A Cure For Wellness (**) – What do I have to feel?

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A Cure for Wellness – 2017

Director Gore Verbinski
Screenplay Justin Haythe
Starring Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Harry Groener, Celia Imrie, Tomas Norström, Angelina Häntsch

A tale as old as people trying to find a miracle cure, A Cure for Wellness finds a young and aggressive corporate shill (DeHaan)  in the unenviable task of tracking down the leader of their company (Groener). The process brings him into a trap: an institution where people go to improve their health where the opposite seems to be happening.

The film is slick and it looks as good as one would expect from Verbinski. It’s appeal is limited by its cast, location and that it not that original. What it does offer is a training wheels version of the creepy institution in the Swiss Alps with a dark and haunted past.

If you’ve never seen this type of film, this would be as good a place as any to start. It amounts to a giant telegraphed wave of images that says where the story is going with no amount of nuance. Some of the images will stick out.  The incident with the front tooth messes me up. The eels, not as much.

DeHaan does a good job looking startled, but the look on his face at the final shot actually creates more thought provocation than anything in the two plus hours before it. Goth looks haunted and starving, and who doesn’t know Isaacs is up to the worst things imagined?

Once you’ve seen a film like this, the rest kind of seem the same.

(** out of *****)

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (***): If you can work it in

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2: 2014

Director Marc Webb
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field
Screenplay Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner

The opening segment of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems like it could really be fun. The actor most suited for the role, Andrew Garfield, is flying about, really putting everything he’s got into the physical and humorous nature of Peter Parker. His nemesis, Giamatti’s Aleksei Sytsevich is bland with a bad accent. For the first time in recent memory, one can solidly point to a Giamatti performance and say “this may be a mistake,” with growing certainty.  Wait a second, Limbo from Planet of the Apes…But he’s about to be put away for good by Spidey.

In the midst of all this gleeful abandon, Parker looks in a squad car and sees the ghost of his girlfriend’s father.  This is Denis Leary in a silent cameo (or two) that’s even more glowering than his performance in the first part of the rebooted series. His last words in that story weren’t as much for any feelings for his Gwen (Stone) as they were to put a damp dramatic blanket over the building fire of their relationship and the young superhero.

It works, if sucking the fun out of an action scene is considered success. It serves to repeat the awkward two-step at the close of The Amazing Spider-Man. From joy, we see immediate pain. Wait a few beats, then jump back to joy. Then the pain again. Awesome, but not really.

In the midst of this boring structure we get two other story lines. The first is Max Dillon. Max is Jamie Foxx in his hammy worst; a “nobody” saved by Spider-Man when he was in the process of embarrassing Sytsevich. Max decides to dedicate his free time to idolizing Spider-Man while talking to him incessantly as if he’s there. He’s the subject of ridicule by his co-workers at OsCorp, and guess who has to work on his own birthday. Soon enough, he’ll be Electro.  Just as dumb and crazy, but this time in many luminescent colors.

The owner of OsCorp, Norman Osborn (Cooper), is about to die. He was a mean guy, but the script-writers never show you how. Instead, we get an exposition that would drive the soul out of a healthy lad and heap it upon his son, Harry (DeHaan). The disease that has struck the father is also passed to young Harry.  He also inherits control of Oscorp, which places him in the sights of some bad guy (Feore) who is intent mainly on doing more bad stuff.

Meanwhile, Peter resumes his search for his father because, well, he needs something else to do in between scenes with Gwen. He also befriends Harry, for no real reason other than to be there when Harry decides that he needs Spider-Man’s blood. Then Harry decides that Electro needs his help.

We haven’t even reached the point where Sytsevich turns into Rhino.

As convoluted as the plot seems to be, Webb has a good grip on what Spider-Man’s world must look like. His pacing is uneven, but it would take a miracle to make the mess of a plot into something comprehensible.

Stone.Stone is not my choice for a love interest in Spidey, but her chemistry with her real life beau Garfield is obvious. This is all undone by the scene intended to be funny.  When Spider-Man ties her to the back of her car, and she call’s him Peter, it is so forced as to be completely unsettling. It takes the last quarter of the film to undo it.

One thing they do right in is the sequencing of fights in the last 30 minutes. Taking them one at a time instead of all at once, we are spared the confusion of that we experienced the last time we had so many nemeses in a Spider-Man film. The third Raimi film could have used one less bad guy (Sand Man was a chore), but this time it feels like we only had two.

