Sunday, July 23, 2017

Groucho was a prophet

"The last man nearly ruined this place. He didn't know what to do with it. If you think this country is bad, wait 'til I get through with it.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Cure for Wellness - Gore Verbinski (2017)

"A Cure for Wellness" is Gore Verbinski's first attempt at a psychological thriller since his mediocre 2002 film, "The Ring", a remake of the Japanese phenomenon, "Ringu." (And by 'Mediocre' I mean terrible. I just didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings who may have like that movie. But if you are one of those people, what the hell is wrong with you?)

Going in, I was curious to see if the filmmaker responsible for the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies was up to the task.

Lockhart, (Dane DeHaan) is presented to us as a dull, disappointing protagonist and a dick. (Think Leonardo DiCaprio having a love baby with Dr. Sheldon Cooper.)

The board of the company he works for has found some in some discrepancies in Lockhart's work that the SEC would find very interesting.

They agree not to turn him in if he will complete one mission. The company's CEO, one Roland Pembroke, (Harry Groener, the snake-mayor from (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) went on a two-week spa vacation in Switzerland and has refused to come back.

Lockhart's task is a simple one: go and fetch Pembroke.

On his way to the isolated retreat, Lockhart learns that the place has a dark history. When his car hits a deer, he is wounded and wakes up inside the retreat three days later.

The first person he encounters is Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs, a.k.a. Lucius Malfoy) who tells him he may not leave, but of course, he is not a prisoner and neither is Pembroke.

But they are at altitude, so Lockhart needs to stay hydrated. He drinks more than his share of water. As Lockhart stalks the grounds, he notices that much of the patients' time is spent in water whether in swimming pools, steam baths or the sensory deprivation tank. Maybe there is something strange about these 'treatments'. He looks high and low and at the beginning of the second act, Lockhart finally finds Pembroke, who agrees to return to New York.

Then, the man vanishes again, into thin air. Again, he is told that Pembroke is not well enough to see him.

Lockhart waits and investigates and it soon becomes obvious that something is wrong with the water. As he waits, the wellness center decides to take Lockhart on as a patient as well. Immediately, it is plain that Lockhart is not taking to the treatments.

What follows is more or less an ordinary cat and mouse game. Or so we are led to believe until "Wellness" pulls the rag right from under us.

The film is wise enough to realize the small things that make you squirm are more visceral than any abstract fears. Like pulling one's teeth out.

This place performs medical experiments, so when he finds himself in a tank or strapped to a bed, listening to all the doctors speaking German, it is unsettling. (At one point, I can guaranteed piss will trickle down your legs. When it happens, you'll know. It is even worse than the elderly zombies.)

And if you think your grandma is being abused in her nursing home, that is nothing compared to what the staff is up to at this sanitarium. There are some nice nightmarish sequence, even if some are ordinary. There are even a few Vertigo-esque shots thrown in to mount the tension. Much of the imagery is heavy handed. Yes, we get that Lockhart has an aversion to water because he watched his father jump off in a bridge, into a river, in a rainstorm.

So it is understandable that he is wary of water treatments.

Once again, just as we're lulled into a nice, typical suspense tale, Verbinski kicks our legs right out from under us again. He keeps surprising us to the end.

Socially, "Wellness" makes a comment on how we can all be taken in so we do not see what is happening around us. We do not even notice when we start to die. The kind of entrapment Lockhart is supposed to feel is reminiscent of Gordon Peele's film "Get Out" from earlier this year in that it focuses on the notion of the victims being supposedly willing.

I was impressed at how I was taken darker and darker and darker...

"Wellness" is not even close to the same level of excellence of "Get Out", but I can confirm that despite its crude, inelegant end, it is Verbinski's most satisfying film yet.

Except maybe "Rango." I like "Rango."

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Personal Shopper - Olivier Assayas (2017)

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) has not done much but grieve since her twin brother, Lewis, who died of heart failure three months ago. She goes to Lewis' isolated house in hope of contacting him from 'the beyond.'

