REVIEW: CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

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CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

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Crimson Peak is the latest film from Guillermo del Toro whose diverse resume ranges from the comic bookish Pacific Rim to the dark fantasy masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s Masterpiece Theater meets Hammer Studios in a deliciously gothic tale of romance, mystery, murder and things that go bump in the night.

The story takes place in the 19th century with Mia Wasikowska playing aspiring American writer Edith Cushing (a homage to the legendary Peter Cushing, no doubt.) who meets and falls in love with the dashing but mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe, who owns a massive but ancient castle in Cumbria, England. The castle is built over red clay deposits…that Sharpe hopes to mine…which seep up through the ground and stain the winter snow blood red…thus earning the land the ominous nickname Crimson Peak. Edith’s widowed father Carter (Jim Beaver) and handsome suitor Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) are against this romance and Carter’s investigation into Sharpe’s past gets him murdered and sends Edith into wedlock with Sir Thomas. Now having moved into the castle with her new husband and his odd sister, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Edith begins to see ghostly apparitions that warn her all is not right. What is really going on at Crimson Peak?…what are Thomas and Lucille Sharpe hiding?…and why are ghastly spirits warning Edith to fear for her life?

Co-written with Matthew Robbins, Del Toro delivers a visually sumptuous feast saturated with gothic atmosphere. It’s a lush tale of romance, mystery and sinister goings on in a delightfully spooky castle. There are some surprisingly violent moments, especially in the blood soaked last act and a little steamy sex here and there, too. There are also spirits in this ancient structure and if Del Toro’s film has any slight disappointment it’s that, despite the ghostly presence, the film is never really scary. Sure there are some spooky moments and the specters are visually unnerving, but aside from some well executed jump scares, the film never gets as chilling as say, the hallway scene in The Devil’s Backbone. Del Toro does get some intensity going in the last act, but the film is a deliberately slow burn, though the mystery and intrigue do keep one interested till dark secrets are unearthed and the purpose of spectral apparitions revealed. It is an enjoyable film, the type they don’t make anymore and the visual design is worth the price of a ticket alone…as is the sound design. It’s just not the horror film it’s being sold as and while it does qualify as a haunted house movie, that is only a part of the overall story. Those looking for funhouse style frights may be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are looking for something with class, style, intrigue and some nasty violence to punctuate it, than this film should entertain. It’s very atmospheric and Del Toro is helped in that department by Dan Laustsen’s (Brotherhood Of The Wolf) cinematography and Fernando Velázquez’ (The Orphanage) hauntingly beautiful score. It’s a very old fashioned flick, despite the sex and violence, and one wonders if today’s audience will appreciate the Dark Shadows-esque (The show, not the goofy Tim Burton flick) tale he creates.

Del Toro’s cast is simply wonderful. Mia Wasikowska creates an idealistic woman who dreams of being a writer and has seen spectral apparitions since her mother died years earlier. She is young, though and falls in love with the charismatic Sharpe even if things don’t quite add up from the beginning. Once she is convinced something is amiss, despite her feelings, she digs deep in dangerous places to find answers. She’s a strong, smart heroine and an endearing character. Tom Hiddleston is once again engaging as the charming and mysterious baron with some very dark secrets. He conveys Sharpe’s emotional torment between his sinister agenda and the real feelings he has for Edith. A flawed and conflicted character and Hiddleston has the presence to make him intriguing and keep him from becoming a stereotypical bad guy. Jessica Chastain’s Lucille is the true villain of the piece and she is a dragon lady to be feared and reckoned with. Her secrets are dark, deep and covered in blood and the actress really gives us a villainess worthy of a classic Disney film…though one definitely not for kids. Charlie Hunnam is a suitable hero, though much of the focus is on Edith and her efforts to uncover the truth and Jim Beaver gives Edith’s father a strength and wisdom while allowing the warmth and love for his daughter to come through. A likable character for his time on screen. Del Toro regular Doug Jones also appears as various apparitions.

I really enjoyed Crimson Peak, even if it wasn’t quite the horror movie I went in expecting. It is a sumptuously filmed mystery dripping with gothic atmosphere and not afraid to splash some blood or throw a little sex into it’s old fashioned mix. There are some spooky moments and the ghosts are unnerving, it’s just not as scary a ghost story as we’d like and the ghosts are not the central focus as the marketing would have us believe. It does deliver on the mystery, murder and even romance in a style that is rarely used in today’s world of popcorn blockbusters, vulgar comedies and generic romances. It also proves once again that Guillermo del Toro is one of the most versatile storytellers around. Highly recommended, but just don’t expect the horror flick it’s being sold as.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 Sharpe family crests

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REVIEW: PACIFIC RIM (2013)

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PACIFIC RIM (2013)

Simply put, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim is an absolute blast! A fun thrill-ride of a summer movie that had the audience I was in cheering like I haven’t heard in a flick in a long time. Rim tells the story of a rift that opens in the Pacific ocean floor from which crawl forth giant monsters known as Kaiju. These beasts keep coming and are hell bent on destruction and carnage, so the nations of Earth unite to built a fleet of giant combat robots called Jaegers to defend against the growing invasion. Each machine needs two pilots to mentally link with the robot and the film focuses on one such pilot, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) who falls from grace after a battle costs the life of his co-pilot/brother. But the Kaiju are gaining ground and the Jaegers are being destroyed one by one. Now Raleigh is called back to service for one last, desperate mission to destroy the rift and end the threat. With him is a rookie female pilot (Rinko Kikuchi) whose past may be as painful as his own.

Under Del Toro’s guidance Pacific Rim is a spectacular and visually sumptuous popcorn movie that has the spirit of one of those old fashioned Japanese monster movies mixed in with the hi-tech spectacle of a modern day event movie. As a fan of Japanese monster movies since I was a kid, I was enjoying every bit of it. Pacific Rim is non-stop fun, even if you’re not a fan of those movies. The battles are something to behold, but don’t move too fast that we can’t understand and enjoy what is going on. The Hong Kong battle is worth the price of the admission alone with it’s epic battle action and thrills. Del Toro populates the film with some very colorful characters like Charlie Day’s hyperactive scientist and a scene-stealing Ron Perlman as a black market Kaiju body parts dealer. The military characters seem charmingly corny as if taken from an old time WWII movie with Idris Elba playing, hard-nosed commander Stacker Pentecost, who hasn’t let command soften his ability to throw down and an eclectic assortment of multi-national Jaeger pilots, including the egotistical hot shot (Robert Kazinsky). The cast all take their roles seriously but, not too serious that we can’t tell that they are having a good time…and so do we.  The design of the film is breathtaking as is with all Del Toro’s movies and the Jaegers and Kaiju each have their own unique style and personality. The FX work to realize them is amazing. The monsters come across as dangerous and lethal, making our mega-robots always the underdog which, has you cheering for them as you should be. And cheer the audience in Paramus, N.J. did and often.

The versatile Del Toro has once again crafted a beautiful to look at film that has a delightfully old fashioned style, yet with all the modern hi-tech SPFX we’ve come to expect from a summer blockbuster. But no matter how exciting the action is, no matter how amazing the visuals, no matter how spectacular the FX, Pacific Rim most of all has huge amounts of heart and fun to make it a truly entertaining summer movie blast! I also can’t respect and love Del Toro enough for dedicating the film to both Ray Harryhausen and Ishirō Honda. That is true class and a wonderful show of appreciation to two of the great all-time masters! Highly recommended and stay through the credits!

-MonsterZero NJ

4 Kaiju!

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