Tag Archives: jessica chastain

Crimson Peak – Review

20 Oct

Has Guillermo del Toro ever done any wrong? Maybe just once, but he continues a streak of interesting and beautiful films with Crimson Peak. Let me just get something out of the way here. This film is nothing like what you may think it’s going to be based on the trailers and the other advertising done for it. What this film actually is is a Hammeresque fairy tale brought to you by one of the masters of the fantastical, Guillermo del Toro. Is Crimson Peak perfect? Absolutely not, in fact it’s one of this film makers weaker movies, but it’s still a good means of escape.

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As a young girl, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) was warned by the ghost of her mother, “Beware of Crimson Peak.” Some fourteen years later, Edith is all grown up and aspiring to be a writer of ghost stories. Her life starts going through a major change when she meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet who came to America to raise money for a new machine he has designed. After someone close to Edith dies under mysterious circumstances, she marries Sharpe and moves to his family’s mansion in England where he lives with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Both of the Sharpes begin acting a lot differently to Edith once she arrives. Not only that, but she begins getting visited by ghosts in the night who suffer from all sorts of physical deformities. Obviously, not everything is what it seems which reminds Edith once again of he dead mother’s mysterious warning.

The closest movie in del Toro’s filmography that I can compare Crimson Peak to is Pan’s Labyrinth, although it’s not nearly as epic as del Toro’s masterpiece. Like I said, this film is not exactly what you or I would call a modern horror film. There are horror elements to the story, but this mostly feels like a Grimm fairy tale told through the lens of del Toro working for Hammer Studios. That’s kind of a stretch in terms of descriptions, but that’s just how I see this movie. Edith’s last name is Cushing for heaven’s sake. Anyway, if you go into this film expecting to see a horror film or ghost story like Sinister or Insidious, you may be sorely disappointed.

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I’d love to say that Crimson Peak is a flawless movie, but that simply is not true. There are some aspects of this movie that really began to put me asleep in my seat. For one thing, the first half hour or so is excruciatingly boring. I get that it’s set up for everything that’s about to happen, but Edith’s character isn’t really interesting enough to make this part of the movie really anything special. There’s also the manner with which the ghosts are used in this movie. First of all, there were far too many jump scares. This film doesn’t need these cheap tricks. It’s already creepy enough. The ghosts also didn’t do as much as they were maybe intended to do. I loved their designs and how they moved, but I just wish their role in the story was tweaked a little bit so they could show off how cool they were some more.

Now let’s move on to what was awesome. First of all, this is a beautiful film with the best use of color I’ve seen this this year. The beautiful colors and the gorgeous costume and set design only add to my theory more that this is meant to be seen as a fairy tale and not a horror movie. The acting in this film is all fine too. Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska work well together and both really look and act the parts that they are trying to play. The real scene stealer in this movie though is Jessica Chastain. I’ve seen her in a lot of movies, but this may be my favorite performance of hers. It’s a side of her acting that I’ve never really seen before and I was really impressed. Finally, the whole movie just has a magical tone to it where things seem to float on air in some instances and crumble before your eyes the next. It’s hard to explain but it’s easy to lose yourself in the beauty of Crimson Peak.

While the advertising for Crimson Peak really blows the big one, the film itself does not. That being said, it’s far from being Guillermo del Toro’s best work and may even be one of his weakest in terms of storytelling and pacing. The film does succeed, however, in providing some legitimately cool scares, creating a creepy yet startlingly beautiful atmosphere, and telling an archetypical fairy tale. While Crimson Peak is a mild disappointment, I certainly wouldn’t mind revisiting it sooner rather than later.

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The Martian – Review

7 Oct

Ridley Scott is known for his ability to craft some of the most epic movies in modern film. GladiatorKingdom of Heaven, and even the crime epic American Gangster all fit nicely into this category of huge films. Now we have a movie based off of a novel by Andy Weir, and in my opinion, this is a pretty absurd choice of book to make a movie out of. Not because it’s a bad story, but it’s actually too great of a story with different story lines that not only spans continents, but planets. If I was a major Hollywood film maker, a project like this would intimidate me, but leave it to Ridley Scott to take the source material and make it into one of the stand out movies of 2015.

