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A Cure for Wellness

Literally working oneself to death is far from a new concept – in fact, Japan even has a word for it: karōshi. With the ever-daunting stress of the working world, it’s no wonder that those privileged enough would seek whatever means necessary to find a sense of ease, namely in the form of “wellness retreats.”

cure-wellness-1130-jpg-824x0_q71_crop-scaleWhen the CEO of a million-dollar-bigwig-somethingorother, finds himself lost in the wiles of the Volmer Institute, the company sends their youngest board member, Lockhart (Dan DeHaan) to fetch him back.

Tucked away in the Swiss Alps, the Volmer Institute is a private establishment that prides itself in the finest in quality care, taking advantage of all the environment has to offer – namely the water source.

Once Lockhart finds getting his boss out is more difficult than imagined, it becomes far more clear that these doctors are up to a much more sinister agenda.

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As much as I hate to say it, I think there’s such a thing as atmospheric over-saturation. If you want a movie that looks like a beautiful screensaver, you got it. Well, if you like eels, that is.

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Why did it have to be eels?

Initially, I was intrigued. The trailer did it’s job. That and I’m a sucker for institutional psychological thrillers. As the story progressed, I was drawn in even more. However, there was a noticeable drag. In fact, there’s really no reason for this film to be 2.5hrs long – we could have easily lost an accumulative hour of atmospheric shots and Mia Goth being ogled.

Admittedly, it was the story that kept me interested, as opposed to actual character development – which is to say there was none. The protagonist remains static, the obviously evil doctor is evil, and the doe-eyed damsel is the personification of the virgin-whore complex.

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Pictured: Depressive pixie dream girl.

Hannah’s character is innocent while curiously alluring – locked in an ivory tower like a depressive pixie dream girl, wistfully humming and wandering barefoot.

And on the note of women in this film, I’m pretty sure Gore Verbinski doesn’t know how periods work. (I’m just saying, there was a concerning amount of blood…but I guess it is a horror movie…)

Snark aside, A Cure for Wellness is a gorgeous movie. It does its best to channel new-Hollywood atmospheric horror while playing up visceral scares for maximum discomfort (albeit, the CGI was not good). Though it has the makings of a successful horror story, the results leave this story rather underwhelming.

As a Mighty Boosh fan, this was running through my head throughout the film – enjoy.

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Arrival

Aliens have finally made contact, and the first thing we need to know is, “Why are they here?” In order to find out, the military commissions linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to head a team to break the enigmatic creatures’ code. As Louise draws closer, the rest of the world grows weary, edging on the brink of an intergalactic war.

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Invasion of the Lakrisbåts

Arrival is an incredibly refreshing take on the alien genre. Rather than focusing on the fear, the overall narrative is based knowledge through communication. Usually the rule for filmmaking is “show, not tell,” so to have a story based around speaking, this grand undertaking is anything but boring.

Of course, fear comes into play – and when it does, it’s absolutely infuriating. In fact, I think it was wrong to demonize the military/government as this film did; yes, they couldn’t inform the public of anything in the event that they were terribly wrong, but – as we’ve established with the power of communication – words are better than silence, but it takes time to produce the right words.

Additionally, I feel that a lot of subtlety was lost in this story – and frankly, I’m not sure how to feel about it: Between the circular nature of their language/time, to crossing literal barriers, it’s that fine line between clever and overdone.

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Denis Villeneuve marvels us again with his gorgeous cinematography.

Many folks claim that this is a film that will restore your faith in humanity. I say that’s a stretch, but it’s certainly a story we could use right now. In all, Arrival is an unexpectedly lovely film worth the watch.

…This has been stuck in my head ever since.

Looking Through ‘Black Mirror’

Ever since its arrival on Netflix, I have been completely enthralled with Black Mirror. If you are under a rock and unfamiliar with the series, I think it’s fair to call it Twilight Zone meets futurology/media commentary; All but the first episode are based in a gritty sci-fi future – not gritty in the Mad Max sense, more that the series not only displays fantastic concepts, but also dour consequences.

Black Mirror is an anthological series, consisting of six episodes original episodes, six “Netflix original” episodes, and a Christmas special. For the heck of it, I decided to rank them from my least to most favorite – because lists are fun! There will be spoilers as we go, but hey, if you haven’t seen any of it, this may (or may not) persuade you. But here’s a hint: I definitely dug the original British run over the American involvement – for the most part, anyway.

