“Dark City” (1998) Throwback Thursday Film Review

The “thinking man’s Matrix.” That is how fellow critic and senior producer of One Movie Punch Joseph Dobzynski describes this underrated neo-noir science-fiction film that predates The Matrix. For the weekly film screening with my cinephile friend Leon in Germany, he selected Dark City. Truly visionary and incredibly rewatchable! I don’t know about you, but I had never even heard of it before. Perhaps that’s because I was so young when it came out. But I am glad that we watched it. It’s now among my favorite neo-noir films.  Never before have I seen a film take the stylistic techniques of film noir and extended them into the realm of fantasy, delivering a motion picture that is highly artistic and cerebral. Perhaps the film was ahead of its time, and that’s why it does not receive the fanfare that The Matrix gets. Between the two, objectively this one is more thought-provoking and artistic. Directed by Alex Proyas, this Fincher meets Scott neo-noir successfully fuses a classical film noir/detective mystery approach with futuristic fantastical allegory. One of the elements of early horror and film-noir that I feel gets lost today is the extension of the plot into the setting itself to the degree that the setting becomes a defacto character. Just as a human is more than the sum of his or her parts, so a setting can be more than the sum of its physical dimensions and time. I would have loved to have experienced watching this one on the big screen to get the full surrealist effect of being completely immersed in this volatile world. Hey Fathom Events, put this one on your list!

John Murdoch wakes up in a bathtub in an unfamiliar hotel just to find out that he is wanted for a bizarre string of murders in a cult or serial killer fashion. One problem, he has no memory of committing the murders, nor much of a memory of anything save a place called Shell Beach. Thinking that he may have completely lost his mind, Murdoch begins to connect the pieces together in order to solve the twisted riddle of his identity. After a bizarre run-in with someone claiming to be his wife and a persistent detective, Murdoch continues to unravel the mystery surrounding the entire unnamed city. Never could he have imagined that his investigation would lead him to uncovering the presence of ominous group of aliens that have taken over the city. The truth that he uncovers will blow your mind.

Next to horror, film-noir is my favorite genre. And yes, we could all too easily debate film-noir‘s status as a genre as it only existed for a moment in cinematic history; and anything more modern is considered neo-noir, but for the sake of argument, let’s accept film-noir as a genre. There is a beauty to this film that does not exist in The Matrix. And that beauty runs incredibly fluidly from page to screen as is made evident from the brilliantly crafted setting, characters and conflict. There is a Metropolis-like quality to the setting and characters in Dark City. Even before Inception blew our minds with its ability to completely immerse us in the world of reality manipulated by the boundless imagination, Dark City transformed the landscape of this city in perpetual darkness. Some of the cinematic characteristics of film noir are found in the lowkey lighting, architecture inspired from German expressionism, and often a character playing the role of a detective. Whereas detective/mystery is a separate genre, there are several films with overlap between noir and detective. If you pay close attention to the production design, you will notice that the buildings grow more elongated and twisted the closer Murdoch gets to solving the mystery; furthermore, the buildings grow more slanted as Murdoch reaches the edges of the city. On a meta level, the setting is an extension of the mind of Murdoch and reflects his memories or lack thereof, more precisely the unreliability of memories. Just as his [Murodoch’s] memory is unreliable, so is the cityscape in which he resides. Characters and settings change and display broken collective memories, even when remembering how to get to Shell Beach. The design of the setting demonstrates Proyas’ attention to the stylized visual components of building this hybrid noir/sci-fi.

Whereas the neo-noir characters and world, in which they live, are very much a product of a reimagination of the film-noir genre, the conflict and plot (after the very much noir first act) are a deconstruction of the noir genre through a science-fiction plot. One of the dangers the many science-fiction screenwriters encounter is that he or she spends way too much time on constructing the science-fiction world and technology and quickly writes characters for the world. The error: starting with the world instead of with the characters or plot. Proyas demonstrates a strong commitment to his characters and plot, followed by the world. He was able to masterfully craft both because he used the world from one and the plot from another. Think of this combination of noir and sci-fi elements as Walt Disney’s patented multi-plane camera (last used on The Black Cauldron). Instead of elements mixed together, they were layered on top of one another in order to increase the depth of story. The plot remains simple; but the conflict, characters and world built on top of it gives the illusion of a complex plot. The screenplay stays true to a simple plot and complex characters. Through this visionary approach of fusing a film-noir setting to a science-fiction plot, Proyas provides the characters (and by extension, audience) a thought-provoking means of exploring reality in a most cinematic fashion.

