Review: STEP

Founded in 2008, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women is a charter school with a goal of seeing all its graduates succeed in college. Its educators and administrators set high standards and expect greatness from the girls in their charge. Academics are paramount, and failure is not an option.

For the students at BLSYW, though, it’s more than just a school. It’s a haven in a rough neighborhood; a support network often far more dependable than family; and a launch pad for talent, passion and futures so bright these girls’ll need shades.

It’s a glimpse into those trials, tribulations and triumphs that Step delivers in one of the year’s best documentaries, as it follows three young women in the school’s first graduating class. They’ve been together since middle school, the year they started at BLSYW and also founded the school’s step dance team. The film chronicles their lives both on and off the stage as their senior year winds down, through college applications, dicey friendships and one major dance competition. Continue reading “Review: STEP”

Review: Baby Driver

In the opening credits of Baby Driver, the latest from filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim v. the World) there’s a choreographer acknowledged among the various producers and crew. After a spectacular opening heist scene – a three-man bank robbery and a getaway of masterful stunt driving through downtown Atlanta (and nary a tap shoe in sight) – the credit might seem a bit odd. But so carefully crafted is Wright’s original screenplay about a music-obsessed getaway car driver and his attempt to go straight that enlisting the same guy who choreographed Sia’s best videos makes perfect sense.

Immediately after the opening credits, that choreography is beautifully and immediately apparent in an uninterrupted long shot that takes us on a post-heist coffee run with our protagonist, Baby (Ansel Elgort). Just ten minutes in and we’re watching the camera follow Baby seamlessly down the street, into the shop and back to the warehouse where his heist crew and boss split their take from the recent job. Along the way, extras pop in and out of perfectly framed shots, the film’s soundtrack aligns directly with each movement and there’s even a bit of foreshadowing as Baby notices a blonde outside the coffee shop (on a music swell, no less). It’s a dance as skilled as any of Gene Kelly’s, and from the get go, it’s obvious: this is a filmmaker who loves making movies, and he’s not afraid to show off.

Wright started drafting this film back in 1995, but it only made its way into the world earlier this year at SXSW, where it was met with raucous fan-boy adulation, such is Wright’s genre (and one assumes largely male) fan base. As it opens in theaters this week, the positive buzz is sure to continue to the tune of a nice big box office. It’s that rare accomplishment of original filmmaking that checks nearly ever box. Solid, high-stakes story: check. Great soundtrack: check. Impressive action scenes: check. Love story: check. Though it gets a bit muddled by the end as Wright rushes through wrapping up various loose ends, he’s more than made up for it with his meticulous attention to detail and sheer enthusiasm that jumps off the screen.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I never planned on getting into Guardians of the Galaxy. I know essentially nothing about this thing called the “Marvel Universe.” (Are there stars in it? Planets?) I’m not sure I’m really into any of it now, honestly, even after seeing the second film in James Gunn’s blockbuster franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But I sure am enjoying the hell out of dipping my toe in the comic waters.

I saw the first installation in the middle of the day in July, 2014. I’d stayed home from work (it was a Wednesday, I believe) because I’d just received news that my grandfather had passed away early that morning, and I was in no shape to go into the office. Far from home and far from family, after the initial shock wore off, I didn’t really know what to do with myself.

So I took myself to the movies. I took myself to see the only thing I knew I couldn’t care less about: a big, blustery summer superhero flick. It was one in the afternoon and there were maybe three other people in the theater. And it did exactly what I needed it to do: it completely transported me away from the world outside that cinema.

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