Beyond the fact that the whole coal-miner's-kid-has-talent-and-big-dreams genre has been horrifically overdone from the earliest days of English-language narrative, Billy Elliot (aka Dancer) is actually a treat to watch. Maybe it's just the funny accents, but the dialog comes off fresh and surprising, even when it's just Billy's dad (played by Gary Lewis) saying some stock like, "No son of mine is going to be dancing ballet." In fact, Lewis conveys an intense fury through his role as the apparently ignorant father, while maintaining a sense of depth and dimension that is, at times, endearing.
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Here's your review of "The Matrix Reloaded" in a nutshell: One incredibly cool, gravity-defying, CGI-aided, swirling-camera kung-fu melee; one jaw-dropping, 100-mph, against-traffic freeway chase; and way, way too much long-winded, expository, circular, self-important, pseudo-philosophical yappity-yappity-yap.
Writing-directing brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski saddle their cast with endless equivocal prattle while toiling to buttress the complex plot and metaphysical undertone of this picture's uber-stylish 1999 predecessor, which saw what we think is the real world exposed as an elaborate virtual reality prison for the minds of all humanity. Mankind's suspended bodies provide a power source for a race of machines, which a small band of escapees are hoping to destroy in the post-apocalyptic world outside the Matrix.
"We can never see past the choices we don't understand," sage but elusive cyber-prophet The Oracle (Gloria Foster) preaches cryptically to Neo (Keanu Reeves), the cyber-Messianic hero whose realization that physical laws don't apply in the Matrix led to the first film's groundbreaking wire-work martial arts fights and bullet-dodging slow-mo stunts.
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The backdrop for "Billy Elliot" is familiar: A haggard blue-collar English community, struggling under the conservative, anti-labor regime of Margaret Thatcher. We've seen variations on this theme in "Among Giants," "Brassed Off," "The Full Monty" and "The Van."
The time period is specific -- it's 1984 and the coal workers are on strike -- although such details won't mean much to audiences outside Britain.
But the characters and their drives and dreams are utterly unique in this non-pandering feel-good film that features such strong performances and original circumstances that even the most stalwart cynic will likely succumb to its charismatic charm.
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In "The Reckoning," a troupe of 14th century traveling actors abandon their standard Bible-story fare while visiting a small fiefdom in order to reenact the recent murder of a local boy, and discover in the process that the official version of events is a cover-up for something far more disconcerting.
Having an outsiders' perspective, the players can sense something amiss with the local Church-based justice, and one of their number -- himself a disgraced priest on the run played by Paul Bettany -- feels compelled to investigate. A mute, wild-woman healer (and thus a suspected witch) is scheduled to hang for the crime, but what he discovers leads the actors to risk their lives to expose the truth by presenting a play based on the facts.
Unfortunately, writer Mark Mills (who adapted Barry Unsworth's novel "Morality Play") and director Paul McGuigan utterly fail to address one fundamental problem with their story: What makes them think the people of this village would pay to see the still-fresh horror of a child's brutal murder fictionalized for them like some Middle-Ages Movie of the Week?
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The eye-popping, heart-stopping last hour and a half of "The Matrix Revolutions" more than makes up for everything plodding and ponderous that has taken place since the mind-blowing first hour of the 1999 original.
Astonishing in scale and momentous in scope, it encompasses a spectacular battle between the scrappy, out-numbered but heavily armed defenders of Zion (humanity's last refugee city hidden deep beneath the Earth's scorched surface) and a million-strong swarm of enemy sentinels (those frightening, giant squid-shaped robots) invading from the machine-ruled surface world.
But the monstrous melee may be for naught if uber-human messiah Neo (Keanu Reeves) cannot defeat the invincibly evil, incalculably self-replicating rogue computer program known as Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) in a simultaneous, nuclear-strength airborne-kung-fu showdown inside what's left of the crumbling Matrix (that virtual world pulled over the eyes of the comatose majority of mankind kept in stasis by the machines who feed off our life-force).
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