Film Review: “Step”

Directed By: Amanda Lipitz
Rated: PG
Running Time: 83 minutes

A 100% percent high school graduation rate isn’t unheard of. However the average graduation rate, depending on your state, hovers anywhere from 66% to 94%, according to U.S. News and World Report. In Maryland though, out of 204 schools, there isn’t a 100% graduation rate at any high school. But you have to dig a little deeper to find the one that accomplished it back in 2016, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women.

The predominantly African-American middle-high public charter school was an experiment created in 2009. The hope was to help transform the young women in the urban core through strong education and empowerment. “Step” catches up with the first class ever to attend that school, as they get ready to graduate and look to get into college. Specifically we watch three women on the high-school step dance team.

That’s not to take away from the most fascinating part of this film, the public education experiment, which surely isn’t the only one in the country. When the cameras go home with the girls and we see a broken home life, impoverished circumstances, and single moms. We fully grasp that this is a city, at every multi-generational level, working to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. Even behind closed doors at the school, where educators are reaming students over bad grades, we see this disheartening concern in their eyes that their students may not make it and they may never make anything of themselves.

In that regard, “Step” is a wonderfully engaging documentary about perseverance against insurmountable odds. The film’s backdrop is the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore riots which were broadcast for the world to see, and inner city decay. To see these teenage girls being forced to grow up in such harsh conditions and to strive for positivity in the face of hopelessness is one of the most inspiring things an American documentary has shown in years.

There is a little bit of choppiness in the film’s narrative, mainly because the film’s speed is hit on fast forward. It buzzes through people, faces and places in a dizzying whirlwind, instead of taking a breath here and there for reflection. But it also helps prevent the film from becoming too melodramatic and repetitive when detailing the young women’s lives and circumstances.

While the step dance team is certainly the least interesting part of this film, it does play an integral role of playing by subliminally layering in sports movie tropes about self-esteem and tenacity. It makes many of the film’s moments, like one girl getting a full ride scholarship to college and another girl making a last minute to even be considered for acceptance, that much more impactful. “Step” is an encouraging dose of reality that America’s future will be in capable hands.

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “Step”

Media Mikes has teamed with Fox Searchlight Films to give 50 readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the acclaimed documentary “Step” in Kansas City.

The screening will be held on Monday, August 7th at the Glenwood Arts Theatre in Mission, Kansas and will begin at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is go here and download your passes. The first 50 readers to do so will receive a pass for two to attend the screening. This is a first come/first serve contest and once the passes are exhausted the giveaway is over.

Winner of several documentary film awards, including at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Step” opens in Kansas City on August 11, 2017

Blu-ray Review “Step Up All In”

Starring: Ryan Guzman, Briana Evigan, Misha Gabriel, Stephen “Twitch” Boss, Izabella Miko, Alyson Stoner, Adam Sevani
Director: Trish Sie
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Lionsgate
Release Date: November 25, 2014
Run Time: 112 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

You would think that by the fifth film in the “Step Up” franchise that it would be losing some steam but that is hardly the case with “Step Up All In”. That may be the cast in terms of box office, but this film is jam-packed with high energy and outstanding dancing. Plus we get the setting moved to Las Vegas, which is always an amazing place to visit and showcase. I honestly hope there are more of these since they are a blast to watch. Plot aside, cause we all know this is about the dancing, you watch it and tell me that you aren’t considering busting a move!

Official Premise: One of the most popular dance franchises in film history takes competition to astonishing new heights in “Step Up All In”. Miami street dancer Sean Asa (Ryan Guzman) moves to Hollywood with visions of fame and fortune, only to discover the almost insurmountable odds of making it in the professional dance world. But when the new dance crew he forms with the beautiful and headstrong Andie West (Briana Evigan) reaches the final rounds of a high-stakes reality TV competition in glittering Las Vegas, he has a shot at finally making his dreams come true – if he can set aside old loyalties and long-time rivalries and just do what he loves most: dance.

