Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak. This was the opener at Ebertfest when I went a couple months ago. I loved it the first time and it was even better with an enthusiastic crowd in an old theater. Felt like an event. The anticipation helps a lot, and having the director on hand to talk about his movie does, too. One of my favorite lines from Guillermo Del Toro’s awesome Q&A that night:

I don’t make eye candy. I make eye protein.

He shared background on the influences, comparisons and similarities to Jane Eyre and Frankenstein, which have a similar sense of loss and abandonment, and to a few Hitchcock movies – Rebecca, Suspicion, Notorious – as more recent gothic romances where love ends in conflagration. In this one the heroine’s experience of love goes hand-in-hand with the experience of death.

He also talked a lot about the unity of construction through the whole thing. How the story is told in architecture (different architectural styles through the house and each floor, the differing levels of moral order and corruption), in costume (Chastain’s blue dress borrows architectural elements from the house; another draws influence from her association with moth vs. Wasikowska’s butterfly; she’s the only person to wear red, etc.), and in sets (oversized chairs when our heroine takes ill).

Aside from the movie itself, I also enjoyed hearing Del Toro talk about two approaches to evaluating a movie. One, as a viewer, does it do its job? Like, did you feel like you wasted your time? And another way is to approach it as a piece of art – taking into account the context, influences, intentions – did it meet its goals?


Interstellar. First time I’d seen anything on IMAX. Lives up to the format. It’s one of the best Nolan films since The Dark Knight, probably. But it’s very Nolan: he can direct the crap out of some spectacular action/space sequences, but it rarely moves me. (The truck/rocket scene above in the above screencap is a glorious exception). And it could use some trimming. I have to give him credit for directing original material though, and working with smart ideas. No one is doing crazy stuff at that level like he is. Maybe my second favorite after Memento? I need to re-visit The Dark Knight and The Prestige to see where it fits in.

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty. I can’t think of many movies with such a steady build-up. Really well done. Setting aside any moral/political/veracity issues you may like to bring up, what I really loved was the simplicity of the plotline. Like Steven Shaviro wisely points out (must read, I say), it’s a procedural film. There are people who want to locate a man. It’s really difficult. They spend a decade working on it. Although we have a single protagonist, there’s no love interest. There are only hints at a personal life, mostly so the possibility can be downplayed. (I actually thought some of the weakest, most embarrassing moments were when Chastain was showed some ‘tude, like in the hallway confrontation and the writing on the office window. The script just wasn’t built for it.) There’s no sabotage, no competitors, just work. Oh, and chronic failure. And somehow it didn’t feel like 2.5 hours! All the plot resistance comes from the difficulty of the task itself and bosses who like good work, sure, but demand incredibly great work. In the end, after all the collaboration, the actual fulfillment of the mission is completely out of our heroine’s hands. She just watches and listens, like us. And what’s interesting from a filmmaking standpoint, is that climax is pretty dry, detailed, by-the-book. There’s no personal bloodlust, just well-rehearsed and well-executed teamwork. The movie progress from the horrific, emotional opening, through a couple hours of procedural drudgery, to an incredibly competent raid. By the time we get to the end of the movie (sort of like how we might have felt by the end of the manhunt in real life), the ending lacks much triumph or satisfaction. Everything zipped up. On to the next. Like the heroine, I just felt drained.

While we’re on the topic, I remember the song I was listening to when I heard that Bin Laden had been killed: Marvin Gaye’s If I Should Die Tonight. It was a strange night, wasn’t it?

Take Shelter

Take Shelter. This one isn’t great as a thriller, because you go in thinking the guy’s gonna be a lunatic and you don’t buy for a second that it’s not just all in his head. BUT, and this is huge, it’s really, really good just as a movie about mental illness. I don’t think I’ve seen many movies this convincingly sympathetic. Often when I see extreme psychological issues on screen (recently: Antichrist, Repulsion, Black Swan) it feels like an excuse for spectacle, it’s motive, it’s entertainment. Michael Shannon’s paranoia just breaks him, and you see the overwhelming shame and terror he feels about his own condition and how it threatens his family. In that, this is very successful. It’s like Martha Marcy May Marlene in that way. Jessica Chastain is my favorite actress that I didn’t know existed until last month. I also liked director Jeff Nichols’ movie Shotgun Stories.

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life. Well, it’s beautiful. And huge bonus points to Malick for ridiculous ambition and the credibility to do it at scale with big names. But in the same way that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend movies like Solaris or 2001 or Once Upon a Time in the West or Koyaanisqatsi or something, I don’t recommend this one if you’re not willing to sit through some wanky, gorgeous, exhausting, melodramatic sequences. I felt really, really skeptical when I saw the trailers, skeptical when I started, rolled my eyes a few times when I was watching… and yet I’m warming to the idea of watching it again. In the moments where there’s actually acting, the performers are excellent. Sometimes it takes you one viewing to figure out the rules and another to participate/surrender like you need to. My current Terrence Malick rankings:

  1. Days of Heaven (with a probably insurmountable lead)
  2. The New World
  3. Badlands
  4. The Tree of Life (or tied for third?)

With this one out of the way, it’s on to The Thin Red Line.