Guest judge Anna Kendrick relished in the opportunity to watch the So You Think You Can Dance top 14 dance for America’s votes in this week’s episode full of unique routines, lots of props, and a fall.

Anna Kendrick proved herself to be a massive improvement over recent guest judges. Her critiques hinted at her dance know-how (a result of her years spent on the broadway stage before her film career took off), but most importantly, she filled the role the show is looking for the guest judges to deliver: entertainment.

As America’s spirit animal, Anna totally geeked out for the entire show, with a slew of hilarious comments ranging from “If I could have your body for one day, I could do anything…I could solve world hunger!” to “I feel like you two should make a baby.” She was funny and entertaining, while also providing worthwhile criticism about the contestants’ routines. It left this writer wondering what number to dial to get Anna Kendrick to stick around for next week’s show.

Host Cat Deeley started the night with bad news: tapper Curtis Holland injured his shoulder in rehearsals this week, and was unable to dance this week, on doctor’s orders. It was a tough break for Curtis, who only barely made it through last week by the skin of his teeth, and this week didn’t have another chance to show off for the judges.

Eliminations

The bottom six dancers were revealed at the top of the show: Nico Greetham, Alan Bersten, and Curtis Holland for the guys, and Alexis Juliano, Makenzie Dustman, and Jasmine Harper for the girls.

The judges decided not to have any of the guys dance for their lives. None of them were safe, but the judges felt they knew how well they could dance. This was not a good sign for Curtis, as it seemed unlikely that they would send Nico or Alan home over someone who couldn’t dance at all this week.

Makenzie’s and Jasmine’s appearance in the bottom three girls was a big shock. They have been two of the strongest dancers throughout the competition, and both girls received raves for their performances last week. Makenzie, in particular, stole the show with her retro hip-hop performance. This seems to be another case of voters being overconfident that their favorite contestants are safe.

The judges chose to save Makenzie, and have Alexis and Jasmine dance for their lives. Both girls’ solos were strong, but Jasmine’s stunning routine outshone Alexis’.

The eliminations were quick, but probably not painless for Alexis Juliano and Curtis Holland, the two contestants sent home this week. Judge Nigel Lythgoe, a tapper himself, said the elimination “kills me this week, because we’re losing two tappers.” Curtis’ fate seemed inevitable from the beginning, and Alexis had some very stiff competition, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that the judges were unanimous in their decision.

Performances

Jenna Johnson and Tucker Knox

Jenna and Tucker kicked off the competition with a Luther Brown hip-hop routine. Coming from the worlds of ballroom and contemporary, respectively, hip-hop was a little bit out of their comfort zone. They dove into it and gave it their best effort, but it came across looking a little nerdy.

Tucker’s role in particular required an awful lot of swag, and he fell a bit short. Nigel was pretty harsh, saying the routine was unconvincing and unmemorable. He felt Tucker was too upright, and Jenna was too sweet.

Alexis Juliano and Nico Greetham

Both in danger this week, Alexis and Nico had a lot to prove with their Sonya Tayeh contemporary routine. The concept of the routine was that at the end of their relationship, Nico is trying to slip away quietly, but Alexis is still madly in love with him and doesn’t want to let him go.

It was a good showing from both Alexis and Nico, as both dancers showed a lot of intensity and emotion. The most memorable part of the routine was Alexis’ super-intense running in place, which was either stunning or hilarious, or maybe a little of both.

Hayley Erbert and (not) Curtis Holland

Hayley was left without partner Curtis for their Leonardo Barrionuevo and Miriam Larici Argentine tango, due to his injury, so Leonardo joined her in Curtis’ place. While it might be a challenge for other amateur dancers to perform with a professional in a genre outside of their own, Hayley rose to the challenge, and then some.

She was absolutely stunning, and sexy, and sold the entire routine with just her expressions. There were some beautiful lifts (especially the one where Hayley was frozen in mid-air for a moment), and technical work that brought ballroom expert Mary Murphy to her feet.

Makenzie Dustman and Paul Karmiryan

Makenzie and Paul were given a doozy of a jazz routine this week by Sonya Tayeh. She started off the rehearsals by having Paul take his shirt off, and the sexiness just escalated from there. It was a very sexy and sultry routine, and very aggressive as well.