The cast of this series really includes the best of from the entire franchise to date. It is the all-star “Step Up” Alyson Stoner returns from the first and third films. Briana Evigan makes her come back after stealing the show in the second film. Series regulars Adam Sevani, Mari Koda and Chris Scott are back as well. Luis Rosado was in the second and third film is back. Stephen “tWitch” Boss and Chadd Smith from the third and fourth are back. Lastly Ryan Guzman and Misha Gabriel return from the fourth installment.

I am really disappointed that Lionsgate is neglecting to release this film with a 3D Blu-ray since it was released in theaters in 3D. These films look outstanding in 3D and it is a shame that since this film did poorly in theaters that they are slacking on the home release. The 1080p transfer still look good and really captures the beauty of Vegas. The Dolby Atmos track is absolutely outstanding. This is a wonderful track for this film since it is really jam-packed with great music. There is also an equally impressive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track.

The special features are also a win for this release. There is an audio commentary track with Director Trish Sie and Actress Briana Evigan. There is a collection of Ryan’s Favorite dance scenes with optional commentary included. There is a collection of Blu-ray exclusive featurettes including “All in with the Crew”; “Dance Breakdown: Final Stage”; “Clap, Stomp, Slide: The Sounds of Battle” and “The Vortex Dance Index”. Lastly there are some Deleted Scenes including.

Briana Evigan talks about returning to the “Step Up” series with “Step Up: All In”

Briana Evigan got her big break in film with “Step Up 2: The Streets”. Since then she has appeared in films like “S. Darko”, “Sorority Row” and “The Devil’s Carnival”. She is returning to the “Step Up” series in the fifth film “Step Up: All In”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Briana about coming back and what we can expect from the film.

Mike Gencarelli: How did it come about for you to come back in “Step Up: All In”?
Briana Evigan: I got a call from Jennifer Gibgot and Adam Shankman and asked me if I wanted to come back for the fifth “Step Up”. They said they were bringing everyone back. The fans made it apparent who they wanted to see come back and I was one of them. They were still looking for a director at the time but we all had dinner, talked and I came on board. It was a pretty easy “Yes” for me being that “Step Up” started my career. I wanted to go back and get to be with everyone one more time.

MG: Did you ever think you would be coming back to this series?
BE: No, never. It is so funny. I never thought I would do it again.

MG: How has Andie West changed in this film?
BE: Andie is definitely sexier, my wardrobe alone. She is more in control. She knows what she wants and is much more focused. She is still this sweet and loving girl though that cares more about her friends and family that anything in the world. In this one, Shawn and I are butting heads but at the end of the day we really want the same thing throughout the movie. We teach each other a little bit about life and then we come together and there is love.

MG: How was it getting back same cast including Alyson Stoner, Adam Sevani, Mari Koda and Luis Rosado?
BE: Getting back with the gang was just great. I love Mari Koda. She and I have gotten so close in the last few years. We spent every day together pretty much on or off set, which was awesome. I seriously think she is one of my favorite people in the world and you can quote me on that [laughs]. I love her. We are all like a awesome. It was just awesome.

MG: What was it like bringing the setting to Las Vegas?
BE: Oh that was fun. I have grown up in LA, so Vegas is a place that I have gone often for partying but now I was there filming actually on the Strip, so it was pretty cool. How many times have I been there? Yet there I was filming in a truck driving down the strip with all my friends, so that was just amazing.

MG: How does this film compare to “Step Up 2: The Streets” in terms of challenging dances?
BE: The cool thing about the dances in this one but we tried to come up with organic ways to do things. Instead of doing things in post-production and going overboard, we figured out ways for us to use things that weren’t too big and distracting but makes the dancing bigger than ever. I am dancing with fire. We have dancers coming out of the ground when we are dancing on sand. Guys are zip-lining. We have these huge fan machines, which you can’t see obviously, but they are blowing us. So we have all of the elements. The finale is very epic. Everyone dances their faces off and the choreography is just phenomenal.

MG: How does this film live up to the title of “All In”?
BE: Oh, it is totally all in [laughs]. That’s it!

MG: What else do you have in the cards upcoming?
BE: I just did a movie and in a role that was quite a leap for me. It was actually a role that I have been looking for for years and it landed right in front of me. I am playing an artist/photographer that is confused about her sexuality and trying to find love. The character has Huntington’s disease, which is very rare. It was quite the challenge and I prepped for the role for about 3 1/2 weeks. It is called “ToY” and Patrick Chapman directed it. Plus I also have “The Devil’s Carnival 2”, which I am working on right now actually. We will be in heaven this time and it is going to be awesome. Ms. Merrywood will be back!

