Movie review

  • 2006-09-13
The Lost City
Step Up

The Lost City
How to ruin a cuba libre: Use cheap rum, too much coke, and not enough lime and ice. How to ruin a movie about Cuba: Start with a myopic view of history. Next, add a melodramatic story of a family torn apart during political upheaval. Stir in generous amounts of telenovela-inspired dialogue. Infuse with a beautiful female lead "actress." Finally, sprinkle in at random a cheeky, comic role for Bill Murray to take the edge off. Your celluloid cocktail is now ready. Bottoms up. And bottom is exactly where "The Lost City" ends up. A labor of love for director/star Andy Garcia, himself a Cuban emigre, the film revolves around Fico Fellove, an affluent nightclub-owner-turned-pillar-of-democracy in a sea where communist sharks bare sharpened fascist jaws. Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and their revolutionaries are conveniently portrayed as a bloodthirsty gang out to suppress the liberties of noble, freedom-loving people everywhere, whom Fico ostensibly represents. It's a shamefully simplistic depiction which betrays Cuba's history and culture and plays like an interminable soap opera. I found this 2 1/2 hour film excruciatingly painful to watch. How to make this movie bearable: take a few large swigs of Bacardi right out of the bottle beforehand. Cheers.
1/2( Sherwin Das )

Fico (Andy Garcia) owns a popular nightclub in 1958 Havana. His two brothers are caught up in revolutionary politics, while his elderly academic father spouts philosophical platitudes from a bamboo chair. Garcia stars in and directs this supposedly epic tribute to his native Cuba but it's a disaster on almost every level. I physically cringed at the dialogue which reduces everyone and everything to functional caricature. Batista, Castro, Che, they're all notionally there but this is the stuff of high school history. Fico is perhaps the most annoying character of all as he chain smokes his way with horribly feigned elegance through the revolution and then self-imposed exile to America. His romance with his murdered brother's wife Aurora (Ines Sastre) is almost unbearably pantomimic. The only thing to be said in favor of "The Lost City" is that it was clearly a labor of love for Garcia. He at least tries to give a reasonably balanced view of events, but the self-consciously epic style puts the whole film at the level of a daytime soap opera. Cuba deserves its very own kind of Cubism to do it justice but it's unlikely to ever come out of anywhere but Cuba. The soundtrack will probably sell well though.
( Tim Ochser )

Step Up
In their never-ending quest to find new talent, Hollywood studios consistently manage to provide opportunities for accomplished artists to crossover into directing movies. While writers and actors make this transition frequently, a few stage and screen choreographers have done it as well, most notably Bob Fosse ("All That Jazz," "Cabaret") and Rob Marshall ("Chicago"). Anne Fletcher choreographed sequences in movies like "Boogie Nights" and "Bring It On," and with "Step Up" she makes her own directing debut. The film is about a poor Baltimore kid from the hood who, despite being a fly hip-hop dancer, is going nowhere fast. That all changes when he falls for a rich dance student at a local arts school who happens to need a stand-in partner in the run-up to an important performance. Street and classical dance clash at first but merge eventually in this familiar story about young people from different worlds who challenge each other to realize their full potential. Predictable and derivative though it is, I found the film cute and the two leads, who do all their own dancing, likable. There aren't too many new moves here, but it's a decent step up for one choreographer. 
1/2 ( Sherwin Das )

Tyler (Channing Tatum) is just your average teenage delinquent. He hangs with his bros on the basketball court, busts some impressive moves on the dance floor and shrugs his surly shoulders a lot. But when he gets caught trashing an elite arts school he gets sentenced to do 100 hours of community work there. He meets Nora (Jenna Dewan), an ambitious student from a wealthy family, who dreams of making it as a dancer and steps in as her practice partner when her other partner sprains his ankle. "Step Up" is a likeable but lightweight film that follows the formula for teenage dance films with unnerving precision. Tatum is thoroughly implausible as the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, and I couldn't stop wondering if Dewan had undergone cosmetic surgery on her dainty little upturned nose. There was a time when dance films could actually amount to something, such as the brilliant "Saturday Night Fever." But then came "Flashdance," "Footloose" and "Dirty Dancing" and the genre was effectively done for. "Step Up" sets out to ennoble the trailer park proletariat (an essential aspect of the modern dance film) but ends up doing the cancan somewhere over the rainbow
1/2( Tim Ochser )

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