Tag Archives: Mia Wasikowska

Crimson Peak (2015)

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I love horror movies, but let’s face it: the vast majority being rolled out these days are shit. Found footage, demonic possession, teen slasher, torture porn, or unnecessary remakes — they all seem to blend into one massive flaming dump after a while.

And so it is refreshing to see Guillermo del Toro go back to his horror roots with Crimson Peak, an old-fashioned gothic fantasy ghost story the likes of which have become virtually extinct. Since it’s Del Toro, it means you’re also guaranteed splendid visuals, beautiful colour palettes and haunting imagery. I even saw it in IMAX for the full immersive experience.

The plot, set in the late 1800s, will feel vaguely familiar: Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring young American novelist with a fascination for ghost stories. Her life is changed forever when a dashing young British aristocrat named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) arrive to seek project funding from Edith’s father (Jim Beaver), a self-made businessman with an observant eye.

It’s one of those films where there are mysteries and secrets to be unravelled, though I was surprised that it did not have any big surprises. The narrative progressed in a familiar direction and things more or less turned out as I expected as Del Toro never really tries to mislead us with red herrings. I believe part of the reason is because Del Toro has insisted that Crimson Peak is not a horror film but a gothic romance, and has accordingly tried to stick to the conventions of the genre.

I’ll stop there to avoid spoilers, but if you’ve seen the trailer or the posters you’ll know much of the story revolves around a massive old gothic manor. Once majestic, time, nature and economic hardship have eroded its beauty, leaving behind a dilapidated facade full of unspeakable secrets. It’s a magnificent creation of Del Toro’s imagination, the kind of place where dreams and nightmares are made of. Amazingly, almost of all of it was built from scratch as opposed to relying on digital effects, and you can genuinely sense the superior aesthetics.

So as you may have gathered, Crimson Peak has a distinctly dreamy and fantastical tone driven by location and atmosphere. Everything from the gorgeous imagery to the exquisite costumes and sets contributes to the type of film Del Toro is trying to unleash from his twisted mind. I will admit though, that at times the old-fashioned approach of the film, coupled with the over-the-top melodrama and romance, walks a tightrope between charming and campy. I belong in the former category, for the most part, but I can definitely see some audiences falling in the latter.

What also makes Crimson Peak different to most ghost films these days is that there’s very little build-up to the appearances of the apparitions. Del Toro gets right to it and doesn’t waste time with shadows, fleeting glimpses or sceptical minds doubting our protagonist for three-quarters of the movie. Fans of Del Toro’s previous creature designs in Pans Labyrinth are in for a treat.

Don’t for a second, however, think that Crimson Peak is an “easy” film to watch just because it looks pretty. Del Toro likes to remind his viewers that this is indeed still a horror film with occasional bursts of brutal, visceral violence. It comes swiftly, shockingly, and jolts audiences to the edge of their seats. Frankly, I found these scenes far more terrifying than any of the supernatural stuff.

In terms of performances, the central trio of Wasikowska, Hiddleston and Chastain are all terrific. There is a strange mix of elegance, naivete and strength about Wasikowska that makes her so suitable for such roles, and for me it was great to see Hiddleston channel his charm into a character other than Loki (I had previously only seen him in Marvel movies). The standout, however, is Chastain, who seems to relish the opportunity to play a completely different character to what she’s typically used to. I had just seen her in The Martian the day before and it had no effect on how I perceived her performance in this movie at all.

Crimson Peak may not be one of the scarier horror films I’ve seen (supposedly because it’s not even supposed to be a horror film), but it at least offers a genre experience that is vastly different to what Hollywood has been churning out in recent years. I was delighted by its rich, sprawling visuals, creepy atmosphere, stunning sets and fine cast, and was never bored or frustrated by the story. I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but this is one of those rare instances where I think these positives, while not making up for a lack of surprises and originality, are enough to make a film worth watching and recommending.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Maps to the Stars (2014)

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David Cronenberg is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.

Of his last five films, the only one I’ve yet to see is A Dangerous Method (2011). A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007) were fabulous, but I found Cosmopolis (2012) to be dull and pretentious. His latest effort, Maps to the Stars, is actually similar stylistically to Cosmopolis, though this time — perhaps due to the subject matter and the performances — I found the satire funny, biting and creepy, and the overall experience positively uncomfortable.

