Monday, February 28, 2011

Review-- Margot

Phew! Just in time! This review is of the movie, Margot. It is a made-for-television British movie and based off the real-life events of famous ballerina, Margot Fonteyn. This is definitely one of the lesser known movies featuring ballet, and I almost passed it up. So let's see how they did!

Story is about an older ballerina who is married to a revolutionary and Panamanian ambassador named Tito. Margot's marriage and career are strained as she struggles to balance each in her life. Meanwhile, a new Russian dancer named Rudi is sent to her apartment to stay. Problems with the Russian government make it is hard for the British company to get Russian dancers, so finding him means they have to make sure he has a place to stay. 
Since Margot is the prima ballerina and the Russian dancer is a favorite with the audience, they are quickly paired together for ballets. Margot starts to fall for him just a bit... but he seems to have as much interest in girls as guys. She isn't sure if she should let herself love him or not until after a single performance. During curtain calls, he turns to her and realizes that he is willing to start a more serious relationship with her.

Meanwhile, her husband sells her jewels without telling her to pay for guns for the revolution. He flirts with other women at a party and openly insults her and embarasses her in front of their guests; her marriage is now even more stressed. Her dominating mother tries to make decisions for her, and feeling trapped, she turns to her crush for comfort. He dumps his boyfriend, and Margot has an affair with him. Their love inspires their dancing, and the audience loves them more than ever.

But is this really what Margot wants? How should she balance her work (put under pressure by her failing body and aging) and her home life (strained by the revolution and infidelity)?
I'm a little lost on how to describe this movie without making it sound boring. Yes, the plot is slightly cliché. A woman falls for a younger man.... affairs.... we've heard it before. Yet I really enjoyed it. Her aging is lightly touched upon without having it slammed into our faces. Her feet becoming more and more damaged is shown but not spoken.

It's very nicely done, but the core elements might be a dead ringer for many other movies out there. Still, not bad at all. I really can't think of much else to comment on.

The actress who played Margot did an excellent job. She conveyed sorrow convincingly, and danced the ballet portions nicely. Clever camera tricks were used for parts she couldn't perform, but the ones she did act in were really nice. I swear she even does a pirouette at one point. Not bad! I was most certainly impressed. I don't know who this actress is, but this movie reminds me that more people can act than just A-list actors and actresses.

I really wish that Rudi had a bit more background related to us. All we know is that 1) he's a good dancer, 2) he's Russian, and 3) he's bisexual. That's just not enough for me. I think he even dances his parts! And if he doesn't, then they did a wonderful job finding the perfect stunt double for him. Granted, he doesn't dance often, but when he does, it's not too shabby! I also really liked the actor who played his part. For all I know, he's really Russian.

I wish the mother character was drawn out a bit more. At the very end, Margot spits out all her grudges against her mother, but we really don't see much tension between them. Sometimes they disagree, but Margot always politely sweeps the mother's comments aside. This idea of an overbearing mother is really interesting, but it doesn't really look into it as much as I would like. 

The man who played Tito played a good guy-you-like-to-hate (no picture of him because I forgot). His blatant lack of respect for his wife is just infuriating. Granted, Margot also cheated at one point, so who am I to pass judgment? Still, a really nice job from all the actors and actresses in this movie. They all did phenomenally.

I LOVE the sets and costumes! Everything had to be in this time period, so everything had to be just right. I loved the ballet studio, stage, and costumes. They were all absolutely wonderful. The sets took time to fill in the extra details like tutus hanging up on hangers and the rosin for dance shoes.

The movie used mostly music from famous ballets. These mostly being Tchaikovsky's. Not much to say since they are classical pieces, after all.

The camera was really great. They got some really nice shots in, like the ballet studio picture above, that really gave you a sense of space and dynamics. Other times, there were awkward zooms. Though, to be honest, they actually may have been done on purpose. These awkward zooms were during interviews, which may have been the effect they wanted for this type of setting.
The character is about to go on stage. The camera cleverly edits out the actress for her body double as she passes past the curtains and makes her entrance.
Also, the editing inbetween body doubles is BRILLIANT. I love it! My most favorite and ingenious example is near the very beginning during Swan Lake. The actress prepares to go on. She passes by the side curtain and the body double takes her place as the camera pans over with the character onto the stage. The seamless edit makes it a really nice transition, and I appreciated the thought that went into it.

