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A Cure for Wellness (2016)
A Cure for Wellness
A Cure for Wellness starts as a medical thriller, later becomes into a surrealistic mystery, and ends like an exorbitant Gothic horror film from the '30s. The final result is an excellent movie which definitely deserves a very enthusiastic recommendation. A Cure for Wellness is an ingenious and deliciously perverse experience, and director Gore Verbinski complemented the extravagance of the tale with an imaginative and attractive style. In other words, I found A Cure for Wellness hypnotic and very creative, while immediately making the audience plunge into its fascinating universe. And from its first seconds, this is a visually spectacular film. The impressive locations and settings evoke a cold atmosphere of an imminent threat, without sacrificing their intrinsic beauty. The bizarre "treatments" offered by the sanatorium look like grotesque nightmares from which we can't wake up; and the actors put all their enthusiasm and conviction to keep the story on the edge of madness. Dane DeHaan brings a perfect performance in the leading role, credibly expressing the emotional traumas below his cynical and impulsive surface. Jason Isaacs makes a very good work as a warm and reasonable "mad scientist"... until he discards his professional facade; and Mia Goth also brings a solid performance as a patient who starts being a romantic interest, in order to eventually become... well, something more relevant for the mystery of the sanatorium. The only small complaint I have against this movie is that a few moments feel slightly repetitive. For the rest, A Cure for Wellness is an authentic visual delight, while keeping us on a perfect suspense until getting to the delirious ending, which can be taken as a sincere tribute to the Gothic cinema produced by Universal Pictures and Hammer Films during the '30s (I definitely say this as a compliment). Verbinski's direction is precise and elegant; the actors bring credible reactions balancing the clinical setting; and the special effects are very good, while always being employed as a genuine support of the narrative. In summary: a very pleasant surprise, and a hugely entertaining experience.
The Jewish legend of the "dybbuk" has earned prominence in horror cinema during the last 10 years; and, to be honest, I find the movies employing it more creative than most of the tales about Catholic exorcisms. I think The Unborn was the first one I saw, and the simple change of mythology was enough to bring it a fresh and different atmosphere; The Possession put a girl in danger, with unexpected spiritual consequences; and more recently, it was the turn of Demon (probably the first Polish horror film I have ever seen), whose interpretation of the dybbuk is adorned with copious references to Jewish culture, possible psychological explanations and abundant black humor which lightens the experience without diluting its general impact. It might even be more adequate to classify Demon as a black comedy, or maybe as a psychological thriller, because even though the first minutes seems like an usual horror introduction (the opening of a secret tomb), the rest of the tale lacks of the formulas commonly associated to this genre: there are no shocks, or violence, or special effects; we simply have a man erratically acting during the noisy reception of his wedding, while the guests try to find a rational explanation to his behaviour. Besides, the affair of the dybbuk can be taken as a metaphor of the abrupt change implied by the marriage, altering the life of the bride and the groom who will never be able to recover their individual identities; or, in the worst of the cases, it might represent an analogy of those people who discover they got married to someone very different than what they expected too late. Or maybe, it might be a comic farce in which the humor arises from the contrasts between the joyful family celebration and the groom's internal turbulence, possessed by an evil spirit, or a ghost looking for justice, or the fear to marital commitment. Anyway, I found Demon a fascinating variation of a sub-genre which rarely offers innovation, supported by the excellent performances from the whole cast (highlighting Itay Tiran, who brings an amazing work in the leading role) and a bizarre energy. In summary, a unique experience which might or might not belong to the horror genre... until we get to the somber ending, and we remember why the dybbuk belongs to that genre.
