Film Review: “Avengers: Infinity War”

Starring: Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr.
Directed By: Anthony and Joe Russo
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 149 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I can’t fathom the immense pressure the creators, directors, writers, producers and studio had going into “Infinity War.” Marvel has spent the past decade crafting content that not only stands on its own two feet, but was meticulously building towards this moment. Since Thanos first reared his ugly purple head in a post-credits scene in the first “Avengers,” fans knew that this monumental occasion was eventually going to happen. With lofty expectations, I’m happy to report that “Infinity War” delivers on nearly every level.

I usually type out a short summary or try to set-up the plot at some point early on in my reviews, but I feel like it’s a moot talking point because if you’ve kept up with the Marvel movies or have a good idea of what’s going on in them, you don’t need me to paint a picture about the Infinity Stones, the Infinity Gauntlet or the fight to save the universe. But I also know you don’t need me spoiling anything, so I’ll stay quiet on the specifics. However, I will say that it only takes the first five minutes of the film for “Infinity War” to knock viewers right in the jaw and set the tone.

Getting every character in one film, give or take a few, is an impressive feat on its own. But what’s cleverly done by Marvel’s creative crew is dividing our favorite heroes into different groups to tackle different tasks. The film pairs similar personalities that bounce or conflict well with each other. It also keeps the movie from being inordinate and having too many egos talking about the same thing or over each other, something that “Age of Ultron” ultimately suffered from. So there’s the possibility that fans of certain characters might be disappointed by the lack of screen time for their favorite hero or character.

That being said, Marvel’s gotten a lot better recently at villain building and Thanos (Brolin) may be the pinnacle. Not only is he fierce and overwhelmingly magnetic in his scenes, he’s a sadistic joy to watch stomping around the scene as he articulates his thoughts on death and the balance it creates. There’s also this shocking amount of softness to the character that we’ve rarely seen before with any other Marvel bad guy, except for maybe the one in “Black Panther.” While most of Marvel’s villains have been evil for the sake of being evil or because of their own vanity, Thanos seems genuine in his wickedness, because he’s not only a conqueror, but views himself as the universe’s scales of justice.

There’s a surprising amount of emotion and laughs mixed into the film’s bleakness and knockdown fights. “Infinity War” is never crushed under the utter weight of its own ambitions, serving up a worthy spectacle for audiences along with a captivating storyline that feels rich in content, but never bloated. This ambitious project, 10 years in the making, is not to be missed, but also raises the stakes even higher for when the Avengers assemble again in 2019.

Film Review: “Thor: Ragnarok”

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Cate Blanchett
Directed By: Taika Waititi
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 130 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

While “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was only about two and a half years ago, it feels like an eternity since we last saw Thor (Hemsworth). It can easily be said that Thor’s cameos in other Marvel films are a lot more enjoyable than his own feature length vehicles. That’s mainly because his two previous movies are devoid of mentally stimulating storytelling, hollow villains and an inescapable sense of forced plotting. Luckily, third time’s the charm for the God of Thunder.

In an attempt to get to the meat of the story, “Ragnarok” spends the first handful of minutes rushing through plot points about Thor, Loki, Odin and Jane Foster, and what they’ve been up to since we last saw them. It’s taxing, especially since no one really cares about Odin and I think Loki is a reminder of Marvel’s previous attempts to make him more of an imposing bad guy than he actually is. But it’s during these clichéd moments that “Ragnarok” still manages to find fun and establish tone.

For instance, the cold open finds Thor having the most fun we’ve ever seen him have on screen. With a flick of his wrist and a twirl of his hammer, he obliterates dozens of faceless foes, and it’s all set to Led Zepplin. We also get a much needed detour from the story line catch-up with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). His cameo is unexplained and seemingly unnecessary, but it’s certainly one of the most delightful highlights of the film. Once the film catches up on two years, we meet the Goddess of Death, Hela (Blanchett)

Hela may be the blueprints needed for a Marvel universe in sore need of a compelling, yet dangerous villain. Hela is a genuine threat, demonstrating her overt God-like powers throughout. Her first scene shows her destroying Thor’s hammer with a singular flex of her arm and disregarding Thor’s threat much like a pesky fly. There’s a charming menace behind her smile as she slaughters countless soldiers on her way to Asgard’s throne. Blanchett’s performance is simply magnetic.