13. S3E6: Hated in the Nation
Kinda coincidental, I suppose. Once you follow through the harrowing fantasies of this series, the finale is disappointing, to say the least.

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Bees?

One of the biggest critiques regarding the Netflix expansion is that these episodes stray from the formulaic pacing of the originals – also the narrative tends to lean more on characters than world-building. Hated in the Nation offers neither. Personally, I felt this to be a drawn-out sci-fi Law & Order episode rather than an introspective commentary on society.

Okay, sure there was the whole twist where the public put their money where their mouth was, but it all felt very shallow, if not boring, compared to the girth of previous episodes. Also just a waste of Kelly Macdonald. Moving on.

12. S3E2: Playtest
As much as I appreciated the Twilight Zone-esque zinger at the end, I feel like that wasn’t enough to warrant sitting through 30 minutes of travel montage. The AR was cool and all, but ultimately mediocre when set against heavier subjects. As mentioned, since this season had more character focus, I think it’s worth mentioning that this protagonist didn’t really garner much empathy from me either.

11. S2E3: The Waldo Moment
waldo-600x399Picture Triumph the Comic Insult Dog on acid, and then place him in this year’s election. That’s pretty much this episode. Being a more character-focused episode, this one lost me a little bit, because I found myself more interested in how the government was to be run rather than the comedian’s spiral into dissociative madness. Maybe I’m a little heartless, or maybe I just wasn’t that into it.

10. Black Mirror: White Christmas
There are many things to appreciate about this Christmas special: the accumulative use of technology, multiple emotional gut-punches, Jon Hamm… But really, this is an episode that sends you reeling. My only issue is wondering how Hamm’s character is supposed to survive if he’s completely blocked out (maybe he can just order groceries online), but at the same time, this is an incredibly interesting take on solitary confinement – more about “blocking” later.

The story itself is enjoyable (in that edge-of-your-seat sense), and was ultimately a great one-off. Definitely finish the series before watching this, if you haven’t yet.

 

9. S3E3: Shut Up and Dance
Much like a later entry on this list, Shut Up and Dance is a more realistic parable rather than morose fantasy. Extreme realism sure, but still frightening. I feel like this is what my parents thought would happen if I had a Myspace.

8. S2E2: White Bear
One of the grimmest episodes (arguably), that makes one wonder what kind of punishment is truly justifiable. The tension is pretty fantastic throughout, with a twist that sends you reeling. I really did enjoy this episode, alas there were others I liked more.

7. S1E2: Fifteen Million Merits
This was an episode where things started getting cool. We have a distopia, set with multiple commentaries of daily life: reality tv, fat-hate, living through social media, etc. Take all of this and crank it up to 11 and you have Fifteen Million Merits – sort of. This is an episode that truly needs to be seen and experienced. It’s surreal enough but still has heart.

6. S3E1: Nosedive

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Welcome back, Bryce Dallace Howard.

This episode was a great start for a new season (especially aiming for an American audience); despite the social downfall of our protagonist, she rediscovers the power of self-expression…albeit behind bars. So yes, a cringey high-note, but a high-note nonetheless. If Charlie Brooker decides to do another holiday special, I’d love to see a cameo of Lacie doing some sort of menial job with a smile on her face.

5. S1E1: The National Anthem
The National Anthem is less about futurism and more a satire of modern media, and frankly, it’s a weird start for the series. It’s the perfect “what would you do?” scenario where truly no one wins, but it’s such an amazing stinger: the world would rather watch a man screw a pig rather than ensuring a woman’s safety. It’s so devastatingly dark, not to mention played to my Dogme 95 fandom. Why I prefer The National Anthem over Shut Up and Dance: That twist was more satisfying than bad wolf internet trolls.

4. S3E5: Men Against Fire
As Agent Teddy Daniels once pondered, “Which would be worse – to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?” Take this question and mix in some warfare, a massive dash of augmented reality, and you have Men Against Fire. This episode was an incredibly heavy experience, especially considering that the AR didn’t end in the warzone.

