Tag Archives: Tom Hiddleston

Eight That Were Great: Underrated Gems of 2015

The lull between Hollywood’s big Christmas releases and the whirlwind start of Oscar season is a great time to catch up on flicks you may have missed in 2015.

Or maybe you’re just sick of watching “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” for the 20th time. (Who am I kidding? Go see it for the 21st time already.)

If you’re wondering what you should add to your Netflix queue, here are some underrated films from last year that definitely deserve your viewing time.

(And it wouldn’t be a year-end list from me if it didn’t include at least one vampire movie. This list has two. And zombies.)

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1. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: I guarantee you have never seen a movie like this before. It’s a highly stylized German Expressionist/Western romance, directed by an Iranian woman (Ana Lily Amirpour), set in a fictionalized Persian town dubbed “Bad City,” starring a burka-wearing vampire (Sheila Vand) who is both adorable and creepy, and it was filmed in Bakersfield. If your mind isn’t already blown, it will be.

2. Maggie: On the surface, this thoughtful horror flick sounds like a bad direct-to-DVD thriller. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a concerned father whose teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) comes down with a zombifying illness in a plague-ridden U.S.A. This is actually one of Schwarzenegger’s best performances of late. It’s like “The Walking Dead,” if America managed to contain the outbreak before it consumed the nation.

3. Slow West: For its violent, punch-to-the-gut of a twist ending alone, this revisionist Western is worth a look. As leisurely paced as its name would suggest, it stars Michael Fassbender as a morally ambiguous wilderness guide facing one increasingly absurd dilemma after another in a striking deconstruction of the romance of the American frontier.

4. The Walk: You really should have seen Robert Zemeckis’ playful high-wire act when it was showing in 3-D. It was hands down, the best use of the format all year. The comedy-drama is still relevant, thanks to its mischievous, experimental vibe. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s terrible French accent aside, it tells the gripping true story of Philippe Petit’s epic stroll on a cable stretched across New York’s now absent Twin Towers. The 2008 documentary “Man on Wire” is still better, but this comes close to replicating its ebullient spirit.

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5. What We Do in the Shadows: The utter unlikeliness of the setting is the primary source of humor in this vampire comedy, made by and starring New Zealanders in the capital city of Wellington — not exactly a recipe for the sexy, darkly thrilling horror offerings audiences are accustomed to. The akwardly hilarious film was written and directed by Jemaine Clement, the goofier looking half of comedy duo Flight of the Conchords and it’s actually one of the most original vampire movies in recent years.

6. Mr. Holmes: Director Bill Condon’s exquisitely acted drama manages the seemingly impossible — contributing something new to the ubiquitous legacy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary British detective. And of course, the film stars Ian McKellen, at the height of his powers, reinterpreting the great Holmes as something we would never expect — an aging, embittered, beekeeping recluse haunted by past tragedies.

7. Z for Zachariah: Post-apocalyptic thrillers are all the rage right now, from “The Hunger Games” to “Insurgent,” but this drama explores the decline of civilization and humanity’s propensity to destroy itself from a much more adult, intriguing and quiet perspective. Margot Robbie demonstrates surprising versatility as the lone survivor of a wordwide nuclear disaster caught in an unlikely triangle between Chiwetel Ejiofor’s rational scientist and Chris Pine’s mysterious stranger. It’s like “The Last Man on Earth,” but all serious and stuff.

8. Crimson Peak: The films of Guillermo del Toro are an acquired taste and “Crimson Peak” is no different. Though it was lavished with publicity, it still managed to flop, but that’s probably because it’s not the type of horror movie mainstream audiences prefer. However, if you’re of a literary persuasion and prefer macabre tales steeped more in mood and mystery than cheap gimmicks, this sumptuously grotesque thriller will be just your bitter cup of tea. Or if you happen to love Hiddles … er, I mean, Tom Hiddleston.

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‘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

Hiddleston Vamps It Up, Hardy Takes a Drive: What to Watch This Weekend

The end-of-summer movie doldrums have arrived with nary a major new release in sight this weekend.

Hollywood is busy taking stock of a disappointing season — it was the worst summer at the box office since 1997. As usual, it was a season dominated by childish fare, including hits “22 Jump Street,” “Godzilla,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “Maleficent” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

The good news is that fall is on its way with a tantalizing selection of “grown-up” Oscar bait and enough art house offerings to satisfy even the most snobbish cinema palate.

