Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is the perfect confidante for his classmates at Connecticut’s West Summit High School, a public institution miles away from the tony private schools that have systematically booted Bartlett for creative misbehavior. At Summit, he stands out as an aristocratic freak, albeit one with a compassionate streak. It’s the way he manages to help whomever he encounters — be it an ostracized kid or his own tormentor — that turns him into a much-sought-after counselor. His peers get his advice and the prescription drugs he doles out with the zeal of a pharmaceutical rep. None of this sits too well with the self-medicating school principal, Nathan Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.), who prefers booze to pills. This film’s tone is distinctive even in the current Junoverse. Charlie Bartlett represents a new sincerity, evidenced by the utterly unironic use of the Cat Stevens song “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” written for 1971’s Harold & Maude (whose giddy mix of comedy and tragedy is an obvious influence). These teens are certainly jaded, but not cynical: they’ve seen too much and want to create a whole different view.
Even though it takes place largely in a Paris underworld rife with corruption, there’s nothing gritty about Diva, which is so polished it gleams. French critics derisively dubbed director Jean-Jacques Beineix’s feature debut as cinema du look, but seeing Diva again, it’s clear that style did not trump substance. Moped-riding postman Jules (Frédéric Andréi) loves opera, but his real passion is the elusive American diva Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez), who refuses to make albums. So this young audiophile sneaks sophisticated sound equipment into her recital, and captures a crystalline recording of the aria from Alfredo Catalini’s La Wally. At once her exploiter and protector, Jules begins to insinuate himself into Cynthia’s closed world, and Beineix’s attitude is breezily nonchalant; his moral neutrality lets Diva crackle with real tension.
Inspired as much by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon as the TV series 24, this fractured tale of a presidential assassination attempt pumps the adrenaline by rewinding and replaying its elaborate terrorist attack, rotating the perspective to eight different characters played by an ensemble of veteran actors. As each version unfolds, the movie cleverly rearranges pieces of the puzzle, building on past clues and revealing earlier misdirections. It’s an engaging device that draws you in and keeps you alert but begins to tire around the fourth or fifth take. That said, Irish director Peter Travis convincingly exploits current technological trends and post-9/11 paranoia about terrorism and surveillance to deliver a competent thriller that’s built for speed. The cast is, as you might expect, excellent and surprisingly mature; it’s not often that Hollywood fills a big-budget actioner with middle-aged actors.
This scruffy and inventive film is a cinematic call to make your own entertainment. Mike (Mos Def) is the hard-working cashier of a dispossessed video rental shop in Passaic, N.J. The neighborhood’s clearly working-class and the dingy videotape-only business is on its last legs. Entrusted with watching the store while his boss (Danny Glover) leaves town, Mike struggles to keep his abrasive and paranoid friend Jerry (Jack Black) from driving away the store’s few remaining customers. Unfortunately, Jerry becomes magnetized after attempting to sabotage the local power plant and accidentally erases every tape in the shop. Desperate to keep business going, the two concoct a plan to re-enact popular films with an old video camera. Soon, their custom-made movies are all the rage, pulling in unlikely fans (and cast members) from the surrounding neighborhood. That is, until Hollywood copyright lawyers come calling.
For a taste of Hawaiian cuisine, which, as on the Big Island itself, is more accurately described as pan-Asian, Kona offers moderately priced fare in an attractive dining environment. Choices range from sushi, noodles and pizza to beef and seafood, featuring ahi, Maui onions, and macadamia nuts as a genuflection to the islands’ culinary culture. Most of their mains cost less than $20, with the “signature dish” being macadamia chicken combined with a soy-based shoyu-cream sauce and adorned with pineapple-papaya marmalade, accompanied by a huge mound of mashed potatoes dotted with white cheddar and wok-tossed vegetables. The small and versatile wine list has some decent buys in the 20s and 30s.