She refuses to leave Paris because she and her twin had made a pact that whichever one of them died first would send the living one some kind of sign.

Maureen refuses to leave Paris without some kind of signal from her dead twin.

Maureen is a medium, as was Lewis. Maureen has always retained a certain amount of skepticism, while her twin had always been what one would call a 'true believer.'

The big question right now is: does this agreement give Maureen hope, or just prolong her grief?

Just how long can one live in mourning?

Finally, after waiting for three months, Maureen gets two signs. Neither are tangible enough to convince her beyond doubt. Is it possible Lewis has signaled Maureen without her noticing?

Then, a third, malevolent, signal roars from out of nowhere. This is definitely not her her brother. Not only can she feel this new presence. She can see it.

It is not long before Maureen starts to get texts from an entity. It is not her brother. This spirit is angry and violent.

As the film progresses, it evolves into a kind of existential tale about technology vs. Spirituality. And there is study of the connection between grief and fear.

Pieces of "Shopper" have sparse (or no) dialogue. Assayas helps us understand Maureen even when she keeps her quiet.

Parts of "Personal Shopper" feel Bergman-esque. Some of the sequences feel as though they could have been lifted right out of "Persona" or "Cries and Whispers."

Assayas and Film Editor Marion Monnier let us slowly settle into the story without us having to worried about distracting, premature cuts. They let us see characters reacting instead of focusing on the acting.

Kristen Stewart has built up a great deal of credibility since her "Twilight" days. She has refused to be type-cast. She chooses small, intimate characters in very important films. (Clouds of Sils Maria, Welcome to the Rileys)

"Shopper" is gaining notoriety. It has done well on the Festival circuit. I was expecting a typical art-house film, but at its heart, it's a vivid and convincing ghost story.

I enjoyed it very much, but this film is not important nor is it groundbreaking. I am afraid this is not a movie you should drop everything to see.

If you want a thriller or ghost story, this is a satisfactory way to spend 105 minutes.

In a word...meh.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Colossal - Nacho Vigalondo (2017)

Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway with, (and I have to say this), horrendous bangs, is a loser. She sleeps all day, sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally. She has no drive and has not worked in a year. She is also a blackout drunk and her boyfriend has tossed her out on the street.

She has no other choice than to go home, so she moves back into her parents' empty house. She runs into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), an old friend from back in the day who owns a bar.

Then, twenty minutes into the film, it takes a sharp turn. The day after she gets back in town, she finds out that the city of Seoul has been devastated by a giant monster.

The creature appeared and then vanished out of thin air above the city.

Soon, Gloria starts to obsess about the monster. She makes maps, graphs and pictures and she hangs them on a wall in the empty house. We start to wonder why Gloria is so fascinated by the whole story while other characters seem more blasé about the situation.

Is there some kind of connection between Gloria and the monster? She certainly thinks there is. 

And it soon becomes obvious that she's right. At a specific place in her hometown, at a designated time, it seems Gloria is somehow controlling the creature. It mimics every movement. Each gesture, each step.

Then a giant robot appears with the monster like they are a comedy duo, part of a bit. The robot appears to be controlled by Oscar. Think Optimus Prime meets Godzilla. 

Sadly, before too long, Oscar understandably decides controlling a giant robot can actually be a jolly good time. This transforms him from the warm, compassionate hometown friend into a dangerous scoundrel.

This puts Gloria and Oscar at odds. That is to say Oscar starts being a real dick, alienating Gloria and his friends.

It is worth noting that Sudeikis makes a surprisingly convincing villain.

"Colossal" makes a clear statement about the raw nature of power. It can turn you evil and it will drive you mad. Sometimes to the point of murderous. You need only look at the world, and our country, to understand how vital it is that people understand this truth.

The film has a Joe Dante (Gremlins, Matinee) vibe to it. It is mischievous, sarcastic, darkly funny and violent.

