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VINE VOICEon February 14, 2000
Baz Luhrmann at his finest. This terrific film is really three movies in one. First, there's the tremendous dance movie whcih centers on Scott Hastings (Paul Mecurio) and his struggles to introduce 'new steps' to the sheltered world of Austrailian ballroom dancing. For dance afficiandos, despite the broad comedy that infuses the movie, the dancing is the real thing. Mecurio is a formally trained dancer and you simply can't fake, edit, or body-double the moves he pulls off in this film. Even if you're not a dancer, Mecurio's athletiscism alone is worth seeing.
The second movie is a Dirty Dancing-style, boy-meets-ugly-duckling tale. The story allows you to peek behind the covers of a first generation Australian and her awkward attempts to fit into a new culture while maintaining her European ties at home.
The third movie is what sets Strictly Ballroom apart from the field - tremendously funny, broad caricatures squabbling around the periphery of Scott and his struggle to bring his 'new steps' to the Pan-Pacific Championships. Pat Thompson is hysterical as Doug's mother Shirley, and Bill Hunter is wonderfully over-the-top as dancing kingmaker Barry Fife ('There are no new steps!'). But attention first-time viewers - keep your eyes on Barry Otto as Scott's father, Doug Hastings. This odd, seemingly shell of a man is actually the emotional core of the film. He provides the movies funniest moments (particularly - as other reviewers have alluded to - a flashback sequence so over-the-top hilarious that it defies description) and its most relevatory ones.
Play this film over and over again and you will never be disappointed.
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on June 6, 2003
Okay, maybe that's an overstatement, but the first time I watched this movie, I checked it out of the library. I was a recently divorced single parent of two, struggling with a house note and bills I couldn't pay. On this particular day, I was fighting a bad cold, and feeling generally tired and unhappy. I took this movie out based only on the "Two Thumbs Up" recommendation of Siskel & Ebert at the bottom of the case. After viewing this film, I felt energized and full of good humor. I eventually bought it and have shared it with my mom, sister, kids, friends, and new husband. They all loved it! Where do I start? 1. The performances. Everyone in this movie is wonderful. They are believable and credible even though the material is completely over the top so much of the time. I love these people. 2. Then there's the romance. The main love story is very sweet, but all throughout the film, you feel like romance is literally in the air. It's also amazing how much sensuality is conveyed without any overt sexuality. 3. The dancing. I never gave ballroom dancing a thought until I saw this movie. Now, I love watching it. 4. The family relationships. They may seem unbelievable, but that mother is all too familiar to me. 5. Paul Mercurio--he's hot! Enough said.
This movie is funny, touching, and like nothing I've ever seen before or since. I can't even compare it to anything else. I'm happy to see how favorably other people have reviewed it.
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on March 24, 2005
This Australian gem is one of those rare films that entertains, thrills and pokes fun at an established activiity (in this case, a ballroom dance federation).

To take this film seriously is to miss out on one of the great moviegoing/ moviewatching experiences of the 1990s.

In a nutshell, an up-and-coming champion ballroom dancer gets bored dancing the same tired steps that everyone has danced in competition the past 50 years and wants to break out and do things his way. Of course, his way is the better way, but that causes all the angst, high drama, dashed hopes and utter hilarity that ensues as forces clash to prevent the young man from taking the ballroom dancing world by storm and up to a new level.

Of course, it's what we've all, always, expected: Things don't change in such events because those who judge and teach can only judge/teach that with which they are familiar.

The cast is perfect, from the dashing young lead embodied by Australian ballet principal Paul Mercurio to the shy, at-first clumsy female lead played by Tara Morice (who also lends her vocals to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" in a stunning rooftop pas de deux as she starts learning how to dance with him).

Paul's mother -- beautifully and hysterically portrayed by Pat Thomson -- and his seemingly introverted, odd father -- a wonderfully giddy Barry Otto -- are perfectly realized, as are all the other roles, including Bill Hunter's terrifically change-resistant Barry Fife, president of the dance federation.

This is probably Baz Luhrmann's most mainstream movie, since it's more firmly grounded in the now than anything else he's done.

