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Starter for 10

As a young boy in working-class Essex, England, sweet-faced, good-natured Brian Jackson (James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland, The Chronicles of Narnia) yearned to be "clever," so he obsessively watched TV quiz shows like the popular "University Challenge" and filled his head with thousands of bits of assorted trivia. When he heads off to college in mid-1980s Bristol, he flounders a bit in an alien environment filled with weird roommates, protest rallies, and snotty grad students, but earns a place as an alternate for the school's University Challenge team. He quickly makes friends with an opinionated, dark-haired girl with a political bent (Rebecca Hall) but becomes hopelessly smitten with a WASP-y blond who makes the quiz team (Alice Eve), leading to thoroughly predictable (but still delightfully entertaining) results. Produced under Tom Hanks' Playtone banner, Starter for 10 (2007) is very much in the mold of Hanks' That Thing You Do! (1996) — pleasant, funny, smarter than one would expect, and unchallenging in the most relaxing sense of the word. It's a frothy affair, but director Tom Vaughan and screenwriter David Nicholls (adapting his novel) don't make Brian too much of a naïf, giving him plenty of rope with which to hang himself before he finally figures out some important lessons. Winner of the Audience Award at the Austin Film Festival and nominated for a British Independent Film award, Starter for 10 is breezy, sweet and, yes, clever, with a fantastic soundtrack that's chock-full of '80s Britpop from the likes of Yaz, Style Council, Kate Bush, The Smiths, Motorhead, Echo & The Bunnymen, and The Cure. HBO Home Video's DVD release offers a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that seems a little soft at times, but is otherwise clean with good color saturation. The DD 5.1 audio (English or Spanish, with English and Spanish subtitles) is also quite good, serving both the songs and the dialogue nicely. Extras include a standard HBO "First Look" promo featurette and a "pop-up music guide" providing song titles and artists during the film that's supposed to be optional, but on our review copy would kick in at random times even though it was turned off. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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