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Gore Verbinski

Review: A Cure for Wellness

Feb 17 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221240:43388:0[/embed] A Cure for WellnessDirector: Gore VerbinskiRelease Date: February 17, 2017Rating: R Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a young, successful businessman who's tasked by his company to retrieve an executive who's vacationed to a wellness center in the Swiss Alps. But when he shows up to the center, a castle on top of a hill, and meets the mysterious Hannah (Mia Goth) and Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) he discovers something's a miss in the Swiss. Especially when he's forcibly admitted to the asylum. A Cure for Wellness tests the limits of environmental characterization. It's almost as if it's a thesis statement positing how much a film's setting can balance out faults in its characters as long as its engagingly built. Wellness puts the bulk of its work behind building its central asylum, and thus every human character therein is overwhelmingly unlikable as a result. Lockhart's especially troublesome from the second he shows up on screen. While this is clearly an intentional choice, there's very little to invest in when you care so little about Lockhart's well being. Lockhart's put through the ringer, but the film never quite reaches a place where we care about anything happening to him. As he falls victim to various levels of body disfigurement and gross out torture, it becomes more about enjoying the visceral nature of its imagery rather than further the tension of Lockhart's situation. To slightly remedy this, Mia Goth's Hannah is this childlike sprite of a character who seems out of time and place. Every member of this asylum is an wealthy elderly individual leaving their life behind, but Hannah doesn't seem to have a life of her own. When Lockhart's goal transitions from escape to rescuing Hannah, there's a slight shift in his character but he's still very much irredeemable. Thankfully, Goth portrays the right sense of naivete but Hannah's characterization is all in the performance as the film gives her very little to work with.  The flat characters are only a reflection of the film's setting. But while the drab colors and muted tones do not do them any favors, it works wonderfully for the asylum. Verbinski, most likely culminating a career's worth of visual trickery, absolutely nails a creepy vibe. Stark whites (both in the asylum's outfits and staff) juxtaposed with slimy greens coupled with an overall sepia-toned frame to lock the asylum in a past time. Wellness also surprises with a couple of well composed shots (one of which can be sort of seen in the image below) that provide a welcome breather from the asylum's dank nature. This dankness elevates Verbinkski's eventual gross out, masturbatory thrills and truly reaches a point where it can get under your skin. It just never does. Despite this well crafted world, the narrative falls as flat as the characters. Wellness asks for a hefty amount of investment and forgiveness in order to truly enjoy it.  Due to the magical realism of the setting (where slightly mystical themes and subjects coexist with the modern world), and Lockhart's constantly medicated physiology, Wellness essentially follows an unreliable narrator. But this great idea is stifled by a core mystery that's solvable within the first quarter of the film. Which means, you're left with characters making dumb decisions and have overall less sense plodding through the film's run time. It's Verbinkski's recent editing folly that also gives way to six different climaxes. There was a scene about two hours in that would've been a perfect end, but then it just kept going. That's only one example of this too. There are several sequences that feel entirely unnecessary as they neither build character or flesh out the ickiness of the surroundings. Speaking of icky, the actual ending of the film crosses from cool gross out horror into sexual assault and reaches 'B' movie levels of cheese. It's an unfortunate break in tone from the film's build up, and weird to have it both played straight and ridiculed concurrently. It's kind of a kick in the teeth for those who might've enjoyed the rest of the film.  A Cure for Wellness is a "glass half full or glass half empty" situation. It all depends on your perspective of its waters. Half full of good ideas, but half is brought down by poor execution of those ideas. A film I'd slightly recommend as a cautionary tale for film school students or as some goofy entertainment you'd drink through the first half but pass out before the end.  Unfortunately, A Cure for Wellness isn't even a cure for boredom. 
Wellness Review  photo
Remove the cause but not the symptom
Gore Verbinski has always been a peculiar director. I've been a fan of his ever since he did remarkable work adapting the Japanese film Ringu into The Ring (a series that has not fared well in his absence), but choices in Pir...

