Charlie Bartlett

February 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis
Directed by: Jon Poll (debut)
Written by: Gustin Nash (debut)

If anyone is trying to remember where they’ve seen actor Anton Yelchin, chances are you first spotted him in the 2006 teenage crime drama “Alpha Dog” as a kid who is kidnapped for a debt owned by his older brother. Although the film unsuccessfully tries to balance itself between hard-hitting biopic and care-free street speech, much of the well-acted true-life story comes in part from the young actors who give the movie its spotty emotional spark. If anyone does it the best, it’s Yelchin.

Here, the kid plays the titular character in “Charlie Bartlett.”  Yelchin is a classic-looking talent reminiscent of Anthony Michael Hall in “The Breakfast Club” and Matthew Broderick in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” which is why he works so well as the extremely likable lead character. Problem is that “Barlett’ isn’t a John Hughes film and it’s evident Yelchin is starring in a first-time film for both the director (Jon Poll) and writer (Gustin Nash).

It’s not to say that “Bartlett” isn’t a worthy attempt. The story revolves around a prep high school student who finds his true calling in life when he appoints himself as a psychiatrist and prescription drug dealer at his new school.

When Charlie is expelled from his “nth” private institution for selling fake IDs to his classmates, his mother, Marilyn (Davis), who has some issues of her own, decides public education is her son’s final chance to clean up his act. Charlie isn’t a troublesome kid at all. Actually, he is respectful, friendly and an overall nice guy. But with some concerns in his home life (his father is incarcerated), he has no other choice than to express himself and draw attention in any way he can.

Peddling pills, which he has received from his shrink, from the boys bathroom quickly makes Charlie a popular person to know at his suburbia high school. Where he once was the dweeby new guy who wore a crested sports coat and was picked on by the rebellious bully, Charlie reaches iconic status on campus and has everyone’s head turning, especially alcoholic Principal Gardner (Downey Jr.), whose daughter Susan (Kat Dennings) he has started to date.

Although it manages to stay away from more of the obvious and shallow stereotypes that plague teenage comedies today, “Bartlett” really can’t decide what type of film it wants to be. As a quirky indie flick, it’s no “Rushmore.” As a laborious drama, the script doesn’t support its full intentions and leaves its characters scraping to project their personalities in the waning moments. Sadly, it doesn’t occur soon enough.

Who is Charlie Bartnett anyway? Yelchin might have his Natalie-Portman-by-way-of-“Garden State” moments, but there’s only so much a few eccentricities can uncover about our leading man.

Hope Davis – Duma

August 9, 2005 by  
Filed under Interviews

With her son in her arms and her Wheaton terrier named Charlie at her feet, actress Hope Davis (“About Schmidt,” “American Splendor”) took time to speak with me about her latest film “Duma,” directed by Carroll Ballard (“The Black Stallion”) via phone from her home in New York.

Davis, 41, originally from New Jersey, started her film career when she landed a role in the sci-fi thriller “Flatliners,” which starred Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts. She then went on to receive other roles in films, including 1996’s “The Daytrippers,” 1997’s “The Myth of Fingerprints,” 1999’s “Mumford” and 2002’s “The Secret Lives of Dentists.”

In 2005, Davis’ stock rises with four films finding theatrical release. These are “Duma,” “Matador,” starring Pierce Brosnan, “Proof” starring Anthony Hopkins and “Weatherman” starring Nicholas Cage.

In “Duma,” Davis plays a mother of a child who runs off on an adventure through South Africa with a cheetah by his side.

What was your experience working with cheetahs for the first time?

I was definitely afraid of the cheetahs. The cheetahs were on set the whole time. We had a special animal trainer who came from Los Angeles. There was actually a team of animal trainers teaching us. (The cheetahs) were animals trained for the purposes of the film, but they were still definitely wild animals. We had to have a lot of instruction as to how to work with them because they are extremely wild predatory animals. We all had to learn how to be with them and not excite them in the wrong way. These are not dogs. These are not trained show animals. We were all very respectful to them.

Shooting in South Africa must have presented some challenges.

Yeah. All of my stuff was shot in South Africa. We were in Johannesburg. It’s a city where everything is surrounded by gates and guarded by people with machine guns. It’s a very different way of living. I never had been to Africa. It is an extremely beautiful place and it looks nothing like anywhere in the states. Even the color of the earth is completely different. It was very exciting to be there and to see what type of state that country is in politically. It was a dangerous place with a powerful landscape.

What was it like to work with Campbell Scott again?

Campbell and I are old pals. I actually called (Campbell) to tell him that I was going to be in South Africa a month before we left. He asked if I was working on that Carroll Ballard film. I said yes. He said, ‘I wanted to be in that. Did they cast a male lead?’ I told him that I didn’t think they did. So, I called the casting director and told her that he really wanted the job. When I got to South Africa I didn’t know if he had gotten the part, but a few weeks later he came to South Africa with the role. (Campbell) is a huge fan of Carroll Ballard and his films “The Black Stallion” and “Never Cry Wolf.”

You’ve worked with many Academy Award-winning actors in your career (Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicholas Cage). Is this something you strive for when accepting a role – trying to reach accolades like theirs?

You never know what the path of the film is going to be. Sometimes something looks really juicy on the page and then the film doesn’t make sense when it’s finished. No one ever thought “American Splendor” was going to get past HBO. We didn’t even know it was going to get a theatrical release. You never know what to expect. I really just look at the role and the director, which is everything about the experience.

So, you’ve been in the film business for 15 years. Do you feel like you have made it?

I’m very happy with the work that I do get and the types of directors that I get to work with. But you’re always looking for the next job, so you never feel like your ‘there there.’

Did you have any pets growing up as a child?

My father was allergic to animals. We had a couple of turtles but they didn’t last.