Weekend Viewing Roundup: Starter for Ten & A Scanner Darkly

There’s nothing interesting at the cinema this weekend, but it’s always nice to catch up on older movies I’ve been meaning to see.

This past Friday was our first Girls Movie Nite since its summer hiatus and my girlfriends and I had initially settled on Water for Elephants. The trailer looks pretty good and the combination of Christoph Waltz and Robert Pattinson in a circus setting seemed intriguing. Unfortunately it’s not available on Netflix yet (another reason I’m canceling my subscription) so we ended up seeing Starter for 10 since one of my friends owns the DVD. The other one I saw was A Scanner Darkly, a sci-fi done in interpolated rotoscoping animation style in which animators trace over live-action film movement, frame by frame.

Starter For 10

 

Set in 1985, working-class student Brian Jackson navigates his first year at Bristol University.

Seems like James McAvoy hasn’t made a bad film. At least out of the eight films where he had a prominent role, none of them has disappointed me. Ok so I didn’t love Becoming Jane (despite my love for period dramas) but it’s more because of Anne Hathaway performance than James’.

McAvoy truly carried this film with his earnest performance as the brainy kid Brian who finds out that life education is definitely as important as being book smart. Despite being in his mid 20s when he did this film, he was quite believable as a college freshman. His transformation from the naive geek with bad hair to a slightly older & wiser university student is fun to watch. Scottish director Tom Vaughan peppered the film with witty dialog and whimsical college scenes without relying on silly or inappropriate gags like college films like say, Old School. Even the more sexually-charged scenes are a hoot, especially the one involving Brian and the parents of the girl of his dreams on a Christmas holiday, are funny but not cringe-worthy.

The romance is sweet and engaging. It’s almost unanimous that everyone in my group sympathize with Rebecca Hall’s character. I feel that it’s not only because her character (also named Rebecca) is written that way but also because Hall seems to always come across very affable on screen. The film truly belongs to the über talented McAvoy but Benedict Cumberbatch managed to steal some scenes with his hilarious performance as the ambitious group ‘leader’ competing for the University Challenge quiz show. His character may be one-dimensional but still he made it entertaining. The ending is quite predictable but I don’t really mind it in a movie like this where a lack of ‘plot twist’ is not a detriment.

Starter For 10 is quite a poignant yet funny coming-of-age comedy drama starring the hottest young British talents working today. Many of the cast have now become quite famous: McAvoy himself, Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, The Town, Everything Must Go), Benedict Cumberbatch (Amazing Grace, BBC’s Sherlock, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Dominic Cooper (The Duchess, An Education, The Devil’s Double). Alice Eve is perhaps the least known but she’s starring in The Raven next year.

The music is quite memorable as well with songs mostly by The Cure and other British bands such as Tears for Fears, The Smiths and Wham!.

4 out of 5 reels

A Scanner Darkly

 

An undercover cop in a not-too-distant future becomes involved with a dangerous new drug called Substance-D and begins to lose his own identity as a result.

I’ve been curious about this film for some time, mostly because of the rotoscoping animation style I’ve mentioned about, as well as the fact that it’s a Philip K. Dick adaptation. He’s perhaps one of the greatest sci-fi authors whose work have been a popular subject for films such as Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report and most recently The Adjustment Bureau.

The cast for this film, especially Keanu Reeves and Robert Downey Jr., is also a big selling point. Combine that with an intriguing subject matter and a distinct visual style, this one surely can’t be a misfire, right? Well, I wouldn’t call it a misfire, but I can’t exactly call this one enjoyable. People have said that this movie is not for everyone, but really, one can say that for just about every title, right? Even the most beloved movie would have its detractor. The thing is, I was prepared to really like this one, but I actually found this one to be tedious in parts that I actually dozed off about three-quarters the way through. I did wake up about 10 minutes before the end and found that the story is quite profound, but yet I’m just not interested enough to rewind which parts I had missed.

I think the main strength of the film is the story itself, which made me think that I might appreciate the novel more. The acting is also good overall — both Keanu and Robert are perfectly cast, and Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson are quite memorable in their supporting roles. But the pacing is a bit too slow as the novelty of the animation style wears off. I really think the visual technique is really imaginative and I appreciate that the filmmaker went with this route. Yet I’m not really sure how much that style improve the story-telling. Yes I do believe director Richard Linklater is able to capture the paranoia and perceptual contortion caused by Substance-D, but because of the animation style, I feel that the subtle expressions that we would otherwise be able to perceive from each actor is somewhat lost. I almost feel guilty that I didn’t enjoy this as much as I learn in the Special Features about the dedication of the filmmaker and how personal this project is to him.

Perhaps if I give this film another chance I might enjoy it more, though I highly doubt I’d see this again. The thing about this whole film is how unsettling it is. I hate insects so the opening scene alone of a guy suffering from intense hallucination is disturbing and down right repugnant. But with that said, I’d still recommend this for a rental for people who enjoy sci-fi movies and Philip K. Dick’s stories. Though I didn’t end up loving it, I definitely don’t regret finally seeing this.

3 out of 5 reels

Well, what did you see this weekend? If you’ve seen either one of these films, please share your thoughts in the comments.