4 Star Double Feature – Coming of Age Flicks

Starter for 10 (2006)

The cast boasts the likes of James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Alice Eve, and even James Corden all in one film together! The year is 1985 and Brian is off to his first year at university which turns into a formative moment in his life of new experiences, romantic entanglements, and, yes, even trivia. He’s really good at trivia. But sometimes being good at trivia still cannot prepare you for the things that life throws at you. That’s what makes life, life and not a game show as he finds out.

Sing Street (2016)

Also set in 1985 but in this case in Dublin, Sing Street is a high school coming of age story about a boy who forms a band to get a girl. It’s a simple premise but John Carney’s film explores much of the turbulence as well as the glories of that time in life. It’s about love and music and personal exploration. It also happens to be a darn good musical with a steady stream of catchy 80s tunes both real and fictional.

Please Give (2010)

Please_Give_FilmWhat is Please Give about? The most succinct answer I can muster up is that it is about the simple rhythms of life. It’s about people rubbing up against each other, the neighbors you try and be nice too, but speak about behind closed doors. In writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s fifth collaboration with Catherine Keener, the latter is Kate, a woman who lives a life of uncomfortable dichotomy with her husband and teenage daughter.

Next door is the cranky grandma Andra, who is quite along in age, and she gets assistance from her granddaughters, who are both young professionals. Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) works as a radiology technician often spending her days giving mammograms, while her fashionable sister Mary (Amanda Peet) works as a cosmetologist. Their grandmother is not exactly the most agreeable person, and her acerbic nature earns the disdain of Mary and the quiet industriousness of Rebecca. They both have different ways of dealing with other people just as they have different ways of approaching love. Rebecca is quiet and looks for love in a nice young man. Mary constantly checks out the woman who stole her old boyfriend and embroils herself in an affair.

Meanwhile, Kate feels uncomfortable for buying Andra’s flat and waiting for her passing to start renovations. Likewise, in her joint venture with husband Alex, they buy people’s old possessions at estate sales and make major profits on their furniture. These issues along with a rebellious streak in her daughter, make Kate noticeably agitated, and she tries to overcompensate. She gives money to every homeless person she ever sees and tries to volunteer at numerous spots across town without much success.

The film suggests that we can tread a thin line on the margin of what is honest and what is termed “the ways of the world.” After all, if we balance it out with enough good deeds it ends up okay in the end, right? On her part, Kate has an odd way of dealing with her own sense of morality when it comes to her family business and the homeless on the street corner. Her husband is a generally agreeable man, who has no trouble with what they do, but he at least admits it, just like admitting when he flirts with other women.

Above all, I think Please Give boasts interesting female characters, in fact, they are the focal point of Holocener’s story, and it makes for a worthy character study in an industry that is often male-centric. Within these women is hypocrisy, pettiness, and a lot of insecurity, but it manages to be invariably funny as well as perturbing at times.

3.5/5 Stars

Starter for 10 (2006)

215px-Starter_for_tenOftentimes I get my greatest excitement not simply from the masterpieces I get to discover, but also hidden gems that get unearthed along the way. This one just happens to have some of Britain’s best talent. Starter for 10 is a coming-of-age film which immediately sets off a number of ideas in one’s head, and it has most of what you expect in that department. However, it also has an astounding plethora of young British talent. The list of names is as follows: James McAvoy, Alice Eve, Rebecca Hall, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dominic Cooper, and even James Corden.

The heart of this film is Brian Jackson a college-aged kid, who grows up wanting to be clever and he has a passion for trivia because he always wants to learn more and he spent some formative moments in front of the telly with his now deceased dad. Now in 1985, he gets ready to leave his mother (Catherine Tate) and head off for new experiences at Bristol University. But she’s not the only one he leaves behind. His friends Tone and Spencer are not as ambitious as him, but he promises not to forget them.

Still, when he gets to college, he’s excited for the new challenges ahead and although his first acquaintances are rather odd, he does meet the winsome girl Rebecca Epstein (Rebecca Hall), who has an affinity for political protests. Soon he’s quick to join the University Challenge quiz team anchored by a very stuffy post-grad (Benedict Cumberbatch) but that’s not all. He also gets his first encounter with the posh girl with a gorgeous figure (Alice Eve). He’s immediately smitten with this new quiz kid and for good reason.