There are considerable similarities between Blade Runner and Dark City in terms of the setting, score, and cinematography. And this is to be expected from a director who has demonstrated an admiration of Ridley Scott’s brilliant film. In retrospect, there are prominent earmarks of Muholland Drive by David Lynch as well. The meta nature of this film can be observed in the city itself. As the plot unfolds, we learn that the city is glorified set–not so different from a film set which changes throughout production in order to capture each and every scene. Just as a mood ring supposedly visualizes the emotion of the wearer, the set serves as an extension of the paranoia of its inhabitants. Capturing the madness experienced by the characters, specifically Murdoch, in the setting and cinematography adds to the experience of watching this film by creating an immersive environment as much for us as it is the characters. As this film is a means to deconstruct a film-noir through a science-fiction plot, we have the trademark characters such as a love interest and private eye; but instead of a central character who is experiencing a type of psychosis, the central character of Murdoch is the only character who has complete control of his mind and thus sees the cracks in the world created for him by The Strangers. This inverse of the central character injects this story with innovative ingenuity.

I would be remiss to not analyze the characters of opposition led by Mr. Book (Ian Richardson), with a notable chief of his version of the KGB, Mr. Hand played by the legendary Richard O’Brien (the writer/director of Rocky Horror Picture Show). While Mr. Book is the leader of The Strangers, the alien species whom have kidnapped these citizens of earth to place them in this futuristic experiment to analyze what constitutes the human soul, we spend most of our time with Mr. Hand. To borrow from Game of Thrones, Mr. Hand is the hand of the king. While these aliens resemble humanoid lifeforms, they are in actuality a jellyfish like species that uses human bodies as hosts in order to interact with humans. For all the power that their telekinetic abilities give them, water and sun is their greatest enemy, hence why Shell Beach is nowhere to be found and the city is perpetually in darkness. Just like Murdoch is an inverted noir central character, The Strangers are inverted humans as they have a great fear of water and sunlight, whereas humans require water and sunlight to remain healthy. I cannot help but wonder that Star Trek TNG and Voyager’s The Borg was influential in the development of The Strangers, as they both share the hive-like mind and pale skin. Of course, a chief difference is The Strangers’ ability to adopt some unique traits to blend in with the humans.

In retrospect, this is a much stronger film than The Matrix. Both share a similar premise, but the original expression of the shared premise in Dark City is far more timeless than the more famous of the two. And I am not merely talking about the visual effects, of which they hold up better in Dark City than The Matrix; I am talking about the comprehensive execution of the two films. Had James Cameron’s Titanic not dwarfed Dark City, then it may have been seen as the superior film to The Matrix by wider audiences than the strong cult following it currently has. But why do I feel that Dark City is superior to The Matrix? Simply stated, it comes down to the writing and direction. There are so many more layers to the writing and direction that makes it a cerebral film. I would not characterize The Matrix as a thinking man’s film, but I would Dark City. You can liken the two to Star Wars vs Star Trek (TV series). Star Wars is action-driven whereas Star Trek is largely character-driven. One may even go so far as to call The Matrix high concept and Dark City low concept. On the topic of visual effects, virtually all the effects in The Matrix are CGI; conversely, Dark City contains a beautiful fusion of practical effects (including miniatures) supplemented with digital effects. Dark City feels so much more real, tangible. It’s that authenticity that makes it the stronger of the two and warrants far more rewatches.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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John Carpenter’s “In the Mouth of Madness” full review

