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Winter’s long program

Judging cinema’s odes to figure skating



The weather’s turned warmer, school’s almost out and baseball season’s begun, but that doesn’t mean Missoula’s quite done with its “long program” of all things winter. This Saturday, May 6, at 6:30 p.m., the Missoula Figure Skating Club presents its 9th annual “Showcase on Ice!” at the Glacier Ice Rink, and in the interest of holding on to those last remnants that remind us of the cold—like German judges—we’re breaking out the ice-skating films.

Ice Castles (1978)
This dated gem set all sorts of precedents for future ice-skating movies. Consider the trends that started here: Ice Castles was one of the first movies to tap into the intense pressure and politicking inherent to the sport, as when the main character, an aspiring figure skater who’s recovered from blindness, dumps her loyal Midwestern honey (Robby Benson) for the prestige of dating a big-time broadcaster; it utilizes an exceptionally sappy soundtrack by the immortal Melissa Manchester, including the climactic theme song “Through the Eyes of Love”; and it was the first of many ice-skating flicks to launch its lead actors’ careers in the dubious field of animation voice-overs. On the latter count, it’s Benson who followed his top billing here by landing the voice of the Beast in Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast. (He did not, however, appear in the “Disney On Ice” version.) Tragically, Ice Castles isn’t available through local video stores, but its historical significance makes its inclusion here mandatory.

The Cutting Edge (1992)
Perhaps the best figure-skating film ever made, The Cutting Edge is Rocky Balboa on blades, Flashdance on frozen water. Directed by the original Starsky (aka Paul Michael Glaser), it stars almost-hunky D.B. Sweeney (who went on to do voice-overs for Brother Bear and Dinosaur) and tough-looking brunette Moira Kelly (who went on to do voice-overs for The Lion King). Despite neither actor ever amounting to much after Edge, they sizzle in this formulaic, goosebumpy ride, which pairs Sweeney’s ex-Olympic hockey star with Kelly’s irritable ice princess in a last-ditch effort to score them both gold medals. What puts The Cutting Edge over the top: Joe Cocker whores out his last ounce of soul with the Bryan Adams-esque theme song, “Feels Like Forever.”

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
There’s one reason, and one reason alone this flick makes the list: Brian Boitano. When Stan, Kyle and Cartman sing an ode to the Olympic figure skater—“What Would Brian Boitano Do?”—it becomes arguably figure skating’s most improbable, controversial and sleazy crossover exposure since Tanya Harding’s leaked sex tape (not otherwise mentioned on this list). “When Brian Boitano was in the Alps, fighting grizzly bears/He used his magical fire breath, and saved the maidens fair,” sings Cartman. It’s also worth noting that South Park continues the ongoing musical and animation themes.

Ice Angel (2000)
Another would-be classic kept down by the Winter Olympic-hating Man, this made-for-TV flick is neither available through local video stores nor through any noticeable cable reruns. What you’re missing: a storyline that’s a little Heaven Can Wait mixed with a reverse of Just One of the Guys, wherein a young male hockey player dies and comes back as a female figure skater; the teenybopper theme song “Steal My Sunshine” by Len; and a cast starring Alan Thicke (Mr. Seaver on “Growing Pains”) as the skating coach, Nicholle Tom as the reincarnated skater (she later voiced Supergirl in the animated “Justice League” series), and real-life Olympians Tara Lipinski and Nancy Kerrigan. It’s an unsubstantiated rumor that Kerrigan, in a scene reminiscent of her heartbreaking Harding-orchestrated real-life pre-Olympic knee-whacking, broke down screaming, “Why me? Whyyyyyyyyy meeeeeee?” when cast for the part.

Death to Smoochy (2002)
This box-office bomb about the seedy side of children’s television is more enjoyable the second time around—a ridiculous dark comedy that seems more sinisterly silly without the initial hype associated with a cast featuring Edward Norton, Robin Williams, Danny DeVito (who also directs), Jon Stewart (part of his stellar cinema career, right up there with last year’s animated atrocity, Doogal), and the always sexy in a soccer mom sorta way Catherine Keener. The film’s climax occurs during an emotional, white supremacist-tinged performance of “Smoochy on Ice,” complete with ice-skating midgets (no, not DeVito), a reenacted murder and a real-life murder attempt. As a stand-alone, the skating show’s not bad, although a bit esoteric compared to the standard Ice Capades.

Ice Princess (2005)
Lines like, “No, Mom, I’m giving up on your dream—I’m going after mine,” and, also to mom, “You see me better than anyone [tear]” tell you all you need to know about this Mean Girls-like underdog figure-skating story. It stars Michelle Trachtenberg (the girl from EuroTrip) as a math whiz who decides to prove her pre-Harvard physics theories by performing them in Madonna-scored skating routines—um, as if—and who, in a nice plot twist surprisingly unused until now, develops a mad crush on the pubescent Zamboni driver. The promising supporting cast includes “Sex and the City’s” Kim Cattrall (who remains clothed throughout) and Joan Cusack as Trachtenberg’s mother. This film came out late last year and, apparently just to keep our running gag on its feet, Cusack followed it with her first-ever…animated voice-over as a duck in Chicken Little. That, judges, is a perfect landing.

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