Crimson Peak

October 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”)
Written by: Guillermo del Toro (“Pacific Rim”) and Matthew Robbins (“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”)

In the opening scene of director Guillermo del Toro’s new film “Crimson Peak,” a ghost of the mother of our main character gives the warning: “Beware of Crimson Peak.” With a dull story, bland horror and clunky imagery, I couldn’t agree more, unscary ghost-lady.

After a young woman named Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is swept off her feet by visiting a Englishman named Thomas (Tom Hiddleston), she decides to follow him to his new home after facing a family tragedy. Accompanied by his mysterious sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Thomas and Edith arrive and settle into Thomas’ broken down albeit beautiful home. As she spends more time there, however, Edith begins to notice strange things around the house and becomes haunted by ghosts. When she realizes things may not be what they seem, Edith attempts to navigate the truth about what is really happening at Crimson Peak.

Any horror elements, mostly taking place in the form of ghosts, feel like a complete afterthought. None of it is that frightening, but rather a polite haunting that is shoehorned in to spice up a dull romantic story. The romance feels decidedly passionless, as those plotlines are not given nearly enough time to breathe or develop. After a few meetings and some lustful looks, the audience is led to believe that Thomas and Edith are deeply in love, which never feels like the case.

While some plot points and a general sense of unease are pretty obvious early on, the film plays those plot points close to the vest, and takes forever to reveal (barely) what is actually going on. When the film reaches enters it’s Third Act and motives and answers are finally revealed, the movie has taken far too long to get to the point and there’s an air of “Who cares?” that permeates the exposition.

There’s no question the film’s gothic aesthetics are pretty to look at, but once you get past the sheen, there’s nothing worthwhile there. When you throw in some ham-fisted usage of the color red for blood imagery, a lame script of clichéd dialogue, and far too much brooding (I’m looking at you, Chastain), you get a film that lacks in nearly every department. Though the genre of the film may be up for debate, the fact remains that the romantic elements aren’t alluring enough and the horror elements are not chilling enough leaving “Crimson Peak” as a film with much to be desired.

Only Lovers Left Alive

May 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch (“Broken Flowers”)
Written by: Jim Jarmusch (“Broken Flowers”)

Taking a realistic approach to the idea of two vampires who have been living and loving on this earth for centuries, unconventional writer/director Jim Jarmusch breaks the mold with “Only Lovers Left Alive,” a fresh and distinctive entry into the vampire genre. For those who like their vampires to sparkle like diamonds like they do in the “Twilight” series or – on the opposite end of the spectrum – live like gorehounds and quench their insatiable thirst any way they can, Jarmusch’s cool, laid-back vampire story probably won’t do anything for you. Art-house film aficionados, however, should be pleased to see what Jarmusch is able to do with his non-formulaic narrative, especially with perfectly-cast actors Tom Hiddleston and Oscar winner Tilda Swinton in the lead roles. The result is undeniably tasty.

For a couple of undead characters who have been around for centuries, vampires Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) sure do have this whole “living” thing down pat. Adam, a depressed and reclusive musician, lives in the most lifeless part of Detroit while Eve has found a happy existence living in Morocco. It makes sense that vampires, who have been together for hundreds of years, would probably take some time off from inhabiting the same space so they won’t grow tired of each other.

Adam, however, is depressed. His only real link to the outside world is Ian (Anton Yelchin), the only “zombie” (AKA human being) he can stand to be around, who provides him with rare stringed instruments to purchase. Upon seeing that Adam is acting more emo than usual, Eve decides she’ll fly out (on an airplane, not as a bat) for a much-needed visit. The two are enjoying their time together until Eve’s immature sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up and does some really vampy things, which send Adam and Eve’s lives into a tailspin.

Along with the fact that Adam and Eve don’t live together, Jarmusch pays attention to other details that would come up if vampires really existed, which makes “Only Lovers” all the more believable and authentic. For example, when it comes to nourishing themselves with human blood, it wouldn’t make much sense if the couple lived off the necks of real people in the 21st century (haven’t you seen “CSI?” They’d be arrested or always on the run). Instead, both have their own personal hook-up to blood that keeps them from having to murder everyone they meet. Adam pays a doctor (Jeffrey Wright) handsomely for it; Eve turns to a famous 16th century playwright (John Hurt) for her premium-grade sustenance.

Jarmusch, whose past films include the wonderful “Broken Flowers” starring Bill Murray and “Stranger than Paradise,” takes on a different tone than his previous work. There is an underlying sadness to “Only Lovers” that paints an intriguing picture about what it would be like to live forever. While there are many people out there who would love to discover the Fountain of Youth, Jarmusch raises interesting issues about mortality and about just how much living one person can do when you know you’re always going to wake up the next night.

This film was screened at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival. For more coverage, click here.

