Tag: kate bosworth

Before I Wake

Before I Wake (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

“Before I Wake” combines dark fantasy and horror with mixed results.

On the one hand, there is an interesting story involving a foster child, Cody (Jacob Tremblay), who has the ability to turn his dreams into reality, but he is not yet able to control it. There is a curious dynamic between the boy and his most recent foster parents (Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane) because there is immediately a question in our mind whether the couple would choose to use Cody’s double-edged gift so that they could see and interact with their recently deceased son (Antonio Evan Romero). The screenplay by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard, the former directing the picture, does not shy away from human nature—even at the expense of putting a child in danger.

The picture invites the viewer to look at it closely, especially during dream sequences. We are provided peaceful images of butterflies fluttering about in well-lit, well-decorated rooms yet the tone can pivot just as quickly toward darker territory. This is where horror elements come in. Silence is used effectively, particularly during tension-building early in the picture when the audience does not yet have an idea of the threat Cody mentions: The Canker Man, how it appears in his nightmares sometimes and eats people. Notice the careful use of shadows to prevent the viewer from seeing too much too soon. Flanagan has an understanding of how horror pictures work—not a surprise considering he helmed the excellent but largely undiscovered “Absentia.”

On the other hand, the film can be quite repetitive. Jessie and Mark trying to stay awake in the living room by drinking loads of coffee just in case Cody dreams of their son suffers from diminishing returns. Must we really endure yet another discussion regarding how much the couple misses their son? Must we look at yet another family picture with the smiling dead child in it? Perhaps the point is to establish a molasses-like pacing in order to communicate the crippling depression of the household. Repetition can work but the wrinkles in the formula must be introduced with great energy to keep the material from becoming stale.

Although the screenplay gets to it eventually, there is not enough investigation into Cody’s interesting past in order for the mystery to be resolved. For example, the reason why Gore Verbinski’s interpretation of “The Ring” works so well is because it works as a detective story. Time is utilized to soak us into its deepest secrets. Here, only about fifteen minutes is dedicated to stealing official documents, talking to the right creepy people, and going through red tape. As a result, the final third comes across as rushed and superficial.

With a few more passes of revision, “Before I Wake” might have offered a superior experience. The right elements are there, but fat needs to be shed in order to make room for meaty details. As is, it is tolerable but not particularly memorable.

The Domestics

The Domestics (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

There are far too many suspense-thrillers with rather neat premises but ending up sputtering about halfway through. I think it is because screenwriters get so distracted by the shiny new ideas that they end up neglecting to explore them in meaningful ways. And so when the novelty wears off, the work lacks a reason to exist. A twisted road trip picture, for instance, is reduced to yet another shoot ‘em up. “The Domestics,” written and directed by Mike P. Nelson, is guilty of this significant shortcoming.

The U.S. government’s black poison has killed most of the American population. No reason is provided why this was sanctioned, nor is the material required to do so. The survivors, those resistant to the toxic substance, have been divided into two major factions: those who joined a gang—which is divided further based on their moral codes (or lack thereof)—and the so-called Domestics—people who scrape by every day without group affiliation. Married couple Mark (Tyler Hoechlin) and Nina (Kate Bosworth) belong in the latter category who decide to make their way to Milwaukee after Nina’s parents cease to communicate via radio. As expected, the spouses encounter various gangs who wish to imprison, torture, or… play with them.

The co-leads do a serviceable job in their respective roles, but the screenplay fails to make them equally interesting. Mark is strong, creative, and vigilant—clearly equipped with survival instinct. On the other hand, Nina is in this constant state of sadness. During the majority of the picture, she is nearly useless, a major liability. I found it to be painfully cliché when the character so suddenly becomes a warrior during the final twenty minutes. The pivot is ineffective because neither character is given enough specific details so that any change that may occur later is thoroughly convincing.

Instead, more effort is put into the action sequences—where the gun is pointed, whose brains are being blown out, blood spatters on walls, sharp objects going though flesh. Notice the manic nature of the editing during these scenes. The violence, while cringe-inducing in a good way, is consistently at the forefront yet there is minimal social commentary in whatever is going on. After all, strong post-apocalyptic films tend to be about something else entirely, from the rousing “Mad Max” films, darkly comic “Delicatesen,” insightful “Children of Men,” down to poetic dirges like “The Road.”

