Crimson Peak

Viewed – 22 October 2015  Cinema

I had been looking forward to this gothic horror / romance for a while and it was one of my most anticipated movies of the year.  Director Guillermo Del Toro had become one of my go-to directors in recent years, especially for his two Hellboy movies and the seminal masterpiece that is Pan’s Labyrinth.  So anything with him at the helm seemed guaranteed for success.  However my expectations were set a little lower after the stunning looking but disappointing Pacific Rim.

Crimson Peak

This follows the period-set story of Edith (Mia Wasikowska) whose father is a big shot and attracts the attention of mysterious clay miner (?) Thomas (Tom Hiddelston) out to raise money for an invention but needs Edith’s father’s backing.  Yet Edith’s father doesn’t like the look of him or Thomas’s creepy sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain).  Yet intent on swaying the man, Thomas sets out to win the heart of Edith after muscling his way into a ball put on for the local dignitaries.  Very Pride and Prejudice so far you may think.  However following a turn of events I won’t spoil, Edith is whisked off by Thomas & Lucille, to an ancient creepy old house with more than it’s share of ghouls and ghosts, and so Edith must unravell a mystery surrounding the house and the brother and sister who have come into her life.

crimsonFor a start, this is one of the most breath-taking visual treats I’ve had at the cinema in a long time.  Every shot and camera angle and corridor, room and costume is a work of art – it really is a gothic visual masterpiece.  How then, you might ask can the movie be so uninvolving and lacking in depth or personality?  The performances are decent (especially Hiddleston) but with a plodding script, zero chemistry between Thomas and Edith despite their insistence on being in love and scenes I’m sure were meant to be scary or disturbing, much of this just came off as ‘meh’.  It goes as far as how the characters react to stuff, like Edith witnessing some grotesque legless creature coming out of the floor and crawling after her down a corridor – only for Edith to look puzzled and run away.  Yeah, I see that sort of thing every day!  What doesn’t help either is that the ghosts seem overly CGI – Del Toro is known for pioneering some amazing creature designs over the years and has used prosthetic make up to brilliant effect (Pan’s Labyrinth’s awesome Pale Man).  These sequences just didn’t have the same impact.  Add to this the eventual reveal and point of the whole story coming off as ‘…is that it?’ – and I just came away feeling deflated.  From early word I’d read I hadn’t expected a full on horror, but did hope for characters I would care about and a story that pulled me in – but beyond the obvious artistry of the visuals, this did anything but.  I have a feeling a second viewing may fair better, but as it stands this was disappointing.

Verdict:  3 /5

Maps To The Stars

Viewed – 06 February 2015 online-rental

I’ll generally watch anything directed by David Cronenberg, that former horror auteur responsible for such titles as Scanners, The Fly, as well as thrillers like A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises.  Going into this I felt echoes of another David’s work, namely David Lynch especially with his dark-side-of-Hollywood opus Mulholland Drive. 


A physically and emotionally scarred young woman, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives off a coach seemingly intent on discovering Hollywood and befriends a chauffer (Robert Pattinson).  Soon she is hired by struggling former star Havana (Julianne Moore) as her personal assistant.  Havana is trying to land the role in a remake of her deceased mother’s most famous film, whilst at the same time struggling with her own personal demons.  We also get a child actor with over-barring parents (including a self-help guru John Cusack).

Think ‘The Player’ meets ‘Mulholland and you’ll get an idea of this dark but interesting drama.  Wasikowska is, as always excellent as the troubled and manipulative Agatha and Moore is daring and tragic playing an actress way past her sell by date.  It perfectly showcases how fake and artificial the movie industry can be, and especially how throwaway it is with young and ageing actors.  Cusack, one of my favourites is fairly wasted here not getting much chance to be anything more than a money hungry scumbag, and the kid playing the child actor is quite unlikable also.  Well, all the characters here are unlikable, but that’s clearly the point.  Cronenberg observes them like insects waiting to be trod on, but the occasional lapses into surrealism and brutal violence (death by academy award?) or explicit sex (gotta hand it to Moore … she’s fearless!) at least livened up what is otherwise a fairly downbeat and depressing tale.  For Cronenberg this was fascinating but ultimately quite limp for such a provocative and challenging film maker.

Verdict:  3 /5


Viewed – 08 July 2013  Blu-ray

I was in two minds when sitting down to watch this.  Firstly feverishly excited as it marks the American / English-language debut of one of my favorite directors, namely Korean auteur Park Chan-wook.  He made for me one of the finest trilogy of movies I have experienced, the critically acclaimed cult thrillers known as The Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance) and along with the unique vampire love story Thirst – he has impressed me time and again.  Now coming to that second thing, trepidation – I was nervous that something would be lost in translation in his swap to American mainstream cinema … would all the reasons I admire his talent, be cast aside in favor of the usual studio interference, with pretty much the only thing saying it was the same director, being his name on the credits?

stoker pic

Well rest assured, this is every bit as imaginative, eye-meltingly beautiful and intelligent as I could have hoped – if not more so.  Alice In Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska plays India Stoker, a loner school kid mourning the recent death of her father when her uncle, who the family have had nothing to do with for years, makes an appearance and moves into the family home.  Soon he’s warming up to India’s mother (a stepford wife like Nicole Kidman) and trying to befriend India – who has her own suspicions on this new found uncle’s agenda.

From the off the photography and just sheer imagination with camera work, editing and scenery are eye catching and clever as hell.  Think perhaps Tim Burton meets Roman Polanski via David Lynch, and you may get an idea.  The movie is moody but has a cheeky personality, aware of its own style without overwhelming, and delivering three very different, very memorable performances.  Matthew Goode (Watchmen) is eerily charming as India’s uncle, and Kidman retains her usual sexiness whilst also exposing a wicked step mother alter-ego, meaning she really should play more villainous roles.  The star here though remains Wasikowska, who was perfect as Alice but seems ideally cast here as the darkly disturbed India … a performance that echoed early Winona Ryder for me.

But I wasn’t here for the cast … I was here for Park Chan-wook and along with frequent collaborator, cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, he’s created a work of art … the look is both creepy and beautiful at the same time, and even on the backbone of a typical psychological thriller plot (from Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller) this is much more than the some of its parts.

The kind of movie you really need to sit down and wallow in, and above all else … enjoy.

Verdict  5 /5

Alice In Wonderland

Viewed – 23 December 2010  Blu-ray

I used to be a huge Tim Burton fan back when he made the likes of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow.  I loved his gothic style and imagination.  Combine this with his frequent collaboration with composer Danny Elfman, most notably on the Batman movies, and this movie-fan was in constant awe.   In recent years however I haven’t really kept up with his movies.  The last one I watched was Sweeney Todd, which left me cold, and I haven’t as of yet seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

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