Mad Hot Ballroom (Marilyn Agrelo, 2005)
I think I have a fundamental flaw when it comes to my ability to appreciate this movie: I hate children. Since almost the entire appeal of this documentary is in the cuteness of the pre-adolescent children learning ballroom dancing, I was very much underwhelmed. Agrelo skirts some socio-economic issues but doesn't delve too deeply into them, and she doesn't create the kind of suspense or build up the distinctive characters of a movie like Spellbound. Very few of the kids were given enough screen time to be individually memorable, and I couldn't tell which of the three schools Agrelo follows we were seeing at a given time until two of them were eliminated from the competition. Yes, it's cute, and mildly amusing, but not much more so than a newsmagazine segment, and not quite worthy of all its glowing reviews.
It's Alive (Larry Cohen, 1974)
This strikes me as very much in step with the kind of movies David Cronenberg was making in the 1970s, although Cohen has a much more B-movie, whatever works, camp sort of style. But like Cronenberg's 70s work (Shivers, Rabid, especially The Brood), this film (about a killer mutant infant) deals with the horrors of being betrayed by one's own flesh, and the kind of awful things that modern medicine can wreak on an unsuspecting populace. Cohen is known for being campy (the only other movie of his I've seen is The Stuff, about killer mutant ice cream), but this is surprisingly grim and straightforward. The effects are obviously cheap, but Cohen hides that by showing only glimpses of the monster. It's actually sort of slow for a horror movie, and not all that scary, but it deals with some fairly complex themes that are ahead of its time (those Cronenberg movies actually all came later).