Tag: kevin bacon

The Darkness

The Darkness (2016)
★ / ★★★★

“The Darkness” is an excellent example of a horror-drama gone terribly wrong. Thirty minutes into it, one is likely to experience a sick, sinking feeling that the deadly dull material isn’t going to get any better due to a screenplay so anemic in creativity, tension, and intrigue, it seemed as if the writers—Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause, and Greg McLean—penned the material when half-asleep.

There is no inspiration to be had here. Instead, it offers old, rickety clichés—reshuffled, regurgitated, and reduced even further to their most basic, most frustrating building blocks. Halfway through, I wanted to shove the writers into a dark room, lock the door, and force them to watch great horror movies so that the next time they write a screenplay, it would not end up like this egregious vomit bag.

It is a shame because the first scene shows some promise. A family goes camping at the Grand Canyon and the children go exploring on their own. The youngest, Michael (David Mazouz), who has autism, stumbles upon a hidden cavern with curious rocks at the center space. Entertained by them, he decides to take these home, unaware that the artifacts, when taken from where the extinct Anasazi people had placed them exactly, would release demonic spirits that they imprisoned. Strange occurrences begin to unfold in the house. It works because the opening scene is mostly silent. It is about movement, exploration, how the camera follows a character from one beautiful place to a curious place.

Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell play the parents and it is clear that they are cast because they must sell the more dramatic moments. For instance, Peter and Bronny are still undergoing a monumental shift in their marriage because the former had had an affair. But the script is so poor, no performer, no matter how talented, can possibly save the material. The dialogue functions on the level of cheesy television, to refer to the script as Lifetime-like would actually pass as a compliment.

The marriage drama subplot does not work for several reasons. For one, the dialogue is too robotic, superficial, lacking a certain push to keep the viewer’s interest. At the very least, we should be mildly interested in the details of the affair and somewhat curious as to whether Peter and Bronny would actually choose to stay together for the sake of their family despite the increasingly powerful displays of supernatural phenomena in their home. Another reason is the lack of convincing or realistic rhythm in marital disputes. Notice scenes that show the couple arguing. It is almost always one-dimensional, painfully obvious. At times real couples fight not with words but through action or inaction—not necessarily physical violence but oftentimes through silences, insinuations, the hurtful details between the lines.

Because the people are not believable, the events happening all around them are not believable either. It does not help that the special and visual effects appear third-rate, one wonders if it might have been better if such displays were kept to a bare minimum. Sometimes horror lies in not seeing and comedy results in baring it all.

Directed by Greg McLean, “The Darkness” is an embarrassing attempt at horror, and filmmaking in general. This is what results when writers understand neither the psychology of its characters who just so happen to cross paths with otherworldly elements nor what makes horror savage and therefore engaging, thrilling, highly watchable. Most successful in the genre are those the viewers can actually believe to be real somewhere out there. The film suffers from a lack of ambition and common sense.

Cop Car

Cop Car (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

Only a handful of American movies put children in danger and are willing to deliver what is absolutely necessary to fit their specific stories. Most tend to use the former as a hook but by the end everyone goes home safe and sound. “Cop Car,” written by Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford, goes all the way. By the end of this film, which consists of only five characters, only one will survive—and even that last person’s fate is not certain.

Two preteen runaways, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford), find a seemingly abandoned police patrol car in a secluded area that sits in the middle of a field. Fearing they will get in trouble if they get too close, they throw a rock at it. Nothing happens. They dare each other to touch it. Nothing happens still.

They open the door. Excitement booms in their bellies. They go inside and pretend to drive. Still all fun and games. And then they find the keys. One of the boys suggests they drive it. Meanwhile, Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) prepares to hide a corpse and intends to use the very same car the boys found. The car is no longer there.

It works as a highly effective thriller because Jon Watts directs the piece with patience. Take note of the scene where the sheriff decides to steal a car himself. It composes of two perfectly framed shots. One involves a section of a shoelace, tied in such a way as to create a hoop, being attempted to lift the car lock. The other shot captures the man’s various expressions as frustration builds up to a rage. As the scene unfolds, we learn a few things about Kretzer even though no conversation occurs. It is a picture that demands the audience to be observant.

We also observe the two boys’ relationship. One has a more dominant personality, but the other has a say, too. We buy their friendship immediately because what they have is so common, such a dynamic can be found at a nearby park or right outside our doors. The dialogue does not at all feel or sound like a script. Limited words are used; a lot of the believable elements rely on body language, how they look at one another, the tone in their voices when they do decide to speak.

