Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak (2015) posterUniversal/Legendary (2015) 119 min. R

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Screenplay: Matthew Robbins & Guillermo del Toro

Cinematography: Dan Laustsen; Editing: Bernat Vilaplana

Production Design: Thomas E. Sanders; Set Decoration: Jeffrey A. Melvin & Shane Vieau; Costumes: Kate Hawley; Score: Fernando Velázquez

Stars: Mia Wasikowska (Edith Cushing), Tom Hiddleston (Sir Thomas Sharpe), Jessica Chastain (Lady Lucille Sharpe), Charlie Hunnam (Dr. Alan McMichael), Jim Beaver (Carter Cushing), Burn Gorman (Mr. Holly), Javier Botet (Ghosts of Pamela, Enola & Margaret), Doug Jones (Ghosts of Edith’s Mother, The Dowager Lady Sharpe)

Well-cast, sumptuous reimagining of the classic ghost story, Crimson Peak is classy entertainment, so we can forgive it the many delirious, unapologetic excesses into Gothic melodrama. There’s something decidedly refreshing about a film that accepts itself for what it is, as this one does, rather than striving to convince us it’s anything grander than that. Embracing the conventions of the genre wholeheartedly, the director Guillermo del Toro revels in his own richly absurd, deliciously overripe camp scares. He has no qualms about crafting a movie that’s a throwback to the most Victorian of haunted house humbugs.

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Interstellar

interstellarParamount/Warner Bros./Legendary (2014) 169 min. PG-13

Director: Christopher Nolan

Screenplay: Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan

Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema; Editing: Lee Smith

Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Garry Fettis

Costumes: Mary Zophres; Score: Hans Zimmer

Stars: Matthew McConaughey (Cooper), Anne Hathaway (Amelia Brand), Jessica Chastain (Murphy), Michael Caine (Prof. Brand), Wes Bentley (Doyle), Matt Damon (Dr. Mann), Casey Affleck (Tom), MacKenzie Foy (young Murphy), David Gyasi (Romilly), John Lithgow (Donald), Topher Grace (Getty), Ellen Burstyn (old Murphy)

Jingoistic homespun set in space, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar feels very loosey-goosey in its pseudo-intellectual way, propounding the universal truths as it does, while at the same time immersing itself in nativist and isolationist sympathies. It’s an unrestrained celebration of America’s expansionist policies, exalting the idea of manifest destiny by extending Western civilization’s never-ceasing spread. This time, we’re exhorted to push upwards, into the stars, in order to open up virgin territory ripe for the plucking to a whole new space age of exploration. Once depletion of this planet’s resources is complete, we set out for new lands and new civilizations to conquer, stripping their resources and raping the environment anew. Apparently it’s open season for colonization when the focus is outside the current ecosphere.

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Mama

mama-poster01Universal (2013) 100 min. PG-13

Director: Andrés Muschietti

Screenplay: Neil Cross, Andrés Muschietti & Barbara Muschietti; based on short film Mamá (2008)

Cinematography: Antonio Riestra; Editing: Michele Conroy 

Production Design: Anastasia Masaro 

Costumes: Mark Bridges

Score: Fernando Velázquez

Stars: Jessica Chastain (Annabel), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Lucas/Jeffrey), Megan Charpentier (Victoria), Isabelle Nélisse (Lilly), Daniel Kash (Dr. Dreyfuss), Jane Moffat  (Jean Podolski/Mama [Voice]), Javier Botet (Mama)

Jessica Chastain has proven herself a character acting chameleon over the last few years and her ubiquitous presence gives Andrés Muschietti’s feature-length adaptation of his 2008 Spanish-language short Mamá an aura of class that really isn’t warranted. You never know what hair dye the actress is going to be colored from one role to the next, and after her failed previous nomination, Chastain has gotten the Oscar formula down pat. On competing screens in the tony, high-concept, CIA thriller Zero Dark Thirty, for which she’s nominated for the Academy Award, she’s opened wide for more democratic appeal in the audience pleasing shriek fest Mama, about two feral girls whose adoptive parents discover they’ve brought something equally untamed back out of the wilds with them. Continue reading

The Tree of Life

TOL posterFox Searchlight (2011) 139 min. PG-13

Director: Terrence Malick

Screenplay: Terrence Malick

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki

Editing: Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber & Mark Yoshikawa

Production Design: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Jeanette Scott

Costumes: Jacqueline West

Score: Alexandre Desplat

Stars: Brad Pitt (Mr. O’Brien), Sean Penn (Jack), Jessica Chastain (Mrs. O’Brien), Hunter McCracken (Young Jack), Laramie Eppler (R.L.), Tye Sheridan (Steve), Fiona Shaw (Grandmother)

“Think of a tree, how it grows ‘round its roots. The branch breaks off, it don’t stop, but keeps reaching toward the light.” – The New World

Terrence Malick has always been an acquired taste. His movies are mood pieces paced to the cadence of internal monologues whispered rhetorically by his characters in hushed, reverential tones onscreen. Striving for more than the movie medium can encompass, he’s a visionary seeking to push past its restricting barriers to self-expression. When the man stays focused there’s no director better at vividly evoking the sentient, existential sensations of simple human perception. His movies pulsate with the vibrancy of life as we experience it at almost a subliminal level. They heighten our awareness in a way that makes us feel as if we were experiencing a movie fully awake and responsive for the first time.

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