Tag Archives: Guillermo del Toro

‘Crimson Peak’ a Ravishing Gothic Romance

Crimson Peak
Three stars (out of four)
R (bloody violence, sexual content, brief strong language)
119 minutes

If you’re a fan of horror movies that scare the pants off you, “Crimson Peak” probably isn’t your cup of tea.

(Judging by the film’s dismal performance at the weekend box office, most moviegoers fall into this category.)

However, if you’re of a literary persuasion and prefer macabre tales steeped more in mood and mystery than cheap gimmicks, you might just love director Guillermo del Toro’s playful, authentic homage to beloved gothic romances including “Wuthering Heights,” “Jane Eyre,” “Rebecca,” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

In the film, as in life, Del Toro isn’t exactly subtle about his novel influences.

“The first movie I saw when I was four was ‘Wuthering Heights,’ and then I discovered at the same time ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Jane Eyre.’ … And I had this immense spiritual love affair with the Brontës and Mary Shelley,” he told website The Mary Sue, instantly winning the hearts of English majors everywhere.

There’s a scene in “Crimson Peak” in which the snooty mother of a rival compares Mia Wasikowska’s naive but inquisitive heroine to Jane Austen and is quick to point out that the famed author of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” died a “spinster.”

“I would prefer to be Mary Shelley,” Wasikowska replies smartly. “She died a widow.”

This snippet of dialogue isn’t simply a wink to lovers of gothic horror. It’s also a handy bit of foreshadowing in a movie that delights in both reconstructing and deconstructing the conventions of a deliciously dark and stormy genre.

As gothic romances are wont to do, “Crimson Peak” centers around a damsel — thanks to a satisfying feminist tweak by Del  Toro, she’s more determined than distressed — who falls in love with a man she hardly knows.

He sweeps her off to his creepily remote ancestral mansion, where horrible family secrets lurk around every corner and spirits literal and metaphorical prowl the halls.

Wasikowska, who radiates strong-willed girlishness, is perfectly cast as Edith, an aspiring author of ghost stories whose first supernatural encounter occurred at age 10, shortly after the death of her mother.

Also ideally suited to his role is Tom Hiddleston, smoldering yummily in a top hat and period suit as the enigmatic Thomas Sharpe, a British aristocrat who arrives in New York with a business proposal for Edith’s wealthy father (Jim Beaver).

Failing to secure Dad’s approval, he wins the daughter’s heart instead and the newlyweds decamp to England and Allerdale Hall, the cold and gloomy residence of the mostly deceased Sharpe clan.

Despite the fact that the walls ooze blood-red clay and there’s a freakin’ hole in the ceiling, through which crisp, autumn leaves artfully flutter, Edith strives to settle into her new home, ever under the sharp, prying gaze of Thomas’ passive-aggressive sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain, her ginger locks died a morbid jet black).

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As Thomas’ attentive sibling, Chastain is having way too much fun peeping through keyholes, abruptly materializing in doorways, clutching a jangly set of tempting house keys, and warning Edith not to descend too far into the bowels of the mansion in a rickety elevator that seems to have a mind of its own.

Edith has hardly set foot in the place when she begins to make unwitting contact with Allerdale’s other residents, including inky specters who pop up just in time to spoil a nice, hot bath or soothing cup of tea (many of them played in motion capture by Del Toro’s frequent collaborator, Doug Jones).

The audience will chuckle at Edith’s stubborn nonchalance, even as the very fabric between earth and hell seems to be unraveling along with her health. But this, my friends, is model behavior for a classic gothic heroine and is as fun to watch as it is maddening, along with all the other trappings of the genre.

I wish Del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins had spent more effort obscuring a mystery that’s a little too quickly solved and pretty early on too. Since “Crimson Peak” focuses more on story than intense scares, it would be nice if the narrative had a few additional twists and turns, if it was more “Pan’s Labyrinth” than “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”

There’s no lack of entertainment, though, in watching this very game cast play out their grisly roles with twisted passion. And it helps that “Crimson Peak” is ravishing to look at, thanks to the director’s signature attention to detail and opulently gory production design.

From the exquisite puff-sleeved Victorian ball gowns, to the dapper top hats, to the bleeding wood-and-melted-wax skeleton that is Allerdale Hall, the film is aflame with glorious costume-drama bedazzlement.

It won’t keep you up at night, but it’s a juicy bedtime story anyway.

Photos: http://www.digitaltrends.com

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My Tortured Love Affair With Comic-Con

Dear San Diego Comic-Con,

We’ve had our good times, you and I, but over the last few years, we’ve had our differences too.

I’m not the bright-eyed, energetic pop culture junkie I once was. I’m older. I have a kid. I have responsibilities. I can’t be bothered with noise and crowds and inconvenience. I still consider myself a die-hard nerd, but you probably won’t catch me standing outside movie theaters at midnight with my lightsaber or Harry Potter wand anymore. I no longer have the stamina to part a sea of hygienically challenged fanboys, poster tubes strapped to their shoulders like samurai swords, backpacks full of munchies and Monster Energy Drinks.