Most Marvel films know how to have fun, but “Ragnarok” is an entirely new beast. It draws upon child-like humor, usually seen in more mature Saturday morning cartoons. The film expertly utilizes humor to introduce new characters flawlessly and in minimal time. Jokes convey their attitudes and mentality easier than any drawn out exposition could. It also helps when you have the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) aggressively stomping around like an upset Kindergartener. Director Taika Waititi deserves a lot of credit for taking the title character and its world in such a retro direction so that’s equally lighthearted and visually joyful.

“Ragnarok” isn’t breaking the established Marvel mold, as much as it wants to. Film executives might have pulled their hair out if the film didn’t still lean on protagonist redemption subplots, cheeky squabbles amongst allies and fanboy pandering. That shouldn’t take away from Waititi’s vision. He’s brought his own brand of goofiness, managing to make the film and its characters crass, yet warm, and brutish, yet charming. “Ragnarok” is a dazzling space opera that finally gives Thor meaningful purpose in the vast Marvel cinematic universe.

Film Review: “Kong: Skull Island”

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs
Warner Bros

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

There are two funny stories attributed to the late producer Dino De Laurentiis, who produced the 1976 remake of “King Kong.” The first is that, every time his film was compared with “Jaws” he would comment on how “nobody cry when the Jaws die”…and that audiences would be weeping at the end of his film. The other is when he first met producer John Peters, who was not only dating Barbra Streisand at the time but had produced her film “A Star Is Born.” Both movies opened on December 17, 1976 and Peters congratulated Dino on “Kong” out grossing “A Star Is Born.” “I’m not surprised,” De Laurentiis is said to have commented. “My monkey can act!”

1973. As the war in Vietnam winds down, a group of soldiers, led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is chosen to accompany a group to a recently discovered island on a trip funded by the United States government. Finding the island surrounded by horrible weather and storms, the group takes a few helicopters out to make the journey from ship to land. On the way they encounter a big problem. A problem named Kong.

Though it seems like the big ape has been around forever, this is only the eighth film to feature him and the first since Peter Jackson’s remake of the original 1931 classic over a decade ago. Some people didn’t like Jackson’s version but I thought it was well made and really made Kong a sympathetic character. The same holds true here. We learn that Kong is really less of a bully and more of a protector of the indigenous people living on Skull Island. There are lots of creatures roaming around, from lizard-like monsters to giant octopi. But nothing is as big of a threat to the big beast than Colonel Packard, who takes Kong’s protective attack on his choppers as a declaration of war.

Though you really don’t go to a movie like this to see the actors, the cast here is quite good, including a rather dashing looking Hiddleston, strong-willed photographer Larson and World War II vet Reilly, who is truly the heart of the film. Reilly’s former soldier has been on the island since the end of World War II and it’s fun to watch him learn about the world ahead of him while he tries to save the one he’s involved in. Ironically the weakest part of the cast is Jackson, who here plays…Samuel L. Jackson. Clever comments, like “bitch, please” roll from his lips as he continues to plan Kong’s demise. And while Kong isn’t all over the film he appears enough to remind you who’s King. The action is intense and the special effects are well done.

What’s next? Stay through the end credits and find out!

TFF Film Review: “High-Rise”

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss
Directed By: Ben Wheatley
Rated: R
Running Time: 119 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Late in the chaos that engulfs Ben Wheatley’s new film High-Rise, Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) welcomes a woman into his paint splattered flat exclaiming “I think I finally found the right tone!” Against all odds, he may as well be describing the film itself. An adaptation of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel that was long thought unfilmable (producer Jeremy Thomas tried 30 years ago), Wheatley and Co. have managed to create a wonderfully anarchic microcosm of a society breaking down as it builds upwards. If the social commentary–the hazards of worshiping material wealth, the “1%” literally living it up on the top floors–is simplistic, Wheatley’s production team offers it up in the most absurdly beautiful ways. From the brutalist production design to a stunning score by Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream), High-Rise is a darkly humorous, sexy, and oftentimes grotesque cinematic experience.