Be on the lookout for a stunning cinematic moment during an outdoor sequence at the girl's house with the lead learning from her father how to correctly dance the Paso Dobles. When it's clear he's gotten the hang of it, the camera does a closeup on him turning and then cuts to an oncoming train, that parallels the house, sweeping down the lower right of the screen. It's one of those Luhrmann touches that set him apart from most other working directors.

"Strictly Ballroom" is a wonderful entertainment that flows along so quickly..and has dramatic highs...and even more thrilling dancing highs...that most of you will be very sorry when it's over.

But never holds up very well on repeat viewings. It's one of my most-played videos.
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on March 20, 1999
A lot of good movies come out of Austrailia, & this is one of my favorites. An unlikely couple upset the comfortable (& lucrative) applecart of the ballroom dancing establishment. Champion dancer Scott has been groomed from birth by his domineering mother to realize her vicarious dream of winning the Austrailian Pan-Pacific Championship. But Scott has become bored with being "strictly ballroom"--the wretched boy wants to 'dance his own steps!' Not only is this heresy, but a threat to the very livelihood of his teachers & 'mentors', retired champion dancers themselves.
He's encouraged by ugly duckling novice dancer Fran, who wants to be his partner. Aided & abetted by Fran's Latin father & grandmother, the couple show the phoney world of ballroom dancing what 'Latin' dancing is all about--not glitz & formality--but passion & a feeling for the beat that comes straight from the heart.
Love & rebellion are in the air, & the dancing is spectacular. Some wickedly funny & campy parody deal the stilted & controlling world of competition ballroom dancing a well-deserved kick in the teeth. (Anyone who watched in disbelief as Torvill & Dean were cheated out of their comeback bid for Olympic gold in ice dancing [the figure skating equivalent of ballroom dancing] by the same sort of stupid & arbitrary rules about 'steps' will chortle with glee.)
But, more than anything, Strictly Ballroom is about having the courage to be yourself. As Scott's father (once a great & original dancer himself, now a sad & henpecked shadow of his former self) says to him: "Don't make the same mistake I did....a life lived in fear is a life half-lived." Truly uplifting to the spirit & heart!
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on May 21, 2001
I skimmed through several reviews and kept seeing comparisons to Dirty Dancing. This movie can't even be compared to that!!! First of all, the dancing in SB moves the plot along, while in DD, it could be edited out and no one would know it was ever there. Secondly, this movie is the MASTERPIECE that DD is not and will never, ever be. Every thing about this movie is perfect--I especially love the chemistry between Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice. They really make Scott and Fran credible and believable characters. Being that this is a small movie, it really works--and that is probably why it is better than anything Hollywood has produced in some time. And charming extras to the movie-- Tara Morice sings the TIME AFTER TIME song that runs throughout some of the movie. Paul Mercurio did his own dancing--including adding additional choreography. (He was a former ballet dancer before making this movie as his acting debut.) There are many others, but I'll leave you to discover them.
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on March 28, 2002
I can't believe this movie completely escaped my attention during it's release in 1992. In fact, I hadn't even heard of it until about two years ago. However, after one viewing, it quickly became one of my favorites. The biggest plus, in my humble opinion, is the cast. Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice are wonderful leads. They both possess an intensity that makes for wonderful sparks between the two. I also love the fact that the character of Fran was not a dressed-down supermodel-type. Tara does a wonderful job of conveying Fran's determination but, at the same time, her self doubt. As her confidence and dancing ability evolves, so too does her appearance. It's such as gradual and completely believable transformation. It is wonderful to watch Scott's feelings for her also change. The supporting cast is top-notch too. Pat Thompson was magnificent as Scott's overbearing mother. She could sometimes border on viscous but, at the same time, remain somewhat sympathetic.
