Movie Review: ‘Hotel Mumbai’ Dramatizes a Massive Tragedy Unflinchingly But With Only Fleeting Insight

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CREDIT: Mark Rogers/Bleecker Street

Starring: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Jason Isaacs, Amandeep Singh

Director: Anthony Maras

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: R for Constant Deadly Gunfire and Plenty of Profanity

Release Date: March 22, 2019 (Limited)

A lot of real-life historical tragedies have been dramatized on screen, but rarely has it felt as exploitative as it does in Hotel Mumbai. Part of that is due to the deadly nature of the attacks, in which hundreds of people were killed or injured by explosives and gunfire, often at close range. It is also attributable to director Anthony Maras’ decision to show so many of the deaths in graphic, bloody detail. The 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that culminated at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel were indeed quite terrifying, but what does this dramatization illuminate besides reminding us that tragedies like this one have happened and that they are often fueled by religious extremism?

If there is to be anything valuable on offer here, it would presumably be about forging some sort of connection with the characters. And on that score, there are people that I care about and are rooting to make it out alive, but their stories are not especially unique. Among those with the most fully fleshed-out arcs, there is the guest (Armie Hammer) who is trying to protect his family, the hotel employee (Dev Patel) who is trying to make it home to his family, and the head chef (Anupam Kher) who rises up as a leader and comforter. These roles are well-acted, and some (if not all) are surely based on real people, but their stories do not say much beyond, “This is how certain people react to trauma.” But among the perpetrators (all young men who look to be in their early twenties) there is Imran (Amandeep Singh), who starts to question what he is fighting for as the mission drags on. That is where the real, complicated story is at, but alas, his personal crisis only gets a handful of moments, leaving Hotel Mumbai an endurance test without much to mentally grapple with after making it through.

Hotel Mumbai is Recommended If You Like: Witnessing trauma

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Casualties

This Is a Movie Review: The Death of Stalin

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CREDIT: IFC Films

When it comes right down to it, people are just people. This is the thought I have when watching the scene in The Death of Stalin in which a group of officials bumblingly drop the body of the dying Soviet Premier onto a bed. No matter how despotic things get, we are still beholden to our embarrassing physical realities. Alas, when the film starts to regularly show people shot in the head without a second thought, it is hard to remain Zen about the situation.

I saw Death of Stalin at the Alamo Drafthouse, and the pre-show programming included parts of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode “The Cycling Tour,” which features Michael Palin bungling his way into being the target of a Russian firing squad, who famously misfire at him from only a few feet away. As I prefer my gallows humor with plenty of goofiness, “The Cycling Tour” is definitely more comfort food for me than The Death of Stalin. That is not to say the latter is unsuccessful. I see what Armando Iannucci is doing, I acknowledge that he has met his goals, I laugh where I can, and then I move on, newly grateful that I live in a society that is not quite so dangerous as 1950s USSR.

I give The Death of Stalin 4 Impossible Promises out of 5 Buggings.

This Is a Movie Review: A Cure for Wellness

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a-cure-for-wellness-car-curvy-shot

This review was originally published on News Cult in February 2017.

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth

Director: Gore Verbinski

Running Time: 146 Minutes

Rating: R for Doing Everything It Can to Get Under Your Skin

Release Date: February 17, 2017

A Cure for Wellness is the type of movie I would like to rate 5/5 on the strength of its ambition and singularity of vision but that I must admit its reach exceeds its grasp. It feels like the film that director Gore Verbinski (The RingRangoPirates of the Caribbean) has been waiting his whole career to make. Verbinski has been behind enough hits to have sufficient cachet for a risk here and there, but how he ever convinced a major studio to produce something as dark, disturbing, and inscrutable as Wellness is could prove to be one of the great mysteries in the annals of cinema history.

The whole affair starts out sufficiently intriguing and easy-enough-to-follow: rising financial executive Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) has been sent to the Swiss Alps to retrieve his CEO, who seems to have lost his mind while staying at a resort with a cult-ish devotion among its clientele. He hot dogs his way into the place, expecting to be in and out in time to catch the red-eye back to New York, but a freak accident results in his unwittingly becoming a patient himself. In a way, this is a long, fantastical PSA about the importance of wearing your seat belt.

Lockhart does manage to get in touch fairly quickly with his CEO, who goes on one of those rants about how it is really the world that is sick but then violently shifts to amenability towards going home. Ultimately, though, the status quo stays in place. This elliptical encounter sets the tone for the whole plot.

A Cure for Wellness sets itself up as a classic gothic European castle mystery with a 21st century anarchic twist. There are movies that have strange elements just for strangeness’ sake, but in this case there appear to be more concrete purposes. What is the motivation of chillingly cool and collected facility director (Jason Isaacs)? Who is this girl (Mia Goth) who is so much younger than all the other residents, and why does she receive preferential treatment? What is the deal with the eels? For the most part, each of these questions is sufficiently answered, but the twists may be too unnecessarily stomach-churning for some viewers. Also, the resolution is painfully stretched out – Lockhart is given an absurd number of opportunities to dish out his revenge.

If nothing else, this exercise in ghastliness is worth it for the beautiful cinematography courtesy of Bojan Bazelli. The days are perpetually cloudy, making for a striking mix of drab, foreboding, and sublime. Tableaux are carefully, lovingly designed – an overhead view of water aerobics may be the shot of the year. This is the world in a microcosm, as argued by A Cure for Wellness: ugly, breathtaking, and irrevocably tied to the past.

A Cure for Wellness is Recommended If You Like: The pop philosophy of Fight Club, the creepy crawlies of Slither (2006), the nasty secrets of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Grade: 3 out of 5 Suspect Diagnoses