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.

58 thoughts on “Weekend Viewing Roundup: Starter for Ten & A Scanner Darkly

  1. I saw A Scanner darkly and i found it to be alright. As for me, i saw 4 movies this weekend. Hanna, which i loved. I was surprised to see Olivia Williams play sensitive, as i had gotten used to her playing hard-nosed characters from The host Writer and Dollhouse. I also saw Strangers on a Train, which was of course awesome. I streamed 2 horror movies on. One disappointed me, but thankfully the other one surprised me(I’ve recommended it on my blog)

    1. Oh you saw Hanna, I quite like that one though I wish there had been a more emotional connection with the characters. But really, with a cast like that, can’t possibly be bad. Yeah, I like Olivia Williams, she’s quite versatile I think. She plays a pretty different character in An Education than what I’m used to seeing, but her role in Hanna is definitely a sympathetic one.

      Which one is Strangers on a Train? That sounds lovely but I don’t know anything about it.

      1. PrairieGirl

        Strangers on a Train is a Hitchcock classic suspense from 1951, an excellent film, loved it. Very intriguing and unique plot ;-D

  2. Oh I was wondering what that movie was with that funky animation-style. I should give A Scanner Darkly a shot one of these days.

    This weekend, I only saw Ironclad and Stake Land. Ironclad has some pretty solid action sequences but overall, it’s just decent. The attempt at romance between Purefoy’s character and Kate Mara’s character was thoroughly laughable.

    On the hand, I really enjoyed Stake Land. Think of The Road meets Zombieland but without the comedy. Very good vampire apocalypse movie.

    1. The animation is pretty cool, Cas, I think it’s the direction/pacing that kind of bugged me. Oh I should rent Ironclad, though I heard it’s bad but at least it’s got James Purefoy in it. I do wish he’d mix things up a bit and play a non-Medieval character one of these days, I know he’s very talented!

      The Road meets Zombieland?? I’m not a zombie flick fan per se but I might check it out if you think it’s good. So the zombies are fighting the vampires then? So where does the humans fit in to the mix??

      1. PrairieGirl

        James Purefoy’s very recent British mini series, Injustice, where he plays a modern day lawyer, is a refreshing character change for him, and he plays the role in an understated, realistic way. As far as I know, though, it’s only available as a Region 2 DVD.

        1. Yeah I know about Injustice, Becky, but I’m talking about a movie role. Seems like he’s always in those Medieval costumes. If I were his agent I’d cast him in a variety of roles as we know he can do ’em.

          1. No the vampire aren’t fighting the zombies. But it has the atmosphere and bleakness of The Road combined with a father-son type relationship between the two main characters. They meet people along the way as they head toward Canada in a post-apocalyptic world in which civilization as we know it has ceased to exist.

  3. I noticed you mentioned that you loved period dramas. Have you watched Bright Star, starring Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw? I really would like to hear your opinion about this particular movie.. 🙂

  4. My weekend was a busy one. On Saturday I saw Atlantis (the Disney movie) and Crazy Stupid Love. Yesterday I saw Drive, The Skin I Live In, We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Ides of March at a festival. So it was a good weekend with lots of quality movies.

    I didn’t like A Scanner Darkly much, it was a bit too weird and the story was sometimes hard to follow, haven’t seen the other one…

    1. Oh yeah, I remember you had the film fest, that’s cool that you got to see so many good movies, Nostra. Will you be reviewing them?

      Glad you felt the same way about A Scanner Darkly. The story is intriguing though, so in that sense I’m glad I saw it.

  5. Nice mix there Ruth!!

    I haven’t seen the first one although I do like Rebecca Hall quite a bit. She is going to be a huge star that is for sure!!

    A Scanner Darkly, I don’t think I have seen all the way through. I think it annoyed me. I am not sure, it has been a long time. I am not a Keanu fan if I am honest!!

    Happy Monday!

    1. Hi matey, if you like Rebecca Hall you’ll LOVE this movie. I really like her character and I think she’s a great actress. Glad she’s becoming more popular in the states now.

      Ahah, not a Keanu fan? Well I can see how you’re annoyed by A Scanner Darkly then, ahah.

  6. The animation in ‘A Scanner Darkly’ is still unique. That always intrigued me although I heard the film left something to be desired. Never heard of the other film, but James McAvoy has been good in other films as of late so I might seek it out.

    1. You’re right Max, it is still unique. Too bad the story telling just wasn’t great. McAvoy consistently delivers a good performance, he seems like the kind of actor that can elevate even a so-so script, y’know.

  7. Starter for 10 is one I yet need to see. Keep hearing positive things. I enjoyed Scanner Darkly not so much because of the plot, but because of the beautiful rotoscoping job they did with the actors. I saw “The Thing” this weekend and I wish I would have skipped that one……just awful.

