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!

Everywhere You Look – “Full House” in Review!

Following my “Saved by the Bell” review, I have decided to critique another sitcom which aired from the late 80’s until the mid 90’s – “Full House”.  Modern audiences may recognize it due to the recent Netflix revival series, “Fuller House”. It has the honour of being one of the most recognizable  family sitcoms of  the last century.  Even though the bulk of its run-time was through the 1990’s, it still maintains that unique 80’s quality.

This show, airing from 1987 to 1995, centered around Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), a widowed newscaster in San Francisco who is struggling to bring up his three daughters following the death of his wife in a drunk driving accident.  He enlists the help of Jesse, (John Stamos), his ladies man brother in law, and Joey (Dave Coulier), his best friend, and childish comedian, to move in to take care of the girls- D.J. (Candace Cameron), the responsible oldest child, Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), the sarcastic middle child, and Michelle (Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen), the mischievous baby of the bunch. The show focused on the antics that both adults and girls got themselves into that week, which could usually always end with a heart to heart between one of the men (usually Danny) and his daughters, with a hug often called upon to sweeten up the moment, much to the glee of the studio audience.

Later additions to the main cast included Becky (Lori Loughlin), Danny’s co-anchor who would later be promoted as Jesse’s love interest and eventual wife, their twin boys Alex and Nicky (Dylan and Blake Tuomy-Wilhoit) , Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber), D.J.’s kooky best friend with an insufferable stinky foot odour and Steve (Scott Weinger), D.J.’s sweet but slightly dim boyfriend.

“Full House” has garnered a repuation for being a wholesome family sitcom, managing to cement the “sappy emotional music” cue, which played during those aforementioned “golden moments”  . The show played up the cuteness of the child actors, particularly the Olsen twins, who could often be depended upon to deliver a cute catchphrase or one-liner.

Despite the show’s roaring success, the male leads of the show have expressed scorn over the overly saccharine plots. Bob Saget, who is now perhaps best known for his profane, raunchy stand up routines, which is a far cry from the soft spoken Danny Tanner. John Stamos similarly strove to put the show behind him by selecting gritter roles.

Nevertheless, almost all of the original cast, with the notable exception of the Olsen twins, signed on for the Netflix revival, “Fuller House”, in 2016. In keeping with the same format as its predecessor, D.J. is now a single mother to three boys,  and has trouble coping after the death of her firefighter husband, so Stephanie and Kimmy step in to help out. As you can imagine, more comedic possibilities ensue! While still considered a “family show, many of the jokes in Fuller House are arguably more laden with innuendo, as summed up here.

“Full House” earns a total of 3 out of 5 stars. Whether you find it or its brand of comedy sweet or sickening, it still remains a staple of classic family driven sitcoms. It’s worth checking out if you like “Fuller House”, or if you, like me, have a love for corny 80’s sitcoms. You got it, dude!

Get Ready for a “Totally Awesome” Parody Experience!

Greetings and salutations, everyone! I’ve been watching some movies in the last few days, so I haven’t had much time to post reviews to this blogs as of late. Today’s movie will be VH1’s  satire on 80’s teen flicks, “Totally Awesome” (2006). It takes all the cliches and jokes supplied by 80’s teen movies, and lightheartedly makes fun of them for being dated and conventional. Think of it an “80’s”fied verson of “Not Another Teen movie. I’d like to thank “Moreland” from the blog “Jane Austen runs my Life” for suggesting and recommending this movie.

The idea behind “Totally Awesome” is that there was an old teen movie from the 80’s that has never been shown or released to a contemporary audience – until now, that is!   The tale follows siblings Charlie (Mikey Day)  and Lori (Dominque Swain), who have newly arrived in California from Pittsburgh. Charlie finds out that he’s ranked low on the class “popularity list”. He hopes to land the affections of popular but shallow Kimberly (Brittany Daniel) and show up typical cocky cool jock Kip (Joey Kern) in an upcoming decathlon. He enlists the help of smooth talking Darnell (Tracy Morgan), who tries the “Soul Man” approach, which involves impersonating the mannerisms and look of a black man, borrowing the plot of the controversial C. Thomas Howell movie, and effeminate next door neighbour Mr Yamagashi (James Hong)  who helps him train for the decathlon, “Karate Kid” style of course. But will he see that the right girl has been under his nose all along, in the form of his best friend Billie (Nicki Clyne)?

