Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Cure for Wellness (2017)

A Cure for Wellness (2017)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth

A good place to start this review would be by mentioning that director Gore Verbinski was at one point attached to direct a film based on an extremely popular and successful video game called Bioshock.  Strangely enough I finished playing all three Bioschock games last week! I was so hooked, I had no social life for a while. I played all three games back to back! Upon finishing the Bioshock trilogy I was left with the notion that these games would in fact make fantastic movies and that if Gore Verbinski, a director I’ve come to admire, was going to be the one helming the film adaptation, I could rest assured It would be good adaptation. Sadly, just eight weeks before the film was to begin shooting, and after much pre-production, Universal got cold feet because Verbinski wanted the film to be a hard ‘R’ rated violent film and the studio didn’t want to risk 200 million on a big budget horror film. So Universal Studios pulled the plug on the project. Apparently Verbinski really had an itching to make that film because here comes a not surprisingly similar idea in the form of A Cure for Wellness (2017). So are the rumors true? Is this film heavily influenced by the game? And video game connections aside, was the film any good?

A Cure for Wellness tells the story of a young businessman named Lockhart, who is sent by his superiors to bring back his company’s CEO. You see, the rich old man went on a trip to the Swiss Alps to visit a ‘Wellness Spa’ and ended up never coming back. Lockhart’s mission is to bring him back at any cost because the future of the company is hanging on the balance of this one mission. The mysterious “spa” is rumored to have these curative waters, which can heal people, and quite possibly, give them immortality! Is it all on people’s minds? Or is there something else at work here? Will Lockhart ever return from the Spa that no one returns from?

So yes, the film does in fact have many, many things in common with Bioschock. It has leeches, it has lighthouses, it has crazy old people hell bent on “perfection” and beauty. It involves the idea of sucking the life out of people, so yeah, fans of Bioshock will find a special delight in seeing this film because it is in fact sort of like a Bioschock film, without the more expensive elements of the game, like having an entire city underwater. But even though it does have similarities to these games, it’s also very much its own thing. Video games similarities aside, the good news is that I truly enjoyed this creepy as hell movie. It’s the kind of old school horror film that does not in any way rely on jump scares, or cheap loud noises to creep you out.  Nope, these scares are well orchestrated my friends! The last time that Gore Verbinski took a stab at horror was with The Ring (2002) and I remember being blown away by that one the first time I saw it in theaters. It was a PG-13 horror film that showed me that when a filmmaker truly tries, the PG-13 rating doesn’t even matter! Of course, when a film is R rated you can go further and Verbinski really milks his ‘R’ rating in A Cure for Wellness. There are some truly gruesome bits here, but there’s also the intensity of the very adult thematic elements.

Verbinski gives the whole film this classy vibe, this felt like an old school horror film. How refreshing is it to see a horror film not aimed at teenagers? Where there isn’t a comic relief character saying stupid jokes after something frightening happens? I thank the horror gods that finally, here’s a horror movie through and through, trying its hardest to creep you out by slowly building on the terror and the paranoia, instead of treating us like idiots. So my hats down to Verbinski, this felt like a true horror film. It sinks you into the horror and then goes further, darker. The atmospheric elements on this film were handled splendidly. I notice how hard Verbinski was attempting to hold onto that dreadful atmosphere all the time. He made sure there were gloomy clouds, lonely hallways, creepy looking characters, a dreadful color palette. To me the best horror films are those that don’t let go of the atmosphere, as an audience, we like to stay in that spooky world and we want that spooky vibe all the time, and on this film we get it. From the spooky castle at the top of the hill, to the gloomy weather and the spooky ghost like young girl that looms around the spa, Gorvinski was trying to evoke doom, dread and isolation. He achieved it in my book. From a visual standpoint the film is fantastic. Verbinski succeeded in creating amazing visuals with this one. Like Kubrick, you could pause many moments on this film and they’d feel like a painting. There’s a lot of play with colors on this film, but not the kind that pop out, instead this film shows us muted colors that send the image of death and decay to our brains. And if its not grimmy dirty, its neat and almost too perfect. A clinical sort of perfection, which augments how some of the characters search for it.

And speaking about the films influences, well, they were all over the place. Starting with the most obvious one: Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973). A Cure for Wellness definitely follows that formula  in which the main character is falling into the spider’s web, little by little. He doesn’t realize what he is getting himself into until it is too late. It brought to mind other films like Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island (2010) and even Roman Polansky’s Rosermary’s Baby (1968), the latter when it comes to the music on this film, which is perfect on certain scenes. So yeah, I loved it to death. It’s a film that explores the very nature of religion and why it exists. Why are people afraid to leave a cult? Why do we end up feeling like religion will save us? Why do we search for it? Do we need it? So here we have a film that plays with important themes, it’s not just another empty horror film. On the downside, the film does run for two hours and a half, I personally didn’t mind them because I find this theme fascinating, but I’m sure some audiences will grow impatient. My best advice would be to go into it expecting a slow burner that at the end will be worth the trip. At times I felt it was going too slow for its own good, but then bang, it reeled me in again. I saw it last night and ended up dreaming I was in that damned spa! Also, I feel like a second viewing is needed to truly absorb this one, it has a lot of story to it. Basically, I was a satisfied costumer with this movie.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Title: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Director: Gareth Edwards

