Monday, January 28, 2008
There were a number of teen angst movies this past year -- Eagle vs. Shark, Superbad -- but the one I thought brought the most originality to a very watered down genre was Jeffrey Blitz's Rocket Science, and seeing it again just reaffirms my belief. Armed with great writing, a humorous yet sensitive performance by the talented Reece Daniel Thompson as the film's unorthodox lead Hal Hefner, and an amazing score by Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay, the film is a smart and funny look at the awkward high school years.
The film begins with ace debater Ben (Nicholas D'Agosto) cruising to win the New Jersey state championship when he abruptly stops in mid-sentence, crushing the dreams of his teammate/girlfriend, Ginny (Anna Kendrick). Across town things also go silent at the Hefner household as Hal's father walks out on them. These two separate incidents starts Hal's journey to young adulthood, and finding his own voice.
And Hal needs a voice. Along with being unpopular, he has a stutter which makes it hard for him to order what he wants for lunch let alone joining the debate team, which he does after Ginny offers him a chance to join the team. Hal builds up the nerve to do it, mostly because he wants to get in her pants.
Ginny shows Hal the ropes of debating leading up to them teaming up at a regional tournament. This is where the film takes off as Hal realizes he's been duped by Ginny as she transfers to a rival school leaving Hal to fend for himself and leading to a hilarious scene where he tries to speak in an accent to overcome his stutter at the tournament. Later he gets drunk and bikes to Ginny's house looking for payback while Clem Snide plays in the background. Once the haze lifts Hal realizes the only way to get back at Ginny is to team up with Ben to win states.
Blitz, whose previous film was the popular doc Spellbound, creates a well polished narrative, filled with witty dialogue. But it's the performance by Thompson, who's pretty much in every scene, that makes the film work.
With only a making-of featurette and Barzel music video for "I Love The Unknown," there isn't much to the features. HBO Video releases the DVD tomorrow for $27.95.
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Saturday, January 5, 2008
In remaking the 1957 classic Western starring Van Heflin and Glenn Ford, director James Mangold (Walk The Line) thankfully doesn't bastardize the solid story or the sanctity of the original. Instead he returns to the source material (an Elmore Leonard short story) and creates this battle of wills between a struggling rancher and the notorious leader of a band of outlaws with respect to the genre and a kick in the pants for a new generation of viewers.
Though I would hardly call it the best Western since Unforgiven (as a Houston Chronicle blurb boasts on the DVD cover), teaming Russell Crowe as the fast drawing, quick quipped Ben Wade (the gang leader) and Christian Bale as the subtle Dan Evans (the rancher) was a wise choice. Both give superb performances and look the part.
In the film, progress has come to Evan's farm as the railroad company uses harsh tactics to get him and his family off the land by burning down his barn and later flat out telling him that the train tracks are going through his land whether he likes it or not. But at the same time Evans and his two boys stumble across Wade and his posse robbing a payroll coach for the 22nd time. Wade spares the three, only taking their horses, but Wade is soon captured and again Evans is in the middle of everything and volunteers his services to take Evans to Contention where he'll be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison, in return his land is spared. But Wade's gang, headed by the psycho second in command, Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), are determined to get their boss back.
Outside of beefing up the violence and language (that would even make Al Swearengen blush), Mangold stays true to the look and themes of classic Westerns like Johnny Guitar and High Noon. While a small role by Peter Fonda as the grizzled bounty-hunter hired to protect the payroll coach is a joy to watch.
Nothing fancy in the added features. Commentary by Mangold and a few behind-the-scenes docs.
Lionsgate releases the DVD today for $29.95.
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