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

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REVIEW: Deadpool

9 03 2016

Deadpool” begins with an opening credits sequence that lists each member of the creative team not as people but rather as their archetypes – along with plenty of gratuitous winks to star Ryan Reynolds and the celebrity culture at large. The montage more or less represents the film as a whole: clever but not ingenious, distinct but not original.

Reynolds struts around the film like he is the first person to don a superhero suit and not fit the mold of a straight-laced all-American macho man. The foul-mouthed average joe act was done in 2010’s “Kick-Ass,” and the relentless smart-ass routine has been beaten into the ground by Robert Downey, Jr. beginning with 2008’s “Iron Man.” There’s nothing particularly novel about the “merc with a mouth” (that stands for “mercenary,” apparently) although Tim Miller and his band of four credited screenwriters certainly try their best to convince audiences otherwise. The level of self-satisfaction and self-effacement proves irritating to a fault, though.

For all the Deadpool character tries to subvert the superhero cliches, his story sure plays out a lot like one. “Deadpool” is a garden variety origin story, from Wade Wilson’s humble beginnings to love interest (Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa) down to acquisition of special power and, ultimately, mastery of that gift. The film relies on formula as a narrative throughline so it can indulge in self-referentiality and humorous sideshow diversions. If “Deadpool” is a reaction to the banality of the genre, it does little to improve upon the recognizable flaws.

That also goes for the character of Deadpool, supposedly a more “progressive” superhero with his ambiguous sexuality. But he speaks with a higher voice. He totes around a pipe cleaner penis. He makes frequent Freudian slips about anatomy. For heavens’ sake, HE PLEASURES HIMSELF WITH A STUFFED PONY. This is not the introduction of a pansexual hero. “Deadpool” just repackages old prejudices and appeals to homophobic instincts by making any non-normative behavior from Wade into the butt of a joke. It’s comedy as con artistry. C+2stars