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Entries in Supernatural (3)

Wednesday
Mar152017

A CURE FOR WELLNESS

Stars: Dane DeHann, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Ivo Nandi, Adrian Schiller, Celia Imrie, Harry Groener, Tomas Norstrom, Ashok Mandanna and Magnus Krepper.
Writer: Justin Haythe.
Director: Gore Verbinski.

WARNING: CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Rating: 1.5/5

Reteaming with screenwriter Justin Haythe, the scribe who spewed out the notorious flop The Lone Ranger, lies somewhere in the middle of the list of bewilderingly bad decisions Gore Verbinski makes in his latest career-killer, A Cure for Wellness.

A groaningly pedestrian, chill-free, faux-Gothic head-scratcher that manages to be both convolutely labyrinthine and entirely pointless, the latest from The Pirates of the Caribbean director blathers on loudly and incoherently for two achingly uninteresting hours. The final 30 minutes (yes, it clocks in at an unforgivable 2½ hours) might have provided some unintentionally hilarious OTT entertainment value had it not revealed the darkly misogynistic heart that drives the pretentious ‘fountain-of-youth’ nonsense.

Once-hot Dane DeHaan carves a red line through his career trajectory as Wall Street douchebag Lockhart, an upwardly mobile young financial exec who agrees to head to a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps and recover the firm’s CEO, who has holed up in the centuries-old facility. Following a spectacularly staged car accident (a high-point, despite yet another awkwardly CGI-rendered reindeer), Lockhart soon finds himself confined within the walls of the hospital, an exuberantly over-designed facility whose cinematic qualities almost justify the entire films existence.     

So begins a seemingly endless session of our protagonist hobbling through corridors and opening doors, having ambiguously meaningless conversations with elderly patients and getting into ponderous passages of ceaselessly dull dialogue with the administrator, Dr Volmer. This pointy-featured creep is provided a full repertoire of villainous tics and lip purses by Jason Isaacs, a career ham delivering a performance that may have proved a lot more fun had it served an equally self-deprecating master.

But A Cure for Wellness provides no such levity; Verbinski takes all the haughty melodrama, grand staging and occasionally gruesome flourishes as seriously as Shakespeare. Scenes extend beyond their natural flow with frustratingly inconsequential payoffs. Exploring a steam bath facility that begins to resemble a tiled version of the hedge maze in The Shining, Lockhart turns one corner…then another…then another; an off-limit section of the facility is similarly explored in boring detail, at a point in the narrative when tension should be building to a crescendo. The crux of the mystery that drives the film’s meagre momentum is so utterly lacking, it reveals all that has gone before to be little more than one red herring after another. Themes or subtext hinted at –memories of guilt, sins of the father, the curse of aging, and so on – are so underdeveloped as to not warrant consideration.

The reason the film deserves no break at all is the lecherous path charted for the sole female lead, Hannah. Played as a wispy early-teen innocent by 24 year-old Mia Goth, the character recalls Sissy Spacek’s virginal Carrie in her wide-eyed confusion about the onset of early womanhood. But unlike Carrie, who gets her own back via vengeful telekinesis, Hannah’s first cycle (horribly over-staged in a wading pool filled with Verbinski’s and Haythe’s ridiculously overused metaphor of choice, the eel) leads to violent disrobing and incestual rape, her small, naked breast centre-of-frame as she struggles to escape. There is no redemption for Hannah, unless one considers the role she plays in making her film’s hero look more heroic a sufficient character arc. It is an abhorrent gender representation that caps off one of the most distasteful and obnoxious studio offerings in recent memory.

 

Thursday
Jan192017

GHOST TEAM

Stars: Jon Heder, Melonie Diaz, Justin Long, David Krumholtz, Paul W. Downs and Amy Sedaris.
Writer: Peter Warren; story by Peter Warren and Oliver Irving.
Director: Oliver Irving.

Rating: 3/5

As Paul Feig’s femme refashioning of Ghostbusters filled 4000 multiplex screens amidst wave after wave of e-coverage, Oliver Irving’s slacker spin Ghost Team crept through 10 theatres before a low-key US Netflix debut in December. Comfy-couch home viewing is the best way to enjoy this amiable, goofy supernatural laffer; 20-something basement-dwellers and die-hard fans of stars Jon Heder and Justin Long will find enough chemistry between the committed cast and the occasionally spooky moment to make the investment of a whopping 84 minutes worthwhile.

The proprietor of a strip mall printing shop, Louis (Heder, comfortably in his ‘lovable loser’ schtick) is stuck in a life rut; work, booze, pizza and bolstering his depressed and slovenly friend, Stan (David Krumholtz), who is convinced aliens annulled his engagement when they abducted his fiancée. The one bright moment of their day is the TV show Ghost Getters, a paranormal investigation lark not dissimilar to the SyFy Channel’s hit Ghost Hunters (look for cute cameos by small-screen stars Jason Hawes and Steve Gonsalves).