The film opens with a bearded, bedraggled Laing foraging for supplies in the corpse-strewn detritus of his high-rise apartment building. “For all its inconveniences,” a civilized sounding Hiddleston narrates, “Laing was satisfied with life in the high-rise.” Laing then rotisserie roasts a dog for supper. As one does. From here we go back to simpler times three months ago, when Laing was just moving into the shiny new development. At floor 25 out of 40, the good doctor quickly learns the strict class divide of the upper and lower residents between which he sits–or, nude sunbathes actually–nearly smack in the middle. Laing is welcomed into the upper echelons by Charlotte Melville (Miller) as she dallies with lower-leveled married man Richard Wilder (Evans). Laing’s even invited to the penthouse occupied by mysterious architect Royal (Jeremy Irons, regal in all white). Royal views what he has wrought, one tower in a series of five, as a “crucible for change” while brain surgeon Laing pleases Royal when he describes it more as a “diagram of an unconscious psychic event.” Royal is so impressed with Laing he attempts to invite him to a decadent fancy dress party thrown by his wife. Laing is roundly rejected by Royal’s peers and experiences the first of many power outages from within an elevator he’s been unceremoniously shoved into. The honeymoon is over.

These early sequences of life in the High-Rise had me enthralled. Laing’s exploration of the tower is paired perfectly with Clint Mansell’s driving orchestra music, which manages to capture the entrepreneurial spirit of the shiny all inclusive tower while suggesting the underlying tensions of the residents pulsing through the structure. One tiny inconvenience is enough to upset this flow and set everyone off into rage. To top it off, everyone is impeccably tailored. Meanwhile, from his place in the middle, Laing is able to interact with all levels of residents who can’t seem to grasp which ‘slot’ he is meant to fill.

Hiddleston’s Laing is a hard one to pin down and makes for a fascinating entry into the film’s madness. He initially tells Charlotte he doesn’t think he can change (he’s speaking of getting into a swimsuit but the line, like so many in Amy Jump’s script, is delivered with more weight than that) and for a while that’s true. Laing seems a neutral character, claiming he desires a blank slate in the wake of his sister’s death. When confronted with quarreling residents, he seeks to pacify the tensions between lower floor residents, the maintenance man and the architect who has accepted him. But the longer he’s in the building the more Laing’s crueler tendencies come to light. Mouthing off at a child, casually implying a deathly prognosis to a social rival–Laing’s mean streak is comparatively subtle in the shadow of Evans’s aptly named Wilder but Hiddleston is quietly menacing throughout. And his desperate need to keep his dress shirt and tie on is a nice touch.

As the tower devolves into darkness, murder and crammed garbage shoots, your enjoyment of the latter half of the film may depend upon whether you buy into the notion that the residents do not run screaming to the authorities. After all there is an outside world to this tower, this isn’t Snowpiercer. However Wheatley crams enough absurdist humor into these late stages that I, like the looney residents drolly contemplating lobotomizing their rivals, surrendered to a logic more powerful than reason. Or just damn stylish film making.

This film received its New York premiere at last week’s Tribeca Film Fest and is available to rent now onDemand, Amazon and iTunes–though for the best experience, hold out for its theatrical release May 13th!  

