‘The 33’ has great visual impact but suffers from poor scripting

You can’t complain about the casting of “The 33,” the tale about the 2010 Copiapó mining accident which trapped 33 gold and copper miners  2,300 feet below the surface of the Atacama Desert for 69 days. Led by Antonio Banderas and Lou Diamond Phillips, this international cast is predominately Latino, but the main problem here is the script.

Based on the official account, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar, formerly with the Los Angeles Times, this movie’s screen  story is credited to Oscar-nominee José Rivera (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) with the actual screen play written by Mikko Alanne, Oscar nominee Craig Borten (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Michael Thomas.

When you know the ending of the story, the movie is then about the journey. How to tell the story of the 69 days these miners survived below while their family waited  and what became an international crew of rescuers worked above is a problem this script didn’t successfully resolve.

The opening sequence introduces us to the natural beauty of the Atacama Desert and the isolated area of the San José mine before giving us some rock and roll. Music is an important part of place, but in this case, the song “Jailhouse Rock,” introduces us to one of the miners, Elvis impersonator, Edison Peña (Jacob Vargas), and brings us into a retirement party for Mario Gomez (Gustavo Angarita),  who has been working in the mine for 45 years and will soon retire. Mario “Super Mario” Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas) asks  shift supervisor Luis “Don Lucho” Urzua (Lou Diamond Phillips) for some extra hours and gets them. Young mechanic Mario Casas (Alex Vega) has been offered a job as a mechanic, but his wife Jessica (Cote de Pablo) is six months pregnant and the pay is low compared to what can be earned as a gold miner.

On the morning of the accident, the miners catch a rusted, faded green bus. The bus waits as Yonni Barrios (Oscar Nuñez) leaves the house of his mistress as his wife comes with his lunch packed and the women squabble.  Dario Segovia (Juan Pablo Raba) pretends to sleep on a bench when his sister, Maria Segovia (Juliette Binoche) comes by selling her empanadas. She leaves two for Dario, but he doesn’t touch them, preferring to drink alcohol for his breakfast, before joining the men on the bus.

Before entering the mine Don Lucho warns the management that a mirror has been found broken. Mirrors are fixed to areas of the tunnels so that when the ground shifts, the mirror breaks. For his concern, Don Lucho and his men are punished: their daily quota is increased. Don Lucho rejoins the men, but says nothing about his concerns. A new member, Carlos Mamani (Tenoch Huerta), is the only Bolivian on the crew.

When you heard about the accident, you might have imagined the mine as a hole in the ground where men travel down via a narrow rail instead of a bus. The movie was filmed not far from the site of the mine collapse in another mine. The mine itself is wide and spacious, but dark and dusty. The actual sequence of the mine collapse is handled well by director Patricia Riggen.

The management’s lack of concern for the miners goes beyond mirrors. When the 33 make it to the refuge they soon realize that the first aid kit has not been re-stocked for years and the stock of food is not enough for them to survive even three days. Above ground the management has quickly given the men up for dead and it is the federal government represented by the young and new-to-the-job Minister of Mining,  Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), and the families that put enough pressure on the government under the vocal leadership of Maria Segovia that make plans for a rescue. Yet there are disappointments along the way until the effort goes international.

The feeling of place is the best part of this movie which soon becomes mired in movie conceits that you can see coming early on and other twists that feel contrived. You have to wonder about the kind of group that would select their official biographer and poet as well as decide to tell their story together and I wish we had seen more of this group dynamics, even if it meant listening to bad poetry. Could it have possibly been worse than Super Mario’s line describing the massive boulder that blocks their exit as “That’s not a rock. That’s the heart of the mountain. She finally broke.”

Despite the international cast, “The 33” is in English. “The 33” was released in Chile and other Latin American countries in August and was the Monday night gala at AFI FEST. It opens in the U.S. on November 13.



Benedict Cumberbatch as ‘Hamlet’ amuses

What English-speaker doesn’t know the famous first line, “To be or not to be”? That soliloquy comes from the nunnery scene in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The London National Theatre’s Hamlet has the blues but he also has a major case of Peter Pan syndrome in this Barbican  that stars Benedict Cumberbatch. The production was broadcast live to theaters in the U.S. last month (Oct. 15) as part of the National Theatre Live (see www.ntlive.com for details about encore broadcasts in your area). The stage production close at the end of October.  There are scheduled performances for Nov. 10 (Tuesday).

Director Lydnsey Turner’s staging of this tragedy has changed things around. We begin, not with the watchmen seeing a ghost, but it our titular character. We first see this Hamlet sitting on the floor, dressed casually in dark vaguely contemporary clothes while listening to a record (not a CD) of Nat King Cole singing “Nature Boy.” He will be joined by a friend , Horatio (Leo Bill), who carries a rucksack on his back. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the two sentinels, Barnardo and Francisco later.

The dark room breaks apart to reveal a larger two-level set—a palace with a stairway to an upper level, nicely decorated with an ornate guardrail (designed by Es Devlin) Hamlet sulkily joins his mother, Gertrude (Anastasia Hille),  and his new father, the man who had been his uncle, Claudius (Ciarán Hinds) for dinner . The marriage seems to have come with unseemly haste, but then again, maybe the kingdom needs a man of action. Hamlet is decidedly not this. The blue walls of the stylish art deco mansion offset the white and off-white clothes of the court as they sit at the long table with Gertrude and Claudius at its head.  The women are in semi-formal dress with Gertrude wearing a crown-like hair ornament and the men are in white uniform. Hamlet suddenly is a dark and common bird amongst these showy men and women.

From the blue walls of the mansion above the diners, portraits of ancestors in their military best alongside the antique arms they once wielded look down with disapproval.

Also at the table are Ophelia (Sian Brooke), her brother Laertes ( Kobna Holdbrook-Smith)  and their father Polonius (Jim Norton). The casting is color-blind, but that is the least of the problems here. Ophelia and Polonius bid Laertes good-bye.

The basic plot skeleton remains. Hamlet meets his father’s ghost. His father, Hamlet senior, reveals he was murdered by Claudius. Hamlet hesitates to exact his revenge. While he’s brooding, Gertrude and Claudius worry. Hamlet now rejects Ophelia who he had previously fervently courted. Polonius suggests that Hamlet has been driven made by love. Hamlet has a theatrical troupe stage a play that parallels the murder of Hamlet senior by Claudius, convincing him of his uncle’s guilt.