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In the not too distant future, NASA sends a group of scientists to Mars to learn more about the desolate, red planet. When a violent storm cuts the mission short, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead. NASA releases the news, but are then shocked to learn that Watney is alive and well and has been stranded on Mars. Watney knows that it may be up to four years before the next mission can arrive to rescue him, so he begins working to make the dead soil of Mars into a place that he can live on. Meanwhile, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and Ares III mission director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) start devising multiple different plans to not only provide food for Watney, but also find a way to rescue him from Mars as soon as possible. This may ultimately fall on Ares III commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and the rest of her crew, forcing them to turn back around and get Watney home.

I can’t stress it enough that the story of The Martian felt absolutely enormous. Not only does it cover over a year of time, but also involves so many different characters that each have very important jobs to do throughout the entire ordeal. There isn’t one character that felt wasted throughout the whole thing. It was also cool to see that even for some of the most minor roles, good actors would still fill their shoes. For example, one of the people that completely changes how NASA approaches the whole problem is astronomer Rich Purnell played by Donald Glover. This character is only in a few scenes for a few minutes, but they still casted a great actor to fill that role. Other than the people I already mentioned, there’s other actors like Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Benedict Wong, and Sean Bean. It’s one of the best casts that’s been assembled in recent memory.

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What seems to be surprising most critics and audiences is how lighthearted this movie actually is. Sure, it’s very dramatic and some of the scenes can get really intense, but I found myself laughing through a lot of the movie. The character of Mark Watney is literally what this story needs. Instead of letting his situation get the better of him, he remains optimistic and cracks jokes throughout the entire movie. If it wasn’t for him keeping his good humor, this would be an unbearably depressing movie. It’s also cool to see how his optimism affects the other characters and keep them from throwing in the towel before something can be done. Pretty much, this movie keeps you feeling great the whole time, and never did I feel like the situation was absolutely hopeless.

I can’t really find anything to complain about with The Martian. Not only is it very well written and acted, but it’s also a beautiful looking movie. In order to get the perfect look for his Martian landscape Scott and the rest of his special effects team filmed in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red desert. That location shooting combined with excellent special effects makes this film visually immersive. Harry Gregson-Williams’ low key score also accentuates the drama very nicely.

While Ridley Scott hasn’t made perfect movies and has recently slipped a little bit, The Martian is proof that he is still able to take huge stories, compress them, and successfully put them on film. This film is an achievement of special effects, but also stands out with it’s quick writing, believable characters, and feeling of hope and good humor that spans the entire two and a half hour run time. Nothing in this movie feels wasted, which means everything feels important and that isn’t easy to do. This is an outstanding movie.

Interstellar – Review

19 Nov

It’s happened. It’s finally happened… All those years of watching movies of different genres, spirits, moods, and messages, and it’s finally happened. My brain should now be legally defined as mush. Christopher Nolan’s newest film, Interstellar is the new way to look at science fiction. There has been a series lack of space exploration movies that doesn’t have the Star Trek label. Really only Europa Report and Prometheus come to mind, but now we have Interstellar to add to the top of the list of science fiction.

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In the near future, Earth’s resources have been slowly disappearing leaving a barely surviving agrarian society. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot turned farmer who is recruited by Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) to travel through a wormhole found by Saturn. This wormhole leads to another galaxy where other scientists have begin studying different planets orbiting a black hole. Cooper is joined by three other scientists, including Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway). The mission starts to experience some major problems, while the situation on Earth gets even more complicated when Brand reveals his plan isn’t as promising as he originally described it to be leaving Cooper’s daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) to keep society from mass panic.

This is probably one of the best science fiction movies of the past decade, and may very well be the best science fiction movie of the past decade. I always figured Inception to be Nolan’s masterpiece, but Interstellar changes things. There are scenes in this movie that are absolutely mind blowing. It’s like Nolan took Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and Doctor Who and just mushed it all together into one giant mosh pit of sci fi. It’s both quiet and majestic, while being equally intense and explosive. It’s hard to take your eyes off of it, even for a second.

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I’m a stickler for run times as I’ve made it quite clear so I was concerned when I saw Interstellar has close to a 3 hour run time. I don’t mind if a movie is long, but if it is, I don’t want that time to be wasted on scenes that really have no place in the finished movie. This isn’t a problem for this movie, and it’s equally impressive that Christopher and Jonathan Nolan were able to write a movie that’s this long and make it interesting the entire way through. The film starts off slow with a lot of physics talk and theories, but it all pays off when you see the physics in action when the astronauts blast off. The characters are also all really strong so spending a long amount of time with them is as dramatic and exciting as it can possibly be.

Finally, what would a review of this movie be without talking about the incredible effects and sound? Like Gravity, Nolan chose to make space totally silent in Interstellar, which is a great choice especially when something catastrophic is happening. There’s also a lot of great music by Hans Zimmer in the movie that can either make space beautiful or the situation of the astronauts deadly. One scene in particular when Cooper is trying to spin a ship to match the rotation of another part of the ship to dock had all three working in unison. The effects were dizzying and the silence of space mixed with Zimmer’s music made for the best part of the entire movie.

Prepare to be blown backwards and thrown all over the place by Interstellar, a movie that is sure to be recognized at this year’s Academy awards. It was a nice reminder, along with Birdman, that all of the excellent movies are going to be coming out. This one took science fiction and took it to a whole new level, along with philosophy. The same was done with the aforementioned 2001 and Solaris, and now Nolan’s true masterpiece continues the tradition. This was a mind boggling science fiction film of truly epic proportions.

 

Lawless – Review

24 Jul

In the year 1920, the United States government thought it would be a good idea to ban alcohol in all of out fifty states. While in theory, that sounds like an awful idea, many people found way to use the Prohibition to their advantage. Bootleggers and moonshiners began cropping up all over the country, and three of the most interesting examples are the Bondurant brothers who worked out of the Virginia Piedmont. Nick Cave based his screenplay off of Matt Bondurant’s (one of their grandsons) The Wettest County in the World and director John Hillcoat collaborated to create the excellent crime drama that is Lawless.

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Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) and his brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) are moonshiners who provide for a small town in Virginia. Amongst the respect and gratitude they get from their friends and neighbors comes an other worldly legend that Forrest is immortal. That immortality is put to the test when Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pierce) arrives in town and demands a cut of the action for the new Virginia commonwealth attorney. Forrest and his brother whole heartedly refuse and soon become the targets of Rakes’ wrath. Meanwhile, Forrest hires and quickly falls for a Chicago dancer named Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain) and Jack meets and begins courting local girl Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska) and begins doing business with big time gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). With liquor sales sky rocketing, the Bondurant brothers really do seem invincible until Charlie Rakes brings his war far too close to the Bondurant home.

I was a huge fan of the previous collaboration between screenwriter/composer Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat, The Proposition. Not only did I think it was beautifully shot, but the writing and the pacing as well as the outstanding soundtrack made for one hell of a modern western. Lawless plays out like a western but it also has roots in the gangster and crime genre as well. There’s Tommy guns and pinstripe wearing gangsters, but the Bondurant boys and the showdowns that they get into are very much like western characteristics. At one point, Rakes even asks Forrest if he is going to “draw on him” which is a western cliche through and through. I don’t want to say that this movie uses and abundance of cliches because there were a lot of things that happened in the story that were completely unexpected.

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What’s great about this story is how it uses tropes from the aforementioned genres, but then also manipulates the viewer into thinking we know what’s going to happen, but then ends up surprising us with the actual outcome. That’s smart screenwriting, and I respect that. Another important thing is that I care about all of the characters and I care even more about what happens to them. I was actually sort of surprised at the feelings I had towards all of them, and not all of the feelings were good. But if a characters was hurt or even killed, it really resonated throughout the rest of the film, and amongst all of the brutal violence it was good to see that I actually care about the characters and not just the action.