Cast: Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Ben Mendelsohn
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year for various reasons. Reason number one is audiences can’t get enough of Star Wars and number two, they wanted a better Star Wars film than The Force Awakens (2015), which though fun and entertaining, was just a carbon copy of various other Star Wars films. Not that The Force Awakens didn’t have any original elements to it, it did, and it had its fare share of awesome moments to spare no doubt, but it was too much like Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). People wanted a Star Wars film that would break new ground, expand the universe just a little more and The Force Awakens didn’t have enough of that I guess. So here comes Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, promising us a new take on the Star Wars universe, this time there would be no Jedi’s, no magic, no light saber duels, what Rogue One was proposing us was perhaps something totally unheard of in the Star Wars franchise,  a nitty-gritty war movie. Did it deliver?

The premise for Rogue One stems on that mission that occurs somewhere between Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005) and Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). Rogue One is all about the mission that the rebels go through in order to retrieve the schematics for the Death Star, so they can discover its weakness and destroy it. We get a group of rebels, who are so rebellious they even rebel against the rebels themselves and go out on their own mission. Most of us know how the story turns out because after all this is a prequel, this is an in between tale, so it’s not so much about what will eventually happen, it’s more about how they go about it. How exactly do they do it?

So at least from an originality stand point, I have to give Rogue One: A Star Wars Story kudos because it’s not a carbon copy of anything, it’s at long last a somewhat original story. I mean, if I was to say it was a little bit like anything out  there, I’d have to mention that the opening sequence did echo Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards (2009) a bit, but that’s about it. Rogue One is a one way ticket to hell in which the mission matters more than those trying to achieve it, like many a war movie. The whole War Movie angle is very satisfying, especially when it comes to those awesome and extended space battles which are very complex. It was very focused on those space dog fights, loved that about it.

Kudos to director Gareth Edwards for making a Star Wars movie with decent performances, excellent action sequences and good effects! And all without light sabers and Jedi’s? That’s a feat right there! How original was it to have a Star Wars film take place on a beach? I mean, did you ever think you’d see Storm Troopers or AT-AT’s on a freaking beach? Nope, but there they were fighting amongst the tide and the palm trees! A totally new environment, which goes in tune with Lucas’s formula for his Star Wars films: the ever changing environments. This one takes place in a forest, another one is in a dessert; the other one is in the freezing tundra and so on. So Gareth Edwards didn’t deviate from Lucas’s Star Wars formula, he simply gave it his own spin and sometimes even surpassed Lucas in terms of direction. For example, I loved how Gareth Edwards got to squeeze out intense performances from his actors, something Lucas was never successful at. On Rogue One we get some real drama, the dialog doesn’t feel cheesy or forced. It was delivered with intensity and emotion. I mean, this movie was dramatic and had an overall dead serious tone to it. The robot of the film, Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO does add some levity to the film, but on the upside K-2SO is not annoying or silly like C3-PO could be. So on this film, even the robots act well.

The film is not without its missteps though. First, Felicity Jones does not make the strongest lead. She’s supposed to be a rebel leader, but her performance just doesn’t transmit that. By comparison, Rey from The Force Awakens (2015) felt like a much stronger character. It’s not that she’s bad in the role, she does fine, but she doesn’t excel, she doesn’t come off as memorable. She didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. Second weak spot comes in the form of CGI replicas of human characters. In my book, this has never worked well because humans are too hard to duplicate. We’ve seen this tried before in films like TRON: Legacy (2010), a film in which we saw a CGI version of Jeff Bridges. So far, Disney films are the pioneers in this field. The character they brought back to life for Rogue One is Grand Moff Tarkin, originally played by Peter Cushing.  While the CGI replica of Cushing does look, move and talk like Cushing, you can tell it’s not a living breathing thing and so it’s like right there in your face how fake it is and it kinda takes you out of the movie. I would have left these CGI characters in the shadows, or not focus so much on their faces, I mean, as it is it feels like Disney studios simply felt so sure of themselves with their CGI creation that they went and put it right there, up front, for all to see how good they are at computer effects. But truth is no matter how well made these computer effects are, you can always tell when it’s not a human. I really hope film studios will stop doing this sort of thing. To me it’s disrespectful to the actor who’s passed away. But you be the judges on this matter, what say you my dear readers? Should actors be duplicated by computers in this way? To me nothing can replace a real live actor.

But these are minor hiccups in an otherwise amazing Star Wars movie. If you are a fan, you will love this movie. It is not as in your face with the fan service as The Force Awakens was, there are still inside jokes here and there throughout the movie that only true blue hardcore fans of Star Wars will get. Like for example, Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor has no problems in shooting storm troopers first! You’ll see characters you recognize from A New Hope scattered all throughout the movie. You’ll see familiar spaceships, familiar landscapes, aliens and dialog that hints at other films. This is a movie made for Star Wars fans, but without being in your face about it like The Force Awakens was. Final words on Rogue One is this is one of the best Star Wars movies to come around in a long time. So far Disney is doing a fantastic job with these Star Wars movies, can’t wait to see what Episodes 8 and 9 have in store for us. With the amount of money these movies are making right now, I’m sure we’ll be seeing Star Wars movies for a long time to come.

Rating:  5 out of 5  


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