Knight at the Movies Archives
A rousing documentary, an over the top, over long, over inflated, over cooked batch of hokum
Every Little Step, the riveting documentary that tracks the audition process for the 2006 revival of "A Chorus Line," the landmark
Broadway 1975 musical centered on, yes, auditioning for a Broadway musical, lives up to the famous lyric phrase “singular sensation”
taken from its show stopping finale “One.”  It’s a singular sensation, alright and the movie that "A Chorus Line" fans will quickly tell
you has been too long in getting here.  For those that have watched Bob Fosse’s
All That Jazz for 30 years wishing that the dance
auditions he captured so thrillingly in the film’s opening minutes would go on for a full movie; for all those that have tried repeatedly
to watch the wretched 1985 film version of
A Chorus Line – hoping against hope that maybe this time, somehow magically, it wouldn’t
stink; for those that have waited patiently to see a movie that would explain from start to finish what all the fuss over "A Chorus
Line" has been about for the uninitiated, this is the movie for…us.

My excitement over co-director
Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern’s terrifically entertaining documentary, I admit, stems in part from
my somewhat hysterical appreciation of the show itself.  Why?  Take my hand and come along with me, back almost 35 years to a
time when college students, especially those of the theatrical persuasion got together at parties to joyfully divvy up the parts and
sing the entire scores to “Hair,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell,” “Pippin,” and “Company.”  And then came “A Chorus Line,”
blowing all other shows off the stereo (a musical device that played something called “phonograph records”) for years to come.  The
songs were (and remain) a gigantic launching pad for creative yearning – the masochistic showbiz anthem “What I Did For Love,” the
propulsive, manically energetic “God I Hope I Get It,” the bittersweet confessional “At the Ballet” and the homage to teenage angst,
“Goodbye Twelve, Goodbye Thirteen, Hello Love.”  Has any musical ever articulated so perfectly and precisely the plusses and
minuses of any career in the arts and kicked major entertainment butt while doing it?

That’s exactly the happy/sad, exuberant message of Del Deo and Stern’s hypnotic movie.  And for those that have little or no
theatrical bent, not a drop of show tune blood coursing through their veins or a smidgen of familiarity or even liking for musicals?  
Well, you poor things I pity you and promise to lend you my Sondheim cast albums but fear not, even without a musical theatre
pedigree you’ll find
Every Little Step a fascinating, gripping roller coaster.  That’s because the movie in following around a group of
dancers hoping to get cast in the revival serves as a sort of big screen version of a reality TV show – with all “the root for this one,
diss that one” aspects intact – that any fan of “Project Runway,” “Dancing with the Stars,” ad nauseum, could hope for.  

Though there are no amateurs here and the “challenges” are professional ones with the creative team behind the revival putting the
hopefuls through a battery of them – from dance routines, to singing, to performing monologues – the result is roughly the same as
RuPaul’s “Drag Race.”  Out of hundreds of hopefuls there are only 19 roles in the show.  Again and again, the performers are
winnowed down (without the aid of audience call in votes to “save them until next week”) and the grueling process takes over eight
months.  Eventually as the filmmakers capture this lengthy period, of course, we come to know several of the front runners and form
our own casting choices.  Some of mine the members of the creative team agreed with (like Jason Tam who captures all the
heartbreak of the gay character’s monologue at his audition, bringing the hardened professionals to tears and getting hired on the
spot) and some they didn’t (the final actress/dancer/singer chosen for the role of Sheila, for one)

The historical overview of the show that frames the reality contest of the movie is just as compelling.  In addition to offering a long
overdue tribute to the driving creative force behind the show, the late Michael Bennett (who succumbed to AIDS in 1987), Del Deo
and Stern include rare audio snippets of the original reel to reel tapes, the basis of the show, recorded by Bennett when he first
gathered together the group of dancers to share their stories.  Interviews with surviving members of the creative team, including
composer Marvin Hamlisch along with Donna McKechnie and other original cast members balance out the story.  And best for “A
Chorus Line” junkies like myself is the inclusion of never before seen video clips (outside of a visit to the archives at Lincoln Center
that is) of back of the theatre footage of the original production.  Reading all the hurrahs for the Tony award winning performance of
McKechnie as leading dancer Cassie and hearing her on the recording is nothing compared with seeing moments of her thrilling solo
number “Music and the Mirror” (it’s akin to what one felt finally seeing the excised, long thought lost Judy Garland numbers in
A Star
Is Born

The historical overview, the archival footage and the snippets of the audio tapes are worth the price of admission alone for dedicated
“A Chorus Line” fans while the drama inherent in the reality show approach of the filmmakers makes
Every Little Step mainstream
audience friendly.  It might even help a few more closeted show tune queens out there (you know who you are) step out and publicly
acknowledge their love of musicals (we are legion!).