Hamlet mistakenly kills Polonius and is sent away. He will return, but it will be after the funeral of Polonius and during the funeral of Ophelia. Laertes has returned and seeks revenge, but is seduced into helping Claudius with his evil scheme.

In this production, Hamlet does eventually dress up in a soldier’s uniform, one that matches the life-sized toy soldiers and he is playing in the castle when his friends, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz find him. Visually this is clever and establishes the Hamlet as a man-child. Other choices, such as the David Bowie T-shirt under a tux jacket with the word “king” written on it as Hamlet plays the king during the meta-lay are more questionable.

The foreboding news of Fortinbras in the distant, marching to reclaim his father’s lands, is made more threatening in the second half as the mansion is blasted open and dark debris comes tumbling in. The floors become covered with rock and debris. War is here at Elsinore, inside the court and outside from Fortinbras.

“Hamlet” is about three sons—the hesitant overly intellectual Hamlet, the rashly brave Laertes and the man of both thought and action, Fortinbras. All three act to honor their fathers, but only Fortinbras gets it right. While visually stunning, this “Hamlet” doesn’t quite work. Cumberbatch’s Hamlet is a man who has remained a child overlong and is pulled unwillingly into adulthood. He doesn’t rage like Kenneth Branagh in his 1996 242-minute-long movie adaptation of “Hamlet,” nor does he verbally attack Polonius with a rapier sharp anger. This Hamlet sulks and whines. One feels he’s be perfectly happy to play soldier in his toy castle with is toy soldiers for a bit longer if daddy where still alive. That gives too little for Laertes to work against. Instead they are both childish before the noble Fortinbras.

Still this is a production worth seeing and was to date the most popular NT Live broadcast. Cumberbatch has a better on-stage match in the NT Live production of “Frankenstein,” which can also be seen in encore performances.

In defense of ‘By the Sea’

Film and theater critics are not commonly known for kindness, but saying that a film about a couple’s trauma over the (spoiler alert) the loss of a child “has no reason for being” is beyond unkind. Set in the 1970s, an era when women’s liberation was still struggling to break the chains of the social role of wife and mother from the prison known as the stay-at-home wife suburban fantasy of the 1950s, “By the Sea” is, while indulgent, a sensitive at look at love, loss and grief among the well-to-do.

There is good reason for setting this film among the upper classes. The stereotype of the stay-at-home wife was not a luxury that the poor could well afford. And certainly wives of farmers and ranchers were stay-at-home, but they, too, were farmers and ranchers, working alongside their spouses and significant others. In Angelina Jolie Pitt’s “By the Sea,” we are asked to imagine the angst of a woman who has married well, but been unable to fulfill her duties as mother. Far worse, during the couple’s attempt to have children, the wife, Vanessa, played by Jolie Pitt, has suffered two miscarriages.

Miscarriages are not something that the Western world seems to handle well. While watching the movie, I thought of how my aunt in Osaka referred to her lost child, openly, when we first met. She had a small home shrine and made offerings and prayers daily. The child would have been college-age at the time I first met this aunt in Japan. Yet even after two decades and two living children (a daughter and a son), my aunt thought of this lost child.

This is something that Japan does well: Acknowledging the pain of loss that parents feel when a fetus dies. There is, I later learned, a specific temple in the Tokyo area for women who have spontaneously aborted fetuses or, in today’s modern society, had an abortion.  In the United States, however, there seems to be no social contract, no etiquette to handle the deaths of unborn children. The result is silence. But sometimes the grief needs to be acknowledged and spoken about.

“By the Sea” was written, directed and stars Angelina Jolie Pitt, who said prior to the screening at AFI FEST, that the movie isn’t meant to be commercial. It is meant to be artistic and deal with grief, love and loss. Jolie Pitt plays a former stage dancer. Brad Pitt plays a novelist. They are chic and sophisticated, even as Americans in a French-speaking country–they can and do speak French. Yet they have problems. She pops pills. He drinks too much. He is supposed to be writing, but he writes nothing. They do not rage at each other, but they have retreated away, living together in isolation. At first, we aren’t aware of the nature of this trauma.

What we do know, is that the incident, made her frigid. The audience then has to wonder what happened. Was she beaten by her husband in a drunken rage? Was she raped? We see nondescript flashes of her memories and feelings. In doing so, Jolie Pitt is equating her character’s miscarriages with physical trauma that a contemporary audience will readily accept.

Now on this beautiful retreat at an isolated luxury hotel, what is at stake is Vanessa and Roland’s marriage. While getting an alcoholic’s breakfast, Roland gets some patient advice from the local bar owner, local bartender (Niels Arestrup). The barkeep is friends with the owner of the hotel (Richard Bohringer).  Yet the bartender is a widower and is the voice of experience.

Into this couple’s periphery comes a young couple–just married and on their honeymoon. They,Lea (Mélanie Laurent) and François (Melvil Poupaud), are beautiful although the woman is a different type of beauty than Jolie Pitt and her Vanessa character. She is slender and less informal. She doesn’t not wear excessive makeup and false eyelashes as does glamour puss Vanessa. At first Vanessa hears the couple fornicating in the adjacent hotel room. Then, she finds a disconnected pipe that has been partially hidden beneath a small table. Vanessa begins to watch the couple in their attempts to get pregnant and eventually, her husband Roland joins her. This is where the R-rating comes in. Sexual acts are tastefully simulated and the European attitude toward naked female breasts is apparent. One expects that eventually snippets of these will end up on some website dedicated to the partial and full nudity of the well-known.

Vanessa and Roland have been married for 14 years. Once, surely, they were as hopeful and lustful as this couple. Their shared secret viewings of the newlyweds work as sexual therapy and they mend that part of their marriage, but then jealousy pushes  the well-endowed Vanessa to seduce François. As a writer, Jolie Pitt is looking for a happy ending, not Disney happy, but at least one filled with possibilities of a future together between Vanessa and Roland as well as the newlyweds.

Online, I have read suggestions that this film is a remake of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” That film began as a play and became a vehicle for Richard Burton and his-then wife Elizabeth Taylor. While “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” does deal with a married couple who play horrific games, at the center of the play is the dual disappointments: The wife hasn’t had children and the husband hasn’t become important in academia.  Failure hangs over this couple’s 1950s suburban dream. And they play make believe; they pretend they have a son.