When the opportunity to do some paranormal sleuthing of their own presents itself, Louis and Stan set about gathering the tools and the talent; along for the ride are smart-mouth millennial d.b. Zak (Paul W. Downs), sweet and sensible Ellie (Melonie Diaz, always reliable), local cable psychic Victoria (a woefully underused Amy Sedaris) and wanna-be Rambo mall cop Ross (Long, stealing all his scenes). Branding themselves ‘Ghost Team’ (having disagreed on the far superior ‘Polter Guys’), they set about capturing evidence of the eerie goings-on at a decrepit barn, deep in the local backwoods.

On the way to a chaotic and not-very-supernatural third act that feels a tad ‘Scooby Doo’-ish, writer Peter Warren and Irving (who last directed the 2008 Robert Pattinson oddity, How To Be) conjure some genuinely creepy moments; Downs convincingly sells the terror of an encounter with a grey apparition that mutters that ol' horror movie chestnut, “You’re all going to die.” More fittingly, the timeless premise allows for some low brow antics and guilty giggles, all achieved on a budget that would not have paid for a day’s catering on Sony’s spectral adventure.

Credit to leading man Heder, whose comedic energy and sweet charm centres the narrative when it borders on becoming more aimless than amiable; he will always be Napoleon Dynamite, but he has worked hard and succeeded at establishing an engaging screen persona of his own since the sleeper hit of 2004. Given the production foregoes any expensively scary effects work, one can assume a big chunk of the budget went on acquiring the rights to Gary Wright’s 1975 yacht-rock anthem, Dream Weaver, its refrain both bonding the mismatched quintet while evoking that all-important feel-good audience vibe. DVD extras should be a hoot; if ever a film warranted a closing-credit goof reel (and very few do), it's Ghost Team.

Monday
Aug082016

THE ISLAND FUNERAL

Stars: Heen Sasithorn, Aukrit Pornsumpunsuk, Yossawat Sittiwong, Pattanapong Sriboonrueang, Kiatsuda Piromya, Anake Srimor and Wanlop Rungkamjad.
Writers: Pimpaka Towira and Kong Rithdee.
Director: Pimpaka Towira.

Reviewed at Melbourne International Film Festival; screened Sunday August 7 at Palace Kino Cinemas, Melbourne.

Rating: 4/5

A character-driven road movie slyly disguising a powerful allegory for Thailand’s shifting, violent socio-religious framework, The Island Funeral signifies a triumphant return to feature narratives for Pimpaka Towira. After more than a decade navigating strictly monitored censorship guidelines via short film and documentary works, the auteur has delivered arguably her best longform film, a thoughtful, challenging and evocative arthouse moodpiece.

The central protagonist of the script penned by Towira and esteemed Thai film critic Kong Rithdee is Laila, a modern, determined Thai woman of Muslim faith, despite no outward, day-to-day acknowledgement of her beliefs. Her soulful strength yet composed presence is captured beautifully in an award worthy performance by the compelling Heen Sasithorn, a future superstar of international cinema.

Laila is led astray by her travelling companions, mopey brother Zugood (Aukrit Pornsumpunsuk) and his college roommate, Toy (Yossawat Sittiwong), as they meander south through Pattani, a region of Islamic resistance. Their plan is to eventually reconnect with her Aunty Zainub. an almost-mythic family figure in the remote township of Al-kaf. Towira deftly conveys the risk connected with journeying through a country in conflict - radio broadcasts offer coverage of rebel bomb attacks; armed soldiers patrol (in menacing slow motion) jungles and abandoned buildings in seemingly random inserts; Toy grows fearful that his non-Muslim beliefs will ultimately prove fatal.

The spectre of the unknown and a general unease soon permeates the trip when Laila, driving late into a stormy night, swears she sees a chain-clad, naked woman run in front of the car. Increasingly disoriented and their modern devices useless (mobiles cease working; none of the group can read a map), they are forced to reconnect with humanity via a chance meeting with local motorcyclist Surin (a charismatic Pattanapong Sriboonrueang). His enigmatic demeanour aside, Surin proves invaluable, leading them to their increasingly mysterious destination, an island only accessible by a lone boatman (Kiatsuda Piromaya, his presence further enhancing the understated paranormal atmosphere).

A utopia of sorts described by the matriarch as being “neither a part of Thailand, nor beyond it”, Towira and her longterm DOP Phuttiphong Aroonpheng (shooting on 16mm) highlight the fractured reality of Al-kaf with stunning camerawork; long, languid, dialogue-free passages capture the trio’s journey along estuaries and through thick undergrowth until the village emerges from the darkness, lit by flickering torches and intermittent surges of generator power. Aunty Zainub (Kiatsuda Piromya) proves a soothsayer of profound wisdom, engaging with her niece on matters of personal freedom, nationalism and the idealistic hopes.

There is no convenient conclusion to The Island Funeral; the didactic narrative, which veers effortlessly into a dream-state, almost non-linear realm does not lend itself to a pat denouement. Instead, Towira offers a thoughtful lament; a muted, meditative plea for her nation to cling to an ancestral spirituality in spite of a future led by those that try to deny it. The Island Funeral is a film in which a woman strives to restore faith and bring understanding through respect for the past; in modern Thailand, that constitutes a subversively confronting notion.