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 Lone Ranger: Waiting for Depp to fail.

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The Lone Ranger – 2013

Director Gore Verbinski
Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter
Screenplay Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

The Lone Ranger was pretty much announced DOA when it was released in July 2013.  Why is pretty much tea leaf readings based on production difficulties, a general distaste for Jerry Bruckheimer and a feeling that Johnny Depp’s luck had to run out at some point.  The film’s primary failure in that it did not stretch beyond the shadow of doubt cast over Disney from the previous summer’s John Carter.  Other than that, like John Carter, it’s pretty good.

Disney’s too big, though, to not have films do great box office.  They will survive, of course, but everyone in Hollywood not owned by Disney (there’s only a few left, I know) will have a field day, as the company counts receipts from the Marvel and Lucasfilm (okay, Star Wars) and other Disney owned features, toys, etc.  Point is, failure is not new territory for Disney, and it’s also not a problem.  People just need something to talk about, or fill column space.  See, I just got two paragraphs.  This writing is a piece of cake.

Back to the film, it’s not nearly the mess that it could have been, even if it leans a little too heavily on not shooting guns and doing the right thing.  When you see the bad (always white) guys kill, maim, injure and prosper, the guy in the white hat does everything he can by the book, even if the person he is fighting has done something unspeakable.  That’s just dumb.  Armie Hammer has the propensity to play more intelligently (The Social Network) than he is allowed in this portrayal of the titular character.  He’s got a lot of spirit, though.

Depp is at his most appealing playing Tonto.  I don’t give a rip if he is 1/32 Comanche or he comes from a long line of quitters.  He’s cool as a cucumber and, when he’s not being required to suffer at the hand’s of his partner’s naivete or required to tell the story to a little kid, he’s literally giving the people what they want.  It’s easy to appreciate what they worked to carry out with the role and they largely succeeded.  His story, and the portrayals of Comanche Nation is good enough for me, even if I don’t have the heritage to say so without protest.

The bad guys are drawn effectively as well.  Fichtner is almost unrecognizable, Pepper is delightfully vapid and Wilkinson, as usual, is the real snake.  His reveal is supposed to be a surprise, but it is just about as much of a secret as how the big Disney villain always dies.  I would give you a hint, but, really, it’s no surprise.  Really.

Speaking of bad, the annoyance that is Bonham-Carter is muted by brevity and appropriateness of content.  Her weapons, along with her character, is borrowed.  At least we don’t have to see her naked.

The direction is exactly what one can expect from the helmer of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films.  The action sequences are crisp and exceptionally well-timed.  They make Depp look unwittingly brilliant.  What they have borders on crystal clear magic.  The film’s signature scenes are ones involving trains.  The beginning and especially the end are magnificent and thrilling.  If the film had been more successful, they just may have re-done Thunder Mountain.

They are re-doing Thunder Mountain, but there will be no Lone Ranger references.  Nor, will there be a sequel.  They played Hammer’s character as if there would be one, and it hurts the film overall.  So does the PG-13 awkwardness.  So much violence in a traditionally low-key action character is off-putting enough, but making it PG-13 muted is kind of lame.  They could have toned down the massacres, since they knew it would not amount to anything.

The Lone Ranger is a decent summer film.  It will have life on video that it didn’t quite achieve in theaters.  It’s one of the few Depp performances I look forward to seeing again.

(***1/2 0ut of *****)

Rango: flawless animation, great voice work, recycled story

Rango – 2011

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Starring the voices of Johnny Depp, Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy, Isla Fisher, Alfred Molina, Abigal Breslin, Ray Winstone, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant

Written by John Logan

Rango  starts off with a protagonist acting so strangely, one can’t help wondering if he isn’t more than a little deranged.  It’s the protagonist, a chameleon, played by Johnny Depp, who is almost unrecognizable, vocally.  He’s a pet, stuck in a tank, acting out fantasy with whatever is around.  He moves from character to character without explanation or sense.  He looks miserable and happy at once.

Quite an arrangement of town folk, but something is awry

Soon enough, the status quo is interrupted.  An armadillo named Roadkill (Molina), causes an accident just trying to get to the other side.  This accident lands our hero face to face with his destiny, which he has to find by leaving the road.  Not long after, he is introduced to desert iguana Beans (Fisher).  Fisher is the damsel in distress, about to lose her farm due to lack of water.  The water is being withheld in a power grab by the mayor, Tortoise John (Beatty).  Bound to a wheelchair, the astonishingly sinister elements of Beatty’s voice work give him all the power he needs.  Where this leads has been shown a thousand times.  Rarely so cinematically beautiful, or so full of quirks.

Beatty's Mayor is sinister while seemingly harmless

Each of the characters in this film is so distinctive and beautifully drawn, it looks like it is anything but animation.  This work is so far beyond Toy Story, it is hard to believe they are made using related technology.  It is not a fair comparison, and really I am more grateful than anything.  This is where animation should be at this point.   The people designing this film do an excellent, professional job.

Inside is as crooked as the outside.

Matching the sketch of each character is a vocal work that is note perfect.  Stephen Root’s work, in particular, over 3 characters is each one distinctive of the other and working well within the context of the film.  Beatty, in with Toy Story 3 and this movie, has shown himself criminally underused in animated vocalizations in the latter part of his career.  However much he’s done (no more than this, from my research) it hasn’t been enough.

A Bad Guy with a presence...

As Rango, Johnny Depp finds a new voice, but takes a similar path.  Not exactly brave, but in no way a coward, he mines the familiar ground of Captain Jack Sparrow and Ichabod Crane.  His character is a hard one to love.  There is a distance between his thoughts and his deeds, his deeds and a shared sense of the other characters.  Through most of the film, he moves back and forth between intellectually driven self-preservation, and an absent sense of frolic.  Absent here is any sense of heroism, of course, like his characters from Pirates and Sleepy Hollow.  This time, however, he is called upon by the movie’s Clint Eastwood clone, the horribly named, Spirit of the West (Olyphant, doing a good Clint impression), to act out his story.  This leads to a decent, if brief, ending involving a bad guy, Rattle Snake Jake (an excellent Bill Nighy) and a lot of water moving through the town of Dirt.

Overall, this is a good, forgettable film.  You won’t regret watching it, especially in lifelike high-definition.  There is a disconnect between most of the characters that is hard to define.  It seems like everyone is so starved for water, the part of the brain that supplies half of their character has withered, and what is left is a collection of adorable zombies with little to no thoughts about anything but water.  Add to this, a script retread that is played with (read: quirks) but not deviated from, and you have something of a standard in the movies these days.  Everything, it seems, can be made perfect and original but the story.

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