Meanwhile, Lori finds herself reenacting the plot of “Footloose” when she discovers that  dancing has been outlawed in her new town ever since the last people who danced in the town had their feet literally come loose when they kicked off their Sunday shoes. Lori decides to take action to restore dancing to the town. Enter Gabriel (Chris Kattan), a 35 year old former dance instructor turned destitute janitor, who steps in to show her some sweet dance moves, among other things!

As you may imagine in a frothy parody movie, “Totally Awesome”  is chock full of funny moments. In fact, I thought that the homage to “Soul Man” was actually kind of funny, despite  having utterly loathed that movie, primarily because of how racially insulting it was perceived as, even when it was first released back in 1986. However, as “Totally Awesome” is fully aware of how ridiculous that whole plot was, it dedicates its time to showing how that would play out in a more self aware environment.

I loved guessing the movies that were being parodied in certain scenes. The most obvious were probably “Dirty Dancing”, “Footloose” and “The Karate Kid”, but there are also shout outs to the likes of “Secret Admirer”, “Risky Business” and “Some Kind of Wonderful”, and even “Teen Wolf”. I would have liked to have seen some John Hughes movies get the spoof treatment, but many were already covered in “Not Another Teen Movie”.

I was also surprised by how funny I found Tracy Morgan’s  role in this movie. Usually, his brand of humour can be fairly hit or miss to me, as seen in his show, “30 Rock”. His role is limited to to the standard “black best friend/ sidekick archetype, but he did make me chuckle from time to time. His fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum, Chris Kattan, is also on top form here, as his character gets some genuinely funny moments in.

“Totally Awesome” earns a total of 3 and a half out of five stars, as it’s a fun flick  to check out if you a fan of spoof movies that aren’t meant to be questioned or taken too seriously, then this movie just might be up your street! Also, feel free to check out the website “Jane Austen Runs my Life”. Until next time!

Molly Ringwald’s Baby Blues in “For Keeps”?

In the late 1980’s, there were a crop of “baby pictures” released, which entailed the main characters looking after an infant. These included “Three Men and a Baby” (1987), “Baby Boom” (1987) ,”Look Who’s Talking” (1989) and today’s topic, “For Keeps”? (1988). It is notable for starring 80’s favourite, Molly Ringwald, in her last leading role. Famous for her collaborations  with director – writer John Hughes in the “Brat Pack” movies, she eventually decided to sever ties with Hughes out of fear of becoming typecast, and wishing to pursue more adult film roles.

Ringwald plays Darcy, a high school senior who dreams of becoming a journalist. She is very much in love with her boyfriend, Stan (Randall Batinkoff). That gets tested when a weekend of sex leads to Darcy becoming pregnant. This prompts Darcy and Stan to have to face the consequences of their actions, and grow up beyond their years. Both of them face pressures from their parents regarding what to do about the baby. Darcy’s single mother Donna (Miriam Flynn) wants Darcy to get an abortion, while Stan’s devoutly Catholic parents (Kenneth Mars and Conchata Ferrell) urge them to go through with adopting the baby.

Ultimately, the young couple decide to keep their baby, and so drop out of high school and get married, but find that the responsibilities of young parenthood clash strongly with their ambitions for their future. Will they manage to tackle their newfound roles, or will they crumble under the pressure?

“For Keeps” had the best of intentions, but the production of this movie ultimately proved to be quite a troubled one. Ringwald mentioned that she originally signed on for the project to alert teenage girls about the realities of becoming parents at an early age. She would later go on to star in the ABC Family (now Freeform) series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”, where she portrayed the mother of a pregnant teenager (Shailene Woodley), for much the same reason.