Anna Kendrick wisely pointed out that this was a different role for Makenzie to play, as often she is very beautiful and ethereal, but this time she was more powerful, and “the power wasn’t coming from your beauty, it was coming from your ability.” These last two weeks, Makenzie has certainly proved herself to be more than just a pretty face: now if only she can get America on board.

Jasmine Harper and Aaron Turner

Jasmine and Aaron were given a very unique Justin Giles contemporary routine, based on Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Jasmine played the part of the tree, and Aaron the part of the boy trying to steal her last apple. They danced with a real apple, tossing it up and down and back and forth, with everyone holding their breath each time the apple was in the air, hoping Aaron or Jasmine would catch it. But they always did.

The dancing itself was wonderful. Nigel put it best when he said that The Giving Tree is about unconditional love, and “that’s what you two have as a couple.” Jasmine and Aaron are beautiful dancers, but they are also beautiful partners: supporting each other and interacting with one another in such a genuine, loving way. It’s a joy to watch.

Amy Yackima and Dushaunt “Fik-shun” Stegall

Amy and Fik-shun took us to “Café So You Think You Can Dance” with their Christopher Scott hip-hop routine. In this routine, Amy was a waitress finishing up a long day of work, and Fik-shun was a regular customer with a big crush on Amy, who’s waited for the last customer to leave so he can put the moves on.

With the routine set to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” the ultimate seduction song, combined with Fik-shun’s contagious smile, Amy was putty in his hands in no time. Amy was maybe too putty-like, however, as she tripped over a chair at one point and fell, but she was back up in a blink with a smile on her face, so you’d never know it happened. The judges commended her recovery.

The two of them are so ridiculously charming, it’s a delight to watch them in every single routine. Nigel pointed out, however, that their most memorable routines are all silly happy dances like this one, they have yet to shine in a more dramatic role.

Malece Miller and Alan Bersten

Alan and Malece closed out the duets with a roller coaster ride of a salsa routine choreographed by season 5 contestant Jonathan Pletero. There were a lot of lifts and death drops which made Malece a little nervous, (given that her partner in the jazz round in Vegas dropped her on her head) but Alan was confident in his own style, and wouldn’t let Malece fall.

It was a very strong routine, with Alan showing off in his own style, and Malece rising to the occasion. She was a little winded towards the end, but understandably so, given the energy level required for the fast-paced routine.

Group Performances

Top 14

The top 14 (sans Curtis) danced a very intense group jazz routine, choreographed by Dmitry Chaplin and Sonya Tayeh. The beginning pose was stunning, with Malece Miller hanging from a trapeze bar, and the other dancers creating a giant wave of bodies down to the floor. The music and mood were very intense, incorporating the best of Dmitry’s ballroom holds and Sonya’s jazz attitude.

It was a different sort of routine, from Malece swinging from the rafters, and Nico Greetham flipping his way across the stage and climbing the scaffolding. The dancers were bursting at the seems with energy and the result was outstanding.

Broadway

This week’s first mini group routine featured Makenzie, Alan, Nico, Hayley, and Malece in a Spencer Liff broadway routine. Curtis was originally involved as well, but in light of his injury, Spencer Liff himself stepped in to fill his absence.

They were all cool, well-dressed hipster kids in a smokey pool hall, rocking out to Joe Cocker’s “Come Together” from Across The Universe. It was a funky routine, but the judges felt that the inclusion of Spencer in the routine didn’t do the contestants any favors, because everyone’s eye was drawn to the professional dancer onstage.

Contemporary

Newcomer Bonnie Story choreographed an emotional routine for Fik-shun, Amy, Paul, Tucker, Jasmine, Aaron, and Alexis, dealing with the topic of bullying. She set out to prove that those that turn a blind eye are just as dangerous as the bullies themselves. Her friend was a victim of a beating, and she actually called him and had him tell the contestants his story, moving many of them to tears.