Ballet Presence:
The actress and her body double did a great job dancing, but even the actress had to learn how to move for the ballet portions. She even learned to spot and can do a single pirouette. I'll be shocked if someone told me she learned this much for the role because I was really impressed with how well she did for what she was given. By making the actress at least appear to dance in one shot, it gave us the illusion she really could dance. Clever editing doesn't always pull through with deceiving the audience. At least, not this audience.
 I did like how the ballet bits they performed matched up with what stage their relationship was at. Like Giselle picking the petals off the flower was matched with Margot and Rudi first dancing together, and also Odile/Odette being two sides of the same coin when Margot is leading a sort of "double life." Though there were times this didn't work so well, it was nicely done overall.
The dancers were mostly shot from behind so you couldn't see the stunt doubles. When there was a move that the actors could perform, that's when they shot from the front. Though this got old after awhile, it was still nice to see them perform. They performed quite a few pieces from ballets. There was Swan Lake, Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, La Bayadere, and at least two others that I can't remember the names of right off the top of my head.
The man who played Rudi, I think, danced part of La Bayadere. I really liked him, too. I thought they both did wonderful jobs.

Overall Enjoyment:
For a made for television movie, this is GREAT. It's well shot, it's a period piece to boot, and they were really clever about hiding their smaller budget. They blackened the theatre and shot the dancers from behind mostly to hide the lack of extras. Very clever, if you ask me. Still, I wish they shot the dancers from the front more often, though it's quite understandable.

The actress playing Margot was fantastic, and so were all the other players. This is definitely what I consider a hidden gem. Maybe it's not for you, but for a ballet movie, I found it pretty amazing.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Review-- Attitude: Ballet & Pilates Fusion

 I know this isn't with this month's theme, but screw the theme! Those are just guidelines ;) Now this DVD is actually marketed for those fifty and up, so the exercise is much slower and has less impact. Also, donations are made to find a cure for breast cancer for each DVD you purchase. Attitude is part of a series, and there is a second DVD for this Attitude series. I'll only be reviewing the first one. So since I didn't have time to fit this into last month, here is the review for Attitude: Ballet & Pilates Fusion.

Now as you can see,  there are several parts to this workout. First here is the introduction where the instructor speaks a bit about the exercise. Then there are the form pointers and then the two workouts. The form pointers will go over the correct posture for the ballet moves. She'll also demonstrate each of the positions so you can become familiar with them if you're not already. This section is rather lengthy, but highly recommended if you've never taken ballet before.
Going over the proper form
The workout is broken into two and each is about thirty-seven minutes each. The first is meant to be completed for the first couple weeks and then you move onto the second one for the rest of the time you use the video. I found the first workout way to easy and didn't even break a sweat. The second workout was a little better, but still rather easy and barely different. I would definitely recommend this if you've been out of shape for a long time and want to work your way back slowly.
She'll also go over positioning for the abdominal work.
 This workout workouts out abs, arms and legs. For the arm exercises you'll need some sort of weight. They use a ball filled with sand for this video but a hand weight works as well. I think the abs are the highlight of the video. I seem to get the most burn from them. The ballet exercise portions are fine, but I prefer the routines from other videos better. I still feel a slight burn  but some of the exercises are rushed over.
The warm-up is simply not good enough. It doesn't warm up all the muscles, just the sides of the abs since all you're doing is circling your arms and the hips from pliés. I highly suggest you stretch yourself ahead of time before participating in this exercise so you don't injure yourself. 
The instructor does a good job. She speaks in a hushed voice and tries to be more relaxing than energetic. She'll also occassionally remind you to keep your form, and she times her reminders well, like when you're really starting to tire or if you're concentrating hard on a different area of the body other than your core.

I did notice her form was off during fourth position. Her knees went over her heels. That can be really dangerous. I only really noticed because this is something I struggle with while dancing. During the form section, she mentioned that fourth position was going to be "one of the harder positions," and I think that's a fair statement. Still, if you're watching this and trying to model yourself after her, she will only occasionally have the correct form. Since this is for women over 50, it might be dangerous to not have the correct posture, especially on your knees, so be sure to know what you're doing and watch the form video. Trust yourself. The backup instructors tend to mess up a lot. I would focus more on her than anyone else.
TIMMMBEEERRRRRRR! (Or at least that's how I felt, hahaha)
The music is horrible! I hate, hate, hate the music! Music is like Chinese traditional music mixed with a bit of Enya--only know where near as good and relaxing. Then there's this really bad trumpet sounding music that sounds like those old midi files you heard on websites when the internet was still a scary new place... it's bad. I can't stand it.

Sometimes you would catch sides of the camera during zoom out, but other than that, the editing was really good. The camera did a great job of zooming in on the main instructor. I never really had any trouble with it so I thought it did a good job.
They shot the location in studio, but they tried to spruce it up a bit so it's not too boring. They put some barres in the back but never used them for the exercise. It wasn't bad at all. I enjoyed the colors, and it seemed appropriate for the exercise. Still, in comparison to other DVDs, this isn't my favorite studio. I like Balocity or Element's settings much better.

