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A Cure For Wellness Review

OK

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since it's directed by Gore Verbinski, who made the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as Rango and The Lone Ranger. And the screenplay by Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road) starts well, stirring in some resonant themes amid the growing, gnawing nastiness. Unfortunately, over the film's overlong running time, it just gets sillier and simpler.

The story centres on Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a rising star workaholic New York broker who's been caught in some dodgy dealings. To redeem himself, he is sent to collect the company's boss (Harry Groener) from a Swiss sanatorium, where he seems to have gone native. Or something. But when Lockhart arrives at the picturesque Alpine castle, things quickly begin to spiral out of control. He's injured in a car crash, forcing him to become a patient at the spa alongside the rather too-cheerful elderly residents, who are undergoing some sort of odd treatment. As Lockhart digs deeper, he runs afoul of the director, Dr Volmer (Jason Isaacs), especially when he befriends the doctor's star patient, the oddly naive Hannah (Mia Goth). And as things get freakier, Lockhart begins to worry that he'll never get out of here.

Verbinski develops a darkly gothic atmosphere from the first frames of the film, and things get increasingly offbeat from there. Some elements are blackly comical, but the overall tone is grotesque, with a special emphasis on slimy eels, which appear alarmingly everywhere Lockhart looks. Meanwhile, Haythe stirs in a convoluted mythology about the mad baron who lived in the castle 200 years earlier. When combined with underlying themes about the stresses of modern-day life and the relative morality of Wall Street bankers, this is all rather intriguing. Unfortunately, these clever textures slip away quickly, leaving little more than a series of repetitive set pieces designed to give the audience the jitters as they remind us of other movies.

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Assassin's Creed Review

Weak

Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on videogames. There may have been some hits (like Tomb Raider or the Resident Evil franchise), but none has ever been critically acclaimed. So perhaps reuniting the cast and director of 2015's Macbeth might finally break the cycle. But while there's plenty of whizzy stuntwork, this film never finds a story or characters to grab hold of the audience.

In present-day Texas, death row prisoner Cal (Michael Fassbender) is executed by lethal injection and wakes up in a gloomy fortress towering over Madrid. He's been saved by shady businessman Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), whose daughter Sofia (Marion Cotillard) is a scientist experimenting with DNA memory. Rikkin needs Cal to travel back into his own history using a mechanical contraption called an Animus to find out where his 15th century ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) hid the Apple of Eden, which holds the key to controlling human will. But Cal discovers that he is the last in a long line of Assassins who have sworn to protect the apple from Knights Templar like Rikkin or his imperious supreme leader Ellen (the fabulously gloomy Charlotte Rampling).

The idea is a clever one, and director Justin Kurzel keeps the visuals grounded with action that feels earthy and real rather than digitally manipulated. Indeed, the combination of sleek sci-fi thrills with medieval fantasy horror is very cool. But there's one huge problem with the premise: all of the big fight sequences and eye-catching parkour acrobatics take place in distant history. Cal can experience these things, but he can't actually do anything, so there's no peril involved. Instead, we get endless explanations of the technology and historical inter-connections, which never quite make sense regardless of how much the characters talk about them.

Continue reading: Assassin's Creed Review

The Big Short Review

Excellent

Smart and snappy, this comedy is one of the scariest films of the year, using humour to outline the 2008 economic collapse from the inside. With characters who are based on real people, the film shows how economists made a fortune from the financial devastation inflicted on millions of families. And the movie cleverly points out that all of this happened (and people are still getting away with it) because the general public can't be bothered to pay attention.

Things were so booming in the first years of this century that it was easy for the media to divert the attention of Americans away from the dark underbelly of the financial world, creating big scandals out of nothing, spurring rampant buying sprees and making stars of non-entities like the Kardashians. Meanwhile in 2005, investment expert Michael Burry (Christian Bale) noticed that America's mortgage market was turning toxic. So he offered to "short" it, betting against this always-stable market by purchasing credit default swaps. The banks thought they would make a fortune from him, carrying on their dangerous practices. But other experts saw Burry's point, including the nerdy genius Mark Baum (Steve Carell), the shark-like Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and a pair of newbies (Finn Wittrock and John Magaro) who tip off their reclusive mentor Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). When the economy imploded, these men became billionaires.

Director-cowriter Adam McKay is better known for silly movies like Anchorman, so he packs this film with raucous cutaways to pop culture references of the period, as well as hilariously absurd explanations of economic issues from, for example, Margot Robbie in a bubble bath or Selena Gomez playing blackjack. This approach actually heightens the horror of what's going on as fraudulent bankers and corrupt government officials conspire to undermine the foundations of the economy. Although the explanations still feel like gibberish to mere mortals, it's at least presented in a way that's entertaining.

