Tag Archives: Mia Wasikowska

SXSW: Damsel

This movie lit the Internet critics on fire when it premiered at Sundance, so it was an easy add to our crowded list here at SXSW. Brothers David Zellner and Nathan Zellner were the writers-directors behind the TIFF hit Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter a few years back so of course people were aflame to see what they’d come up with next.

In Damsel, they give us a beautiful if vaguely set Western. Sam (Robert Pattinson) has just arrived in a crummy unnamed town – the kind of town that’ll hang you for skull duggery, skull thuggery, and/or skull buggery, but they’ll yodel for you first. Bathing is rare and tooth brushing is evidently unheard of, which are unfortunate habits in a MV5BYjg2N2M2NjUtNWNjOS00MWMyLTgyOTctM2IwOTE3ZjVhMzNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTU5Mzk0NjE@._V1_people so fond of social gang-bangs. Sam, who very  much looks the part of a gentleman, and who has arrived with “the Farrah Fawcett of miniature horses”, a lovely girl named Butterscotch, traipses through town in search of the forever-inebriated parson, whom he has engaged and will pay generously for his services. He’s here to marry his “true pure love” Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), and they’ve only got to battle the wilderness, stave off predators, rescue her from “scum-loving evil” and survive anything from an interrupted morning wank to a bent-gun fight in order to make his intended his wife.

The Zellner brothers aren’t too concerned about geographic or temporal accuracy, and nor should you be. Instead they’ve cobbled together the very best bits from every dusty corner of the genre and assembled them into a whole that is surprising and new. The score is amazing and cinematographer Adam Stone does some impressive work making Utah bend to his will. The film is more colourful and more lively than other westerns, and if ever there was a film begging us to forget what we know of the genre and start from glorious, scrubby scratch, this is it. But this is not just a film to keep you guessing, it also keeps you giggling, which it does in defiance of the genre. I wouldn’t call it absurd, exactly, but it’s a movie that’s meant to be enjoyed, and I think you’d have to be a pretty dedicated stick in the mud not to get a whole lot of enjoyment out of this one.

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Crimson Peak

Having somewhat of a crush on Guillermo del Toro’s movies, I watched Crimson Peak soon after it came out, despite my being a huge chicken. But I refused to review it because I was sure I didn’t really get it: the film had gotten tepid reviews, but my initial reaction was anything but lukewarm. On a recent del Toro kick I’ve rewatched it and came to the same conclusion: Crimson Peak is kind of great.

Okay, it’s not epic story-telling the way The Shape of Water is, but it’s a visual master piece that succeeds in both creeping us out and sucking us in.

Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, a young woman both relatable but maddening hero_Crimson-Peak-2015because she spurns the favour of her childhood friend, a mild-mannered, handome doctor who cares for her (Charlie Hunnam) in favour of the mysterious badboy newcomer (Tom Hiddleston). Even the brutal murder of her beloved father doesn’t stop her from flitting off to England to a crumbling old mansion atop a mountain that oozes blood-red clay with new hubby Thomas (Hiddleston) and his wicked sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) as her only (living) roommates.

Del Toro has crafted an ode to gothic ghost stories. The story is simple but the visuals a sumptuous feast, with every inch of his Victorian sets crammed with macabre detail that are never without meaning. He couldn’t do it without some talented help. Thomas E. Sanders (Braveheart, Hook, Star Trek: Beyond; Oscar nominated for Saving Private Ryan and Dracula), who died earlier this year, was responsible for the incredibly rich production design. The mansion was built in its entirety on a sound stage, its layered look reflecting the generations of the Sharpe family who would have lived within it. Although inspired by period architecture, this being a del Toro film, everything was amplified and magnified. The details are familiar but the effect they create it startling and rather lavish. It helps to create a world in which the supernatural feels like a natural fit. Kate Hawley (Edge of Tomorrow, Suicide Squad), costumer extraordinaire, used a lot of the same principles on her end. Every single piece in the film was hand-stitched specifically for it. Though styles and silhouettes were inspired by the fashion of the time (circa 1901), every piece is elevated and la-ca-hc-guillermo-crimson-peak-20151011made more moody, more dramatic. Weeks and weeks were spent stitching an intricate detail onto one of Chastain’s dresses that gets a lot of screen time. And this being a haunting ghost story, every costume had to look just as meticulous from behind, for those eerie shots down darkened hallways.

