Jared McMillan // Film Critic

A lot of movie titles come through the pipeline in any given week. With the many streaming options now available to go with wide releases, it’s good to know about the smaller titles in case they are better entertainment options. Sometimes you just want to stay home and here are three newer titles that can be viewed with the touch of a button.

Director: Rob Burnett
Cast: Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez

Ben (Paul Rudd) has decided to become a caregiver. His first charge is Trevor (Craig Roberts), an 18-year old Brit who lives with a form of muscular dystrophy. They start out testing each other…Ben with his need to do something with purpose, Trevor needing to crush Ben’s sense of duty as both amusement and self-defense.

Soon, there’s a realization that they both need to get out of dodge and forget their burdens. They take a road trip to see odd landmarks, and along the way make new friends, including a spunky runaway named Dot (Selena Gomez).

All of these plot lines and character traits are extremely familiar; the odd couple road trip motif has many variations. If that’s the case, then there had better be a lot of chemistry among the cast, which THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING achieves fantastically. Rudd and Roberts banter with intelligence and respect, and every encounter along the road has their own unique qualities.

In the end, the movie isn’t about Trevor and Ben finding redemption, but rather getting back to being functioning people. Trevor has to live with this disease until it takes his life, and Ben has to live with the death of his son. Passing moments and relationships add to our perspective in life with no need for permanence, and it’s this notion that makes the movie a winner, despite its run-of-the-mill formula.

THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING is streaming exclusively on Netflix.

CARNAGE PARK | 90 min | NR
Director: Mickey Keating
Cast: Ashley Bell, Pat Healy and James Landry Hébert

The latest from indie horror director Mickey Keating (POD, DARLING), takes a true account of a woman that survived a stretch of California desert in 1978. This land was owned by Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), who doesn’t take kindly to those driving through/breaking down/crashing on his property. This becomes apparent after bank robbers come through with a hostage, Vivian (Ashley Bell). As one of the robbers dumps his dead partner, things start to go awry and it’s up to Vivian to survive this hellish landscape.

There are a lot of good things going on with CARNAGE PARK, starting with the performances of Bell and Healy. There’s an upfront ‘70s grindhouse feel to the movie, so everything is over the top around Vivian, while she reacts as anybody would. Also, it’s always welcomed in the genre when the story uses an agoraphobic atmosphere rather than the accustomed claustrophobic mood.

Where it goes astray though is that it becomes too much about its own perception. There is a lot of trick photography and jump cuts to put forth the feeling of being in hell or a messed up funhouse. However, it distracts from the flow of an interesting cat-and-mouse, and the impactful moments don’t come with the punch it should. The movie teeters before falling off the rails in the final showdown, leaving much to be desired and the good things forgettable.

CARNAGE PARK is available to rent on VUDU, iTunes, and other VOD platforms.

THE PHENOM | 90 min | NR
Director: Noah Buschel
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Paul Giamatti, Johnny Simmons

A lot of sports movies follow a formula of an underdog of some sort, rising to the occasion to achieve success in their position, whether personal or professional. A team bonding in order to win the pennant, a football player just wanting to make the team, it’s a tried and true story. Sometimes there is a movie that comes out of left field (no pun intended) to surprise the moviegoer by being a little different. That is the case with Noah Buschel’s THE PHENOM.

Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons) is a rookie pitcher off to a hot start for the Braves. When he throws 5 wild pitches in a nationally-televised game, the club sends him back to AAA so he can meet with sports psychologist Dr. Mobley (Paul Giamatti). It is here that the audience realizes that Hopper is incredibly damaged, and has lost the normal control of his anger that baseball gives him.

Much of this has to do with an overbearing and abusive father (Ethan Hawke), but it also is about the pressure of being an athlete, so much so that it’s easy to forget the fun that got them hooked on the sport in the first place. This story isn’t about winning the big game or making their effort count, but rather on the psychology of a broken athlete.

Simmons and Giamatti are great as they try to make Gibson realize his own self-worth, but it’s Hawke who steals the show, berating his son every moment because he screwed himself over with his shot at the big leagues. Buschel’s dialogue and framing keep you locked in on this character study, even if it gets a little too ahead of its intent with unnecessary scenes, like a motel rendezvous gone wrong. Nevertheless, THE PHENOM is welcoming surprise, and is possibly one of the better sports movies this decade.

THE PHENOM is available to rent on most VOD platforms, and is playing in select theaters.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.