Monday, June 23, 2008

It's been quite some time since I've done a new on DVD, but there are a couple of good flicks out this week you should be aware of.

Charlie Bartlett

First up is a quirky little film from first time director Jon Poll (He previously produced The 40-Year Old Virgin and CineManiac fave Eerie Indiana), written by Gustin Nash (the upcoming adaptation of Youth in Revolt). We are first introduced to the titular Charlie (up-and-comer Anton Yelchin) as he faces expulsion from private school for selling fake IDs. We soon learn the cute, somewhat awkward kid has been kicked out of several private school and now he's only left with public school. Once back at home it's apparent that Charlie takes care of his slightly off mother (Hope Davis) as she's suffering from the absence of Charlie's father, and it quickly revealed that the family has a psychiatrist on call.

Charlie's first day at his new school is a packed day in which he inadvertently takes the "short bus" and becomes friends with one of it's occupants, meets Susan (The 40-Year Old Virgin's Kat Dennings), meets tough guy Murphey (Tyler Hilton) and subsueqently gets beaten up by Murphy, and tries out for the school play with a monologue from Misadventures of a Teenage Renegade (a girls monologue done completely in falsetto, which is hilarious).

After seeing her son with a black eye, Mom calls for a day off for Charlie to see the psychiatrist, who quickly prescribes Ritalin without much care for Charlie's symptoms. Fortunately for Charlie the pills get him very high instead of helping (a hilarious montage which shows Yeltin's panache for humor) but it gives him an idea, sell the Ritalin at the school dance which helps him bound with Murphey and basically creates a teenage Rave.

After the dance everyone knows who Charlie is and seems to love him, and for some strange reason they start to seek him out for advice. So Charlie sets up shop in the boys restroom and becomes the school's psychiatrist, complete with prescriptions (which he obtains by going to various psychiatrists and complaining of various symptoms). All is going well for Charlie: he got the girl, he's popular, he's helping people, until one of his "patients" uses the ritalin Charlie gave him to attempt suicide. When Charlie recognizes the error of his ways he tells the student body he won't be handing out drugs anymore, but it seems even more students come to him just to talk and hear his advice.

Although the movie is called Charlie Bartlett it's actually just as much about another character, the school's principal Principal Gardner, whose also Susan's father. Gardner is portrayed by Robert Downer Jr. in yet another wonderful role in an indie film (he's had several since 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) as a man who may have less respect for himself than his students do. Gardner is a former history teacher who clearly hates being in charge, he misses his former role as a much loved history teacher. He's raising his daughter alone because his wife left after being caught in an affair, he drinks too much, and he's slowly losing his daughter to "troublemaker" Charlie.

On top of all this Gardner is having trouble holding on to his job, his superiors can see the students don't respect him, and the student's are especially mad at him because the school board is putting up surveillance cameras in the "student lounge," a place where the students can go without the teacher's messing with them.

All of Charlie's advice and Gardner's problems culminate in a protest of the cameras in the lounge which leads to the clear evidence that Charlie has more pull and respect from the student's then Gardner has. What follows is a series of misunderstands which leads to... well to say would spoil the end.

Personally I felt the movie was better than I was expecting with some really funny moments and a great plot and cast. Some have compared it to Rushmore, but I don't really fells that it has anything in common with Rushmore, except the main character is a quirky high school student. If nothing else it's a great display of Yelchin's talents, as he's clearly one of the better actors out there under 25 (he's 19). I recommend you make this a double feature with the overlooked and tragic Alpha Dog, another movie which centers on Yelchin (and made me realize Justin Timberlake was actually a good actor).

Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs.

The Beast with a Billion Backs (TBWABB) is the 2nd of 4 Direct to DVD sequels to the fan favorite (and seemingly unloved by Fox) Futurama. I have to be honest I'm a recent fan of Futurama and so I'm a bit behind. Even so I started watching this movie (I haven't yet finished it, but not because it isn't hilarious) and it felt just like another episode. The laughs start during the opening credits when we get a great homage to Mickey Mouse's first adventure Steamboat Willie featuring the Futurama cast.
The movie then appears to start as the last film ended (I could be wrong, but there's a "Previously on" that makes me think this is how Bender's Big Score ended) with a giant tear in the sky, which many think means the world is ending. Which introduces us to Fry's new girlfriend who he met while looking at the tear. It's immediately clear that long time love interest, Leela is jealous. But despite the end of the world being at hand the gang blast off into space for the "wedding" of Amy Wong, which leads them to a very strange planet and a ceremony involving lots of mud.
As I've said I've only seen about the first 30 minutes but I was laughing the whole way through. I know the rest of the movie involves a giant, planet sized creature (voiced by David Cross) coming through the tear and using Fry to command a new religion to abandon earth. And I can't wait to see what happens.

Both DVDs are out today from 20th Century Fox home video.


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