Stephen King meets The Twilight Zone in this underrated Carpenter film! It isn’t often that I am introduced to a, what should be a well-known, horror film that is completely unknown by me. There are certainly many indie and obscure horror films that I am unfamiliar with; but because this is a Carpenter film in my lifetime, I should have known about it! Thankfully my penpal, fellow cinephile, and friend Leon in Germany selected this gem for our weekly film screening. Each week we take turns selecting a different film for us to watch. Sometimes it’s a movie that one of us likes and wants to share, other time, it’s a film that neither of us have seen but want to. This was the former. When Leon asked if I’ve seen In the Mouth of Madness, I replied with I haven’t even heard of it. When he told me it was John Carpenter in 1994, I was shocked! And is stars Dr. Alan Grant and Damian himself, Sam Neil! You may be wondering why you have not heard of this film, and that is most likely because it performed poorly at the box office and was panned by critics. Fortunately, a small cult following has developed over the years, but it’s largely still an obscure mid-90s horror film. The reason for this is likely because the film has been accused of difficult to follow, but I do not believe that to be true. It’s true if you need to be held by the hand through the plot, but this film is one of those that has so much depth that you will want to be fully engaged in every minute, every frame. In the Mouth of Madness contains many Stephen King, and Twilight Zone elements that truly make this incredibly rewatchable. The cinematography and score are beautiful, and I find the screenwriting fascinating! I’d even venture to conclude that this is Carpenter’s final masterpiece. Carpenter’s vision of John Trent’s (Neil) descent into madness is terrifyingly spine-chilling.

Summary: When horror novelist Sutter Kane (Jürgen Prochnow) goes missing, insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) scrutinizes the claim made by his publisher, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), and endeavors to retrieve a yet-to-be-released manuscript and ascertain the writer’s whereabouts. Accompanied by the novelist’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), and disturbed by nightmares from reading Kane’s other novels, Trent makes an eerie nighttime trek to a supernatural town in New Hampshire. (IMDb)

Go into this movie with an open mind. I highly recommend this because I still do not fully understand everything. But. That is the beauty of this film. There are so many layers that you can peel back and do a close reading. Perhaps this film was ahead of its time in that there is a meta nature to the experience of watching this film. The central character of Trent must discern what is fantasy and what is reality; and by extension, we are challenged, as the audience, to very much the same task. We must decide if the imagery before our eyes is reality or fantasy, to be taken literally or figuratively. While meta films are much more popular now, it was highly experimental back in 1994/95. The beauty of horror is its ability to force us into uncomfortable places in which we come face to face with that which terrifies us–sometimes to our very core. And what is more terrifying than the possibility you may be crazy or a hoax is attempting to gaslight you? When our very psyche feels under attack, it’s fight or flight.

We are drawn into the story because we are naturally drawn to the repulsive, because there is a subconscious masochistic desire to experience a pleasurable unpleasure. Much like in Sunset Boulevard where we are not concerned or preoccupied with what happens to Joe Gillis (since we know he’s dead from the opening scene), we are profoundly curious about HOW he winds up floating facedown in a swimming pool. We can liken that to In the Mouth of Madness because we know Trent, whether sane or insane (though, that is a legal term), is institutionalized and placed in the padded room. Once we flash back to a few weeks earlier, we are morbidly curious as to how this otherwise intelligent, rational man winds up a prisoner of his own mind.

Another question that the film confronts us with is the power of literature. Is it possible for a writer to be so incredibly popular, and enough people become engrossed in the words that the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred to the point that people begin to believe that the “fictional” characters and setting are a real place? That is certainly a powerful concept to tackle in a low-budget horror film. But Carpenter was never one to shy away from a bold concept or statement. It’s clear that the film is a commentary on the prolific writing and power of the words of authors like King or Lovecraft. Furthermore, the film suggests that there is a transcending power of the text to nest in the subconscious to tap into primal fears and carnal actions. Trent slowly comes to realize that the readers of Kane’s works have been placed under a spell, of sorts, that predisposes them to taking on the characteristics of the literary characters and giving themselves over to behaving like the monsters that are written about in Kane’s novels.

Kane likens his books to the Bible in a sacrilegious attempt to prove that if you convince enough people to read your books that you can control them, and ostensibly become a god. Kane certainly displays signs of a god-complex; he seeks to be in control over not only his fictional Hobbs End but the whole world. And instead of taking over the world by physical force, he seeks to take over the world through the power of the written word. It’s a fascinating concept to think about, and perhaps you can think of books that have greatly influenced society to the point that behavior changed. Can a book truly spark widespread delusions and paranoia? Trent certainly believes so. I love how this feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone on crack. The power and success of The Twilight Zone is due in large part to the show’s ability to comment on societal behavior through the use of bizarre or shocking imagery. Pose a big question grounded in reality, then use science-fiction, fantasy, or horror as a vehicle to explore various perspectives and possible outcomes.