Tom Hiddleston I can generally take or leave (well, preferably leave) but Jessica Chastain continues to impress with her versatility and restraint. And interestingly, it’s del Toro staple Doug Jones who packs a major wallop. A classically-trained mime and contortionist, most of Jones’ best work is done under heavy layers of prosthetics, but embodying several of the ghosts in this film, he reminds us just how creepy a mere movement of the arm can be.

Guillermo del Toro is a master orchestrator of aesthetic and imagination. Crimson Peak’s script doesn’t quite hold up to its incredible production design, but it chills your bones when it wants to and sets your blood pumping overtime when it needs to. There are twisted monsters hidden in the depths of the Allerdale mansion, but like his crowning achievement The Shape of Water, they aren’t always who you expect.

 

 

 

 

 

The Kids Are All Right

First of all, of course the kids are fine. Kids are resilient, not that having two loving parents has ever been a problem in the history of the world.

But it’s the parents we should be keeping our eyes on. Nic and Jules have been together a long, long time – since Nic (Annette Bening) treated Jules (Julianne Moore) in the ER for a sex injury. And that’s how their coupling goes: Nic is the serious, perhaps even controlling one, while Jules is free-spirited. In their years together, each has given birth using the same unknown sperm donor. Nic gave birth to Joni (Mia Wasikowska), who really takes after her (biological) mother, while Jules gave birth to Laser (Josh Hutcherson), who mostly takes after his. With Joni about to depart for college, Laser talks her in to searching for their biological father, the sperm donor. Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo).

Now, Nic’s and Jules’ relationship has been stale for a while. Jules is in the middle of MV5BMTY2MDU4Mzg3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjQyNDk1Mw@@._V1_SX1759_CR0,0,1759,999_AL_starting up yet another business (landscape design) and Nic is barely tolerating the effort. But Paul’s arrival is completely destabilizing. Not only is their daughter moving away, they also feel like they’re losing their kids to a new, cool parent who has never had to discipline them or hurt their feelings. When Jules goes to work for Paul, it’s kind of the last straw. No wait: when Jules sleeps with Paul, that’s the very last straw.

Like any marriage,theirs has highs and lows. There are no histrionics; Nic is too staid, too reserved, too in control of her own emotions. Everyone is very, very sorry. So this is not about the drama, this is about who they are now, as people, as a couple. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are such excellent actors that they can convey a 20 year marriage with an ease between the two of them that feels real and also effortless. Bening gets to show real range here, though her character plays things a little close to the chest. Moore is luminous as Jules and seems to really enjoy the freedom of playing someone so open and available.

Director Lisa Cholodenko is excellent at showing you a slice of life and making you feel like you’ve had the whole cake. An exceptional ensemble comes together to give this film emotional resonance. The couple is going through their own unique problems but their struggles of love, commitment, friendship, and family – those are universal. And in The Kids Are All Right, they’re memorably, endearingly executed.

 

Albert Nobbs

Downton Abbey ain’t got nothin on Mr. Nobbs. He’s a servant extraordinaire – no one’s better at anticipating his customer’s needs and the restaurant hums because of his competence. Every night he goes back to his little room, counts his tips fastidiously, and hides them under the floorboards after totting them up in his ledger. So when he’s assigned a new roommate, he’s paranoid his secret will be revealed. No, not the cash. His boobs. Albert Nobbs is not a mister after all.

Albert (Glenn Close) started passing as a man after a traumatic incident at the age of 14. Realistically, it was a way to live safely and an opportunity to earn more money. But he has lived in isolation and constant fear of discovery ever since. Now all he wants is those few extra bucks so he can buy a little shop and live independently. The only thing stopping him is the lack of a wife – which, as you can imagine, is a bit of a roadbump. Luckily he meets someone to inspire him (Janet McTeer), and he soon turns his eye upon a lovely young kitchen staffer (Mia Wasikowska) who hardly knows what to do with the attention of a creepy little old man. Plus her lust bucket is filled with thoughts of the new mechanic (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who is handsome and manly and also, it turns out, a drunken bully.

Both Glenn Close and Janet McTeer received Oscar nominations for their respective roles in the film, pretty much a given considering the depth of their perfomances. There’s an ache to watching them – to Close in particular because we are so aware of Albert’s constant pain and discomfort. She never makes a single misstep. And to its credit, the film resists moralizing, or false contextualizing to make it more relevant to today’s social and political climate. It just is. Which is fine, indeed excellent, when it comes to watching stunning performances but the film itself does suffer from being a little too close, a little too one-note.