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!

Grease 2- A Guilty Pleasure Sequel

Everyone knows the original “Grease”, from 1978. Basically, a teen cool boy and studious girl spend one idyllic summer together on the beach before they go their separate ways- him to Rydell High School, her to Australia. Then they meet up again weeks later in school, only for her to find that he’s the leader of cool clique, the T-Birds, and doesn’t want to tarnish his reputation. After many sing songs and teenage angst, she changes her appearance, they fly off in a car together, The End.

That movie has always been somewhat of a guilty pleasure to me. But what even a greater guilty pleasure to me is the sequel, “Grease 2”, which succeeded the first movie by four years. Many fans of “Grease” tend to disregard the fact that this sequel even exists. I may be in the minority, but for a while, I favoured “Grease 2” over the original. It’s not that the original was bad, per se, I just felt that there was more going on in the sequel.

“Grease 2” is merely a rehash of the first film’s plot, only this time round, it’s the guy who changes for his love interest, who is a member of the Pink Ladies, and not vice versa. To me, the songs are catchier, the comedy doesn’t feel as forced, and it’s so corny you’ll actually enjoy it all the more. There had been plans to make a franchise of “Grease” films, as well as a TV show, but once the sequel proved to be a bomb at the box office, those plans were well and truly thwarted.

In 1961,Michael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfield) is an exchange student from England, and cousin of “Grease”‘s Sandy Oleson (Olivia Newton-John). He falls in love with Pink Lady leader Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer), but he learns from Frenchie (Didi Conn), one of the only returning characters from the original, that he needs to be a T-Bird in order to have a chance with her. What’s a nerdy guy like him to do?

Obviously, this entails doing the T-Bird’s homework for cash, learning how to drive a motorbike and moonlighting as a mysterious bad boy biker, with only goggles to obscure his face. (This disguise somehow fools everyone,  despite half of his face still being visible, but I digress). While Stephanie likes the smart, nice guy side of Michael, she becomes smitten with his cool biker persona. Will Michael win her heart by just being himself? Only time, and corny, angsty tunes, will tell.

The thing about “Grease 2” that I never used to like while growing up was the fact that there are only a handful of characters returning from the first movies, such as Frenchie, Principal McGee (Eve Arden), her scatty assistant Blanche (Dody Goodman), Coach Calhoun (Sid Caesar) and butt monkey geek Eugene (Eddie Deezen). It’s nice to see a few familiar faces, as none of the former cast members appear, although we never find out what happens to the original characters, namely Sandy and Danny (John Travolta).  Frenchie, my favourite character from “Grease”, has a mini subplot about going back to Rydell after dropping out in the original, but promptly disappears halfway through the run time, and it’s never properly resolved. This is partially due to the script having not been completely finished by the time filming commenced.

The songs of “Grease 2” may not hold a candle to “You’re the one that I want”, “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, or “Summer Nights”, but I couldn’t get the songs of the sequel out of my head for days after watching this flick. Notably, there’s “Let’s do it for our Country” (where T-Bird Louis (Peter Frechette), attempts to trick uptight girlfriend Sharon (Maureen Teefy) into being intimate with him, under the pretense of a war breaking out, but she, for some reason, thinks he’s alluding to joining the army!)  “Cool Rider” (where Stephanie expresses her desires for, you’ve guessed it), “Score Tonight” (a song about hooking up, disguised as a song about bowling, with a plenitude of double meanings to boot) and, most famously, or rather infamously, “Reproduction” (where a nervous substitute teacher (Tab Hunter) tries to give a talk on sex to his class of hormone driven 20 something teenagers, who are becoming more  experienced in that particular subject matter. Yes, it’s just as hilariously creepy as it sounds).

Most of the acting is strained, to say the least. Maxwell Caulfield blamed the movie for ruining his career, but I feel that he comes off as very likable, compared to Adrian Zmed’s Johnny, Stephanie’s ex and T-Bird leader. Michelle Pfeiffer, in her first major role, is not at her best here, but she has her moments of interest as well.

While it’s no “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Godfather Part 2”, “Grease 2” still manages to be an entertaining, if tremendously silly sequel, and for that reason, it earns three stars out of five. It’s worth viewing for “Reproduction” alone, if only to see how unbelievably over the top the number really is, as well as the supporting cast members. Even if you weren’t a fan of “Grease”, I’d recommend viewing the sequel just to giggle at the overall silliness of the movie. Grease 2 is the word!