WHAT: GHOST IN THE SHELL: AN IMAX FIRST LOOK FAN EVENT In anticipation of the upcoming film “GHOST IN THE SHELL,” Paramount Pictures, Dreamworks Pictures and IMAX present a one-night-only event featuring an exclusive first look at stunning film footage exclusively in IMAX® theatres across 14 North American cities with select international markets and […]
Ever wonder why The Great Wall of China was built? Well, wonder no more! Matt Damon and director Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers) present to you the reason. Well, they offer one of the legends, actually, and I’m pleased to announce, it’s entertaining at the very least. The Tag Line for the movie is “1700 years to build. 5,500 miles long. What were they trying to keep out?” Okay. I’m fascinated. What do you have in store for us?
What they have is something that’s a visual sensation. What they achieve is hard to look away from so make sure you’re not going to have to have a potty break. There’s a large army, complete with drums, which has protected China from attack for centuries, known as “Nameless Order.” They’re dressed brightly and vividly which is odd for battle but they’re pretty all the same. Another ocular wonder is what they’re fighting to save China from; a vicious horde known as the Tao Tei. They’re huge and have massive limbs and hungry mouths with sharp teeth… the better to eat their multi-hued prey. The enormous army has used arrows, spears, “black powder” (gunpowder) and acrobatics to defend themselves for ages and then… along comes a couple of European mercenaries to show them how it’s done. They are William (Damon) and Tovar (Pascal). Even though helping fight mythical creatures wasn’t exactly what they had in mind, it’s what is now on their plate. Why they’re there is they heard of this mysterious black powder and figure they can fetch themselves a few bucks if they get their hands on some. Their plan has just “hit a wall”, so to speak.
When they get to the wall, they’re seen as outsiders, of course, and are jailed immediately. Then comes the horde that the army wasn’t expecting so soon, and who can shoot better than anyone?! Guess! I’ll wait. You got it! William. So, he helps and they’re now trusted to roam free and offer their sage wisdom on how to defeat the terrible brood. There’s also a woman William notices and she, him. She’s Commander Lin Mae (Jing) who might not fully trust William but likes what she sees. This is a good thing because after they show their charges the black powder and its uses, they cannot let their secret escape the barriers. As a matter of fact, a white man by the name of Ballard (Dafoe) wandered up to find out about the powder and that was twenty-five years ago. Well, at least he learned a second language and now he has some pals who might help him escape.
The 3D during the battle scenes is spectacular; worth the ticket price if you’re interested in dodging spears being thrown at your face. However, when there’s downtime, it sort of pulls you out of the story and instead reminds you that you’re watching people on a movie set. You can visualize the green screen behind them. For the most part, it was eye-catching and made the film come alive during the epic fight scenes when people were diving off the wall, twirling through the air on bungee cords before bouncing back and when balloons were being used to get to the city to warn them of a probable attack. What made this work is that outside of a hint of romance, Ballard wanting to escape and a power struggle between Tovar and William, the movie was all action. It calls itself an action, thriller and it is one. It’s a little slow to start but once it gets going, you’ll enjoy yourself for its beauty and style. My guess is if you’re enthusiastic about anime and have a good time holding a controller in front of a screen, you’ll especially relish in the performance of Tian Jing who runs around looking like a character straight out of a Japanese line of games and toys. If this sounds like you, check it out at a theatre but I’d make it to the matinee. But be mindful of the fact that The Great Wall isn’t going to be great for all audiences. It’ll be most admired by the younger generation so, mom and dad, drop off the kids and maybe run into something else… this one just might not be for you.
Directed by: Richie Keen
Starring: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, Dennis Haysbert and Kumail Nanjiani
Run Time: 1H 31min
2 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
On the last day of the school year, all hell is breaking loose on school grounds. Students, especially those in the senior class, are playing pranks on all the members of the staff. They’re hiding things from their teachers, gluing items to their desks and getting down and dirty in an attempt to no doubt make their final high school day memorable… and possibly one-up the class that came before them. They’re especially cruel to Principal Tyler, Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris, even going so far as to disassembling his car and putting it back together again inside the school. There’s a lot going on in the background so don’t forget to pay close attention to what these wild youngsters have committed themselves to doing. Director Richie Keen, (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) spent the time looking up ways to make this realistic by researching pranks done by real students in the past. You’ll appreciate this attention to detail.