In “By the Sea,” Vanessa and Roland were successful and hopeful in their youth. At the juncture where we first meet them, they seem on the road to becoming the 1970s version of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda. The husband’s novels still sell well enough for them to afford a luxurious hotel, but his own emotional angst over the death of his children and his wife’s withdrawal has stymied his creative abilities. He is not impotent in his work and his professional sphere as is the husband in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” In the end, Roland draws on the real grief and struggles of his wife as inspiration. The indications are upbeat for them and the novel their losses have inspired.

“By the Sea” could use better editing to sharpen the focus and improve the rhythm of the piece.  At times, the logic of Vanessa’s makeup also could have used some sharper delineation.  Taylor in “Virginia Woolf” tossed out the glamour and got emotionally ugly. Jolie Pitt as Vanessa, even with the mascara-running scene, does not. Yet like Jolie Pitt’s previous effort with cinematographer Roger Deakins (“The Shawshank Redemption” and “No Country for Old Men“) on “Unbroken,” as director, Jolie Pitt displays great visual style with cinematographer Christian Berger (“The Notebook” and “The Piano Teacher“).  Jolie Pitt does give us a full appreciation for the Malta locale. Who wouldn’t want to go there for a cozy retreat after seeing this film. What “By the Sea” also does well is exposing the isolation of grief and the rhythms of speech in a troubled marriage.

Ms. Geek Speaks: Cosplay and Common Courtesy

What is it about Cosplay that breaks down the boundaries of common courtesy? Or have good manners so completely gone out of style that a few people don’t know what common courtesy is?

At the recent Stan Lee Comikaze, Cosplay etiquette was clearly displayed under banners that read: “Cosplay is not consent.” The signs tell you to “Please keep your tentacles to yourself” and to ask if you may take a photo with or of a participant.

There was even a 50-minute panel moderated by Dave Turner with Ivy Doomkitty, Meredith Placko, Geri Kramer and Chris Mandeville. That would seem counter productive. Shouldn’t etiquette be covered before the event or at the beginning?

Elsewhere, a Cosplayer posted a somewhat humorous account of transgressions that made me think that either there needs to be a serious effort for people to learn common courtesy or that all Cosplayers need bodyguards. If you thought people were just groping the female Cosplayers, particularly those in proud cleavage display or skimpy garments that are merely bikinis in a wispy comic book disguise, then you were wrong. While women’s issues of harassment, trivialization and marginalization continue and are reasons  to speak out, men are also speaking out.

Charles Conley of Kennesaw, Georgia, posted (and this is reprinted with his permission) a discussion for Cosplayers and prop builders:

“Here are a few things you should not expect from me and should not do when I’m in any sort of armored cosplay.

  1. DON’T EXPECT a John Hancock-level autograph. My armored fingers take my writing level to that of a 4th grader.
  2. DON’T EXPECT me to see your Yoda-sized child standing directly at my feet since most of my armors don’t allow me to lower my head past a certain level. I try my absolute best to check my surrounding but for some odd reason whenever I prepare to walk is when some child wants to make a bee-line for my blindspot.
  3. DON’T EXPECT for me to hear you calling my characters name as I’m walking away or at a distance. I’m not ignoring you purposely, most of my buckets create a personal resonance chamber on my cranium that makes hearing very difficult.
  4. DON’T EXPECT me to accept your offer to ‘take a load off and have a seat.’ I will laugh, hard. Ninety-five % of my armors don’t allow sitting, at all. That’s why I pace the convention floor, not staying still for too long. That’s also why I avoid stairs like the plague. Yes I may be able to traverse them but it’s the biggest pain in the butt and I don’t even wanna know what would happen if I misjudged and missed a step.
  5. DON’T EXPECT me to break character, ever. Like a method actor, when I cosplay I go all out with the theatrics. I BECOME that character I’m playing to a T. Some characters I portray, like the Witch-King of Angmar and Boba Fett, rarely speak so at times the most you may get is body language to answer your quiries. THE ONLY TIME I WILL EVER DO ANYTHING OUT OF CHARACTER IS IN DEALINGS WITH CHILDREN UNDER 5.
  6. DON’T EXPECT me to give you my weapon for a fan pic. If I offer it to you, great, but don’t assume it’s your right to just peel it from my hands. I make most of weaponry to be sturdy, but that doesn’t make it okay for you to test that fact when you get your hands on it. We are taking a picture, not going into combat.
  7. DON’T smack my helmet. Yes, we get it, you wanna see how strong it is, or what it’s made of…but like I stated earlier I’m wearing a resonance chamber on my head. YOU ARE HURTING MY EARDRUMS and quite frankly though the helmet might be sturdy I don’t need you to test that fact.
  8. DON’T try to make off with any weaponry I have secured in a side holster or pouch…I don’t care what character I’m portraying, I will go “LEFT 4 DEAD ‘Witch'” on your behind. I will find you no matter where you go, I will beat you into a pulp, and I will do all of this while screaming at the top of my lungs to make it that much more terrifying. You’re not slick.
  9.  DON’T grab my cod piece. This one is more specifically for the ladies. To this day I don’t know what your fascination is with that particular piece of armor but it’s awkward and just not classy. I will smack your hand if you go there and give you a firm “no” and a shake of the finger as if you’re a toddler.
  10. DON’T be afraid to ask questions. I will break character to answer questions in regards to learning more about “foamsmithing” or propbuilding. Cosplay is all about growing and becoming a better artist. Any way I can assist others in that regard I will gladly do so. I promise, I won’t bite, as long as I’m not cosplaying a zombie…then I will bite you, all for the horde.”

The conversation that followed indicated people regularly slapped the heads of strangers, grabbed at breast plates or codpieces or took and destroyed props.

Dennis D. Panganiban  commented, that some kids treat you like their toys. Oh, that’s surely is a parental fail.  Vincent Grenier recalls someone smacking his chest piece while he was in Garrus armor. Another Cosplayer, a woman named Nicole Mesh’la Naast Reid, confessed “I had a guy smack and grab my mando chest plates.” At some point, the guy realized he was groping a woman’s breasts and his reaction was “sheer horror.”

