A Cure For Wellness (2017)

16 Feb

When I first saw the trailer for Gore Verbinski‘s A Cure For WellnessI was flooded with excitement. A known horror director making a genre comeback with (what looked like, at least) an artfully driven psychological drama – what could go wrong?

Well…. a lot of things actually.

The film starts out with a young businessman (Dane DeHaan) named Lockhart who is put on assignment to track down his missing CEO in rural Sweden and bring him back to New York City so he can put the finishing touches on a corporate merger. Lockhart soon discovers that his boss has found a comfortable home at his new estate: a spa-like wellness residency center that uses experimental forms of hydrotherapy to cure its many patients. Things get complicated when Lockhart decides to do some investigating into the colorful history of the center, exposing a dark rabbit hole of medical malpractice amongst other terrible things that could only take place in rural Sweden.

Right off the bat, Verbinski struggles a bit with the tone. A blockbuster veteran, he sets up the drama with broad, vague narrative points and ignores the details (in this case, obvious plot holes) that good genre writers are accustomed to fleshing out before getting into the spooky stuff. In his more accessible films like Pirates of the Caribbeanthis setup works. But in the horror genre (and especially with a film that seems geared for adults with it’s R rating) you can’t get away without explaining the obvious, leading the film to play in that awkward space between cliche and camp.

The film takes it’s time getting to scares, but around the one hour mark things get really interesting and you can almost start to see all the horror ingredients come together to cook up something great. Just when you think the action is starting to take flight, we get some exposition explaining the used-too-often urban legend trope (locals saying something spooky about the property a long time ago and that’s why someone is acting spooky now) or the needless flashbacks of Lockhart’s childhood trauma. All of it feels like extra baggage that weighs the film down and extends its already-lengthy runtime.  Cut to Dane DeHaan snooping around and looking puzzled for a few good moments and then cut again to some gross-out imagery and then again back to more flashbacks/exposition ad infinitum. By the time the third act finally rolls around, the film feels too damn repetitive for any of the usual big reveals to even matter and instead the audience is just concerned with who gets to kill who.

There is a lot of cool things to admire with A Cure For Wellness; it looks absolutely stunning (minus that CGI deer) and as with Verbinski’s other films, you get a cool immersive world to get lost into. There are moments of genuine suspense and some great scenes that show off Verbinski as someone with a natural director’s eye.  Collectively though, it fails to add up to anything noteworthy and you get the feeling that the film is simply a sad example of a blockbuster director trying to find his footing in smaller genre territory and getting lost in the process.

Bottom Line: While its many strengths outweigh its smaller issues, A Cure For Wellness is really a mediocre horror film that so easily could have been a great one with a decent editor and genre writer in tow.  It does however double as a nice preview of what to expect when Trump repeals obamacare in a few years. 

cure-for-wellness-1-1

Rating: 6/10 

Film recipe: The Shining + Crimson Peak + Shutter Island + 80 minutes of Dane DeHaan making WTF faces

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Split (2017)

8 Feb

Back in the late 90’s and early 00’s, M. Night Shyamalan was the go-to director for plot-heavy genre fare.  Well received by critics and audiences alike,  his breakout film The Sixth Sense was nominated for a whopping 6 Oscars (when was the last time a horror film was nominated for Best Picture?) and became part of the pop-culture zeitgeist. A few hits and misfires afterward (mostly misfires) and the career of the man who was once revered by many as “The Next Hitchcock ” is in question. Enter Split, the film that seems destined to pivot Shyamalan back into the genre spotlight with a little help from the indie horror collective Blumhouse Productions.

Split is one of those premise-driven horror stories that borrows a few tropes from different aspects of the genre. A few teen girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) are abducted out of the blue by a mentally ill creeper (James McAvoy)  and are held hostage in some secluded underground bunker. We learn though some expository dialogue from a therapist named Dr. Fletcher (Becky Buckley) that our abductor Kevin is a man with multiple personalities (23 in fact) that can come and go as they please and seemingly take over Kevin’s personality at will. One is a child named Hedwig. One is a fashion designer named Barry. One is a diabetic named Jade. The most ruthless personality (we are told anyway) and the one who assumedly did the kidnapping is called Dennis, a clean freak with OCD who “enjoys watching little girls get undressed” So there’s that.