What "Colossal" gives us is 105 minutes of a damn good time. It might not be the best horror film I have seen this year, but it certainly is the most entertaining.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Midnight Special - Jeff Nichols (2016)

I can't think of anything worse than discovering that Heaven is most certainly real and then realizing that it is not for you. Sadly, that is the case for every character in "Midnight Special." Except for Alton Meyer, one miraculous child.

And the search for Paradise, or even just happiness is at the heart of Jeff Nichols' film "Midnight Special."

Nichols takes his time as he lets us know slowly what's going on.

The beginning of the movie feels very experiential and surreal. I knew I was in for a good time when the congregation of a bizarre church/cult started to chant coordinates instead of Holy Scripture. The sequence is so surreal, it gives off a feeling of a hypnotic hallucination.

In the second act, though, the film settles down into a more or less traditional narrative.

It's the story of Alton Meyer who is taken from his church "family" by his father, Roy. You see, something will happen in the next few days and it's important to Roy that his child be as far from the church/cult as possible.

Of course, his church wants Alton to be with them during this supposedly crucial time.

The rest of the film is a pretty standard race-against-time suspense/thriller. The Feds desperately want to find Alton. And, like formulaic thrillers, the film slowly pulls the curtain back as we come to understand what's so damn important about this boy.

The leaders of the church/cult also obsessively pursue Alton. The coordinates they recited as Scripture will show them the way to something like Paradise. These people will not rest until they find him and unlock his secret.

It was a great disappointment watching a film with such a promising first act regress into such a predictable and conventional film.

So, come for the delightful and enchanting first act and stay just because you end up curious about what happens to the little kid. Either resign yourself to an hour or so of relative boredom or stay away from "Midnight Special" altogether. I'd recommend the former. The first act really is worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Raw - Julia Ducurnau (2017)

 "'Help me, help me! '"the rabbit said. "'Or the hunter will shoot me dead.'"

Out of all the horror films made in recent memory, Julia Ducurnau's "Raw" is the closest thing we've had to an old-school mind-bang since the late 70's, early 80's.

Its a rare film that's both physiologically disturbing and physically disgusting.

Justine is a naive young woman and strict vegetarian off to school for the first time. Veterinary school to be precise.

Some unconventional hazing starts an alarming series of changes in the veterinarian. And by unconventional, I mean carnivorous. It may just be the worst kind of torture one could come think of for Justine.

And anything forced upon someone has the potential to become habitual.

After being forced to eat raw rabbit kidneys, Justine's body starts to revolt. First, her skin starts to peel off slowly. Think "Cabin Fever" meets Cronenberg.

Then, she develops a lust for meat.

Raw meat. 

And her body starts to turn on her more. Think more Cronenberg. 

As you can imagine, the worse shape Justine is in, the more difficult the film is to watch.

And that's when it starts to get fun.

When the carnivore turns cannibal, there is just a giddy joy rushes through you.

And in that moment, "Raw" doesn't flinch. It does not cut away. We're stuck right there with Justine as she chews and slurps the meat right off the bone.

Now hazing is the least of her worries.

"Raw" is more than a shock movie.

It's no coincidence that this story takes place at a school or that our heroine is demure and virginal when she arrives.

Along with the nasty business with the flesh-eating and what not, we're getting a look inside of Justine's mind as she develops her sexual proclivities.

But the good times can't just go on unchecked. This cannibalism ends up going too far. It's all fun and laughs until someone loses a finger.

Normally, I have a tendency to stay away from films that mix violence and sex together. I love violence and I love sex, but as far from each other as the east is from the west.

But that doesn't apply here. "Raw" isn't just a movie that throws sex and violence together to keep its audience paying attentions. This movie is about sex and violence and how one psychologically interact inside of a developing mind.

Tarantino on the Manson Murders

I don't think I would have ever thought that a film about the Manson murders could ever be tasteful.

But according to the Hollywood Reporter, Quentin Tarantino is already casting for an upcoming film about the infamous killings.

I'm truly intrigued.

After Django and Bastards, Tarantino has shown he can pull off violence without exploiting it.

Can not effing wait.