REVIEW: The Fundamentals of Caring

22 06 2016

The Fundamentals of CaringSundance Film Festival

Caring. It’s what Paul Rudd’s character, Ben, gives in his profession as a caretaker for Craig Roberts’ sardonic, wheelchair-bound teenager Trevor. Ironically, it’s also what he needs personally given that his marriage has fallen apart and his aspirations as a writer have dried up.

That’s about as deep as the insights go in Rob Burnett’s “The Fundamentals of Caring.” Not to damn with faint praise – but let me damn with faint praise – the film will sit nicely on Netflix along with countless other TV-movie style dramedies. Seeing it on the streaming platform probably makes far more sense than watching it at a major film festival.

The primary joys of the film come from the bickering and bantering between Ben and Trevor. Each tries to one up each other with practical jokes that plunge into some truly black territory surrounding death and illness. Rudd dons a more melancholy hat as Ben, playing someone demonstrably more introspective than his usual acid-spitters. Roberts, quite the comedic talent in his own right, can surprisingly stand toe to toe with Rudd for laughs.

Most of the film is just the two of them (save a brief spell where Selena Gomez’s Dot joins the fun), enduring one another as Trevor tries to make Ben’s job as difficult as possible to make himself feel somewhat powerful. Burnett can find the connection in these moments but never quite gets beneath the skin for either. And that does not even change, mind you, when they take a medically risky road trip to visit some questionable American landmarks. C+2stars

REVIEW: Kill Your Friends

28 03 2016

Kill Your FriendsThe black comedy “Kill Your Friends” might bill itself as satirical, though it hardly ever veers into farcical or absurd territory. In fact, many parts of the film feel all too real and accurate. The lead character, Nicholas Hoult’s loathsome yet endearing A&R rising star Steven Stelfox, speaks boldly about how the keys to his success mainly involve ignoring artistry and holding listeners’ taste in contempt.

Sound exaggerated? It shouldn’t. Heck, it should sound familiar. That same mentality drives not only the music business but also the movie industry … and probably just about any mass-produced art form, for that matter. It’s far easier for the powers that be to manufacture and then force-feed a style or product down the public’s throat. Tell them what they need; do not take the time to listen to what they want.

As can be gleaned from the film’s title, “Kill Your Friends” follows Steven as he lets the insecurities of a fear-based industry drive him to illogical extremes. The transformation is hardly accidental or unconscious, either. Steven has a winking, knowing participatory role in his moral descent and corporate ascent. He functions quite a bit like Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” our slithering guide through the underbelly of an industry thriving on the pursuit of pleasure (and copious controlled substances).

Hoult’s performance, however, recalled another actor for me – a young Tom Cruise, maybe circa-mid 1980s. His Steven is cocky, self-assured and somehow completely magnetic. The confident attitude is merely his shield, albeit one that he wields well, to fend off any doubters of his performance. Yet he is far from perfect in maintaining the ruse. Tough as he may seem, the thought of having to substitute smarts for swagger absolutely terrifies Steven. “Kill Your Friends” proves most compelling during the moments when Hoult allows Steven to let his guard down and lay his insecurities bare … though his unhinged mayhem comes in a very close second. B+ / 3stars

REVIEW: Submarine

3 07 2011

While sitting in “Submarine,” a coming-of-age dramedy import from our Welsh friends across the pond, there were moments when I thought I was going to give the movie unequivocal praise.  It had the eye-catching look and the quirky feel of a Wes Anderson film.  With its simple, geometric shots, clean editing, and eccentric characters navigating through some hilariously mundane situations, it could be the long lost foreign cousin of “Rushmore” (or a very flattering imitation).

And coming out of high school, I definitely felt that Craig Roberts’ protagonist Oliver Tate, despite our cultural differences, was one of the freshest portrayals of the confusion and the jumble of feelings that is growing up.  With his anthropological observations on the high school food chain and the social sphere in general crackling with wit, he reminds us how out of touch the cinematic visions of this age really are.  His quest to lose his virginity for a variety of underlying social factors is absolutely hysterical without ever losing touch with reality or authenticity.

But as the film shifts gears from this burst of postpubescent energy, this submarine begins to sink.  The emotions become more reserved, and the film’s energy goes along with it.  I can understand the cinematic reasons for the tonal shift: it doesn’t seem appropriate to have the same pop when dealing with the failing marriage of his parents (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins) and the potentially terminal illness of his girlfriend’s mother.  On the other hand, there is a way to convey those emotions without losing the joie de vivre that was so vibrant in the beginning.

Considering that “Submarine” is the directorial debut of Richard Ayoade, I’ll just chalk up some of the tonal problems and the resultant tinges of boredom to being rookie mistakes.  But I will echo the critical consensus – look for great things from this director in the future.  Once he gets a few more films under his belt, the things Ayoade can do so brilliantly will shine brightly.  B- /