Monthly Archives: November 2015

Movie Review: Crimson Peak

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Well costumed and well designed.  Interesting setup with little notable follow-through.  Goes for cheap scares that don’t really even play a part in the plot.

Ghosts are real.  This much I know.  I know this because Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) told me so.  She’s seen them all her life.  Well, except for the time between birth and when her mother died and then the time between when her mother died and when the main story starts.  So really, she’s seen one ghost many years ago as a child.  But who’s counting?  Well, ok, me.  Not a good start to a movie when you begin with a lie just to set mood.

Then comes a decent, if a little longish setup.  There are plenty of holes that can be poked in this setup, but most of those are only visible in hindsight.  If I weren’t writing this review, I’d probably never have even thought of them.  The one that did bother me is, this is supposed to be a ghost story, right?  Where are the ghosts?  Or, more to the point, where are the ghosts that actually mean something?  They’re used mostly as background noise with a little bit of dire foreboding thrown in.  Some talk, most just wail.  Luckily (?), the ones that could actually further the plot only wail.  The dire foreboding is soundly ignored like all dire foreboding should be.  It is giving away nothing so here is the sole dire foreboding: Beware Crimson Peak!  Edith Cushing, of course, then blindly follows Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) back to a severely dilapidated mansion on top of a hill surrounded by red mud that oozes out of the ground and literally runs down the walls defying all rules of gravity and then is shocked (shocked, I tell you!) to learn days later when Thomas casually mentions that they call the place Crimson Peak.  “Oh,” says Edith, “I thought of it more as a Scarlet Knoll”.  Ok, she doesn’t really utter those words, but she does express shock and finally realizes that she might be in trouble.

It is unfortunate that the story is so soft because the acting is pretty good and the design is outstanding.  This movie would have been better as a straight horror story or a straight whodunnit.  Instead it’s an amalgam of horror and whodunnit with little to like about either portion.  That’s Guillermo del Toro for you, though, top notch style always, very shaky on the substance.

I Saw A Police Officer Discharge His Weapon

Chalk this up to strange things you witness that will never again be seen by me or most people.  I was driving down Harlem around 130ish and there were police lights up ahead in the left lane and a car in the median coming from the other direction with some damage to it.  Oh, great, an accident.  Traffic’s still moving though so I figure it must not be too bad.  I get closer and the officer grabs something from his trunk and stops our single file line of traffic to walk over to the shoulder on our side and starts investigating something just off the side of the road in the grass.  Traffic starts moving slowly again until the officer once again signals us to stop.  We’re stopped for five seconds or so and then there’s the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being discharged.  TCHHHH!  He walks back across traffic, stows his weapon and lets us proceed.  I hate gaper’s blocks so I didn’t get a terribly good look at the animal that he put out of its misery, but it didn’t look terribly deerish, which was my first guess given the area.  But who knows what a car mangled and bloody deer would look like laying in the grass on the side of the road in the dark.

Movie Review: Spectre

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Typical James Bond fare. Daniel Craig remains the best Bond. Christoph Waltz is tragically under utilized.

There are certain things that you expect from a Bond film.  “Spectre” has them all.  And it does them all with enough flair that I can proudly proclaim: Yep, this was a Bond film.

Opening Sequence: Pretty solid.  It takes place in Mexico City during the Dia de los Muertos celebration.  It is both a vivid and gorgeous backdrop for the opening sequence.  I wanted to see more of it, but this is a Bond opening sequence so chaos must follow.  And it does.  We’re treated to assassinations and bombs blowing up and a harrowing helicopter sequence.  There’s a bit of suspension of disbelief necessary, but the backdrop is so pretty it is easily overlooked.

Opening Credits: Standard fare.  There is a decent enough opening song by Sam Smith called “Writing’s on the Wall” (YouTube).  Dude’s got an impressive vocal range.  The credits are your typical mostly naked silhouette ladies warping and gyrating in between semi-violent imagery.  There’s nothing terribly new or exciting about it.

Bond Babe: Lea Seydoux.  She is gorgeous and she kicks ass on her own. She is strong, successful, and confident.  Her only problem is believing that Bond is a good guy.  I mean, really?

Bond Villain: Christoph Waltz.  Nuff said.  But seriously, he is horribly underutilized.  I don’t recall if all Bond films were like this or if it’s more of a trend with the Daniel Craig Bond.  You get these great actors to play the villain and then you don’t really give them much of a part to play until you’re over half way through the film.  Tragic.

Menacing Evil Sidekick: David Bautista.  He is sufficiently both menacing and evil.

Evil Hideout: Crater in the middle of an African desert complete with trophy case containing the meteorite that created said crater.  Has this been done before?  Seems familiar.  Either way, classic evil lair.

Insane Plot to Take Over the World: Your usual “create a massive computer based spy network and convince the world to all use said network by a series of targeted terrorist bombings” plot.  It’s somewhat interesting if a little far fetched.

All in all, this is a solid Bond film.  It’s probably the second best of Craig’s Bond films behind “Casino Royale”.  Though, for the life of me, I can’t remember much details behind any of them besides the opening sequence for “Casino Royale” which was probably the best opening sequence of any Bond film.  And that’s really Bond in a nutshell.  Entertaining, but mostly forgettable.  Just like my movie reviews.

Movie Review: Bridge Of Spies

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A fascinating look at Cold War political intrigue.  Directed by Spielberg and written by the Coen brothers!?

“Bridge of Spies” is more two hour long episodes in a TV series than it is one movie.  The first episode shows insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) being called by his nation to defend Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (brilliantly played by  Mark Rylance).  Instead of putting up a half-hearted defense of the almost assuredly guilty Abel, Donovan enacts a full-throated Constitutional defense of the spy much to the chagrin of the rest of the country.  Donovan represents everything that is right with the United States while the rest of the country represents everything that is wrong with the United States.  This is just one of many examples in our history of how we fetishize the Constitution until it becomes inconvenient to do so.  Then we just throw it away until it no longer poses the inconvenience.  A true test of a belief is when it becomes inconvenient to believe it and we fail miserably at those tests all too often.  There is kind of a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” feel for this half of the film with the one good and unassuming person against the establishment.  Only not quite as comical.

Episode two has Donovan returning to some sort or normalcy when his nation calls upon him once again.  This time, he has to negotiate a spy swap between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A.  The swap is between Abel and shot down U-2 pilot Gary Powers.  Donovan goes to Berlin and travels back and forth between East and West Berlin to broker the deal.  This is more of a spy/political intrigue episode as we see how three vying factions work things out to make the trade.  Once again, Donovan bucks authority and bargains for a third person to be released.  And once again, Donovan is fighting to do the right thing while his country simply wants him to do the expedient thing.

I was amazed, as the closing credits rolled, to find out that this was written by the Coen brothers along with Mark Chapman.  I was thinking why they wouldn’t advertise that and the answer immediately hit me that this is not a Coen brothers movie and advertising it as such would only lead to disappointment.  Putting Spielberg’s name along with Tom Hanks was the correct choice.

I highly recommend this movie for anyone who is a Cold War buff.  Or history in general.  I’m not sure how true to life the movie is, but Donovan should certainly be looked upon as one of the greatest Americans of the time.  He took on challenges no one else would and defended the Constitutional ideal to the best of his abilities.  Who could ask for anything more?