John Carpenter provide us with a fantastic score that will penetrate you all the way down to the bone. It’s both shocking and beautiful all at the same time. Originally Carpenter desired to have Metalica score the film, but the combination of not fitting into the budget and an unwillingness to license the rights left John to compose his own score that mimicked what he wanted from Metalica. The score of In the Mouth of Madness was not intended to be spooky but to keep the audience ever so slightly off-balance. The cinematography is also an element to take note of when analyzing this film. The lighting, camera movement, and shot selections convey a neo-noir tone. Similar tones can be found in Mulholland Drive and Pulp Fiction. Although there are many horror elements in this movie, it bares a lot of similarities to neo-noir in how it handles the central character and the conflict he’s been thrown into that leaves him in over his head. And of course, it ends badly for Trent.

I am surprised that not more horror fans know of, much less, like this movie. It really seems to have two camps: one that loves this film and the other that hates it. Honestly, it appears to be one of the more polarizing films within the horror library. It’s one that I will certainly rewatch because of the highly intellectual component. There is tremendous depth to the narrative and it strikes me as the type of film that will give the viewer something different to think about every watch. It’s visually stunning and the imagery is macabre. Definitely one that I will recommend to fellow horror fiends like me.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Blade Runner 2049” film review

Just as mesmerizing as the original! Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is nothing short of a future classic that demonstrably possesses the soul of the original and pairs it with a new plot brought to life by a fantastic cast. Every minute is filled with beautiful cinematography that is perfect in every way and a haunting score that penetrates down to the bone. At its core, Blade Runner 2049 wrestles with this one central question: what does it mean to be human? A question that can spawn hours of debates or an exquisite nearly three-hour motion picture. Considering that Ridley Scott has not delivered the same quality for which he provided precise and poignant direction, it was a solid decision to attach Villeneuve as the director. This sequel 35 years in the making may not have had the classic Ridley Scott at the helm, but Villeneuve channels his inner Scott to provide audiences with the same profound cinematic experience today as Scott did when Blade Runner first released. From the color palette to the lighting to the sound design, this motion picture is one that typifies the power of the art of motion pictures and one that will surely be regarded as iconic as the years more along, very much in the same way that the original has been regarded over time.

Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is tracking down the remaining legacy Replicant models created by the infamous Tyrell Corporation, and his latest mission takes him to an obscure farm in the middle of dessert California. After retiring the replicant at the farm, K uncovers what will become a metaphor for Pandora’s Box, as it opens a mystery that law enforcement and the Wallace Corp. seek to solve. The secret contained within the box is one that could potentially plunge all “humanity” into complete chaos, not there there isn’t enough of that already for those left on earth. K’s journey takes him from the gritty, grimy streets of Greater Los Angeles to the dust bowl that was once Fabulous Las Vegas. There, he meets former Blade Runner Deckard  (Harrison Ford) who has been hiding from law enforcement and the Wallace Corporation for three decades. Together, they must work to locate the miracle that no one ever could have thought would happen–or could happen.

Despite not pulling the numbers that Blade Runner 2049 was forecasted to bring in over its October opening weekend, the film did what fans wanted–it kept the very essence of the original movie alive and well. For all the artificial intelligence in the film, there is nothing artificial about this long-awaited and highly anticipated sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. The reason for not pulling the numbers that it was predicted to do can likely be attributed to the tone of the film and the stylistic filmmaking approach that borders on neo-noir meets the avant-garde. Although not completely necessary, it is incredibly helpful to have seen the first film. And seeing the first film gives an appreciation for the sequel that cannot be experiences without having knowledge of the first. The slow-pace and dark atmosphere may be some of the reasons why more people did not wish out to see it as the weekend moved along. Looking at the two films side by side, this film is a direct extension of the original so the authenticity of this universe and story is genuine and almost visceral. For those who prefer more dialog or higher concept plots, the film may not strike the same level of enthusiasm because of the heavy visuals and dark themes in addition to the profound questions. This combination is not one that will attract the general populous in doves; however, this film IS what it needed to be. Sometimes a long-awaited sequel has to be made to remain true to its soul because that is what the fans want to see, and it’s the true fans who continue to visit the cinema year after year. Blade Runner 2049 may not win over new fans, but it keeps the diehard ones happy.

