Pick of the Week:
Crimson Peak (Universal)
Without a doubt the most slept-on great movie of last year, Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak pays sweeping homage to everything from The Turn of the Screw to Rebecca to Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies while remaining very much its own movie. What sort of movie that is seemed to confound a lot of viewers. Though scary, it’s only a horror film in the broadest sense. And though a ghost story, the ghosts end up being only part of protagonist Edith Cushing’s (Mia Wasikowska) problems.
Del Toro did his best to manage expectations by repeatedly referring to the film as a “gothic romance” rather than a traditional horror movie, but, really, the movie does a fine job on its own drawing viewers into its strange, perilous, late 19th century world, one in which Edith’s authorial aspirations meet with derision and her romance with Sir Thomas Sharp (Tom Hiddleston), a baronet with more charm and ideas than money, meets with disapproval both from her father (Jim Beaver), and Sharp’s ever-present sister (Jessica Chastain). The film’s mysteries deepen as the action shifts from gloomy New England to weather-beaten Olde England and a dilapidated mansion built atop some disturbingly blood-colored clay.
Del Toro is in full command here. There’s not a wasted gesture or an ineffective effect, and the performances — from Wasikowska’s work as the smart-but-not-as-smart-as-she-should-be heroine to Chastain’s menacing archness — are perfectly in turn with the film. It’s not a movie that fits easily into a neat category, but that’s a feature, not a bug, and another reason it deserves to find a wider, more appreciative audience now than it scared up in theaters.
Spectre, the latest James Bond film, on the other hand found a wide audience. But did it satisfy anyone? Admittedly, virtually any entry in the series was probably going to be a letdown after the great Skyfall. Sam Mendes returns as the director and, despite the departure of cinematographer Roger Deakins, this follow-up looks almost as striking. The big problem: A story that never picks up momentum and wastes Christoph Waltz in a part that should have ranked among the all-time great Bond villains. Come for the amazing opening sequence. Stick around because it’s a Bond movie and even the worst of them are kind of entertaining anyway.
The Emigrants / The New Land (Criterion)
Swedish director Jan Troell made his reputation with this pair of early ’70s films about Swedish settlers in Minnesota starring Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow. Both epic in length, watching them is an undertaking (and one this writer still needs to undertake), but it’s great to have them collected in once place.
A Mighty Wind (Warner Archive)
The last in a trilogy of improv-heavy mockumentaries directed by Christopher Guest, A Mighty Wind follows a group of folk musicians as they reunite years after their brief moment of fame in the early ’60s. Like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show forever, it’s funny and full of memorable characters. But there’s an extra layer of depth here thanks especially to the performance of Eugene Levy (who co-wrote the film with Guest) as Mitch, the emotionally troubled of the duo Mitch & Mickey (with the great Catherine O’Hara playing the other half). Guest’s films are always funny. This one cuts a little deeper.
99 Homes (Broad Green Pictures)
Looking for a double feature of films with highly acclaimed performances that you might have missed in theaters? Look no further, thanks to the work of Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott, Julia Garner and other in Paul Weitz’s Grandma and Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield in Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes.