Thursday, June 23, 2011

Third Star review for Cinematique

Third Star

Starring Tom Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch, JJ Feild, Adam Robertson
Directed by Hattie Dalton
Written by Vaughan Sivell
2010 (UK)

Reviewed by Lynnette Porter

As does its predecessor (Africa United) in the From Britain With Love series, Third Star revolves around a group of friends who learn as much about themselves as each other during an often-difficult journey. For terminally ill James, “the walk” is the trip of a lifetime, reuniting him with his closest friends and the place he loves most on earth, Barafundle Bay in South Wales. But each of James’ friends has his own secrets and turmoil to deal with.

What could have been a downer about Death or a self-important lecture about The Meaning of Life instead turns into an often-irreverent exploration of friendship. The film offers some heart-to-heart discussions, but these fireside chats emphasize the friends’ different philosophies and approaches to dealing with their less-than-perfect lives, rather than become mired in emotion. Although their plans on the walk, as in life, go awry, these friends gain strength from each other.

If there is a flaw to Third Star, it is that symbolism sometimes is handled with a heavier hand than necessary to make a point. In one scene, for example, Miles (JJ Feild) discovers his watch has been stolen by a boy dressed as an angel for a local festival. The symbolic scene highlights Miles’ fear of losing the most important people in his life. The angels, quite literally, steal his time with those he loves.

The beautifully raw Welsh coast also may sometimes provide an obvious analogy between Nature and the nature of life and death, but frequent shots of the gorgeous scenery can certainly be forgiven. Third Star lovingly frames Wales’ rocky shores and moody sea.

The performances make the film. Tom Burke’s Davy is a devoted caretaker; JJ Feild’s Miles is the friend who stayed away until almost too late; Adam Robertson’s Bill is a caged free spirit. All are excellent in their roles and provide balance to this story of friendship that transcends death. As James, Benedict Cumberbatch soars. He makes James human—with regrets and fears but also humor and hope.

Quiet, character-driven scenes, often missing from blockbusters, become some of the most memorable in an actor’s repertoire. Catch Cumberbatch in roles like this now; he will be on American moviegoers’ radar after “big” films like War Horse and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy arrive in the U.S. in the next few months. Although the actors in Third Star may have higher profile roles in upcoming blockbusters (JJ Feild is in Captain America, for example), their talent shines in this lovely independent film.

Writer Vaughan Sivell’s filming diary and blogs about the actors and characters ( are well worth reading before you see the film. Both Sivell and director Hattie Dalton interact with the film’s fans on Third Star’s Facebook page, and they and their fans clearly believe in this film. It’s well worth a look to see why Third Star is gaining an international fan following.

Third Star shines as a film about friendship and life. Although its title may suggest its rating, I give it four stars out of five.

Dr. Lynnette Porter writes books about television and film and teaches humanities courses at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review of Africa United (From Britain With Love)

Africa United

Starring Eriya Ndayambaje, Roger Nsengiyumva, Sanyu Joanita Kintu, Yves Dusenge, and Sherrie Silver
Directed by Debs Gardner-Paterson
Written by Rhidian Brook
2010 (U.K.)

Reviewed by Lynnette Porter

A few films in the From Britain With Love series deal with friendship thoroughly tested during a journey, a universal theme perfect for bridging cultural gaps among audiences. In Africa United, the journey begins with two teenaged boys who share a love of football (soccer to us in the U.S.). This shared interest transcends their very different economic and social backgrounds and propels them on a life-affirming journey.

Tryouts are a first step toward their “dream for the team”—a youth football team gathered by FIFA for the World Cup’s opening ceremony. After making a wrong turn, “manager” Dudu Kayenzi and “star” Fabrice Kabera decide to complete the journey from their home country of Rwanda to the World Cup in South Africa.

It sounds like an impossible dream to make the 3000-mile journey, much of it on foot. Indeed, the power of the dream is another theme woven throughout this film. Dudu dreams of soccer saving the world from all its evils; the opening scene shows the 13-year-old turning a condom, plastic bag, and string into a soccer ball while explaining why football is even better than sex. Throughout the film, Dudu weaves a story about the power of football, and his story/dream is told via brightly colored stop-motion segments.

In a continent torn by AIDS and war, this sports analogy makes more than “kid sense.” Whereas affluent Fabrice’s mother sees education as the way for her son to become a doctor in America, Fabrice only wants to excel in football. Street-smart orphan Dudu and his sister face the same choice between sports and education as a way to a better life. Whereas Dudu sees the World Cup as the high point of life, Beatrice longs to become a doctor and prays for books.

Africa United well illustrates the dreams of many young people. During their journey to South Africa, Dudu, Fabrice, and Beatrice gather George and Celeste, who also want to escape their current lives for something better.

This combination road trip and coming-of-age film may not be all that surprising for the themes and conflicts it tackles. However, the African scenery, from broad lakes to lush jungle to rolling hills, provides a stark contrast to the worlds of villages, refugee camps, HIV testing centers, and metropolitan centers. American audiences may not have seen or really thought about the lives of teens like Dudu or Fabrice, Beatrice or Celeste, but Africa United strives to bring together international audiences as much as it unites these broken, brilliant characters.