    1. I think if it weren’t for the rotoscoping thing, A Scanner Darkly might’ve just skipped past me. Starter for 10 is very enjoyable, hope you get to see that Markus.

      I don’t do horror but I did hear The Thing remake was awful, too bad you wasted your money on that, man.

  8. I’ve been wanting to see Starter for 10, maybe since McAvoy came on the scene as Mr. Tumnus (Mr. Tumnus shouldn’t be hot. WTF?) Might have to bump it in the queue now … hubby also enjoys Rebecca Hall.

    Watched A Scanner Darkly several years ago, before I realized I was a huge RDJ fan. He’s all I remember of it … I thought that even animated he gave a fascinating performance. Otherwise, though, yeah … weird flick.

    We watched Helvetica this weekend. Interesting, not as much about fonts as I might’ve wanted … focused more on the history of design. Have you seen it?

    1. Ahah, Mr. Tumnus should not be hot, that’s too funny! I almost forgot he’s in Narnia, it’s just that he’s been in so many other films I like since then. I love that Rebecca isn’t the typical Hollywood pretty, y’know. I mean she’s attractive for sure but not a cookie-cutter beauty.

      I think the animation actually makes take the performances to be less compelling for me, I dunno, maybe because the detail of a person’s expression is a bit lost in the rendering. Don’t get me wrong, I think the performances are still good, but it almost takes a back seat to the animation style, if that makes sense.

      Oh I didn’t know about Helvetica! I know I should and I probably enjoy it as I like typography and design in general. I have to look that one up now.

  9. Ted S.

    Never seen either of the films, when A Scanner Darkly was announced I was interested for a little bit, but then they said it will be in that weird animation and I lost interest. I’ve never been into those kind of films that mix in animations and live action.

    I bought Three Kings for $8 from Best Buy and watched it over weekend, I haven’t seen it in since I saw it in theater back in 1999. It was good but I kept thinking about the fight between Clooney and the film’s director.

    1. I know you don’t like animation Ted, so you probably aren’t gonna enjoy A Scanner Darkly.

      Ahah, well it’s David O. Russell who’s known for his temperament. Was it as bad as his fight with Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees?

      1. Ted S.

        Oh you forgot about my directors and actors fighting on the set? You should read it again about what happened during the shoot of Three Kings, it’s definitely worst than the fight Russell had with Lily Tomlin.

        1. Oh yeah I remember it right after I finished typing. Man, hard to imagine there could be a worse fight than the one w/ Tomlin. I’m surprised O’Russell didn’t get into a fight with Christian Bale on the set of The Fighter. Now that would be appropriate given the movie title, right? 😀

  10. Hi, Ruth and company:

    I never understood the gushing kudos tossed towards A Scanner Darkly . Its animation is okay, Though weird, Earth Tone monochromatic and kind of creepy.

    Groundbreaking? I guess so, but no more so than Robert Altman’s Nashville .Where far flung characters and discussions are tied up neatly with a bow by the final reel.

      1. Hi, iluv, Ruth and company:

        Those ‘Ask Schwabb’ commercials make me flash back to two kind of weird cartoons from my youth in the early 1960s.

        Clutch Cargo and its Sci-Fi cousin, <i.Space Angel. Both featured a lot of characters and not much animation. The weird and creepy came from the characters’ over sized, close-up heads and shiny, wet, near human lips that moved when speaking.

        Kudos for the Autumn tones, Ruth. Very seasonal!

        1. Wow, we must’ve typed our comments here at the same time, Jack. Yeah, I remember the Ask Schwabb commercial, but I was paying more attention to the animation that I had no idea what the commercial was about.

          Thanks Jack, glad you liked the Autumn colors 😀

    1. Hi Jack, yeah I don’t get it either, but hey if they love that style then more power to them. I think it’s pretty cool though its novelty wears off after a while.

      I haven’t seen Nashville, though I appreciate Gosford Park which is a wonderful ensemble cast by Altman. The premise of Nashville sounds interesting, I have to see if there’s a trailer for that.

  11. Hi Ruth!

    Glad you caught Starter for 10. I think I may have mentioned this while discussing the film that a barrier to this film for the US Market probably was the title. I had no idea what it was about, having never even heard of the book that it is based on.

    And yes, the soundtrack absolutely rocks!

    1. Ahah yeah, the title didn’t make sense to me either at first, but all you have to do is check IMDb what it’s all about, right? Oh it’s based on a book? I didn’t know about that.

  12. PrairieGirl

    I saw the Burn Notice TV movie prequel The Fall of Sam Axe. It was directed by Burn Notice star Jeffrey Donovan, and has just enough of the BN style to it to fit in with the rest of the series. It was excellent, and was filmed entirely in Columbia where the story takes place (and you know what an accurate location nut I am!). And there’s talk of maybe doing a prequel for Michael AND Fiona also, I think two more prequels would be great. And the 2010 Comic Con/San Diego Burn Notice panel was also on the DVD special features, and that was a gem to see… Bruce Campbell is such a lovable nut!

