Crimson Peak

October 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

Period piece horror films are very hard to pull off. First you have to pull off the period piece. Everyone has to look like they come from that period, and they have to sound like they do. The mannerisms, the demeanor, all have to line up. Then, it has to have horror elements, atmosphere, and mood. If you can pull these off simultaneously, it’s quite an achievement.

As hard as Guillermo Del Toro works to execute this, the film falls short. I did believe the period, and I did believe the atmosphere. That is helped by a handsome cast including Jim Beaver who can always belong to the turn of the 20th century, rounded out by Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska. It looks like it should work, but something didn’t for me. The first thing I can point to, is when the horror elements are introduced for the first time. The CGI, to put it bluntly, simply clashes with the sets. Told in flashback, Edith Cushing (Wasikowska), tells the story of when she was a girl, was visited by the ghost of her mother. Her mother, who looks like a cross between a creature from “Pan’s Labyrinth” and the smoke monster from “Lost”, warns her about “Crimson Peak”, a mysterious place we know nothing about. This all should have the makings of a fun spooky horror film. But because the ghost is so obviously computer generated, and so unconvincing as a “scary ghost”, I was already out of the mindset necessary to enjoy the film.

It somewhat started to pull me back in with the introduction of Thomas Sharpe, played by Hiddleston, who is always a joy to watch. Sharpe is a young inventor of affluent means trying to persuade Edith’s(who is now grown up) father Carter (Beaver) to invest in a clay mining machine. I was a bit curious as to the idea of clay needing to be mined so much as to warrant a machine–but it’s a moot point, since Sharpe can’t really get it to work. He had tried in other parts of the world, and failed. So, Carter turns him down. Carter, who is a successful but “blue collar” businessman, is not endeared to Sharpe, especially because his daughter soon becomes so. A family friend, Dr. McMichael (Charlie Hunnan), also does not particularly trust Sharpe. It’s not just because of Sharpe coming from across the pond to introduce such a strange machine–but his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), is a bit strange and glowers whilst playing piano to entertain everyone in one scene.

But, Edith does fall in love with Thomas and she goes with him to England to live in his mansion, which is on top of a very large amount of clay. And, because the mansion is ancient, it has a typical horror movie gothic look. You already know it’s going to creak and leak and most likely be haunted.

The ghosts haunting this mansion frighten Edith, trying to persuade her to leave. These ghosts, like the ghost of her mother, are also computer generated and not at all frightening. They look a little creepy, and the hollow screams are sometimes chilling–but still, the film never made me feel “a part” of its world.

Edith begins to discover some dark secrets pertaining to Thomas and the mansion, and his sister–and the plot unfolds so transparently that you figure out what’s going to happen very quickly. But the film’s pace is so slow and plodding that it is almost like Del Toro thinks you won’t figure it out. If that’s the case, it’s a miscalculation at best. Insulting at worst.

Also, Chastain’s performance of Lucille is so over the top and obnoxious that it clangs like the seemingly collapsing house. The film’s climax, too, is very gory to an unnecessary degree, and feels like it belongs to another film.

Most of the other performances are good, especially Hiddleston who plays off of Chastain’s overindulgence well. Mia Wasikowska also is a credible and sympathetic character. But the structure of the film just doesn’t work very well, and in the end it feels very empty.

Guillermo Del Toro is a very gifted filmmaker, and a good storyteller as well. Perhaps they all got caught up in trying to tell a gothic romantic horror story, and forgot to actually show us one.

My rating: :(

Pacific Rim

July 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

Guillermo Del Toro always fascinates me as a filmmaker because he’s one of the most joyful visual expressionists I’ve seen in my lifetime. He seems to have a knack for creating interesting looking creatures and putting them in colorful and sometimes dangerous worlds, and it’s always intriguing. He had wanted to film an adaptation of the classic H. P. Lovecraft short story “At The Mountains of Madness”, possibly one of Lovecraft’s most beloved stories. Unfortunately, I don’t know that the film will ever be made, which is a shame, because it’s one of my favorites. Though we get tastes of it in movies like John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, I don’t know we’ll ever really get the actual story in motion picture format. With Del Toro at leas you know it’d be visually stunning.

Instead, Del Toro teamed up with screenwriter Travis Beacham, writer of the 2006 remake of “Clash of the Titans”, and made what’s called a “kaiju” film–a movie about giant monsters–and I think some of the creatures were meant to be “similar” to Lovecraft’s Cthuhlu mythos universe. Well, I’m probably reaching, because what they came up with to fight these Kaijus are giant robots. I don’t think Lovecraft really wrote about those.