Now for the DVD itself. I may get raked for this but, as OK as it was, it could have been better. During the commentary by O'Connol, Martin, and Luhrman, Ms. Martin referred to some scenes that had to be cut before the release of the movie. I would loved it if they would have included deleted scenes on this DVD edition but they didn't. And, speaking of the commentary, I really didn't find it too enlightening. Well, let me put it this way, if you're watching it to get a background on ballroom, and other types, of dancing - then this is the commentary for you. However, if you're like me and want lots of interesting tidbits on cast, crucial scenes, etc., you'll only find them sparsely placed in between long stories about ballroom training, the history of the Paso Doble, and descriptions of sets. Even Baz, at one point, had to proclaim it was time to get back to commenting on the movie. Lastly, since I didn't see the movie during its original release, I would have loved it if they included its original theatrical trailer but it was not to be.
Nevertheless, even if this DVD were to come only equipped with the movie itself, it would be a bargain at whatever price it was offered. If you haven't seen it, watch it! If you're wondering if you should splurge on the DVD, despite my nitpicky complaints about the DVD edition, I'd encourage it.
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VINE VOICEon April 22, 2002
The story is pretty conventional : since childhood Scott Hastings' parents have pointed him towards the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Amateur
Championships. But in direct contravention of the rules and traditions of ballroom dancing (which have as much to do with the teaching of dance to
willing customers as with dance itself), Scott has recently developed a dangerous desire to dance his own "crowd-pleasing steps". When Scott's
partner leaves him, he's forced to audition new ones, none of whom are very satisfactory, until, improbably, the homely and awkward Fran, who
usually has to dance with another girl, demonstrates that she understands what he's aiming at. As Scott's mother and teacher try to find a more
acceptable alternative, Scott and Fran practice in secret, eventually receiving assistance from Fran's aforementioned father and her loving
grandmother, who does a mean rumba herself.
What follows is largely predictable but still endearingly romantic and exciting. Baz Luhrmann, who had directed a stage version of the story for some
ten years before turning it into a movie, brings a pulsing energy (which mixes soundtrack, color, and motion in fascinating ways) and an off-kilter
sense of humor to the film that make it quite distinctive. If you liked Mr. Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge but thought it was a bit over-the-top, you'll like
this one much better.
The best aspect of the film though is the way in which Scott, who when we meet him is totally self-absorbed, has to learn that for all his desire to
express himself in dance, he must do so together with his partner. He and Fran must communicate with one another, share themselves, and be able to
yield something of the personal in order to be true to their art. They must respect the conventions of ballroom dance, with its basis in the couple,
even as they expand its possibilities and violate the self-serving diktats of the corrupt elders who run the competitions. So much of modern art and
literature celebrates egotistical individualism unfettered by any restraint; it's unusual to find such a compelling story about the requirement of
submerging purely selfish concerns in order to achieve higher purposes.
One of the leitmotifs of the film is that "A life lived in fear is a life half-lived". Much of the atomization of modern life is a function of fear, a fear of
being hurt by those we open up to. Scott begins the film as only half of a couple, unable to share anything, even a dance, with his partner. He is
living only a half-life. But he becomes wholly human, begins to live a whole life, when he becomes a true partner with Fran. It's rare enough to see
such profound truth portrayed in film, but that it's done here such a joyous and exuberant fashion makes this a remarkable movie.
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on February 18, 2004
Call it a "chick flick" if you want, but not within earshot of my dad or my husband. "Strictly Ballroom" is one of my father's top-ten favorite movies, and he's no pansy. He's a WWII vet, a retired commercial fisherman, a mechanical type who can fix anything -- pretty much a Man's Man in every way. My aviation-buff husband is another one who loves this movie, and he's a guy who'd rather get a root canal than watch a sappy romance.
We found the movie by accident. We'd planned to see an action flick, but it was unexpectedly sold out. Since we were already at the multi-plex, we figured we'd watch "Strictly Ballroom" because it was about to start (the sexy babe on the movie poster helped convince my husband that it might be worth a shot). This was in Burbank, California, where half the members of any given audience make a living in the film industry. As such, they're pretty jaded. Yet they nearly shrieked with laughter at the movie's maverick humor, and as "Rumba del Burro" played over the closing credits, the entire audience LITERALLY danced out of the theater after a long round of applause. It was the damndest thing we've ever seen.