Tom Hiddleston and Susanne Bier Premiere AMC’S The Night Manager

Tom Hiddleston and Olivia Colman in “The Night Manager”

“The Night Manager” recently completed its first series run in the UK to much critical acclaim and strong ratings throughout. Fortunately for American viewers, the series gets its stateside premiere tonight on AMC. Based on John Le Carré’s 1993 novel of the same name, “The Night Manager” follows Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) an ex-soldier-turned-titular-customer-serviceman in a posh Egyptian hotel. He’s presented with the opportunity to help British Intelligence agent Angela Burr (Broadchurch’s Olivia Colman) take down jet-setty guest and illegal arms dealer Richard Roper (a superbly sinister Hugh Laurie) from the inside of his operation out. Outraged by Roper’s behavior, and with some very personal motivations as well, Pine swiftly accepts. What follows is a taut spy thriller that features an amazing cast that also includes Elizabeth Debicki and Tom Hollander.

The series premiere screened this weekend as part of the Tribeca Tune In series celebrating television. I caught up with Hiddleston and director of the series, Susanne Bier, for a quick chat on their red carpet.

Susanne Bier is an Oscar winning director (2011’s Best Foreign Language film, In a Better World) who was eager to take on this project in any capacity. “Well I mean, this project I would have done had it been a puppet show!” Bier enthused, “Because I love John Le Carre and I love the novel. But I was also very tempted to do TV. I mean the format of doing six hours as opposed to two hours was just really tempting and really interesting and compelling.”

With the show having already gone over so well in England, Bier was looking forward to opening it up to a new audience and maybe a new perspective on it:  “I think there’s always different perspectives. I mean American audiences are responding just as [excitedly] about it up til now, so I hope so!”

One of the chief changes made from the novel to the series was the switching of British Intelligence agent Burr from a male to a female character. For Bier “Part of it was updating it. Part of it was the fact that by updating it we could take it out of the sort of public school white heterosexual world and maybe actually have a bit of the diversity which is where the world is actually at.” And of the brilliant Olivia Colman, the director added: “And she was absolutely the right choice for it!”

Tom Hiddleston

With Tom Hiddleston‘s Pine reporting to Olivia Colman’s Burr, I wondered if the actor saw a pattern of his recent projects whereby his characters’ fate was in the hands of his strong female leads (Such as Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak or Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive) . Hiddleston—who, it must be said gave thoughtful answers to the entirety of this NYC press line— took some time to reflect on those roles before answering  “I haven’t thought about it consciously in the work. I mean…it seems very true to life, doesn’t it? For men to be in relationship to women? [laughs]” He paused again, “I don’t know that they are, how was it you phrased it? Their ‘fates were in the hands of women’–it’s an interesting interpretation!…It rings true to me that each character would have specific relationships to women, but I would never—I would have to think about it longer to think of it whether his fate were in their hands…It is a new interpretation and I’m not disagreeing with you. My point is I think everyone is responsible for their own actions and that responsibility in each of those characters is shared out. I think Pine’s responsible for what he does and he would never discredit Burr by saying that [the mission] was her idea. He does things on his own volition that he’s responsible for and Pine’s fate is in Pine’s hands.”

As for looking back on his recent characters, he did stipulate: “The only instance who I would say that you brought up is [Crimson Peak’s] Thomas Sharpe who is governed by a very toxic relationship with his sister and out of the sense of duty and codependency he feels trapped. But again, his fates not in her hands, I just would question…I suppose I’m being pedantic about phrasing. But I think everyone’s fate is in their own hands.”

Hiddleston not only stars in “The Night Manager” but he took on the more demanding role of executive producing as well which he “loved,” adding “It recomitted my engagement with the material in a very serious way. I loved the extra responsibility. Responsible for the story, for the script, for the thing running on time and it just gives you greater–to me–the extra responsibility made me give even more commitment. So yeah, hoping there will be more of that.”

The Night Manager premieres tonight at 10pm on AMC.