Alex Martin Arritt confirms that people make crotch grabs when he’s been dressed as Agent Venom. “That gets old and makes my wife want to kill people.” Women, you wouldn’t want a stranger grabbing your breast or crotch, so why go there with a stranger just because he’s in a costume?

William Edward Flores commented, “I can’t express how angry people smacking my helmet makes me. While being in armor may make me feel like a badass, I feel like a cricket being shaken in a tin can when I’m pushed around.”

Judy Grivich was dressed as Gimli and a guy punched her. He was shocked when she started screaming at him, but he was more concerned that he hit a girl. Why would hitting a guy be okay?

Props are also up for grabs as well. Cayla Christine commented, “It took every ounce of restraint I had to not football kick the 4-year-old who started wailing my Mjolnir on the ground without warning. That was the day I learned no one is ever to touch my props again.”

Sarah Grenyer Hagan confessed, “I made that mistake…gave a 10 year old child my Hawkgirl mace since he asked to check it out and he bashed it against the floor. Last time I’ll ever do that.”

You might wonder where are the parents, but parents aren’t always helpful. Nicole Mesh’la Naast Reid wrote that she “had a child grab and try to make off my bow made of worbla and foam (so not sturdy at all). I kept pulling it back and the mom would laugh and laugh as her kid continued to pull.” The prop was bent in half at the end of that incident.

Sometimes the adults are just as bad, too.Joshua Murphy opined, “Why do people feel the need to grab/smack on my costume. At least once at every event, a kid or even adults will grab a hose or try to ‘activate’ the switches on my tie pilot chest box.”

Other people commented that armored Cosplayers aren’t the only ones with a problem.Elizabeth Anne wrote, “People do this even if you’re not wearing armor. I can’t tell you how many times people have tried to grab my ($600) lightsaber hilt off my belt, touch my headpieces, pull my hair or my lekku.” 

Cosplayers are people. They may be people you know or they may be people you think you know from your television or from the movies or from your fertile fantasies. They are still people and in Japan, the U.S. the UK and Europe it is not good manners to pull hair, hit heads or chests, or grope breasts or codpieces. You should not walk up to strangers and grab purses, backpacks, or any other possessions such as hammers, swords or lightsabers. Should someone let you touch their possessions you should handle it with the utmost care and should you damage it, you should be willing to replace it.

Good manners, or what used to be called, common courtesy, is to look with your eyes or ask before touching. When it comes to Cosplay, common courtesy is still required.



‘The Assassin’ brings contemplation and scenic wonder to martial arts movie

“The Assassin” is less a martial arts movie, than a contemplative costume drama, wonderfully photographed by cinematographer Ping Bin Lee (“In the Mood for Love”) and told at a leisurely pace by director Hsiao-Hsien Hou (“Flowers of Shanghai”). The movie won Hou Best Director at Cannes Film Festival as well as the Cannes Soundtrack award for Giong Lim. “The Assassin” is playing at the Pasadena Playhouse 7 and n Monterey Park.

The supertitles before the prologue tell you the political situation. The Tang dynasty is in decline. During the 8th century, “the imperial court seeks to protect itself by establishing garrisons at the frontiers of its empire.” Yet the frontiers aren’t easy to govern. “One century later, the militarized provinces waver in their loyalty to the Court. Some move to distance themselves from the Emperor’s control. At that time, Weibo asserts itself as the strongest of those provinces.”

The first thing we see are two mules or donkeys, but these are not for Sister Sarah. These animals are for the white-robed nun, Princess Jiaxin (Fang-Yi Sheu) and her black-clad protege Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi). They watch for a man who poisoned his own father and killed his brother. “His guilt condemns him,”  the nun declares as they watch a retinue of men on horses. The killing by Nie Yinniang is quick and the man is dead before his face can register fear or anger.

The nun lives on what seems to be an impossible structure built at the side of cliff and the next time we see the eponymous assassin, she’s reporting to the nun. Yinniang has failed in her latest mission. The target was with his son and she was too tenderhearted to kill the man.

Jiaxin replies that next time, “First kill the one he loves, then kill the man himself.” The princess continues, “You have mastered the sword, but your heart lacks resolve.” For the assassin’s next mission, the princess bid her, “Kill your cousin, Tian Ji’an.”

Tian Ji’an is the governor of Weibo and had originally been betrothed to Yinniang. Although this was a political match, Yinniang showed Tian Ji’an some devotion, but ultimately she was sent away and he married another woman.

The plot moves slowly between the great expanses of scenic Chinese mountains and plains. Sometimes instead of music, the soundtrack only features the chirping of birds and birds are a motif here. For the first assassination, the nun instructed to kill the man expertly “as if he were a bird in flight.”

Before sending the assassin off to Weibo, the movie cuts to Yinniang’s mother who plays the Chinese zither and recites the legend about the Kophen’s bluebird who for three years did not sing until the queen commented that bluebirds sing only for their own kind. When a mirror was placed before the bird, it sang sadly a beautiful song and it danced until it died. Of course, someone is the bluebird and just who?

Yinniang is dressed in clothes that her mother made for her every autumn and every spring before she meets her mother. Her mother, Nie Cheng (Mei Yong),  tells the assassin that Princess Jiacheng was given two jade bi when she was “obliged to marry the Lord of Wiebo.”  Her brother, the emperor, gave them as a farewell gift. The princess was to prevent Weibo from invading Imperial lands serving the “peace between the Imperial Court and Weibo.”

This exchange made as the women sit in front of a screen painted with the image of pine trees–symbols of longevity and self-discipline. Between the two women on a wooden table are red pomegranates that tell us we’re in autumn but also symbolize the hope of keeping rank within the same family. Nie Cheng will also mention the white peonies, symbols of beauty, rank and luxury, especially in connection to the Tang Imperial Court.

The family name Nie means “whispers” and is represented by three symbols for ear. Yinniang means secret or hidden daughter. With any court there is plenty of intrigue and many whispers. People meet and almost meet between screens of trees and brush or billowing transparent fabrics.

Historically, Weibo 魏博 was an area that is now part of the modern Hebei. During the Tang Dynasty, it was ruled by the Weibo Army under Tian Chengsi and under the Tian family, Weibo was one of the Hebei garrisons that revolted. So ultimately, we know that the endeavor to bring a lasting peace between Weibo and the Imperial court failed. Yet Hou’s movie celebrates the glory of the Tang Dynasty with its beautifully composed scenes between the court and all the political players as well as the quiet pastoral scenes. There are moments when we seem to see live-action freeze into a picture or break and come alive from off of a canvas.

