Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes: The Great Wall; A Cure for Wellness

This is a really great week to catch up on one (or more) of those Oscar-nominated movies that are still in theaters or available on DVD or VOD. Why? Because, comparatively speaking, the new releases are rather dismal. Granted, I didn’t have a chance to see the new Ice Cube/Charlie Day comedy Fist Fight, about a couple of high school teachers engaging in a good ol’ fashioned afterschool throw-down. But I’m going to go out on a limb and surmise that you can save that one for a rainy day or a plane ride. It’s probably mindlessly entertaining. Can’t really say the same about The Great Wall or A Cure for Wellness. But if I had to pick among those two, I’d definitely go with The Great Wall because at least it’s got Matt Damon (Jason Bourne, The Martian) — and cool views of one of the great wonders of the ancient world.

I’ve been to the Great Wall of China and it is, most definitely, an impressive structure. So I was curious to see how it would translate onto the big screen, in 3D no less. Bottom line: I like Damon. I like the wall. But neither could propel this movie, “made in China,” beyond the realm of mediocrity.

The story takes place about a thousand years ago. The wall is already built, serving as a fortress against a hoard of monsters that attack every 60 years for reasons that make no sense. Damon plays a European mercenary (with a very inconsistent English-Irish accent) who is captured by – and ends up fighting alongside — a special division of the Imperial Army, led by the kick-ass Commander Lin (Tian Jing). The two must learn to trust each other if they are to defeat the monsters and save humanity.

Apparently, there was some controversy at the start of filming about Damon being cast in the lead role. But director Zhang Yimou was quick to point out that Damon’s role was never conceived for an Asian actor. And frankly, I don’t think this movie would gain any traction in the US without Damon’s star power. He’s just too likeable to dislike, no matter the movie or the role. In the opening scenes of The Great Wall, Damon is a scruffy warrior out to make a buck off stolen gunpowder. But in short order, he’s cleaned up, put the hair in a ponytail, and is back to being that Jason Bourne Martian dude with a self-deprecating smile and a good heart…. plopped in the middle of a Chinese monster movie that tries really hard to be epic but falls short and feels long despite a modest 104-minute running time.

Meanwhile, A Cure for Wellness not only felt long, it was long. Too long. Waaaay too long. 145 minutes of weirdness billed as a psychological thriller. Fans of ‘visionary director’ Gore Verbinski (The Lone Ranger; Rango; The Ring) will probably like this movie, but I could not embrace the twisted darkness.

Here’s the gist: Dane DeHaan (Harry Osborne in The Amazing Spider-Man 2) plays an ambitious young executive named Lockhart who is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from a mysterious “Wellness Center” in the Swiss Alps. Lockhart breaks his leg in a car-animal crash and becomes a reluctant patient at the Center, where clients check in, but they don’t check out. (It’s like a poisonous roach motel for rich people!). Turns out, the place is not exactly the idyllic spa on top of the hill that outsiders imagine it to be. The “treatments” have some bizarre side effects. There may or may not be slimy eels in the therapy pool and the toilet. There’s definitely something up with the water. And the center’s director has a dark, centuries-old past.

A Cure for Wellness is creepy. And the last half-hour is gross. Like, incest gross. I’m sure there’s some deep, psychological allegory at play. But I don’t care. A Cure for Wellness is, well, a sick flick. Enter this Center at your own risk.

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