For many Americans, Africa United will be both heartwarming and eye opening.

My rating out of five stars:

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Picture Paints a Word or Two

I'm a writer, so I couldn't help but notice all the words shouting at me wherever I walked. Most are part of exhibits, statues, or facades, but they all seemed to be cluing me in to some greater meaning. Or maybe I was reading far too much into them. Still, they spoke to me and put my surroundings into a very different context.

(To all those who have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill, Their foresight and courage gives us hope.)

(Is life a boon? If so, it must befal that death, whene'er he call must call too soon.)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Woman about Town

I love to walk. In London I've strolled nearly every bridge across the Thames and trod the cobbles throughout the central city. Although Westminster is a favorite haunt (as it is with any tourist), I find new-to-me routes through Lambeth and Southwark, Camden and the tiny City of London. Not exactly a wide geographic area, but one with plenty of depth to explore. Here are a few of the many things that caught my eye during a wander.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

All the World’s a Stage

In the last few weeks, I saw so many players on the various stages of London’s many theatres, as well as plays in various stages of their theatrical lives. Here’s a brief playbill of my favorites from the past month:

War Horse

Now at the New London Theatre and long into its London run, War Horse is a revelation. During a backstage tour of the National Theatre, I saw (and surreptitiously touched) a “horse” cut after previews and now retired as a highly prized prop, but nothing prepared me for the framework to come to life on stage. I sat in the front row center (close enough for my leg to brush Albert’s when he sat on the edge of the stage—and close enough to look up into the horses’ amber eyes when the puppeteers trotted by), but every character, whether actor or puppet, was alive and unique. Because I was so close to the action (even getting “gassed” during one battle, but, hey, isn’t smoke supposed to follow beauty? I coped), I felt that War Horse was almost interactive. I was entranced as well as almost literally entrenched in the story. Go. See it.

Much Ado About Nothing

My co-favorite production is Much Ado About Nothing. Two versions are currently running, but my attention was caught by the modernized (at least to the 1980s) play starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate. I saw it twice in previews and had a blast both times. I’d seen Tennant do drama but not comedy—so the physical comedy as well as perfectly punched up dialogue was a special treat. I could watch him dance (in denim miniskirt or uniform) all evening. He’s loose limbed and looking like he’s having fun. I confess that I’m sometimes lukewarm to Tate’s performances. Loved Donna, but other roles…not so much. I adored her physical comedy here, and although some critics on press night dubbed her performance one note, I enjoyed her work. Again, go. See them—if you can get a ticket. I met some people who were very lucky in the seat lottery, but if you plan to be in London this summer, get tickets online now.

From Drama to Musical, Live Performance to Recordings

I caught In a Forest, Dark and Deep before it left London. The two-person play starred Matthew Fox and Olivia Williams. Both were good overall in the performance I saw, but each achieved great moments as the play darkened and deepened. The plot telegraphed some of the “shock” moments; I wasn’t as surprised as I should have been by the dramatic twists. Still, an interesting night at the theatre.

Also in likely its last weeks is Love Never Dies. OK, I’m a Phantom fan (but not even a phantom fan of the sequel). Although the voices are amazing, the book and music merely left me wanting to see Phantom again. A few days after I saw Love Never Dies at the Adelphi, I read where the revised, vastly improved version will soon debut in Australia and then possibly head to New York. I was irked that the “good” version wasn’t the current London musical.

As a researcher/writer, I sometimes fall into exciting opportunities. The National Theatre provided me with two: one directly for academic articles about the recent production of Frankenstein, one a not-so-guilty pleasure. I always tell my students to pick their research topics carefully. Sometimes I really am glad I follow my own advice.

During the National Theatre tour, I learned about the archives. A few questions later and a gracious guide handed me contact info for the archivists. The two staffers who replied to my email scheduled an appointment for me to view the materials currently available for Frankenstein. It’s still too soon to have much in the file, but I was able to view a recording of the National Theatre Live’s tech rehearsal—an incredible opportunity to see an additional performance and one few have seen. So, on a sunny day, I spent six uninterrupted hours watching that recording and then, to my immense delight, I was able to watch the archival recording of After the Dance. (Such a geek—this is why I’m not tan, even if I live in Florida most of the year. Sunny day outdoors or a Frankenstein/After the Dance combo—a no brainer.)

If the original London cast does indeed make it to Broadway in the next year (a rumor persistent about a month ago but nothing new since), I’ll make it a point to be there, too. In case After the Dance doesn’t make the transatlantic crossing, at least I can say I’ve seen it, even if it wasn’t live performance. Wow—it’s impressive. You might look at a description and not be as enthusiastic if you don’t like period pieces (Dance is set in 1938) or Terence Rattigan, but if you get the chance to see the cast from the London revival—go. The lead performances make the play.

When I walk throughout the West End and lack the time and money to see everything that catches my eye, it’s hard to believe that live theatre is an endangered species. But London is a rarity, as is New York or Toronto. I came away convinced that we have to support theatre, locally, nationally, internationally. All the world’s stages need us to play our part and keep theatre alive. That’s a role I can relish. Let’s see—Paul Gross on stage in Toronto and New York and that rumor about Benedict Cumberbatch coming to New York—I’d better start saving now.