Shall We Dance

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Back in 2009, we watched a perfectly charming and funny Japanese movie called Shall We Dance? This is the American remake. (Consumer note: according to IMDB, there is no question mark at the end of the title of the American version, even though the people marketing the DVD seem to think it should be there.)

Richard Gere plays John Clark, powerhouse estate lawyer; outwardly, he seems to have realized the American dream: hot wife (Susan Sarandon), nice house, nice car, nice kids. But there's something missing! He's been noticing the forlorn Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) staring out the window of Miss Mitzi's Dance Studio as he passes by on his commuter train. On impulse one night, he hops off the train and enters the studio, and is immediately taken in by the world of… ballroom dancing!

He encounters a number of colorful characters: not only Paulina, but Miss Mitzi (Anita Gillette, Liz Lemon's mom) and his fellow students. (Lisa Ann Walter, Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale, and Omar Benson Miller. Where have I seen that guy before? Oh, yeah: CSI:Miami!) He keeps his activities secret from Mrs. Clark, but she's no dummy: she hires a private eye (the great Richard Jenkins) to determine what's going on.

Everyone involved seems to be having a good time, the acting ranges from good to very good, and everything's professionally done, and the movie is not without laughs, but it pales in comparison with the Japanese version. The original's Japanese setting and characters offered an interesting cultural contrast with the thoroughly-Western activity of ballroom dancing; that's missing here. And I got a nebulous feeling that the chemistry between the characters was lacking.

Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:30 AM EST

The Return of the King

[Amazon Link]

About 10 years ago, I resolved to read the Tolkien paperbacks I'd bought as a college student about 40 years ago. I read The Hobbit sometime around 2003, The Fellowship of the Ring in 2005, The Two Towers in 2007, and now, finally, The Return of the King.

To be honest, at a lot of points in this series, I found myself wishing for a "just the good parts" abridgement. Because there's an awful lot of walking, descriptions of geography, eating, drinking, poetry, … Tolkien built his own world, and darned if he wasn't going to show it to you. At times I felt I was reading the King James Bible, and not the interesting or inspiring parts either.

But there's also, of course, a powerful and wonderful story involved, with great characters, a lot of lovely scenes, a lot of excitement and suspense. (If you can pretend you didn't already see the movie.)

Which reminds me: one rap on the movie version was the long running time after the climactic scene on Mount Doom between Frodo, Gollum, and Sam. Guess what: the book goes on even longer. But it's some of the best writing of the series, as the four hobbits unwind their adventure, only to come back to a Shire that's not as they remembered or expected. Most of this was totally missing from the movie (for good cinematic reasons, certainly).

So: I'm glad I read the books. Also glad they're behind me.

Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:30 AM EST