Film Review “I Saw the Light”

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, Cherry Jones
Directed by: Marc Abraham
Rated: R
123 minutes
Sony Picture Classics

Our score: 3 out of 5 stars

There was a big fuss made last fall by Shenton Hank Williams over the casting of classically trained English actor Tom Hiddleston as his grandfather Hank Sr. Hank3 asserted the country legend should be played by an American who had ‘soul’. It is therefore a smart move that I Saw The Light frees audiences’ doubtful minds about this casting in a gorgeous opening performance of his classic “Cold Cold Heart”. Bathed in a spotlight and shadows, Hiddleston’s Hank is backed by no instrumentals as he croons the classic with all the soul you could ask for. Unfortunately, from this smooth opening, writer-director Marc Abraham launches into a biopic whose rhythm is at times overly choppy. Still, as a showcase for the versatile Hiddleston and fiery Olsen, I Saw the Light impresses.

The structurally episodic film launches straight into Williams’s first marriage to fellow aspiring singer Audrey Mae (Elizabeth Olsen) at a gas station in 1944 before bouncing onto scenes at local dive bars and radio gigs. Abraham skips over Hank’s formative years and we see him with eyes already set on the Grand Ole Opry. That is when they’re not wandering to other women or to the bottom of a bottle. The briefly happy pairing of Audrey Mae and Hank is immediately threatened by Williams’s overbearing mother (Cherry Jones) and Audrey Mae’s desire to share in Hank’s career despite her own lackluster voice. Abraham piles on these personal problems that beset Williams early and heavily before he gradually works in the mentions of Williams’s spina bifida pain which further drove his drug addiction. The trouble with this onslaught of darkness in I Saw the Light is it makes Williams’s untimely passing at age 29 feel like a foregone conclusion with little relief found in his musical achievements.

Thank goodness then for Hiddleston. No stranger to darkness (fresh off of Crimson Peak and about to engage in tv spy thriller “The Night Manager”), he’s magnetic in scenes that require him to rein in his demons–or let them loose. Pity the New York reporter who tries to raise tabloid rumors with Hank or the Hollywood exec who wants him to remove his iconic cowboy hat. He’s particularly chill inducing when invoking Hank’s on stage alter ego “Luke the Drifter,” in a scary recitation to some confused picnic goers. More importantly though he can mine the joy to be found in performing Williams’s work. Yodeling and gyrating–for all intents and purposes flirting with the audience–his striking stage presence goes a long way to selling Williams’s enduring charm despite the emphasis Abraham’s script puts on many terrible relationship choices.

In this arena at least, for most of the film Hiddleston is ably matched by Olsen’s Audrey Mae. A divorcee herself already at the time of their marriage, Audrey Mae is wont to serve Hank the divorce papers when his screwing around becomes too much. Their heated arguments make for some of the most charged interactions in the film, each nailing their southern twangs. More importantly, their tender moments–Hank’s charming as hell plea for Audrey to come back to him, his finding out about impending fatherhood–are truly touching and give the film the heart it needs. As Hank and Audrey Mae drift apart, the chemistry with Olsen is sorely missed. Wrenn Schmidt as Williams’s friend-zoned fling Bobbie Jett briefly rekindles sparks later when Hank’s regretting being a “professional of making a mess of things.” Schmidt is as world weary as Hank in their shared scenes and brings a welcome sense of humor to the ever encroaching darkness of the latter stages of the film.

Said latter stages become riddled with odd choices from Abraham such as increasingly frequent black and white “interviews” or a sudden audio narration whose presence suggests a documentary format we haven’t been privy to for the majority of the film. It undermines the brilliant work of his actors. Here, Hiddleston’s rendition of “Your Cheatin’ Heart” will make you weep. He undoubtedly gets to the heart of Williams’s appeal even as I Saw The Light struggles to illuminate it properly.

I Saw the Light is now playing in New York, LA and Nashville, it expands nationally this Friday.

Blu-ray Review: “Crimson Peak”

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam and Jim Beaver
Directed By: Guillermo Del Toro
Distributed by: Universal
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Date: February 9th 2016

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 5 out of 5 stars

Universal did a disservice this past fall in marketing Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous gothic romance Crimson Peak as straight up ‘horror film’. It has its share of ghosts and oozes atmosphere but it’s far from the slasher genre. Hopefully this Gothic romance will find a larger audience as it makes way onto Blu-ray and DVD today.

