Movie Review: “Crimson Peak”

Starring
Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam
Director
Guillermo del Toro

It’s no secret that Guillermo del Toro has a slightly deranged imagination, as witnessed by the twisted fantasy worlds and creatures from “Pan’s Labyrinth” and the “Hellboy” films, but there’s a beauty to his madness that flows through all of the director’s movies, perhaps none more so than his latest project. A gothic romance that’s equal parts Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Brontë, “Crimson Peak” feels like a nostalgic throwback to the kind of films that Hammer made in its prime. Though the movie’s supernatural elements aren’t as prominent as the marketing campaign would lead you to believe, “Crimson Peak” is a sumptuously designed genre flick that delivers a different kind of horror from the typical ghosts-and-ghouls haunted house story.

Set during the turn of the 20th century, the film stars Mia Wasikowska as young American heiress Edith Cushing, an aspiring author who has no interest in romance, whether in real life or her stories, despite the fact that childhood friend-turned-physician Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) clearly fancies her. When English baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) arrives in town seeking financing for a clay-mining machine that will help return his family’s business to its former glory, he’s turned away by Edith’s father (Jim Beaver), a self-made industrialist who sees right through Thomas’ façade. That doesn’t stop Edith from falling in love with the penniless aristocrat, however, and after her father is tragically murdered (although it’s covered up to look like an accident), Thomas whisks her away to England to live with him and his ice-cold sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), in their ancestral home of Allerdale Hall, a crumbling mansion that’s literally sinking into the ground due to the red clay mines below it. But when Edith begins to encounter tortured apparitions that haunt her new home, she uncovers terrible secrets about the Sharpe family history that threaten Thomas and Lucille’s ulterior motives.

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Movie Review: “Maps to the Stars”

Starring
Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, Sarah Gadon
Director
David Cronenberg

Less than a week after Hollywood celebrated itself at the Oscars in a televised circus of fashions, overlong acceptance speeches and underrepresented diversity, Canadian director David Cronenberg reminds us why even Hollywood excesses should have a limit in the weirdly satirical hybrid “Maps to the Stars.” The director best known for such classics as “The Fly,” “Scanners” and “A History of Violence” breaks new ground by filming in the States. It’s just too bad that he wasted the trip on such a manic, dated project filled with cynicism, incest and runaway egos.

Just off the bus is the fresh-faced but hideously scarred Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a burn victim who seems to take things way too much in stride. Introducing herself as being from Jupiter (the city, not the planet), Agatha instantly attaches herself to her limo driver, Jerome (Robert Pattison). Of course, what would a limo driver be in this town without acting and/or writing aspirations? Jerome is all too quick to write her off as just another weird client who happens to be a really good tipper, but Agatha grows on him as she does with many people in the film. Thanks to social media and Carrie Fisher, who stars as herself, Agatha manages to quickly find a job as a personal assistant, or “chore whore,” to aging C-lister Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). When Havana isn’t grasping to any last chance at stardom, she’s having fierce arguments with her dead mother (Sarah Gadon), who has no problems telling her what a disappointment she is.

Dysfunctional family time and visits from the beyond aren’t exclusive to the Segrand household, as we bounce back and forth between there and the Weiss compound. Agatha’s kid brother Benjie (Evan Bird) is 13 going on 40. He’s facing his own need for a ghostbuster with all the uncut crassness of a thousand Bieber clones rolled into one. Benjie’s the star of the “Bad Babysitter” franchise, which was so lucrative that stage mom Cristina (Olivia Williams) takes pride in squeezing out a multimillion dollar payday as if she were the real star. His dad, Stafford (John Cusack), is a self-help guru who rarely smiles, talks as though he’s three steps ahead of everyone, and administers a near-sadistic type of scream therapy to Havana.

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Movie Review: “Stoker”

Starring
Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode,
Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver
Director
Park Chan-wook

Korean director Park Chan-wook is one of the biggest filmmakers in his country and a cult figure here in the U.S. thanks mainly to his 2004 revenge thriller “Oldboy.” Fans have been patiently awaiting his English-language debut for quite some time now, and though it’s taken longer than expected for Park to export his talents to Hollywood, it’s hard to imagine a film more perfectly suited to his tastes than “Stoker.” A psychological thriller that’s every bit as tense, twisted and sexually perverse as the director’s previous work, “Stoker” is the kind of movie that gets under your skin and stays there for days, an achievement on its own whether you enjoy Park’s disturbing family drama or not.

After her father is killed in a horrible car accident on her 18th birthday, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is awash with emotion, but mostly curiosity when her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), whom she never knew existed, arrives at the funeral with news that he’ll be coming to live with India and her unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) in their Gothic-styled mansion. Puzzled as to why Charlie’s existence was kept a secret from her, India begins to suspect the mysterious stranger is up to no good when he begins seducing Evelyn just days after her husband’s death. But when people around town start disappearing and Charlie’s attention turns from Evelyn to India, his ulterior motives are finally revealed.

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