This is a very odd film. It’s saturated with a backstory that’s crammed into the first act as if we’re just supposed to be able to inhale decades of destruction and feel like the earth has been under attack and in a state of peril and understand where the technology came from to create mega robots. On top of that, we are supposed to care about characters we barely know and have complex backgrounds that aren’t given many payoffs or consequences. For instance, the main protagonist, a young strapping Jaeger pilot named Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) who loses his brother in a battle with one of the Kaijus. Jaegers, by the way, are the name given to the giant robots. Apparently two pilots must lock in to be able to absorb the power that Jaegers have in order to operate. There’s basically a “mind meld”, which means the two pilots must have things in common physically and emotionally and can lean on each other. In an ill fated battle, Raleigh loses his brother and is sent out of the program, doing construction work which looks pretty dangerous, but not very fulfilling.

Enter Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), five years later, tracking down his maverick pilot for another showdown with the Kaijus, who are continuing to destroy the earth and all our cities and ports. Apparently they come from under the sea, rather than outer space, but are considered “aliens” I think. If you’re following all of this, by the way, that’s good. Try and keep up. There’s more.

He is eventually partnered with a novice pilot but accomplished student, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), who has a sketchy past that still haunts her but she is considered a perfect match for Raleigh, much to the chagrin to Pentecost. I’ll spare you the subplot that the United Nations decide to temporarily shut down the Jaeger project in favor of some sort of defense wall because it is imminently destroyed and serves as nothing more than a waste of about 10 minutes of screen time. The point is, Mako and Raleigh are meant to be Jaeger pilots.

But there’s a problem. She can’t let go of her haunting past, and that creates a rift in what’s called the “drift”, where the two minds meld before the Jaeger is fully operational. Pilots have to control their memories and feed them into their co-pilot in a way that isn’t aggressive or detrimental. They need to understand themselves in order to share them. So basically, if you ever happen to find yourself in a Jaeger mecha robot program, and your co-pilot is Amanda Bynes, you may as well jump out of the cockpit as soon as possible, and take your chances with gravity.

On top of all this, there’s another maverick cocky pilot (but he’s no Iceman) named Chuck (Robert Kazinsky) who doesn’t like Raleigh and thinks he’s bad news. But Chuck’s father Herc (Max Martini) has respect for Raleigh and knows the pain of losing his brother, even if Raleigh really doesn’t show it that much…because Charlie Hunnam isn’t that great of an actor. Sorry, Charlie. Loved you in “Undeclared” though.

Speaking of Charlie’s, there’s a miscalculated “humorous” subplot for comic relief I suppose with two nutjob scientists that come into play, trying to understand the Kaijus. One of them, Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), wants to find new ways to destroy the Kaijus. The other, Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), who resembles Louis Tully, wants to study the Kaijus and understand them. He also comes up with the idea of mind melding with part of a brain they captured from one of the Kaijus. Of course Gottlieb and everybody else thinks that Newton is crazy, and he turns into Vinz Clortho and sends the giant Slore against them to kill them all.

Just kidding. However, I realize these two scientists are supposed to be funny; but the comedy kind of clangs instead of amuses. Charlie Day literally looks like he came in from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” solely to crash the set. The only part of the comic sequences that work are with Ron Perlman who plays a black market Kaiju enthusiast, Hannibal Chau. Perlman is always good, even though his character is an unnecessary semi-villain.

Are you still with me? OK, so what Newton finds out is that the Kaijus are only sending their “soldier ants” and are actually preparing an even larger scale monster war, something beyond their “Categories” (Category 5 is the highest on their scale). He does this by mind melding with the brain of the Kaiju, of course, as he wanted to, and of course he’s right and knows how to destroy the Kaijus.

So let’s go back to Raleigh and Mako, who are given an old clunky Jaeger that runs on its own power, which comes in handy when they start facing some more technologically advanced Kaijus, and we find out that Mako’s backstory involves watching her family be destroyed by a Kaiju. But there’s a connection she has with one of the main characters that turns out to be one of the strongest and most emotional parts of the movie, and it works very well.

It took me a while to decide whether I liked this film, because as you can see, there’s a lot I have problems with. It’s very ambitious, it’s so chock full of backstory and exposition that sometimes it hulks around like a Jaeger itself. The battle scenes are tough to describe. In some ways it’s like watching an arcade video fighting game in slow motion. There are some dazzling effects, however, when these battles wind up destroying major (hopefully evacuated) cities.

Apart from some of the hackneyed “science” and major plot holes, I think I liked the main characters enough, and the relationships they develop, that it carried the film for me overall. You can lose all the other stuff and the film would be much shorter and probably more enjoyable. I think that Mako may have actually been a better central character, or Pentecost. Both actors respectively are incredibly strong and give top notch performances.

On balance, I did enjoy the film enough. But I really think that this being simply a movie does the story a disservice. While I’m sure there will be Mangas or comics that will go more into the backstory, I think this would’ve made a very entertaining Saturday morning cartoon series. It reminded me of shows like “Voltron” and “Transformers”, and even “G.I. Joe”.

I’d recommend seeing this film on the biggest possible screen to really get the idea of the scope of the battle sequences. Something like IMAX would be a great experience. I’m not sure whether the whole film will entertain you, but you will at least get your money’s worth of destruction. And for a summer popcorn movie, I guess that’s all you really need. Del Toro can do better, but this works enough for me.

My rating: :-)