Synopsis: Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith Cushing an aspiring ghost story author in 1901 Buffalo, New York. She’s won over by mysterious English baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) who, along with sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), is seeking to do business with her father (Jim Beaver). Upon the brutal death of her father, Edith is off to England to become the Lady of the Sharpe’s ancestral home, the ominous Allerdale Hall. There, Edith contends with the decaying architecture, ghostly warnings and the Sharpes’ own secrets coming to light.

Blu-Ray Review: Crimson Peak was one of my favorite films of 2015 (you can read my full theatrical review here). Hiddleston and Chastain make for a formidable brother-sister duo opposite Wasikowska’s tenacious Edith whose character only grows stronger as the film progresses. The real achievement of the film however is Del Toro’s impressive production design team. From Tom Sanders’s meticulously detailed sets, especially the built-from-scratch rooms of Allerdale Hall–to Kate Hawley’s fairytale-ready costume designs, the film is visually jaw dropping. All the better then to see it again on blu-ray now where I was excited to pore over more details than I could catch quickly on the big screen.

In this regard the special features on this disc definitely deliver. Several featurettes cover every aspect of Peak‘s world particularly “A Living Thing” which sees the sets of Allerdale Hall worked and reworked from scale models to the final product over a five month period. Tom Hiddleston then offers a walking tour of “the biggest and most extraordinary set [he has] ever seen” in “Beware of Crimson Peak” as we see how functional the set was in action. His commentary adds somewhat wistfully that this was the last day the set was up, but what a relief this release sees them so fully documented.

Del Toro’s commentary track finishes off the extras and, as expected, is filled with the director speaking about influences and inspirations for the film whether from art or film history. The whole thing is worth a listen, but if you’re not so into commentary viewing I gleaned my five favorite trivia bits (spoilers, of course):

  • The ghostly appearance of Edith’s mother in the opening of the film was based on Del Toro’s own mother’s experience in seeing his grandmother’s ghost on the very day of her funeral. Del Toro also speaks about having stayed in his own haunted hotel room in New Zealand when scouting locations for The Hobbit (when he was still attached to direct).
  • In the New York party scene, Del Toro had to restructure the waltz performed by Thomas and Edith to be only performed by Hiddleston and Wasikowska, lest the production have to shell out over a million more dollars in upgrading his acting extras to ‘dancers’.
  • The hallway of Edith’s childhood home is patterned in the same way as Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, a favorite of Del Toro’s.
  • Del Toro decided he wanted to flop the gender norms of the Gothic Romance in Crimson Peak. In this spirit, he cast Charlie Hunnam’s Dr. Allan as ‘the damsel in distress’ in the latter sequences of the film (to which Hunnam eagerly agreed) and flipped what GDT dubbed ‘the nudity quotient’ in the intimate scene between Hiddleston and Wasikowska.
  • As Edith gets further into danger at Allerdale Hall, the actual props around her were scaled up in proportion to Edith. Things like a wingback chair and the ominous teacup were made roughly 30% larger than they originally appeared. (No doubt inflicting some Wonderland deja vü for Wasikowska!)

Crimson Peak is available on Bluray and digitally now. Meanwhile, you can check out a look at some of the set featurettes from Universal Home Video below:

Film Review “Crimson Peak”

Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver
Running Time: 119 mins.

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

If you’re looking for a getaway this Halloween season, you can probably do no better than the red oozing walls of Allerdale Hall. This ominous edifice nicknamed “Crimson Peak” for the bloody looking clay that stains the snowy terrain outside the mansion is the home of Guillermo Del Toro’s latest haunting tale. More beautiful than terrifying, Crimson Peak is a sumptuous Gothic romance that throws viewers neck deep into a storybook world from the unique director behind Pan’s Labyrinth. It takes a lot of time immersing us into his heroine’s world but our eyes are dazzled even as we wait for any real chills to kick in. Del Toro’s vision is suitably matched by his small cast of characters lead by a positively ferocious Jessica Chastain.

