Monday, June 24, 2013

Movie Web Monday: Anton Yelchin

Movie Web Monday: Each week, I'll look at a specific actor's roles across three good movies. The third movie will in turn tie into the first movie of the next week's actor, whose third movie will continue the pattern. I will go through actors and movies at this rate, with the following limitations in mind: every movie(or television show) invoked will be one I either own, or wish to own; no movie or actor will be invoked twice. So sit back and enjoy as you fall into the Nerdery's movie web. (Oh, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, telling you just enough to know if you'll enjoy the movie)

Today we've got an actor that you've probably heard of for the wrong roles. Anton Yelchin began appearing in some top-notch productions at the age of eleven, delivering powerful performances opposite big name actors and still staying under most audience's collective radar. Then he starred in JJ Abrams' Star Trek reboot as the most pathetically endearing iteration of Chekov yet, and that's easily his most recognizable role--and him stammering "nine five wictor wictor two" to the Enterprise's obtuse computer. But the three films I've got below show a good deal more of his acting chops, and I hope he continues to get diverse parts in future movies, as right now he's one of the most underrated twenty-something actors out there.

Anton Yelchin: More Than An Accent

Movie: Hearts in Atlantis (Rent It)

Anton Yelchin plays young Bobby Garfield in Hearts in Atlantis, which puts him in the shoes of the main protagonist alongside acting great Anthony Hopkins as Ted Brautigan. It's not the sort of role I'd envy for an unseasoned eleven year-old actor, but Anton holds his own, thanks in part to the film's magical script and also thanks to the tone of precocious wonder he carries throughout. Precocious wonder is an essential characteristic in a Stephen King nostalgia film--this is a film with brutal bullies, sexual trauma, teary reminiscence, young love, and eerie abilities, all with children as principals. So being able to register and reflect Brautigan's eloquent amazement at the world of children is invaluable. But still he remains a little boy at that age where he exaggerates childish silliness, especially when accused of being interested in his best friend, Carol Gerber. The cootie-shy Bobby retreats from Brautigan, defensively asking:

It's a fun moment that displays the mundane concerns of a child who is trying to fossilize his young notions, even while glossing over Brautigan's supernatural gifts. Which is really very much the central motif of Hearts in Atlantis.

Movie: Charlie Bartlett (Rent it)

I don't generally watch R-rated comedies. Most of the things that qualify a movie for R-ratings either don't interest me in a comedy or--more often--repel me in conjunction with humor. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are huge exceptions to this preference, but since they're British and functionally action/thriller movies as well, my rule of thumb holds. Charlie Bartlett really stretches that preference with its dramatic depth, magnificent acting, and exuberant characterization of the title character. As the title character, this has got to be Anton Yelchin's most impressive and enjoyable role. Gregarious, insecure, a compulsive manipulator, Charlie Bartlett is an almost schizophrenic character--ranging from shy to charismatic in scenes that are fun to watch and showcase the young actor's talent. This is really highlighted when he auditions for the school's production of Henry V by vying directly for the attention of Susan Gardner, played by Kat Dennings:

Or even better is when the plot of the movie is established by Charlie's descent into becoming an eccentric prescription drug-dealer and mock-therapist for the kids at school. His first step into becoming his school's pusher? Intimidate, then sympathize with the school's bully and drug dealer with a cleverly practiced speech:

"Maybe you got slapped around one too many times for your lunch money on your way to the bus. Maybe your pop's gotta booze himself up every morning so he can plow roads with a sense of humor, then, when he gets home, you're just a distant third to sloppy joes and a bad sitcom. Maybe the cheerleaders call you a scumbag behind your back. Maybe it's because the school's got you placed on the remedial track and your teachers are really good at making you feel like an idiot..."

This movie is dark, but let me assure you that the divisive-but-good-willed drug dealing quickly falls around Charlie's head, and he's completely devastated when he has to confront his own willingness to fake his own character and pander for the sake of popularity. Also, Hope Davis, who played Anton Yelchin's mom in Hearts in Atlantis, plays mother Marilyn Bartlett in this film, and her bad parenting is even more damning and hard to watch than in the King drama. On the flip side of the coin, Robert Downey Jr. delivers an awesome performance as the school's principal Nathan Gardner and father to love-interest Susan. He's an alcholic, ground-down, depressed wreck of a loving single father, and somehow Downey is able to make the character really fun to watch anyways:

Movie: Terminator Salvation (Own it)

I love the Terminator series without exception. I said it, and I mean it. Terminator Salvation pulls off a plot of epic combat in post-apocalyptia with confidence and consistency--I'm talking consistency of quality, not of plot, so just back off. What's great and unique about the fourth installment in the series, though, is that it's the only movie set in the future and therefore liberated by ham-handed social commentary. There's some ham-handed philosophical commentary thrown in at the end, but that doesn't even hold a candle to Sarah Connor's fatherhood narration in the middle of T2. But the characterization of the principal character is solid, and Anton Yelchin's masterful rendition of a teenaged Kyle Reese is no exception. First of all, he gets the real tagline of the Terminator franchise:

Similar to his portrayal of Bobby Garfield in Hearts in Atlantis, Yelchin's Reese spends his time cautiously absorbing Sam Worthington's heroic courage and worshipping his leader/idol/son's rogue radio transmissions. And in so doing, he straddles the lines of survivalist cynicism and youthful idealistic hope--basically Bobby Garfield with a twelve gauge and no lady friend to help him work out his issues.

Movie Web Monday will continue next week with a new actor, picking up with some other prolific player from the last movie listed above.

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