Workout: 7/10
Instructor: 9/10
Setting: 8/10
Camera: 9/10
Level: Beginner
Is it actually ballet? Yes
Overall: 8/10
I didn't really enjoy this exercise as much as the others since it felt too simple. Though the exercise definitely had ballet and Pilate influences, it just didn't work well with my body. I would recommend this for someone who's not used to exercise, but not to someone starting ballet for the first time since the instructors are not ballet dancers or teachers. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011


UPDATE: Why is this post so popular?! This isn't even a flattering picture of me! UGH

Ignore my messy hair (I had to jump back in time since the camera was on a short timer) but there's the finished product! For this leotard, I used the spandex Lycra from Distinctive Fabrics and the Jalie pattern for the leotard. Overall, it looks really good! I made some alterations and have suggestions for future alterations.

Alterations I made:
I made the butt coverage a bit more and also lowered how high the cut was on the thigh. I wish I made more butt coverage and more hip coverage so I could wear underwear with my leotard. Also, I did not put elastic on the leg openings (I did on the neck opening and I highly recommend you do the same) because the fabric there already fit rather nicely; plus, I don't want the elastic to cut into my skin. The fabric also is rather unforgiving, so you don't want to make too many mistakes or sew it too much because it'll stretch a bit and start curling.

Future alterations:
More hip and butt coverage and to increase the size of the sleeves. The sleeves are a tad too tight for my liking, but not too bad. They actually just might stretch a bit with wear.

Spandex Lycra:
I only recommend you use this fabric if you're a seasoned sewer. If you have to use the seam ripper often when you sew, don't use this. It's hard to pick out the thread and when you do, you will sometimes pluck the fabric. Also, even if you don't pluck the fabric, it'll still leave holes. This fabric is also super stretchy and if you aren't used to sewing stretch fabrics, this will be very hard and you might end up with uneven seams and wavy edges.

This fabric does make a great leotard. I took it on its maiden voyage today in class and it held up well. It's stretchy, easy to put on, but it can also get a little warm. I would not recommend this for the unitard unless you want it to double as a warmer.

Next I will make a leotard out of the cotton Lycra. We'll see how it goes!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review-- Suspiria

Well, guys. I totally blew it. It's only been a couple months and I've already found an error. In my review of Black Swan, I said:

[Black Swan] is also quite original. I mean, how many ballet horror movies can you name? Yeah, I couldn't think of any either.

Well, not only is that a sack of bull, but the movie in question was directed by Dario Argento, no less! This movie, called Suspiria, was released in the late 70s, and I'll be damned if Black Swan didn't get a lot of inspiration from this movie (as well as Perfect Blue, but I digress). So let's just dive into this puppy and see how it does.
And unfortunately, the program I use to get screencaps didn't like this movie for some reason, so the edges of the pictures will look jagged.
The name "Suspiria," as far as I can tell, means nothing. I don't know what it has to do with the movie, I don't know if it's in another language... no clue.

I will try to comment on the story without giving too much away. The plot doesn't actually reveal itself fully until near the end, and once it hits, it's a bit of a surprise. I wouldn't want to ruin that.
The story is about an American girl named Suzy traveling to Germany to attend a ballet school. When she arrives, she witnesses a young woman bursting out of the boarding building and run off into the night. The next day, that same young woman has been found murdered. Series after series of strange events occur, until Suzy's friend develops a suspicion that something more sinister is growing. Meanwhile, Suzy has been struck with strange patterns of fatigue and begins loosing patches of her memory. So what on earth is going on at this ballet school? Imagine young girls at a boarding, ballet school. Makes it a lot more ominous.

Now, this story is actually not too bad. It's almost like a fairy tale. If you ignore the gruesomely violent death scenes. Most important about this movie, and if you want it to be a bit more chilling, is to imagine the characters as children. No really, the characters already behave strangely. I actually popped onto to see what they were saying, and, guess what, the movie was written to be about children! They only swapped out to adults so the movie wouldn't be banned. The script never changed, so adults are now speaking childishly.
Otherwise, there's not much to say about the story. It's almost like Rosemary's Baby tied in with The Chainsaw Massacre. That may not be the best example, but there you have it. This is movie is heavy, heavy, heavy on the gore, but definitely better than some of Dario Argento's other films, such as Phantom of the Opera. GAG ME WITH A SPOON. This movie is not too scary, but it's definitely suspenseful. If you don't know what's coming, you'll be in for a little surprise.

