Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak, the new film from director Guillermo del Toro, covers multiple genres. It’s a period piece romance with gorgeous costumes. It’s also a suspenseful horror film with an assortment of creepy ghosts and cringe-worthy gore.

And what an amazing setting! Most of the movie’s action takes place in a huge mansion in rural England. Allerdale Hall is old and damaged. Snow falls into the house through the huge hole in the roof. Secrets and ghosts abound in this enormous home.

Central character Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring writer who is haunted by ghosts, living in Buffalo a century ago. A mysterious British stranger, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), calls on Edith’s businessman father (Jim Beaver) to obtain financing for his clay-mining machine. Thomas’s travelling partner is his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).

Edith’s dad refuses to invest in the Thomas’s device. Thomas waltzes with Edith at a society event and Edith begins to fall for him. Dad, smelling a rat, pays Thomas and his sister to leave town. This would clear the way for Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) to pursue longtime acquaintance Edith.

As the Sharpe siblings prepare to leave Buffalo, Edith’s dad is killed in a grisly murder. Edith halts the Sharpe’s exodus and soon marries Tom and joins him and sis at Allerdale Hall. That’s when the weird stuff really gets going.

Who are the ghosts? What is the history of Allerdale Hall? Why can’t Edith have a house key? What’s in that tea being served to Edith? What’s the real story behind Thomas and Lucille? What’s going on in the basement? What’s in those tubes in the closet? Who or what is Enola? What’s the cause of those red spots in the snow outside?

Mia Wasikowska as the smitten but confused bride Edith plays it both ways. The ghosts that haunt her life cause her to proceed cautiously but the strange things she sees and hears in the house stimulate her curiosity. She has to investigate.

Hiddleston with his face that’s shaped like a caricature and Wasikowska with her pale countenance are perfectly cast. As Lucille, Chastain’s character is a wild card, one who is not to be trusted.

As the mystery unfolds and secrets are revealed, Crimson Peak turns out to be a movie that cannot be described simply. Guillermo del Toro combines the genres to bring a film full of memorable visuals, memorable characters and general creepiness. Perfect for the Halloween season!

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim throws bigger-than-life robot/monster battles and a good mix of human characters at moviegoers and keeps it all PG-13. Grab a tub of popcorn, slap on your 3-D glasses and hang on for the ride.

Despite being derivative on many levels, Pacific Rim somehow feels fresh—not unlike certain musical acts that combine familiar influences to bring output that sounds new. The effects are impressive. The monsters are enormous. Unlike the mid-20th century Japanese film monsters that moved haltingly, movement in Pacific Rim is smooth and fast. The bots are gigantic. They, too, move well, though a bit more deliberately.

Is Pacific Rim just a new spin on the Transformers movies? No. Despite the audio similarities (abundant metal clangs) and a dependence on spectacular robots, Pacific Rim tells a better story. Director Guillermo Toro (of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth fame) has crafted a film that’s entertaining visually and has a decent narrative.

Along with the old Japanese monster movies and the Transformers films, my son, a huge anime fan, notes many similarities between Pacific Rim and the Evangelion series.

Rather than build up gradually to the first look at the huge kaiju monsters, Pacific Rim jumps into action immediately. The world’s nations unite to fight them. Turns out the best way to do it is with giant robots called Jaegers, controlled from within by humans. (My mother-in-law informs me that the word “jaeger” is German for “hunter.”) Because the job is so daunting, the bots require two people to guide them. Partners must do a sort of mind meld (they call it a “drift”) with one another, so as to assure they are simpatico.

Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) bails on the bot gig after his brother/partner is killed in a kaiju battle. Five years later, world leaders decide fighting kaiju with Jaegers is futile. (Their new strategy is building large walls along coastlines.) The battle bot boss, known as “Marshall” (Idris Elba), has stashed the last few remaining Jaegers in Hong Kong and brings Becket back for the final assault on the kaiju.

Hong Kong introduces new characters into the mix, including Mako Mori (Rinko Kiruchi) as Becket’s eventual robot mate, geeky kaiju researcher Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) and kaiju body parts harvester Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman). The sexual tension between Becket and Mori is instant. Mori’s backstory (shown frighteningly by Mana Ashida as a young Mori) complicates their relationship.

The final faceoff with between the kaiju and the Jaegers is fought underwater, deep in the Pacific. You might be able to guess the final outcome.

Should Pacific Rim become a hit—without a single bankable Hollywood star, by the way—I would speculate that more previously undetected kaiju might suddenly emerge from the depths. And a sequel might emerge from Legendary and Warner Brothers. Stay tuned.