They also wished to showcase a successful instance of teenage  marriages, and that not all of them end badly. The film’s director, John G. Avildsen, who was known for directing such classics as “Rocky” (1976) and “The Karate Kid” (1984)clashed with Ringwald . Ringwald and Avildsen had differing perspectives on how to address the issue of teen pregnancy, and the script reportedly had to be altered numerous times. Ringwald envisioned the project as a “funny, cautionary tale, whereas Avilsden had “an engaging love story” in mind.

To the movie’s credit, it did address some of the drawbacks of pregnancy, such as financial difficulties and postpartum depression, as Darcy and Stan move to a small apartment, and Darcy struggles to give daughter Thea (short for Theodosia!) the support and care she requires. However, this is presented in an over the top, melodramatic manner, that it can be tricky to care about their problems when they are constantly fighting in an overzealous fashion. It has been acknowledged that Ringwald hoped that this movie would pave the way for more mature projects, and judging from her overacting in some scenes, it is rather apparent. That being addressed, her scenes with Batinkoff come off as touching and emotive. Batinkoff didn’t go on to any major roles after “For Keeps”, but he gives a mature, nuanced performance for the most part.

While “For Keeps” didn’t exactly catapult the careers of anyone involved, it is notable for having an up and coming Pauly Shore in a minor role as one of Stan’s friends. The ending ends on a positive note, but it seemed like everything was tied up a little too hastily and tidily.

I’d recommend this movie if you’re a fan of Ringwald and her earlier work, or enjoy coming of age stories. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of “For Keeps”, I didn’t despise it, either, as there were some moments that were done well, yet some others (such as a toppling Christmas tree) seemed to be thrown in just to illicit some slapstick and laughs into the gravitas. In summation, “For Keeps” earns 3 out of 5 stars.

 

Bruce Willis does Baby Talk in “Look Who’s Talking”

In the late 1980’s, there were a crop of “baby pictures” released, which entailed the main characters looking after an infant. These included “Three Men and a Baby” (1987), “Baby Boom” (1987) ,””For Keeps”? (1988) and today’s subject, Amy Heckerling’s 1989 comedy, “Look Who’s Talking”. The best part that makes the movie stand out from all the other baby related movies? Bruce Willis provides the internal thoughts for the baby!

The plot follows New York accountant Mollie Jensen (Kirstie Alley), who has been having an affair with her married client Albert (George Segal), for quite some time. When she becomes pregnant from the tryst, Albert at first offers to stand by her, but then double crosses her by cheating with another woman, leaving her to be a single parent. After a heated public confrontation between Mollie and Albert, she goes into labour, and happens into the taxi of friendly cab driver James (John Travolta). He gets her to the hospital on time, and stays around to help for the birth of  baby Mikey.

A few days later,  James stops by to return Mollie’s purse, which she’d left in the back of his cab in the ensuing drama.  He immediately bonds with Mikey, and acts as his babysitter in order to help Mollie out. Mollie, determined to give Mikey the best possible father figure, starts dating an assortment of men, but none of them seem to fit the bill.  As time passes, sparks begin to fly between Mollie and James, with Mikey giving his two cents along the way. It’s actually a lot more funnier than it sounds!

Even though the movie may verge into silly territory at times, it works because of the charisma of the leading players. Travolta has been on record as stating that his role of James is the closest to his real life personality. The similarities don’t stop there – both James and Travolta are pilots on the side. He interacts well with Kirstie Alley, and they make a convincing “will they/won’t they couple”. Willis delivers a hysterical vocal performance as the baby. It’s worth noting while Willis and Travolta are the best of pals in this movie, just a few years later in “Pulp Fiction” (1994), they played anything but friends!

