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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to employ Skeltonic verse, or short lines with rapid-fire, tumbling rhymes, which are always fun.)


A know-it-all
With quick recall
Will stand tall
Next to egos small
Because he knows
The stuff that goes
Toward beating those
On trivia shows,
Like sporting pros
And ratios,
Obscure logos
Of studios,
And poems and prose
And names of clothes
And things that few
Would say they knew
Unless they too
Enjoyed a clue
Or fact review
Like me and you;
At least I do.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Every now and then, there’s a movie that just appeals to your interests specifically, and Starter for 10 appealed to mine. I had heard this British film starring James McAvoy had something to do with trivia, in this case the University Challenge TV show of the 1980s, and within the first few minutes, I felt this was a film for me, thanks to my personal love for shows like Jeopardy! Now I just had to hope the rest didn’t ruin it, and despite some inconsistencies along the way, it was an enjoyable little film all the way through.

Image result for starter for 10 2006

Many people have fond memories of those ‘80s films full of stars before they were famous, you know, Stand By Me, The Outsiders, Taps, Red Dawn, and the like. But it makes sense that other generations would have the same kind of films, and Starter for 10 is one for the 21st century, even if it’s set in the 1980s. As McAvoy’s trivia-crazed freshman Brian goes off to college for the first time, I was surprised at how many actors I recognized. His two mates at home are Dominic Cooper and James Corden, while his two potential love interests at college are Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall, not to mention Benedict Cumberbatch as the uptight captain of the University Challenge team, again playing someone who believes himself to be the smartest person in the room. I was actually chuckling at their very presence together after seeing them all in the franchise films that have since earned them greater recognition (Eve and Cumberbatch in Star Trek into Darkness, Cooper and Hall and Cumberbatch in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Cumberbatch and Mark Gatiss in Sherlock). I never expected to see a fight between Howard Stark and Doctor Strange, much less for Stark to win while Professor X watches in horror. It’s like a huge retroactive crossover! Or not.

Aside from the pleasure of seeing these young stars in their early roles, there are a lot of worthwhile themes here, ranging from infatuation and responsibility to academic honesty and learning from personal mistakes. Brian’s experience at college felt very realistic, both for good and ill, such as how he suddenly absorbs all manner of liberal causes and how the drama of college itself can often get in the way of one’s education.  The humor can be hit-and-miss at times (one “meet-the-parents” scene was very awkward), but it made me laugh more than most comedies these days, further helped by a strong ‘80s soundtrack, most of which I’d never heard before. (I’m not too familiar with The Cure; sorry, Britain!)

Image result for starter for 10 2006

I suppose I especially identified with Brian himself, and along with Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart, he’s probably the movie character in which I most see myself. He’s committed to being as clever as he can, learning things like literature, history, and why people like jazz. (Just watch La La Land for that answer.) He finds more excitement in the mental stimulation of a trivia challenge than a pointless drinking party, and through his interactions with his mother, friends, and girlfriends, he’s still trying to figure himself out and overcome his mistakes. McAvoy is a great fit for him, even if he desperately needs a haircut, and the rest of the cast help give potentially shallow characters more depth than expected and match the early talent that would eventually make many of them household names. Similar to 2015’s Paper Towns, Starter for 10 has its imperfections and clumsy moments, but it’s a charming film that I connected with and which left me smiling by the end.

Best line: (Brian’s mom) “The people who really care about you don’t mind if you make mistakes. It’s what you do next that matters.”


Rank: List-Worthy


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