Tag: adam scott

Flower


Flower (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Here is yet another film that attempts to pull off dark comedy but its screenplay is so devoid of genuine human drama that it ends up simply parading forced bad behavior. It is supposed to be shocking in content, but those who have experience with films that deal with teenage angst are highly likely to end up unimpressed. In the middle of its desert boredom, I thought I’d rather revisit the likes of Catherine Hardwicke’s “Thirteen” and Marcos Siega’s “Pretty Persuasion.” At least those films are not afraid to push the envelope so far that tension accumulates like a great storm about to burst.

The tale in this miscalculation involves a sixteen-year-old named Erica who engages in oral sex with older men while her friends (Dylan Gelula, Maya Eshet) record from a distance. In exchange for their silence, the unsuspecting men are forced to provide cash. Erica is played by Zoey Deutch whose talents are wasted here. While she commands the camera every time she is in front of it, the character remains uninteresting throughout because Erica lacks believable interior details. Notice how the more dramatic scenes, particularly those between Erica and her mother (Kathryn Hahn), come across as awkward at best. On top of this, we are supposed to empathize with Erica somehow as she concocts a plan to punish the man (Adam Scott) who was accused of having molested her stepbrother (Joey Morgan).

The most convincing element about the film are its extras. For instance, look at the background of scenes taking place at school. These are not fake teenagers. They look, dress, and act like real teens with genuine thoughts and problems. Notice the way they stand in one place and carry themselves as they walk. When there is a fight, there is almost apathy in their eyes—like it is the sort of thing that happens around them every day.

Authenticity is a crucial element that teen comedy-dramas cannot buy with effects or create out of forced conflict. It must be written into the script as if it were the very marrow that maintains everything else. Look at the way Erica interacts with her friends. They are supposed to be enjoying each other’s company as miscreants but we, the audience, do not feel their joy of being bad. Even the parents are cardboard cutouts. The screenplay fails to provide a strong background in its subjects’ lives.

Some dark comedies offer such wild premises that we question whether they are supposed to be comedies. Here, I just found the whole charade to be repulsive. I felt as though Max Winkler, the director, never takes accusations of sexual molestation in a serious manner. Its approach is almost always flippant to the point where it disregards real-life issues and their consequences. Had there been a balance between hyperbole and subtlety, it could have made a strong statement about the current state of our society.

Little Evil


Little Evil (2017)
★ / ★★★★

The would-be horror comedy “Little Evil,” written and directed by Eli Craig, is an unambitious, barely TV-movie quality picture in which the humor is broad and the horror is non-existent—characteristics that are exactly wrong in the kind of film it wants to be. It is a formless, toothless, unintelligent bore, relying too many times on pop culture references when it should have bothered to forge an identity of its own.

Craig’s screenplay targets only the lowest hanging fruit, thus assuming the audience is not smart enough to engage in a story that is worthwhile. Although the filmmaker wishes to play with the trope involving a child who might be a spawn of Satan, there is no central thesis. It were as if the writer-director had forgotten to ask himself why the sub-genre works in the first place. Broken down to its basic elements, these stories touch upon the fear of fatherhood, feelings of deep uncertainty, perhaps even reluctance, perverted into such a hyperbolic extreme that these concerns turn into paranoia. This is a picture unconcerned about psychology or the trials of parenting.

Adam Scott and Evangeline Lilly are unconvincing newlyweds. Barely sharing any chemistry, their lines are recited in automaton-like manner, supported by fake-looking interiors of a home that is obviously shot in a studio. Those in charge of set pieces do not even bother to get the small details right. Put these scenes side-by-side with sitcoms that do not even last a season and they share numerous similarities. Perhaps the only thing missing is the laugh track. Maybe because the material is not funny enough to deserve one.

Horror-comedies are pointed, specific, and filled with purpose. There is almost always a balance of amusing moments and dead-serious revelations that get under the skin. Notice that within a span of fifteen minutes, it attempts to put on way too many hats but fails to excel in any one of them. In one scene it is a buddy comedy and the next it is a supernatural thriller. It does not spend enough time wearing the same pair of shoes so that it can dig in and excavate the uneasiness of being a step-parent. At least there is Bridget Everett, a butch lesbian step-dad named AL, the protagonist’s enthusiastic co-worker. Her portrayal, and the character, is more interesting than everything else in the movie.

The mediocrity of “Little Evil” shows a lack of inspiration. If the writer-director were inspired, he would have strived much harder to deliver work with hints of originality, at the very least. Instead, what we find on our laps is regurgitated dross, an insult to the mind and the senses, a complete waste of our limited, precious time.

