From Britain with Love
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
While “Toast” (pictured) is ostensibly a biopic of celebrity chef Nigel Slater, it doesn’t follow that sub-genre’s standard template. For its first half, much of the focus is on Nigel’s fiery-tempered father (Ken Stott, “Charlie Wilson’s War), a complicated man with simple tastes — too simple for Nigel (played by natural newcomer Oscar Kennedy as a youth and Freddie Highmore of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” later), who hungers for food tastier than his mother (Victoria Hamilton, “Scoop”) dare make.
If it doesn’t come in a can, it doesn’t enter the household. Dad’s palate is so unadventurous that he’s baffled by Parmesan: “What is this? It smells like sick!” And so ferocious are Nigel’s desires that one night, Dad catches him moaning in bed as he gazes lustily at a cookbook. After Mom dies an early death, Dad allows a housekeeper into the home, Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”). She provides more spice on a number of levels, eventually becoming Nigel’s stepmother. The two battle it out in the kitchen, proto-“Iron Chef” style, attempting to court the patriarch’s favor.
While a third-act revelation feels out-of-place, it remains true to Slater’s life. For director S.J. Clarkson, who has helmed only television series up to this point (including “Dexter” and “Heroes”), the first-timer’s feature emerges as remarkably assured. Overall, “Toast” is a charmer and a heartbreaker that explores the connection between our stomachs and our hearts.
In “Third Star,” a middle-aged man dying of cancer takes a trip of a literal lifetime. James (Benedict Cumberbatch, TV’s “Sherlock”) is the unfortunate soul about to be taken from this world too soon, so he and his three best buds (Hugh Bonneville, TV’s “Downton Abbey”; Tom Burke, “Chéri”; and JJ Feild, “Captain America: The First Avenger”) head for the wild, in the form of West Wales’ Barafundle Bay.
Seeking escape, the members of the quartet smoke pot, talk about that thing called love, shoot fireworks and hunt for a fabled treasure of lost “Star Wars” action figures. As is wont, they start to clash after a while as they tackle life’s big questions, confronting each other and clearing the air; quoth James, “The sickness may be mine, but the tragedy’s all theirs.”
Eventually, man versus man turns to man versus nature, so it’s like “Deliverance,” minus the threat of hillbilly rape. Kidding — Hattie Dalton’s feature directorial debut is not like “Deliverance” at all, other than that it’s good. It’s nice to see Cumberbatch branch out into pure drama, and when the inevitable happens, it’s gut-wrenching, no matter how well the movie has prepared you.
“NEDS” harbors one of the most hateful protagonists of recent memory, yet the drama remains start-to-finish affecting. In Peter Mullan’s third time at bat as writer/ director, the busy actor (recently as Death Eater Yaxley in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”) draws upon his upbringing in Glasgow, Scotland, to tell the 1970sset story of John McGill, a nice boy turned ne’er-do-well.
John (strongly played by newcomers Greg Forrest at age 10 and Connor McCaron thereafter) is a smart student stuck in a miserable family. His older brother, for instance, was kicked out of school for assaulting two teachers. Try as he might, John does his best to excel in the classroom in order to stay out of the gang violence that pervades his surroundings, but it’s only a matter of time before those bad influences of the Young Car D street hooligans hook him.That’s when our once-relatable main character goes from congenial to craphead, unsettling the audience’s collective comfort level by pulling a point-of-view switcheroo. In these days of cookie-cutter storytelling, the danger is a good thing. The film’s titular acronym sort of says it all, standing for “Non- Educated Delinquents.”
Speaking of letters, prepare to hear the C-word more in 124 minutes than you’ve likely heard in your life heretofore. In other words, leave the kids at home for this one, but take older ones earlier in the day to the light, boisterous, World Cup-centered comedy “Africa United.”
Moviegoers have only one opportunity to catch these films at OKCMOA’s “From Britain with Love” showcase:
—“Toast,” 7:30 p.m. Thursday
—“In Our Name,” 5:30 p.m. Friday
—“Third Star,” 8 p.m. Friday
—“Africa United,” 5:30 p.m. Saturday
—“NEDS,” 8 p.m. Saturday
—“A Boy Called Dad,” 2 p.m. Sunday