Maps to the Stars is a really strange film that defies categorisation. It’s a drama and black comedy, but also has elements of a psychological thriller and supernatural horror.  What it definitely is, however, is a scathing take on Hollywood, an acidic satire on all the excess, the pretentiousness, the opportunity-seeking, the backstabbing, the heartlessness, and above all the destructive lifestyles of America’s rich and famous. Far from the glamour we typically associate with stardom and wealth, Maps to the Stars not just brings celebrities down to our level — it pushes them below acceptable levels of decency and humanity. 

Without giving too much away, the plot revolves around two women — Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), a scarred young woman (literally, she has burn scars on her face and neck) who just made her way to Hollywood, and Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an aging actress hoping to land a major role as her legendary late mother. Key characters in their world include Jerome (Robert Pattinson), an aspiring actor making a living as a limo driver for the stars; rising teen actor Benjie (Evan Bird), his manager mother (Olivia Williams) and his New Age guru father (John Cusack). They are all linked in one way or another, though part of the allure of the film comes from finding out what the connections are.

The script by Bruce Wagner explores the depravity and debauchery head on, tackling taboo themes, gross-out subjects and uncomfortable scenes that will either make you squirm or prompt nervous laughter.

Like Cosmopolis, there is a surreal feel to the film. The exposition is kept to a minimum so you have to really pay attention to the dialogue or you won’t know what’s going on. Even then I still had no idea where it was heading, though it didn’t matter because I couldn’t turn away. It was at times hilarious, sometimes frightening and occasionally sickening — but always fascinating.

The performances are another reason why the film is more enjoyable than it probably should have been. Julianne Moore may have just won an Oscar for Still Alice, but I actually think she is even better here. While Havana might not be a likeable character, she definitely is authentic and comes across as painfully real, and it accentuates what a remarkable actress Moore is when you contrast this role — which reminds of what Lindsay Lohan will probably be like in 20-30 years — with her character in Still Alice.

Mia Wasikowska is also brilliant as the quirky Agatha, and Robert Pattinson does a solid job of helping us forget that he was ever Edward Cullen. The other standout for me has to be Evan Bird, who despite his weird look and body (it’s hard to tell how old he is) manages a convincing portrayal of a bratty, disrespectful, almost Bieber-like teen star. He’s hilarious.

On the whole, Maps to the Stars is a wild ride full of gasp-worthy moments. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope people who appreciate this type of dark humour and satire will get a kick out of it like I did.

4 stars out of 5

Recent Movie Reviews: Part II

Fast and Furious 6 (2013)

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It’s rare that a film franchise hitting its sixth entry can still generate so much hype and continue to attract new A-listers to join the cast. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Fast and Furious series (I don’t care much for cars) but I’ve watched most of them and found them to be solid popcorn entertainment.

Fast and Furious 6 is more of the same, but it’s arguably the best of the lot. The Rock and his steroids are back and they need the expertise of the fugitives led my man-sized Mini-me Vin Diesel and Paul Walker to help the feds capture an ex-British special forces dude played by Luke Evans. He’s really mean and nasty, but he has a secret weapon — Vin Diesel’s ex-girlfriend, the believed-to-be-dead Michelle Rodriguez (making this the second time in about a year she’s returned from the grave after the latest Resident Evil instalment — though don’t worry, she’s not a clone this time).

A lot of cheesy jokes, hot women, crazy combat and car chases ensue. I guess you could say it’s a guilty pleasure, but to be honest I think it’s good enough to just be “a pleasure.” Credit to Taiwanese-American director Justin Lin for divvying up the screen time appropriately between the stars and adding a bit of variety to the action so it’s not just the same thing over and over. It’s silly but it knows it and makes the most out of the situations to create unexpectedly effective humour.

The end of the film is even tied up to Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, which I think was the fourth film of the franchise but chronologically the final one — until Fast and Furious 7, of course, which has already been green-lit and will be fast tracked to our screens next year with a different director (James Wan from Saw and Insidious). It will also star new addition Jason Statham, who makes a brief cameo in this one. I’m pretty sure I’ll watch it.

3.75 stars out of 5

Parker (2013)

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Speaking of Jason Statham, the next film in this review blitz is Parker, a strange little revenge action film with lots of excessive violent behaviour. Even more strangely, it stars JLo in what must be her first role in some time, and she’s playing an unappealing supporting character I would not have expected her to say yes to at the peak of her fame.

Anyway, Statham is the titula Parker, who is a shady fellow with a lot of principles. He gets involved in a heist but is stabbed in the back by his fellow crims and left for dead. He survives, however, and goes about trying to get his share of the money back and making his former partners in crime pay.