The Overnight


The Overnight (2015)
★ / ★★★★

Having moved from Seattle to Los Angeles, a married couple, Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), is worried that they will not be able to fit in and make new friends—crucial especially because they have a young son in need of playdates. While attending a birthday party at a public park, Alex and Emily are approached by Kurt (Jason Schwartzman)—married to Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) and has a son within the age range of an ideal playdate—who is personable, has a lot of recommendations about the area, and is kind enough to invite the former Seattleites for dinner. Alex and Emily accept, convinced that the opportunity is too good to pass up.

Written and directed by Patrick Brice, “The Overnight” is a try-hard pseudo-European, would-be dark comedy about marriage woes and male insecurity. I found it tawdry in appearance, sophomorically written, and unwilling to go all the way when it comes to the promise it makes once it has revealed the strangers’ true intentions. Although it is only about eighty minutes long, I felt it is much longer than a three-hour, complex, sophisticated, ambitious European erotic drama.

A lot of the so-called jokes here involve penile issues. It shows penis prosthetics several times from many angles and it is supposed to be funny or shocking, but it comes off very American—and by that I mean that the overall aura of the film is ashamed of showing nudity by showing fake nudity. Because the dangling plastic looks so ridiculous—insulting even because it is supposed to appear genuine—it is highly difficult to empathize with what the male characters are saying when they begin to open up about their insecurities. The disconnect between the false penis and real emotions is jarring—and insulting.

The movie offers nothing real or important to say about modern or progressive lifestyles. At one point, the possibility that Kurt and Charlotte being swingers is brought up. Instead of exploring Alex and Emily’s concerns, fears, or questions, the screenplay conveniently brushes this fascinating avenue under the rug. Instead, we get a tired, petty, repetitious, and very unconvincing argument between Alex and Emily.

Because the material shows that the two are unable to handle what is in front of them as a team, even in the slightest way, I did not at all believe that Alex and Emily is a real couple who has gone through a lot. More than halfway through, it becomes clear that they are caricatures who belong in a low-grade sitcom, not in a feature film. They are not worth our time and attention.

The performances are a bore, a slog to have to sit through. Scott tries too hard to make us feel that his character is an ordinary Joe with self-esteem issues. The problem is, he looks too tense; an ordinary Joe is more relaxed—especially with his appearance. Schilling has an annoying habit of giving out these crazy wide eyes as if she were on a comedy show signaling the audience to laugh. Scott and Schilling share no chemistry. Schwartzman, meanwhile, does his usual affected demeanor—nothing new or effective there. Godrèche is perhaps the most charming but her character has no dimension, no quality we can really hold onto and root for.

“The Overnight” is probably for thirty-something-year-old, sexually-repressed-but-in-denial-about-it parents who have no Internet or television and so they have a warped sense of what real thirty-something-year-old parents are like in the suburbs of modern America. There is nothing funny or interesting about it. Mr. Brice, what is your intention here? Please explain to me as if I had no advanced education because I felt that my time had been stolen.

Krampus


Krampus (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

The opening credit sequence of “Krampus,” a horror-comedy directed by Michael Dougherty, is right on target about what is fundamentally wrong about the holiday, must-have-it-all season these days, one cannot help but be very excited for the rest of the film. Not one word is uttered—aside from a classic Yuletide carol serving as the soundtrack—but the images are so vivid, so funny, one suspects that the material has many more tricks and social commentaries up its sleeve.

It is a disappointment, then, that the film does not deliver more on that front. Although the story involves an unhappy get-together between two families days before and during Christmas, one of the families is not spoiled and rotten enough as to create a strong enough polarity and create dramatic gravity off their rather unique situation. When the youngest son of Sarah (Toni Collette) and Tom (Adam Scott) named Max (Emjay Anthony) begins to lose faith in the spirit of Christmas, an ancient spirit called Krampus and his monstrous pals pay the household a visit. Each member of the family is taken and presumably killed.

What the picture does best is showcasing images that are not computer generated. While a number of CGI is utilized in the film—like a cloaked figure with hooves jumping from one roof after another and murderous gingerbread cookies—most curious and terrifying are real and tactile imagery such as a giant jack-in-the-box with a massive mouth and shark-like teeth and cloaked figures that are supposed to be dark elves who look like they came right off a Kubrick-inspired play. Humor can be found in these images.

This Joe Dante-inspired material ought to have focused more on the personalities and dynamics of the children. They have such an ordinary look about them that target audiences—pre-teens and young teenagers—are likely to find them accessible. However, because Max, his sister, and three cousins are not explored enough, especially having them relate or engage in conflict during scenes with no adults around, the message meant for the young generation about the value of retaining the spirit of giving during the holidays ends up rather off-target.

