Review: ‘Crimson Peak’ (Up all night to get Loki)

Remember: “It’s not a ghost story, but it has a ghost in it.”

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring author more interested in becoming the next Mary Shelley than pursuing a husband. Being the late 1800s, her self-made father (Jim Beaver) would prefer to see her married off to local Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), but a destitute aristocrat named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) has caught her eye with his appearance and her mind with his dreams. Seeking investments to restart the blood-red clay mine beneath his English countryside manor owned by he and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Sir Thomas claims Edith for his wife after Mr. Cushing’s mysterious death. Known only to Edith, a warning from her mother’s ghost is fulfilled when she hears her new home at Allerdale Hall bears the whispered name “Crimson Peak.”

No one can dispute that this is a Gothic tale with all the trappings, but the details vary from viewer to viewer. There’s a reason for this; the story is rather simple but the atmosphere is complex. Writer/director Guillermo del Toro is no stranger to this kind of spooky film but this one boasts fewer monsters than his more recent fare. Main character Edith essentially reveals the rules of the film as she tries in vain to explain to a publisher her own intentions. The problem is one of advertising since the trailers offer little of the plot while celebrating the visuals…and it, like the story, is darkly beautiful. Viewers expecting Hellboy or Pacific Rim may be disappointed, but fans of slow-burn ghostly fare like Nicole Kidman’s The Others and del Toro’s own Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark will enjoy the feel of their skin both crawling and tingling.
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Review: ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’ (Maze Harder)

Out of the frying pan and into the Scorch.

After only being in the glade a few days, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) has led his fellow gladers out only to be collected by a military group promising to take them to safety; their ordeal with WCKD and maze running is over! In charge of the rescuers is Janson (Aidan Gillen), a guy who can’t seem to help looking smarmy and suspicious (see: “Game of Thrones”). Faster than you can say betrayal, Thomas and the gang are on the run again, this time through the ruins of a city and into the desert-like wastes beyond. Chased by both bad guys and eyeless running zombie things, Thomas has less information than ever about how the gladers can save themselves, but one answer may lie in his former relationship with Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) before they were both sent into the maze.

This was a little disappointing. While the first film wasn’t perfect but well-acted; you’d think part 2 would have stepped it up. It could be the fault of the books, but so much of what we discover in The Scorch Trials doesn’t make sense with the world. We’re told the gladers are special – something about being a living cure that can’t be replicated in a lab – and what those who are infected have to put up with or become. Like most of these Young Adult / New Adult stories, this is an adventure masquerading as a dystopian drama, but this production distinctively alternates between high-budget money shots and low-budget pickups, mostly toward the end of the movie. There are scream-at-the-screen worthy moments during these sequences; did they run out of money and/or hoped no one would notice?
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Review: ‘The Maze Runner’ (Maximus Mazicus Runnicus)

The only thing more mysterious than the maze is where Minho keeps getting product for his hair.

A teenager (Dylan O’Brien) finds himself inside an elevator speeding toward the top of a narrow shaft, surrounded by supplies and just beyond the reach of shadowy, screeching humanoids on his way up. When the lift stops, the doors above open into a glade…surrounded on all sides by a thick concrete wall, unclimable and several stories tall. Other boys are already in the glade, treating the newcomer like a new recruit to boot camp. A door into the maze opens at dawn and closes at dusk, presumably to keep whatever roams the maze at night out of the glade, and runners spend the hours in between trying to map a way out. The teen can’t remember who he was before he came the glade, but he soon remembers his name: Thomas.

It seems like a neat idea until it doesn’t: young men seeded into a secluded environment with no memory of who they were but all the basics needed to function, seemingly to solve a maze and escape. Problem one is the maze is kind of lame; yes, something is spooky out there at night, but the kids inside seem a lot more volatile. The second problem is a lack of asking the right questions; if someone comes back and the other kids say, “He’s been stung,” wouldn’t the obvious question be, “Stung by WHAT?” There is a frustrating lack of communication between characters throughout the film, but it still remains watchable in spite of this due to the cast, particularly Dylan O’Brien in the lead role. Otherwise, it has a whole lot of Lord of the Flies meets The Running Man thing going on.
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Review: ‘Hotel Transylvania 2’ (Same plot, different gags, almost as fun)

Remember how the first movie ended?

Well, the kids get married, one thing leads to another, and before you know it there’s a redheaded boy named Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) who’s about to turn five…but is he vampire or human? Dracula (Adam Sandler) is afraid Mavis (Selena Gomez) will leave with her son and live in California where Jonathan (Andy Samberg) grew up. So, once again, Drac enlists Jonathan in a some silly yet hilarity-ensues scheme that could have all been avoided if everyone would just talk to one another, just in time for another reprise of “all humans must die” provided by a last-minute villain and Vampa Vlad (Mel Brooks).

The first Hotel Transylvania seemed like a disjointed monster mish-mash, but after multiple viewings, it actually works better than you’d think. From the manic mind of Cartoon Network alumni creator/director Genndy Tartakovsky and input from plenty of Saturday Night Live folks, including voice talent. While Adam Sandler does voice the main character of Dracula and has a writing credit, this is by far much more of a collaborative effort (ie not really a Sandler movie like this past summer’s dismal Pixels), so you can put your fears aside. Essentially, if you enjoyed the original, you’ll enjoy the sequel, but it’s more of the same.
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Review: ‘The Visit’ (C’mon Baby, Let’s Do the Twist)

Warning: shaky found footage ala junior documentarian.

Two crafty kids attempt to heal rifts in their family: allowing their devoted but lonely single mother (Kathryn Hahn) to take a little romantic time for herself while meeting their grandparents for the first time and spending the week with them. After a train ride into small-town Pennsylvania, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are picked up by Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), every bit the perfect retiree couple they’d expected from all of their mom’s stories…but something is off. As we wait for the sinister twist we all know is coming, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan plays with our heads and emotions.

We’ve been burned before. The name Shyamalan had become synonymous with “lame twist” before finally just “lame.” The Visit, however, feels like a return to form of films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Like those movies (and pretty much all of M. Night’s filmography), there is a childlike sense of wonder and dread throughout the movie. In addition to an exemplary cast, the script is keenly aware of not only our horror expectations but our Shyamalan expectations, too, using it against us in the best possible way. By dropping banal hints and believable red herrings, the twist makes perfect sense and even backfills the thinking behind the false clues; it’s a horror film that isn’t a horror film that turns into a horror film.
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Review: ‘Lucy’ (Drug-induced godhood, anyone?)

It’s hard for humans to relate to a character becoming LESS human.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a student going to college in Taiwan (really?) and finds herself in a bad situation: a local drug lord is moving lab-made human growth hormones as a new narcotic for global distribution. As one of four foreigners chosen, each has a bag surgically stitched into their abdomens to act as drug mules through airports. Unfortunately, Lucy is kidnapped (also…really?) into a white slave den before getting to a plane and (also also really?) gets kicked in the stomach, releasing a massive dose of the designer drug into her system…and only Morgan Freeman’s questionable pseudoscience brain theories can do, well, something or another.

This isn’t the worst idea from a pure fantasy concept, but in any realm of science fiction, this thing flies off the rails fast. Even if this were plausible, the story is all over the place, trying to rationalize what’s happening with Terrence Malick-inspired flashback clips to other eras (dinosaurs, early man, and such). With regards to conflict and drama, neither materializes; Lucy’s emotional distress never rises above her original ordeal, and she doesn’t appear to have much in the way of any significant ties to her previous life to be missed. There is also a weird narration by Lucy that also goes unexplained, and not one other character is developed enough to provide any real contrasting point of view. Was this how it was written, or did the filmmakers actually think that Johansen and Freeman could carry the movie on acting ability alone?
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Review: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ (A Fang-in-Cheek Mock Doc)

Friends. Flatmates. Vampires.

When a New Zealand film crew is hired to document the activities of four flatmates, their subjects turn out to be bloodsuckers! With each documentarian promised safety and allowed to wear a crucifix for protection, they follow the nightly vampiric activities of Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonny Brugh), and Petyr (Ben Fransham), all leading up to an annual ball for supernatural creatures residing in the area. Complicating their lives is Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a newly turned vampire having trouble letting go of human life, and his human friend Stu (Stu Rutherford), who they much prefer over Nick (and have made a house rule not to eat). What new and amazing things will these strange creatures of the night allow mere mortals to learn from them?

Are vampires are the gift that keeps on giving? Every time someone declares the bloodsucking undead tired and passé, another take on the classic monster pops out of the coffin, but the best work seems to come from long-time fans. This particular labor of love is brought to you by the creators of “Flight of the Conchords,” and if the original short film is any indication (and how young the cast looked) they’ve been thinking about this for a VERY long time. All the tropes are here: no reflections, shapeshifting, blood drinking, hypnosis, sunlight, secret rules, you name it. Sadly, it isn’t all about vampires, but the main characters enjoy their share of picking on other supernatural creatures like werewolves. The hilarity is organic; the players treat the genre with all due respect while allowing the ridiculousness of the characters to shine through. Isn’t it about time someone gave vampires the Shaun of the Dead treatment?
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