If you’re looking forward to the more sophisticated films of fall but find yourself at a loss this weekend, here are a couple of recent home viewing releases to tide you over until fresh reinforcements arrive.

Whether renting or streaming, you can’t go wrong with the pair of intriguing dramas below. Released in mid-August on DVD, they’re easily two of the most compelling films of 2014.

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Only Lovers Left Alive
R (language, brief nudity)
123 minutes

The artful, eccentric films of writer-director Jim Jarmusch are legend (“Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai,” “Coffee and Cigarettes,” “Broken Flowers”) but these languidly paced gems can often be a chore to sit through.

Not so with Jarmusch’s latest, which is a total delight, dark, romantic and playful and starring the irresistible Tom Hiddleston and often creepy, always fascinating Tilda Swinton at their very finest.

People may think that the sappy, sparkly bloodsuckers of “Twilight” effectively killed off the vampire film, but then a movie like this comes along, delightfully toying with the genre in clever ways that would make Anne Rice proud.

Just pause for a moment to let that sink in. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a vampire movie. By Jim Jarmusch. Oh yeah.

Hiddleston and Swinton play centuries-old creatures of the night, old souls and soul mates who live on separate continents, only to reunite in the inky midnight of his improbable hometown of Detroit.

Hiddleston’s Adam is a brooding Byronic bloodsucker with a passion for beautiful old instruments, mainly guitars, and a talent for composing moody rock music that has teenage groupies encamped outside his house.

This drives Adam crazy. He’s an analog guy in a digital age and he’s not happy about all the changes he’s seen in his immortal lifetime. It’s got him so depressed that Swinton’s Eve is concerned enough to make the exhausting red-eye journey from her home in exotic Tangier to cheer him up.

Eve is Adam’s polar opposite, free-spirited, cultured and open to new things — she’s got an iPhone while Adam is still stuck on rotary. She’s not so modern, though, that she’s forgotten her rich past. One of her best friends happens to be Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), the guy conspiracy theorists believe wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Jarmusch has a lot of fun with that.

The director’s vision of the 21st-century vampire lifestyle is hilarious, sexy and literate in ways that will make English majors swoon. Adam and Eve are like rock stars, staying up all night, with their disheveled hair, shades and gloves, listening to music, debating existential questions and jonesing after their next fix (they’re vegetarians and blood is like a drug to them).

In true Jarmusch style, “Lovers” never goes quite where you expect it to. When the credits rolled, I had fallen head over heels for this wonderful, bookish, effortlessly cool film.

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Locke
R (language)
85 minutes

Tom Hardy is one of the most talented young actors of his generation, proving his subtle charm, versatility and serious chops in such films as “Bronson,” “Inception” and “Lawless.”

He’s a forceful guy and we’re used to seeing him in films that are violent or big on spectacle, which is why the quiet, brilliant one-man show that is “Locke” comes as such a surprise.

Penned and directed with considerable minimalist style by Steven Knight (writer of “Closed Circuit,” “Eastern Promises” and “Dirty Pretty Things”), “Locke” consists entirely of Hardy alone inside a car as his character makes a late-night drive from Birmingham to London.

The movie begins as a mystery. Ivan Locke has abruptly abandoned his post at a construction site, where he is supposed to be supervising a critical cement pour. His mission is urgent and we slowly learn where he is headed and why in a series of frantic phone calls between him and his irate boss, his worried wife, an increasingly drunk co-worker and a panicked woman from his past.

“Locke” is a thriller in the truest sense but it’s a rare film in that its dilemmas are moral ones. As Hardy takes one harrowing call after another — his car is conveniently equipped with a state-of-the-art hands-free system — our feelings about Locke’s motivations are in constant flux. Is he a man of integrity or a man who can’t let go of his destructive past?

Knight uses shifts in lighting to conjure up a mood of suspense. This is one of the most stressful movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Other actors give voice to the ensemble Locke speaks to via phone but this is all Hardy’s show and it’s amazing how he brings the screen to life, simply sitting behind the wheel of a car.

The sole flaw to be found in “Locke” is Hardy’s occasional railings against his character’s dead-beat dad, who he imagines is sitting in the backseat. It’s a distracting theatrical device in a ride that is otherwise impressively smooth.

Photos: Yahoo, YouTube