok has since become disinterested in her. The family lives out their days attempting to find comfort in structure and patriarchal Indian traditions, while looking after their take-out food and video rental store, ignoring their palpable misery.

It seems everyone is accepting of their fate…everyone except Sita, who in her young wide-eyed optimism, can’t fathom a life devoid of happiness. Somehow everything has become a litany of duties. She tries to learn about being a good Indian wife from the senior Radha, who herself questions her lot. Sita and Radha become close as they commiserate over their household duties and collective loveless marriages. Continuously being denied any love by their respective spouses, they eventually find comfort in each other’s embrace… and bed. Their new-found passion breathed new life and optimism to such an extent that Sita and Radha make plans to cut their family ties to start a new life together. The family finds out about their relationship, and tries their damnedest to put a stop to it. How the film ends will indeed stay with you for a long time.

Sita and Radha discuss the future

Fire is written and directed by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, and is part of Mehta’s Elements series of films (Earth (1998) and Water (2005) succeeded it). The film is over 20 years old, and as one could imagine, a film dipicting a lesbian relationship caused much controversy globally in 1996. But, some critics also considered the film fearless and groundbreaking. I am not familiar with any of the actors, but I felt they were natural and passionate. I was moved by the complexity of the plot and I loved how exotic and different from normal Hollywood fare this well-made Indian film was. I also found it interesting how the family dynamic was as similar in India as it can be in Canada, which to me made Fire a relatable film.

Fire happens to be the first and only Bollywood movie I have ever watched (but not my last!). If you find Fire on one of the various media streams, be sure you check it out. It’s worth the watch.

3.5 / 5

Dir Deepa Mehta
Starring: Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das

[Film] Catch and Release (2006)

Gray and Grady’s wedding day plans were set in motion. The flowers, the caterer, the guest list all set. With the big day almost here, the bride and groom were ready for the day to arrive so that they could become husband and wife. But, when the day finally came, instead of relishing in the events, Gray would instead have to attend her fiancé’s funeral as Grady died unexpectedly in a boating accident just days before.

Gray (Jennifer Garner) is living in the moment at this point, relishing in her own grief. She doesn’t know how she will move forward without Grady. She isn’t even sure how to survive his funeral. She takes a powder from accepting condolences and hides out in an upstairs bathroom in the empty bathtub with the shower curtain drawn so she can cry privately in peace. She regrets not locking the door when Grady’s best friend, Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), busts in to have a tryst with one of the servers working for the caterer; unaware they had company until it’s all over. Gray never cared for Fritz, and he certainly didn’t win points with this scene.

Days after the funeral, Gray tries to pick up the pieces. She and Grady had just rented an apartment for which she couldn’t afford on her own. She wasn’t married to Grady, and there was no will, so she wasn’t entitled to his estate. Grady’s roommates Sam and Dennis (Kevin Smith and Sam Jaegar) step in to give her support in her grief, inviting her to stay in Grady’s room for as long as she needs to. But, Fritz has also moved in, which has made things uncomfortable, especially after she found out whenever Grady went away on business, he had been carrying on an affair and might have even fathered a kid! And guess what, the mistress (Juliette Lewis) conveniently comes calling looking for Grady! Not to worry, as it goes with lazy storytelling and thin characters, everything ties up nicely at the end with a couple embracing on a sunkissed beach.

In case you didn’t “catch” it, Catch and Release is a very derivative movie and attempts to tick all formulaic rom-com boxes. When I read this film considered itself romantic, but began its story at a funeral, I thought it better have something feel-good to lighten up the mood. I have to say the story limped there. The plot aside, I had a hard time feeling anything for the one-dimensional, paper-thin characters. Jennifer Garner’s character is a great example: we never learn anything about her, really. Her fiance just died, yet we never see her family. Not that I am asking for another chick BFF film (where’s Molly Shannon?), but I found it weird Gray is devoid of any female support system the entire movie. She pretty much spent her time with a group of clichéd trope dudes.

The other characters in Catch and Release are your typical stereotypes. We have jokey Sam (Smith): the creative fat guy who can’t stop eating, as well as serious Dennis (Jaeger); the down-to-earth one who never gets his way and is secretly is love with Gray. We have the “suave” Fritz (Olyphant) who is the tall drink of Chlamydia and every girl’s love interest. Fritz is the one character I had the most trouble with. I hate it when there is one good-looking dude in a film who somehow beds ALL THE LADIES, including the ones who know better, simply because he exists. To that end, he was the most devoid of a personality of anyone in the story… Lastly, we have the mistress, Maureen (Juliette Lewis), who comes into town looking for Grady needing money. If there was one character that can infuse some interest into a generally bad film, it would be this one. I know I haven’t talked much about her in the plot, but Maureen was a surprisingly good laugh track to an otherwise plodding plot. Juliette Lewis always puts a quirky spin on any role she plays and it was good to see her make a mark on a seriously flawed film.

One might think Catch and Release would benefit from a little reworking. I just think the film is too imbued in clichés to really make a mark.


Catch and Release

[Film] M (1931)

M is a German film (with English subtitles) from 1931, directed by Franz Lang, and starring Peter Lorre. The film takes place in Berlin during a period of uneasiness. There is a murderer on a rampage, luring little girls with balloons and treats into the shadows to meet their maker. Elsie Beckmann is the latest little one to be found dead, and the police are in a tailspin. They have received a letter said to be from the killer that he will continue to kill unless he is stopped.

Who is this guy? Every man out on the street within the vicinity of a little girl becomes a suspect. Riots break out among the general public. Tempers flare and everyone is on edge. Police set their sights underground, theorizing this guy is from the seedy underbelly of Berlin – a beggar, a thief, a pimp? Berlin becomes a police state; every inch of it, a shakedown operation. And to the stakeholders of Berlin’s crime syndicate, this has become very bad for their business and reputation. They have no interest in little girls and they are not child murderers! So, as the police conduct their search for the perp, so do the disenfranchised. The underworld band together, recruiting beggars and thieves and anyone else to search the city to end this nightmare.

Meanwhile, we come face to face with the murderer, Hans Beckert (played by Peter Lorre) as he wanders the streets, struggling with his inner demons. He fights against the polarity towards a lone little girl out on the street who innocently watches toy trinkets spin in the display window of a store while waiting for her mother to arrive. This scene alone gave me the chills.

Soon, the jig is up, and a heart-pounding race ensues to catch Beckert and bring him to justice – legit or otherwise…

Peter Lorre, understandably, caused a stir internationally with the Hans Beckert role, but it got him into Hollywood. I love his roles in the more familiar-to-me films, Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon and was happy to add M to the watched and enjoyed list of Lorre’s filmography.

There is something about old grainy black and white films…the stories they tell, how the actors are dressed…I am not talking about a period piece wrapped into a story, I am talking about films that are a snapshot of a time in history; M really exemplifies this. I mean, 1931! My husband remarked that this was the era our grandparents grew up. Talkies were just starting to take off; M being Lang’s first talkie, and said to be his best film. In watching M, I was also reminded in how some things never change: humans will still make mistakes, they will still point an ill-informed finger at someone, but are also willing to stand up for justice.


M (1931)
Starring: Peter Lorre
Dir: Franz Lang