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3. S3E4: San Junipero
This episode has led to some rifts between cohorts, but I’m standing my ground on this. Yes, it is comparatively “too happy,” but I love the amount of depth in these characters. The end of this episode sparks all sorts of discussion of theology and second-chances. Despite the heavy-handed nature of these topics, it was so nice for this episode to breathe some levity and hope – even if a massive hack or crash could destroy everything, but we’re not thinking about that. Let’s keep riding that nostalgia wave, just for a little bit longer.

2. S1E3: The Entire History of You
I personally see this episode as the flagship for the series. It’s got a crazy concept with tons of societal implications, and we get to see everything go wrong for someone because entire-history-of-you2of their own paranoia. You know how right as you fall asleep, the most embarrassing memory pops into your head? Imagine having access to that and being able to zoom and enhance.

This concept also allows people to be “blocked” and forgotten, taking selective sharing to a whole new level. It’s interesting to think about forcing someone out of your head so literally, especially when they are trying so hard to be there. It’s these ideas, as well as the imagery, that makes this episode so haunting.

1. S2E1: Be Right Back
In an age where facebook profiles become literal, living shrines, people are finding new ways of coping with loss. Be Right Back essentially personifies the struggle of letting go in a time where reminders of lost loved ones are just a click away. This is an episode that brought me to ugly tears, and thusly I tell everyone to watch.

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Kubo and the Two Strings

Just look at this trailer.

At first glance, I fell in love: the stop-motion mixed with a gorgeous cover of one of my favorite songs made my heart and imagination soar. Not to mention the hype in more recent ads, commending the film’s beauty and depth – I was stoked, to say the least. Alas, I left my seat feeling …well, underwhelmed.

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Even with these spooky badasses.

It’s strange to have a Japanese story with a predominately white cast – well, maybe not strange, after all, this has been happening for decades, why stop now? (Despite his appearance in the trailer, George Takei had maybe five lines.)

Though I do have to say that the film is objectively lovely – an absolute spectacle, but suffers under the weight of its own mythos; I found myself begging for more mysticism and lore, but I was only met with the same run-of-the-mill lessons of the importance of story-telling and familial commemoration. Not that these things aren’t important, but maybe I was expecting more depth or at least some deviation of some sort – or hey, maybe some sort of recognition of the shamisen’s significance and history?

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More on Kubo’s mom would have been fantastic.

Speaking of the shamisen, the score and tonality was gorgeous. I’m not sure if it was an issue of time or studio restrictions, but I would have appreciated this film a lot more if it revolved around more myth and magic – I want to know how Kubo learned about his gifts and if and how he was taught these abilities.

And as I mentioned, this is a spectacle – especially in 3D. Director Travis Knight and Laika are no strangers to the third dimension, and they work to capture the potential of this extra space. After all, this is a physical, hand-crafted medium, and I think that deserves some extra respect.

I felt pretty divided at the end of this one. It was lovely, but needed a lot more oomf. There’s a lot of heart to be had, but stops short of definition.

Big Eyes

I am kicking myself for not seeing this movie sooner. As a self-proclaimed kitsch enthusiast, I’ve always been familiar with the works of Margaret Keane – I even knew that for a time that her husband, Walter, claimed to have painted some of her works. To learn the scope and impact of this pop art movement, however, was beyond my belief. I think that it is important that this story is told, and the execution of said story could not be more apt than through the lens of Tim Burton.

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The color tones and saturation really got to me in this one.

 

22BB31BC00000578-0-image-21_1417127140342Big Eyes steps back from the spectacle and leans on solely on story through character; Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz play off of each other seamlessly. Adams’ portrayal of a tortured artist is empathetic and powerful.

When Waltz as Walter Keane starts twisting that knife, you feel it. Each turn makes you sick to your stomach, which makes Margaret’s victory all the more satisfying. And it’s not like he’s a villain from the get-go; you can see these people fall in love, and it makes you wonder if he was truly intending on using her from the beginning, or if inspiration struck and things snowballed from there. (Though, I’m thinking a combination for two.)

Even if you can’t stand her artwork, Big Eyes is an important film. This a story of a woman who struggles in a time where men were meant to be relied upon – a woman who lacks confidence, who is told to not even try because “people don’t like girl art” anyway. To see her rise and fall and finally stand up for her self, it just makes you feel good, you know?

