Category Archives: Review

Critics sing Tom Hiddleston’s praises for I Saw The Light…

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I Saw The Light Review…

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Have you ever seen Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story? Well, Marc Abraham’s I Saw The Light is the EXACT type of biopic that John C. Reilly’s Dewey Cox character pokes fun at. Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan cleverly roast formulaic true-story recounts in their highly underrated comedy, yet here we are, some eight years later, and Abraham manages to recreate the dramatic equivalent to Dewey Cox’s fabricated life.

Maybe Hank Williams’ story was a major influence on Walk Hard, because entire scenes are recreated with uncanny likenesses – I’m talkin’ about being double married and stuff, not even the obvious genre notes. Tom Hiddleston is a knockout Williams impersonator, but unfortunately for Abraham, his leading man’s charisma only goes so far.

Strapping on his Americana stirrups, Hiddleston plays musical legend Hank Williams, who stunned honky-tonk listeners in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He lived a short, stunted life, but his ability to write chart-topping hits remains unmatched in quantity.

Williams found the love of his life many times over, most famously with Audrey May Williams (Elizabeth Olsen), and drank his way through more nights than he can remember (or, can’t remember). Little did people know, the lyrical gunslinger also battled a painful case of Spina Bifida Occulta, which lead to a nasty mix of severe alcoholism, pain-pill abuse, and a few other nasty chemicals that never should have been mixed. His is a story of dreams, fame, and all the messiness in between, cut far too short by a painful losing battle.

In recognizing the shallow despair of Hank Williams’ life, can we quickly revisit the whole Dewey Cox comparison again? It’s not often that a movie is spoofed eight(ish) years prior, but Walk Hard has I Saw The Light‘s exact number. Memorable performances at the Grand Ole Opry are recreated with Hiddleston, who conveys evolving plot material through self-referential songs (Cox did it). Abraham’s adaptation sparingly shows drug usage, only to indicate worsening methods (Cox did it), and there’s a quick rehab scene where he’s shown tossing and turning in bed (COX DID IT). But that’s not all.

There’s a moronic run-in between two of his lovers (Cox), duets with his wife (Cox), and even freakin’ David Krumholtz shows up in I Saw The Light (who played Cox’s manager). Scenes feel wooden enough as is, but having Walk Hard as a comparison point only highlights how Abraham’s team safely adheres to the same stifling techniques of almost an entire decade ago.

On a brighter note, Hiddleston isn’t the issue here – he’s a gui-tar strummin’ good-old-boy who hides darker, intimate issues, along with alcohol-fueled demons. Williams’ afflictions are highlighted by Hiddleston’s pain, and he does well to balance vanity with the distractions of overnight fame. His interactions with women and assessment of responsibility are a neglectful product of the times, but Hiddleston finds a way to transform warped senses of womanization into vile, yet enchanting charms. This is a testament to chameleon-like camouflaging that turns an emaciated Hiddleston into the famed country legend – full-scale embodiment on a distinguished level.

Audrey Mae’s relationship provides insight into the loving husband/father Williams had buried deep inside, as Olsen’s chemistry brings out a stark contrast the movie sorely needs. Yet, I Saw The Light ultimately feels one-note, both in presentation and practice. Abraham’s focus on Hank Williams detracts from generic side-characters who add little value in terms of context, and cinematographer Dante Spinotti’s shaky camera work does nothing in terms of authenticity. A natural, more raw energy is supposed to be captured by throwing steady-cam rigs away, but frantic unsteadiness only distracts from an already weightless delivery. In terms of atmosphere, a certain staleness exists in each scenic bite, even with rhinestone cowboywear and dapper concert garb.

As a biographical drama, I Saw The Light is fine-tuned for Hank Williams fans who have long enjoyed his twangy signatures. The problem is, with such a sporadic focus and general airlessness, unfamiliar parties won’t feel properly informed as they waltz through the songwriter’s most prolific years.

Williams’ drug addiction leaks out in small, forgettable increments, only when he jumps to the next, more dangerous level of intake (COUGH COUGH DEWEY COX COUGH COUGH), and even his drunken outbursts are tempered on camera. For those reasons alone, I Saw The Light proves to be musically entertaining, but remains oddly unfulfilling in terms of a deeper, more human story. Respect on the most surface-value of levels, lacking investment, character or soul.

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High-Rise Review…

High-Rise

★★★★

Film title: High-Rise
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss, Keeley Hawes, James Purefoy, Sienna Guillory, Dan Renton Skinner, Enzo Cilenti, Peter Ferdinando, Reece Shearsmith, Augustus Prew, Stacy Martin
Release date: 18 Mar
Certificate: 15

Josh Slater-Williams | 12 Feb 2016
Ben Wheatley delivers a ferocious adaptation of JG Ballard’s classic dystopian novel High-Rise

It’s the near future, though it (deliberately) seems to be the near future as imagined in the 1970s. Dr Robert Laing (Hiddleston) has set up home in a lavish high-rise designed by a grand architect (Irons). Presiding on the 25th floor, he develops trysts with the higher classes and friendships with those relegated below, including a documentarian (Evans) keen to provoke the dangerous social situation between levels. Violence and disarray are but a ticking time bomb away.

A go-for-broke adaptation of JG Ballard’s beloved novel, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is a vigorous and ferocious blast through a dark, dystopic labyrinth that only lets up in a third act that starts to lag – mainly because its pummelling nature can’t help but eventually exhaust. The novel’s slower, icy detachment and alienation are re-imagined by Wheatley and writer Amy Jump as a hedonistic whirlwind; imagine a lone location Mad Max film with less motors and more upper-class twits, as filtered through a cocktail of the creative sensibilities of Kubrick, Fritz Lang, Joseph Losey and Ken Russell.