The simplest way of enjoying Split is not knowing it was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan; in that case, there won't be positive or negative expectations to tarnish the experience (we already know it deserves both); and we won't be expecting any spectacular twist in the end to get surprised and delighted. I'm not saying that there isn't a twist; there might be one, there might be not. The point is that that shouldn't matter, because Split ended up being an excellent thriller which keeps us on a delicious suspense and captures our attention until getting to a very satisfactory ending, which might or might not have a twist. Besides, we have James McAvoy's extraordinary performance. The character Kevin implies many challenges which McAvoy overcomes with a tremendous precision. In some scenes, Kevin has to be cold and impersonal; in other ones, warm and conciliating; sometimes, he has to transmit innocence; in other moments, he expresses absolutely contradictory sensations. And the point is that McAvoy achieves all that while never losing his character's dramatic axis. Anya Taylor- Joy (whose works in The Witch, Morgan and here are enough to consecrate her as one of the best contemporary actresses), Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula also bring excellent performances as the kidnapped youngsters, and I would also like to mention the solid work from Betty Buckley as Kevin's psychologist, who makes a genuine effort to comprehend the mental disturbances of his fascinating patient; I found these theories very interesting, because they occupy a cloudy point between scientific reality and creative speculation. The only thing I would say against Split is that, in a small number of occasions, I thought things like: "Why don't the girls do that?", or: "How can Kevin make that mistake?" But, well... that's definitely a small complaint, and the simple facts of asking myself those questions reveals the amazing level of tension and immersion achieved by Shyamalan with this unusual tale. In conclusion, I enthusiastically recommend Split as a fascinating psychological thriller whose emphasis lies on the psychology, and not necessarily on the conflict between good and evil. Thinking about it well, that might be the best twist... Split isn't a film about the girls trying to escape, but the kidnapper's motivation.
Kill Command (2016)
Kill Command is basically Dog Soldiers with robots instead of werewolves (but not nearly as good). It can also be compared to the episode "The Arsenal of Freedom" of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which increasingly sophisticated combat robots attack the crew of the Enterprise. And the four-legged robots of Kill Command reminded me of the prototypes of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. But, independently from those influences, Kill Command explores classic themes of science fiction: out-of-control technology, and man threatened by his own creation. Unfortunately, director and screenwriter Steven Gómez preferred to focus on the action and suspense elements, leaving the philosophical aspects of the premise on a distant background. Sure, I wasn't expecting a moral dissertation about the relationship between robots and humans either (we have the work from authors such as Karel Capek and Isaac Asimov for that), but I would have liked to see at least a bit of reflection to bring substance to the shootouts, explosions and magnificent special effects displayed by the film... something to make us think during the calm moments, instead of the strident arguments between the hysterical soldiers when they recognize the danger stalking them, or the accusations against the corporate representative who might be collaborating with the killing robots. On the positive side, Kill Command has some good performances which make the drama less superficial. Vanessa Kirby brings an appropriate ambiguity, while Bentley Kalu brings conviction and intensity as the leader of the platoon and Thure Lindhart is also credible as the hero. However, the main pro of Kill Command are the brilliant special effects, whose design, execution and integration to the filmed material surpass the expectations of a modest B-Movie. As I have always said, the special effects don't save a movie, but they can help to improve it, and Kill Command is a clear sample of that. Gómez has multiple credits as a special effects supervisor, and for his debut as a director, he obviously applied all his experience in order to bring us a vision of cybernetic combat which equals or surpasses big Hollywood productions. An amazing work from the British studios Bandito VFX and Automatik VFX, who threaten to dethrone The Mill as the "European ILM". I wish Kill Command had shown the narrative ambition of, for example, Ex Machina; but as a hollow action spectacle, it offers tense sequences of combat, moderate but functional drama and impressive special effects which will delight the fans of robots (like me) with their realism and creative ingenuity. A decent debut from Gómez, but I hope he will find screenplays with genuine ideas to support his hi-tech vision in future projects.