Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review Roundup: "Mao's Last Dancer" and "Endhiran"

**Mao's Last Dancer**

Communism vs. Democracy, interesting that a movie about ballet can present this issue in such a clear light. I guess one could say art always mirrors society. Mao's Last Dancer never really chooses sides, it's more about the freedom of the heart, the tolls and the triumphs associated with it.

The movie tells the true life story of ballet dancer Li Cunxin. Cunxin was born in Communist China to peasants, where at a young age he was handpicked by government officials to attend the Beijing Art Academy to learn dance. There he became a star and got the opportunity to study for three months in Houston, TX, problem is, once coming to America, Cunxin finally learns to "fly" and does not wish to return to Communist China.

The movie was competently directed by Driving Miss Daisy director, Bruce Beresford, though I feel some of the dance sequences could have been suited better if he didn't film them as if a spectator and rather as the dancer themselves. Never do you get the rush of exhilaration, or the stimulation of dance through the visuals. While this doesn't deter the emotional impact of the story, it could have added more, though many of the dances showcased, symbolically link to the story. The whole relationship between Cunxin's future wife Mary is never really explained through dialogue like the relationship between Cunxin and his first wife, Liz (Cunxin's marriage of convenience to stay in the States after getting defected from his home country). Unlike the relationship with Liz, the relationship with Mary is all done through dance, and dare I say it the way the dancers perform their dances, is sensual.

The beginning jumps around from flashback to modern day, from Li's childhood in China, to his time in Houston, and it is a touch jarring. No character is ever given a proper introduction, they're just thrown in there, which works more as a detriment than it helps. Regardless, once Li starts training ballet at the Beijing Arts Academy, the movie really finds its groove and excels from there on out. Professional ballet dancer Chi Cao plays the role of Li Cunxin well, but he is still a better dancer than actor, the real stand out being B-list actor Bruce Greenwood, who plays the artistic director of the Houston Ballet, selfishly wanting the best talent, unless that talent reflects poorly upon him.

Arching over the entire movie is Li's relationship with his parents and how Li cannot see or contact his parents after being defected. This, in fact, is the best aspect of the whole movie. Ultimately, Beresford makes you feel Li's yearning to return to his home country and see his family again that you actually soar alongside Li as he dances with Mary when they are finally allowed to return to his home village in China. Mao's Last Dancer is cinema at its finest, it transports you to another place and time, and even through a rocky start and maybe a too classical visual style, the movie manages to touch the heart and uplift the soul.

I give Mao's Last Dancer an A-!

(Mao's Last Dancer can currently be seen playing at the Edge 12 in Irondale, AL)


Endhiran roughly translates to "The Robot" and what you get in this Bollywood adventure is a big smashing together of nearly every trope ever associated to robotic androids in movies.

The story follows an Indian scientist who has created a robotic replication of himself. The robot named Chitti is designed to be a super soldier for the Indian government, but when Chitti starts to feel human emotion and courts the scientist's girlfriend, things begin to go awry.

The movie is part action, part drama, part comedy, part romance, part musical, etc. It is a lot of things, and like many Bollywood movies, it doesn't seem to work that well in the transitions. Really, the movie does try to deal with the heavy concept of human emotions and the dangers of them, but these odd transitions between different styles do not aid in accentuating this theme. For example, whenever the characters feel a rush of emotion they burst into song-and-dance to techno glory, but these scenes, much like the action scenes and the infamous mosquito scene (which was ridiculous and just plain weird, where Chitti converses with a pack of mosquitos), they all drag on for far too long, as if the filmmakers could not distill down the scenes to a reasonable length. And speaking of the bizarre, the change in the middle of the movie where Chitti goes from being the good guy to being the bad guy just makes little to no sense, and it feels as if there are two movies here rather than one. Focus on finishing one story before gearing up another.

Endhiran may appeal to fans of Bollywood, but to us others it leaves us scratching our heads after this visually stimulating, but unfulfilling ride of human emotion.

I give Endhiran an F!
P.S. I have to comment on the passing of TV and stage legend Tom Bosley, Mr. C from Happy Days. Bosley was 83-years-old and died from lung cancer. Bosley will be sincerely missed by all those who grew up and loved him as if we were a fellow member of the Cunningham family.

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