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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.

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.

-IMDB

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+

Mad Max: Fury Road

I would first like to say that it has been literally years since I’ve seen the original Mad Max, so I have no intention of pulling out any kind of comparisons. Maybe another time. Second of all, the title Mad Max: Fury Road really doesn’t represent the film at all. How about, Fury Road: Featuring Mad Max?

Maybe someday you'll have a movie to yourself.

Maybe someday you’ll have a movie to yourself.

While there’s plenty of screaming, driving, and high-octane explosions, this movie’s really about Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her quest to overthrow the patriarchy. Well okay, first to free the “breeders,” but then overthrow the patriarchy with some encouragement from Max.

Our lady, Imperator Furiosa.

Our lady, Imperator Furiosa.

I’m not going to write you an essay on this wonderful take on women in dystopian action movies – Buzzfeed already did it for me. However, I do think it’s odd to focus so heavily on Max, just to shift the paradigm towards Furiosa’s redemption. Was it maybe to suck viewers in? Maybe to fund a franchise with some hype? More than likely a little column A, little column B.

Whatever, it’s great. These two work together to accomplish something bigger than themselves, without any of that superfluous sexual chemistry. Not to mention, Max isn’t really your typical “good-guy” protagonist: we know very little about him – he’s haunted by his past and only lives to survive no matter what the cost. Oh, and he’s crazy.

This guy.

This guy.

On the note of madness, the culture of the Wasteland is phenomenal. From the warlord spectacle down to the nomenclature, it’s obvious that a love and care went into creating this world – which is not surprising since George Miller himself is still in control.

From beginning to end, I could not not pull my eyes away from the screen. Sure, it’s ridiculous and violent, but it’s just so fun! Mad Max has really hit the nail on the head in terms of world-building – combine that with some fantastic pacing and War Boy shenanigans, good times are to be had all around!

If you couldn’t tell, I dug this movie. Yes, some spoilery things are a bit too convenient to handle. Yes, Mad Max isn’t really big in this. Yes, it is not perfect. But it’s just so much fun. It’s gritty without being daunting or foreboding – there’s hope, but it doesn’t hit you over the head. This is just some badassery at it’s finest, and exactly what I want in my summer movie.

Final Grade: A

WYSHW: Nightcrawler

Watchin' you weave then breathe your storylines.

Watchin’ you breathe your storylines.

Oh hey, it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these. But, at least this time has nothing to do with untimely tragic deaths. Anywhoo, recently in some sort of stupor, I stumbled on this little beaut on Amazon and thought, “Oh yeah, I really wanted to see this.” I was not disappointed.

Not unlike Locke and Tom Hardy, if you can’t stand the sight of Jake Gyllenhaal you’re gonna have a bad time.

Nightcrawler follows the wacky misadventures of Louis Bloom, an obsessive, quick-talking thief who stumbles upon the exciting career of nightcrawling (or stringing): prowling the streets to record crimes, profiting by selling the footage to local news stations.

Bloom takes an extraordinary liking to this newfound activity, and aims to get this footage by any means necessary.

"Aw shit, ketchup on the carpet."

“Aw shit, dropped my fries.”

Frankly, Gyllenhaal carries this movie – he is the movie. Nightcrawler serves as a character study of a single-minded individual and his unsettling determination. Yet, as boring as this sounds, this movie gets you hooked. Gyllenhaal’s sheer intensity is absolutely electrifying (I’m kind of surprised he didn’t at least get nominated, but yeh know…), and in combination with the score (as distracting as it was at times) and cinematography, this film creates an incredibly haunting atmosphere.

Speaking of haunting, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but there’s something absolutely chilling about Bloom’s resolution. In essence, Nightcrawler is in many ways like American Psycho sans memeability…and the psychosis, sort of – it’s fairly subjective.

At least, having worked in a standard corporate environment for over a year, it was terrifying to think of how someone like Lou Bloom is the ideal boss. At least when considering his passion and forward-thinking attitude (considering extortion, blackmail and obstruction are typically frowned upon).

Even if you’re not the biggest Gyllenhaal fan, I still say Nightcrawler is worth a go. For the next What You Should Have Watched, let’s get animated.

