Friday, June 10, 2011

The British are coming! To the FSLC with six new films, including the don't-miss TOAST!

The British are indeed coming, as Mr. Revere called out, and in fact arrive tomorrow in New York and other cities across the country. But, please -- don't let Sarah Palin anywhere near this smart series of new British films because she'll probably get it wrong and recom-mend not seeing them (or perhaps she'll tell us they come from France). Curated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, in partner-ship with Emerging Pictures (the largest all-digital specialty film and alternate-content theater network in the USA), the series -- titled FROM BRITAIN WITH LOVE -- includes six new films and will premiere at the FSLC on June 11 as part of the opening celebration for its state-of-the art Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

Here in NYC, each of the films will be shown once at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and once downtown at the IFC Center. The series is also supported by partners: UK Trade and Investment, BAFTA, and Creative Screen Associates. Simultaneously (or almost) the series will also be playing in a bunch of major (and not so) cities across the country at odd times for over an entire month -- San Francisco! Columbus, Ohio! Daytona Beach, Florida! -- and there'll be a Twitter-linked Q&A happening over this weekend, too.

Because this series involves so many different organizations, with the films shown in so many theaters and cities and at so many different times, I'd suggest starting your info search by going to the website of its distributor, Emerging Pictures, and then clicking on individual films to learn where and when each will be playing. You might just find a city and/or a theater near you.

TrustMovies has now viewed all six of the films on display-- A BOY CALLED DADAFRICA UNITEDIN OUR NAMETHIRD STAR, NEDS (which was part of the recent Tribeca Film Fest) and TOAST --and though all are very much worth seeing, my hands-down favorite is that final film.

But because, here in NYC, Toast is being shown free tomorrow night at the Walter Reade, (as part of the opening celebration of the new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center), the only tickets remaining will be given away on the standby line Saturday evening. But perhaps you can catch this film at its IFC Center showing on Sunday, June 19.  In any case, Toast will be released sometime this fall by the new distributor W2 Media, so we'll all be able to see it eventually.

Because NEDS -- which deals, and very well, with the smarter, younger son of a dysfunctional family who gets slowly sucked into "gang" life -- was part of the Tribeca line-up, it, too, will most likely be available via VOD and/or DVD eventually. The first half of the film is terrific: dynamic, funny, surprising and beautifully acted by all. We'd expect this from the filmmaker Peter Mullan, who's proven himself a consistently fine actor who now turns occasionally to writing and directing and who certainly seems to know this particular milieu. As the movie proceeds however, it becomes, as does its lead character (played by a fine newcomer Conor McCarron: the beefy one shown just left of center, below), more and more overwrought. This leads to, I am afraid, redemption spelled in big, block, capital letters, making for a heavy-duty finale, which is more, I think, than the movie can bear. (Although I'd love to learn what happens to this young man, after said event. Maybe there'll be a chapter two...)

But what about Third Star? Will it see the light of theatrical day? This series marks the film's U.S premiere, and no distribution deal appears in place just yet. The film is one of those "good-friends-gather-around-their-dying-comrade" movie, with boys in place of the girls of Steel Magnolias. It also reflects a similar theme as does the better film, Against the Current, which appeared on VOD/DVD a year or two back. Here, Benedict Cumberbatch (below, left, with JJ Feild) is the central, dying figure, and he's surrounded by good friends/good actors who form a believable ensemble. Characters open up and truths are revealed, and if the movie doesn't quite deliver either the hard-nosed strength or the emotional wallop it might have, it is still pretty good. And the fact that this nearly all-male film was directed by a woman, Hattie Dalton, is also interesting. (The writer is Vaughan Sivell.)

AFRICA UNITED unites, all right -- citizens, classes, countries -- into a family adventure that combines a road-trip (taken by a disparate group of kids, below) with some gorgeous scenery and a nice bit of animation threaded throughout. Think of it as the flip side of Viva Riva! (the African movie that just opened here this week): in Africa United (almost) everything happens for the best, rather than the worst. "Adventure" is the right word to describe the film, which is full of small thrills and bigger surprises. In one scene, the kids find what looks like a very old railroad dining car in the middle of the jungle -- with yet another surprise behind one of its doors. A little more than 30 minutes in, the film turns serious and some hard reality sets in. Writer Rhidian Brook and director Debs Gardner-Paterson (her first- full length) conspire to tackle subjects such as Africa's child soldiers (and what they are called upon to do), child sex workers and even AIDS. That their film remains family-friendly (be prepared to talk to the kids, post-screening, however) is a wonderful accomplishment on the part of the filmmakers, who have also cast their movie well and drawn lovely performances from all five of the kids. The film is spoken in English (which appears to be Africa's second language), and features some charming, quirky dialog. Younger girl to older girl:  "Are you a prostitute?" Then, after a moment: "That's all right because Jesus loves prostitutes." And pay attention to the interesting choice of material possessions that the older boys decide to toss into the sea. Right on!

