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"Mad Hot Ballroom"

Directed by Marilyn Agrelo.
Written by Amy Sewell.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  6/20/05


Yeah, it's made all the rounds and been the hot topic on many major film circuits for weeks now, but I'm a slowpoke and I'm just now writing about "Mad Hot Ballroom" because dammit, I need to get back in touch with what I love--the small-time documentary.

This go-round, filmmakers Marilyn Agrelo and Amy Sewell give us the story of three New York City public schools as they guide their students through a mandatory 10-week dance course, the goal of which has students competing in a city-wide dance contest in multiple disciplines--swing, foxtrot, merengue and the tango, amongst others--with the accompanying bragging rights for badassness.  But, the real story comes from the fun of competition when you are only 10 or 11 years old...and, the role of dance in a world where your fun can be hard to come by if you are growing up poor and with a single parent, or struggling with more difficult subjects like math, or walking home through drug deals in your neighborhood.

The film is fun.  Agrelo and Sewell give us little snippets of the three schools as they run through the mandatory (at least, in NYC public schools it is) dance program, from week one all the way to week 10, when schools select the kids that will represent them at the dance championships.  Along the way, you are constantly reminded of what it was like to be forced into holding little Betty's hand for the first time...I know for me, even doing square dancing back in Rochester growing up was tough, since I had zero interest in dancing, women, or rhythm.  Sure, times have changed but "Mad Hot Ballroom" does an excellent job of taking you back to square one, as you watch some kids being VERY uncomfortable leading the goofy-looking classmate in a first pass at the tango.  That, and whenever you are watching kids in their spare time talking about their lives, is where the film really hits the ball out of the park.  Man, being a kid was good times.

The dancing is cool as well; some of these kids could dance your butt right out of the gym at just 10 years old, which is somewhat frightening to me but cool in that NYC schools have put the program in place.  The dance finals feature some great movie moments, as you watch the kids (with honest-to-goodness joy, not that "Damn, is it over yet?" love you get when you meet some friends at parties they really don't want to be at, you know?) move with all the grace given to them by working hard in a two-month class at their school.  And, there's this little white boy that seems to be having the time of his life learning how to do damn near anything on a dance floor; he also has the best outtake of the movie.  It's kids like this that made "Spellbound" so great; you need to have a couple of the kids seem partially insane to make your movie soar, and this is the only place where "Mad Hot Ballroom" is a little lacking.  I was hoping for more profiles of quirkier kids, or cooler ones, or funny it is, 90% of them say just enough to be interesting, but not enough to be characters, and this led me to not be as invested when it came time for the city finals.

Otherwise, I had a great time watching this flick...hopefully you, the people, will get out there and support!

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09