Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #38: Center Stage: On Pointe (dir by Director X)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by the end of July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

CSOP

The 38th film on my DVR was Center Stage: On Pointe, which premiered on Lifetime on June 25th.

Center Stage: On Pointe is the third film in the Center Stage series.  The first film, which was released in 2000, is one of those films that, at the time, you pretty much had to see if you were into ballet.  The second film, Center Stage: Turn It Up, aired on the Oxygen Network in 2008 and laid much of the groundwork for what happens in On Pointe.

At the start of On Pointe, Jonathan Reeves (Peter Gallagher), the head of the American Ballet Academy, has a problem.  The Academy is still doing great work but it’s not bringing in much money.  Unfortunately, the ABA has developed a reputation for being stodgy.  It needs to be shaken up.  It needs new dancers who are going to challenge the teachers even as the teachers challenge them.  Over the objections of just about everyone else at the ABA, Reeves decides that it’s time to bring modern dancers into the Academy.

Reeves and his choreographers (including Kenny Wormald’s Tommy Anderson, the male lead from Turn It Up) set out to recruit dancers to compete at a camp where the winners will be invited to join the Academy.  Among those dancers: Bella Parker (Nicole Munoz).  Bella is the younger sister of Kate Parker (Rachele Brooke Smith), whose story was previously told in Turn It Up.  Seeking to escape from her famous sister’s shadow, Bella auditions under a false name.  However, everyone immediately knows who she is.  It’s not easy being Kate Parker’s sister.

The camp turns out to be absolutely beautiful (even if it did remind me a bit of Camp Crystal Lake from Friday the 13th) but the dance world is a competitive and often unforgiving one.  Not only is there tension between the ballet students and the modern dancers (and that tension is one of the most realistic aspects of the film) but one of the instructors appears to be obsessed with trying to destroy Bella.  Will Bella and her fellow dancers survive the grueling camp?  Will Bella ever escape her sister’s shadow?  And will the ABA manage to change with the times?

You already know the answers.  There’s not a surprising moment to be found in Center Stage: On Pointe but the film is well-shot, the music is great, and the dancing is amazing.  Yes, some of the performances could be better but when you’ve got dancers who can move as well as the ones in this cast, it really doesn’t matter whether or not they’re the greatest actors in the world.  This is a dance movie, after all.  The dance scenes are amazing and that’s what is important.

(By the way, fans of Dance Moms may be interested to know that Chloe Lukasiak has a small role in Center Stage: On Pointe.  And, though she may no longer be a member of ALDC, she’s still a great dancer.)

Playing Catch-Up: The End of the Tour (dir by James Ponsoldt) and Love & Mercy (dir by Bill Pohland)


Two of the best films released last year dealt with troubled artists.

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The End of the Tour opens in 2008, with a writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) getting a call that the famous and acclaimed author, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), has committed suicide.  After learning of the tragedy, Lipsky remembers a few days that he spent interviewing Wallace 12 years earlier.  Wallace had just published his best known work, Infinite Jest.  At the time, Lipsky himself was a struggling writer and he approached Wallace with a combination of admiration and professional envy.  Lipsky hoped that, by interviewing Wallace, he could somehow discover the intangible quality that separates a great writer from a merely good one.

Almost the entire film is made up of Lipsky’s conversations with Wallace.  We watch as both the somewhat reclusive Wallace (who seems both bemused and, at times, annoyed with his sudden fame) warms up to Lipsky and as Lipsky forces himself to admit that Wallace might actually be a genius.  There are a few conflicts, mostly coming from the contrast between the withdrawn Wallace and the much more verbose Lipsky.  Lipsky’s editor (Ron Livingston) continually pressures him to ask Wallace about rumors that Wallace was once a drug addict.  But, for the most part, it’s a rather low-key film, one that’s more interested in exploring ideas than melodrama.  It’s also a perfect example of what can be accomplished by a great director and two actors who are totally committed to their roles.  Jason Segel, especially, gives the performance of his career so far.

The shadow of Wallace’s suicide hangs over the entire film.  Throughout their conversation, Wallace drops hints about his own history with depression.  Much as Lipsky must have done after Wallace’s suicide, we find ourselves looking for clues to explain his death.  But ultimately, Wallace remains a fascinating enigma in both life and death.

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Love & Mercy (dir by Bill Pohland)

Love & Mercy opens with Cadillac saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) selling a car to a polite but nervous man (John Cusack).  The man sits in the car with her and rambles for a bit, mentioning that his brother has recently died.  Soon, the man’s doctor, Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), shows up and Melinda learns that the man is Brian Wilson, a musician and songwriter who is famous for co-founding The Beach Boys.  After having a nervous breakdown decades before, Brian is now a recluse.  He and Melinda start a tentative relationship and Melinda quickly discovers that Brian is literally being held prisoner by the manipulative Dr. Landy.

Throughout the film, we are presented with flashbacks to the 1960s and we watch as a young Brian (Paul Dano) deals with both the pressures of fame and his own relationship with his tyrannical father (who, in an interesting parallel to Brian’s later relationship with Landy, is also Brian’s manager).  As Brian struggles to maintain his grip on reality, he obsesses on creating “the greatest album ever.”

Love & Mercy is an enormously affecting story about both the isolation of genius and the redeeming power of love.  Whether he’s played by Cusack or Dano, Brian Wilson remains a fascinating and tragic figure.  It’s hard to say whether Cusack or Dano gives the better performance.  Indeed, they both seem to be so perfectly in sync with each other that you never doubt that the character played by Paul Dano will eventually grow up to become the character played by John Cusack.  Both of them do some of the best work of their careers in Love & Mercy.