At the heart of Villeneuve’s cinematic masterpiece are existential questions that drive the plot forward. A plot driven by such questions told through a sedated pace is one that is not as easy to digest as one that is more superficial and more rapidly paced. Still, these questions are profound and cause one to think hard about what it means to be human. What sets this film apart from other science-fiction rapid fire blockbusters is the commitment to visual storytelling and the art of creating a motion picture. Blade Runner 2049 mirrors its predecessor and remains true to the experience of the first. Cinephiles will especially appreciate this film for it harkens back to a time when German expressionism was at the foundation of the set design and lighting. There are many exaggerated and elongated shapes that exist in a world of harsh shadows and dimly lit alleys throughout the film. Although the look of the future world in the original was one that audiences may not have believed would come true or could come true is seen differently by today’s audience that can easily see just how accurate the world of the Blade Runner movies actually is–the mediation of society today seems to be not that far off from this not-so-distant future.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins captures a wold through the lens that seems to go on forever in a world of greys and beiges. The only color to be found is in the prolific advertising on the sides of buildings. Deakins further extends the artistic approach to the cinematography by paying homage to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining in a shot that was actually added to one of the more recent recuts of Scott’s Blade Runner. That score, though. The sound design and score are an audible extension of the visual landscape. Composers Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer have created one of the most haunting scores to ever be heard in the cinema. The combination of ghostly groans and blood curdling howls echo the very look and feel of the landscape. I’ve rarely encountered such an immersive sound design and score in a film. Just as the world on screen is an uneasy place to live and one that contains faint images of the grandeur of a world that once was, the score accompanying this motion picture places you in the midst of this post-apocaltyic world that most natural-born humans have left.

Definitely a film that I want to watch for a second time in order to appreciate this film, boasting with artistic achievement, even more than I already do. Although most of the themes and subtext are centered in and around “what it means to be human,” there is a real message regarding the importance of bees. An important visual statement in the film because the populations of bees, the most prolific pollinators, are dwindling. Not for the casual movie-goer, this film is for those who want to experience a sequel in the vein of the original that shows the artistic side of the creation of motion pictures.

“13 Reasons Why” television review

A fascinating approach to the exploration of the butterfly effect in terms of how that theory plays out in interpersonal relationships. Or, the most comprehensive anti-bullying PSA out there. Unless you have been off the social media grid, there is little doubt that you are unaware of the impact and following of the Netflix original show 13 Reasons Why. Although it took a few weeks for the show to really catch on, once it became a topic of memes, Tweets, and other social media posts, the popularity of the show spread quicker than a viral meme. Responses to the show have been quite polarizing. There is the camp that feels strongly that the show provided an organic unfiltered approach to the gradual mitigation of one’s psycho-social health upon constant negative encounters with peers and bullying; likewise, there is the camp that feels equally strongly that the show glamorizes the ultimate pay-back effect of making peers and authority figures feel responsible for an individual’s decision to commit suicide, and therefore plants the idea that you can exert the pinnacle of revenge by telling your story after the fact. At the end of the day, one’s response to the show will depend on how one interprets the rather meta narrative. Beyond the contentious diegetic components of the show, the production value and editing are superior to other YA shows and even movies.

It’s been quite a while since I reviewed a television show, so I though that this one would be quite interesting to delve into. I’ll be up front and state that I belong to the camp that feels the show is a mirror to bullying and those who suffer psycho-socially moreso than the camp that feels the show supports the belief that it’s perfectly acceptable to blame others for how one feels. Not that I do not see evidence of the latter–I do–but I think the danger in that camp is throwing out the important anti-bullying messages too. Again, it comes down to how YOU interpreted the show’s narrative. The beauty of shows like this one–like this one, in that there is much left up to interpretation–is the simple fact that it gets people talking about a taboo topic or topics that are seen as difficult to talk about. Doesn’t matter the camp to which you may belong; this show accomplished what I believe it set out to do: get people talking about bullying, relationships, and sexual assault in an organic way. Whether you feel that Hannah (Katherine Langford) was justified in her decision, was selfishly seeking attention and desired revenge, or the one that best describes me: disagree with her decision to commit suicide but understand how she got to that point, 13 Reasons Why provides audiences (mostly those in their 20-30s) with ample material to explore the narrative itself and the impact it has had upon the present cultural climate.

