On Friday I endured two further disappointments, bringing the sum of good British movies I’ve seen at this year’s festival to one – and it was only ok. That was Skeletons (review HERE) hardly a masterpiece but at least well-made and performed, and worth it for a turn from Jason Isaacs. It has a slim chance of taking the Michael Powell Award, although my instinct tells me it will either go to Soulboy, the audience favourite, or Jackboots on Whitehall, which I am reliably informed is at least good fun.
Pelican Blood (review HERE) perhaps has an outside shot, but I maintain that it is unconvincing and derivative.
Talking of derivation, the festival will close on Saturday night with Third Star. I did not know the film’s premise before seeing it, but if I had alarm bells might have gone off. It is the story of a terminally ill cancer patient who decides to go on One Last Trip with his friends. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement, Starter For 10) and a group of young, perfectly decent British actors working with a script that could pretty much have written itself.
I am not entirely comfortable with movies that use terminal illnesses as a plot device in this way; they walk a fine line and it is easy for them to stray into the maudlin or manipulative. While Third Star does attempt to show the practicalities of living with such an illness, and the emotional turmoil involved, the whole thing got under my skin slightly, particularly in its tediously unoriginal narrative.
James (Cumberbatch) wants to see his favourite place on Earth before he dies, a mystical beach on an island somewhere. We follow him and his three friends while they enact scenes that alternate between dramatic conflict and comic relief. This alternation is so mechanical, and much of the dialogue sounds so written, that despite its good intentions by the end the movie frankly annoyed me. It’s dealing with a subject it needed to handle more carefully than it does.
The search for the beach and the underlying themes reminded me of Y tu mama tambien. The beauty, wit and energy of Alfonso Cuaron’s movie renders this one completely unnecessary.
Continuing today’s theme of derivative storylines, if you have seen, for instance, Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, you do not need to see Ollie Kepler’s Expanding Purple World.
After the title character’s girlfriend dies suddenly, he gradually loses his grip on reality, obsessing over string theory and quantum physics as he falls deeper into madness. This sort of descent – into paranoia and madness – has been at the centre of movies by, amongst countless others, Scorsese, Kubrick and Cronenberg, so already we’re an area populated by the heavyweights of cinema.
Sadly this picture looks like something more suited to TV than the cinematic brilliance of, say, Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (or the Aronofsky movie), and it doesn’t go as far into the dark side as you feel it ought to. The central role is filled by Edward Hogg (White Lightnin), who does a fairly impressive job, but it’s been done before, and far better. Even the nutjob at the centre of My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done – which is, though shot on a low budget, far more cinematic – is much more intriguing, and the manifestations of his madness more original.
By my count I have now seen 20 movies (not including Gumshoe and The Man Who Would Be King) and would give what Roger Ebert calls ‘marginal thumbs up’ to about half of them. With Bob Rafelson’s masterpiece Five Easy Pieces, featuring one of Jack Nicholson’s best performances, showing on Sunday in a newly remastered print, it seems to me that the best movies at this year’s festival are all more than 30 years old.
But I have two movies left to go (including the fairly well-received The Dry Land) so I hold out a thread of optimism.
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