By going to Weibo, Yinniang is forced to see what might have been if she had married Tian Ji’an. He has children by his first wife (Yun Zhou). Yinniang makes it clear to Ji’an that she is there and what her mission is by watching his children and spying on him and his family. She leaves the jade bi to remind him of their former relationship and they meet in one-to-one combat where she refrains from killing him.

Besides his family, Ji’an also has a consort, dancer Huji (Nikki Hsin-Ying Hsieh), who is pregnant, something she has tried to keep secret. Ji’an might love Huji too much for his head wife’s comfort. Ji’an himself wasn’t the child of Princess Jiacheng, but was adopted by her from one of his father’s consorts. Someone uses the Chinese equivalent of voodoo in a murder attempt on Huji after a particularly flirtatious dance Ji’an but it is Yinniang who saves her.  Similar methods were used to kill the previous lord and suspicions point to Jiaxin. Yet with Huji, Ji’an’s suspicion turns toward Lady Ji’an whose protection is her eldest son.

Yinniang’s father is sent away from Weibo, to accompany another official. The journey requires traveling through a dangerously isolated area where enemy assassins set upon him. The assassin of the title, his daughter,  is there to save him. As in the 2000 Ang Lee film, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” student and teacher will meet and battle (or at least I’m guessing that the woman behind the golden mask is Jiaxin), but there will be substantially less high-flying, acrobatic wire-work wushu in “The Assassin.”

The matter of the Imperial Court and its wavering influence over Weibo isn’t settled by the end of the movie and we leave the Weibo court as Ji’an listens to advisors who suggest distracting the Imperials troops with wine and food while trying to make an alliance with the Wang forces.

For her part, Yinniang tells the nun Jiaxin that, “Were Tian Ji’an to die while his sons were still young, Weibo would fall into chaos, so I chose not to kill him.”

“The way of the sword is pitiless,” the nun replies.  “Saintly virtues play no part in it. Your skills are matchless but your mind is hostage to human sentiments.”

If you’re wondering about the significance of the man shining the mirror, this is part of the legend of Nie Yinniang. In the end, she will marry a man who makes mirrors. She does so by telling her father this is her wish. Through her influence, her husband will get a minor office. Whether this is her husband (in the movie, the man already has a wife) or someone who will eventually introduce her to her future husband, we do not know. We do know that she finally has a friend and has chosen her own path. Yet we do not expect her to know the three Confucian obediences–to her father before marriage, to her husband after marriage and finally to her son after she is widowed.

In “The Assassin,” the long intervals between intrigue and action, usually with awe-inspiring natural scenes (You could easily re-edit this to make a travel advertisement for the unspoiled China), emphasize the distance between places and the expanse that was and is China. Weibo is isolated and formidable and so is Yinniang on her journey toward finding herself and her true calling. “The Assassin” is full of human intrigue and asks us to sit back and forget our computers and the Internet which has brought us instant gratification and remember a time when things were slower and China was at the end of its glorious Tang Dynasty.  In Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles.


assassin chart





Time for Stan Lee’s Comikaze!

What better way to celebrate Halloween than spending the weekend with a bunch of folks who loves dressing up all the time. Talk and buy costumes and other facets of geek and pop culture at Stan Lee’s Comikaze this weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Back in 2011, the first year it started, we took a chance and bought tickets. That was before Stan Lee was on board and the event was small with 35,000 total attendees and held the first weekend of November at Kentia Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center. Stan Lee and Elvira joined in 2012 and things have never been the same. The show has expanded. Last year, about 65,000 people attended.

Of course, the hosts will be there:

  • Stan Lee: All weekend (Booth #962)
  • Elvira, Mistress of the Dark: Saturday and Sunday (Booth #1162)

Star Wars and Star Trek fans can rejoice with these two special guests:

  • Carrie Fisher: Saturday only at South Hall.
  • Nichelle Nichols: Saturday and Sunday, South Hall (Booth #1650)

Other guests include:

  • Manu Bennett, Arrow,  Spartacus: Saturday and Sunday, South Hall
  • Summer Glau, of Firefly and Terminator: Saturday only, South Hall (Table #10)
  • Grumpy Cat
  • Greg Grunberg, Heroes, Star Wars VII,: Saturday only, South Hall (Table #6)
  • Phil Lamarr: Saturday and Sunday, South Hall (Table #17) of “Futurama”
  • Jim Lee, comic legend: Saturday only (Booth #561)
  • Rob Liefeld, creator of “Deadpool” and “X-Force”: West Hall (Booth #261)
  • Todd McFarlane, comic artist: Saturday only in West Hall (Booth #361)
  • Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy: Friday and Saturday, West Hall (Booth #251)
  • Grant Morrison, Comic Artist: Saturday and Sunday, West Hall (Booth #352)
  • Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of Scott Pilgrim: Sunday only (Booth #252)
  • Marc Silvestri: Saturday and Sunday, Top Cow Booth (#803)

Don’t miss your chance to pose with a borg or stand in the TARDIS or how about the Flintstone car? Visit the Hollywood Science Fiction Museum and its sister, the Hollywood Horror Museum (South Hall, Booth #2042).

SATURDAY: Cosplay National Championship and Kids Halloween Party

This year also includes the first ever Cosplay National Championship and includes all genres (film, television, theater, comics, video games, sci-fi, anime, horror and original creations). Entries are closed now (closing date was Oct. 1). The contest begins on Saturday October 31st, at the Hot Topic Main Stage 4:30 p.m. Check-in and pre-judging will begin promptly at 2:00 p.m. in a designated area to be announced. The show must start at 4:30 p.m. and there will be NO LATE ENTRIES allowed once pre-judging ends.

The categories separates the professionals from the amateurs (masters and journeyman). The prices are as follows:

First place, individual in the Stan Lee’s Comikaze National Championship in the Master category: $5,000, one decorated trophy representing “Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo Cosplay National Championship – Master/Expert Category”, and one weekend ticket for Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo 2016.