It was a great message, but was not executed as well as it could be in the hands of another choreographer. The routine didn’t grab you as much as other emotional and topical routines have in the past, but it also wasn’t the best performance by any of the dancers. They seemed a bit out of sync at times, and the judges pointed out Fik-shun in particular for his lack of technique. Nigel did say, however, that if he can sharpen his technique he will be unstoppable.

What did you think of the ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ top 14’s performances this week?

The first two cast members for Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Lion King have been announced by director Jon Favreau.

James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the animated movie in the ’90s, is returning as the character in the live-action adaptation. Interesting!

Meanwhile, Donald Glover — who will co-star in this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming for Disney and Marvel — will play Adult Simba.

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The first two cast members for Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Lion King have been announced by director Jon Favreau.

James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the animated movie in the ’90s, is returning as the character in the live-action adaptation. Interesting!

Meanwhile, Donald Glover — who will co-star in this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming for Disney and Marvel — will play Adult Simba.

Favreau tweeted the news Friday evening:

According to a statement from Disney, The Lion King “will build on the groundbreaking technology used in The Jungle Book to bring the story of Simba to photorealistic life.”

A release date for the film hasn’t been set. Favreau also helmed the live-action Jungle Book for the studio.

So far casting is off to a great start!

What Disney can learn from the 2009 Chinese live-action ‘Mulan’

Here's what 'Hua Mulan' got right

4:30 pm EST, February 17, 2017

Disney seems to have a long-term plan to churn out live-action versions of its most popular animations, and Mulan is the latest of its projects. The live-action version of the Chinese legend is already getting us excited, but many people don’t know that an excellent live-action Mulan movie already exists, made by a Chinese studio.

Hua Mulan (sometimes translated as Mulan: Rise of a Warrior) is a 2009 film by director Jingle Ma. It tells the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who goes to war instead of her aging father, and rises in the army’s ranks. It won many awards in China, and stars Wei Zhao as Mulan.

Disney’s Mulan wasn’t favorably received in China when it was released, with audiences saying it was too different from the original legend, and too Westernized. Now would be a good time for the studio to make the film as globally appealing as it can be — and Hua Mulan is a perfect example of how to do our favorite female warrior justice.

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Disney seems to have a long-term plan to churn out live-action versions of its most popular animations, and Mulan is the latest of its projects. The live-action version of the Chinese legend is already getting us excited, but many people don’t know that an excellent live-action Mulan movie already exists, made by a Chinese studio.

Hua Mulan (sometimes translated as Mulan: Rise of a Warrior) is a 2009 film by director Jingle Ma. It tells the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who goes to war instead of her aging father, and rises in the army’s ranks. It won many awards in China, and stars Wei Zhao as Mulan.

Disney’s Mulan wasn’t favorably received in China when it was released, with audiences saying it was too different from the original legend, and too Westernized. Now would be a good time for the studio to make the film as globally appealing as it can be — and Hua Mulan is a perfect example of how to do our favorite female warrior justice.

Here are some things Hua Mulan got right that Disney would do well to learn from.

hua mulan decision

Bringing more realism to the legend

Hua Mulan follows a plot that is more loyal to the original legend of Mulan, which states that she was a warrior for the Chinese army for over a decade. In the film, she even becomes a General, and retires with the nation’s respect, even after her identity as a woman is revealed.

Seeing Mulan lead thousands of men in Hua Mulan is a rare and empowering experience. Her struggles as a woman in a position of power, and the various dilemmas that come with commanding such a large number of people, are what bring intensity and meaning to the story. Mulan itself explored the concept of honor and femininity as well, but we only got a very small glimpse at the power that the legendary Mulan is said to have actually wielded.

While Disney may not want to make a movie that ventures too far from a family friendly atmosphere by portraying a Mulan who goes to war too realistically (as in, showing her killing enemies), it would be great to see her rise in the ranks and revolutionize such a male-dominated space the way she is said to have done.

hua mulan warrior

Not shying away from the grit — but not making it too grim, either

Hua Mulan does an excellent job of skirting the line between grim tragedy and friendly comedy. With thousands of extras, the battle scenes are as breathtaking and inspiring as they are horrifying. There’s a scene where Mulan counts the dog tags of all the fallen soldiers, and a considerable amount of time is spent exploring her despair and responsibility as the army’s struggle becomes more desperate. The emotional rawness of the story creates a very real, very flawed, yet very lovable Mulan — and takes audiences on an exploration of heroism, perseverance, and honor.