Split doesn’t waste any time getting to the action – we see the violence take place even before the opening title makes it way to the screen. Shyamalan does take his time however getting to any sort of suspense, with the first half of the film mostly being filled with two scenarios: 1) the teens awkwardly trying to figure out the particulars of their abduction/abductor and 2) Dr. Fletcher explaining these outright to the audience. It doesn’t quite fit together, and much of the film’s first half feels like Shyamalan isn’t confident enough to run with the premise he set up before his name even appeared in the opening credits. The dialogue for most of these scenes feels so forced and expository, and – at times – thinly veiled with camp aesthetics. I’m almost positive the first appearance of Hedwig was supposed to be more creepy than comical but the theatre I was in started laughing at (not with) McAvoy’s attempt at a 9-year-old boy who wants to brag about the color of his socks.

The film’s third act is when things get really interesting. After a prominent plot twist (a signature of the director’s) things go on overdrive and the Shyamalan with genuine talent shines like a bright beacon of cinematic dread. The last 30 minutes are surprisingly engaging and though not all the pieces of the narrative puzzle fall into place, you get the sense that Shyamalan is trying to flesh out some bigger ideas here. The momentum and suspense builds up at a tidy pace until a last minute cameo that feels nothing more than a shoehorned attempt to remind us that, yes – Shyamalan has directed some great horror movies in his filmography. Split doesn’t quite make the cut his other films have, but it’s still an enjoyable film nonetheless.

Bottom line: You might feel like Shyamalan himself has multiple directorial personalities, but a solid and satisfying third act effectively brings the director back into the horror spotlight. 

Rating: 7/10 

Film recipe: 10 Cloverfield Lane + Identity  

20th Century Women (2017)

2 Feb

What exactly does it mean to please a women? This is one of many questions Jaime (Lucas Zumann) asks his mother in the sharply-detailed period drama 20th Century Women Jaime, as we first see him, is caught at a bit of a crossroads, and is trying to find his natural place in the world. Growing up solely under the care of his mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) in late 70’s Santa Barbara California, the world is a confusing place. Especially so during adolescence, when punk rock, feminism, drugs, and pregnancy scares become guiding forces in Jaime’s life. “He needs a strong male influence” Dorothea says, “We need another man in this house..” Enter William (Billy Crudup), a friend and occasional lover of Dorothea who works on renovating the house in exchange for free rent. Then there is Julie (Elle Fanning), Jaime’s best friend who sleeps with (but never sleeps with) him some nights and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), the art school tennant who is recovering from cancer. These five characters (and the house they share together, their interactions with American culture and counterculture, and their experiences with love and sexuality) are what make up the backbone for 20th Century Women. 

Written and directed by Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker), 20th Century Women tells a breezy, patchwork narrative that feels authentically lifted straight from someone’s personal photo album of 40 years. The film is a pure snapshot of American 70’s culture, given to us through our eclectic set of characters – each with their own set of internal and external struggles. Formally, things get slightly experimental at times, fusing documentary footage from various historical events interspersed with dramatic scenes shot at higher or lower framerates or with blaring psychedelic colors. The plot jumps around from moment to moment and character to character so frequently which creates more of a specific aesthetic of time and place than any sort of dramatic tension.  At every opportunity, a different cultural beat is featured – though they are often simply given to us straight from a character’s retrospective voiceover. “We didn’t know that the Reagan era was just around the corner, or that AIDS would soon be a scary word…”  Dorothea explains near the end of the film, over a montage of B-roll news footage. All this culminates to form a nostalgic tribute to the value of shared American cultural experiences.

Bottom Line: When taken as a whole, 20th Century Women might miss the dramatic heights it was aiming for, but the many detailed, smaller moments of this film feel intensely relatable, excitingly alive, and sharply authentic. 

Rating: 7/10

Film Recipe: Boyhood + Diary of a Teenage Girl + A touch of Dazed and Confused

MOST ANTICIPATED FOR 2017

2 Jan

So he were are. 2016 is history and as we look back on the best films of the year, we can also look towards the future and what’s coming down the cinematic pipeline. Here are my top ten most anticipated films -(provided we make it far enough in the age of Trump to actually watch them).   You can check out last year’s most anticipated here.

 

10 – Molly’s Game 

What’s it about? A young skier who get’s her own FBI investigation after creating an international poker series.

Why is it on the list? Aaron Sorkin is stepping into the director’s seat here, adapting a memoir by Molly Bloom. One of the finest screenwriters of our time, I’m curious to how Sorkin does behind the camera. Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba costar.

