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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Ashley White

Spellbound (2002)

 

If you don’t know the place of origin, just consider yourself dead and gone.

After being sponsored by their hometown newspapers, eight young, bright and ambitious kids travel with their families to Washington, D.C., where they will compete in the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Each of these kids excel at spelling and have a feeling that they’ll be able to put up quite the fight, however, with the national spotlight heavy pressure to perform from parents, teachers and their audience, the children struggle to advance toward the championship, as well as everything else that they can get like the accompanying scholarships and cash prizes. Each kid enters the tournament, not knowing what’s going to happen next, or who is going to win, but they do know that if they try hard enough, they may be able to pull it all off and bring home the prize. However, not everyone can win and unfortunately, a lot of hearts and souls will be crushed when it’s all over.

Spellbound takes a very simple approach and doesn’t really try to complicate anything by any means whatsoever. However, by doing that, director Jeffrey Blitz also gives us a sweet, delicate and rather insightful look inside the lives of numerous kids – all of whom, are different from the other in many ways – without ever resorting to cheap, unnecessary tricks. Simply. Blitz puts the camera and the lens on these kids, their families, their lives, and lets the drama all unfold.

"Eeeeeeeeeeeee."

“Eeeeeeeeeeeee.”

And yeah, in a way, Spellbound is pretty exciting and tense, especially if you don’t know the outcome of this tournament. Considering that it took place nearly two decades ago, it’s highly unlikely that you would know, but regardless, it still works. Blitz uses the championship to show how these kids, so young, so innocent, and so sweet, really do battle it out, lose their minds, and put everything on the line for this one honor.

And with it, we do get some truly great subjects.

What’s probably the most astounding element behind Spellbound is that Blitz never makes it clear who he likes the most, who he wants to win, or better yet, made it appear in such a way where we’d know exactly who won right from the very beginning of the flick. No one gets more attention than the rest, and no one really seems to be the heart and soul of what this movie’s all about or trying to say – basically, everyone is a main character.

And this allows for the actual tournament to have a little bit of heart involved with it, too. Rather than just watching a bunch of smart kids get up on stage and spell-out words that most of us don’t even know and not really caring, the movie demands our attention. We care for these kids and the outcome of their stories, because there’s more at-stake than just a competition – their livelihoods and bits of happiness are, too. Sure, this may not sound like much, but we’re talking about kids all under the age of 12, most of whom have been practicing and waiting for this moment their whole life. It may not totally matter to us and be everything in our lives, but for these kids, such is the case and it works in the movie’s favor.

"Hmmmmmmmmm."

“Hmmmmmmmmm.”

Where Spellbound does lose some muster is in the whole controversy that surrounded it and unfortunately, seem to be a little understandable.

For one, a lot of people saw Spellbound as, for the most part, a little phony. While the competition was no doubt real, critics felt as if there was a whole lot of acting and incessant dramatization over everything, from the kids, to the families, to the small conflicts that eventually ensue. And yeah, in a way, I can sort of see that; some families are way too goofy and over-the-top, while other character’s interactions with one another seem more staged for the sake of the movie and less like a germane thing that would have happened.

In this sense, then yes, Spellbound loses some points. After all, it’s a documentary that’s supposed to be documenting real life in front of our own very eyes, so for Blitz to take some cheap alleyways and short-cuts along the way, don’t really help. They take away from what is already a very entertaining and sometimes heart-warming flick about kids trying to spell really, really hard words.

That’s all he had to do.

Consensus: With a heavy heart inside of itself, Spellbound is more than just a documentation of the spelling bee and the contestants, but the hopes and dreams of young, ambitious kids who want to do something great with the world. But they’re just not old enough, though.

8 / 10

That's the look of a daddy who's going to have to do some major ass-whooping tonight.

That’s the look of a daddy who’s going to have to do some major ass-whooping tonight.

Photos Courtesy of: True Films

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The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)

Sometimes, the best jokes are the ones that almost kill you.

Ben (Paul Rudd) doesn’t really know where he’s going with his life, nor does he know what he wants to do with it. After tragedy that struck him and his ex-wife, he’s now left all alone. Although he was a writer, at one point in his life, he seems too depressed and sad to even bother picking up a pen and paper and jotting down a new story. That’s why, when he decides to become a licensed caregiver for the physically handicapped, it’s a huge surprise; not just to him, though, but also to the people who employ him. After taking the classes and becoming certified, Ben lands the job of taking care of Trevor (Craig Roberts), a young kid from England who happens to be suffering from muscular dystrophy. While Ben has no experience in taking care of people professionally, he eventually gets the hang of everything because he and Trevor get along. But the one issue holding them back is the fact that Trevor doesn’t seem all that interested doing anything else in his short life than just watching TV; Ben, on the other hand, believes that Trevor needs to go out and explore the world.