The main character is named Suzy, and next in line would be her friend, Sara. These are both girls that go to the boarding/ballet school. Suzy gets tired real easily and is put on special diet, no doubt part of the evil presence's doing, and Sara is a bit paranoid. In fact, her psychiatrist speaks with Suzy at one point, making you wonder if this is all a big exaggeration by Sara.
The actress who plays Suzy is named Jessica Harper. It took me forever to realize where she was from so I did an search and she's Phoenix from Phantom of the Paradise! Hahaha, how about that? Anyway, she did a pretty decent job. She pulled off behaving like a little girl really well; plus, she looks a bit like a little girl! Costume crew did a great job with her hair and outfits to make her look a bit younger than she's supposed to be. Sometimes her acting was a bit over the top, but it wasn't too bad. I'm willing to forgive.

This story is not so much character driven as it is plot driven. You're not going to know all about Suzy's long-lost mother or Sara's super dark past.

Despite their dated look, I actually really liked their outfits. I know that's weird, but Suzy wears this lovely dress that makes her look amazing. The cut is not really in style anymore, but it looked awesome. For the ballet portions, everyone just wore leotards. Hard for that to ever be out.
Love this dress! Plus, check out this set!
The sets also feature really bright colors. These vary from bright red, blue, green, and sometimes just a white light. There's definitely a strong color scheme to the sets. I'm not sure if it's just spotlights or post-production that makes the colors, but I decided to add it on here.

 This really added to the surreal feeling of the movie and made it seem almost dreamlike. It definitely didn't belong in this dimension. I'm a bit tied with whether I enjoyed this effect or not. I'm going to say "like" because it brought the movie up a notch and made it different.

Wow, music. Well, there was this really annoying banshee music. And it felt like they played the same three pieces over and over during the movie. 


The main theme is absolutely amazing. It's the perfect music for a horror movie. It sounds light and dainty, but so dark and eerie. I love it. Hands down one of the best horror themes and it's going on my iPod this Halloween for sure. You can listen to it here.

Cinematography was great! No really, it was really well shot. Who knew a horror film could actually do a pretty decent job balancing action?
It's hard to tell here because it's a still picture, but the balance of light and dark, the balance of moving verus static. It's really well done. 
It's quite amazing. And if I noticed, it was probably doing a damn good job because I normally don't pay attention to these kinds of things. Then again, I am doing a review on this, so that may have changed the way I noticed things.

Ballet Presence:
 Okay, so there was almost no ballet. The actors didn't do their own dancing and when the did it was painful. Don't look at me like that! I mean it, they were en pointe but I don't think they had proper training judging by how some of them held themselves. Others did look like they knew what they were doing, but still, ballet was not a strong feature in this movie.

 To give the film credit, they filmed the ballet sequences rather nicely. I liked the balanced shots and how the camera moved in accordance with the dancers. Nice job! Though the writers, Argento and someone else, got some major facts wrong about ballet (for instance, you don't share pointe shoes! They are specifically for the dancer!), but it was nice overall. What little we got of it, anyway.

Overall Enjoyment:
Don't freak out... it's just red wine ;)
 I'm not going to lie: I enjoyed this movie. Quite a bit more than I expected to, actually. I even went into this with strong biases against Argento's work, but still got some entertainment out of it. Any movie that you go in hating and come out liking means they did something right, and I think that this movie deserves some credit for that. Is it kind of hokey? Oh yes. Is there much ballet? No. Did I at least enjoy myself and feel some relation to the movie? Yes. Still, this movie is pretty gory. Don't watch if you don't like that sort of thing.

My leotard is done!!

My leotard is done!!! I just finished it. I made it out of the spandex Lycra first, even though it's probably the most difficult material. I will post pictures, advice about working with this fabric, and advice about using this pattern later once there's more light for pictures! (I was just too excited and had to post early!)


