Tag Archives: guillermo del toro

Review: ‘Crimson Peak’

'Crimson Peak'
‘Crimson Peak’
The latest film from Guillermo del Toro showcases his strengths and weaknesses.

In a career that stretches back to the mid-1980s, del Toro has carved out a distinctive niche as a Latin fantasist with a flair for fanboy fetishism. His best films — The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) — have married narratives that feel intensely personal with authentic characters who resonate culturally. Adorned with in gorgeous costumes, detailed makeup, and nightmarish settings, those films soared into the cinematic heavens.

Some of his films have followed more familiar, even formulaic patterns — Blade II, Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army — yet del Toro’s strong visual aesthetic and sense of propulsive action made them into compulsively watchable entertainments. More recently, however, Pacific Rim depicted a losing battle between del Toro’s fannish instincts and the need for a compelling story, independent of the outlandish graphic approach.

Once again, Crimson Peak is a delight for the eyes, but a vast disappointment for the heart and intellect. It is very much a gothic romance, rather than a straightforward period horror piece, with a great emphasis on family dischord and melodramatic behavior, set in snowy Buffalo, New York, early in the 20th century.

The movie begins as a love story with ulterior motives. Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is the only child of widowed and wealthy industrialist Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) arrives from Britain with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to make a presentation about a new machine to Mr. Cushing and his company’s board but is immediately swatted down by Cushing, who suspects that Thomas’ smooth hands betray his lack of integrity.

Urged on by his sister, Thomas manages to meet and quickly romance Edith, who is seduced by his good looks and suave charm, incurring the wrathful disapproval of Mr. Cushing. When circumstances change, Thomas and Edith end up married and living with Lucille at the decrepit Sharpe family mansion in Cumberland, England. Thomas and Lucille clearly have their own agenda in mind, one that puts the innocent Edith’s future in doubt, though that’s kept mysterious as long as possible.

In the meantime … well, that’s one of the problems with the movie. Colloborating with writer Matthew Robbins for the third time, officially — after Mimic (1997) and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010) — del Toro has devised a framework that allows him and his production team to create a sumptuous environment that is wonderfully, darkly beautiful, its main setting a clever twist on a haunting house, its environs more vertical than horizontal, allowing the sky and the ground to bleed into it.

Settings are not characters, however, and del Toro and Robbins have placed unbelievably starchy people in the leads. Thomas, Edith, and Lucille never come to life; they’re more like Victorian-Era stiffs than breathing human beings. It’s as though del Toro, Robbins, and the actors decided to be content with approximations rather than scratch away their exteriors. Likewise with the story, which faithfully follows an archaic narrative that lacks any surprises, new insights or refreshing perspectives.

That leaves Crimson Peak as a fitfully involving drama that lacks any trace of romance, mystery, or (true) melodrama. Nothing churns; the surface always remains placid as the movie marches gracefully toward its climax.

The film opens on Friday, October 16, at theaters throughout Dallas.

Review: ‘Pacific Rim’ Seeks to Satisfy the Boy Inside the Giant Robot

Guillermo del Toro's 'Pacific Rim' (Warner Bros.)
Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Pacific Rim’ (Warner Bros.)

Giant robots vs. giant monsters should equal blockbuster entertainment in Guillermo del Toro’s science-fiction epic Pacific Rim, but the movie shoots itself too often in its giant foot to ignore its old-fashioned ideas.

Set in a near future in which kaiju (giant monsters of mysterious origin) arise from under the sea to terrorize mankind, the development of jaegers (giant robots controlled by pilots whose minds are linked by neural bridges) stems the destruction until the monstrous beasts develop their own defensive measures that neutralize the capabilities of the mechanical creatures. The world’s governments, who came together to build the jaegers, decide that the best hope for survival rests with the construction of giant walls to protect the last bastions of civilization; when those are completed, the last few remaining jaegers will be retired from service.

This sets the stage for del Toro and his army of cohorts to create what should be tremendously exciting action sequences. Alas, the choreography is so choppy that it’s difficult to tell kaiju from jaegers, much less being able to differentiate the multiple varieties of kaijus and jaegers. We’re told that these differences matter, but what we’re shown is too confusingly presented to matter much. Sometimes a certain kaiju wins, sometimes a certain jaeger loses, but we must always wait for the champion to be declared in the post-mortem to know whether to cheer in victory or wail in defeat.