Written by Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields, “Krampus” offers more moments than is necessary for a horror film—or any genre—where characters simply sit around and exchange platitudes. Collette is arguably the one best able to break away from expressing frustration through ordinary dialogue because she tends to give her characters specific behaviors. Sarah might be saying something nice on the surface but notice how she rolls her eyes between certain pauses. We wonder if Sarah does such a thing out of habit because hosting Christmas in her home is just too much pressure or does she not really mean what she says?

The picture gets a marginal recommendation from me with significant reservation for reasons mentioned previously. In addition, in horror movies, even horror-comedies, I usually must walk away and remember at least three sequences that are so well-executed, it makes me want to revisit the material right away. Here, I was only able to remember two vividly: the chimney scene because it starts off quiet and then becomes chaotic mere seconds later and the giant jack-in-the-box scene that must be seen to be believed. And come to think of it, the animated flashback with Grandma (Krista Stadler) as a little girl is a lovely surprise, too.

The Vicious Kind


The Vicious Kind (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Caleb (Adam Scott) just picked up his younger brother, Peter (Alex Frost), from college to take him home for Thanksgiving weekend. When the siblings stop at a diner for breakfast, Caleb goes on a tirade about how predatory and wanton all women are, including their own mother, and Peter had better watch out since he has gotten himself a new girlfriend, Emma (Brittany Snow). Initially, Caleb is passive-aggressive toward Emma because she reminds him of a girlfriend who cheated on him. But as the two keep crossing paths all over the small town, Caleb starts to feel a gnawing attraction toward her.

“The Vicious Kind,” written and directed by Lee Toland Krieger, is like an inconsolable child. You want to know what makes the characters so unhappy but the material is so willful in creating a brooding mood, everyone ends up being as boring as a plank and the picture goes on as the day is long. It seems like just about every scene is ripe for an argument and silence, especially when a line is crossed and the atmosphere turns very awkward, is never an option.

I got the impression that the only way that writer-director feels he is able to salvage a desultory storytelling is too keep everybody talking even if what is being said is nonsensical or forced. If you were in a car and a stubborn person said something offensive but you did not feel like arguing, do you continue to try to change that person’s mind? I know I wouldn’t. I would keep certain things to myself until perhaps later when the same or a similar issue comes up and I had energy to spare.

The sky looking dark and the surroundings looking wet all the time fail to translate into something substantial if human behavior is not embedded in realism. This is ironic because Emma majors in psychology. One would think that she could offer us some sort of insight as to why the people she spent Thanksgiving with behaved the way they did.

In any case, the relationships among the key players are vague because the execution of the screenplay lacks wit and control. We are not given enough reasons why Emma, a beautiful girl with a punk-rock style, would ever date someone like Peter. Peter is relatively quiet, enjoys pleasing his father (J.K. Simmons), and finds certain lines of conversations that a lot of people are likely to find within the realm of normality as taboo. What is her romantic history? Does Peter fit her type of guy? If she does not have a type, what is so special about him? Does she feel blasé about the relationship?

That last question is particularly interesting to me because Emma admits that she does not want to be home during Thanksgiving because her parents are drunks. Perhaps Caleb is right about Peter having to watch his back for going out with this girl. Also, I wanted to know more about Peter, but his proclamations of love toward his girlfriend are so saccharine and repetitive, it is like Script Writing 101.

And then there is Caleb, the self-proclaimed misogynist. I found Scott to be out of his depth because there is a lack of believability whenever he shifts from angry to tender. Instead of painting Caleb as a conflicted character, the person he plays comes off as a jerk who deserves to end up alone. I felt no sympathy for him.

When the material forces the audiences to accept him, I was offended because it feels like my intelligence is being attacked. None of its big emotions are earned even if the mawkish soundtrack is played full blast.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

The employees learn that LIFE magazine has been acquired which means that many of them will be let go during the transition—to be overseen by Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), an insensitive lout who sports a bad beard. It is critical that the magazine’s final cover be representative of its title and so Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), in charge of the photo units, is thrown in a panic when he discovers that negative twenty-five is missing.

Desperate to keep his job and quenching his subconscious’ need for adventure and excitement, Walter catches a plane to Greenland in hopes of meeting the elusive Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), the photojournalist whose work frequents the magazine’s cover, and asking if he even sent the negative in the first place.

Based on the short story by James Thurber, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a nice movie—and that is not a compliment. “Nice” is equated with watchable but harmless, offering occasional beautiful images but none offers an immediate, visceral response. I enjoyed some scenes as they are but my brain could not help but think that with such a viewer-friendly premise, the final product ought to have been much stronger.