Of course, we can’t expect Disney to go all out with blood and grit — they’re bound to bring out Mushu, after all — but Disney prides itself on epic battles and fantastic special effects, and they’ll want to serve us war scenes as breathtaking and realistic as possible.

However, we’re all tired of grittiness for grittiness’ sake. Despite the heaviness of the more emotional scenes of Hua Mulan, there is sweetness and humor. The friendships in the army, much like those of Disney’s version, can be laugh-out-loud funny, and the scenes of Mulan’s struggle to preserve her male appearance are equally fun to watch.

Related: Disney’s live action Mulan lands female director

After all, audiences won’t be going to see Mulan to see war and sadness — the animated version was fun and adventurous, and although it had somber moments, it still managed to keep things just lighthearted enough for us to not get too sad. With animation, that lightheartedness is an easier task; portraying war with real actors could prove a more difficult challenge.

Establishing more depth in the main relationship

In Hua Mulan, Mulan and Wentai’s relationship is beautiful, but it builds over a long period of time, and strengthens through their mutual respect as they both struggle to lead an army. Their love is based on that combination of trust built over time, and shared responsibility.

Shang and Mulan have what is possibly one of the best relationships Disney has ever come up with. Among the Disney ‘princesses,’ Mulan and Shang probably have the greatest chemistry and story of all, and scenes from the animated film continue to be shipping fuel. Presumably, they’ll want to replicate this relationship in the new live-action version.

However, the animated film was sadly limited to only a few glimpses of the developing relationship. It would be amazing if we could see more of the friendship between Shang and Mulan (as Ping) and how it becomes something more. It’s rare in a ‘princess’ movie to see romance begin with sincere friendship, and it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the confusion regarding Mulan’s gender in both a funny and profound way.

Giving it a more realistic conclusion

There are some scenes that could do with a makeover, especially at the very end. Mulan’s final trick to kill Shan Yu — by dressing three soldiers in drag and having them attempt to distract him — is hilarious in the animation, but would come off as strange and unrealistic in a live-action movie, and perhaps even a little offensive.

Hua Mulan’s approach to defeating the enemy is a much more powerful one. Although it equals Mulan in stealth and cleverness, it involves realistic strategy and power dynamics, and finally involves her making a deal that saves China through negotiation, rather than war — and making a terribly painful personal sacrifice.

Disney has a penchant for epic final battle scenes, but that isn’t what happens in either Mulan or Hua Mulan. In both cases, it’s Mulan’s cleverness that saves the day. It would be great to see that cleverness translated into a realistic solution, in the same way it does in Hua Mulan.

It’s not like Disney hasn’t subverted its own canon, after all. In Maleficient, it isn’t the prince’s kiss that lifts the spell. Disney could certainly benefit from giving Mulan a more epic finale, and perhaps one that does her legendary character justice.

Immersing us in historically-accurate China

Besides perhaps The Jungle Book, we’ve yet to see a live-action adaptation that takes place in a non-European culture. In fact, this would be the first film to employ solely actors of color. What Disney decides to do here will be particularly interesting; since Aladdin will be getting its own adaptation soon, and Pocahontas could also follow in the live-action trend, the decisions taken here will likely set a precedent for what will be done with those films.

There were rumors earlier of Mulan having a white love interest, which now seem to be crushed, thankfully. We want to see a film with an entirely Asian cast — hopefully at least mostly Chinese — and get a chance to explore the scenery, sets and props of ancient China.

Although, it’s only fair to say that Hua Mulan also has its own white character — a Russian singer called Vitas, who inexplicably pops up now and again. That’s another tip for Disney: don’t just insert white guys into the story for no reason.

Hua Mulan’s shots of rural China are beautiful and unique, and it would be amazing to see what Disney can do if they choose to show much of what they did in animation, with real sets and locations. Hopefully, Disney gets a chance to actually film in China itself.