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea is the typical film the Oscars love: excessively long, with a tragic story and a certain "arthouse" sensibility which defies Hollywood clichés... but without getting too experimental, in order not to ruin its economic potential. That doesn't mean this is a bad movie; on the opposite, it offers various pros, such as a screenplay which meticulously builds a tapestry of family dysfunction motivated by guilt and impulsed by the need of redemption. And, in order to cultivate the drama, director and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan makes us plunge into the culture of the city of Boston and its surroundings. However, even though I appreciated the detail with which the drama is built, I honestly got a bit tired after so many "realistic" dialogues which make even the most inconsequential conversations become arguments. On the one hand, I find the naturalness with which the situations and the reactions of the characters are portrayed; but on the other hand, it makes the film get too long with its excessive detail to develop character, as well as the repetitive events which highlight the main character's depression over and over again. Another tactic employed by Lonergan is the use of flashbacks without any context, creating confusion and making us to pay attention in order to reconstruct the logical chain of causes and consequences; on the beginning, I found that a bit irritating, but it eventually became a valuable tool of the drama, discovering secrets which enrich the story. The performances are excellent, and even though Casey Affleck is the star of the film, the works of Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams and Kara Hayward in supporting roles are also worthy of applause. So, in conclusion, Manchester by the Sea is a good film with various positive elements; but on the other hand, it's a typical "Oscar bait" movie, occasionally affected and a bit tiring. Nevertheless, I think I can give it a moderate recommendation to those who like these "slow burn" dramas, in which the journey is more important than the final destination. I personally tend to enjoy that kind of tales... but I prefer a shorter journey, which doesn't make so many turns, or goes through the same place so many times.
Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016)
Keeping Up With the Joneses
Keeping Up With the Joneses is a combination of Date Night and Central Intelligence: a typical suburban couple gets accidentally entangled into a conspiracy of international spies, and they have to change their peaceful attitudes in order to survive. Or something like that. The problem is that Keeping Up With the Joneses is an "action comedy" in which the comedy is painfully unfunny and the action scenes lack of the slightest excitement. Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot and Jon Hamm tried their best, but the extremely poor way in which their characters were written didn't allow them to do too much. The screenplay of Keeping Up With the Joneses lacks of everything: suspense, excitement and laughs; it just displays an irritating apathy from the beginning to the end. I literally didn't laugh even once while watching this film, and I never cared for the welfare of the main characters, because the PG-13 rating prevents the existence of any really serious twist. In conclusion, Keeping Up With the Joneses is a horrible film, and I genuinely regret having wasted my time watching it.
Lion is the best Google commercial I have seen. Leaving that aside, director Garth Davis drives the first hour of the film in quite an efficient way, making us share the fear and confusion of the kid Saroo, far from his home and overwhelmed by the chaotic environment of the big city, in which every kind of dangers are lurking at every corner... even from individuals trying to help him. That was the part of Lion I liked the most, because it evokes powerful emotions without the typical "creative manipulation" employed by many films to accentuate the drama. Lion doesn't need those tricks... for its first hour only. Then, we jump 20 years to the future, and the film loses the honesty which had previously captured me. That doesn't mean that the second half is bad; but I personally found it manipulative and occasionally forced and cloying. Nevertheless, the performances from Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara and David Wenham (who all show up during that part) are very good. However, that second half can never recover the energy and raw realism of the first hour, both obtained due to Davis' direction and the brilliant performance from Sunny Pawar, and that avoided the experience from being totally satisfactory in my case, even though I can give it a moderate recommendation.