Stoker

March 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Chan-wook Park (“Oldboy”)
Written by: Wentworth Miller (debut) and Erin Cressida Wilson (“Chloe”)

Whether you can handle the bloodletting of filmmaker Chan-wook Park’s past work like “Thirst,” “Oldboy,” and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” one thing is undeniable certain after seeing the South Korean director’s first American-made film “Stoker”: the man can sure set a chilling scene even better than most who consider the horror genre their forte.

Before we confuse viewers out there, “Stoker” is not a horror film. Despite Park’s last project centering on a vampire priest and the fact that Stoker is the surname of the novelist who wrote “Dracula,” the film “Stoker” has not one mythological fang working in its favor. That doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t have a piercing bite. With Park at the helm, “Stoker,” despite its narrative drawbacks in the first half, is a master class in tone, setting, and overall ambiance that everyone should experience with the lights off.

After the mysterious death of her husband Richard (Dermot Mulroney), Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman) opens her home to her estranged brother-in-law Charles (Matthew Goode), a handsome and creepily charming man who is easy to recognize in the cinematic world as someone with skeletons in his closet. While the unstable Evelyn is more than receptive to Charles moving into her home, her introverted teenage daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) is none too happy that no one ever told her she had an uncle.

The family secret might’ve been for her own good as we watch Charles snake around the property making everyone he comes into contact with uncomfortable. The sexual tension between he and both Evelyn and India is extremely palpable with each glint in his eye and perfect smile. In one scene, Charles sits down at a piano to play a duet with India, who almost practically orgasms as her uncle moves his arms around her back to hit the higher register on the keys. It’s not so much the idea Charles desires both women that is unnerving. It’s the vagueness of Charles’ backstory that will keep you wondering which way he will slither.

With the exception of the 2009 drama “A Single Man,” Goode has never been better. His subtle handling of his character feels genuine and never exaggerated. Both Wasikowska and Kidman’s performances are anchored by the self-confidence he brings to his own role.

Still, it is Park’s attention to detail that keeps “Stoker” truly fascinating. His use of light and sound, which are creatively edited into scenes throughout the film, are only some of the small gems that will stand out to those who notice finer points in the filmmaking process. It may be his first foray into the American film industry, but with “Stoker” he’s made an impression.

Albert Nobbs

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Janet McTeer
Directed by: Rodrigo Garcia (“Mother and Child”)
Written by: Glenn Close (debut), John Banville (“The Last September”), Gabriella Prekop (“VII. Oliver”)

When it comes to cross-dressing and film, male characters color coordinating handbags and heels are typically played for laughs (“Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Tootsie,” “The Birdcage”). Those films wherein a female character shows off her masculine side tend more to the dramatic (“Boys Don’t Cry,” “Yentl”). Sure, there are exceptions, but in Hollywood a boy in pantyhose is funny; a girl speaking in a lower register is just too heartbreaking to imagine.

That gender-bending double standard carries over to the occasionally sympathetic but more often stagnant period drama “Albert Nobbs.” Adapted from a short story by Irish novelist George Moore, Nobbs stars five-time Academy Award-nominee Glenn Close (“Dangerous Liaisons”) as a woman living in 19th-century Dublin who disguises herself as a man so she can work as a waiter in an upscale hotel. Waiting on stuffy guests, “Albert” is saving each shilling she earns so she can purchase her own tobacco shop. When Albert’s secret is accidentally revealed, however, her once seemingly attainable dream evolves into something much more complicated.

As Albert, Close takes on the most daring role of her career since the 1987 thriller “Fatal Attraction.” The physical look of the character may not be nearly as unbelievable as Julie Andrews’ in the 1982 musical comedy “Victor Victoria,” but even the noteworthy makeup and prosthetics are a bit bizarre looking. Confined inside her black suit and tie for most of the film, it’s Close’s nervous glances, awkward smiles, and perfunctory movements that actually bring to life this reclusive human being whose character depth should be far more involved than the one-dimensional script would have you believe. “Such a kind little man,” one hotel guest says when describing Albert to her husband. Unfortunately, the rest of the screenplay doesn’t do much better in bringing Albert to light.

Credited as a co-writer, Close, who also wrote the lyrics for the original song “Lay Your Head Down” sung by Sinead O’Connor, cuts corners when attempting to expand on the emotional agony Albert endures. It’s only during a few scenes where she speaks candidly with Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a house painter also facing an identity crisis, when a more meaningful narrative is exposed beyond the tea parties and gossiping help. McTeer, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1999 for “Tumbleweeds,” matches Close shot for shot when they share the screen. The collaboration is poignant, but ultimately gets sidelined in favor of an insignificant relationship between a naive young maid (Mia Wasikowska) and an insensitive maintenance man (Aaron Johnson). Also lost somewhere inside the script is actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“Match Point”), who shows up as a hotel guest for no legitimate reason other than to don Victorian Era garb.

Directed by Rodrigo García, whose last film was the touching 2009 drama “Mother and Child,” “Albert Nobbs” is a picture lacking passion and genuine conflict. It’s also missing that great sense of female empowerment it desperately wants to convey; in fact, it seemingly has no idea where to begin. Putting Albert in a dress and sending him to run on a beach just doesn’t cut it.

Restless

October 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase
Directed by: Gus Van Sant (“Milk”)
Written by: Jason Lew (debut)

If starring in a quirky, indie romantic comedy was something actress Mia Wasikowska (“The Kids Are All Right”) wanted to experience, she could’ve done a whole lot better than “Restless,” a hipster-wannabe teenage love story that gives “The Art of Getting By” some serious competition for the most annoyingly adorable schlock to hit theaters this year. Even Wasikowska lighting up every scene with her immense likeability can’t save “Restless” from torturing audiences with its pretentiousness.

The film feels so calculated, even the names of the lead characters sound like they were overanalyzed by first-time screenwriter Jason Lew. The lovebirds in this angst-filled feature are Enoch Brae (Henry Hopper) and Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska), two teens who meet at a funeral mass and decide they’re so darned unusual, they should spend the rest of Annabel’s life hanging out doing strange things like going on a date to a morgue and memorizing bird trivia.

See, Annabel is dying of brain cancer and only has three months to live. Since Enoch is intrigued by death (he spends his free time crashing funerals and talks to the ghost of a Japanese Kamikaze pilot named Hiroshi that he can only see) he volunteers his services to his new love interest.

“I know a lot about [death], so I can help you with stuff,” Enoch tells Annabel when she drops the news about her dwindling life span.

From here, the courtship between Enoch and Annabel becomes preposterous as they exchange philosophical ideas and run through grassy fields. Wisikowska does her best to keep the material genuine with her sweet performance, but Lew’s script and bloated dialogue is just too much to overcome, even for inconsistent albeit talented director Gus Van Sant (“Milk”).

Once Enoch pulls a Slinky from his jacket like any young “old soul” would do, imagining how much he probably got beat up in high school was a much needed perk for having to sit through the cliché, melodramatic disaster. If it’s any consolation, “Restless” is the perfect film for 16-year-old girls who wear old-lady glasses and 16-year-old boys who worship bands with names like Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. How much more emo can you get?

Alice in Wonderland

March 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”)
Written by: Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King”)

Director Tim Burton’s visual sensibility is once again at the forefront of another dark spectacle full of big ideas but ultimately hollow at its core. This time it’s “Alice in Wonderland,” a beautifully-realized take on the popular 19th century Lewis Carroll tale, which has been remade numerous times in the past 100 years.

In the newest version, “Alice” takes the best of what Burton does and buries it under an incoherent narrative by animated film screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King”). It’s not so much that the magic or overall look has been squandered. The twisted tale of a Mad Hatter, a waist-coated white rabbit, and Cheshire Cat is quite stunning with the characters going through a computer-generated makeover. Burton’s version, however, must overcompensate on imagination when the sluggish story sucks all the adventure out of what could have been an epic reimaging of a beloved classic.

Fresh-face Australian actress Mia Wasikowska (“Defiance”) is entrusted with the role of the title character. In a sort of sequel to any of the preceding films, here Alice is actually returning to the fantasy world most people know from the trippy Disney film of 1951. In this adaptation, Alice is an unconventional 19-year-old who visits a place called Underland after she rejects a suitor who has asked for her hand in marriage.

Bothered by nightmares of her first journey down the rabbit hole (an event she hardly remembers), Alice stumbles yet again into a land where flowers talk, frogs are royal servants, and oversized facial features are signs power. Woolverton’s script even finds room for Carroll’s Jabberwocky, a monstrous character first introduced in his novel “Through the Looking Glass.”

Since her last visit, the vile and bulbous-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over. Alice does her best impersonation of the kids from “The Chronicles of Narnia” to try to stop her and her loyal army. A prophetic scroll shown at the beginning of her second coming reveals Alice to be the one who will put an end to the queen’s reign. Most of the characters, however, think she is the “wrong Alice” and won’t be able to help.

Cast near-perfectly especially with Johnny Depp as the eccentric Mad Hatter, Crispin Glover as the sinister Knave of Hearts, and Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry lending their voices for the hooka-smoking Blue Caterpillar and the hypnotic Cheshire Cat respectively, “Alice” definitely transports us to the world we all new Burton could create. It’s unfortunate, however, that the digital enhancements outweigh a story that is more aware of its dreamlike marvels than before. Because Alice is older, that childlike sense of wonderment is absent. Woolverton (off with her head!) compounds the problem by fashioning a whimsical yet convoluted tale that often becomes dull and gaudy all at once.