First place, ensemble in the Stan Lee’s Comikaze National Championship in the Master category: $2,000, each member of the ensemble also receives a medal of achievement and one weekend ticket for Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo 2016.

First place, individual in the Stan Lee’s Comikaze National Championship in the Journeyman category: $2,000, one decorated trophy representing “Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo Cosplay National Championship – Beginner/Apprentice Category”, and one weekend ticket for Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo 2016.

First place, ensemble in the Stan Lee’s Comikaze National Championship in the Journeyman category: $1,000, each member of the ensemble also receives a medal of achievement and one weekend ticket for Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo 2016.

Second place runner up for these two categories: each member of the group gets one weekend ticket for Stan Lee’s Comikaze 2016 and a medal of achievement.

Third place runner up for these two categories each member of the group gets one weekend ticket for Stan Lee’s Comikaze 2016 and a medal of achievement.

First place, individual in the Stan Lee’s Comikaze National Championship in the Junior/Youth Category: One decorated trophy representing “Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo Cosplay National Championship – Junior/Youth Category” and a medal of achievement.

Disney-Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” is sponsoring a Kids Halloween Costume Contest. Registration is on Saturday on a first-come, first-serve basis.

– The contest is open only to attendees 12 or younger, and must have a parent or guardian with a 1-day or 3-Day badge.

– Registration for the contest will take place Saturday at 1:30pm next to the Hot Topic Main Stage, on a first-come, first-served basis.

– Entry will be limited to no more than 80 entrants.

– All registered contestants must be at the Hot Topic Main Stage no later than 2:45 on Saturday.

– Contestants will be brought up in groups of 10, and the top 3 from each group will move to the semifinals.

– The semifinals will the top 24, and will be brought up in groups of 12. The top 6 from each group will advance to the finals.

– In the final round, the top 6 will be chosen; all finalists will receive prizes from Disney-Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, and the top 6 will receive additional prizes.

– Costumes may be anything: cosplay self-made, store-bought, made of cardboard – whatever.

– Judging is based not just on the costume, but also enthusiasm and energy.

– Contestants may be accompanied by an adult.

At 1 p.m. in room 411, check out the screening of “The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?”

SUNDAY: Prop Making National Championship 

There is also a Prop Making National Championship. The top 25 entrants will show off their props in a LIVE stage show during Comikaze’s first Prop Making National Championship on Sunday, November 1st, with special guest judges, trophies, and amazing prizes. All entries must be made from a majority of scratch-built parts (not kits) and will be on display all weekend.

Star Trek fans have a chance to see the original James T. Kirk. William Shatner will be promoting his “William Shatner’s Man O’ War: Cinematic Graphic Novel” on the Hot Topic Main Stage as part of the panel that includes Gary Laird, Mariano Nicieza, Scott Liggett and Ed Lang.

There’s also a 25-minute cast reunion bringing together Keir Dulea and Gary Lockwood from “2001: A Space Odyssey” at 10:30 a.m., also on the Hot Topic Main Stage.

What would make this perfect would be takoyaki or some roasted octopus on a grill, but there are sure to be gourmet food trucks.

Stan Lee’s Comikaze is at the Los Angeles Convention Center this weekend. A 3-day pass is $75. Friday only is $30. Saturday is a bit more: $35. Sunday is $30. You can get your tickets online or on site. Kids 12 and under are free.
Los Angeles Convention Center
1201 South Figueroa Street
 Los Angeles, CA 90015
Friday: October 30th, 2015, 1 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Saturday: October 31st, 2015, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday: November 1st, 2015, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Go to the dogs for International Animation Day!

Do you love dogs? Well so do cartoonists and why not celebrate International Animation Day (Oct. 28) or any day you feel love for your dog by watching some animation starring dogs?

If you want to get in the Halloween mood, there’s always Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” in which a young boy named Victor brings his dog Sparky back to life. The 2012 animated feature is available on Amazon Instant video for $2.99.

The Tim Burton was produced by Walt Disney Pictures with Tim Burton Pictures. Disney has given us other memorable dogs.

  1. “101 Dalmatians” (1961): A dog named Pongo (Rod Taylor voices) manages to find himself and his master Roger (Ben Wright) the perfect match–Perdita (Cate Bauer) for Pongo and Anita (Lisa Davis) for Roger, but Anita’s friend Cruella de Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) has designs on the pups Pongo and Perdita produce. She wants to make them into a coat, but she needs more dogs. DVD on Netflix.
  2. “Lady and the Tramp” (1955): Can a spoiled young Lady (Barbara Luddy) dog find love with a dog from the wrong side of the tracks, Tramp (Larry Roberts)?  Of course and there’s a lot of singing in between, notably by Peggy Lee as Darling, Si, Am and Peg. DVD on Netflix.
  3. Disney also gave us Pluto, Mickey Mouse’s dog, and Goofy, Mickey Mouse’s friend, but only Goofy had his own movie. “The Goofy Movie” is about Goofy’s son Max making a promise to win a girl’s affection and the result of a cross-country trip with his father Goofy. The movie is available on Amazon Video for $2.99.
  4. While the movie may not be about Dug the Dog, he certain adds to the pleasure of the animated feature “Up.” This 2009 was a Walt Disney-Pixar release about an old widower named Carl (Ed Asner) who remembers how he promised his wife he’d take her to South America, but never did. Now he takes his house and a stowaway named Russell via his house taken aloft by balloons. There they meat talking dogs, including Dug. DVD on Netflix.
  5. “The Fox and the Hound” is a 1981 animated story about an orphaned red fox , Tod (Mickey Rooney), that is raised by a farmer named Widow Tweed (Jeanette Nolan). Her neighbor (Jack Albertson) has a new hound puppy named Cooper (Kurt Russell). Cooper and Tod becomes friends.  Tod is eventually returned to the wild, but has problems adjusting.  Cooper and his master end up hunting Tod and his new mate down, but as this is Disney, there is a happy ending.  The book upon which this is loosely based, “The Fox and the Hound” has a more poignant ending. On Amazon Instant Video for $2.99.


“The Huckleberry Hound Show” was a Hanna-Barbera animation about a Bluetick Coonhound dog with a Southern accent who often sings “My Darling, Clementine” and takes on various jobs and roles in various places. He’s a scientist trying to save the world from a gigantic potato, he’s a detective in Victorian London and a reporter among other things.  The series is available on Amazon Instant.