There is a hint, I suppose, of friction between the protagonists. Before the toxins were released, Nina and Mark were on the process of getting a divorce. But the details are both superficial and laughable. Listen to this: Nina confesses to a fellow survivor (Jacinte Blankenship) that they used to be so crazy for each other. She especially swooned at the fact that Mark would leave her cute and romantic notes at home or at work. Eventually, however, the gesture stopped. I couldn’t help roll my eyes and stifle a laugh during this would-be vulnerable moment. Did she really expect such flirtation and playfulness to last for the rest of their marriage? Is she really this short-sighted and shallow? Of course passion wanes. What matters is what you do about it as a couple when it does.

“The Domestics” is not without potential to become a solid thriller. I enjoyed that each gang has a specific personality. The leaders may not have memorable faces, but their monstrous behaviors linger in the mind. Had the screenplay undergone further editing by focusing on the overall message they wish to portray, followed by strong, detailed, and surprising characterizations, it would have felt refresher, more urgent, more relevant in our modern times of politically divided America.

Black Rock

Black Rock (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Sarah (Kate Bosworth) has a plan: by inviting two of her unwitting best friends to a small island getaway, Abby (Katie Aselton) and Lou (Lake Bell), who had ended their friendship six years ago, will be forced to interact, reconnect, and be great friends they once were. Their vacation is interrupted, however, when three Iraqi veterans (Will Bouvier, Jay Paulson, Anslem Richardson) show up and Abby, after a couple of drinks, begins to flirt—hard—with one of the men. Soon, the women are separated and hunted around the island.

A lot of movies settle for being so ordinary. “Black Rock,” based on the screenplay by Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton, is one of them. Perhaps the writers’ intention is to create a simple thriller, a survival tale about women with a lot of inner turmoil who must then solve the disorder they feel inside by going through rigorous physical challenges. However, the story might be easy to understand but the characters are so dull. Furthermore, the would-be suspenseful chases and kills occur to justify showing something—anything—on screen.

We do not believe the friendship among Abby, Lou, and Sarah. The script is responsible because the dialogue sounds like it is taken from any forgotten horror-thrillers. Barely do we get a chance to know them as people with lives outside of the island and so when they are eventually thrusted into life-or-death situations, it is difficult to care. I did not want to see them die, but at the same time if they were to end up being killed, I did not get a sense of how their deaths might have made a difference out there in the world.

The chases are standard and not smartly edited. When the trio get separated because they run in opposite directions, the soldiers decide to stick together. We clearly see which woman they choose to follow. As Sarah, Lou, and Abby make their way through the woods, the film is edited as if each man were hunting one woman. Why bother cutting to the other two women running for their lives when it is obvious that the hunters, moving as a group, are in pursuit of only one of their targets? The focus should have been on the person who is in most danger, without distraction of confused editing.

At times the picture is unintentionally funny either due to bad acting or bad writing. What bothered me most is its desperation to inject the subject of women feeling empowered. While that may be a commendable quality in a sharp screenplay, it just comes across so silly here. Each moment that highlights “girl power” is like enduring nails being scraped on a chalkboard. It feels inappropriate, an assault to a subject that is worth discussing or exploring seriously.

“Black Rock,” directed by Katie Aselton, is akin to finding coal in a stocking—disappointing, maddening, exasperating. If you had been very bad in the past year, this movie is for you, I guess. But for those of us who had been very good, what have we done to deserve such punishment?

Another Happy Day

Another Happy Day (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Lynn (Ellen Barkin) and her two sons, Elliot (Ezra Miller) and Ben (Daniel Yelsky), come to stay at their family’s estate for Dylan’s wedding (Michael Nardelli), the son that Lynn and Paul (Thomas Haden Church) had before separating. Meanwhile, Lynn’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) and sisters (Siobhan Fallon, Diana Scarwid) worry about Joe (George Kennedy), the eldest member of the clan, because his pacemaker has malfunctioned. There is also some stress about Alice (Kate Bosworth), Lynn and Paul’s daughter currently in therapy for cutting herself, possibly not making it to the wedding.