Some highlights of this flick include James dancing with Mikey to the Katrina and the Waves hit “Walking on Sunshine”, and again to Gene Pitney’s “Town without Pity” with Mollie in the kitchen, proving that Travolta has still got the dance moves he showcased in classics like “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) or “Grease” (1978). There are also a series of comical imagination sequences, frequently experienced by Mollie. These range from her considering whether or not her various dates will make a suitable father for Mikey based on how they treat the waiter, to her literally hanging atop of a clock tower after being told that her “biological clock is ticking”.

The movie was followed by two sequels- “Look who’s Talking Too” (1991), which features the exploits of Mikey and his young half sister Julie, who is voiced by Roseanne Barr. The second sequel, “Look Who’s Talking Now” (1993), doesn’t rely on the kids’ thoughts being heard, since they’re now old enough to speak for themselves. However, Diane Keaton and Danny DeVito are on board, as the voices of the two family dogs . While both of these movies are enjoyable in their own ways, they don’t compare to the original, in my opinion.

“Look Who’s Talking” earns 4 out of 5 stars, as it’s a warm, engaging comedy that worth seeing if you’re a fan of any of the leads, if you like baby themed movies, or if you fancy hearing Bruce Willis engage in providing the thoughts of an infant, in contrast to his more action orientated roles.  Happy viewing!

A “Wonderful” Love Triangle Movie

Hello everyone!  It’s back to the 80’s reviews, and what better movie to kick off with than “Some Kind of Wonderful” (1987), directed by Howard Deutch. It has the old familiar set up of the hero being caught between two contrasting choices of girls. Roger Ebert probably summed up the concept best in his review, “it is not about whether the hero will get the girl, it is whether the hero should get the girl, and when was the last time you saw a movie that even knew that could be the question?”

Eric Stolz stars as Keith Nelson, an artsy teenage mechanic from a working class background. His best friend is a tomboyish drummer named Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), and his dad Cliff (John Ashton), puts pressure on him to attend college, and get the education he never did, while Keith would much rather paint instead. He has a crush on the beautiful, seemingly unattainable Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). In a refreshing take on the normal procedure, Amanda comes from the same modest background as Watts and Keith, but as she hangs out with the “popular” crowd, this makes her “rich by association”.

After Amanda breaks up with her caddish boyfriend, Hardy (Craig Sheffer), Keith wastes no time in asking her out. She accepts his offer, primarily out of spite for Hardy.  This eventually leads to Amanda being shunned by her snooty friends for daring to date outside the “in” crowd. Meanwhile, Watts has some issues of her own, as she has developed unrequited feelings for her best friend…

If you feel that the story that I’ve summarized sounds a little familiar, it’s because it was based the movie “Pretty in Pink” (1986), which preceded this movie by one year. It was not only directed by Howard Deutch, but was scripted by the king of 80’s teen movies, John Hughes. It’s worth noting that the stories are eeriely similar to each other. While “Pink” is about Molly Ringwald trying to choose between a smooth rich guy Andrew McCarthy and quirky best friend Jon Cryer, “Wonderful”  has essentially the exact same premise with the genders reversed.

When Hughes produced “Pretty in Pink”, his original intention was to have Molly Ringwald end up with Jon Cryer’s lovable goofball Duckie. However, the test audience for that film weren’t receptive to that ending, taking it as a sign that the rich and the poor social classes didn’t belong together. The ending was then changed to the one we all know, in which Ringwald ends up with McCarthy’s. It’s funny to note that had “Pink” ended up the way that Hughes originally envisioned it, it’s highly likely that we wouldn’t have “Wonderful”.

If I had to pick between “Pink” and “Wonderful” as being the better film, I’d ultimately have to choose the latter movie, as the supporting characters are more fleshed out and entertaining in my opinion. In “Wonderful”, we have  Duncan(Elias Koteas), a skinhead delinquent pal of Keith’s,who steals many of his scenes,  Laura (Maddie Corman), his annoying younger sister, and Ashton as the open-minded parent who just wants the best for his son.

As for the main trio of Stolz, Masterson and Thompson, they all pull off their respective roles with aplomb. Stolz is appealing as the man in the middle, Thompson pulls off the typical popular girl role with freshness, and Masterson shines as the friend who pines away from afar.