Foxx’s Electro may be the worst antagonist since Arnold’s Mr. Freeze (other suggestions are welcome). He never feels as much a menace as he feels like an actor who was once featured in the movie Booty Call.

DeHaan is not much better as Green Goblin. He chews the scenery with ferocity, almost as if he forgot his measured performance in Chronicle that paved the way for his landing this role. To be fair, though, I am completely tired of Green Goblin by now, and almost as tired of the web slinger himself. Don’t get me started on Aunt Mae as a nurse when she really is only qualified to be a Walmart Greeter.

That’s the real problem with The Amazing Spider-Man series. The ending is set up for sequels, but the lackluster box office performance in North America has lead to its sequel being pushed from 2016 to an unspecified date in 2018. Some argue that they are making The Sinister Six. That sounds like a great idea. But so did putting Giamatti in a Rhino outfit after he’d already done so brilliantly as an ape.

For all it’s faults, the movie still has it’s moments, especially its dramatic conclusion. There is a real consequence to all this flinging around and it gives the movie more gravity than Spider-Man has faced since the original Uncle Ben bit the dust outside the library. It’s unclear how we’re going to get a smart alack Spidey out of this, but for one moment, we didn’t care.

(*** out of *****)

The Place Beyond the Pines: Eva Mendes is still beautiful

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The Place Beyond The Pines – 2013

Director Derek Cianfrance
Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Bruce Greenwood, Harris Yulin, Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen
Screenplay by Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder

Is there a difference between this guy and Elaine's bf?
Is there a difference between this guy and Elaine’s bf?

There is a scene early in The Place Beyond the Pines in which Luke is told by the grandmother of a child he never knew that he introduces that child, named Jason, to him.  She asks Luke if he would like to hold the little boy.  Immediately, Luke begins to rub his hands together, as if trying – unsuccessfully – to clean the essence of his own filthy past off of himself.  As if trying to prevent staining the boy with the sins of his father.  This is a particularly effective moment representative of the tenderness that Gosling is capable of displaying, when he isn’t looking off into the distance, like Elaine’s boyfriend on Seinfeld, when he hears Desperado.

Gosling plays the same guy in just about every movie, and this one is not an exception.  His brooding, overly tattooed guy from the wrong side of the tracks has the grime of bad decisions all over him.  He is so supercharged to be a bad guy that he even out scums another notorious bad guy Mendelsohn by a long ways.  And no one in the acting world can out brood Gosling.

Thankfully, Gosling has a limited role in the film as he provides an opportunity for the doe eyed Cooper, playing young cop Avery Cross, to become the hero for the middle part of the film.  His role is a new one for Cooper, and that is refreshing.  Cooper has done a lot of comedy, but was spectacular in Silver Linings Playbook.  Seeing the movie take such a different pace works as somewhat of a passing of the story baton.  Cooper does a good job portraying the shock one might go through in the worst experience an officer could live through.  But seeing him work with his father (played with guile by Yulin) and turn that innocence into an upward spiral is nice.

Then Liotta’s Peter Deluca enters the picture, with all the pomp and ridiculous corruption he is wonderfully capable of.  His grist is fun to watch.  He is anything but smooth, but he is effective.  It’s like his best performances.  He’s a wise guy with a hint of brutality.  It’s a crime that he is not in more of the film.

The last installment of the film takes the characters of Luke’s son, Jason (DeHaan) and Avery’s son A.J. (Cohen) as they find themselves stilted in growth in High School.  Their short friendship is interrupted by a drug bust.  Avery Cross intervenes, trying to keep the two separated.  If that was successful there would have been no film, so we get to see the inevitable clash.

DeHaan is a talented actor who’s been great in films like Lawless and Chronicle.  The scenes he shares with first Ali, and then Mendelsohn are the best moments of the film.  He’s like a young DiCaprio, circa What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? It will be interesting to see what he turns out like in his career.  He’s already passed Gosling for range, even if he doesn’t have the looks.

She's beautiful and has quite a range
She’s beautiful and has quite a range

Speaking of beauty, Mendes has long been one of the most beautiful women in movies.  She has shows some impressive range in the film, looking believable as a young woman and even more convincingly mature, while possessing the growth of one that has been wounded by her circumstance, but smart enough to move on, after finding the right one (Ali).  One can never get enough of a beautiful actress who knows how to age gracefully.

The Place Beyond the Pines is not the epic that it wants to be.  It is not a failure.  There is no real clear message to the film.  It is, rather, a bunch of stuff that happens, and some occasional coincidences.  It is a good story decently told.

(***1/2 out of *****)