Release date – Unknown 

 

 

 

9 – Annihilation  

What’s it about?  All we know at this stage is that the plot has something to do with a team of scientists heading into the jungle for a secretive experiment of some kind.

Why is it on the list? Because Ex Machina was one of the most wholly original and singular sci-fi films in recent memory and Alex Garland has teamed up again with Oscar Issac. Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Natalie Portman round out a dream team of actors.

Release date – Unknown

 

8 – Wind River 

What’s it about? A Native American reservation becomes a murder scene which prompts an FBI investigation led by a veteran tracker.

Why is it on the list? Another accomplished screenwriter making a directorial debut. Taylor Sheridan‘s scripts for Sicario and Hell or High Water were both brilliant and I’m curios to see the acting duo of Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner in a non-superhero context.

Release date – Unknown for now, but I’m hoping to catch this at Sundance.

7 – The Bad Batch 

What’s it about? A blood soaked love story of sorts set in Texas. Also, cannibals.

Why is it on the list? I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ana Lily Amirpour’s Iranian-western-vampire coming of age story A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, but I was intrigued enough to see she had major directing potential. This new effort seems to have a Tarantino-influenced vibe and features a slew of great character actors including Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Giovani Ribisi, and Diego Luna.

Release date: Though it’s played a few festivals, a widespread release date is unknown.  

6 – I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore 

What’s it about? A revenge thriller about a women tracking down the thieves who burglarized her house.

Why is it on the list? Fresh from his role in Jeremy Saulnier’s excellent, white-knuckler Green Room, actor Macon Blair takes a shot at directing his own original script. The premise sounds gleefully Coen-esc.

Release date: February 24 

5 – Mother  

What’s it about? “…a couple whose relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home…” – IMDB

Why is it on the list? Because it’s Darren Aronofsky’s first film since the interesting-but-ultimately sub-par Noah.  Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Domhnall Gleeson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris star.

Release date: Unknown 

4 – Dunkirk 

What’s it about?  “Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II” – IMDB

Why is it on the list? Christopher Nolan is one of the rare few directors who can effectively blend pedestrian blockbuster fare with an inspired artistic vision.  This has potential to be one of 2017’s biggest critical and commercial hits.

Release: July 21 

3 – Lemon  

What’s it about? A boy gets dumped by his blind girlfriend.

Why is it on the list? Though Lemon is her first feature, Janicza Bravo has one of the boldest directorial voices in indie film today mixing awkward sensibilities reminiscent of films like Napoleon Dynamite and the works of Todd Solondz and Wes Anderson. Check out her short Gregory Goes Boom!  (NSFW) which also stars Michael Cera and Brett Gelman to get a taste of what we might expect from Lemon.

Release date: Unknown 

2-  Blade Runner 2049 

What’s it about? A sequel to the 1982 Ridley Scott film Blade Runner. 

Why is it on this list? Though most modern sequels/reboots don’t hold a candle to their origins, the fact that this is being helmed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Arrival) and shot by cinematographer legend Roger Deakins (1984, No Country For Old Men, Skyfall, and so, soooo many more) might be reason enough to make an exception. The icing on the cake is a top-notch cast consisting of Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Robyn Wright, Mckenzie Davis, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto and Barkhad Abdi.

Release date: Oct 6

1 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

 

What’s it about? “A teenager’s attempts to bring a brilliant surgeon into his dysfunctional family takes an unexpected turn.” – IMDB

Why is it on the list? The Lobster was unexpectedly my favorite film of 2016 and, I’m itching to see what Yorgos Lanthimos is cooking up.

Release date – Unknown 

 

 

BEST FILMS OF 2016!

30 Dec

yes, it’s that time of year again folks.  Break out the champagne because 2016 is finally done for. As we collectivly brace ourselves for the Trump shitshow that’s arriving in the new year we can look back at the movies which expressed all of our anxiety-ridden fears about this past year. Here are my top 25 films presented in a clever video supercut for your viewing enjoyment.

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/197551059″>Top 25 Films of 2016!</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/reedmovies123″>Reed Movies</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

Be sure to check back soon for a list of what i’m looking forward to seeing in 2017

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

1 Dec

Celebrity fashion designer Tom Ford returns to the director’s chair with his sophomore effort Nocturnal Animals. Boasting an all-star cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Armie Hammer, Isla Fisher, Laura Linney, Karl Glusman, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the film focuses on the relationship between Susan, a successful L.A.-based installation artist, and Edward, her novelist ex-husband. One day at work, Susan receives a manuscript from Edward, in which he seemingly writes himself (or at least an idealized version of himself) in as the main character of a pulpy crime novel set in rural Texas. The film follows Susan’s ever-shifting perspective as she is moved enough from reading the work (titled Nocturnal Animals) to reconcile her shady romantic history with Edward. Nocturnal Animals as a film dives into the story-within-a-story framework to show us onscreen the events Susan reads about, as well as her ever-changing mental state. The fictional and non-fictional worlds collide in more ways than expected.