Later, I bought the video and shared it with family and friends. Most of them raved about the movie so much that I ended up buying probably half a dozen copies for gifts. What's really amazing about the story is that it is 100 percent formula cliché - yet it breaks all the molds. It's sexy and sensuous without being promiscuous. It's ribald without the use of profanity. It's the kind of movie you can watch with your little kids, teenagers, your parents, and your grandparents, all at the same time - there are plenty of laughs for every generation, including "adult" humor that gently soars over the heads of children.
The moral of my story: DO NOT believe those who tell you this is a just another "woman's movie." The argument could be made that it's actually a man's movie, since the fathers of the two main characters turn out to be the real heroes. In an era where pop culture makes men out to be buffoons, "Strictly Ballroom" is mighty refreshing. WATCH IT.
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HALL OF FAMEon November 27, 2003
OK, there's been the athletic drama genre done before, right? The one with the championship finals being the climactic scene? American Anthem for gymnastics, American Flyers for cycling, and Cutting Edge for skating, to name a few. Well, right on the one, down on the two, left on the three, up on the four, for Strictly Ballroom takes on the ballroom dancing, as popular in Australia as kangaroos and shrimps on the barbie.
Much admired by his peers, family, and members of the ballroom dancing establishment, Scott Hastings is seen as the next big champion of the prestigious Pan Pacific Championship. His form is superlative, but he's driven by the need to do some crowd-pleasing steps that don't conform to the samba, rhumba, or whatever dance. As Barry Fife, president of the Australian Dance Federation says, "you can dance anything you like. That doesn't mean you win." Which Scott doesn't, to the fury of his partner, Liz Holt, who ends their partnership. Scott though, is "sick of doing somebody else's steps all the time."
His dance coach, Les Kendall, owner of the dance academy, his overcontrolling mother, and Barry Fife, i.e. the establishment, want him to toe the line. His bespectacled and thin father, Doug, isn't that assertive about it, seeming inconspicuous and insignificant, but there are some things about him that don't meet the eye.
Fran, a not-too-pretty beginner in the dance class, boldly asks Scott to be his partner for the Pan Pacifics and to dance his way, gutsy as no beginner has the right to approach an open amateur like that. Fran persists, and as she and Scott practice together, the time lapse shows Fran blossoming, wearing her hair down, her hair turning a lovely dark brown, and we learn she is Portuguese. The lovely cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" in these sequences is sung by Mark Williams and Tara Morice, who plays Fran. This song really takes a nice romantic edge with its softer production. The pair later get dancing instructions from Fran's father, who at first looks intimidating, but takes to Scott.
However, look at the title, strictly ballroom. This means rigid conformity with the steps associated with the dance, no fancy steps, which can add life to any old dance. And there's the cheesy glitz associated, as the corrupt president wants to fix Scott up with Tina Sparkle, a sizzling shallow blonde with a nice fruit costume motif. After all, "a Pan Pacific champion becomes a hero, a guiding light to all dancers, someone who'll set the right example." Translation: a conformist.
Some of the characters who are louder and more garish are annoying, such as Scott's shrewish mother and Liz. It's characters like Scott, Fran, and Doug who are winning characters, as is Les, who sees potential in Scott: "You've got a light in you boy. Let it shine."
When I first saw this in 1994, I had no idea it was directed by Baz Luhrman, known for the notoriously splashy and overdone Moulin Rouge. As it is, Strictly Ballroom is glitzy but not overdone, with the dancing sequences and costumes topnotch.
It may take two to tango, but the tango isn't the only dance, people. And if you don't want to tango, do the paso doble instead.
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on February 19, 2002
I was a theatre owner in south Florida when this film was released. The critics tore this film apart, maybe because it wasn't an American film. I had a 1000 seat house and i paid 45% of the gross to the studio and we made a bundle of money on this film. Three shows a day for total run of 6 weeks. If critics read this DO THE MATH!
The film is wonderful and is way beyond anything that Hollywood could possibly dream of. The actors are ALL great and know that acting is far more important than special effects can ever be in a movie.
I bought the VHS version some years ago and have now ordered the DVD and i can't wait to see it again. It's a super good, feel good movie with great music, the audio is well mixed, the colors and costumes are sharp and brillant. A must see.
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