Much like in the same vein as the prologue in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which we are prevued, through dramatic irony, to the unalterable fact that “two star-cross’d lovers” take their lives and [the audience] will spend the next two hours watching events unfold upon the stage thus learning how and why, Netflix’ 13 Reasons Why begins with the unalterable fact that a young lady has taken her life, and you’ll spend the next 13 episodes learning just why. While the show in question may not completely align with a Shakespearean tragedy, there are many similar components in the story. Moreover, had the show been shot in grayscale and set in the 1950s, it could have easily been a film noir. As it were, it can be classified as a neo noir show. But what keeps audiences engaged with each and every episode is the anxiety that builds up in regards to just why is Clay (Minnette) on those tapes, because everything the audience sees is the nicest guy next door that you could ever meet. There is also a ticking time bomb plot device mildly used because there are only six double-sides tapes and one single (13 sides in total); so the closer we get to the end, the more tension builds. As I cannot comment on the best-selling novel by Jay Asher because I have not read it, the writing of the television adaptation is absolutely brilliant–it’s designed to be addictive and succeeds in keeping eyes glued to “whatever device you are using” to watch the show. Interestingly, just like Clay cannot put the tapes down, neither can many out here put the show down.

Throughout the story, we encounter significant peers and authority figures in Hannah’s life that either directly or indirectly contributed to her decision to end her life and leave the tapes. Yes, I am aware that ultimately she made the decision–that is not what I am arguing for or against here. My point is, we encounter different people who each possess unique character attributes, flaws, and personality traits that impacted Hannah’s psyche. Exploring each character could be entire reviews in and of themselves, so I will be brief. You have characters ranging from disclosing secrets for the sake of showcasing art to not being brave enough to stop something horrible, from stalking those who you feel are more popular than you to something as simple as abandoning your friends at “FML” coffee sessions, and even a character who is so blinded by friendship that they cannot see and return the love of another, finally there is a character who cannot hear cries for help, for those cries are falling upon deaf ears. Each character represents a different character archetype. Along the lines of films and shows that personify the seven deadly sins, this show personified character traits that should be avoided in order to not contribute to someone’s overwhelming negative outlook on life. In short, do not be a dick. Treat one another with respect and love.

(This paragraph contains some mild spoilers) Although one of the characters has two tapes, each tape focuses on a particular person and the thing he or she did to add one more marble to the scale, slowly tipping it. For those who have dealt with perpetual taunting, teasing, or bullying or experienced it while going through K-12 school and living with the emotional scares as an adult, the show does an excellent job of not shying away from the little things, as well as the big, that each break you down a little at a time. Furthermore, the show also provided audiences with brief glimpses into what drives a potential school mass shooter to begin plotting his or her revenge and that one student’s suicide can prompt another because of the hurt someone else may be facing that feels unbearable–or brought on by the guilt of having contributed to the former’s decision to kill herself (Hannah). I think what hurts the full potential of the show’s ability to call for positive change is never taking a stance on Hannah’s suicide–never does a character state that what Hannah did was wrong, or that it deeply hurt those who DID love and respect her. Of course, the moral implications are topics best saved for another day and another forum.

Upon reading the news of a sequel, I cannot escape the fact that this story does not need a sequel–it IS a complete story; however, there could be “13 reasons” why the attempted suicide in the show during the final episode happened or why another character began to plot for a school mass shooting. Those are potential spin-offs that take place within the same universe and with the same characters. In terms of the show’s production value and editing, I was impressed with the subtle nuances of the present day versus the flashbacks. As a rule of thumb, I do not usually care for flashbacks. I mean, if you spend most of your time in a flashback(s), then let THAT be your main story. That being said, 13 Reasons Why successfully integrates the flashback into the diegesis because it makes the present story just as interesting to watch as the past stories. I also loved the color temperature changes from the present to the past. The stylistic editing techniques employed enable the audience to know when they are watching a flashback versus present day. In addition to the editing, there are also wardrobe, makeup, and costuming differences as well. Over all, this show is definitely one to watch in order to fully grasp just how much the little negative interactions or experience with one another can add up to leave someone feeling like there is no way out or whether or not they have the strength to go on.

“A Cure for Wellness” movie review

acureforwellnessAn intriguing, provocative psychological thriller that’s an innovative example of neo-noir avant-garde cinema with a touch of mystery. Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness is a thought-provoking film that hooks you from the very beginning and continues to draw you into the narrative with its labyrinth of subplots and incredibly beautiful cinematography. Although it certainly borrows turning points and plot devices from past films, A Cure for Wellness provides audiences with an experience that is unique and protects the film from being pigeonholed into any one sub-genre of horror or directly compared to other movies that have similar attributes. With impeccable production designs and serene landscapes juxtaposed against cringe-worthy disturbing imagery, Verbinski’s ambitious film is one that cinephiles will appreciate and find enjoyment in discussing the various themes, symbols, and visual storytelling elements that seamlessly work together to create a cinematic experience that stands out against the homogeneous horror/mystery-thriller past films. Justin Haythe’s screenplay sets him up for continued success as he demonstrates, with this film, that he can cross into new genres and hook the audience early on. Despite the occasional slow-burning periods in the narrative, you will not likely feel the nearly 2.5hr runtime.