    1. That’s cool that you enjoyed Burned Notice so much. You really should check out Evil Dead, which is Campbell’s most famous movie role I think, it’s a horror comedy I saw ages ago. He was so young when he did that one.

    2. FUNK

      I’m going to have to check that one out, Campbell had a role in Xena Warrior Princess first 2 or 3 seasons, he played a cat burglar type thief that was always getting into some dicey situations.

  13. Hi Ruth! I agree with Jack, I’m loving the autumnal tones 😀

    I’m glad you enjoyed Starter for Ten. It’s very sweet, isn’t it? Cumberbatch is fantastic and McAvoy is so likeable, as normal!

    I’ve never seen A Scanner Darkly but it’s on my rental list so hopefully I’ll see it soon. I’ve read mixed reviews about it but it’s a genre that I like and the animation looks interesting…

    This weekend Shaun and I met up with Lyn and Scott and we saw Real Steel, which I really enjoyed. It’s very entertaining. On Sunday night Shaun and I watched The Princess Bride. It turns out that it’s one of Shaun’s favourite films, which I didn’t know! 😀

    1. Thanks Claire, it’s been long overdue but now that the weather’s turning cooler over here I thought it’s time 🙂

      Yeah, I just love McAvoy, and apparently he and Cumberbatch reunited again in Atonement.

      I think A Scanner Darkly is worth a watch for sci-fi fan, Claire.

      I did see Scott’s post about you having a meet-up this weekend, how awesome! I wish I lived in the UK but if I go and visit again I’d love to meet you and the Lawlors!

  14. I had a similar reaction to A Scanner Darkly. Neat animation, interesting concept… but nothing else about it really knocked my socks off. Linklater used the animation style in The Waking Life, which I liked a bunch.

    1. Glad you’re in my corner, John. I haven’t seen The Waking Life but if it has similar animation, I might find it problematic just like this one.

  15. I love A Scanner Darkly. The bits of dialogue between Woody and the gang are awesome. The part about the bike gears stands out in my mind.

    Let’s see, over the weekend, I watched The Thing. It sucked. Hooray.

    1. Yeah, the bike gears part is quite funny indeed. Woody is rather over the top, per usual.

      Ahah, I saw your post about The Thing, sounds horrid, man.

      1. Yea, I won’t mention The Thing ever again. That’s probably a lie, but I’ll keep telling it to myself.

        Woody is one of my favorite actors. He’s great in just about everything he does. Even if a movie doesn’t quite come together, if it has him in it, it has a bright spot.

  16. I still haven’t seen Scanner Darkly, a friend told me it is quite good…but the animation style kinda bother me.

    I saw few episodes of The Game of Throne and rewatched one of my favorite Japanese TVseries. The last time I saw a movie is last weekend, it was Cillian’s 🙂

    1. You like anime right Nov? And Keanu obviously, so you might enjoy it.

      Oh I was just talking about Game of Thrones earlier today, I really want to check it out but I heard it’s just so gruesome.

  17. In Game of Throne case…gruesome is not the problem. Too much nudity is the big problem here…at least for me.
    I will write about it when I finished it. 2 more episodes. I often feel reluctant to watch the next episode as I know there will be another boobs being shown to public.

    1. Eh, I have a problem with vulgarity as well, Nov. I just don’t enjoy it and it seems like TV shows these days just get more and more gratuitous. I’d watch more shows if they just focus on good stories instead of coming up w/ shocking scenes to please people.

  18. McAvoy isn’t particularly a reason that I will rush to see a film. I only REALLY liked him in X-Men and The Conspirator. Didn’t enjoy Wanted that much. But I did miss Atonement and the Last King of Scotland, so I am no expert on McAvoy! But this one looks rather interesting. I may give it a shot! Glad you enjoyed it.

    When it comes to A Scanner Darkly, I haven’t seen it, but often felt that the pace did look too slow for me. You confirmed that. I’m actually not a fan of the animation used. This one will probably remain on my “unwatched” list.

    1. I might rent The Conspirator, seems kinda dull to me even with that cast. You have to check out Atonement, I’m considering buying the Blu-ray, it’s just that good!

      I don’t think you’ll miss not seeing A Scanner Darkly, especially if you don’t really like that type of animation. There are better Philip K. Dick’s adaptations.

  19. Aha!! it does have Benny in it!!
    When I read this, I haven’t found Benny yet…and when you mentioned about this movie in my blog (comment for Wulan) I knew it straight away…Benny is in that movie!

    I am still looking for that movie.

  20. Pingback: Benedict Cumberbatch Special: TTSS, War Horse, Starter For 10 « Polychrome Interest

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