“Another Happy Day,” written and directed by Sam Levison, is extremely frustrating to watch unfold because every drop of emotion comes off fake. There is a lot of yelling around the house about physical, emotional, and psychological abuse and is almost always paired with either someone walking into the frame and doing something completely idiotic or someone saying something completely insensitive in the scene that comes right after. This approach softens the majority of the material’s dramatic weight and so the picture never has a chance to make us feel involved.

We never get the sense that these people are a real family; they are dogs that have gone unfed for weeks and all they wish to do is take a bite out of each other. Now, I have been around other family gatherings whose members tend to argue a lot. They just cannot help themselves. Yet it is obvious that there is still love there. While they yell and release all sorts of unpleasantries, they are not afraid to joke around one another even if negative emotions have not yet diffused. It may be out of embarrassment, I don’t know, but at least it is real. Here, it seems like all loyalties are thrown out the window. It feels too movie-like.

For example, I did not understand why Doris, Lynn’s mother, treats her daughter like she is a nobody. Though it is true that everyone is in charge of his or her happiness (and unhappiness), the picture offers no reason why Doris is so cold. The writer-director’s decision to not offer an answer–or a hint–to one of the most curious questions is, in a way, an act of cheating us out of a possible rewarding emotional arc.

The singular person that may be worth our time is Alice. Although she is still in danger of relapsing into cutting herself when things get tough, I felt a strength from her when she speaks to drug-addicted Elliot, whose fourth time in rehab is for naught. It made me wonder if Elliot and Ben, the latter very attached to his video camera, an obvious symbol of a character’s detachment from reality, would have been happier young people if their sister were around more because she has such a positive energy.

Another strand that should have been explored further is Lynn’s relationship with Patty (Demi Moore), Paul’s wife. The two do nothing but get on each other’s nerves. Is it really that difficult for them to find a commonality in one another, even if it is superficial, especially if their son is about to have one of the most important days of his life?

“Another Happy Day” is far from a happy experience, not even in a darkly comic manner. It is a such a vortex of unpleasant commotion that I wondered what I would have done if they were my family. If I had to be around these people, I would probably pretend to die in a car accident while on my way to see them.

L!fe Happens

L!fe Happens (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Kim (Krysten Ritter) and Deena (Kate Bosworth), best friends and living together, are the kind of young women who take guys, random hook-ups, to their respective rooms and do not think it is awkward having sex at same time. While they are smart enough to search for a condom before engaging in any sort of sexual activity, they find only one in the house. They try to come up with a solution to solve this problem but before Kim realizes it, Deena has snatched the last condom from her fingertips. A year later, it turns out that Kim and her partner conceived a baby boy that night. And yet despite having an infant, Kim is determined to live as if she were still a single gal with no one to look out for.

Based on the screenplay by Kat Coiro and Krysten Ritter, “L!fe Happens” is like a drunk frat boy on the dance floor: all confidence but absolutely no rhythm. The film wishes to be funny, from Kim and Deena’s friendly banters to predictable sitcom moments when they team up just so Kim will finally have a chance to have sex with a man many months after having a kid, but it is a joyless picture. Never mind that it offers no genuine sweetness or important message to say about female friendship. Every other scene, it seems to embody a new state of fugue. These women are caricatures and I was offended that the writers dare to make this embarrassment into a movie. Just because you have the money for it, it does not mean you should. Donate that money where it can do some good for the world.

Other than being put into film, its greatest misstep is its consistent attempt to pass Kim’s irresponsibility for comedy. While a few somewhat amusing things occur as she gallivants across town to let off some steam, it is never really funny because it is difficult not to feel concerned for the well-being of the child. At one point, she has gotten so desperate, she actually leaves her infant with a twelve-year-old neighbor. I questioned if Kim loves her baby, a curiosity that somewhat made me feel rotten. And yet at the same time, I wanted someone to call Social Services.

