Saturday, May 05, 2007

Tribeca Reviews: The Eighth Batch

Charlie Bartlett

Directed by
Jon Poll

This has all the makings of a Disney Channel TV series except for one small thing. It's about the high school drug dealer. Charlie Bartlett(Anton Yelchin) is too good to be true. He's one of those lovable rogues that everyone roots for even though he probably deserves everything he's going to get...nah!

Gustin Nash's script begins with the obvious, Charlie is getting expelled again for selling phony drivers licenses. So, with no posh private school willing to take him, his mom(Hope Davis) is forced to send him to the local public school. Of course wearing his old school uniform gets him beaten up by the school bully(Tyler Hilton), who soon becomes his partner in crime, but there's the delightful Susan Gardner(Kat Dennings), who's sole fault is that her father(Robert Downey, Jr.) is the school's principal. So, with the family's shrink more than happy to over-prescribe various drugs like riddlin, and soon our hero has become the most popular kid in the entire school. Then something happens and Charlie is in big trouble once again. Can he get out of it this time?

This is basically your standard high school comedy. Not that his is a bad thing, of course. One the one hand, Yelchin is chewing the scenery a little too much, and that makes the film a tad too cute. On the other hand, the supporting cast, most notably Downing as the principal and Mark Rendall as the kid who something bad happens to, are uniformly good, and despite the boilerplate feel, this knocks it out of the park. The sad fact is that the film's rated “R” and there are going to be a lot of kids sneaking in from what is probably more wholesome entertainment. In other words, the intended audience isn't supposed to see this. But they will. Which in this case is fine.

Vitus

Written and Directed
by Fredi M. Murer

It's tough being a genius. Six-year-old Vitus(Fabrizio Borsani) knows this better than anybody. He's a piano prodigy who's years ahead of all the other kids his age. His parents aren't much help,

Dad(Urs Jucker) is an inventor who's actually quite successful and mom (Julika Jenkins) is big in other business, and at first leaves him at kindergarden where he's bored to tears, and then with a 15-year-old babysitter Isabel (Kristina Lykowa), who introduces him to certain things that he's too young for. The only person who understands him is his grandfather (Bruno Ganz), but he's living out in the country. So Vitus rebels…cut to six years later.

Vitus(Teo Gheorghiu) has grown arrogant and somewhat mean. Things aren't going particularly well for him in general, so he takes some drastic steps, a surprise that knocks the audience for a loop and turns out to be a brilliant subterfuge that only Grandpa is privy too. He then goes into high finance. This is a perfect tale of adolescent rebellion without too much angst.

The film is much better than it sounds. The script is thoughtful and the acting is excellent. These are real people. The pace is slow, but not to slow and while the film is on the long side, it doesn't feel it.

This is the perfect film to introduce the kids to subtitles.

This Is England

Written and Directed
by Shane Meadows

1982 was a pivotal year in British history. The Argentine fascists had decided that Maggie Thatcher was too weak to respond to an overt invasion of the Falkland Islands, and there was a short and bloody war that overthrew the military government and kept Thatcher in power for another eight years.

Eleven-year-old Shaun(Thomas Turgoose) and his mum(Jo Hartley) are victims of that war. The father of the family had been killed and they're in mourning. Other kids in the school comfort Shaun by insulting his memory and picking fights. It's this kind of thing that can inspire hooliganism in a kid, and that's exactly what happens.

The hooligans are skinheads, a neo-fascist gang of tricksters led by the surprisingly jovial Woody(Joseph Gilgun) and his girlfriend Lol(Vicky McClure). They are violent and destructive, but they're not racist, for one of the gang is a Jamaican named Milky(Andrew Shim).
There's also a female child molester named Smell (Rosamund Hanson), with whom Shaun has a bit of a romance. What's really strange is that Mum is actually okay with all this. Then everything takes a turn for the worse when Woody's old pal Combo(Stephen Graham) shows up after having gotten out of prison.

Now Combo is overtly racist and introduces Shaun to the wonderful world of hate, driving Woody out, and making things very difficult for all involved, even though Shaun does feel appreciated.

This is basically a historical artifact and a meditation on the nature of evil. Somewhere between Woody and Combo is a line that shouldn't be crossed, and a price must be paid for crossing it. Things get bloody. The acting is fine, Gilgun and Graham are excellent as Shaun's two mentors and Turgoose manages to hold his own among the grownups. Definitely worth a trip to an arthouse.

My Best Friend

Written and Directed
by Patrice Leconte

Francois (Daniel Auteuil) is an antiques dealer who is all business and nothing else. His business is losing money and his partner Catherine(Julie Gayet) is worried, but he doesn't seem to be.

He first shows up at a funeral for a former client solely to talk to the widow about some furniture. His wife has left him and his daughter
Louise(Julie Durand) can barely stand the sight of him. Catherine says at a dinner that he doesn't have any friends, and Francois angrily replies that he does, and wagers his new ancient Greek vase to prove it. She gives him to the end of the month. Enter Bruno (Dany Boon), the know-it-all taxi driver.

Fortuitously picking our hero up a number of times, Bruno is at first annoying, but soon Francois decides that this is the person to give him “nice guy” lessons to he could win the bet and possibly fill a gap in his life, and there develops an interesting dynamic between the two. Auteur Leconte has managed to get a lot of psychological insight into a light comedy, or rather what might be termed a “platonic romance.” Bruno and Auteuil have a genuine chemistry together and the former is excellent, especially at the penultimate sequence, which is actually riveting.

This is one of the better films to come out of France this summer.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Great work.