Crimson Peak (2.75/5)
Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors, but beyond Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, both are cinematic gems if you were wondering, I don’t particularly love his films. It’s a disheartening dichotomy because I adore him as human being. Perhaps my admiration for him exists because he’s deeply in love with cinema. If you doubt this you should seek out footage of him raiding Criterion’s vault. His zest for his craft is absolutely infectious, and I wish more people approached their job the way he does. His childlike enthusiasm never waivers, but this also might be a detriment to his work. Often in his films you can see him falling in love with an idea, a creature or set but never developing an idea beyond a superficial level. In his gothic horror romance Crimson Peak, del Toro falls in love with his haunted house, not the story. Crimson Peak follows the romance of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) and Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a love affair disapproved by Edith’s father and Thomas’ sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Seeking her own storybook romance after a gruesome tragedy, Edith ventures across the Atlantic with Thomas to live in Allerdale Hall, the dilapidated mansion Thomas shares with Lucille.
As they both work towards a happy ending befitting a turn of the century romance novel, ghastly ghouls and suspicion run amok. Like any old house, Allerdale Hall’s cracks and creaks speak of an unshakeable past. Secrets seep from the walls like puss from an infected wound. It is a house that is literally alive but one that’s desperately gasping for breath. Del Toro’s attention to detail in creating this overwhelming architectural monster is staggering. His imagination is so vivid and fully realized, nightmares are easily brought to life. From red clay rising from the depths below to leaves aimlessly floating in from a disheveled roof, Allerdale Hall is one of del Toro’s finest creations. As are the frightening phantoms that lurk in every room, but the story is bereft of surprises and stakes. Every twist and every manipulation is horribly telegraphed without an ounce of wit. The surprise is how much of a chore the proceedings truly are. Tom Hiddleston’s charm certainly helps liven up the listless romance, but del Toro doesn’t seem enamored with his characters or story. He seems distracted, haunted even, by his fantastical creation. He can’t shake it, and Crimson Peak slowly slips into the shadows.
Love and Mercy (4.25/5)
Todd Haynes’ mercurial I’m Not There is an engaging, perplexing dissection of Bob Dylan’s evolution as an artist and human being. Hiring an eclectic cast to play different variations/interpretations of Dylan, Haynes’ musical biopic posited Dylan, and in many respects any artist, is a creature of the moment. I’m Not There’s ingenious narrative was lovingly crafted by screenwriter/director Oren Moverman. Moverman’s interest in characters shifting over time is the jumping off point for Love and Mercy, the impressively frenetic and tender examination of Beach Boys’ genius Brian Wilson. Overman’s screenplay focuses on two separate moments in Wilson’s life, crafting a narrative structure where two disparate points in time run concurrently. We’re first introduced to a young Brian Wilson on the verge of mental implosion (Paul Dano). It’s at the peak of the Beach Boys’ popularity and Wilson finds himself at odds with his band, the world, and the voices in his head. Then we fast forward twenty years, where a broken, fearful, and deeply troubled Brian Wilson (John Cusack) seeks normalcy through the good graces of a woman by the name of Melinda (Elizabeth Banks). Melinda, a person who has seen her fair share of trouble, lovingly aids Brian in his resurrection.
The film’s narrative structure is the perfect way to dissect Wilson’s precarious mental state, as well as his enduring genius. We see young Wilson’s infectious, liberating creative force through moments in the studio, as he begins production on the Beach Boys’ seminal album “Pet Sounds.” These scenes are absolutely exhilarating to watch, due largely in part to Dano’s commitment and unbridled enthusiasm. Dano also dives into the abyss, unleashing the agonizing voices rambling about in Wilson’s head. Atticus Ross’ invasive score further expands the paranoia and pain haunting Wilson by blending original Beach Boys songs with ominous cues. On the other end of the timeline, Cusack delivers a subdued performance, as he manifests the inhibiting ticks developed through Dano’s performance. Because of these two performances, the past and the future create a spine tingling harmony. Elizabeth Banks is also impressive. Her tenderness for Wilson isn’t out of pity but genuine love, developing, along with Cusack, one of the more authentic love stories the cinema has seen this year. By way of Moverman’s great script and fantastic performances, director Bill Pohlad has formed a biopic that’s beautiful and painful, depressing and uplifting, and absolutely magnetic.