Because the realistic elements fall into place seemingly without effort, the turn of events feel exactly right. It may lack big, drawn-out action pieces, but the bursts of violence are swift and memorable. We are in constant state of evaluation when it comes to the boys’ chance of survival. The screenplay is tightly written and so when one side of the equation changes just a little bit, the other side may be impacted greatly. In that way, there is a consistent and subtle excitement.

These are children who think that driving a real car must be like playing “Mario Kart.” Their bold natures—carelessness, rather—challenges us to look away. By the end of their story, they learn several unforgettable lessons. Perhaps most important is the lesson about consequences. In a video game, one may crash a vehicle or fail on accomplishing a mission but there is always a second chance. The world outside video games, however, is less forgiving.

Stir of Echoes

Stir of Echoes (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★

After Tom (Kevin Bacon) learns that he and Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) are having another child, his insecurities about not becoming more than he had planned are brought to the surface. While at a neighborhood get-together, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), Maggie’s sister who hopes to convince others of the powers of hypnosis, jokingly says that Tom is not open enough to embrace things that are not so familiar to him. Though he tries to hide it, it is obvious that he is offended. In order to prove Lisa wrong, he agrees to go under.

What makes “Stir of Echoes,” based on the screenplay and directed by David Koepp, an effective horror-thriller is that it uses supernatural elements just enough to keep us curious about its rules. The first two acts of the picture depend largely on trial-and-error: Tom experiences visions and hallucinations and blindly follows the ghostly clues involving a missing girl believed by the neighbors to have ran away. So it is very disappointing that the third act fails to match the creativity and energy of the rising action.

It is difficult to figure out where the story is going so the element of surprise is consistent. It summons typical horror tropes like intercutting gruesome images as the camera focuses on the lead character suffering from intense headaches and confusion. When an important clue graces the screen, the score makes sure that we are paying attention.

And yet somehow, unlike other movies that follow a similar conceit, these are not problematic for two reasons: the events are increasingly bizarre and the plot is never stagnant. The hallucinations hold an excitement because they blend seamlessly into the family’s every day lives. Part of the fun is questioning whether what is on screen at the moment is fantasy or reality. Once it has been established, I found myself thinking about how the given piece of information fits into the puzzle.

At times the plot moves too quickly. It has a habit of presenting an idea but the writer-director does not linger to explore it deeply enough. For instance, there is a strand involving a man in the cemetery (Eddie Bo Smith Jr.) who reveals to Maggie that he is aware of the strange happenings in her household. There is an accompanying scene involving an unwelcome visit but that is it. It feels as though too much has been excised in the editing room.

The third act, when Tom is most erratic, threatens to derail the film. While Bacon is very sympathetic in portraying a husband who feels as though he has allowed himself to get in the way of giving his family a better life, moments when he is supposed to be angry made me snicker. Several more takes might have helped him turn the whininess down a notch and amped up the threat, that his character’s newfound ability has really taken a toll on him. Also, the story sort of just ends. For all the excellent build-up, one cannot help that it should have had a more graceful bow.

Still, “Stir of Echoes,” loosely based on Richard Matheson’s novel, is a good time for the most part because there is an active attempt to avoid cheap scares and to allow an ominous mood to build until the release.


Super (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Frank (Rainn Wilson) suspects that his marriage is in trouble. His wife is not as loving and energetic as usual. A couple of days later, she leaves with a drug dealer, Jacques (Kevin Bacon), and becomes a tester for the most recent drugs he has acquired. Frank turns to God so he can find a way to get his wife back. After dreaming that he has been touched by God, he comes to a conclusion that he is going to be a superhero, The Crimson Bolt, whose job is to punish evil doers, from people who cut in line to pedophiles.

“Super,” written and directed by James Gunn, is intended to be a comedy with an edgy dramatic undertone, but I found myself pitying Frank more than rooting for him. Acknowledging that feeling is important. How can I laugh at someone and derive pleasure from the images being relayed if a part of me hopes for the protagonist to seek serious professional help?

I saw the lead character as a broken man who just cannot accept that his wife no longer wants to be with him. Since his psychological break goes untreated, the sadness that accumulates in his mind and heart becomes an unmitigated anger. This man chose a wrench as his alter ego’s main weapon. He bashes people’s heads with it until their skulls crack and bleed to death. I failed to see Frank as The Crimson Bolt the superhero; I saw Frank as The Crimson Bolt the psychologically untreated person who desperately needs someone to talk to and possibly in need of medication.