In 1901 Buffalo, New York, the young Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) is struggling with a misogynistic publisher to get her ghost story manuscript to print. He believes the lady needs a love story while she’s striving to be the next Mary Shelley. Edith herself is no stranger to real ghosts as her own cholera-stricken dead mother reappeared to her as a child. Into her bookish world sweeps the tall, dark and angsty Sir Thomas Sharpe from England (Hiddleston) seeking an investment from Edith’s father (Beaver). Apparently the ore deposits in the red clay of Crimson Peak are worth money if Thomas could just get investors to help him complete the machinery he needs to mine the place. Publicly humiliated by Edith’s father, Thomas turns his attentions on Edith herself, sweeping her off her feet with a waltz in front of all society and especially rankling her would-be suitor Allan (Hunnam). Conveniently Thomas’s are the only nearby arms Edith can run into when Edith’s father is mysteriously murdered soon after and it’s off to become Lady Sharpe she goes!

In England, Edith quickly realizes her father’s reservations regarding the Sharpes–Thomas shares his mansion only with severe sister Lucille (Chastain, back to her in a bit)–were not unfounded. Thomas is as terribly off as Mr.Cushing said, with a sinking house that would be optimistically listed as “a well ventilated fixer upper.” It’s got “character” in spades! Did I mention the walls bleed? Still Edith soldiers on because, well did I also mention tall, dark and angsty? Hiddleston wears that (and an array of Victorian era finery) well. Like, maybe-a-couple-ghosts-in-the-bathtub-isn’t-a-deal-breaker, well. The real delights in the move to Crimson Peak however are a tie between the cavernous home, with its creaky accompanying sound design and Lucille Sharpe.

As Lucille, in her restrictive gowns and with her deader than deadpan voice tone, Chastain sinks her teeth into the considerable scenery. Her grim presence looms over her brother and his bride in that fun Mrs. Danvers kind of way. Most of the best scenes are the ones with her and Thomas holding tense discussions in the shadows. Their formidable history simmers just below the surface and as in the best Gothic stories, reflects the decaying environment around them. She desperately clings to their status quo while he, with Edith now in the picture, seems to glimpse a change in the winds, but is it too late?

And that’s Crimson Peak’s best achievement really, the oppressive atmosphere that the very walls inflict on everyone. And fortunately for us, young Edith is so apt to explore. Her endless curiosity to seek out all the nooks and crannies of the home to learn their secrets go against all reasonable horror movie rules. She shouldn’t follow that noise, talk to the ghosts or poke that red goo with a stick and yet I too wanted to know everything about the place. The production design and costumes from Thomas E. Sanders and Kate Hawley, respectively, are simply to die for and go a long way in filling in the gaps that the story leaves out. For better or worse, I suspect the house itself warrants repeat viewings of Peak. As for the true horror moments, Del Toro certainly does not shy away from ghouls or gore, but set in Allerdale Hall, they’re more the norm than cause for shock. This is a classic Gothic romance being wholly embraced by everyone on screen.

Crimson Peak is now open and you can check out interview with Doug Jones, the actor behind many of Peak’s ghosts here.

New York Film Festival Review “Only Lovers Left Alive”

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin and Jeffrey Wright
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch
Running Time: 123 minutes
Sony Pictures Classics

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, already pretty ethereal as they are, are well cast as vampire lovers Adam and Eve in Jim Jarmusch’s wonderful upcoming film, Only Lovers Left Alive. The film finds Adam at a low point in his long existence with wife Eve swooping in to lift him from his disappointment at the state of the modern world. It’s a clever, macabre character study that beneath its too-cool undead protagonists lies a tremendously romantic beating heart.

