“Dancing with the Stars” has brought dance into the very center of popular culture. Each week b-listers don sparkly outfits and strut their stuff to huge ratings. Whether it’s the Cha Cha Cha or a Quickstep or the Paso doble, dancers are rated and celebrated by a panel of judges.
There is no “Dancing with the Stars” in Iran. Dancing of any sort has been banned in that country since the 1979 revolution, and it is against that backdrop that the story of “Desert Dancer” takes place.
But this isn’t a Middle Eastern “Footloose.” It’s the true story of a young Iranian man named Afshin Ghaffarian (Reece Ritchie). Obsessed with dance as a youngster, he grew up in the shadow of oppression, hiding his passion from the world until he enrolled in university in Tehran. There he met a small group of like-minded people, including Ardavan (Tom Cullen), Sattar (Simon Kassianides) and the beautiful but troubled Elaheh (Freida Pinto), who poured over contraband dance videos and tried to emulate the moves of Rudolf Nureyev and Michael Jackson.
In the days leading up to the 2009 presidential election the underground troupe staged an illegal dance show, a rebellious act that gave them their first taste of true freedom but was also is a dangerous political act.
“Desert Dancer” contains important messages about human rights, cultural liberty and the significance of artistic expression but, despite the real-life source material, is weighed down with clichés. More background and a dose of nuance could have fleshed out the story, elevating it to a strong statement about creative freedom instead of simply a presenting a manipulative tale that put me in the mind of a dogmatic “Dancing with the Stars” episode.
When I went to high school people didn’t dance as much as they swayed, or maybe gyrated when the music really hit them. The adventurous among us occasionally tried the Hustle or the Bump, but that was about it. According to “Footloose,” a remake of the 80s classic from “Hustle and Flow” director Craig Brewer, now-a-days high school seniors have moves that would make Mikhail Baryshnikov green with envy.
Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) is a big city kid forced by circumstance to move to the small town of Bomont, Georgia to live with his uncle. He’s a rebel who soon finds a cause in town. Three years prior a group of teens were killed in a car crash after a dance. In reaction the town banned public dancing, amplified music and other rites of teenage passage. Ren, a former gymnast and dancing fool, challenges the law, butts heads with the local preacher Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid in the John Lithgow role) and falls in love with the minister’s daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough). Will the town lift the ban? Will the love birds ever get to break dance in public?
“Footloose” is a little grittier than you would imagine a movie starring Ryan Seacrest’s girlfriend to be. Director Brewer’s roots are in indie filmmaking and it shows. The slickness normally associated with contemporary teen fare is by and large missing here, replaced with the steamy Southern feel that permeates his other films. You won’t hear a line like, “You’re sexier than socks on a rooster,” in any of the “Twilight” movies.
MacCormack and Hough shine the brightest when they are in motion on the dance floor, but Miles Teller as Willard (played by Chris Penn in the original), Ren’s dance-challenged best friend steals the show on and off the dance floor.
Rebooting a well-loved classic is a tricky business. Brewer has wisely not messed with the formula too much. There are slight changes, Ren is now from Boston instead of Chicago, the tractor game of chicken from the original is now a bus race and the dancing has been updated but upbeat rebellious core (and most of the songs) of the ’84 movie is intact.
The 1980s were the heyday of Donkey Kong, parachute pants, Cabbage Patch Dolls, New Coke, break dancing, and of course, deliciously funny teen comedies. Hollywood still pumps them out by the cartload, but the Golden Age of adolescent humor dates back to the days when a new Brat Pack film was guaranteed to play to sold out houses. Dozens were released, but few had the impact of Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off which became classics of the genre and touchstones of the Reagan years and are now included in a new set of DVDs called I Love the 80s.
FOOTLOOSE (1984): 3 ½ STARS
In Footloose Kevin Bacon is Ren McCormick, a city boy who comes to a small town where rock music and dancing have been forbidden. This one is better than you remember. Once you look past the dated clothes and hair, you’ll find a compelling story with a breakout performance from Bacon. Also of note is John Lithgow as the Reverend Shaw Moore. He’s the movie’s bad guy, the preacher who forbids toe tapping music but Lithgow actually gives him some dimension, playing him as a man of conviction and not simply a fundamentalist crack pot. Worth a second look and not just for nostalgic reasons.
TOP GUN (1986): 3 STARS
Long before Tom Cruise pounced on Oprah’s sofa he was Lt. Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, a cocky fighter pilot assigned to the elite Top Gun training school for advanced fighter pilots. His trip into the “Danger Zone” made Cruise a superstar and in the process made his famous lop sided grin an eighties pop culture icon. If Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships, it could also be said that Tom Cruise has the smile that sold a million movie tickets. Top Gun is wall to action with a pulsating soundtrack and great dogfights, but slows when Cruise opens his mouth and actually speaks.
FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986): 3 STARS
Dismissed by critics when it was first released, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’s portrayal of wiseacre Bueller’s (Matthew Broderick) efforts to fool his parents and high school principal into thinking he’s sick, when, in fact, all he wanted was a day off, was called irresponsible. Directed by John Hughes, fresh off the success of The Breakfast Club, the movie is essentially a series of skits or vignettes strung together to make a whole, and while funny and engaging it doesn’t have the resonance or pathos of his other classic teenage outings like The Breakfast Club or his script for Pretty in Pink.
PRETTY IN PINK (1986): 4 STARS
A 1980s teen classic. Although the pretty-girl-from-the-wrong-side-of-the- tracks story is predictable Pretty in Pink is elevated by a good cast featuring Molly Ringwald as the above mentioned girl, Jon Cryer as Ducky, her new-wave-loving best friend and Andrew McCarthy as the rich guy she falls for. Their efforts, (plus the always dependable Harry Dean Stanton), keep the movie from becoming too overly sentimental. It’s not deep, but it is good heartfelt teenage drama with a great soundtrack and a good script by teen guru John Hughes.
SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (1987): 3 ½ STARS
Probably the least remembered title in the series Some Kind of Wonderful is one of the best films of the five. John Hughes’s film about a tomboy (Mary Stuart Masterson) whose romantic feelings for her best friend (Eric Stoltz) are awakened when he scores a date with the most popular girl in school features good natural performances from Masterson and Stoltz, a simple but effective story and smart dialogue.
The names Ren and Ariel are touchstones for a generation. In the teen classic Footloose, big city boy Ren (Kevin Bacon) romanced Ariel (Lori Singer) and brought the boogie back to the small town of Bomont, Georgia.
Despite bad reviews, the story of teen rebellion and two-stepping struck a chord with audiences who made it one of the biggest hits of 1984.
Director Craig Brewer knew his new big-screen version had to tread carefully, reinventing the characters without losing what made them popular in the first place.
“I think all of my cast members were able to occupy the characters without there being any sort of mimicry or impersonation of the original,”?he says.
The project had been in development for some time, with big names like Zac Efron attached, but Brewer decided to go a different way.
“If you went in a time machine and sat with me in 1984 when I was 13 and went and saw Footloose, right before the screening happened if you would have asked me, ‘What do you think of Kevin Bacon?’ I would have said, ‘Who?’ That movie made that guy. He was already a talented actor, he just needed a movie to break him into the pop scene.
“You want to see someone new come into town, you want to have that same bit of mystery surround them so I resisted having Ren McCormack being played by a ‘movie star’ because then you get all the baggage of their other movies tied into this one,” he says.
Kenny Wormald, a choreographer and dancer, won the role after a recommendation from Justin Timberlake, who spotted his innate talent when Kenny was a backup dancer for the singer.
For Ariel, Brewer cast the more established Julianne Hough, best known as a Dancing with the Stars champion.
After her initial audition Brewer was relieved.
“I knew I had Ariel. I was excited because I had just seen the birth of a new actress who was really good and really brave,” she said.
Hollywood is so into recycling you’d think Al Gore was running a studio and green-lighting movies. This year alone we’ve seen reimaginings, reboots and redos galore, from Straw Dogs and Footloose to Conan the Barbarian and The Mechanic.
It seems Tinseltown never met an idea it couldn’t endlessly recycle.
This is particularly true in the horror genre. In the last 12 months, Colin Farrell clipped on Chris Sarandon’s used fangs in a remake of Fright Night, and this weekend, The Thing is, according to IMDB, “a prequel to a remake of an adaptation of the novella Who Goes There?” Whatever it is, original it’s not.
Not that all original horror films are better than their remakes. David Cronenberg’s dark vision enhanced the story of The Fly, delivering the real scares that the campy 1958 version lacked, and 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is far creepier than its cinematic predecessor.
The Blob, the tale of what happens when germ warfare goes awry, has been made a couple of times.
The original is an unintentionally funny flick with more giggles than gore, but it inspired a sequel, a remake and, if the rumours are true, a bloody revamp by horror maestro Rob Zombie.
I have a soft spot for the low-budget charm of the 1958 version, although the 1988 reboot has a smarter-than-it-needs-to-be script co-written by Frank Darabont and a cool tagline — “Scream now! while you can still breathe!”
Count Dracula is one of the most portrayed characters on the big screen, having appeared in more horror films than any other famous monster of filmland. Eighty years after he first portrayed the vampire in the 1931 film Dracula, Bela Lugosi is still the most famous blood sucker of them all, although for my money, two British actors — Gary Oldham in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Christopher Lee in Horror of Dracula — are tip-top Transylvanians.
Unlike his work in Scream, Wes Craven’s early films didn’t have any of the self-depreciating humour to go along with the scares.
His first movies were brutal, bloody and grim, usually all at once. Recent remakes of The Last House on the Left — rated R for “sadistic violence” — and The Hills Have Eyes — “The lucky ones die first!”— don’t have quite the impact of the Vietnam-era originals but still require a strong stomach.