My Dog Tulip” is about a lonely man (voiced by Christopher Plummer) who rescues a German Shepherd Dog and stumbles through life, not always being the ideal owner or the ideal guest. This independent feature film is based on the 1956 memoirs of J.R. Ackerley (1896-1967) and his dog Queenie.

Chuck Jones created Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog for Warner Bros. “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies.” Ralph Wolf is like Wile E. Coyote except he has a red nose and white eyes.  Sam is a hefty Berger de Brie (Briard Sheepdog). Both Ralph and Sam are just doing their jobs. They clock in. The wolf attempts to get the sheep. Sam stops him.  They stop for lunch. When they clock out they are replaced by the evening shift. Sometimes the names are inconsistent.

  1. “Don’t Give Up the Sheep” (1953): DVD “Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 1”
  2. Sheep Ahoy” (1954): “Looney Tunes Collectors Edition: Canine Corps” VHS only.
  3. “Double or Mutton” (1955): “Looney Tunes Video Show, Volume 3” VHS release only.
  4. “Steal Wool” (1957): “Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3” and “Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 3.”
  5. “Ready, Woolen and Able” (1960): “Road Runner & Wile D. Coyote: Looney Tunes, Chariots of Fur.”
  6. “A Sheep in the Deep” (1962): Looney Tunes: Assorted Nuts” laserdisc
  7. “Woolen Under Where” (1963)


From Great Britain, a dog-loving country, comes Wallace and Gromit. Wallace is the bald bachelor owner of Gromit. Wallace is an inventor, but Gromit, who is silent, is often the more sensible of the two.

  1. “A Close Shave”: This 1995 short is about Wallace falling in love with Wendolene, a wool shop owner, while Gromit is framed for sheep rustling. It is available on Amazon Instant. Free for Prime members.
  2. “The Wrong Trousers” : This 1993 short is about Wallace mechanical trousers that are used by a criminal penguin. On Amazon Instant. Free for Prime members.
  3. “A Grand Day Out”: This 1989 short is about Wallace and Gromit taking an outing to the moon for some cheese and the robot that lives there. Free on Amazon
  4. “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”: This 2005 feature-length  movie is about garden sabotage and Wallace and Gromit solving a mystery. On Amazon Instant for $2.99.

There are more animated movies with dogs, but these are my favorites.

Star Trek fans: Celebrate International Animation Day!

Celebrate International Animation Day on Oct. 28, 2015 by watching the first Star Trek episode to ever win an Emmy. The writers of “Star Trek: The Animated Series” combined Shakespeare, Native American folklore and Star Trek’s crew to come up with a Daytime Emmy Award-winning episode, “How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth.”

It was the fifth episode of the second season. Directed by Bill Reed and written by Russell Bates and David Wise, it originally aired on Oct. 5, 1974.  It might remind you of TOS  second season episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” as well as “The Menagerie.” For TOS, Leonard Nimoy was nominated in 1967, 1968 and 1969 for a Primetime Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama.

The title of the award-winning animated episode comes from William Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” The play is about King Lear who has three daughters: the eldest Goneril, the middle Regan and the youngest Cordelia. He decides to divide his kingdom into two halves based on the flattery of his two eldest daughters. He disowns and banishes his one honest daughter. Lear dies tragically without his daughters but realizing his mistake. The quote used comes from early on when Lear is about to learn how meaningless the words of his eldest daughter were. In the first act, during scene 4, Lear comments “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is. To have a thankless child.” In this scene, King Lear has entered the castle of Goneril and has sent a servant to find her so that he may have dinner and be entertained. He has already banished his daughter Cordelia.

In the “Star Trek: The Animated Series” episode, the crew of the Enterprise receive a signal from a probe. It is stardate 6063.4. A mysterious force then immobilizes the starship and transports Captain James T. Kirk (voiced by William Shatner), chief medical officer Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), chief engineer Scott (James Doohan) and Ensign Walking Bear (also Doohan) to the ship of a powerful entity named Kukulkan.  Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is left in command of the Enterprise.

The alien ship resembles a winged serpent and it, we’ll learn later based on the actual appearance of Kukulkan. On the alien ship, the crew finds themselves in a city that combines many different cultural ruins–from Chinese to Egyptian to Aztec. Kukulkan had left clues to the human race on the planet Earth. If mankind had been able to piece these together and called him he would have returned.

Since mankind was never able to figure out the puzzle, they never called him. Yet together with the help of Walking Bear, they are able to activate the signal only to realize they were on something like a holodeck. On the actual spaceship of Kukulkan they see a menagerie of animals and meet Kukulkan. Kukulkan now wants the humans of this century to worship him as they did once so many years ago.

“How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” gives us both a serpent and a parental figure who has now been taken off of his pedestal. Kukulkan is then not unlike Apollo in “Who Mourns for Adonais?” The title for that TOS episode is also literary, but in that case the 1821 “Adonais” by Percy Bysshe Shelley which was an elegy on the death of John Keats. In stanza 47, the poet bids, “Who mourns for Adonais? Oh, come forth,/Fond wretch! and Know thyself and him aright.”

The episode “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s series. At the time, “Star Trek: The Animated Series” was part of the NBC Saturday morning lineup. You can currently view this episode on Netflix or Amazon Instant (free for Prime subscribers).




‘Great Performances: Billy Elliot the Musical Live’ is a dancer must-see

The popular 2000 film “Billy Elliot” which starred Jamie Bell was made into an award-winning stage presentation: “Billy Elliot the Musical.” Hitting London’s West End in 2005 and going on to Broadway in 2009, the musical won a 2009 Tony for Best Musical. Featuring a performance by cheeky performance by Elliott Hanna, this “Great Performances: Billy Elliot the Musical Live” telecast on PBS (Friday, Oct. 23 at 9 p.m.)  also features a reunion of sorts–25 current and former Billy Elliots dance a rousing finale, showing just how many boys can and love dancing.

Lee Hall who wrote the original story and screenplay, adapted the 2000 film into a musical with Elton John providing the music. The story is about an 11-year-old boy, Billy Elliot (Hanna), whose miner father, Jackie (Deka Walmsley) wants him to learn the manly sport of boxing, but finds that he’d rather stick around after the boxing class and take the ballet class, even though he is the only boy in the crowd of tutus.