But what follows is all the drama that one would expect. The pitter-patter of his beating fragile heart as he dreams of days with the beautiful Alice. It even manifests itself in a dinner date and a rather awkward New Years with her parents. But then there’s Rebecca too. She’s brilliant as well and he has to figure out what he’s doing. Mixing up names on New Year’s Eve is not the best plan, but of course, that’s what happens.

His best friend Spencer (Dominic Cooper) comes to visit and that fosters more turmoil than Bri would like with the old world intersecting with the new. He’s confused and apathetic about the University Challenge by now. Everything goes wrong before the big day of the final competition and to top it all off Brian messes things up in a big way that leaves him dejected. He cannot even face his team now. Early on Brian latched onto the idea that knowledge is the key to being happy, not a job that you might hate. Although that can be true, it seems he slowly realizes that there’s even more to happiness than knowledge. If that’s all you have, you’re probably not going to be all that content. You see, he’s certainly clever, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t do some stupid things and make some big mistakes. Don’t we all, and otherwise, this could not be a coming-of-age story full of discovery, confusion, and love.

It’s a bad metaphor, I know, but do you want the Marilyn Monroe blond bombshell or the sweet Audrey Hepburn brunette? Everyone has their proclivity, but Brian seems to make the right choice because he doesn’t go with the outward appearance, he goes with the one with a depth of character and the ability to forgive. That’s big.

There’s a formula being followed certainly, but it’s easy to look past that and enjoy Starters for 10 for its heartfelt performances and simply the good fun it brings to the table. The names attached to the picture were slowly on the rise and it’s impressive to see how far their careers have taken them.

3.5/5 Stars

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

8c89f-vickycristina2Although he is not present you can hear and see the undeniable hand of Woody Allen behind this romance set in Barcelona. In a film that at times feels like a precursor to the more interesting Midnight in Paris, Allen takes on romance in another elegant city with two young Americans who have been transplanted there from their everyday lives.

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is the practical one of the two with a fiance who is kind but by no means a romantic. Cristina (Scarlett Johannson) is the more adventurous type and she is intrigued by a forward Spanish painter (Javier Bardem) who invites them to spend a holiday with him. All the red lights are going off in Vicky’s head and she will not have it. But Cristina is interested enough to drag her friend along on this whim. They have a matter of fact narrator to guide their little tale of love and personal revelation.  Enter Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) stage right and things gets a bit complicated.

This is a Film about love. A Film about people having their mini midlife crisis and a film about trying to figure things out. In that ways it is relatable and yet I have this uncomfortable feeling that Woody Allen is speaking to me veiled behind the worldviews of his characters. It seems like I can hear his voice obviously peeking out behind many of these characters so they lack interest. There’s nothing new and exciting. For instance, I liked Rebecca Hall, but to be honest her character is bland and she soon comes to realize that herself. It’s not just her either but the social circles she interacts in. The people are dull, middle class, American types. Cristina might have a little bit more mischief in her, but that does not necessarily make her all that interesting.

However, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz play a pair of characters who are perhaps the most interesting. Maybe it is just a result of playing artists but they are often difficult to read and do not make complete sense. They are both romantics but they are prone to violent passion or angry fights. That’s the dynamic Vicky and Cristina get thrown into and I doubt either one expected it.

The story ends like other Allen films as a quirky romance with touches of comedy and strange acts of fate. Vicky and Cristina leave Barcelona perhaps a little wiser but with little more figured out about life.

3.5/5 Stars

The Prestige (2006)

87836-prestige_posterStarring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johannson, and Michael Caine with director Christopher Nolan, this film is about two magicians who ultimately become rivals. After the death of Robert Angiers’ wife, he blames Alfred Borden and thus begins their quest to become the greatest magicians the world has ever seen. Along the way Borden finds a wife and has a daughter, while Angiers tries to discover Borden’s secrets various ways. Both men will stop at nothing to succeed even if it means sabotage, wounding, or even traveling to Colorado in Angiers’ case. With Borden in jail for murder of his rival, it appears as if Angiers has won. However, in the end all is not as it seems and it is revealed to the audience. Once again Nolan uses non linear storytelling to develop this intriguing mystery. I was not much of an authority on magic but now I know you have the pledge, the turn, and of course the prestige.
4/5 Stars