After he receives a corner office in a high rise building, a stock broker finds himself involved in an investigation that requires the presence of the entire board. Mr. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is forced by his fellow directors, on the board, to fly to Switzerland to retrieve the CEO in order to complete a proposed merger to save the company from closure. Little does he know that those who voluntarily check in to the mysterious wellness center seldom desire to leave the prestigious mountaintop retreat-like spa and its famous water. When the CEO of his company refuses to leave the comfort of the retreat, Lockhart decides to wait it out in the village below the hilltop. After a bizarre car accident on his way back into town from the institution, Lockhart finds himself a patient due to his broken leg. Under the guidance of Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), Lockhart experiences all the wellness center has to offer to the patients and guests. However, he cannot help but feel that there is a darkness surrounding the cult-like daily operations at the spa and begins to dig into the history of the prestigious wellness institution. After meeting a rather unusual patient at the institution named Hannah (Mia Goth), Lockhart is determined to unravel the mystery of how so many people, including himself, are diagnosed with the same bizarre ailment that keeps them there for the cure.

Beautiful. The first cinematic element that will jump out at you will be the incredible cinematography and picturesque landscapes of the Swiss Alps. From the moment the film opens, there is a tone that inspires you to look at and listen for details throughout the film. The fact that the teasers and trailers reveal very little about the plot is beneficial to the overall experience of the film. Just when you think you have the plot figured out, you will be thrown for a loop and question what you thought was predictable. In all fairness, I figured out a very important aspect to the plot midway through after a particular line delivered by one of the central characters prompted me to have one of those aha moments. However, I was still continually intrigued by the film’s diegetic delivery and visual storytelling. The fact that I figured some rather crucial information did not detract from the experience. Early on, it is clear that there is something not right with the spa, and gathering information and piecing together the puzzle will draw you in closer to the film. Without giving anything away, there are definitely clues along the way that reveal the dark mystery and history behind the exclusive mountain retreat wellness institution.

Dane DeHaan delivers an excellent performance as Lockhart, and provides the perfect balance of entitled Wall Street prick, detective, and humanitarian on a rescue mission. Jason Isaacs, no stranger to playing a creepy villain, delivers a disturbingly convincing performance as the strange doctor overseeing the almost clandestine treatments for an unknown sickness. Mia Goth’s performance adds a great deal of uneasiness to the film by coming across as innocent, child-like, all the while hiding something creepy and peculiar about her very pretense at the facility. Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography is breathtaking and is successful at completely immersing the audience into the mountain top world of the Swiss Alps. Whether following a train or an extreme close-up of the human eye (a staple in horror films), the visual art he paints with the camera serves to provide solid visual storytelling. Directing such a complex film requires great patience, organization, and effective guidance. Verbinski channels his success with The Ring (2002) by integrating some similar stylistic techniques in A Cure for Wellness. Speaking of the title itself, the irony in the title isn’t realized until the third act; but, delivers an outstanding payoff that will prompt many discussions in a film studies class. Stylistically, the film sits at a crossroads between avant-garde horror and neo-noir with some science-fiction and mystery thrown in for good measure and intrigue.

Despite many reviews slamming the film for a complex system of subplots and not enough traditional terror in the narrative, this film is a fine example of an outstanding vision that is seldom seen on the silver screen due to the fact that it will not likely make a lot of money, but it adds critical value to the art of motion pictures. Instead of creating a film that would have included many of the more typical tropes in this hybrid science-fiction mystery/thriller, Verbinski chooses to meticulously craft art for the screen. For the squeamish, there are definitely some scenes that will churn your stomach and even some disturbing imagery that many will like to unsee. If you enjoy avant-garde cinema or even innovative neo-noir storytelling, then you will likely enjoy this film and appreciate the vision of the director as well as the beautifully complex themes, subplots, and symbolism.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead