"Billy Elliot" a fairy tale for our times

by Robert J. Hawkins | Apr 23, 2001
A few days after the Oscars ceremony Jamie Bell was still pretty unimpressed by it all, even though it had been the first for the personable young teen star of "Billy Elliot."

The Academy Awards had been his third awards ceremony this year, after all.

Los Angeles held no special awe for the young Englishman, either.

He`d visited before, including for the Golden Globes ceremony. He finds L.A. merely "a lot bigger and a lot hotter" than he`d imagined it to be.

Any stars or Hollywood celebrities catch his fancy?

"Not really," he said by phone from Los Angles. "Well, yes," he added after a moment`s thought. "Anthony Hopkins. I was glad to see him, but that was about it."

According to a TV tabloid show, Jennifer Lopez had also caught 13-year-old Jamie`s attention, but that she`d graciously turned down his pitch for a date.

Ah well. What`s boyhood without dreams?

Especially a boy from England where real dreams are hard to come by.

Margaret Thatcher`s war on the dreams of the working class inspired lots of movies like this one. We have been spared most of them, blessedly, but the best, like "Brass Off," "Full Monty" and yes, "Billy Elliot," have been a joy to watch.

I think what I found most charming about "Billy Elliot" was his utter lack of dreams. He didn`t want to become a great ballet dancer. He didn`t long for a life in the mines, as did his brother and father.

He just knew that when he danced, the black, proud and gritty world of mill-town savagery and ignorance that surrounded him seemed to melt away. It was the one thing that he had control over.

"Billy Elliot" takes place in 1984 in a fictional northeastern coal town called Everington. As in the real towns, Thatcher was bent on destroying the unions or the mining industry. It didn`t seem to matter which. The feeling of powerlessness was pandemic. Nobody dreamed of a better life - just hanging on to the miserable one they`d inherited.

For Billy, the weekly boxing classes at Everington Boys Club weren`t going that well. When the adjacent ballet class of Mrs. Keys (the estimable Julie Walters, nominated for a supporting actress Oscar) caught his eye, Billy was smitten and bitten.

The movie is fairly predictable: a hard-headed father (Gary Lewis) and thick brother (Jamie Draven) think he`s a "poof" or a "wanker." He isn`t, although his best friend is. Mrs. Keys encourages Billy to dream of more than Everington, to dream of auditioning for the Royal Ballet School. Billy`s father, out of dreams of his own, goes ballistic when this outsider starts encouraging his son to think outside the box.

"Why would I want to go to London?" snorts the father when told of the auditions. "There`s no mines in London."

Yeah, corny. But it works.

"Billy Elliot" was also nominated for best original script and best director (Stephen Daldry). You won`t be disappointed - although thick accents might be hard to understand at first. (If you own a DVD player, I recommend activating the English subtitles - seriously.)ALSO THIS WEEK

"The Yards" (Miramax, VHS/DVD, R) Mark Wahlberg is Leo Handler, returning home from prison where the neighborhood code put him after he took the fall for his pals in a crime he didn`t commit. Now he wants nothing more than to put it all behind him. When he goes to work for his uncle (James Caan), who supplies parts to the New York Transit Authority, Handler finds there is more to the business than meets the eye. When he is wrongly accused in the murder of a transit official Handler becomes a fugitive. The only way to clear his name now is to bring down his whole family. The cast also includes Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron, Ellen Burstyn and Faye Dunaway.

"Space Cowboys" (Warner Home Video, VHS/DVD, PG-13) Four decades after they were grounded, America`s greatest group of test pilots, Team Daedalus, gets another shot at a dream: flying a rocket into outer space. A Russian satellite as old as they are is in need of emergency repairs. Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner are the irascible test pilots. The cast also includes Marcia Gay Hardin who won the best supporting actress Oscar for her work in "Pollack." Also, William Devane and James Cromwell. Eastwood directed and the action-adventure movie was nominated for an Oscar in the sound editing category.

"Bamboozled" (New Line, VHS/DVD, R) Spike Lee raised a lot of eyebrows with this biting satire about a black Harvard graduate (Damon Wayans) who in a fit of desperation creates an outrageous modern-day minstrel show to save his job and the foundering TV network for which he works. When "Mantan the New Millennium Minstrel Show" becomes a huge hit a whole new set of problems arise. The cast also includes Jada Pinkett-Smith, Savion Glover, Tommy Davidson and Michael Rapaport. (The DVD version contains Lee`s commentary, deleted scenes and more.

"Playing Mona Lisa" (Buena Vista, VHS/DVD, R) A series of personal disasters forces 23-year-old Claire (Alicia Witt) to move back in with her dysfunctional family in this sexy comedy. The lengthy cast includes Witt, Harvey Fierstein, Elliott Gould and Marlo Thomas among others.

"Hamlet" (Miramax, VHS/DVD, R) Shakespeare`s greatest play moves into the 21st century and the top floors of a corporate tower where young Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) must protect the family`s Denmark Corp. from a hostile takeover after the death of his father (Sam Shepard). Cast also includes Diane Venora as Hamlet`s mother, Kyle MacLachlan as his uncle, Julia Stiles as his girlfriend Ophelia - also Liev Schreiber and Steve Zahn.

Universal Studios` British Comedy Invasion includes eight VHS tapes of the Rowan Atkinson TV comedy "Mr. Bean," as well as four volumes of his police comedy series, "The Thin Blue Line." They`re each priced under $10. The "Invasion" also includes the VHS/DVD debut of "Glorious" a live performance of British comic Eddie Izzard.

DVD UPDATE

It`s a bird, it`s a plane, it`s a DVD. Well, four DVD`s, with the complete series of "Superman" movies, available in the digital format for the first time on May 1, from Warner Home Video. The original "Superman: The Movie" is loaded with extras, including an audio commentary from director Richard Donner, screen tests for the cast, futurities on the special effects and making of the movie. The original launched the career of Christopher Reeves as the Man of Steel and included Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Margo Kidder among the cast.

Fox Home Entertainment releases a handful of titles on DVD in anticipation of Mother`s Day: "Nine Months," "Working Girl," "Truth About Cats and Dogs," "9 to 5," "Norma Rae" and "For the Boys." Each is priced under $23 on DVD.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

May 8: The 1965 sci-fi cult classic "Incubus" starring William Shatner and "lost" for 30 years. Available on VHS and DVD. Also the documentary/live concert film "The Ballad of Ramblin` Jack" featuring folkie hero Ramblin` Jack Elliott.

June 5: Winner of the best foreign language film and nominee of 10O scars "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

(c) Copley News Service

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Author: Robert J. Hawkins

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