If you’re a fan of silly comedies, a fan of Charlie Day especially, you’ll want to check this out. He does an exceptional job portraying the kind and fair English teacher, Andy Campbell. When he rats on another teacher who loses his cool during class, Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), he is challenged to a fist fight and is now a man on the edge of a meltdown. This is a comedy, right? Well, the anger that comes from Strickland is so intense that you end up more or less feeling extremely sorry for Campbell which makes it hard to laugh to a large degree. Some may think this doesn’t work well for a comedy. Also, as far as character development goes, we never see any redeeming qualities coming from Strickland which may have helped you not dislike his character so much but unfortunately, as hard as you dig to find out where this anger is coming from, there’s simply nothing there.
Most eggs in Keen’s comedy basket relied on Day’s comedic abilities to hatch, both in a physical sense and how he conducts himself when he’s under pressure. His strained voice is always worth a chuckle and it’s a blast observing him try to save his butt. It’s also heartbreaking watching him; knowing the reason why the poor thing is running all over the place. He goes to teacher after teacher and even calls 911, looking for a helping hand. Some teachers he approaches are comedy gold. Allow me to first mention one character that shouldn’t have existed at all and that’s Christina Hendricks’, Ms. Monet. She comes out of nowhere and should have stayed there. She really only served one purpose and not very well at that. Keen did bring on Tracy Morgan (30 Rock) to be the stereotypical, simpleminded coach whose work here you’ll dig. He also cast the witty Jillian Bell (Brides Maids) as Holly, the guidance counselor who can’t wait until certain students she’s been ogling from afar become legal and Kumail Nanjiani as a security guard who’s afraid of his own shadow. These faculty members may have special talents in their own right but are of no use when it comes to advising someone on how to take a butt-whoopin’ or especially how to avoid it from happening. Campbell must solve this mystery on his own.
A charming piece of the story is by way of the lesson Campbell learns. I’m not speaking only of Andy but also of his daughter Ally (Alexa Nisenson). In the same way that he is dealing with a bully at work, we are introduced to this character who is discovering life to be miserable at her own school. When she finds the willpower to face her demons, by using a mic and the song I Don’t Give a F*ck by Big Sean, in a way you won’t soon forget, the movie finds the reason to be and is far better for it. When Campbell finally musters the strength to confront Strickland, Keen presents a fist fight that will allow you to forgive most of the jokes you saw coming and some of the unnecessary gags that didn’t work. When you see this, you’ll have fun picking out the obvious nods to films Keen must have liked, as well as his use of certain shots from them you may recognize. All of this notwithstanding I can’t promote you pay to see this opening weekend at the theatre unless you make it a matinee. Ultimately, the film has a good message regarding Campbells’ predicament. He was always walked on and treated as though his opinion didn’t matter but standing up to this challenge makes him a better man and, at long last, a better teacher.
Subsequently, whether he wins the fight or he loses doesn’t matter… it’s all about the journey that he takes. By the way, stay for the outtakes at the end.
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth and Harry Groener
Run Time: 2h 26mins
Genre: Suspense, Thriller
3 1/2 Frames out of 5
By Shari K. Green
This movie is abnormally intriguing. It has a lot going on, much more than what is playing out visually. If you put some time into the movie mentally, after the flicker is done dancing on the screen, the examination will be well worth it. Your first impression will depend on what sort of audience member you are. If you assess your films by what you immediately see on the surface, you’ll see this cryptic yarn as a promised thriller that doesn’t quite get you where you were hoping it would. It provides the creepy elements that one would expect to see but doesn’t follow through with its promise to be a good intense, if I may, grabber.
The term psychological thriller does apply, however, and in the style of something you’d see straight from a legendary 70’s film. A list to compare its vibe to could be Chinatown, The Conversation, Play Misty for Me and Magic; all superbly shot, well thought out and their impact on cinema… ever lasting.
In A Cure for Wellness, Gore Verbinski, who helped write the story with screenwriter Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road, The Clearing) digs deep into the essential nature of a person to live, care, love and to aid. His protagonist, Lockhart (DeHaan), is sent by the financial institution he works for to bring back the CEO, Pembroke (Groener) who is nestled in the Swiss Alps at a mysterious wellness center. He goes to retrieve Pembroke, knowing full well that the true desire of the board members is to pin its problems on him and use him as a fall guy. On his way to the center, which uses hydrotherapy from an aquifer with unique purities, he learns of the center’s history and of the castle its inside. As he speaks to the chauffeur who is taking him to the castle, they’re in an accident and Lockhart ends up a patient himself, waking three days after a crash that had sent the car tumbling. Continually being urged to drink the water to better heal his broken leg, he finally grabs some crutches and wanders around the place, not only looking for Pembroke but looking around this odd establishment. From what he recalls the chauffeur saying, his suddenly odd and dark dreams and the behavior of the people around him he begins to feel more like an inmate in an insane asylum than as a willing patient.