Ford, a director who has taken great interest in the psychological headspaces of his characters, is at the top of his game. It’s surprising to see a director with only one film under the belt (Ford also directed the Oscar-nominated drama A Single Man) deliver such solid results. Everything about Nocturnal Animals bleeds a sophisticated and professional kind of drama; whether the on-screen events are focused on something as explosive as a rape or as subtle as a romantic dinner conversation, the film sustains hefty amounts of dramatic tension throughout.

Much of Nocturnal Animals’ success also has to go to its acting. Gyllenhaal and Shannon are both some of the best powerhouse talents working today, and they each bring enormous amounts of frantic energy to the table. It’s Amy Adams who really brings the film’s emotional core home; she has a heartfelt subtext to her complex and layered character that binds the film’s dual stories together. Nocturnal Animals also looks amazing. Shot by Oscar-nominated Seamus McGarvey (Anna Karenina, We Need To Talk About Kevin), the film displays elegant camerawork that compliments the multifaceted storytelling. Though the melodrama runs a bit too thick at points and some moments seem to serve little purpose and disrupt the narrative flow (one flashback tragically interrupts one of the films’ most suspenseful scenes), Nocturnal Animals is exactly the sort of sophisticated filmmaking hollywood needs more of.

Bottom Line: With an emphasis on story and performance, director Tom Ford creates a multi-layered and stylish drama supported by an all-star cast. 

Rating: 8/10 

Film recipe: Gone Girl + Blue Valentine + Mystic River

Arrival (2016)

16 Nov

Arrivalthe latest from director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Enemy), adds to a recent tradition of what has been termed “the science-conscious sci-fi film.” Following in the steps of films like Interstellar and The Martian , Arrival presents us with a problem that lands squarely on the shoulders of scientists for figuring out.

Here, we have Louise (Amy Adams) a linguists university professor who has been called in by a secret military faction led by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), because of her optimal translation skills and her previous clearance with handling government-classified areas. The reason is simple: mysterious extraterrestrial ships have been found across the globe and the US government is desperate to make some sort of contact with whoever is inside these ships in an effort to get answers before public panic sets in. Of course, communication with alien beings proves to be easier said than done, and increasing tensions between world governments escalate while the probability of finding a peaceful Q&A session fades to violence.

Villeneuve is no doubt one of the most talented directors working today and he brings a singular film adapted from a short story written by Ted Chiang. As a director who prefers subtlety over boldness, Villeneuve’s take on the alien invasion drama draws tension from the moments that aren’t shown on screen rather than those that are given to us. Most of the events are presented in minimalistic fashion (a stylistic choice that hasn’t been seen in the genre since maybe Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin?) with an emphasis on the physiological versus physical conflict within the characters. A chopped-up narrative featuring flashbacks and flashforwards adds confusion early in the film but makes its place known in the narrative later on.

Supporting Amy Adams is Jeremy Renner playing Ian, a theoretical physicist who teams with Louise in an effort to reach understanding of the extra-planetary visitors. Though both are fine actors, and give much to the film individually, the pseudo love-interest stuff between the couple feels fake and forced. Standard, sure-fire dialogue is everywhere in Arrival, where many characters’ lines feel like either direct exposition or a statement of the blatantly obvious settings. But like most Villeneuve’s work, it’s the sentiments in between the lines that becomes the most compelling. Here, we have vast thematic inklings of philosophy, language, and the nature of violence sprinkled around the obvious “don’t shoot, they are peaceful” lines that place Arrival neatly into blockbuster territory. The result is a typical story wrapped in an artful, minimized, and ideologically-heavy package.

Bottom Line: Denis Villeneuve’s latest focuses more on big ideas than it does big explosions, which might be a bit trying for viewers expecting the traditional alien invasion. Though it dives into melodrama territory a bit too often, Arrival is a well-directed piece of sci-fi that feels paradoxically both intimate and ambitious. 

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipie: Interstellar (2014) + Solaris (2002)