Lawless wouldn’t be the success that it is if it wasn’t for the incredibly talented cast of actors that makes up the ensemble. A lot of people give Shia LaBeouf shit for his acting, but you can’t just think of him as that guy from the Transformers movies. He proves in this movie that he really does have the skill to make it in dramatic movies. Tom Hardy owns every scene he’s in, even though he doesn’t have all that much to say. His screen presence alone does the job just fine. Guy Pierce is the real scene stealer though as the unbelievably creepy and psychotic Charlie Rakes. His look, his voice, and his posture was enough for me to want to go into the movie and beat him up myself. He’s definitely one of the best villains to come around in a long time.

In conclusion, I was in no way disappointed by Lawless and it has even given me some inspiration to start working on my own projects again. This film works as a western film, a gangster film, and family drama film. There’s so much to enjoy about this movie I had to watch it a second time the day after I watched it for the first time. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen a while and may be one of my new favorites. Check this movie out if you haven’t already!

Zero Dark Thirty – Review

21 Jan

9/11 and the hunt for Osama bin Laden will go down as major events in American history for future generations. While the news media fed the population both facts and lies, we never really knew exactly what was going on. All that we could assume was that we were the good guys and they were the bad guys. When news of torture and mistreatment of prisoners began surfacing, we didn’t want to hear it. Now, Zero Dark Thirty shows us what may be the closest version of reality that we are ever going to get on this subject.

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The story begins two years after the events of 9/11. Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a new member of the CIA stationed at the American embassy in Pakistan to aid in the excursion to find bin Laden. While there she meets Dan (Jason Clarke) who gives her the first taste of what she is going to have to deal with over the years. As time goes on and the CIA begins getting more desperate, Maya finds a lead that she believes will lead straight to the man himself. In order to prove this theory, she has to first track this lead down and convince her own government that her hypothesis will bring an end to “the greatest manhunt in history.”

In my previous review, I talked about how Contagion spanned many different story lines and characters. Zero Dark Thirty similarly spans years. This is a very challenging movie that requires absolute attention even though we all know what the ending is going to be. Being a two and a half hour long movie, the viewer knows that there’s going to be a lot in this movie, but let me tell you, there is more than I thought. If you end up not understanding or catching everything your first time through, don’t be concerned. If you did, you’re lying.

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As one might obviously suspect, this movie was met with as much controversy as it was accolades. First off, the film and its makers are accused of being pro-torture. Well, I can’t say that I felt that way at all. It was shown in a very brutal and realistic way, but never was it glamorized or endorsed. When a character spoke of enjoying torture, I felt like the film was being ironic. There was also accusations that information was leaked for the film. In that case, awesome. I sure hope it was. Finally, the original October release date cause some politicians to say that it was pro-Obama and being used to support his campaign. Obama is shown once in the movie on tv, and I wasn’t too impressed with the hypocrisy of his statements. Maya is the hero here, not Obama.

Anyway, back to the movie itself. If you’ve seen The Hurt Locker, you’re absolutely aware that Kathryn Bigelow has the ability to work with the scenario of Middle East conflict, and she shows masterful work with Zero Dark Thirty. The scenes of terrorism are shocking and she utilizes the surrounding environments really well to put the viewer right in the middle of the action. Even when the characters are in board meeting and just chatting as friends, I felt like I was there and part of it. If anything, this is one of the most real “war” movies that I have seen.

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The hunt for Osama bin Laden and the War on Terror have been some of the most important American events since its beginning. Zero Dark Thirty does justice to the whole situation. I believe that Bigelow and her fellow cast and crew did a very good job in showing just how it all happened from the violence to the meetings to the emotions of everyone involved. Politicians and spies are people too, not just government machines and I really got that feeling with this movie. I haven’t seen all of the nominees for Best Picture this year, but if Zero Dark Thirty were to win, I would be perfectly content. It is exceptional.