When Lockhart meets someone by the name of Hannah (Goth), a special patient who has been there all her life, the story of the institution unravels more and more and Lockhart’s questions get larger and larger. Becoming suspicious that all is not well and obsessed with finding out more he suggests it’s bad for business for people to get well. This does not go well with Volmer (Isaacs) who insists Lockhart needs to be submerged in water and the toxins in his body be removed. This is a macabre scene as memories of Lockhart’s childhood and eels, yes eels, assault him.
So, my final take is there are a few disturbing scenes that play out and some I may never purge but for crazy good, alluring cinema, see A Cure for Wellness. It may not be Oscar worthy, but cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (King of New York, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Ring), couldn’t have shot this film more methodically and used his lens more perfectly to concentrate on the beauty of the set and the locations and also to create the feeling of anxiety and stress. It’s a masterpiece cinematically. What might have otherwise been seen as a clichéd tale by the end is made infinitely more interesting by camera angles, shots sizes and expressions he creates as well as the overall tone he designs. Again, by the time you finish watching it, you could be somewhat disappointed but don’t be. Yes, Verbinski could have decided on an ending before two hours had expired but enjoy the fact that there is a much deeper theme going on than first thought and you’ll get there, too. You’ll contemplate whether this person is alive, is this a dream, it that person in a coma? Decide for yourself and let me know what YOU thought!
A United Kingdom the true story of the forbidden love of King Seretse Khama of Botswana (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a white woman from London, which caused an international uproar when they decided to marry in the late 1940s just as apartheid was being introduced into South Africa. It was a decision that altered the course of African history.
Directed by: Amma Asante
Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Terry Pheto, Abena Ayivor and Tom Felton
Run Time: 1h 51min
Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance
3 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
Your first thought upon walking out of A United Kingdom very well may be one of bewilderment at the story itself. Not that it could happen, of course, (look at today’s headlines, this type of forbidden love is still happening) but that a King was questioned and almost denied his wish. Anyway, you might next have the inclination to Google this to learn more about these individuals. It could also be, as it was mine, to gather all of the performances of David Oyelowo to date and, find out what he’s up to next so that you can see all of this man’s work.
Not to disparage the other performances in the production but he delivered the story of a man choosing love over country beautifully. He never waivered in his ability to sell us on the saga that deep within him, he believed the people of his county would, in due time, not require him to make that sacrifice and did so with the strength and compassion you rarely see with such balance.
It would be impossible not to be impressed with this entire cast and it would be nearly pointless to try and look beyond director Amma Asante’s (Belle) achievements with the film. She does an exceptional job with this labored piece and with only five directing credits under her belt, quite a feat, she handles the very difficult true life events like a master.
A United Kingdom was a hefty project to take on. It’s about Seretse Khama (Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Pike) and the political climate of their countries at the time they met in the 1940’s. He’s heir to the kingdom of Botswana and she’s a white woman from London and despite what their families feel about their union, they insist on being together and will be, even though they’ll be under great scrutiny. Her father has disowned her for being with a black man and his people, especially members of his own family, would prefer their leader be with his own kind. Not considering others feelings and only listening to their hearts, they marry and move to South Africa where, unfortunately for all, apartheid is starting to grow. Their union becomes widely known and a topic of great discussion. Ruth is a likable person and does her best to be friendly, learn the language and fit in as his family members do their best to make her want to leave. Oyelowo is outstanding when he addresses his tribe with a moving speech and speaks of Ruth with tears in his eyes, asking to see who would truly deny him his love. It’s a stirring confrontation and a memorable scene.
What ultimately doesn’t really work, but may have been better with a seasoned director, is the setup. This story is a pure and true love so strong that this couple defies all rules, family and country to be with one another should have had you cheering their achievements. However, as it’s told, you don’t really care. The reason for this is that we meet Ruth and Khama when they first meet and almost immediately they’re in love and getting married. There isn’t time for you to feel for these people or for the plight in which they find themselves. Asante does a wonderful job of keeping the rest of the story flowing, especially the focus on the British government wanting the diamonds and minerals on his land, but sadly, missing this crucial step of giving the audience time to identifying with what the couple is going through or to feel compassion for them, hurts her very efforts. It’s the single most important goal before telling the rest of the narrative for it to have worked as a well-structured and cohesive piece. It is a good drama about pressures put on them both and his overcoming his uncle asking him to renounce his birthright to the throne for marrying a white woman, but it isn’t as romantic as it claims to be. Keep in mind it is a true story… life doesn’t always come out as we plan.
I do recommend A United Kingdom but I’d say wait for VOD or DVD instead of paying to see this at the theatre.