All this doesn’t go to say that we want a copy of Hua Mulan. Not at all. Hua Mulan is an excellent film in its own right, but it’s considerably more adult than Disney would ever dare make an adaptation. The realism of its wars and of the toll duty takes on Mulan and her companions is nothing like the fun, if occasionally emotional, adventure Disney took us on with Mulan.

Disney’s version is a movie to be excited about, and the additions the animated film made to the legend are what makes it a classic. It would be amazing to see Mushu, Shang, the ancestors, and maybe even the cricket, on screen, as well as the songs, of course! “Make a Man Out of You” with real actors will definitely be one of the biggest highlights.

So far, we know that Mulan’s director will be Niki Caro. Although she isn’t Chinese, a matter that raises a lot of questions about representation, it’s still encouraging to see a female director chosen — and if Caro’s powerful film Whale Rider is any indication, she’s rather good at telling empowering stories with female leads. Hopefully, the rest of the team can be filled with talented Chinese filmmakers that deserve to have a hand in rendering such a culturally significant story properly.

After all, Mulan is primarily a Chinese legend, and her story spans a history much longer than the 18 years since Disney’s animation came out.

In the meantime, go check out Hua Mulan, which is a fascinating film (although a considerably more adult one; you’ve been warned)!

What are you expecting from ‘Mulan’?

There’s a new drama coming to HBO this Sunday and you can’t miss it. Big Little Lies is a delicious trip through the small, rich, and scandalous town of Monterey, California.

Featuring an all-star cast — Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley — HBO’s book to TV adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s wildly popular novel should please both book readers and newbies (I’m the latter) thanks to the soapy drama and lack of censorship.

‘Big Little Lies’ review: Come for the cast, stay for the story

Big Little Lies takes elements of True Detective, Real Housewives, and Gone Girl, and mixes them into one lovely, hate-filled cocktail. Set in the beautiful coastal town of Monterey, the secrets and connections between characters run deep.

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There’s a new drama coming to HBO this Sunday and you can’t miss it. Big Little Lies is a delicious trip through the small, rich, and scandalous town of Monterey, California.

Featuring an all-star cast — Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley — HBO’s book to TV adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s wildly popular novel should please both book readers and newbies (I’m the latter) thanks to the soapy drama and lack of censorship.

‘Big Little Lies’ review: Come for the cast, stay for the story

Big Little Lies takes elements of True Detective, Real Housewives, and Gone Girl, and mixes them into one lovely, hate-filled cocktail. Set in the beautiful coastal town of Monterey, the secrets and connections between characters run deep.

Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline is the ringmaster. She’s the typical Helicopter Parent trying as best she can to keep Monterey’s relationships and extracurricular activities together. Bringing her down is her ego and never-ending animosity toward a couple of characters, including her ex-husband’s new bae Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz, below). Together, Bonnie and Madeline’s new hubby Ed (Adam Scott) want to keep the peace between their two partners, but they’re the only two who seem capable of keeping tempers in check.

Meanwhile, Perry (Skarsgård) and Celeste (Kidman) have serious marriage issues that seem impossible to resolve. Of the leading ladies, Celeste seems to be the most level-headed despite her shitty husband. Then there’s Laura Dern’s Renata (below), who hates Madeline with all of her heart. Some of the best scenes are between these two ladies.

Not helping the Renata/Madeline relationship is the latter’s new friend Jane (Woodley). She’s just moved to town with her son Ziggy, who might’ve caused serious trouble on his first day of school.

It’s this event that initiates the show’s biggest mystery: A murder. Who did it? Who’s dead? The answer is not revealed in the first four episodes despite flash forward sequences in which we see an investigation taking place. As you continue to watch, it becomes increasingly clear that any of the characters could be be the victim or murderer. (This writer hasn’t read the book, so please don’t spoil me.)

Big Little Lies is the perfect show to cuddle up with on Sunday evenings for the next two months. While some have called this show corny, I find it to be a delight. I just have one suggestion for every viewer: Bring a glass of alcohol to the party. While screening the episodes, I very much enjoyed watching the drama unfold with a drink in hand.

The only problem? It’s just seven episodes long. Here’s hoping for more seasons or more adaptations of Moriarty’s books at HBO.

Big Little Lies premieres Sunday, February 19 on HBO.