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August 14, 2006 - Image 11

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2006-08-14

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'Step Up' treads water
at lowest denominator C

By Imran Syed
Daily Arts Writer
When is a dancing movie more than
just its (emphatically, determinedly,
attractively) moving parts? I'll tell you
when - when it saves lives and redeems
souls. And if there's
one thing "Take
the Lead," starring Step Up
Antonio Banderas, At the Showcase
taught us, it was that and Quality 16
salsa music can do Touchstone
just that for a group
of underprivileged
urban youths. But can a smooth meld of
hip hop, R&B and classical concertos do
the same for a self-demeaning lifelong
underachiever from the mean streets of
Baltimore? For the answer to that, we turn
to the apparent sister film of "Take the
Lead;' the rousingly boisterous and ener-
getic, if sappy and cliched "Step Up."

Our scruffy hooligan is Tyler Gage
(Channing Tatum, "She's the Man"), a
troubled and broken product of a seem-
ingly for-profit foster home. Tyler spends
most of his days sleeping in school, ball-
ing and stealing cars with his buddy Mac
(Damaine Radcliff, "Glory Road") and
Mac's annoying little brother Skinny
(newcomer De'Shawn Washington). One
night, their vandalistic pursuits lead them
through a broken window into the Mary-
land School for the Arts, where they pro-
ceed to break shit 'til security arrives and
Tyler gets busted.
His punishment, wouldn't you know
it, is to work 200 hours of community
service at the school he vandalized.
While there to "just do his hours" and
feeling no remorse, Tyler spots Nora
(Jenna Dewan, ironically from "Take
the Lead"), who embodies the arche-
typal role of "girl who straightens
out deviant boy because she's perfect
and he wants her." But all's not well
in Nora-land, no sir. She's got her big

senior showcase coming up, and her
partner just busted his ankle because
he, despite his 15 years of dance les-
sons, apparently never learned not to
land a jump on the side of his foot.
Who can poor Nora turn to as a fill-
in partner for her showcase? Her only
options are scruffy-looking, stubbled
sophomores in lavender shirts and
tights, but they're too creepy. What
about that tall, handsome boy who's
been mopping floors and changing
light bulbs the last few weeks? Yes, Noi
the street thug who destroyed the
school's theater is the obvious choice, cou
but will he and Nora get their chem- fere
istry right in a few short weeks? Will mu
they be able to look past their differ- of
ent backgrounds and vibe deliciously seer
on the dance floor? Will Tyler buy a ney
belt? Will Nora learn to avoid strange star
men who seem to take instant interest infe
in her? (Yes, yes, no and we hope so.)
"Step Up" goes shamelessly
through just about every cliche there -

Courtesy ofTouchstone
reputable dancers were harmed in the making of this film.
Ild ever be about people of dif- colorful frame, an electric anticipa-
nt races, classes, interests and tion charges the entire theater - in
sical inclinations. It's a collage spite of the audience's impending
storylines and scenes we've all disapproval. Ultimately, we buy into
n before, most likely on the Dis- it, look beyond the thin dialogue and
Channel (remember "Genius" simply learn to appreciate the flawless
ring Emmy Rossum?). But an choreography and persistent beat the
ectious energy inhabits its every movie carries from beginning to end.

Ani shoots par on 'I

By Abby Frackman
Daily Arts Writer
Ani DiFranco is a veteran. By the time artists like Ala-
nis Morissette and Kelly Clarkson struck gold with their
"Yay! Women rule!" hits, DiFranco was already the poster
child of female empowerment. She started her own record
label, Righteous Babe, on which she
has released an album nearly every
year since 1990. This year brings her Ani DiFranco
latest effort, Reprieve, a rich mix of Reprieve
poetry and politics, DiFranco's bread Righteous Babe
and butter. One of the album's unique
features is that the majority of tracks
find DiFranco ditching her grainy, raw vocals in favor of
a sweeter, melodic approach. But don't let that fool you
into thinking that she is going soft - a fascinating side
of Reprieve is that DiFranco is still able to convey strong
emotion through her gentle tone.
The title track is DiFranco's take on living in a "man's
world." "Reprieve" isn't a traditional song, but rather a
spoken-word poem (such as the title track off 1999's To
the Teeth), relying on DiFranco's poetics as the standout
element. The minimal instrumentation allows the lis-

tener to pay greater attention to the heavy subject mat-
ter: "Feminism isn't about equality / It's about reprieve."
Feminist themes and outspoken opinions lace the album,
and "Reprieve" is chief among them.
The politically charged "Millennium Theater" finds
DiFranco targeting the state of the world, specifically
America: "Patriarchies realign / While the ice caps melt
I And New Orleans bides her time." While she again
remains collected while singing, her passion still seeps
For those eager to hear more of DiFranco's signature slap-
folk guitar, "Half-Assed" and "Decree" are the go-to tracks.
"Half-Assed" is a beautiful blend of honest vocals and edgy
folk riffs. The unique arrangement of "Decree" has the
words and music. work together - the louder DiFranco's
voice gets, the more urgent the playing.
Reprieve suffers when the tracks blend together, mak-
ing it difficult to tell them apart. While it's nice to hear a
true vocalist shine without shouting, at times DiFranco's
tone is too calm. That's a shame, too, because the subject
matter on the album is too relevant to ignore.
Reprieve is another solid album by Ani DiFranco.
But Difranco's formula, while sufficient for her follow-
ing, lacks a creative dynamism crucial for widespread
appeal. Her poetry is relevant and profound, but her
albums aren't.

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