Justice League Dark (2017)
Justice League Dark
One of the most audacious decisions of DC Comics during the launching of The New 52 was the comic Justice League Dark, which promoted the integration of "magical" characters (such as John Constantine, Swamp Thing and Zatanna) to the universe of "normal" superheroes (like Superman, Flash and Batman). Many of those characters were kept for years (some ones even decades!) under the shelter of the publishing house Vertigo, in which editors such as Karen Berger and Shelly Roeberg organized a sturdy sub-universe theoretically included into the DC Comics cannon, but with its own rules and continuity, established by authors and artists akin to those themes. The comic Justice League Dark broke that barrier, and even though it never was a big sales success, it earned various fans throughout 4 years and 40 editions. However, I have never been one of those fans, and as a consequence, my expectations for the animated film Justice League Dark were quite low. Fortunately, the movie ended up being much better than I expected. The simple premise is pleasantly complicated with betrayals, false clues and the gradual acceptation of Batman by his "alternative" colleagues. In fact, I liked the magical plot of Justice League Dark much more than the one of the movie Doctor Strange, specially regarding the coherence in the villain's plan and the clarity in the answer from the "good" ones. I also found the humor much funnier, thanks to the sarcastic reactions from Batman when something completely away from his earthly experience happens. The voice performances are perfect, and the animation is above the average of the DC Animated Universe. In conclusion, I found Justice League Dark an excellent film on its own merit, and a very promising augury for future collaborations which had previously been relegated to the "fan fiction" world.
Despite being a remake of the Japanese film Ringu, The Ring was a critical and commercial success which made quite an influence on fantastic cinema, because it practically introduced "J-Horror" to international audiences. The sequel, The Ring Two, was focused on the main character's drama, and it was poorly received. And now, 12 years after that sequel (and with a release which was delayed in four occasions!), we have the third film of the saga, Rings, intending to resurrect the franchise for a new generation obsessed with screens. Anyway, I found Rings a horrible rehash of the first film, and completely lacking of any suspense, horror and drama. In summary: a soporific waste of time which should have never been made. Rings basically consists of a tedious routine of researches and revelations until leading to a painfully weak and predictable ending. Besides, this movie relies too much on edition tricks and tiring shocks which don't work as the replacement of a good story. Rings is focused on "explaining" things nobody had asked, while trying to add new elements to the universe of the saga, preparing the field for future sequels; but the screenplay is so confusing, tedious and superficial that I wasn't left with any wishes to see more from the same. So, in conclusion, don't make the same mistake I did, and avoid watching this piece of junk.
The Great Wall (2016)
The Great Wall
I expected The Great Wall to be an epic historical drama, but it ended up being a light "B-Movie" made with an "A" budget. In that regard, I found The Great Wall moderately entertaining, but mediocre. The screenplay practically writes itself, employing the drama as a mere filler between the action scenes. And even though said action is well shot, it suffers from inconsistencies which make it difficult for the spectator to get plunged into the story. Some examples: the affair of the magnetic stones, the inefficient acrobatic tactics of the Imperial Army and the improbable behaviour of the attackers, who seem intelligent when the creation of suspense, and weak when the heroes need to solve an impossible situation. In other words, The Great Wall isn't a film to be taken seriously. It isn't like Hero, House of Flying Daggers or Curse of the Golden Flower (previous movies from director Zhang Yimou I liked very much); instead of that, we are into generic Hollywood territory. The actors make whatever they can with their trite roles; Matt Damon tries his best as the warrior with a golden heart, while Pedro Pascal is the typical coward/comic allied and Willem Dafoe plays Mr. Explanation, explaining us what we are watching on the screen. In conclusion, The Great Wall is a mediocre and forgettable film, but at least, it's able to keep a moderate level of entertainment without requesting too much from the audience, and that's enough to make it worthy of a slight recommendation. At the same time, it's a bit sad to see a brilliant director like Yimou compromising his vision in order to increase the economic potential of the film. In fact, the presence of Damon, Pascal and Dafoe is among what I liked the least from The Great Wall, because it doesn't only seem like a racist tactic (The Chinese invented powder, but they need the White Man to solve their territorial crisis?), but it also fundamentally alters the nature of the tale; instead of being a dreamlike and philosophical Asian fantasy (such as The Hidden Blade or the previously mentioned Hero), it's a generic blockbuster without an ideological or artistic identity. Or maybe, I'm the racist one for evaluating both styles with such different criteria. But, in my defense, nobody goes to a Chinese restaurant in order to eat a hamburger, right?