Oh Sister – I have such doubt.  Doubt about an audience getting conned into taking seriously such a rickety piece of movie junk like
Angels & Demons, Ron Howard’s “prequel” to the execrable, rickety piece of movie junk that was The Da Vinci Code.  Both based
on bestselling, shameless potboilers, the movies are stuffed with enough religious claptrap to shame Catholics and non-believers for
decades to come.  I can’t think why the Catholic Church – or movie audiences – would take this hokum seriously though the ritual
excess displayed in this new outing, set in Rome primarily in the Vatican City, is so over the top and obscenely lavish that it
suggests the head guys at VC might need to reflect a bit on the virtues of pride and poverty.

Tom Hanks again takes the role of Robert Langdon, religious historian, Harvard professor, and something called a “symbologist”
(um, what?) whose expertise is called upon to solve a murder and prevent a terrorist act on the Vatican at the exact time a new pope
is being decided upon.  Langdon, his hair at a sensible length, is aided by Vittoria, (the only gal in the seemingly all male cast), a
comely physicist (Ayelet Zurer) and the handsome assistant to the now defunct pope (Ewan McGregor).  The meanies include the
head of Vatican security (Stellan Skarsgard), a power seeking cardinal (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and a maniacal assassin (Nikolaj Lie

The movie’s like a leaden variation on
Raiders of the Lost Ark with Hanks as a less physically robust or engaged Indiana Jones.  It’s
also a lot like the
National Treasure movies but without the exhilaration or fleet of foot those two films display – and there’s no
treasure at the end of this intricate puzzle box plot, filled with impossible clues that only our two comely egghead leads can decipher
just in the knick of time…well sometimes, to exhilarate the audience.  Instead, we get all these history lessons, a lot of science vs.
faith stuff and of course, one of those secret, humorless societies – this one the return of the long disgruntled Illuminati – that serve
to set the plot in motion.   Hanks and the physicist scurry around Rome trying to stay one step ahead of the assassin (who isn’t
nearly as fun or memorable as the albino monk Paul Bettany played in
Da Vinci Code) while shouting out lines of dialogue like
“Dammit!  Santi’s tomb is the next location!”

I watched all these story machinations with an air of bemusement – how to take this stuff seriously – but then the movie kept going
on and on, promising to end three or four times with the script piling on one plot twist after another and not even a late sequence
involving McGregor, a helicopter hovering over the Vatican, and thousands of extras that was so shamelessly pumped up it reached
camp levels could stave off irritation.  Partly because all the while Hans Zimmer’s ear splitting, CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? music score
pumped up even the smallest moments, cuing the audience on the proper emotional response just in case anyone needed

Howard proves once again that though he may be the nicest filmmaker in Hollywood, he is also one of the most inane.  There’s
nothing in the movie that’s remotely invigorating or memorable (well, maybe the helicopter thingy…) and though the picture’s sure to
be a hit (like
The Da Vinci Code), it’s hard to imagine anyone working up much passion for it outside of those cashing in.  Angels &
is the kind of "weighty" movie that can only satisfy if you let it do all the work for you and if you don’t question the
impossible coincidences that keep the plot points moving along.  And it does have a lot of gorgeous location photography of Rome
to add as an enticement – enough to make me dig out my Fellini DVDs and make me anticipate Rob Marshall’s upcoming musical

The religious stuff combined with the mystery element also made me dig out
The Name of the Rose – an old guilty pleasure of mine –
with Sean Connery as a monk/detective and Christian Slater as his innocent assistant sent to solve a series of murders in an ancient
monastery where they uncover a motive focused on “lustful caresses” between a gaggle of homo monks among the rank and file.  
It's in constant rotation on cable, usually in one of those “compressed for time and content” editions but even in that truncated form
it’s a helluva lot more entertaining than
Angels & Demons could ever hope to be.
Heaven & Hell:
Every Little Step-Angels & Demons
Expanded Edition of 5-13-09 Windy City Times KATM Column*
By Richard Knight, Jr.
*Angels & Demons screened after my column deadline but in time for me to include it here