So soon after seeing one of the finest films yet about the Iraq "war" -- Italy's 20 Cigarettes -- it's edifying to see another good one from Britain, this time dealing with the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on one particular family, and by extension, a whole society. IN OUR NAME, written and directed by Brian Welsh, begins in Iraq with a scene of intense training of a group of soldiers, including our heroine Suzy (played by a fine Joanne Froggatt, shown below), then skips ahead some 14 months later to her homecoming back to England. From the first, little things seems amiss, from Suzy's dealing with her child and husband, Mark (a sexy, scary Mel Raido), who has, we soon learn, his own PTSD to deal with: He served over there even before his wife's tour of duty. Welsh indicts everyone involved here, from the ex-soldiers themselves (for not doing something about the situation early on) to their fawning relatives and often stupidly insensitive friends, to the military that will not make "admitting a problem" easier for the soldier. The ugliness and stupidity builds and builds until it becomes almost unbearable (not to say occasionally unbelievable: Are Marks "friends" really that ridiculously clueless and callous?) To his credit, the filmmaker refuses to solve anything, leaving his characters (and us) in the middle of deep-seated racism, a vigilante-style beat-down, and what looks to have been a murder. Dedicated, as the end credits tell us, to the thousands of men and women who have served in wars for Britain, In Our Name proves an unusually powerful and unsettling indictment.

Parenting -- three generations of it -- gets another kick in the ass from director Brian Percival and writer Julie Rutterford in the full-length but quite short (79 minutes, including credits) A BOY CALLED DAD. A story told in  voice-overs and visuals that make their point quickly and relatively quietly, the film begins with lovemaking and birth (this might remind you of the beginning of Rodrigo Garcia's Mother and Child in its swift efficiency coupled to surprising depth of feeling). The father is our "hero," a 14-year-old boy who, in the course of the movie, connects with his own long-absent dad, and then takes a very determined role in his own child's parenting. Percival and Rutterford have a good understanding of memory and how it becomes so vital for problemed children (most of the characters in this film, adults and kids alike, could be labeled as such). Nature, as well as nurture, come into the picture in some beautiful and surprising ways, too. The wonderful Ian Hart plays our hero's dad, and he has some funny and moving scenes, while Charlene McKenna (below) does a lovely job as the somewhat mysterious young woman who befriends the young man. But the real star of the show is Kyle Ward as 14-year-old Robbie. This kid is good: always believable, a joy to watch and able to negotiate some very difficult emotional territory.

And Toast? Ah, Toast! The movie and the thing itself -- which proves the only bit of food our hero's mom can prepare in an edible manner -- are utter glories. This is a film, the style of which is so perfectly suited to its characters, content and theme, that it seems to self-propel, from first frame to last. (All movies, of course, should manage this, but how few ever do.)  Toast is a joy, and I will have much more to say about it when it opens theatrically this fall. For now I'll just mention that it gives Helena Bonham Carter yet another plum role, which she goes at with gusto (what a versatile actress she is!). Ditto, Freddie Highmore (below, center) and Oscar Kennedy, who play our hero, respectively, as a young man and young boy. In telling the tale of the coming-of-age of Nigel Slater, on whose memoir the film is based, director S.J. Clarkson, gets just about everything right, leaving you on a kind of cloud nine that is leavened with a profound, alternately sad and joyful, understanding of how the world (sometimes) works.

So get thee to the Brits, film fans. See these six good movies, only two of which at this point have distribution possibilities. Below is the complete screening schedule for New York City.  To find screening dates, times and cities elsewhere, click here and then on the specific film for a complete rundown.

Saturday, June 11, 8 PM, Walter Reade Theater
Sunday, June 19, 11 AM, IFC Center

Monday, June 13, 8 PM, Walter Reade Theater
Saturday, June 25, 11 AM, IFC Center

Wednesday, June 15, 8 PM Walter Reade Theater
Sunday, June 26, 11 AM, IFC Center

Monday, June 20, 8 PM, IFC Center
Saturday, June 25, 11 AM, Walter Reade Theater

Thursday, June 23, 8 PM, IFC Center
Saturday, July 2, 11 AM, Walter Reade Theater

Monday, June 27, 6 PM, IFC Center
Saturday, July 9, 11 AM, Walter Reade Theater

For more information on the From Britain with Love series, click here.

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