Monthly Archives: February 2017

A Cure for Gaslighting

“Are you ready, Mr. Lockhart?”

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In this young era of “alternative facts,” many cinephiles have been seeking escapism with a real-life edge. That seems to be what Jordan Peele’s Get Out is providing and will probably continue to provide for the masses when it is released tomorrow. I have no opinion on that film as of yet, as I haven’t seen it. But it does seem to continue in the recent tradition of intelligent horror going on in the 2010s.

So I’m incredibly happy to report that it seems we’ll be getting two intelligent horror films two weeks in a row, in February, in a climate where they are desperately needed.

What’s this other intelligent horror film, you might ask? It’s Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness. Yes, the one that has a 40% on Rotten Tomatoes. The one that got in a heap of trouble for its fake news advertising ploy. And the one that probably doesn’t have a shot in hell of breaking even theatrically on its $40-million budget.

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But regardless of all the bad surrounding it, it’s actually a devastatingly great picture. I say “picture” because A Cure for Wellness is made with the same theatricality and sneaking subversiveness of the classic monster movies of Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff. The only difference is that it’s more ambitious and obviously more technically accomplished.

Dane DeHaan brings his sly, sarcastic charisma to young up-and-coming Wall-Streeter Mr. Lockhart. He’s tasked to retrieve his company’s CEO from a mysterious “wellness center” in exchange for his protection from a scandal he provoked. With this significant motivation in mind, he travels to the idyllic facility in the Swiss Alps. But there is a weird distance between his mindset about the world and the patients’.

He soon becomes a patient himself, however, when he breaks his leg in an automobile accident. This gives him more time to convince his CEO, Mr. Pembroke (Harry Groener) to leave, and to learn much more about the strange history of the place.

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One of the criticisms levied at the film has been its main character, who doesn’t have much effect on the events of the plot. The reason I can overlook this is because I see quite a lot boiling beneath the surface of the movie.

The hospital and its bizarre treatments are a metaphor for where we stand as average citizens in our relationship with the powerful. Hannah, a young girl played terrifically by Mia Goth, is a symbol for the disillusionment with adult life and loss of innocence all of us go through, a theme which is deepened by Lockhart’s backstory. And Jason Isaac’s unsettling portrayal of Dr. Heinreich Volmer, the leader of the clinic is the perfect representation of a corrupt man of influence.

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Lockhart is told he’s crazy to believe there’s anything wrong with the place. But just as those who are passionate about any number of real-world issues fight for them against those saying they should sit down and shut up, he eventually rises above the noise and above the gaslighting.

These are eternal themes. Maybe we’re just tired of hearing them. But we shouldn’t be.

A Cure for Wellness = A+

(P.S. Bravo to cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, who in this film creates some of the most disturbing and lasting images I’ve seen on screen in recent memory)

“A Cure for Wellness” is Rated R for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language.

-George Napper

Leadership Tested in “A United Kingdom”

“No man is free who is not master of himself.”

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It’s always terrifically satisfying to me when a film is educational on top of being entertaining. Such is the case with Amma Asante’s excellent A United Kingdom, which dramatizes a little-known page of world history.

In 1948, Prince Seretse Khama of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) married a London office worker named Ruth Williams. Their interracial romance was disavowed by Seretse’s uncle, who, being the outgoing King, needed to give his consent in order for Seretse to take the throne. When the Prince stood up for himself in front of a delegation of citizens, the overwhelming support they showed him drove a wedge between the British government’s intervention in the region and the beginnings of Apartheid next door in South Africa.

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The relationship at the center of the film is consistently used as a bargaining chip for the British to force Seretse and Ruth out of the picture. Playing Seretse, David Oyelowo captures the intense emotions of the pain and futility of his situation. As Ruth, Rosamund Pike stunningly portrays a deer-in-headlights who eventually gets her feet underneath her, with both power and humility.

Oyelowo and Pike are truly spectacular here, both in terms of chemistry and of individual performances. But what shouldn’t escape your notice is the ascension of talent on display in Amma Asante’s direction. She crafts her films with a sumptuous and generous amount of joy without sacrificing sharp wit. Here, she’s also adept at finding small human moments which heighten the drama of this historical epic.

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Overall, this is a terrific film, and one which might have just stumbled into elevated importance, given our current political climate. Films like this are vital to public discourse, as they shine a light on forgotten examples of leadership and champions of democracy (Prince Seretse eventually became the first democratically-elected President of Botswana).

A United Kingdom = A

A United Kingdom is rated PG-13 for some language including racial epithets and a scene of sensuality.

-George Napper