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TORONTO: Lucian takes a look at LOW SELF ESTEEM GIRL, BILLY ELLIOT, BEAUTIFUL + shorts

Hey folks, Harry here with yet another of Lucian's fine fine fine reports. Although I'm positive that he'll miss at least one day... I mean... He's human isn't he? I mean... some sort of weird something will stop him.... Can he actually make it all the way through with a daily record? Surely not.... That's not possible... Noooooooooooo.... eeek... sorry... Mark Hamill flashback... Here's the MAnnn

There comes a time when you have to admit this is supposed to be a vacation and you shouldn't kill yourself. Once again I bail on Midnight Madness in favour of sleep. Still, 4 films and 5 Canadian shorts today, but only three quick reviews.

Billy Elliot

Directed by Stephen Daldry

I got in late to this showing and didn't really make notes. The movie tells the story of young Billy Elliot an eleven year old in a northern England mining town qwith his father and older brother. The other Elliots are miners embroiled in a strike that has lasted for years. Billy's father insists he take boxing lessons each week but Billy is drawn into a ballet course run by a local woman. Billy is a natural talent but when his father learns about his ballet he forbids him from doing it. The story of the Elliot family, Billy's fight to continue to dance and the struggle of the striking miners are just some of the wonderfully interwoven plotlines that make up this wonderful movie.

I generally love UK films from the working class (I have fond memories of three visits to the rep cinema to see The Commitments and Waking Ned Devine was my favourite film of 1998) but the audience seemed to confirm my taste here. Young Jamie Bell is superb as Billy, finding a young man so talented in both and dance was a stroke of fate that allowed this movie to succeed. The entire cast is excellent and there is some beautiful subtle film editing effects which highlight many scenes brilliantly.

To sum up: see this movie.

Beautiful

Directed by Sally Field

Minnie Driver and the kid from the Pepsi commercials riff on beauty pageants. Driver plays a girl raised in a loveless family and seeks all her validation in a quest to become Miss American Miss. Choosing a young friend, played as an adult by Joey Lauren Adams, as a surrogate mother she devotes all of her shallow insincere energy to winning by any means necessary. Her true inability to relate to people, "What is human interest? I don't get it." she pines when forced to photograph a day in her life, leads her to abandon her daughter to be raised by her friend to prevent disqualification. When Adams's character is removed from the picture (leaving the audience with no one sympathetic to watch) Driver is forced into motherhood only to find herself repeating the mistakes her own mother made.

The film makes some attacks on the shallowness of the beauty pageant world and the criticisms of it from a media just as obsessed with the beauty myth. Some telling lines highlight the hypocrisy fairly well but the film's final message calls for sincerity as the pageant saving grace. A truly subversive message might have been attained by casting a less attractive funnier actress and playing the movie for more over the top humour. There are a few laughs and the Pepsi girl isn't as annoying as one would expect but there really isn't much to this movie. If you're looking to see a mild attack on pageantry with a few laughs Beautiful is for you. If you want to see a really stinging picture go rent Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Low Self Esteem Girl

Directed by Blaine Thurier

A first time film of the kind you often only see at festivals, Low Self Esteem Girl tells the story of Lois a girl with, no surprisingly, low self esteem. Lois is so susceptible to suggestion that when pot dealer Greg sleeps with her he is able to sell "magic phrases" to his friends which will allow them to seduce her. Meanwhile she also meets Bob, a Christian from a bizarre prayer group who also try to take control of Lois's life.

Shot on digital video simply because it was all they could afford the film goes beyond low budget to no budget. This is the sort of film that reminds you how hard cheap film can be to make. With production values that vary from scene to scene, a mismatched soundtrack that sounds like it came from friends' bands and a product placement for an artist who must also be a friend of the film-maker, lighting courtesy of wall lights, sets and costumes completely inappropriate to the story and camera work that lets us in on the fact that digital video breaks down into pixelation if you move the camera too fast, it would be easy to write the film off as a bad student picture.

It would be even easier to write it off when we consider the characters, whose depth would best be measured in millimetres, and a cast of non-actors who deliver even the most tension filled lines so flatly they resemble flounder. Speaking of floundering, scenes seem to end mid-sentence, the characters act inconsistently, the facts behind the Christian dogma seem unresearched and if the dialogue is scripted it doesn't show.