Tusk

Okay, so remember last week or whenever I posted my podcast-ical fangasm about Tusk? Well, Crom was kind and this limitedly-released feature graced a small theater just a skip-hop-and-a-jump away from yours truly. It was my companion and I, and a handful of others – maybe at most ten patrons total on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Two people walked out during the third act. Clearly, this was not meant for them.

Me, on the other hand? Let’s just say I had a hell of a time.

Granted, my fandom of Smodcast and Kevin Smith films sent my little heart a-flutter, so am I biased? Absolutely. This doesn’t mean I still can’t remain totally objective about the thing.

Podcasting!

Podcasting!

Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) and Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment) are the obnoxious hosts of the infamous Not-See Party – a podcast in which Wallace travels and interviews strange folk and weirdos alike. Wallace’s latest expedition takes him to scenic Manitoba, but when his planned interview goes, well, awry, Wallace is desperate to make the most of his time.

He stumbles across an ad posted by the hermitic Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a retired adventurer looking for a lodger – a perfect interviewee for a podcast. However, Howe reveals a much more insidious plan. He ends up turning Wallace into a walrus. What, was that really a spoiler?

Fortunately for folks at home, the internet has been pretty hush-hush about slipping pictures of the monstrosity – that thing’s nightmare fuel, man.

So here's an adorable baby walrus in a tub instead. You're welcome.

So here’s an adorable baby walrus in a tub instead.
You’re welcome.

Browsing around, I’ve read some harsh remarks about the pointless, gratuitous nature of Tusk. Admittedly, the tone is kind of all over the place, and the ending is sad and empty, I don’t think that the film is necessarily unenjoyable. Again, I am a fan and knew what to expect: a satisfyingly effed-up adventure. Right, right gotta be objective  –

I need those schematics.

I need those schematics on my walls.

I did have a couple of gripes, after all, the devil’s in the details. Is it weird that I wanted to see more of the suit-making process? For instance, what was it filled with? How many other skins were needed (was that even the method)? How did he fabricate the flippers?Also some aging on the suit would have been glorious – maybe an infection here or there, maybe some signs of healing – something! It works for immediate shock value (I know I first cringed looking at it), but after a while the magic seemed to fade.

Justin Long was great. Despite the fact that his character was an annoying ass-hat, his tormented cries and pained post-walrus expressions were impressively disturbing, proving that no man deserved what this guy had just undergone.

Really, everyone gave an impressive performance (so glad to see crazy Michael Parks again). However, returning to the film’s tonal crisis, I feel as if our Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) teetered a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when Depp hides in a character, but there were times when this character was uncomfortably cartoony, like a drunk Clouseau wannabe (maybe less bumbling). Though in retrospect, I think he grows on you. I mean, I am definitely looking forward to seeing more of this character in Yoga Hosers.

In short, Tusk is a strange tale made on a whim – a labor of love purely for the fans. The story may be paper-thin and there isn’t a “point” per se, but you know what? It’s an enjoyable, messed up little ride, and I want more. Come for the weirdness, stay for the performances. Personally, I cannot wait for the rest of Kevin Smith’s True North Trilogy.

Final Grade: B

Netfix: Mud

I’ll come out and say it: I dig the McConaissance. Coined by the New Yorker through Dallas Buyers hype, it was believed that Magic Mike was the film to kick off this star’s return. Personally, I think it started before that, with smaller titles such as Bernie and Killer Joe. Soon after came a little gem now available on Netflix, Mud.

"I dare you to touch the butt."

“That’s a pretty big butt.”

Mud is a charming little coming-of-age drama about a pair of friends in De Witt, Arkansas, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). These boys spend their days riding around the Arkansas River, selling fish and talking about boobies. One day Neckbone discovers a mystical boat stuck in a tree. The boys decide to claim the boat to themselves, until they find it’s already home to a mysterious drifter called Mud (McConaughey).

Mud tells the boys that he’s returned to De Witt to find his lost love, asking them for food in exchange for the boat. The boys oblige, only to find that the law also has it out for their new friend. Meanwhile, Ellis has entered a delicate phase, leaving him to question his moral standing on love and good and evil.

