Billy Elliot’s Brilliance into Ballet

For my next critique, I’ll be tackling the Stephen Daldry 2000 movie, “Billy Elliot”, which is about an 11 year old boy who has quite an unusual talent for his time. Set around the 1984 coal mining strike in rural England, it was one of British actor Jamie Bell’s first roles, and paved the way for a Broadway and West End musical, with music scripted by the legendary singer Elton John.

Jamie Bell stars as the titular Billy, a prepubescent youngster who lives in the mining town of Durham in the mid 1980’s. Billy lives with his father Jackie (Gary Lewis) and brother Tony (Jamie Draven), who both value their traditional, masculine backgrounds in the coal industry and his forgetful grandmother (Jean Heywood), with his mother having passed away a year earlier. With Jackie and Tony participating in a mining strike picket, the police have to be called in to restore some semblance of order to the community.

Billy keeps busy by taking boxing lessons in the local hall, but he proves to be less than stellar in the sport. Following a mediocre boxing lesson, he is cajoled into joining in on a ballet class taught by Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters). There, he finds that ballet awakens an inexplicable need in him,  and so he begins to attend the class in secret, for some time at least. Eventually, an enraged Jackie finds out about Billy’s less than masculine extracurricular activity, and orders him to be pulled from the class. But can Billy deny his dancing dreams, or do greater pursuits beckon in his future instead?

The performances from all the actors are all superb. I simply can’t fault a single one of them for how authentic and natural they felt. Bell is excellent as the quietly determined Billy, the always fantastic Julie Walters is on top form in an Oscar nominated role as the encouraging dance coach, and Lewis and Draven are also decent in their roles as Billy’s initially distant father and brother, and Stuart Wells serves well as Michael, Billy’s best friend who is harbouring a secret of his own!

The story is propped with an array of memorable scenes, from the opening shot of Billy jumping on a trampoline in midair to the strains of T-Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer”, or Billy letting out some steam to the Jam’s “A Town Called Malice”. My own personal favourite scene comes about towards the end of the movie, where Billy is questioned about what dancing feels like. His response is simply heartfelt, and it inspired what is perhaps the musical’s most recognizable song, “Electricity”.

“Billy Elliot”, is possibly one of the best British movies that I’ve had the pleasure of viewing. I used to watch it devoutly as a child, and Billy’s struggle to remain true to himself despite the adversity from his family resonated with me, as I’m sure it has for others. In fact, Elton John himself was inspired to write the music for the stage show as he related to Billy’s fraught relationship with his father, since it was similar to the one he had with his own.

“Billy Elliot” earns a grand total of five out of five stars. It offers a brilliant takeaway message of perseverance in regards to your dreams or ambitions, and to never give up, no matter how fruitless and impossible it may seem, as it just might pay off in the end. Plus, I’d recommend checking out the musical show if you loved the film, Elton John, or if you simply love musical theatre which has catchy songs and valuable messages, then it might just be up your alley!

Living on the Edge of Seventeen

First of all, let me just say “Happy 2017”! I apologise for putting this blog on hiatus for the past number of weeks. Surprising perhaps no one,I have spent most of that break watching plenty of 80’s movies to be the subjects of my future reviews of all things 80’s. My latest post is a little different, however, as it is based in the recently released movie, “The Edge of Seventeen” (2016), which is the directorial debut from screenwriter Kelly Fremon Craig. I was especially anticipating this movie because the leading role was played by Hailee Steinfeld, who I’ve admired as an actress since I saw her Oscar Nominated turn in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of the classic 1969 western movie, “True Grit” at the tender age of 13.

The plot concerns Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), an awkward, moody 17 year old girl who is trying to cope after the tragic  loss of her father just a few years prior. She feels overlooked by her frazzled mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) in favour of her “golden boy” brother, Darian (Blake Jenner).  She seeks solace in her best (not to mention, only) friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). At least until Darian and Krista hit it off and start dating, which instigates in Nadine abruptly putting an end to their friendship.

Feeling adrift and as alienated as ever, Nadine regularly vents her woes to her perpetually disgruntled teacher, Mr. Bruner (an always excellent Woody Harrelson), who is almost always reliable to respond to Nadine’s theatrics with some deadpan remarks of his own. On the romance front, Nadine harbours a crush on hunky bad boy Nick (Alexander Calvert), and tries to pluck up the courage to actually, you know, talk to him. Meanwhile, she strikes up a friendship with cute film nerd, Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who just might be able to show her that things are not nearly as bad as she makes them appear…

First things first, I really adored this movie. It manages to take a genre that would otherwise seem tired and overdone (in this case, high school), and breath a new lease of life into it. Being only a few years removed from high school myself, all of the teenage characters behaved and acted as real people their age would, and not simply a scriptwriter’s “idea” of how they “should” act.