“Some Kind of Wonderful” rates as 4 stars our of a 5 star rating. Although it’s predictable and slow moving in parts, it ultimately captures the decisions of high school, and retains the typical Hughes charm that come from his teen movies. “Some Kind of Wonderful” was the last teen movie Hughes was involved in, before he decided to try his hand at making more adult themed pictures. Nevertheless, “Wonderful” ensures that Hughes’ teen movie period went out with not a fizzle, but with a bang.

If you enjoyed this review, please feel free to check out the movie, “Pretty in Pink”, or you can read my review of the film here! Until next time!

“The Princess Bride”-An Inconceivable Fairy Tale

Love is in the air, as we have reached one of my favourite holidays of all time- Valentine’s Day! And what better way to mark the occasion than to view a romantic movie? And if the latest “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie doesn’t quite cater to your idea of “romance”, then perhaps “The Princess Bride”, Rob Reiner’s 1987 adaptation of William Goldman’s novel of the same name, can be of some assistance. While some male members of the audience may be instantly turned off as soon as they hear the title, believing it to be a girly “kissing” story, it’s more about more than just “a princess bride”. It’s got elements that will keep young boys satisfied too, such as pirates, adventure and revenge!

We start off with a grandfather (Peter Falk) settling down to tell his sick young grandson (Fred Savage) a bedtime story. The tale he weaves tells of Westley (Cary Elwes), a lowly farmhand who works for the family of Buttercup (Robin Wright), whom he loves. When she realizes that she reciprocates  his feelings, he leaves in order to make his fortune so that they can get married. However, she hears that Westley’s ship has been attacked by by the fearsome Dread Pirate Roberts, with Westley being presumed dead. Resigning herself to the loss of her one true love, Buttercup doesn’t resist when vile Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon) chooses her as his intended bride, with the hidden agenda of murdering her in order to profit from her death.

Buttercup gets kidnapped by a trio of outlaws- Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a Sicilian mastermind who greatly overestimates his own brilliance, gentle giant Fezzik, (Andre the Giant), and dashing Hispanic swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), who wishes to avenge his father’s murder at the hand of six fingered swordsman, Count Rugen (Christopher Guest). Shortly afterwards, they encounter a mysterious masked bandit known as the Man in Black, who is determined to rescue Buttercup…

“The Princess Bride” was simply a joy to watch. I hadn’t seen it since I was about 8 years old, and I remember being transfixed by the fantastical elements and sets. The characters themselves are immensely memorable. The villains are entertaining without being too hammy or over the top. The cameo appearances by notable celebrities contained no shortage of jokes. One of my favourites includes  British comedian Peter Cook as the “Impressive Clergyman” who mangles phrases such as “Mawage” and “Twue wuv”. It simply has to be seen to be believed! Plus, Billy Crystal, unrecognisable under make up and prosthetics appears in one short sequence as medicine man, Miracle Max, with Carol Kane as his nagging wife, Valerie.

Another thing I should note about this movie is that it’s incredibly quotable. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, it’s almost  guaranteed that you can recite lines from it at random. Some of these include “as you wish” , “Have fun storming the castle” and “Inconceivable”. But the most famous quote possibly has to be (all together now!): “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”!

One aspect of the story that I didn’t expect to enjoy was the framing device between the grandfather and his grandson. Usually when a movie’s main narrative is depicted as one character telling it to another, it can get a little jarring to be pulled out of the action just to show the character’s reactions to the events at hand (as seen in “The Notebook”, Reiner’s own “Stand by Me” and virtually any episode of “How I Met your Mother”). Not so much in this case.  The cutaways to Savage and Falk flowed naturally, and didn’t attract attention away from the main story. If anything, they only enhanced them.

“The Princess Bride” earns a full distinction of 5 out of 5 stars from me. It’s one of those classic movies that almost everyone can remember being a staple of their childhoods, and I’d definitely recommend showing it to younger kids. (And yes, there is some kissing involved!) Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!