Cheer up, boys. You're still getting paid.

Cheer up, boys. You’re still getting paid.

The Fundamentals of Caring is perfect for Netflix. After suffering through not one, but two Adam Sandler flicks, it seems like Netflix wants to remind people that they do consider quality over popularity, and with the Fundamentals of Caring, they show that they do care for their users. They know that some people, in this time of the year, where the sun is always setting, the air is getting stickier, and the weather is getting hotter and hotter, will just want to sit inside their cool houses and escape it all by watching whatever is on Netflix that piques their interest. However, they don’t want heavy, emotionally-strong dramas, nor do they want anything that takes a lot to think about with their constant twists, turns, and moments of interest.

Sometimes, people just want to watch something that they don’t have to think about too much and just enjoy at face-value, and that’s why the Fundamentals of Caring is a perfect movie for the online streaming service. It’s the kind of movie that you can tell was your typical Sundance dramedy, where people suffer and are occasionally sad, yet also, come to terms with their sadness, say clever things, hug a lot and, at the end of it all, end up becoming closer to one another and better people than ever before. We’ve seen this kind of movie before and most of the time, it’s pretty damn annoying and boring.

However, there’s something slightly fresh about this movie’s take on that familiar plot.

Mostly, that’s due to the fact that the cast is so good and talented that no matter what they’re given, they can do wonders with. People will initially be struck surprised by how much Paul Rudd seems to be downplaying everything here as Ben, but give it some time and trust me, he becomes Paul Rudd, as we all know and love him. However, there’s something slightly different to this character than what he’s used to playing; he’s a whole lot more sad and clearly dealing with some demons, so when something is bothering him, you can tell just by looking at him. Rudd is always known for improvising, saying silly things and just generally being a likable presence, but here, he really dials it down and shows that he’s got true acting-chops.

I don’t know if anybody was ever doubting him in the first place, but if they were, here’s their proof that they can use in a court of law!

Craig Roberts is also solid as Trevor, another character that could have been grating and overbearing, but somehow, it works. Roberts has just the right level of smart and insecurity that makes his Trevor more sympathetic; sure, it’s easy to care for him because he’s suffering from such a terrible disease, but he’s also kind of a jerk, too. The movie doesn’t hold back from the fact that someone like Trevor, in his situation and all, could use it to his advantage to make the people around him feel bad for him and wait on his every word. A similar theme was explored in Still Alice, however, here, Roberts shows that there’s more to Trevor that makes him appear as just another teenager who uses mean bits of comedy as a crutch to hide his deepest, darkest insecurities.

Sex? With Selena Gomez?!? Uh oh. Someone better tell Biebs.

Sex? With Selena Gomez?!? Uh oh. Someone better tell Biebs.

Growing up, am I right?

Anyway, him and Rudd have a great chemistry that shows these two growing up beside one another, helping the other realize something about life. The movie can tend to get a tad sappy and melodramatic, but no matter how far it goes into these avenues, Rudd and Roberts always make these characters seem real and worth it – there’s a sense of raw energy between the two that makes their scenes crackle and pop with the same fire that you’d probably see in a Judd Apatow movie when there’s no script and everyone’s just rolling with whatever they can think of.

And at the end of the Fundamentals of Caring, everything happens exactly as you’d expect it to. But for some reason, that’s fine. The movie’s enjoyable and lovely enough, never being too dramatic, nor too funny either – somehow, it found just the right amount of drama and comedy to balance everything out. Some may definitely be expecting more and may also be disappointed that the movie doesn’t light the entertainment world on fire quite like everything else Netflix has done, but hey, it’s the summer.

Stop complaining. Just crank up that AC and check it out. Forget that the Do-Over may be recommended to you at the end.

Consensus: With a solid cast and a careful attention to drama and comedy, the Fundamentals of Caring works, being both a coming-of-ager, as well as an earnest look at coming to terms with one’s sadness.

7 / 10

"Here's to you, kid."

“Here’s to you, kid.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire