Crimson Peak Review

            In an early scene of Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, Crimson Peak, the protagonist explains to a publisher that her book is not a ghost story but a story with ghosts in it.  The ghosts are just, in fact, metaphors.  It’s a very meta moment that sets the tone for the rest of the film.  While Crimson Peak is certainly scary and will be compared to other horror films, it functions much better as a drama.  With stunning visuals and actors who are game for anything accompanying a storyline that can be a tad melodramatic, it’s hard not to like what Crimson Peak has to offer.

            Crimson Peak follows aspiring author Edith (played by Mia Wasikowska) as she is courted by a British heir (Tom Hiddleston).  When she finally goes to live with him at his decrepit mansion in England, Edith begins to wonder if there is something mysterious within the house’s history that the heir and his sister (Jessica Chastain) are trying to hide.

            Guillermo del Toro is a master of visual art.  He knows how to make his creations not only visually unique but appealing as well.  The trend continues with this film as the costumes pop and the “haunted” house at the center of the film is one of the most interesting you will ever see on the big screen. 

            While del Toro’s strength is very obvious, his Achilles’ heel isn’t so.  Somewhere along the way, whether it be through poor plotting, weak character development, silly dialogue or a mixture of everything, del Toro’s films normally falter.  Fortunately, that never really happens this time around.  Sure the dialogue can be a bit silly and the twists and turns are not only melodramatic but also a bit predictable.  However, all of the main characters are memorable.  I would enjoy watching a spinoff of any of the three main characters (Charlie Hunnam’s Dr. McMichael comes close to being the fourth lead but his character is not interesting enough to make his inclusion work), which is something you can’t normally say for a film.

            It also helps that all the actors know what type of movie they are in and perform admirably with the part they are asked to play.  Mia Wasikowska certainly doesn’t have the showiest part in the film, but she brings some much-needed stability to the film’s core.  Tom Hiddleston also oozes the necessary charisma to make the actions of his character and the characters responding to him seem realistic.  Meanwhile, Jessica Chastain looks like she really enjoyed the rather drastic shifts in tone of her character, and her at-times bombastic acting fits right in with the film.

            Crimson Peak is one of the few Guillermo del Toro films where the famed director brings everything together for a film that is both great and unique.


Sicario Review

            We have seen a lot of films in recent years with very anti-American viewpoints.  That’s a fine thing for cinema as it shows there are no restraints on what you can do with art in our country’s current political climate.  However, where is the line on how much anti-American material can be put into the cinematic zeitgeist.  Sometimes too much is just way too much and it’s unfortunate that Sicariois released at a time that we have seen so many anti-American films.  Sicariodoesn’t exactly smack you over the head with its sentiments, but its slow and meticulous style is something we have seen from so many similar films in recent years (A Most Wanted Man comes instantly to mind).  So while Sicario is definitely a well-crafted film it is one that is extremely hard to love.

            Sicario follows idealistic FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) as she is handpicked by a mysterious governmental figure (Josh Brolin) to work on a special task force to find a drug cartel leader (Bernardo P. Saracino).  As she quickly integrates herself into the culture around the US-Mexican border she learns not everything is quite as it seems.

            While the dark and pessimistic atmosphere of this feature can over power the film at many points, it’s not without its merits.  Emily Blunt and Benecio del Toro (as a man with knowledge of the cartels recruited by the CIA) deliver powerful performances.  Blunt at times makes you forget that she is not American and fully establishes herself as one of the best action stars in film today.  Del Toro, meanwhile, completely steals the film in the later stages as a quiet man that del Toro can abruptly and realistically install a sense of energy into.  It also helps that this is a beautiful film to look at (cinematographer maestro Roger Deakins does his usual great work) and listen to (the sound design is so realistic and Johann Johannsson’s score ratchets up the tension and the correct moments).

            All that being said this film ultimately becomes a conspiracy theory film.  That’s not bad by any means.  JFK and Zero Dark Thirty (if you are to believe some opponents of the later film) are fantastic films.  However, Sicariojust comes to the same conclusion in the same exact style as so many recent films: America is as bad as its enemies.  While that may be true, it’s a tired conclusion to a film that begins with so much potential.

            Sicario is a well made but it’s the type of film that’s been done way too many times before and not in the appealing and fun way so many blockbusters happen to be.


The Walk Review

            Robert Zemeckis has to have one of the most diverse careers of any director. His ability to go from one genre to the next with relative ease has made him somewhat of an underrated talent despite being an Oscar award winning filmmaker with multiple blockbusters under his belt.  With his latest film, The Walk, Zemeckis once again delivers a unique cinematic experience even if the film itself fails to live up to its own high expectations.  While The Walk is not only visually ambitious but thematically ambitious as well, it is let down by a bad lead performance and a lack of narrative direction.

            The Walk follows Philippe Petit as he tries to enact his plans to walk between the Twin Towers.  While this material has already been covered in the acclaimed documentary, Man on Wire, this film definitely feels enough of its own thing to warrant its existence.  For starters, this is a film that tries to take cinematic imagery into new directions, and the narrative allows opportunities for human warmth that are just not present in the documentary.  It’s unfortunate to say that The Walk’s attempts to take advantage of this just fall flat.  Philippe Petit as portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt happens to just be an annoying character rather than the warm and inspiring character he is meant to be.  Whether it’s his near suicidal actions or Gordon-Levitt’s cartoonish attempt at a French accent, it’s hard to invest in him.

            Yet it is hard not to admire what Zemeckis is trying to do with this film.  Filming the entire production with 3D cameras, it’s hard not to be floored by some of the visuals, especially in the final act.  Additionally, Zemeckis’ ability to twist this tale into an exploration of what exactly is art is an engaging theme that runs throughout the film.  So even in the less than stellar opening moments of the film that flop around between boring setup and even more boring character introductions, there is still something to be invested in.

            It would also be a shame to wrap this up without mentioning the stellar if minor work from James Badge Dale as one of Petit’s “accomplices”.  The man clearly deserves a major film of his own as he once again steals a film with only a minor amount of screentime.  The man just oozes charm and just finds a way to put depth into minor characters (whether it’s in The Departed, The Grey or even Zemeckis’ Flight).

            The Walk is a film with visuals so powerful that it is able to overcome its many problems.


Brooklyn Review

            As a person of Irish descent it is always nice to see when Irish film productions breakthrough on the international stage.  In recent years, the Irish film community has had a major impact on film.  Whether its their acclaimed animated films (The Secrets of Kellsand Song of the Sea), the attention that the English/”Irish” McDonagh brothers brings to the Irish scenery in their films or the up and coming generation of actors such as Saoirse Ronan and Domhnall Gleeson, it’s hard to not notice the Irish in film today.  It’s for the latter reason that the Irish film community has been brought to the forefront once again as one of the most talked about independent films this year is Brooklynstars both Ronan and Gleeson.  With an Irish cast, and Irish director and an Irish book for source material, what could have easily been a stereotypical romance film is brought to the next level thanks to a unique Irish flair and a powerful lead performance.

            Brooklyn follows Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), which is pronounced A-lish, as she grows bored of her Irish homeland and decides to immigrate to 1950s America with the help of a pastor.  While there she falls in love with an Italian boy (Emory Cohen), which creates problems when her sister (Fiona Glascott) dies and Eilis is tempted to go back home to help her lonely mother (Jane Brennan).

            The film certainly does not break new ground, especially in the plot department, which has so many shades of past melodramas.  At least director John Crawley and writer Nick Horny make sure not to wallow in the melodrama as they focus more on character and less on plot.   It also helps that they tried to find every single way of bringing an air of authenticity to the film whether that’s through filming on location or the exquisite costume work from Odile Dicks-Mireaux.

            It also helps that the film gets a knockout performance from Saoirse Ronan.  Ronan has shown that she has a talent whether it was in Atonement, The Lovely Bones or Hanna.  However, with such a powerfully optimistic performance as this, I think she will finally have her overdue breakthrough.  This is a stoic performance that she combines with the other talents she has put on display in the past making for her first truly complete performance.  While there isn’t another performance on her level in the film, it helps that every performance complement’s Ronan’s no matter how small (including Jessica Pare’s almost cameo level performance as Eilis’ boss).

            Brooklyn is a simple yet beautiful film.


Pawn Sacrifice Review

            Bobby Fischer has always been a character that Americans have been fascinated with.  A hero that slowly went down a dark path is just too engrossing of a tale to ignore.  Many films have covered the chess grandmaster, including one of the better documentaries in recent years, Bobby Fischer Against the World.  So I was quite intrigued to see how Pawn Sacrifice, the latest film about Bobby Fischer, would add to his aura.  With underrated director Edward Zwick (Glory, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond) and the very in demand Steven Knight (Locke and Peaky Blinders) as screenwriter, it certainly had a lot going for it.  Unfortunately, Pawn Sacrificeis a mess of a film.  While it doesn’t suffer from the greatest hits feeling that most biopics tend to suffer from, this film suffers from laying the more known aspects of Fischer’s life a little too thickly on the audience.  It’s a loud film that doesn’t really go anywhere.

            Pawn Sacrifice actually covers a lot of ground in Bobby Fischer’s life (only really skipping his later years in exile), but most of the film focuses on Fischer’s (who is played by Tobey Maguire in the film) rivalry with the Soviets and his descent into madness, which the film tries to play up as a concurrent event with the rivalry.  Pawn Sacrifice probably isn’t the most historically accurate film, but you have to admire the job down by Steven Knight to ignore historical accuracy and go for something that should have been more dramatically appealing.

            It’s unfortunate, though, that the rest of the script and a lot of Edward Zwick’s directing lands with a loud thud.  Many of the actions of the film just seem repetitive, which becomes a big problem when a lot of the actions are Fischer going crazy.  It also doesn’t help that a lot of the centerpiece Fischer-Spassky match is directed in such a stale manner.  There is no energy in the film at a point when it desperately needed it.  Ultimately, I end up taking very little out of this film, and that’s not good for a well-covered subject matter.

            The cast at their very least tries their best.  Tobey Maguire does struggle at times in the role of Fischer, but that’s mostly because of direction that tells him to be as loud and noticeable as possible.  There is the occasional subtle moment that shows you there is something else to Maguire’s performance, but those moments are too few.  Meanwhile, Live Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard and (especially) Michael Stuhlbarg all give memorable supporting turns.

            Pawn Sacrifice is ultimately a tired portrayal of one of chess’ most famous tales.


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