Stiller plays a nondescript forty-two-year-old convincingly. The performer does a smart thing: He does not play the character to be pitied. Even though Walter is a bit of a bore, we remain drawn to him somewhat—which is difficult to pull off—because Stiller does not turn off his charm completely. It is minimized to a flicker but we sense it nonetheless. I wish Stiller would play more nuanced characters like this. He can be very good at it.

I wish I can say the same about the screenplay. It is correct to inject Walter’s daydreams with exoticism, silliness, and excitement. However, when Walter’s mind is pulled back to reality, the material is not that interesting. Sure, some of the lead character’s interactions with his crush at work, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig—who manages to hit the right notes just about every time), are cute and sweet but aside from the romantic aspect, it shows little to no brightness in the other aspects of Walter’s life.

Perhaps that is the point. But I did not find that realistic. In order to be a true contrast against the more fantastic elements, realism must be sharp. In truth, ordinary lives may be boring but they are not boring all the time. Here, we get the impression that the truth represents the opposite of the latter and that is a lie. Thus, the picture lacks a defined reference point. Supposed opposite elements do not clash as strongly and so we fail to get strong reactions when they collide.

The best scene in the picture is when Walter and the photojournalist he admires finally get a chance to meet. Penn gets one scene and he plays it to perfection. At its best, it reminded me of a most wonderful feeling I had while watching Penn’s “Into the Wild” for the first time. The conversation that transpires between Walter and Sean has a poetic rhythm to it. Notice how the scene takes its time. It seems unconcerned in showing us the next magical thing that a computer can create. At its worst, it made me look at the beautiful scenery—and that is not a jab.

I liked the message that “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” based on the screenplay by Steve Conrad, has to impart. That is, great adventures can happen to all of us… but only if we are willing and present. One can visit foreign countries and explore the most exotic places but if the mind is somewhere else then there is no point. But notice that even when Walter is traveling to all sorts of places, clearly on a mission, there remains a tinge of sadness to him. Maybe Chris McCandless, during the final moments of “Into the Wild,” is right: Happiness is only real when shared.

Friends with Kids


Friends with Kids (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt), best friends since college, the former a womanizer and the latter not having much luck in the dating scene, decided to have a kid even though they weren’t sexually attracted to one another. Julie wasn’t getting any younger and Jason always wanted to have a child so they thought it was the perfect opportunity to get what they wanted without marriage and a possible divorce if things didn’t quite work out. Written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, “Friends with Kids” occasionally featured very funny dialogue and realistic conversations about what it was like to be in a committed relationship, but it was not consistently sharp enough to avoid the trappings of the romantic comedy genre designed to make the audience swoon. Its sweetness, especially toward the end, didn’t feel real nor earned. The film’s small moments were highly enjoyable. I smiled from ear to ear whenever Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd), friends of Jason and Julie who happened to have an age difference of six years, interacted. They could be yelling at each other from across the room but their love was so present, the bickering ended up rather adorable instead of annoying. The manner in which they expressed their frustrations, even though it wasn’t pretty, felt healthy instead of damaging and I wanted to stick around. I also was tickled when Jason and Julie decided to make a baby the traditional way. As I shuffled in my seat with unbearable awkwardness, admittedly, I wanted to keep watching because I could relate to it. I found it absolutely hilarious because my friends, whom I’ve known for at least ten years, and I have had to kiss each other on the lips due to a game we decided to play. I understood how the characters felt when they couldn’t help but laugh and make jokes as their lips moved closer to one another. Unfortunately, most of its middle section was packed with predictable situations so irritating, it almost lost its charm. In order to have some sort of conflict, the writing resulted to the feelings of jealousy Jason and Julie experienced when one went on a date or had sex with another person. As insecurities were revealed and uncertainties emerged in what they had, I began to question why they weren’t more details about Jason and Julie’s friends who also had kids. I was especially curious about Missy (Kristen Wiig) and Ben’s (Jon Hamm) crumbling marriage. While they were shown looking very unhappy whenever there was a special gathering designed so that the friends could catch up, we weren’t given the chance to see the evolution of their relationship. The lives of the married friends felt like footnotes at best which didn’t make sense because Jason and Julie valued them so much. If anything, the screenplay should’ve strived to make us value them, too. Moreover, the film would have been more focused and rewarding if the friends’ marriage functioned like mirrors to Jason and Julie’s partnership, highlighting trends along the way to support the idea that a marriage and a partnership without a certificate have similarities so striking, their differences, in a lot of ways, ought be negligible. Since “Friends with Kids” offered to give us a peek at an alternative lifestyle yet at times it ingratiated itself with the so-called norm, its messages didn’t quite ring true.