L-I-V-I-N

L-I-V-I-N

Mud adheres to the charm and sensibility of Stand By Me, met with the mild burn of Southern Comfort. It’s really quite mushy if you think about it – Ellis is witnessing each stage of love lost, whether it’s his parents’, Mud and Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), or his soul-crushing encounter with his first lady-friend. Of course, childhood love stories are boring without a little gunfire.

The Good
As wonderfully shot as it is acted, Mud is an incredibly enjoyable film wrought with originality.

Pure evil.

Pure evil.

The Bad
I hate the play this card, but all of the women are the cause of all the pain and misery to be had. The only saving grace is when Ellis’ father tells him, “Women are tough. They’ll set you up for things.” We then proceed to witness a more dynamic shift in the mother’s portrayal in order to make her more empathetic.

Granted, Ellis spends the most time with his father and they’re going through a separation, so obviously Senior’s view is going to be skewed. Then again, both Ellis’ girlfriend and Juniper do some mean, nasty things – poor Ellis can’t seem to catch a break.

The Alright, Alright, Alright
Despite my beef about the ladies, Mud is a great watch. Even through the grit and heartbreak, the end of Mud’s story is nothing short of satisfying.

This is the Way the World Ends

Where to begin...

Where to begin…

Personally, I feel as if cult classic Donnie Darko has received more than enough recognition as that, a cult classic. Not that it doesn’t deserve it. However, I feel that its all-grown-up cousin film Southland Tales deserves similar cult status. Much like Darko, we’re dealing with the time paradoxes and end of the world – only this time with sex, drugs, and government conspiracies.

After twin nuclear attacks in Texas in 2005, the country has fallen into disarray, and World War III has begun. Our story focuses on three men: an actor, Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) and identical twins Roland and Ronald Taverner (Sean William Scott) and their collision between government agencies, neo-Marxist groups, and a new energy source known as Fluid Karma – thanks to an ex-porn star called Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Confused? That’s okay, because we have reciting vet Justin Timberlake to talk us through everything by means of allegory.

"Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted."

“Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted.”

It’s understandable that a film like this can easily fly over a person’s head. It even took me a couple of watches just to get the full picture. This does not mean that I wasn’t the least bit entertained. The performances are earnest as well as over-the-top, creating caricatures of everyday media icons while simultaneously mocking the infotainment industry of our time. On the other hand, some of the situations and dialogue are just too ludicrous – but that’s okay! We’re given a reality that allows us to accept these things. I mean, we’re dealing with the end of the world here – I think a little suspension of disbelief is not too much to ask.

As mentioned, there is a massive ensemble of actors in this picture, and about twice as many cameos – many are beloved SNL alumni. Even Frank the Bunny makes a couple appearances. Additionally, these performances are equally matched by fantastic videography and a score by Moby, creating a most electric atmosphere for this confusion and chaos.

Southland Tales did not receive much recognition…or positive reviews for that matter, but I believe that there’s some sort of oddball charm to this feature. It may not capture the youthful, withdrawn nature of Donnie Darko, but it also doesn’t deserve to be held back by such a comparison. A genuine sci-fi for our time, complete with Orwellian undertones, Southland Tales is a cult classic waiting to happen. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Gravity

I love a good existentialist space movie. Obviously given the incredible teaser trailer, I dubbed Gravity as a must see. Much to my surprise, the film didn’t take the usual twists I was expecting.

I hope you packed your Dramamine.

I hope you packed your Dramamine.

On her first time out, bio-medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is strapped to a space shuttle, repairing some sort of system she helped design. Just when you’re wondering what a bio-medical engineer is doing in space (or what that doohicky is that she’s messing with), word is out that the Russians screwed up and a debris field is heading their way. Enter that spooky image of Bullock tumbling through nothing. Yeah, all that’s in the first five minutes. The rest falls upon her survival. During this epic ordeal, we witness a woman overcome death and understand the potential of moving forward, while caught in the confines of complete isolation.

Odd, isn’t it? The claustrophobia of infinite openness. Huh.