Frankly, this is a story that needs to be seen – it’s just a shame that it received such little lift. Though the focused artwork of the film may be dated, the theme could not be more relevant today.

The Witch

After being banished by the church, William (Ralph Ineson) and his family of Puritans are forced to begin a new life on the cusp of the unknown – in this case, a small plot of land by a spooky thicket of woods. After their newborn goes missing, the family slowly turns on eachother with the eldest, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), at the brunt of the misery.

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Sleep, pray, chores.

Rather than focusing on romance and mysticism, this film relies on a slow-building dread and paranoia that is prevalent in New England folklore. Admittedly, I personally found it difficult to empathize with Thomasin’s plight – I mean, it’s the 1600’s and everything’s terrible (plus I don’t think they actually spoke like that). It’s amazing anyone survived, really – but I digress. However, this sort of thing this does not distract from the viewing experience.

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Small children were especially terrible.

 The Witch is beautifully atmospheric; the isolation, terror and desperation is palpable, and the fact that the scares rely more on practical effects makes the feature all the more admirable.

No spoilers here, but I just wanted to note that I enjoyed the twist enough, but I feel that Caleb’s big scene really drove this film home.

Apologies for being so brief, but admittedly, it’s difficult to talk about a movie like this without major spoilers. I will say, if you dig older horror, this is right up your alley: no jumpscares or torture porn, just natural discomfort. Conversely, I felt a little “meh” by the end of it. I mean, I’m glad there wasn’t an anti-ending, but I think I wanted more of a bang.

Perhaps I’m just spoiled.

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Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

 

 

The Revenant

Well, the Oscar noms are out (well, have been for a bit – sorry I haven’t been around), and The Revenant has swept the charts. Admittedly, I’m not one to rush out and try to see all the nominated films before the big event, but regardless of the buzz, this was definitely on my list.

So, does DiCaprio scream, cry and drool enough for that Oscar?

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Maybe.

A few things to get out of the way: yes, this is inspired by a book by the same title – I have not read this book, so I will pretend it does not exist. Likewise with the Richard Harris film also inspired by said book. No comparisons will be made, and there are no previous biases – even though I am a sucker for Iñárritu’s style. And Tom Hardy – but that’s besides the point.

The Revenant is a story of trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), and an expedition that goes terribly, terribly wrong; after a brutal grizzly attack, Glass is left for dead after witnessing fellow trapper, John Fitzgerald (Hardy), murdering his son. Struck with grief and rage, Glass finds the will to survive the wilderness and seek his revengeance.

Survivalist stories are often meant to display the determination of man against the elements, often while displaying the internal journey of said man finding meaning and purpose set against the wild.

What makes The Revenant stand out is not only is one of the most ferociously realistic portrayals of wilderness, but thanks to the haunting use of sound and space, as a viewer you feel completely vulnerable. The Revenant is two-and-a-half hours of sheer brutality, as we witness a man struggle against every kind of conflict.

It’s not all gore and manly men. Well, okay, most of it is. However, betwixt the utter savagery, Iñárritu captures Glass’ internal journey beautifully.

What is also worth mentioning is despite Fitzgerald’s seemingly villainous actions, he’s not exactly a villain. In fact, there is really no black and white in terms of morality in this film (except for those Frenchmen), it’s just 1800s dog-eat-dog survivalism – constantly reminding you that nature is scary and does not care about your feelings.

In all, The Revenant is not an easy watch, but it is certainly unforgettable.

Final Grade: A

Netfix: The Suicide Theory

Chances are, you’ve seen this movie pop around your recommendations but totally ignored it way more than the other recommended films/shows, and I think I know why.

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The poster’s shitty. Shitty and forgettable. Which is a dirty shame really, because The Suicide Theory has a really cool premise:

Percival (Leon Cain), frankly, wants to kill himself – but for some reason, he can’t. It’s not that he hasn’t tried, he just keeps on living all the time. So what’s a man to do? Hire someone to do it for you – this is where Steven (Steve Mouzakis) comes in. For Steven, what seems to be a done deal opens a whole new can of worms instead.