There is one scene, however, that I found really amusing. We all have had the pleasure to line up at the movies–sometimes outside in the cold–after we have paid for our ticket. After waiting for what seems like an eternity, people who think they are privileged or special suddenly decide to cut in line. Frank is unable to put up with it so he decides to leave his position, dresses up as his superhero alter ego, and punishes those who have no sense of respect for those who actually take the time and have the patience to line up just like everyone else. It is funny because it touched upon feelings that we can all relate with and the fantasy of coming up to those who butt in and “punishing” them is realized. Instead of the comedy relying on Frank acting crazy, the comedy is attributed to the situation. By watching that scene, in a way, he becomes our alter ego. It ceases to feel as mean-spirited.

As the picture goes on, Libby (Ellen Page) comes to learn Frank’s extracurricular activities. She figures he can use some help so she embraces the honor of becoming his sidekick. As Boltie, she lusts for violence and laughs at the people she injures. When Frank and Libby discuss what being a superhero means, despite the irony that they aren’t, it works. The two actors feed off each other’s energy: Wilson is more brooding and introspective while Page is more like an unstoppable wildfire. But when the duo turn into The Crimson Bolt and Boltie, once again the maiming, bruising, killing become the source of humor.

I understand that “Super” wants to do something different by piling on bloody violence, dark humor, and psychological breakdown. On that level, I appreciated the effort. But as a whole, the violence feels so gratuitous. Toward the end when people’s limbs are being cut off and bodies are being blown up to smithereens accompanied by colorful comic book subtitles, I wondered how it is different from torture porn. The message becomes, “This is violent! …But it’s fun.” Actually, no, it isn’t. At least not to me.


Footloose (1984)
★ / ★★★★

Ren (Kevin Bacon) and his mother move to a small town to start their life anew. It is far from a promising reboot, however, when Ren finds out that rock n’ roll and dancing are banned because of a car wreck that killed high school kids five years ago. The main proponent of this ban is Reverend Moore (John Lithgow), whose only son has died in the crash. He believes that by shutting out “devil music,” it will be unable to “confuse people’s minds and bodies.” With the help of his friends and classmates, Ren hopes to overturn the ordinance in a small but respected town meeting.

It is easy and reasonable to laugh at the dopiness of the premise of “Footloose,” but I chose to buy into it right away, no questions asked, to be able to assess what it is it hopes to aim toward. It wishes to be an entertaining, crowd-pleasing picture that feature songs we can tap our toes to and well-choreographed dance scenes, but even on that level it fails to deliver.

While the songs selected are catchy, they do little to serve coherence to the plot involving the young people’s struggle to get their parents to listen, put their differences aside, and consider the practical over the emotional. While quite upbeat and fun to listen to, the title song by Kenny Loggins often pops up during the most inappropriate moments when a question requires our attention so that we can get that much more into examining the perceived moral decay of the town. Also, it is unfortunate that many of the songs are cut short in order to make room for badly written dialogue. I know it is supposed to be ironic that the high school students are the ones with an open mind while the adults with life experiences have a narrow point of view, but must the teens provide the answers to the questions they have just asked? I suppose I can take comfort that John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good” is almost played all the way.

Ren’s romantic interest, Ariel (Lori Singer), who happens to be the reverend’s daughter, is very unlikable, a harpy, toward the beginning. Instead of being nice to the new kid in town, she asserts her place in the high school social strata by acting cold toward him. So when she later asks Ren, “Why don’t you like me?” I wished to interrupt the scene and, to put it lightly, tell her why she has to ask a stupid question. The screenplay by Dean Pitchford does not give the character a proper transition from a queen B to a gal who we want to get to know and be friends with. If the writer feels lazy at the time and does not feel like giving the main girl a deserved arc, why not simply make her popular and nice right from the beginning?

The best scenes that hold good drama are not between the young couple. Surprisingly, the conversations between Reverend Moore and his wife, Vi (Dianne Wiest), are most magnetic. I loved the scene when she summons the courage to tell him that, essentially, he is wrong to have imposed his spiritual beliefs on the town especially when the citizens should have been given the opportunity to grieve in their own way. I liked that Wiest plays her character almost mousy, her words spoken so softly that I am forced to almost lean in and read her lips. Not one scene between Ren and Ariel is able to match this important conversation between husband and wife. Instead, when the young couple are alone, sappy music can be heard which reflects the material’s lack of confidence in the writing as well as the chemistry between the performers.

Directed by Herbert Ross, “Footloose” has some pockets of charm mainly due to its supporting actors. Sarah Jessica Parker, as Ariel’s perky friend, lights up the screen each time she is in front of the camera. Chris Penn, as Ren’s towering but lovable friend who does not know how to dance, deserves to have more screen time. Though it certainly has potential to be a light entertainment with good intentions, most of the elements do not align properly so it consistently trips over itself.