Continue reading: The Big Short Review

The Revenant Review

Excellent

A wrenching saga of survival and revenge, Alejandro G. Inarritu's new epic is just as technically astounding as his Oscar-winning previous film Birdman. But it's a much muddier and bloodier, set in a a snowy, mountainous Wild West in which everything is a potentially fatal hazard. There may be some human villains on hand, but it's Mother Nature who holds the cards.

At the edge of civilisation in the 1820s, a group of fur trappers led by Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) is ambushed by a ferocious mob of Native Americans led by Chief Elk Dog (Duane Howard), who is looking for his kidnapped daughter. As the trappers flee from the attack, they are assisted by the guide Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who knows these mountains because he has gone native, adopting an orphaned teen boy named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), who now accompanies him. But as the survivors make their escape, Glass is badly mauled by a grizzly bear. Henry assigns the compassionate Bridger (Will Poulter) and the more cynical Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) to take care of him. But Fitzgerald snaps, leaving Glass for dead. Against the odds, Glass recovers and sets out to get vengeance.

The title refers to someone who comes back from the grave, which is literally what happens to Glass. And DiCaprio plays him with fire-eyed intensity that vividly shows his tenacious will to survive. Moody flashbacks reveal his back-story, and why living means so much to him. It's one of DiCaprio's most viscerally moving performances. Opposite him, Hardy is a bundle of unpredictable, terrifying rage, thankfully balanced by the expressively sympathetic Poulter and Gleeson's alert commander, the only person who takes the time to measure his thoughts. They're surrounded by a terrific supporting cast of sparky actors who appear briefly but memorably.

Continue reading: The Revenant Review

Broken City Review


Good

While this thriller plays with themes of political ethics and ambition, it merely lets them simmer in the background. Director Hughes is clearly much more interested in macho posturing and the convoluted scandal-based plot, so he lets the cast members merrily chomp on the scenery but neglects to give us anything that engages our brains.

The broken city of the title is New York, where Mayor Hostetler (Crowe) covered up a shooting involving cop Billy (Walhberg) to protect himself seven years ago. Acquitted but disgraced, Billy is now working as a low-rent private detective when the mayor calls in a favour. He hires Billy to find out who his wife (Zeta-Jones) is having an affair with before it derails his re-election campaign against the passionate rising-star Valliant (Pepper). It doesn't take Billy long to get the incriminating photos, but clearly there's something much bigger at stake here, so he continues to investigate the situation, which uncovers such high-reaching corruption that Billy's life is in danger.

Demonstrating how little the film cares about its characters, Billy's long-time girlfriend (Martinez) is dispatched suddenly after a series of arguments during which she refuses to put up with his boorish, chauvinistic stupidity. Why she stuck with him this long is the real question. But this and other eccentric relationships in the plot are much more interesting than the dull property-development boondoggle that Hughes instead decided to focus on. The problem is that this leaves Wahlberg with the only remotely complex character, an intriguing mess of a man who overreacts wildly to everything and yet seems to want to do the right thing.

Continue reading: Broken City Review

Man On Fire (2004) Review


Good
An overstuffed, pricey, and smashingly gorgeous bag for a variety pack of clichés, Man on Fire represents director Tony Scott taking somewhat of a step backwards after fun, spry thrillers Spy Game and Enemy of the State; but damn if he doesn't try his hardest to make it all mean something.

In the film (a remake of a 1987 flick of the same name) Denzel Washington coasts through his role as John Creasy, your average ex-undercover operative now saddled with a drinking problem and a yen for his own death. His buddy from the bad old days, Rayburn (Christopher Walken), now a wealthy Mexican businessman of ill repute, gets Creasy a job as bodyguard for the nine-year-old daughter of Mexico City industrialist Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony). The average parent might have noticed that Creasy might not have been the best man for the job, seeing as he drinks, is temperamental with the daughter, and tries to off himself one lonely night. But the girl herself, Pita (Dakota Fanning), takes to crusty old Creasy anyway, saying to her mother (Radha Mitchell) that "he's like a big, sad bear" and filling her notebook with moony scribblings about how much she loves him. Creasy finally warms up to Pita, an irresistibly personable ball of energy as played by Fanning, who also brings a powerfully adult presence to her scenes with Washington, complementing his character's world-weariness: they're like the only two adults in a world full of corrupt, venal teenagers.

Continue reading: Man On Fire (2004) Review

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