The ballet teacher (Ruthie Henshall) sees something in Billy and encourages him to audition for the Royal Ballet, but his father forces Billy to quit ballet. In this small mining town, there’s a stark devision between what men can and should do. Ballet is something looked down upon as something for “poofs” and this isn’t exactly a gay-friendly town, but this is the 1980s–taking place mostly during the 1984-1985 Great Britain Miners’ Strike. Billy isn’t the only misfit; he finds friendship with another boy his age, Michael (Zach Atkinson). Michael experiments with cross-dressing in one of the big dance numbers of the musical (“Expressing Yourself”).

Billy continues in secret but is prevented from attending the local audition because of the miners’ strike.  His teacher confronts his father. Eventually, Jackie will decide to support Billy and want something better than the mines for his son.

Song performance program:

• “The Stars Look Down” – Company
• “Shine” – Ballet Girls, Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy & Mr. Braithwaite
• “Grandma’s Song” – Grandma
• “Solidarity” – Ballet Girls, Billy, Mrs. Wilkinson, Miners & Police
• “Expressing Yourself” – Billy, Michael, and Ensemble
• “The Letter” – Mrs. Wilkinson, Mum and Billy
• “Born to Boogie” – Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy, and Mr. Braithwaite
• “Angry Dance” – Billy & Male Ensemble
• “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” – Tony and Partiers
• “Deep Into the Ground” – Dad
• “Swan Lake” – Billy and Billy Older Self
• “He Could Be a Star” – Dad and Tony
• “Electricity” – Billy
• “Once We Were Kings” – Company
• “The Letter – Reprise” – Mum and Billy
• Finale – Company

Some audience members might have to review just who Margaret Thatcher was, but that’s really a minor miner point. Compared to the original movie, this musical is goofier and less gritty. If the musical is inspiring in an ordinary production, then this one is that times 25. We get to see Hanna behind the scenes and hear comments about what made him the right choice and his growth through being part of the musical from the the director and choreographer. Liam Mower, the first boy to ever play the role on stage in 2005, returns to the show in the role of the older Billy. After the end of the musical itself, many former and current Billy Elliots on stage and dancing. Some people are meant to dance. Some of those people are men and seeing these men dance is a powerful statement.  “Billy Elliot the Musical Live” is a PBS “Great Performances” presentation in London by Universal Stage Productions, Working Title Films and Old Vic Productions in association with Tiger Aspect and is based on the Universal Pictures/ Studio Canal film. It is part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival.

“Billy Elliot the Musical Live” will be broadcast on PBS Friday, Oct. 23, at 9 p.m. It will be available as video on demand thereafter on the PBS website.


How it started: The movie ‘Billy Elliot’ addresses boys and ballet

There are some people meant to dance. They know they are dancers from the minute they are born. Their parents may know as well. But not all dancers are lucky enough to have the money, the means or, in the case of Billy Elliot, the protagonist of the movie, the right teacher, to make it. This 2000 movie, starring Jamie Bell, as the title character, looks at the tensions in a middle-class family when a young boy discovers he’s a ballet dancer in his soul.

Bell was 12 when the movie came out so 11 when the movie was being filmed. He has not gone on to be a dancer, but was chosen over 2,000 other boys to play the part. Bell has spunk as the young Billy. He isn’t sure of himself, he waffles, and he squints with concentration. While Bell has grown up to be handsome, at 11, his ears stuck out. He is slim and awkward in his body with a gawky enthusiasm in his movements.

The movie begins with Billy listening to music. He lives in a garishly bright green apartment, looking after his grandmother (Jean Heywood) who has grown senile and taken to wandering. His widowed father, Jackie (Gary Lewis), and his older brother, Tony (Jamie Draven), are both miners on strike and the movie takes place during the 1984-1985 Great Britain miners’ strike in the fictional mining town of Everington Village. The miners are in conflict with the police, making the village like a civil war zone, with skirmish after skirmish.

The wounds left by his mother’s death are still fresh. She died in 1983. Yet there are touches of her and many photos of the whole family around the house and she (Janine Birkett) sometimes appears to Billy in his imagination.

Billy is being sent to a a boxing class. The gym is also being used by a ballet class that has been temporarily displaced because their studio is now being used for a soup kitchen for the striking miners. Billy doesn’t have the fighting spirit and after a particularly dispiriting bout in the ring, Billy stays for the class. He’s befriended by the teacher’s daughter, Debbie (Nicola Blackwell).

The dance teacher, Sandra Wilkinson (Julie Walters), sees something in Billy. When Jackie hears that Billy hasn’t been going to boxing class although he has always pretended to do so, Jackie shows up at the gym, only to discover Billy dancing among the girls. Jackie forbids Billy from both ballet and boxing, but Sandra gives Billy lessons and tells him she believes he should audition for the Royal Ballet in Newcastle.

While his father and brother are angry over the idea of Billy dancing, his friend Michael (Stuart Wells)is unexpectedly excited. Billy later learns that Michael likes dressing up in women’s clothes. While that’s not exactly Billy’s thing, he does feel free to express himself with Michael.

On the day of the audition, Billy’s brother is arrested, preventing Billy from covertly going with Sandra to Newcastle. When Sandra confronts Billy about this, his father and brother learn that Billy has potential.  It isn’t until later, that Jackie realizes just how much Billy loves dancing.

After talking with Sandra, Jackie decides to send Billy to the audition in London and struggles with finding the money necessary.  This film does ultimately have a happy ending, but one that requires sacrifice. In the end, we see a 25-year-old Billy (played by former Royal Ballet dancer Adam Cooper) performing as the lead in Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” as Michael (Merryn Owen), Jackie and Tony watch from the audience.

The movie is gritty and at times funny, but never corny. The harsh problems of the miners aren’t overlooked and the differences of class are subtly shown. The continual presence of the police in riot gear is illustrated humorously as Billy’s friend Debbie goes from running a stick on posts to running them off the shields of the police as if they were inanimate objects. Yet later, we see Billy’s brother getting caught and beaten by them.

This is well-worth watching for ballet fans and all people who have ever wanted to dance and still want to dance. I remember wanting dance lessons so desperately as a child and only as an adult did my inner dancer get released and that began in high school with the encouragement of one particular friend and a few teachers. Hooray for teachers. “Billy Elliot” is currently available on Amazon Instant.


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