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


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 *****)


The Lone Ranger: Waiting for Depp to fail.


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 *****)

Snitch: Big Truck…small payload.


Snitch – 2013

Director Ric Roman Waugh
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Benhamin Bratt, Jon Bernthal, Michael Kenneth Williams
Written by Justin Haythe and Waugh

So why would any fan of Dwayne Johnson want to see this film?  There are no guns.  There are no fast cars.  There are no explosions.  We don’t get to see the people’s eyebrow, the people’s elbow or any other remnants of the people’s champion.  He even gets his ass kicked by some punks near a convenience store.

What we do get to see is Johnson at his desk, making calls and doing what appears to be paperwork.  He has a few conversations with Sarandon, playing her approximation of a conservative US District Attorney and continuing her trend of reading lines instead of acting them.  We see him getting the lowdown from Shane of The Walking Dead, who plays an ex-c0n with a “conscience” in the form of a son.  For the most part, Bernthal does a believable job.  All of his scenes, especially without Johnson hovering, feel authentic.  More so than most in Snitch.  Maybe this should have been his film.

I don’t have anything against Dwayne Johnson, most movies, I find him to be quite enjoyable, even when he pushed himself in the otherwise questionable Be Cool.  Just like Sarandon, he does not have the wherewithal to rise above this wooden script.

Unbelievable is one thing, but this story pushes the ridiculousness with boring sameness that we see in every modern drug dealing tale.  We have the disheveled detective (Pepper) and the chain of dealers going from the white low man on the totem, to the black guy above him (who did time with him), then a hispanic Kingpin (Bratt, at his usual worst) above them both.  The only way they could have made it better was to have the guns supplied by the FBI.  It would be an ironic choice for a movie not called Fast or Furious.  The need for this lousy approximation of what the drug dealing life is like was removed with the creation of Saul Goodman and Gus Fring.

Sarandon…what the hell has happened?  I am beginning to wonder if her career has been a mirage.  I am right there with her on the hole Hollywood throws you in when you reach Searching for Debra Winger age.  It’s one thing to take any role they will give you.  It’s quite another to mail it in every time.

We all know that Johnson wants to get past his “John Cougar” phase, but to do this, he needs to get away from small time films with medium budgets.  He’s done enough Walking Tall remakes.  He needs to do the big stuff, collect his checks, and see if he can convince someone the caliber of John Sayles, David Mamet or Gregory Nava to work with him.

(** out of *****)