It is not until more than halfway through the picture that we are allowed to watch Kim and Max play together and interact like a real mother and child. In the beginning, it is always either Kim passing around her baby as one hands a red cup to friends for pre-game alcohol shots prior to clubbing or Max is attached to her back while she goes to her job as a dog walker and assistant to a truly vindictive boss (Kristen Johnston) who, by the way, hates children as much as she loves dogs. There is a lot of negative attitudes about children or having kids and it made me want to yell at the screen.

This would-be comedy’s inappropriate tone is not its only downfall. The supporting characters are as bland and dry as chalk. Laura (Rachel Bilson), the third roommate who also happens to be a virgin, is simply used as decor. She is often shown walking around in skimpy outfits for her odd jobs. It is ironic (or just moronic) that she is utilized as a mere sex object, all of which build up to one scene involving some big realization about women feeling empowered. This supposedly brilliant insight relies on the assumption that the people watching the film do not have a brain.

This is only one example. I can go on about the girls’ romantic prospects, Nicolas (Geoff Stults) and Henri (Justin Kirk), caricatures in that one is a nice, clean-cut guy while the other is a walking sex hound. They neither say nor do something interesting. But I will stop myself from going into it further. This film has wasted enough of my time and energy.

It is possible to make a funny movie about the struggles of being a single parent given that the material has a natural feel to it coupled with a character, or characters, we can root for despite his or her shortcomings. “L!fe Happens,” directed by Kat Coiro, is trashy and astoundingly bad. You know that saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? Well, it does not apply here. I do not know anybody who can take pleasure from watching this.

Straw Dogs

Straw Dogs (2011)
★ / ★★★★

David (James Marsden), a screenwriter for movies, and Amy (Kate Bosworth), a television actress, husband and wife from Los Angeles, moved to the South so David could get some work done. While Amy was welcomed by the people she grew up with, especially Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård), a former high school flame, David experienced some friction with most of them. As the two settled in their home over a couple of weeks, Charlie and his friends pushed David bit by bit by implying he wasn’t good enough to land a woman like Amy, that he wasn’t enough of a man for her. David aimed to prove them wrong. Based on the novel “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” by Gordon Williams, watching “Straw Dogs,” written and directed by Rod Lurie, I felt an overwhelming lack of dimension from its characters. David was the unaware city boy who overstepped his boundaries by flaunting his hundred dollar bills, Amy strutted around outside without a bra but became upset when men looked at her lasciviously, and Charlie was the two-faced villain who felt inferior whenever he heard David’s classical music. As the events slowly escalated from snide comments to full-throttle violence, we learned nothing much about the three them. Amy became very frustrated with her husband’s passive approach. If David did confront Charlie and his friends, it was her husband’s battle (or life) to lose. If she supposedly grew up with them, she should have been more aware of what they were capable of. If anything, she should be one pulling back David’s leash, not getting upset with him when clearly he just didn’t want trouble. Meanwhile, David decided to go hunting with the boys to prove he was a man. If he was so smart and worldly, as depicted on the day the couple moved into their new home, I wondered how he didn’t catch that it wasn’t even hunting season. “What time of year is hunting season?” was easy to type on Google considering he was on his laptop during most of the day. Furthermore, the film introduced characters such as Tom (James Woods), a former high school coach turned alcoholic, and slow-witted Jeremy (Dominic Purcell), in his thirties, who happened to have a history with underaged girls. When David asked why the latter wasn’t put away, Charlie responded, “We take care of our own.” Far from it. Tom’s daughter (Willa Holland), fifteen years old, was attracted to Jeremy. Despite people constantly telling her to keep her distance from him, she couldn’t help herself. Naturally, the father had something to say with his fist. Although Woods’ explosive antics were attention-grabbing, most of the time, the things he had to say felt independent from the movie. Must he be angry all the time? Again, the script was devoid of depth and good performances couldn’t keep the material afloat. “Straw Dogs,” despite its handful of symbolism involving animals, left nothing much to the imagination. I almost forgot about it as soon as it was over. Except the bare-chested Skarsgård. His glistening pecs were memorable.