A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017)

February 15, 2017

a-cure-for-wellness Greetings again from the darkness. It might seem peculiar for the director of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, The Lone Ranger, and the Oscar winning animated Rango to be the driving force behind an atmospheric Gothic mystery-thriller, but Gore Verbinski seems to ignore any attempt to generalize or label his films. In fact, this latest film (written with Justin Haythe) attempts to challenge genre conventions by cloaking us in familiar themes and expecting us to be surprised by the late twist.

Dane DeHaan has established himself as an actor with no boundaries. He has played characters as diverse as James Dean in Life, and Cricket in Lawless. This time he dons a business suit as Lockhart, an ambitious, young, morally flexible, workaholic financial hotshot. By bending a few FCC regs, Lockhart has maneuvered himself into a plush corner office on Wall Street, and is now strong-armed by senior management into taking on the less-than-appealing task of traveling to a “wellness spa” in Switzerland in order to bring back the CEO whose signature is necessary to complete a lucrative merger.

The cinematography of Bojan Bazelli is gorgeous throughout, and it’s literally breathtaking as we view the Manhattan cityscape, and then follow Lockhart’s train streaming through the Swiss Alps mountains and tunnels. These are the “wow” shots, but the camera finds beauty even once the story takes us inside the sanitarium with the dark history … and confounding present. The building’s history seems somewhat sinister, but its current day secrets are every bit as creepy. What exactly is the sickness that “the cure” is treating? Why does no one ever leave? What’s with the eels? What’s with the water? Why are teeth falling out? Why are the townfolks so off-put by those on the hill? What answers do the puzzles bring?

Shutter Island offers the most obvious comparison with its similar tone and atmosphere, but others that come to mind include The Island of Dr. Moreau, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and especially, Hitchock’s Rebecca. Verbinski makes marvelous use of sound throughout – whether it’s Lockhart’s creaking crutches, the squeak of doors, the drip of ever-present water, or the metallic whir of machines. The look, sound, and feel create the tension necessary to prevent viewers from ever really relaxing, even if we wish the movie wasn’t so darn long.

Filmed at Castle Hohenzollern in Germany, it’s a perfect example of how on filming on location adds an element that no soundstage can hope to achieve. Support work comes from some familiar faces like Jason Isaacs as Dr. Volmer, Celia Imrie, Carl Lumbly, Ivo Nandi, Harry Groener, and Adrian Schiller. However, it’s Mia Goth (Everest, 2015) who has the biggest impact on screen outside of DeHaan. Her unusual look and slightly-off mannerisms are perfect for the role of Hannah, who is so crucial to the twist.

Spanning two-and-a-half hours, the film abruptly flies off the rails in the final 15 minutes. It acts as a release for the stress it has caused, and as a reminder that director Verbinski likes to have fun with his films. It’s quite possible that the film will struggle initially to find an audience, but later find success as a cult favorite and/or midnight movie. Whether you deem it silly or creepy, love it or hate it, you’ll likely appreciate the look of the film and the creative surge of Verbinski. At a minimum, it will generate some talk about Big Pharma and how we seem to always be searching for a “cure” of the latest societal ailment … or you may just have nightmares about eels in your bathtub!

watch the trailer:

 

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SNITCH (2013)

February 24, 2013

snitch1 Greetings again from the darkness. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has carved out a terrific career alternating between major action movies (Fast Five) and comedy flicks (The Other Guys) … both which take advantage of his real life Hulk-like physique and presence. Apparently two film genres is not enough. This time out he attempts to transition to a serious dramatic role as the Construction Company owner-divorced/remarried-suburban father who will do anything for his quasi-estranged teenage son. This would have been a Harrison Ford role back in the 1990’s and probably better suited to Matt Damon today.

Jason (Rafi Gavron) makes a dumb mistake by accepting delivery of a shoebox full of Ecstacy from his best friend. Next thing you know, Jason has fallen victim to the exceptionally strict minimum sentence federal drug laws for first time offenders. Enter Jason’s earnest, hard-working dad who pushes the politically ambitious federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) to allow him to infiltrate the drug world in an effort to reduce his son’s sentence.

snitch2 John (The Rock) has a nice suburban home, with a nice second wife (Nadine Velazquez from Flight), a nice young daughter, and a stressed-out ex-wife (Melina Kanakardes from “CSI:NY”) whom he kinda blames for Jason’s mess. John has loads of family drama plus financial issues at work as he is trying to expand his business. Now he has to figure out how to get into the dirty drug distribution world. His first attempt leaves him face down in the dirt after getting his ass kicked – not a sight we are accustomed to with this giant of a man. Finally, he gets help from one of his ex-con employees (Jon Bernthal) who is trying to stay clean, but really needs the money John is offering.

A meeting with scary Michael Kenneth Williams (Chalky from “Boardwalk Empire”) leads to a meeting with a Mexican drug lord known as El Topo (Benjamin Bratt). John’s access to 18-wheelers is just what this drug cartel needed. For some reason, snitch3these brilliant drug dealers would rather trust some unknown trucker dude than spend part of their $83 million on buying their own rig. All logic aside, John works closely with a DEA Agent played by Barry Pepper, who is sporting the worst facial hair this side of Gandalf.

The director and co-writer is Ric Roman Waugh, who made his name as a super Hollywood stunt performer (and also directed Felon). His co-writer is Justin Haythe also wrote Revolutionary Road and the upcoming The Lone Ranger. The story is based on a true to life “PBS: Frontline” about a family who went through a similar ordeal. In spite of the overuse of the “shaky cam” there is some confusion on whether this is a political statement concerning the stringent drug laws, the abuse of power by political officials, or an insight into the moral dilemmas faced by “normal” types in this day and age. snitch4The script seems to exploit the issues in the same manner those with power exploit the first time offenders (often high school and college age kids).

The trailer is a bit misleading as the film only features two real action sequences and both are sampled in the trailer. This is more of a family drama with some moral dilemmas sprinkled in. Pepper and Bernthal are especially effective in their roles, while The Rock is just too distracting to play the typical suburban dad. He is a giant and you can’t ignore that he still looks like a world class wrestler and not a guy you would see at a PTA meeting. Still, if you don’t think too much, this one is entertaining enough for a February release.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see The Rock’s attempt to transition to serious drama

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you are expecting the next big time action flick from The Rock

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rieI5g9fgRc