As Adam, Hiddleston drives away any and all comparison to that other shaggy, dark-haired immortal he has so expertly played recently. Adam is a fascinating creature who displays a wall full of iconic mortals in his den, all the while repeatedly protesting that he has no heroes. Everyone from Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde to Rodney Dangerfield and Iggy Pop are framed in a shrine to human imagination that at this point in time Adam is lamenting the “zombies” have lost. This admiration for human achievement somewhat undermines Adam’s intentions to kill himself with a wooden bullet obtained from his stoner human buddy Ian (Anton Yelchin in a Renfield-goes-Rock-n-Roll mode). Adam wants to seem the depressive loner, it’s a romantic notion that suits his look and music, but every so often there are cracks in this facade where Hiddleston lets through brilliant moments of enthusiasm. He can be completely enchanted by an unknown singer in a back alley club or excited over a new guitar despite an already huge collection. Adam gives an angry impassioned speech about the world’s dismissal of great scientists–Tesla, Darwin and the like–but that he is able to get so worked up about the fate of humanity weakens his stance that he’s lost all hope in it.

These small embers of optimism are fanned by Adam’s wife Eve and Swinton is perfect at embodying his more mischievous other half. When we meet her, Eve is living apart from Adam in Tangier trying to stir up some controversy in the mortal world by goading her friend, fellow immortal Kit Marlowe (John Hurt), into dusting off the Shakespearian authorship debate just for a bit of entertainment. She’s recalled to her husband in Detroit when she senses Adam’s melancholy over a touching video phone call they share.

Eve having to carefully engineer night flights to make such a journey possible is one of the many vampiric touches Jarmusch cleverly slips in without being explicitly expository about his brand of bloodsucker. Others include Adam’s usage of preternatural speed only when really pushed or their eyes growing paler the more in need of a drink they are. There are references to a larger crisis of contaminated human blood, causing Adam to haunt a complicit doctor (Jeffrey Wright, making a huge impact in just two scenes of bouncing dialogue off a hilariously unresponsive Hiddleston in scrubs) for a healthy supply, but that’s not the focus here.

Rather, Eve is content to share blood popsicles with Adam during a game of chess or bond over their mutual appreciation of Jack White. Such smaller moments are where Hiddleston and Swinton really shine. They have a chemistry that feels lived in without any of the negative connotations so often associated with the “old married couple.” And they really can’t get much older than these two. One gets the sense that Adam’s depression is just part of a larger cycle the two have weathered many times before with the gleeful Eve returning to turn over the hourglass that Adam says is running out of sand. In a particularly joyful scene, Eve finds Adam’s would-be means of suicide and defuses the tension by drawing him into a heartwarming dance to Denise LaSalle’s “Trapped by a Thing Called Love” instead of an argument. This tendency to physical interaction over words in many instances adds to an animalistic dynamic this little clique of vampires share. It becomes more pronounced when Eve’s party-vamp sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) drops in on the couple. In the only concrete conflict of the film, the sister from LA throws a monkey wrench into Adam and Eve’s chilled out lifestyle, demanding they all go out and over indulge on their “good” blood. Like most bingeing, it doesn’t end well. The sisters together are able to push Adam around rather like the females in a pride of lions, an idea reinforced by Gerd Zeiss’s wild hair designs which incorporated actual animal furs.

Beyond the cool makeup design, Jarmusch creates a fascinating nighttime world for his characters to inhabit. Eve is surrounded by books in her lush Tangier location while Adam’s lair in Detroit is completely wired and filled with all the things he’s engineered himself from decades of technological equipment. Both the cities are richly shot by Yorick Le Saux who finds beauty both in the dark and in locations of complete decay. Jarmusch’s own band SQURL reinforces this dark environment with a hypnotic guitar driven soundtrack that will haunt viewers long after the credits roll. Still, despite its gothic trappings, Only Lovers Left Alive is a surprisingly funny and touching character study of what it is to sustain love and inspiration throughout a very long lifetime.

Note: This film screened as part of the 51st Annual New York Film Fest where we were informed it would be aiming for spring opening in the US. For now, it’s continuing to make festival rounds and has a UK release date of February 21st. You can view a recently released trailer below and check back here for further updates as we get them!