Apollo 13

Apollo 13 (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) were supposed to make a trip to the moon. But when Mattingly’s blood work came back, it turned out that his blood had signs of the measles. Mattingly was replaced by Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) despite Lovell’s insistence to NASA executives that his team, who trained in the simulator together, should not be broken up. But that was the least of their problems. Prior to landing on the moon, due to bad wiring, an explosion affected the crew’s oxygen storage and other critical elements required for their survival. Without much power to spare, would the trio be able to make it back on Earth safely? Based on a true story and directed by Ron Howard, “Apollo 13” was an exciting adventure about success stemming from failure. From the moment Lovell, Haise and Swigert left Earth, I couldn’t look away from the screen. I enjoyed the fact that it may have been a film set in outer space but it was no science fiction. Howard was careful in showing us just enough special and visual effects to suspend us in awe. It was magical and I couldn’t help but wonder how amazing it would be if one day, all of us could easily take a trip to the moon. I do have to say that there were scenes that I wish could have ran longer. For instance, when Lovell’s wife (Kathleen Quinlan) confessed to her husband that she didn’t want to see his launch because it wasn’t his first time going into space anyway, the director cut the scene right before it captured her husband’s reaction. There was a split second when Hanks had tears in his eyes but he held himself back from saying something that could potentially cause anger between them. If the scene had an extra ten to fifteen seconds to assess the situation, it would have made a grand statement about the relationship between the astronaut and his wife. A similar awkward cut was made when the Lovell’s wife had to explain to her young son that his father had been in an accident in space. Howard should have spent more time with the child’s reaction. In doing so, the film would have had the opportunity to communicate with the child within each of us. Instead, much of the reactions were focused on the adults. I wouldn’t have minded as much if most of their reactions weren’t such hyperboles. As the astronauts became increasingly desperate, there was an increasing number of one- or two-second shots of the wives looking miserable. They distracted us from the astronauts’ plight. It didn’t need to try so hard to tell us that the situation was dire when we could see it for ourselves. Nevertheless, “Apollo 13” had a smörgåsbord of thrills and drama. When we catch ourselves holding our breath, that’s an indication the movie is doing something right.

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) were deciding what to order in a restaurant. Cal wanted crème brûlée. Emily wanted a divorce. Top to it off, she admitted that she had slept with one of her co-workers (Kevin Bacon). Almost immediately, Cal moved out of the house while his kids, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) and Molly (Joey Kind), stayed with their mother. Having no one to talk to about how he felt about the separation and how quickly it happened, Cal went to a bar to meet women. Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a posh womanizer, saw something in Cal that made him want to help the sad sack, starting with his wardrobe. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.,” written by Dan Fogelman, could have been an enjoyable romantic comedy if it had been severely trimmed. With a running time of almost two hours, the fat was heavy and uninteresting. The weakest portion of the film was its core. That is, the dissolution of Emily and Cal’s marriage. It was difficult for me to care about their separation for two reasons. 1) We didn’t yet know them when the news was thrown on our lap and 2) The sad parts, just when they were about to hit their peaks, were interrupted by comedy. For instance, while on the way home as Emily attempted to explain why she wanted a divorce, Cal decided to exit the car while it was moving. It was supposed to be funny but I didn’t laugh. I just felt sorry for him because he wasn’t equipped in terms of how to properly the digest the information he was given. He would rather jump out of the car than deal with the problem. What kept the project afloat were the energetic supporting characters. They were the ones who consistently made me laugh. Robbie, a thirteen-year-old, had a gigantic crush on Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), his seventeen-year-old babysitter. His public proclamations of his feelings toward her were downright embarrassing but sweet. Jessica wasn’t able to reciprocate due to their age difference and, more interestingly, she lusted over Cal, who was probably three times her age. I also loved watching the scenes between Hannah (Emma Stone), a law student, and Jacob. They shared intense chemistry so their scenes, which ranged from silly to sexy, felt effortless. It made me wish that the center of the movie was young love and how crazy, stupid, silly, naive it all was. While Cal’s wardrobe make-over and various attempts to get women into bed were necessary elements so that Cal would eventually realize his value as a father, as a husband, and as a man, they took up too much time. I wanted to know more about Emily and how her decision affected who she was as a strong woman with a career and as a mother. It wasn’t the actors’ fault. They did the most with what they were given. The problem was the script. It was reluctant to really delve into the pain of separation so it settled with spoon-feeding us so-called funny skit-like scenarios that not only did not flow together, they also consistently crossed the line between simple coincidences and forceful twists. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” will appeal to those who like their comedies very light and cutesy. And that’s okay. But for those who like to watch characters who make decisions that make sense, they should keep walking.