Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Aftermath

"A Cure For Wellness” and “Beauty and the Beast” are also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

Movie careers can age in one of two ways: They can either get better and more refined, like wine, or they can spoil and stink something awful, like milk. I’d say that for Arnold Schwarzenegger, his career, much like the actor himself, is transitioning very gracefully into his autumn years—and he has his well-defined, introspective performance in “Aftermath” to back that claim up.

Schwarzenegger plays Roman, a happy go lucky construction supervisor in Columbus, Ohio. As the movie opens, we learn that his wife and pregnant daughter are flying in from overseas for Christmas and Roman needs to pick them up from the airport that evening. We get a quick butt shot while Schwarzenegger showers and gets ready. On the surface this may seem gratuitous, but given the mega wattage of this star, it’s his way of showing off that even at 69 years old, he’s still in amazingly great shape.

At the airport, Roman receives the bad news about a horrible accident that claimed the lives of his wife, daughter, and unborn grandchild. The scene is so heartbreaking it’s almost unbearable to watch. It’s starts off with an excited man carrying a bouquet of flowers to pick up his family at the airport, and ends with the most shocking and tragic news he could possibly receive. Schwarzenegger shows a tremendous amount of reserve in the scene, which gives Roman an inner emotional strength.

We then re-visit that fateful night from the point of view of Jake (Scoot McNairy), the airline traffic controller who was in the tower at the time of the accident. Seeing how the events of the evening played out, it’s plain to see that fate conspired against Jake to create this tragic occurrence. An interesting discussion can be had over who is to blame. Is it Jake? Is it the pilot who made the decision to descend without permission? How much accountability is there for the airline, and how much should be put upon the airport? It’s interesting to ponder, and there are many different takes on it. One thing is for sure: Jake blames himself, and is riddled with guilt over causing the deaths of over 270 people.

“Aftermath” is a challenging movie, not only due the heaviness of its subject matter, but also for the two main actors involved. Their struggle is internal, filled with sorrow and guilt. This is a lot of heavy lifting for an actor to do. It’s easier in a visual medium to have things happen on screen that can be plainly seen. Sadness, anger, regret—as emotions, these are more abstract concepts that are much harder to convey to an audience. To their credit, McNairy and Schwarzenegger both use facial expressions and body language to such an amazing degree that there is never any doubt as to what their characters are feeling. These are two wonderful performances.

For those stunned that Schwarzenegger has such acting chops, let’s not forget that even though he made a name for himself in action movies and comedies, he studied acting and always took it seriously. There were hints of a deeper, more troubled character in 1999’s “End of Days,” and the underappreciated “Maggie” from 2015, a mostly dramatic zombie movie in which Schwarzenegger plays a father protecting his daughter from government agents after she gets infected. Those with a longer memory will also remember his first major big budget movie role in 1976’s “Stay Hungry,” which he co-starred in with Jeff Bridges and Sally Field. Not only did that movie show his potential as a dramatic actor, it also showed off some serious fiddlin’ skills.

“Aftermath” is a natural extension of the acting skills shown by Schwarzenegger over 40 years ago. He’s still in great shape and has plenty of muscle, but that’s not what he’s all about, like he was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Sure he still makes those movies too (I for one am extremely excited over the announcement of “The Legend of Conan”), but it’s refreshing to see him flex some other muscles besides his pecs and biceps. I’m referring to his acting muscles, and I’m happy to report that they’re stronger than ever. Rent it.

Also New This Week

A Cure for Wellness

On the surface, the spa for the wealthy in “A Cure for Wellness” is a great retreat. It’s nestled in the Swiss Alps and the buildings have a calm, old world sensibility to them—a reminder of when life wasn’t so fast paced. But as ambitious young New York executive Lockhart (Dane DeHaan)--sent there to retrieve his company’s CEO (Harry Groener)--soon discovers, all of that idyllic bliss comes with a dark and sinister past; a past that echoes directly into the present day.

Director Gore Verbinski creates an appropriate sense of atmosphere as the drama demands it. The façade of the spa is bright, sunny, and cheerful, with happy people enjoying their time there. The underbelly is dim and foreboding, with people floating in isolation in sensory deprivation tanks as if they’re on display in a museum. Story-wise, a “Cure for Wellness” is pretty solid. As Lockhart learns the secrets of the facility and its history, each revelation is more disturbing than the last. Jason Isaacs as Volmer, the slick and sinister head of the spa, adds just the right flare of twinkle-toothed menace to the proceedings. Rent it.

Beauty and the Beast

The “tale as old as time” is told once again with “Beauty and the Beast,” a live-action adaptation of the much beloved animated Disney classic from 1991. In this incarnation, Belle is played by Emma Watson, her father Maurice is played by Kevin Kline, Beast is played by Dan Stevens, and Gaston is played with macho cartooniness by Luke Evans. Speaking of cartoons, not everything is “live” in this live action feature, as much like in the original 1991 movie there is a talking clock and a talking candelabra, voiced by Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor, respectively. This time around though, the animation is done in 3D CGI rather than 2D hand drawn, and the renderings look very good—like they’re tangible pieces and not just added in by artists after the scene is filmed.

The look of the movie is breathtaking, and it should be watched on as big of a screen as possible. The movie’s centerpiece—the ballroom dance between Belle and the Beast—is done just as beautifully as in the original cartoon. Very little changes are made in terms of plot, and the ones that are made are subtle and don’t have a big impact on the overall story. This version mostly just serves to offer up a more modern take on the 26 year-old cartoon while at the same time being respectful to the source material. At that, it succeeds. Rent it.

More New Releases: “The Last Word,” about a retired businesswoman who writes her own obituary and the young journalist who takes an interest in her story, starring Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried; “Voice from the Stone,” suspenseful romance movie set in 1950s Tuscany, starring Emilia Clarke; and “Kill ‘Em All,” a Jean-Claude Van Damme, action/thriller described as “Die Hard” meets “The Usual Suspects.”

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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