The Battle For A More Conscientious Tonto

Jul 05 // Liz Rugg
2013's The Lone Ranger marks the first time in history that an actor playing Tonto has received first billing. It's also the first time the character has been fleshed out in any sort of sense. In The Lone Ranger, we see an Indian who from an authenticity standpoint is initially infuriating. He is described as Comanche but looks and acts completely on his own, not adhering to actual Comanche practices and dress. For instance, the raven Tonto wears on his head is not a real practice of the Comanche people or any historical Native American group for that matter. The idea of the raven hat began, according to Depp, with a painting by artist Kirby Sattler which features a Native American man with a raven directly behind his head and the same facepaint as Depp wears as Tonto in the movie. The character in the painting is fictional and so is Depp's Tonto. However, the movie works very diligently to create a detailed back story for Tonto, explaining him and really creating a singular mythology of his own. Note: spoilers ahead! It is eventually revealed that Tonto is actually an orphan -- his family band was murdered by white men after the young Tonto showed the men where a large silver mine was located near their camp. When this back story is explained to Reid, the Comanche leader telling him the story explicitly says that Tonto is an outsider, has probably lost his mind due to this past traumatic event, and that some of the spiritual jargon that Tonto has been telling Reid is made up. This puts Depp's Tonto in an interesting place. Depp's Tonto is inauthentic, period. But the movie frames his character in a way where it acknowledges that he is inauthentic and gives a relatively reasonable explanation for it, making it all somehow acceptable -- swallowable?  -- that Tonto would act the way he does and have his own unique character traits, such as mimicking feeding his raven hat over and over again. The rest of the Native Americans portrayed in The Lone Ranger are more like the depictions of Native people we're used to seeing from Hollywood. They are one-dimensional side characters and are on the screen about as much as the Black house workers or the Asian silver miners. Despite having a brief moment where the Comanche leader and his gang break out into laughter at Reid's character, a rare humanizing moment, the Comanche people are depicted as a solemn, noble and doomed group of Indians who are eventually slaughtered by the misguided United States Army. The particular battle scene between the Comanche and the army is also treated very typically; the Comanche group drives its attack down a hill headfirst towards a single firing line and machine gun, even though they snuck up on the army and had the upper ground, and in reality the Comanche were extremely adept at warfare. This sort of easy, abbreviated and recognizable depiction of Native Americans is what we usually see from Hollywood throughout film history, and at large, the Comanche people in The Lone Ranger are really not breaking out of that. However, in Tonto we have Verbinski's attempt at a breath of fresh air. Even though Depp's Tonto is recognized as acting on his own and not trying to fit within a particular real Native American tradition, this does not make it un-critiqueable. Some people may have a problem with the idea of Johnny Depp, a man of no real Native American ancestry playing a character that is supposed to be Native American, but unfortunately this sort of ethnic role playing happens all the time in the film industry. This issue goes back to the early era of filmmaking, where, for example, D.W. Griffith cast a squinting white actor as "the Yellow Man" in the 1919 film Broken Blossoms. More recently, Memoirs of a Geisha caused a controversy because it employed actresses that were Chinese to play roles that expressed traditional Japanese life. Both actresses Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi were called traitors by both Chinese and Japanese people, and the film itself came under fire for being insensitive. Critically though, the film was very well-received and both Li and Ziyi's performances were praised. This sort of ethnic fudging does not necessarily ruin a movie, and from an acting standpoint ideally a movie should have the actors best suited for a role in every sense, but what makes The Lone Ranger problematic is that it becomes another movie made by people outside of a cultural group about a cultural group. Depp's Tonto may have a plot that allows some excusability, and his character may be a slight step forward in terms of a well-rounded Native American character in a Hollywood action flick, but The Lone Ranger is yet another movie with a colonial viewpoint. It's another flashy movie made for American popular culture with a colonial gaze on the Native American and on our shared history.  And ultimately, that's my problem with The Lone Ranger's depiction of Tonto and of Native Americans. In Tonto, Depp was able to craft the kind of superficial shaman-like character he seems like he's always wanted to play, but his character isn't solving any issues facing the treatment and representation of Native Americans in Hollywood. In fact, in many ways it reinforces them. Depp's Tonto may be well-intentioned, but it fails to portray Native Americans as anything more than a vanishing people infused with magical properties, endlessly romanticized and fictionalized by those who consistently undermine them. But, you know, at least they gave him screen time. [For more on Native Americans in film, I recommend the documentary Reel Injun by filmmaker Neil Diamond, as well as following the writings of Ojibway film critic Jesse Wente.]
Is Tonto still offensive? photo
An analysis of the characterization of Tonto in The Lone Ranger
The portrayal of Native Americans in film has been problematic for a long time. Going back as far as John Ford's 1939 western Stagecoach, the Native American has been stereotyped, truncated and even vilified by traditional Ho...


Super Bowl TV spot for The Lone Ranger

It could be worse, kemo sabe
Feb 04
// Hubert Vigilla
Now if memory serves, this TV spot for The Lone Ranger marked the transition from normal commercials to Super Bowl commercials. It was a long spot, essentially a trailer for people watching on TV, and you know what? It doesn...

Gore Verbinski to direct and produce Pyongyang

Adaptation of graphic novel with
Jan 30
// Matthew Razak
I'm not the comic book guy around these parts so my knowledge of the graphic novel Pyongyang is limited to cursory information, but it sounds like one of the most interesting graphic novels one could read. That's probabl...

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