Unwell in a Kafka World: A Cure for Wellness

DATELINE:  Not exactly Obamacare

Dane DeHaan

You have to admit that actor Dane DeHaan usually chooses the most peculiar films and roles available to young stars.

In this movie, A Cure for Wellness, he manages to look rather unwell, doughy, and pooped out. That surely goes against the grain of buff, health-addicted, superheroes among his generation of leading men.

Director Gore Verbinski’s Kafkaesque tale is creepy enough for horror, surreality, and German expressionism, rolled into one hyper-barbaric chamber for eels.

A young executive of a billion-dollar corporation is sent to retrieve its CEO from this strange Swiss clinic where clients go to take “the waters,” a cure for what ails you. It’s either that or go to jail for white-collar crime.

Like clockwork, DeHaan’s Lockhart arrives at a Swiss mountaintop roach motel where people check in, but never apparently check out.  Instead, they are put through a health regimen worthy of Tom Brady’s personal trainer.

Jason Isaacs as Volmer runs the place like the reincarnation of a mad Teutonic baron two centuries ago. He will kill you with kindness.

The cure is worse than the illness—but DeHaan seems more than willing to stick around. We’d be suspicious the moment they kept insisting you drink the water. And, alas, your cell phone won’t work in this altitude.

The hydrotherapy seems a bit on the extreme side, but sado-masochism never had it so healthy.

The atmosphere is suitably Germanic, if not germ-free. We are told that Adolph Hitler was at the spa location, Castle Hohenzollern, for a cure during World War I. How fitting, indeed. It makes Last Year at Marienbad a pleasant stroll.

The film is not for dummies, and one of the attendants is reading a Thomas Mann novel about a health spa where people are convinced they need treatment, whether true or not.

If there is a drawback to this movie, it can be found in the length of the film. We have grown unaccustomed to movies pushing two & a half hours, which is a sure sign they are considered “important” by the makers. There is apparently no cure for this.

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Another Shot at James Dean Sixty Years Later

DATELINE:  James Dean as Backseat Driver

LIFE is unfair. Not life in general, but the 1950s magazine. It is the title of the latest attempt to depict James Dean, based on a couple of icon photos.

When you have a couple of offbeat artists like James Dean and Dennis Stock, played by Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson, it’s hard to tell where life begins and the movie ends.

If you were expected the fictionalized tale of Dennis Stock’s friendship with Jimmy Dean, you will be about as blindsided as Jack Warner’s friendship with James Dean. Warner is truly unlikeable in this movie—and so Ben Kingsley shines here.

There is no friendship between the photographer and the movie star. Each had mercenary and power trip reasons to team up for a few pictures at the Indiana farm and in the noir of Times Square.

The film is a calculated slice of 1950s Americana, and for that reason it is not likely to appeal to people interested in sex scandals (the latest involve Dean and Brando). This movie is surprisingly heterosexual in its chasteness.

It likely is not a movie to win devotees and repeat viewers. It is well done, but lacks a certain element to make it special as art. Depicting two alienated and calculating artists (Dean and Stock) does not make them likeable.

Director Anton Corbijn provides us with verisimilitude in a manner of speaking. DeHaan does not look much like Dean, being too soft and too doughy. Dean was wiry, but DeHaan has caught the slouching and mumbling better than anyone else, except Dean himself.

Pattinson again gives himself a thankless role as an ambitious man. But the two actors might as well be in separate movies. Therein is the the secret of the movie.  Dean was always in his own world, and so is this film. Yes, we recommend this for being unlike all the other Dean biographical movies.

 

Killjoy of Literature and Poetry Beaters

KillJOYS Daniel Radcliffe & Dane DeHaan

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

 

Daniel Radcliffe is at an interesting point in his career. He may yet overcome the bane of his acting career, seen as Harry Potter forever. Like Robert Pattinson, he is scrambling to play outside the box. His latest turn is morphing into poet Allan Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings.

“Based on a true story” always leaves us wondering where the liars begin. This time director John Krokidas provides a look at gay life in New York City among the talented writers of the Beat Generation. Who knew that a sociopathic killer lurked among them?

William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) cavort as iconoclasts and want to hijack American literature. Into the mix comes Ginsberg in pre-Howl and pristine state. The role could leave Radcliffe in a Potter’s field, but he digs his way out.

To create atmosphere of the 1940s, why do movies always go to a murky color? This film adds on hallucinogenic tableaux scenes of creativity, but we are left wondering at the vanity of self-absorbed art while a world war waged on.

Scene-stealing is done mostly by Dane DeHaan as Lucian Carr. Playing beautiful and dangerous, he is the ultimate gay boy-toy in the days when it was a scandal to see Truman Capote supine on his book cover.

The revolutionaries of poetry and beat prose ridicule Ogden Nash in one scene for his commercial success. Humorists never receive any respect, even if they reach an audience.

Lu Carr served as an impetus, muse, and ultimate killjoy, as the gay man who murdered his gay professor (Michael C. Hall) in a pique of passion. Yet, back in the 1940s. Ginsberg was his inamorato too. Since even the media was in the closet, it made for highly suggestive and oblique reporting at the time.

In those days only Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes were thought to be openly gay—and no one could be sure if it was true. Ginsberg once slept with an elderly man whom he thought to be Walt Whitman’s last lover. Passing the torch was easier in those days—but omitted in this tale.

Depicting visionaries is certainly easier than trying to depict artistic lives in the throes of Leopold and Loeb’s privileged violence, though coming at it from an allegedly higher plane. See Hitchcock’s 1948 Rope for the better response.

We do recommend this film, despite the message appearing to be lost on the director and his actors caught up in their importance of being earnest.