Pacific Rim appears eager to stir strong emotions without daring to plunge beyond all-too-familiar riffs on apocalyptic futures and the characters who live there. The trio of leads all have carefully delineated back stories that provide easy to understand motivations for their actions: the ex-pilot whose brother and fellow jaeger pilot was killed in action (Charlie Hunnam); the wannabe pilot whose family was killed by a kaiju (Rinko Kikuchi); the military leader whose suspicious nosebleeds are a none-too-subtle indicatator of serious health problems (Idris Elba).

The same applies to supporting characters, such as Kooky Scientists (Charlie Day, Burn Gorman), Angry Australian (Robert Kazinsky), Competent Guy Who Provides Computer Updates (Clifton Collins Jr.), and Merciless Mercenary (Ron Perlman). In some of these characterizations, it feels like they are disguised refugees from comic books, waiting to unmask, reveal their true colors, and run amuck like the supporting crew in del Toro’s Hellboy movies. But then they get stuffed back into more ordinary suits of clothing and act like minor plays in a blockbuster movie.

The visual storytelling talent that del Toro has displayed in past films is largely absent here, turned over to computer-generated imagery that overcrowds the screen with gigantism. It’s satisfying in small doses, yet the smashing continues unabated far longer than warranted, to diminishing returns.

Without dynamic fight scenes, we turn to the characters, and they are equally wanting, which leaves the story, which is derivative in unflattering ways, and that doesn’t leave much more than occasional moments of superlative quality that almost seems accidental in their nature.

And that’s very disappointing, because the 12-year-old boy inside of me really wanted to enjoy himself watching giant robots fight giant monsters.

Pacific Rim opens wide across the Metroplex today.

Review: ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Bailee Madison in 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark' (FilmDistrict)

A lonely old mansion. A family in turmoil. An army of secretive, menacing creatures.

All the elements are in place for an atmospheric, spooky thriller, yet ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ plays out in a perfunctory manner, lacking any creative, surprising twists or genuine, bone-chilling suspense. Based on a made-for-television movie that was first broadcast in 1973, the remake is the brainchild of Guillermo del Toro, who saw the original as a child and nurtured his memories of it by retelling the story to friends.

Long in development, by the time the project finally received a green light, two years after ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ del Toro feared he would only be repeating himself, and so he handed the direction of the film to newcomer Troy Nixley, staying aboard as producer and making himself available as a mentor while simultaneously preparing ‘The Hobbit.’ The script by del Toro and Matthew Robbins adds a 9-year-old girl to the original story, making her the protagonist.

Sally, well-played by Bailee Madison, comes for a visit with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim, (Katie Holmes), only to learn that her actress mother actually sent her away to live with daddy dearest. The couple are caught up in renovating a large, isolated house, hoping to flip the place at an inflated place so Alex can start his own architectural firm. Alex is stressed out and remote, leaving Kim to try and make nice with a little girl who resents her.

A prologue establishes that the home harbors some very dark secrets, and Sally begins to uncover them when she stumbles upon the existence of a previously-unknown basement. Ignoring the warnings of groundskeeper Harris (a muted Jack Thompson), the family explores the dank, cobwebbed space, whose features include, most notably, a large furnace that attracts Sally’s curious attention. That leads to a frightening encounter with creatures of the night … and then another, and another. Naturally, Alex dismisses Sally’s cries for help. Initially skeptical, Kim tries to be as supportive of Sally as possible, but then sees evidence that Sally has legitimate reasons for concern.

Sally misses her mother, seeks help from her preoccupied father, and must settle for assistance from a would-be stepmother. So too for the new version of ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.’ The film misses its mother (the inherent limitations of the original TV movie), seeks help from its preoccupied father (del Toro, who does the best that he can in a reduced role), and must settle for assistance from a would-be stepmother (Nixey, who is well-intentioned but cannot fully replace a birth parent).

We can only lament what might have been if del Toro had been able to make the film when his creative fires were first stoked.

‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ is now playing wide across the multiplex.