Mari Koda talks about her role in the “Step Up” series and the new film “Step Up: All In”

Mari Koda is known for her role as Jenny Kido in the “Step Up” film series. She has been in every “Step Up” film since “Step Up 2: The Streets”. She is returning this week in the the fifth film in the series “Step Up: All In”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Mari about the film and her challenges during filming.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you get started with your background in dancing?
Mari Koda: I started listening to music before dancing. I just thought to myself, “Wow, I would love to do something with the music that I love”. So I started dancing and I just started moving. I do not think that I was even any good [laughs]. I never went to school or anything. I just went out there and starting dancing and that’s how I got I into it. You just catch the energy and go with it. I love it. After I started dancing, I wanted to know what the songs were actually about and after that I decided to learn English and move to New York. I love New York because it is so diverse and there are so many different kinds of people. I knew this is where I belong. In Japan, there are too many Japanese people [laughs].

MG: “Step Up All In” takes us to Las Vegas, what was that like going from the streets to the Sin City?
MK: It was just amazing. Just Wow! We came this far! We are in Las Vegas. There is a lot of surprise in this new film. Even working on the film, we were all impressed with what happens. I am just lucky to be in the film.

MG: How has Jenny Kido changed at all over the course of these four films?
MK: I have played Jenny in four films now. She has never had a love interest in the films. Does this girl never fall in love? Can I at least hold somebody’s hand? [laughs] In the movie, I quit my job and come to Vegas to support my friends but she never has a boyfriend. I told the producers about this and they asked me if they do a “Step Up 6”, who would I choose for a boyfriend? I told them “JT” and they asked “Who” and I said “JT…Justin Timberlake”. So I figured it can’t hurt to ask [laughs].

MG: This film brings back Briana Evigan and Ryan Guzman to lead roles along with others like Alyson Stoner; what do you enjoy most about the continuity of the cast in these films?
MK: We have grown up so much together. It is just so much fun to work together. We are laughing all the time. Rehearsals are just a blast and getting to catch up with everyone. With a normal movie series, there is usually a different cast but not with these films. Like with me and Moose, he and I are always coming back. So it is really great.

MG: When co-starring in “Step Up 2: The Streets”, did you ever think you would have been in three follow-up sequels for this franchise?
MK: No, not at all. I was surprised that there was even a “Step Up 2”. I had no idea what I was going to do in the movie. I knew I would be in it as either “Dancer 1” or “Dancer 2”. But I had no idea about my character and I was really excited. Everything I did in “Step Up 2” was all improv and I was just excited that I ended up staying in the movie. Jenny Kido stood out. I didn’t even know what would happen after that. I even went to the audition for “Step Up 3” and Jon Chu, the director, was like “What are you doing here? You are already in the film”. So that was so awesome!

MG: What was the most challenging aspect of this film compared to the others?
MK: Well I actually got hit by a car in this film for real. I was in the hospital for a while. It was very challenging for me. The doctors told me that I needed to stay in the hospital for at least two or three weeks and that I couldn’t do anything. I told them if they told the producers I’d punch them! [laughs]. So I carried around an ice pack with me wherever I went. Everyone was so supportive of me and I got a lot of positive energy. In the finale scene, I have this little solo and I struggled through it but I was able to nail it, which was great.

3D Blu-ray Review “Step Up Revolution”

Starring: Adam G. Sevani, Kathryn McCormick, Ryan Guzman
Director: Scott Speer
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Release Date: November 27, 2012
Run Time: 99 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When it comes to the “Step Up” franchise, this series has really developed into more than just a movie.  The series all have decent plots and acting but really shine in the music and the dancing.  That is what these movies are all about and they really succeed in doing so.  “Step Up 3: The Streets” was the first to enter the third dimension, which may have seen like a way to get more money but the film really benefited from it.  “Revolution” takes the 3D effects on step further or if I can say a step up (sorry).  I was blown away by the dancing and the use of the 3D in this film.  I was wondering how they would out due themselves this time around but they definitely delivered. If you are a fan of great dancing, fantastic choreography and looking for an overall good time…be sure to join the revolution (sorry again!).  Bring on “Step Up 5”!

Kathryn Renée McCormick and Ryan Guzman take the lead in this new installment. Kathryn is known best for appearing on various seasons of the dance competition show “So You Think You Can Dance”. Even though this fourth film in the series features two new leads, it saw a flood of returning characters from the previous films. Alyson Stoner returned playing Camille Gage from the first and third films. While
Adam G. Sevani (“Moose”), Mari Koda (Jenny Kido), Harry Shum, Jr. (Cable) and Stephen “Twitch” Boss (Jason) have been with this series since “Step Up 2: The Streets”. I liked they there is that continuity and these characters return each film.

Official Premise: Emily (McCormick) arrives in Miami with aspirations of becoming a professional dancer and soon falls in love with Sean (Guzman), a young man who leads a dance crew in elaborate, cutting-edge flash mobs, called “The Mob.” When a wealthy businessman threatens to develop The Mob’s historic neighborhood and displace thousands of people, Emily must band together with Sean and The Mob to turn their performance art into protest art, and risk losing their dreams to fight for a greater cause.

Since “Step Up” franchise relies heavily on music, it is always an important aspect for me. This Blu-ray comes with a very impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, which sounds amazing…but actually gets a little showed up. I was really shocked to see that this release includes the brand new 11.1 DTS Neo:X Surround Sound track (compatible with Any DTS Neo:X-Enabled AV Receiver). That’s right kiddies, this track allows you to watch and experience this film in a room-shaking 11.1 surround sound. “The Expendables 2” was the first Blu-ray to utilize this features and Lionsgate is doing it again with “Step Up Revolution”. This is a high intensity audio experience which truly elevates the 3D home theater entertainment to a new level. DTS Neo:X is presenting the film the way it was meant to be heard. I would expect to see this quite a bit in the future.

“Step Up Revolution” comes in a combo pack with a 3D Blu-ray, which has the film also in 2D.  There is also digital copy included, as well as an Ultraviolet digital streaming copy. The box presentation is also very unique.  If you look at the cover, the people on it are imprinted onto a plastic cover that goes over the typical Blu-ray case.  When you remove it, it is just a sunny reflection of Miami  behind it. Pretty neat and clever and a nice extra touch. The film itself really looks sharp on Blu-ray.  Like I said earlier, the 3D really pops well on this 1080p transfer.  The colors are very vibrant and alive as well!

The special features are very impressive for this release.  There is an audio commentary track with director Scott Speer, choreographer Jamal Sims and cast members Kathryn McCormick and Ryan Guzman.  This is a really a must listen for all fans of the film, don’t miss it.  There are four solid featurettes focusing on all aspects of the production in “Becoming A Star”, “Choreography” (my favorite), “Dancing On Their Own” and “Making The Mob” (pretty amazing). Adding to the mob featurette is also “Flash Mob Index”, which gives you a 1-click stop for all their dance sequences. There are two music video including “Goin’ In” – J Lo featuring Flo Rida & Lil Jon and “Hands In The Air” – Timbaland featuring Ne-Yo.  Lastly there are a few deleted scenes, rounding out this very impressive release.

New Trailer for “Step Up: Revolution”

“STEP UP: REVOLUTION” is the next installment in the worldwide smash “STEP UP” franchise, which sets the dancing against the vibrant backdrop of Miami. EMILY (Kathryn McCormick) arrives in Miami with aspirations of becoming a professional dancer and soon falls in love with SEAN (Ryan Guzman), a young man who leads a dance crew in elaborate, cutting-edge flash mobs, called “The Mob.” When a wealthy business man threatens to develop The Mob’s historic neighborhood and displace thousands of people, Emily must band together with Sean and The Mob to turn their performance art into protest art, and risk losing their dreams to fight for a greater cause.

Starring RYAN GUZMAN, KATHRYN MCCORMICK, MISHA GABRIEL and PETER GALLAGHER. In theaters July 27, 2012.