Clooney's voice is comforting in the dark.

Clooney’s voice is so comforting in the dark.

Admittedly, there were times I felt that the trailer was better than the movie on the whole. Only because in that minute, we are seeing probably the greatest human fear played out for us, without resolution. Frankly, it’s a powerful trailer. Now if only the film kept that momentum…well, I guess it would have been a much shorter film. With a lot less frantic panting.

To be completely honest, Gravity took its theoretical toll on me after leaving the theatre – rather than bizarre twists to keep you pondering, you’re given a terrifying adventure with aftereffects to think about. This is a story about a woman surviving the unthinkable. Is she an exceptional woman? Not really, but Stone’s a decent stand-in – you don’t know much about her but it’s not hard to empathize.

I’m not going to gush about the cinematography, because it’s just too breathtaking for words. Just do yourself a favor and pay that tiny bit more for the 3D. I really don’t like 3D and I am telling you, go for the 3D.

Without a doubt, Gravity is an ambitious film that is ultimately an experience to behold. A tale of survival against the odds – is it believable? Again, not really, no. Alfonso Cuarón simply takes you on an incredible journey, without relying on anomalies or blue cat people, and that’s something pretty extraordinary.

Final Grade: A

Beyond the Black Rainbow

Beyond the Black Rainbow is essentially the Canadian lovechild that occurred after Kubrick and Cronenberg had an epic hookup while listening to some trance – then David Lynch popped by to say “hi.” Check this out –

Unfortunately, this lovechild didn’t really pop out as perfectly as that glorious trifecta would imply – but I’ll get to that later.

All hail Barry Nyle

I believe in Barry Nyle.

The plot, what little we have, revolves around the dynamic between Dr. Barry Nyle and Elena within the realm of the Aboria Institute circa 1980. As somewhat established, the Institute was built to help reach transcendence through science – Elena being the only proof of this phenomenon. Meanwhile Barry, Aboria’s #1 guy, lives a rather asinine existence – part putting up with his stuporous wife, part tormenting Elena simply because he can. Really though, Barry’s contempt for Elena stems from a deep-rooted jealousy, that she was in fact the only arguably “successful” outcome of Aboria’s treatments. Barry on the other hand, is a monster. After his exposure to Aboria’s…techniques, Barry is rendered a psychopath most fragile – a violent madman behind a composed facade.

After a round of hazing most cruel, Elena is soon set free by one of the Institute’s underlings, beginning her escape through Aboria’s labyrinth. Almost simultaneously, Barry strips away his disguise, revealing the creature Aboria unintentionally created. Finally accepting his true identity, Barry relentlessly hunts Elena dies as she rediscovers the world around her.

How can this story be almost two hours long? Mind-bending cinematography at a snail’s pace, that’s how. Not that it’s a bad thing – sure was a lot more fun to watch than Tree of Life. This picture is so beautifully filmed – sitting through it is a sometimes disturbing, but absolutely sublime experience. So while you’re given plenty of time to digest possible themes (and there are a few – control and identity, for instance), your eyeballs are subjected to all sorts of pleasures. I suppose I could also describe Beyond the Black Rainbow as a really long, glorified music video, but really I’d like to give director Panos Cosmatos (if that is your real name) more credit than that.

Isn't black-haired-creepy-girl a motif in itself by now?

Isn’t black-haired-creepy-girl a motif in itself by now?

As mentioned, there is a downside: the style outweighs the substance. Did it really need to be two hours long? No, not really. Though Cosmatos even mentions that the “hypnotic” pace was deliberate in order to create this self-described trance sub-genre, on found it’s far too easy to space out on the visuals than to piece together a coherent theme or themes. Again, such is the risk of creating a two-hour trance music video. On the upside, this warrants multiple viewings if so desired. Despite this, Beyond the Black Rainbow is definitely worth your time, if you’re up for it.

It would seem Beyond the Black Rainbow  does not have the cult film recognition it deserves. Perhaps it’s not old enough, or maybe because it’s one of those sneaky Canadian films that, like so many, were swept under the radar. The world may never know.