The Suicide Theory is kind of like if M. Night Shyamalan had made The Butterfly Effect, but with less time travel and angst. In Australia. With no budget. In fact, I just wanted to check my facts with the last statement I made there, and just learned that this film was funded by Indiegogo! No wonder their poster’s so pedantic. (Then again, there are great-looking promo materials on the Indiegogo page, so I’m not sure what’s going on with Netflix.)

I don’t want to reveal more about the plot, so let’s just get down to brass tacks.

The Good
To avoid repeating myself further down the page, I want to note that The Suicide Theory does a great job keeping your attention. The tone and pace was consistent, and personally I was pretty happy with the ending.

Hugo Weaving, you are not.

Hugo Weaving, you are not.

The Bad
Sometimes the acting is pretty poor, but all things considered, it’s not even that bad. Well, they did go a little hard on the “fate” thing.

The Final Thought
Some say convoluted, I say charming; The Suicide Theory is pretty neat and wraps itself up nicely. It’s a story not only of fate, but also sheer cause and consequence. If you have 90 minutes, this is definitely worth a peek.

Crimson Peak

In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author [(Mia Wasikowska)] is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers.

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I know, it’s lame that I stole the synopsis from IMDB on this one, but frankly, I can’t write anything as accurately flowery at the moment. I say “accurately flowery” because well, this movie is surface-level gorgeous. It’s like Mary Shelley threw up on Charles Dickens, all for Guillermo del Toro to film through a goth-technicolor filter – complete with glitter and ooze. 

And poofy sleeves.

And poofy sleeves.

Unfortunately, style and substance tend to be two different animals, and sacrifices must be made.

This is the scene/dress in question.

This is the scene/dress in question.

What’s lost on us is any trace of subtlety, as best portrayed with Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe. We first see her at this resplendent gathering of socialites, decked in (what can be assumed to be) era-appropriate pinks and beige, but at the piano sits Lucille, draped in deep scarlet like a braggart countess practically begging for your undivided attention.

Granted, there’s supposed to be some culture shock between London and New York (not to mention her family’s supposed history of resplendent wealth) – but this sort of juxtaposition is terribly melodramatic.

Lucille’s jarring characterization doesn’t stop there; there seems to be no middle-ground with her – she’s either a stoic ice maiden or completely bonkers. What’s even more frustrating is that we know that Chastain is more than capable than adding some subtlety to a character – perhaps she’s not bad, but just written that way?

I don’t mean to harp on Chastain too much, as Lucille Sharpe isn’t the only problem. Though the film is beautifully atmospheric, it’s hard to call this film a horror. Sure, what Edith (Wasikowska) goes through is rightly terrible, but the over-romanticism of the plot creates a cultural disconnect of sorts – resulting in a Mary Sue who can see ghosts, just because.

More, I say. More!

I loved the ghosts. There just needed to be more, that’s all.

In all, Crimson Peak plays like an old radio drama: atmospherically eerie as it is charming, but sadly predictable as all hell.

Final Grade: C+

The Martian

There is nothing more crippling than loneliness. It’s one thing in the existential sense, but imagine being the only person on an entire planet – a planet that doesn’t even want you there. After believed to be dead and abandoned on a desolate planet, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is forced to survive by any means necessary, namely by “sciencing the shit out of it.”

Pictured: Science

Pictured: Science

Speaking of which, I know that this film has been debated in terms of scientific accuracy – often when compared to Gravity and Interstellar (though I think the latter is solely based on rescuing Matt Damon…in space) – but I really don’t know much about that. Granted, there is a lot of technobabble, but somehow it’s not overwhelmingly boring in any way – in fact, most of the film is overshadowed with more humor than doubt.

What makes The Martian unique amongst other survival films, is the odd beauty that even in absolute loneliness, you are never truly alone. Throughout Watney’s ordeal, his friends and crew never stopped thinking about him. Sure, sure Watney didn’t know, but I guess I’m feeling sentimental. Also, against all odds, he never gave up – especially when that was the easiest choice. It’s also important that there’s no real “bad guy” in this movie – it’s all just rotten luck and circumstance.

In all I found The Martian to be a truly memorable experience. It was absolutely harrowing without being overtly terrifying – the use of humor keep the whole ordeal grounded, and more importantly, human.

Final Grade: A 

I really need to read more books.

I really need to read more books.