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: :(

The Martian

October 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

If we ever had an astronaut on Mars, I’d want it to be Mark Watney. Actually, nevermind that. I’d want it to be Matt Damon. Like in many “lone survivor” films, an appealing lead is vital. And here, Matt Damon absolutely owns the film and makes a somewhat agreeable film into a piece of outstanding entertainment. Fleshing out the attractive cast is the always faithful Jeff Daniels, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, and…Kristen Wiig.

The story, based on a 2011 novel by Andy Weir, is about a group of astronauts on a planned mission to Mars that gets thwarted by a major martian storm, sending them back to their ship to leave the planet. During the storm, Watney (Damon) gets whacked with a piece of equipment that partly saves his life, and his crew has left him behind. Being a botanist, he finds that he can grow his own food with the crew’s excrement, and ration food long enough for a rescue mission–he hopes. Meanwhile, the news has leaked back to planet Earth that there was a problem with the mission and someone was left behind. That story doesn’t sound enticing, and the head of NASA (Daniels) begrudgingly concocts a plan to help Watney out. The crew on board their ship Hermes initially does not find out about Watney’s fate, as Daniels’ character Teddy Sanders believes that they will want to go back and rescue him–putting all of their lives in potential danger.

So you have three subplots going on: Watney’s survival on Mars, NASA’s attempts at rescue and sending him supplies, and the Hermes crew once they do inevitably find out about Watney still being alive. Commander Lewis (Chastain) feels the most guilt about leaving him behind, being former military, but also knows the risks involved in rescuing him. The rest of the crew, including fellow astronaut Rick Martinez (played well by the always reliable Michael Pena), want to go after him and get him back.

NASA’s Mars mission director, Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor), also wants him to be rescued. Ditto for the flight director played by Sean Bean. The outside influences try to force Sanders’ hand, but he stays on course with the plan to send a probe full of supplies to last Watney another few years before another manned space mission can be executed.

Meanwhile, Watney plods along. At first he cannot communicate with NASA, but then finds a way through an old device that was part of a 1996 mission. He has a few missteps, and he has a few catastrophes. It feels at times like “Cast Away” or “Moon”, “Gravity”, or “Silent Running” (which bears some similarities). But one thing that those films share that is missing in this script, by Drew Goddard, is a little more depth in Watney’s character. While Damon is outstanding, he is…who he is. I’d have liked to see some scenes of him feeling his loss, his isolation, like Hanks in “Cast Away”. He does have a will to live, which is a big theme in the film. It could be the most inspirational movie to be released that wasn’t based on a true story–that feels like one. Up until maybe the last 15 minutes, the film feels like it’s depicting something that really happened. There’s a lot of cheeky dialog, modern mannerisms and throwaway lines (that’s Goddard’s style, after all). But my favorite thing are the 2 references to old Infocom games: “Zork 2”, and “Leather Goddesses of Phobos”, which provide Watney with his only source of entertainment. That is, of course, besides Commander Lewis’ extensive disco collection, much to the chagrin of Watney.

The film is breathtaking, directed by the always reliable Ridley Scott–who is a visual master. It has a lot of tension, even though most of it is predictable. Again, the mark of a great filmmaker. Nothing ever feels out of place, and you do get caught up in the story, pulling for Watney and enjoying his wit as well as his perseverance. Some of it gets a little cutesy, but it’s forgivable. “The Martian” delivers what it promises. Its tagline is “Bring him home”. And this film certainly does.

My rating: :-)