It’s by no means an original movie or a memorable one, but watching Statham in action as a ruthless, vengeful crim has its moments. I don’t know if the film had to be that violent but it works on a visceral level.

I didn’t love it or hate it. It was entertaining for the most part but nothing special. In fact, it felt like a very solid straight-to-DVD flick but not much more than that. Oh, and by the way, the film also co-stars Nick Nolte. I still don’t have a clue what the heck he is mumbling on about.

3 stars out of 5

Hotel Transylvania (2012)

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I’ve come to expect nothing but turds from Adam Sandler these days, but Hotel Transylvania is an animated film, so I thought I would give it a chance.

Well, I shouldn’t have. It sounded like a good idea on paper with many opportunities for great laughs — a hotel getaway for misunderstood monsters like Dracula (Sandler), Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, werewolves, and so forth — but the jokes were so cliched and obvious and lame and nowhere near as cool as it wanted to be. It felt like a film desperate to get laughs but didn’t have a clue how to do it. The whole premise was to make fun of the flipped idea that monsters are really afraid of humans, not the other way around, but the monster stereotypes aren’t enough to keep the film afloat.

The great thing about films like Toy Story and Up is that they appeal to both children and adults alike with a broad spectrum of multi-layered jokes, and they have plenty of heart. The message in Hotel Transylvania is that you need to follow your heart no matter what — a noble message — but one that has been done to death already in much superior films.

This one was a dud, possibly the worst animated feature I’ve seen since the awfully misguided and derivative Shark Tale nearly a decade ago.

1.5 stars out of 5

Stoker (2013)

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Huge anticipation for this bizarre psychological thriller penned by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller (who shopped around the script using a pseudonym).

Stoker is an eerie, sexually charged, almost surreal film dominated by a trio of formidable Aussies. The lead is played by Mia Wasikowska, a young girl mourning the loss of her father when her mysterious and handsome uncle (played by Watchmen‘s Matthew Goode) comes to stay with her and her mother, Nicole Kidman. The third Aussie is Jacki Weaver, who has a small but important role as Mia’s great aunt.

I found myself intoxicated by Stoker because I had little idea where it was heading and whether what I was seeing was real. Korean director Park Chan-wook (in his English-language debut) infuses the film with a dreamy, horror-inspired atmosphere that is effectively gothic in nature (not surprisingly, as the film has allusions to Bram Stoker’s Dracula — though this is a psychological thriller as opposed to a supernatural one). It’s a film where people do strange things and have strange reactions but draws you in and keeps you unsettled so you never quite feel like you know what is going on.

I wouldn’t call it a brilliant thriller but it definitely had me intrigued with its dark atmosphere and demented characters. The plot twists are interesting but not as clever as I had hoped them to be, but overall it is still a finely crafted film I would recommend, especially for those looking for something a little different.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

I just got back from watching Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, considered an “extension” of the Lewis Carroll novels “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”.  In 3D, of course.

The story needs no introduction, but keep in mind that it is not a direct adaption, not even a re-imagining, so while there are familiar elements and characters, not everything will be expected.

Visually and stylistically, it’s almost as impressive as anything I’ve seen from Tim Burton (I’d probably still say Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow were better).  The CGI is blended in seamlessly with the live action actors, led by Australian Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts, and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen.

As for whether the film itself was any good, well…it started off well, but after a strong introduction, Alice in Wonderland lost a lot of that initial intrigue and excitement.  It may have coincided with the appearance of Depp’s Mad Hatter, who was given a much bigger and more important role than expected.

I could tell Burton was hoping for more of an emotional connection through the relationship between Alice and the Hatter, but I don’t think he succeeded.  For once, I think seeing more of Johnny Depp actually made the film less interesting.  Blasphemous?

As for the others, Mia Wasikowska was a pretty standard heroine, not bad but not oozing with star power either.  Anne Hathaway, covered in goth-like make-up, was the ugliest I have ever seen her.  And Helena Bonham Carter, with her massively over-sized head, was my favourite character (and not a terribly horrible one for a villain either).

Anyway, I thought Alice in Wonderland was okay.  Good but could have been better.  It was a visual feast and about half of the 109-minute running time was pretty fascinating.  At times it was amusing and exciting (and even a little scary), but on the whole, not particularly entertaining by Burton’s usual high standards, and a film that got progressively weaker towards the end, including a pedestrian climax.

3 stars out of 5!

[PS: the 3D was good but to be honest I didn’t feel like it made a huge difference to the overall experience.]