CINEMATIC GRAB-BAG: A Cure For Wellness & Patriots Day

A Cure For Wellness
1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

A Cure For Wellness is a film I wish was better.

A psychological horror with grandiose ambitions, it stars Dane DeHaan as Lockhart, a callow young stockbroker with ice-chip eyes dispatched to retrieve his company’s CEO from a remote “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps. That proves, however, no easy task. The friendly yet obstructionist Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) takes an interest in Lockhart’s health and, after a sudden accident, he finds himself an unwilling “patient” at the sanatorium and sets about uncovering the truth.

Wellness initially skates by on sophisticated veneer of unease. As well as hydrotherapy treatment and aquarobics, the spa also offers a muted color palette — dingy white, browns, and greens — and almost anatomical displays of pouchy human flesh. It’s never truly discomforting, though, because director Gore Verbinski never imbues it with any depth. That’s not where its interest lies. Instead we get porcelain ballerinas, writhing eels, and a wincingly graphic version of that scene from Marathon Man.

The film’s script, written by Verbinski’s Lone Ranger collaborator Justin Haythe, fails to drill any deeper than pulp. The spa, we learn, has a dark history involving a feared baron, twisted medical experiments, and incest. Combine this with images that implicitly evoke the Holocaust — white-tiled showers shrouded in mist; a jar full of greying teeth; the pleasant, well-scrubbed Germanic staff — and a plot containing child abuse, and what you get is Frankenstein Meets Dr. Mengele; a monster mashup in which Abbott & Costello would surely want no involvement.

The film’s climax, meanwhile, is The Phantom Of The Opera by way of Josef Fritzl. The most surprising thing is how early all of this is established so early in Wellness‘ water-logged 146 minute run-time and how inevitably it all plays out; from that gawky, mysterious girl, Hannah (Mia Goth) to those little blue bottles. The other, more docile patients — notably Celia Imries and Harry Groener — keep popping up ambiguously not quite dead in a series of half-hearted fake-outs.

In lieu of Verbinski’s long-awaited Bioshock adaptation — whose function this film seems to have set out to fulfill — A Cure For Wellness may shock upon occasion, but it sadly never surprises. A scene where Lockhart almost drowns, hammering on the glass of a sensory deprivation tank while the male nurse obliviously wanks himself off, feels like a bit of a metaphor for the film itself.

The creatives are having such fun with his shock and his schlock, his superficial, studio-mandated perverseness — Wellness wears its 18 certificate like a tin sheriff’s star — that they fail to notice the whole enterprise going down the plug-hole.


Patriot’s Day
3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but it seems to be a trend in recent years that when bad things happen Peter Berg gets paid.

While I don’t mean to imply he spends his days ghoulishly skimming the broadsheets – he probably has an intern for that – it’s true that for Berg’s last three films to come into exist more than thirty flesh-and-blood people had to die. The last film he directed not connected to a real-life body count was 2012’s Battleship, whose metaphorical sole victim was Taylor Kitsch’s career as a leading man – albeit as part of a broader conspiracy with John Carter and Savages.

It seems that no sooner has Deepwater Horizon, based on the 2010 drilling rig explosion, arrived on DVD than Patriots Day, a dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, is parading its way into cinemas. Despite my obvious reservations, though, for a film called Patriots Day, there’s a reassuring lack of jingoism. Instead what we get is a sprawling but self-contained look at those caught up in the attack, its perpetrators and those who brought them to justice.

As in Deepwater Horizon, Mark Wahlberg stars as a heroic everyman – in this case, Tommy Saunders, a fictional Boston PD Sergeant who belligerently finds himself pulling security duty on Bolyston Street, the final stretch of the Boston Marathon. The film lays its dramatic groundwork leading up to the two explosions: the young couple (Rachel Brosnahan & Christopher O’Shea) tangled in bed together; a father (Steven Woolfenden) and his infant child; all shortly to be separated.

Berg puts us at a distance from the first blast; a mushrooming burst of dust and debris. No sooner has Tommy had time to process what’s happen than he’s running towards it. CCTV puts us right at the heart of the second fireball. Berg takes a workmanlike approach to documenting the aftermath; furrows carved in limbs, athletes running into what is now a war-zone. Mostly, though, this is a decency procedural – people coming together after being blown apart.

The Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), , Mayor Thomas Menino (Vincent Curatola), and Governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) – all of them just want the perpetrators caught; no politics. Only FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) are concerned with the wider impact. In its one reactionary note, the film’s script, based on the book Boston Strong, clearly judges him for his political sensitivity; though never to the extent of point scoring.

The terrorists in question – Tamerlan (Therno Melikidze) and Dzhokar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) – are respectively portrayed as an aggressive fanatic and a whiny stoner; a perfect encapsulation of the banality of evil. Their carjacking of Chinese student Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang) is Patriots Day at its most tense. His eyes stray to the car door handle, his hand twitches around the seat-belt buckle; his fate a matter of public record but unknown, at least, to me.

In that regard, by the time pipe bombs are going off on quiet suburban streets, the gunfire stops, and the house searches begins, the film begins to drag because, simply put, you want to see them caught or killed; as you know they were/must be. These innate thriller elements might seem exploitative if the film didn’t get you invested in the supporting cast. J.K. Simmons, for instance, plays a small-town Massachusetts police officer, whose charm and decency seem to mark him out as doomed.

Tommy himself may not exist, but his presence is dramatically expedient; such as a scene in which Wahlberg tearfully relives the trauma of the day, sat next to his wife (Michelle Monaghan; relegated to person to worry about/shoulder to cry on), on the couch where the night before he’d been sipping beer and looking at baseball cards. Exasperated and belligerent, Wahlberg essentially plays a softer version of Dignam from The Departed; the type of role in which he is at his strongest.

The final five minutes of Patriots Day provide the expected context – a blend of stock footage and present-day interviews with the participants. Its effective, if ever so slightly patronizing (the film subtitles the only person with an accent). Even so, when the memorial photos appeared onscreen, I found myself with something in my eye. A B-grade drama-thriller isn’t exactly going to enable national healing – this is not “the film we need right now” – but it’s a heartening look at how people can be at their best when times are at their worst.

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs. Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape. Co-host of The Movie RobCast podcast (formerly Electric Shadows) and member of the Online Film Critics Society.

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