Monday, February 21, 2011

Review-- The Turning Point

 For this week, I watched the movie, The Turning Point! This movie was nominated for a lot of Oscars, but like I say about Oscars, I almost never like the movies that the Academy picks. So, let's see how this movie does!
The story is about two women named DeeDee and Emma (played by Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft respectively). Both are friends, and both were fierce rivals in ballet. But DeeDee decides to get married and have children while Emma pursues a career in dance. Years later, two meet again as Emma's company drops by DeeDee's town. Meeting with each other again reminds the other woman of all the opportunities she's missed. Emma, out of either kindness or a longing for a daughter, semi-adopts DeeDee's daughter, Amelia. Amelia is a dancer, too. Emma helps Amelia enter the company. DeeDee is not only worried that she is losing her daughter to her rival, but also that Amelia will make the same mistakes she made. The story is of these two women and of Amelia as they morn for lost dreams and begin new ones.
DeeDee and Emma
Sometimes I really like the story...and then sometimes I find it slightly bland. Sometimes I think it's rather realistic...and then sometimes I feel they are pushing my threshold of bullshit. There are times were the script is well-written and subtle where needed...then there are times when it's pretty much layered on us. For instance, Amelia is making eyes at the Russian dancer. A LOT. It's not too subtle. Then it immediately jumps to this weird dance sequence. I guess it's supposed to be symbolic, but they don't even know each other, so it comes off as sort of a joke. So, yeah...not so subtle. Other times, it shows a great understanding of human behavior. There's this one scene where Amelia and her mother are talking. Both think the other one is mad at her for something. It's a great use of common defense mechanisms.
There was also a bit where Amelia gets drunk but goes to perform. As funny as that was, she would be booted off the corps in a heartbeat. To even let her on, when a ballerina's core strength is inebriated, is also a shocker.
Also, Amelia just casually telling her mom she's on the pill and her mom's just, "oh, good girl." I couldn't imagine anyone's mom being like that. Amelia even says that her mom's straitlaced later on, but what straitlaced mother would be saying, "oh good girl," or even having that conversation to start with?

I did like the theme of "aging out" and becoming too old to make certain decisions. It's one that doesn't come up too often, and it certainly fits the bill for this blog. They did a pretty good job about delving into passion and art, too, and how these never go away with age. They only briefly touched on how perhaps the mother is living vicariously through her daughter, and that was during an explosive argument near the end of the movie. It's actually this argument that I think is my favorite part in the movie. I liked watching the two actresses hurl insults at each other and how all the skeletons came out.

Another theme that I felt was pretty powerful was "life's short; it's okay to mess up once in awhile." The women want to help Amelia from feeling the same pain they went through, but they finally learn that she needs to grow up, too, and the only way for her to do that would be to make mistakes. 

The acting was pretty fine. Emma's actress did a great job with subtle facial expressions, though she did have the most convenient, sweet sounding hiccups. I wish mine conveniently didn't interrupt my speech making me sound like a drunken fool, too.
The daughter, Amelia, also did a great job. She was funny during the drunk scene and she did all of her own dancing, which I approve. The male Russian dancer who Amelia falls for was a phenomenal dancer, though maybe not the greatest actor. Granted, he probably didn't have enough lines for me to even judge.

Nothing much to comment on here. It's a movie from the seventies and it shows its age. And I really wished people in the 70s movies wore bras. Seriously.
Music is mostly played during the ballet sequences, which are often, or the practice sequences, also often. These are classical pieces, and I really can't say much more than that.

The camerawork seemed fine to me. There were some times where I wanted to see more of the dancers' body, but it was very rare. They did a good job covering Emma's actress' lack of dancing ability. What they showed me was satisfying enough, but not insulting to my intelligence.

Playbill effect
Near the end, there are several short acts of ballets. They would project the playbill over the beginning of each act so you could recognize which dancer is performing. I really appreciated this since once you get everyone in makeup with their hair done up, everyone looks the same.

When the Russian dancer was dancing though, (and as cool as this shot was) you could see the cameraman's shadow in the spotlight! Whoops!
Oh hi, camera crew!

Ballet Presence:
I liked the dancing a lot. I love it when actresses and actors can dance their own parts. Though the actress that played Emma didn't do her own parts, they did a pretty good job of editing her bits out. When it does come time for her ballet, she was a tad awkward, but she handled it nicely. 
 Amelia's character is a beautiful dancer. She smiles a lot when she dances, but she dances gorgeously. The Russian dancer (I think he's called Yuri?) is also AMAZING. HOLY CRAP. Just look at that air on the picture above. Yeah. He's awesome. I could watch him dance all day.

Ah... ah hem. Anyways, enough with the worshiping... The ballet company puts on several ballets. Some of them were more modern while others were the more traditional types. These traditional ballets were of Swan Lake, Giselle, and Don Quixote.

See? Quite a bit of ballet! This movie definitely has a strong focus on dancers.

Overall Enjoyment:
I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Is it a good movie? Yes. Is it a great movie that deserves all of the Oscar nominees it was nominated for? Probably not. (But there we go again with Oscars!) Would I recommend watching it? Sure! Why not! This is probably as good as dance movies are going to get. I still like The Red Shoes the best, though I have to give this movie about 6 out of 10 stars. The story was really slow moving, but I would still probably watch this again than Black Swan. Then again, both are rather bland.... oh who cares. Watch what you want. Why do should you care about my opinion anyway?

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