This is most prominently shown with Nadine herself. On the outset, she’s a tough protagonist to root for. Yes, she’s a drama queen, overly impulsive, and extremely rude at some points to the people she’s supposedly close to, such as her family, her best friend and her teacher. But she’s a teenager, and many of her reactions at that age are understandable. It helps to make her feel more authentic as a result.

The supporting cast are also commendable in their roles. I had only ever seen Blake Jenner portray the “nice guy jock” in “Glee” prior to watching this movie. As a result, I found myself to be pleasantly surprised by the depths that Darian’s character took throughout the course of the movie. Because Nadine’s the protagonist, and the majority of the film is from her perspective, we’re not privy to other characters’ viewpoints until Nadine herself is made aware of them. Darian isn’t merely a smug jerk, nor is Krista being selfish by putting her boyfriend ahead of her best friend. They all have more going on with them than it initially appeared.

The highlight of the movie for me was any scene with Erwin. I always love nerdy characters in movies, and Erwin is no exception. He’s a sweet, well-adjusted guy, and is refreshingly not a stereotype , but much like Nadine, a real character. I was pretty surprised when I looked Hayden Szeto up online, and discovered that he’s 31 years old, yet Erwin can’t be no more than 16 or 17. However, this does does not take away from his otherwise solid performance.

In summation, I rate “The Edge of Seventeen” four and a half out of five stars. It’s one of the best high school movies that I’ve had the chance of viewing in quite a while, and I highly recommend watching it. Even though Nadine can be quite grating at times, once you get past that slight, the film works very well. It’s also topped off with a satisfying conclusion, which nicely ties up Nadine’s story arc.

I hope that you enjoyed this non  80’s movie review. As always, please feel free to suggest some more “Flix of the 80’s” .

Robin Williams gives us many reasons to “Seize the Day”…

It’s been a year since the world was rocked by the untimely death of Robin Williams on August 11, 2014. Hours after reports of his death were made known, many flocked to social media sites to commemorate the beloved actor by citing quotations from his best known works. Although Williams appeared in several memorable pictures during his long career, the quote which appeared the most was the famous “Oh Captain, my Captain” line from “Dead Poets Society” (1989).

As I hadn’t seen the film at the time, and having no idea what the plot consisted I was baffled to say the least by this quotation. I had a vague notion for what went on, thanks to an episode of “Friends”, in which Monica (Courteney Cox) meets a woman who has stolen both her credit cards and her identity. In one scene, “Fake” Monica relates to our Monica on how she was inspired to change her life after seeing a movie that was “so incredibly boring”- “Dead Poets Society”. After realizing that she was never going to get the past two hours of her life back, “that scared me more then all the other crap I was afraid to do”.

However, I was intrigued by the description of the plot, so I decided to investigate this apparently dull movie. Set in 1959, the film takes place in an elite private boarding school, “Welton’s Academy for Boys”. The story centres around a bashful new student, Todd (Ethan Hawke), his light-hearted room mate Neil(Sean Robert Leonard) and his study group- playful Charlie(Gale Hansen), whimsical Knox (Josh Charles), brainy Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero), brawny Pitts (James Waterson) and stuffy overachiever Richard Cameron (Dylan Kaussman). The boys are pressured to work hard in their academic careers if they stand chances of getting into Ivy League colleges.

The arrival of new English teacher, and alumnus of Welton, John Keating (Robin Williams) and his unconventional methods of teaching, under the Latin mantra “Carpe Diem” (or “Seize the Day”) challenges the status quo. The boys are inspired by his ways, and conspire to restart the eponymous Dead Poets Society, which Keating founded when he was a student. Todd starts to emerge from his shell, Knox uses poetry to woo Chris (Alexandra Powers), a sweet-natured girl from a neighboring school, and Neil discovers a love of acting when he partakes in a local production of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”. But his controlling father (Kurtwood Smith) demands that Neil forgo his acting dream to become a doctor, unwittingly setting forth a series of tragic circumstances…

Even though “Dead Poets Society” appears to be a cliche story about a cool teacher winning over his students with the most unorthodox methods possible, in the hands of Williams and director Peter Weir, the film is truly inspiring in many ways. This film belongs to Williams, as he relentlessly pursuits in making learning fun for his pupils. The scene in which Keating has the boys stand atop of their desks in order to view the world from another perspective, which eventually becomes the basis of the climatic final scene, as well as countless parodies in other works.

The actors portraying the Welton students have excellent chemistry with each other, but Ethan Hawke as Todd  is the stand out for me, especially in the scene where he’s despondent over his parents gifting him with a desk set,as they do every year, and favour his older brother over him. His friendship with Neil encourages him to find his voice.

All in all, I give “Dead Poets Society” a total of four and a half stars out of five, as it’s a tale that can inspire mature teenagers to share their opinions without fear of being reprimanded for doing so. However, the film gets sadder towards the end, which could be upsetting for younger kids in turn.

In my opinion, Robin Williams delivered the most memorable performance of his career, and won’t that shouldn’t be forgotten any time soon. Thank you Robin, oh my captain, my captain.