But, when a sudden plot revolving around demonic possession appears from nowhere the film loses all pretence of taking itself seriously. No one in the film is taken seriously anymore and the film invites you to laugh at it more than with it. I was almost expecting Crow and Tom Servo to pop onto the screen to help explain things to those who are still taking it seriously. Low Self Esteem Girl goes on too long for its own good but, once you get into the right spirit, it's actually a pretty fun ride. Someday this film may come to an independent video store near you. When it does rent it, get a case of beer or other relaxant of your choice, invite over a few of your funniest friends and consider this film a great round of Mystery Science Theatre The Home Game.

I also saw five Canadian short films today but two were in French and the person in front of me basically blocked my view of the subtitles (The Royal Ontario Museum is probably the worst venue the festival employs, calling back memories of high school auditoriums). The three English films were nothing special but if anybody would like more info drop me a line and I'll post a few thoughts.

That's about it save for a post-script to Vulgar. I saw Kevin Smith again at a rescreening of Spike Lee's classic Do The Right Thing. Once again Kevin's introduction shows how he can be incredibly entertaining while not actually saying anything. I was sorry to have to dash out before the Q&A session afterward (by about 4:30 in the afternoon breakfast starts sounding like a really good idea). Of course meeting him a second time only serves to remove the one thing I liked about Vulgar...

Lucian

Visit me at Lucian's Festival Location

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 14, 2000, 6:29 a.m. CST

    The Commitments

    by IrishJoe

    i was just interested in reading what Lucien had to say about working class u.k. movies the commitments and waking ned (both irish in content but as they were successes became british movies)however these movies portray a very wrong image of ireland. the commitments in the dirty and rough imaging of dublin and dubliners and waking ned in its twee depiction of rural ireland. while im sure you have never had the chance to visit i dont blame you for accept these common generalisations about ireland...........for a true depiction of ireland check out movies like crushproof and the excellent new low budget irish movie FLICK although i doubt you ever will as these movies will probably never make it to the USA Cheers

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 7:39 a.m. CST

    Ola IrishJoe

    by Lucian27

    Thanks for your feedback. I ceretainly don't expect a few movies to give me a picture of a country. After all how would I feel if you drew your impressions of Canada from watching Strange Brew and Dudley Dooright? I have sevedral frienmds who took long trips to Ireland and I've gottena half-decent (I hope) image from them. Still, best plan is to visit myself and I plan to do that someday.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 7:44 a.m. CST

    Billy Elliot - not just lucky

    by Lingens

    It wasn't just a stroke of fate that Stephen Daldry found Jamie Bell to play Billy! It took months of trawling the country before he found him. Great find though. Good film also. Could have been just another dreary-but-cute northern working class Britflick, but it isn't.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 7:50 a.m. CST

    Billy Elliot/UK movies

    by Lingens

    Lucien, were you thinking more of truly British movies like Full Monty and Brassed Off, and that Ken Loach film the name of which escapes me? They're all northern working class movies and I'm getting bored of them (though not as bored as of the current Brit gangster flick trend - Snatch bored the pants off me). But Billy Elliot's really worth seeing

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 8:46 a.m. CST

    It's grim up north - and Jamie looks just like my friend's broth

    by I'mAlanPartridge

    and the trailers brilliant. I'm gonna see it next week, I think. I think if you're looking for a representation of real life in the North of England, go and live there rather than watching movies. Movies being fictional an' all. And Snatch was crap.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 10:18 a.m. CST

    Lost

    by J.Utah

    Waking Ned a northern Britmovie?... Anybody see 'Ratcatcher'? (a historical film)

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 11:25 a.m. CST

    Ratcatcher

    by Lingens

    Yeah, Ratcatcher was brilliant, it was the best movie at last year's London Film Festival, bar none, including American Beauty.

  • Sept. 14, 2000, 4:02 p.m. CST

    Billy Elliot

    by Chez Charlot

    Billy Elliot was pure fluff. Yes, it was cute and had all those right moments but it left me cold. I felt manipulated. It was too Hollywood, all wrapped up with a pretty bow. Take your grandparents or a date, but otherwise, rent it.