I’m not the only one who has changed. You used to be this cool thing that only certain people knew about. Then suddenly, you were popular. You started off as a small gathering of comic book collectors in a hotel ballroom. Now you’re a juggernaut, sprawling all over the San Diego Convention Center and beyond.

Every media outlet, from Entertainment Weekly to the 5 o’clock news, is compelled to cover you. Your latest installment, kicking off tonight, is expected to attract a horde of at least 130,000. Attending used to be a relatively simple affair, as long as one was on the ball and made one’s plans early. It now requires an exhausting scramble for tickets and exorbitantly priced hotel rooms.

So several years ago, after much agonizing, I quit you, Comic-Con. But I have a confession to make.

I still miss you.

I miss ducking out of work early and rolling into San Diego on Preview Night just in time for badge pick-up. We’d check into our over-priced hotel and stuff our faces with Extraordinary Desserts while marking up the official Comic-Con schedule, formulating our strategy for the long weekend ahead.

After a night of terrible sleep, we’d rise early, tug on our nerdiest T-shirts, and hike the mile to the Convention Center. If we were in a hurry, we’d splurge on a cab so we could join the queue to gain admittance to that wondrous place known as Hall H, the cavernous room where early-bird movie buffs catch a glimpse of Hollywood’s most anticipated future flicks. We were lucky if we got to sit in the very back of the room, where giant video monitors saved us from squinting blearily at the celebrities on stage, whose heads appeared no bigger than pins.

Sure, there was the year we had to sit through the “Twilight” panel and listen to thousands of “Twilight” moms shriek over Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. There was the time the hall went on lock-down after a guy in a Harry Potter T-shirt stabbed another guy in the eye with a pencil. And there was always that one slobbering idiot just waiting to ask Scarlett Johansson an incredibly inappropriate question during the Q-and-A session.

Still, I must admit I miss Hall H. I miss sitting in that massive room from sun-up to sundown, listening to actors and writers and directors talk about their upcoming movies and watching sneak previews, new trailers and footage fresh from the set. Somehow, it didn’t matter that it was going to be up on the Internet by the next day. We didn’t mind subsisting on hot dogs and cardboard cheese pizza or the delirium that kicked in about the fourth hour spent in that windowless prison. There was something electric about being there, about being one of the first people to witness it all.

That time the entire cast of “The Avengers” took the stage was pretty awesome. So was the time Harrison Ford showed up to promote “Cowboys & Aliens” and was absolutely flummoxed by the standing ovation he received. Anything moderated by Patton Oswalt or featuring Guillermo del Toro and his favorite word — it begins with an “F” — is always a good time. Impeccably dressed in a natty suit, Robert Downey Jr. is … well … he’s just the man.

Heck, I even miss standing in that endless, serpentine line for Hall H, which resembles something out of “The Hunger Games.” In that mass of humanity, you are guaranteed to meet a stranger who shares whatever interest floats your geeky boat, whether it be Harry Potter, “Doctor Who,” “Transformers,” “The Goonies,” “Star Trek,” “Firefly,” or some obscure anime series. Communing with like-minded nerds is a huge part of your sloppy charm, Comic-Con.

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Let’s not forget the cosplayers, a brave and astonishing species unto themselves, living out their private fantasies in public in a shameless parade of elaborate finery. Here’s to you, glow-in-the-dark “Tron” pajama guy, chubby Batman, baby Thor, and Slave Leia, bold enough to don the sacred gold bikini. Here’s to you, amateur Tony Stark, builder of the most awesome, fully functional Iron Man suit ever. Here’s to you, Stormtroopers, always kind enough to pose for a picture, and tiny Jawas with light-up eyes, and that dude dressed like Luke in the Dagobah training sequence, a baby strapped to his back, clad in a Yoda costume. You rock.

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As if that wasn’t enough, there is the exhibit hall floor, a veritable wonderland of geek culture, where fans jostle each other shoulder to shoulder in search of that elusive collectible or a must-have surprise — a T-shirt, an action figure, a bumper sticker, a handmade Harry Potter scarf, an indie comic book, a signed poster.

At Comic-Con, there are wonders waiting around every corner. You might happen upon Stan Lee in the hallway or the entire cast of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — sans Patrick Stewart, of course.

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I think what I remember most fondly about you, Comic-Con, is dragging myself through the Gaslamp Quarter at dusk in search of a watering hole where my friends and I could rehash the amazing events of our day, swapping stories and laughing over newly forged inside jokes. We’d head back to the hotel, dump the contents of our complimentary Comic-Con bags out on the bed and sort through our swag. Most of it would inevitably end up in the trash, but at the time it seemed like the most precious of treasures.

Then we’d settle down for another night of terrible sleep so we could wake up and do it all again the next day. It was the best.

I think that says it all, dear Comic-Con. Maybe one day I’ll return to you. I hope you miss me, too, just a little bit.

Affectionately yours,

Lavender

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Lavender Vroman and Kristy Rivas at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.