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Sherlock: The Abominable Bride–My Review **SPOILERS** **SPOILERS** **SPOILERS**

**This review of STAB is my opinion and mine alone. It contains lots of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it…

 

Turn Back!!!! Spoilers Ahead!!

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Now… I have to admit; I was intrigued at the idea of Sherlock set in the Victorian era and what exactly Sherlock would be like residing in the past instead of the more modern era and I think that the creators of the series strived to give fans something unusual without exactly continuing the series altogether.

Well, unusual it was.

First, you have a recap of all the previous Sherlock seasons, which leads into an “alternative” recreation of Sherlock & Watson’s first meeting through their friend, Mike Stamford. This was very clever. It recreated John’s war experiences, their first introduction to each other and my personal favorite, Sherlock beating a corpse with a whip.

Afterwards you are thrust into the world of Victorian England in the 1800’s. The scenery is quite beautiful with carriages, velvet covered chairs and top hatted Londoners walking about, and we are taken to 221 B Baker Street and meet Mrs. Hudson, who is very funny, telling John that she detests his stories in the paper as she never has anything to say in them. The dialogue is funny and fast paced, however, it is somewhat unnerving to see Sherlock behaving in a more theatrical way that we are used to. It was almost as if he were performing on a stage, rather than in a movie. John is as funny as ever, if not a bit thickheaded at times (the man didn’t even know his own wife’s perfume).

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stab_highlights2When Lestrade arrives and very fearfully relates to Holmes & Watson the case of the Abominable Bride, a Gothic tale of tragedy involving an unhappy bride, shooting away at men from a balcony only to take her own life later. Holmes is uninterested until he learns that the bride was spotted by a police officer the next night, shooting her own husband. Sherlock takes the case and he and Watson head to the mortuary, leaving a very angry Mary behind. She is clearly unhappy with her life as Mrs. Watson and grumbles about it to Mrs. Hudson, until a mysterious message lures her away.

 

At the morgue, Holmes and Watson greet the mortician’s assistant, Anderson, who dislikes Sherlock as much as the old Anderson did. Holmes then greets the mortician, “Hooper” who is clearly Molly Hooper in disguise as a man, a fact realized by Watson, but not Holmes (I will get into my feelings on this story line later). Hooper is clearly hostile towards Sherlock and begrudgingly shows the brides body to the group. She shows Holmes the woman’s finger that is covered in blood with the words “You” written on the wall. This was a message the Bride had shouted before killing herself. This stumps the men. Earlier, Lestrade tells Sherlock that the “Bride” has killed five separate men.

Later, Sherlock & John visit someone who he clearly loathes at a Gentleman’s club. After a bizarre exchange with the butler there (some sort of sign language was spoken, but I am not sure) they are sent in to see… Mycroft. This is one of the funniest, if not one of the most bizarre moments of the movie.

Mycroft is supremely obese, surrounded by food. After making a bet with Sherlock on how quickly he could die, Mycroft tells Sherlock that he would like him to meet Lady Carmichael, a woman who fears her husband might be murdered soon. Later she tells Holmes & Watson about her husband’s strange behavior of late and that he was being targeted by the “Abominable Bride”. Holmes agrees to help and tells the woman to sleep separately from her husband that night and that he and Watson will be nearby.

During all of this Watson has his own set of troubles as Mary has been spending a lot of time away from home. Sherlock in the meantime seems haunted by “Ghosts” from his past.

That night he and Watson lie in wait after the Carmichael’s have gone to bed for the night. In a private moment, they have a heated exchange (this is one of my favorite parts) in which John points out not only Sherlock’s admiration for Lady Carmichael, but that he keeps a picture of Irene Adler in his pocket watch as well. Sherlock tells Watson that love is a distraction and Watson reminds him that he is a man, and not a machine. The two are interrupted at the sight of “The Bride” who appears as a ghostly apparition outside the Carmichael home. The two give chase, but Sherlock is too late to save Mr. Carmichael.

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This is where the story begins to get weird, and confusing. While trying to get into his mind palace (through a very cool CGI effect of Sherlock looking at swirling scraps of paper) Sherlock is suddenly transported-to the future, via some very strong drugs that he has taken. He wakes up the modern day Sherlock we all know and love, thrust into the ending of Season three, where he is returning from banishment because of Moriarty. He is confronted by John, a pregnant Mary and Mycroft who angrily demands Sherlock tell him of all the drugs he’s taken. Sherlock admits to it but insists he needs them and must return to his mind palace to solve the case of the “Abominable Bride”.

This is where I will end my synopsis I don’t want to spoil the entire movie, but needless to say, Holmes spend the rest of the movie transporting back and forth between the present and the past, trying to solve the murder.

What I loved about the movie the most was seeing the cast together again. Whether it’s modern day or Victorian England, these people work well together. Benedict Cumberbatch is splendid as ever, astonishing the audience with his brilliant interpretation and the speed at which he is able to deliver his lines. He plays Sherlock with a bit more vulnerability this time around than in previous versions I’ve seen and Martin Freeman, well, he just is Watson.

stab_highlights3The other thing I loved was the inclusion of past Sherlock characters such as Mike Stamford, the little boy Sherlock impressed at John and Mary’s wedding, Janine and, yes Moriarty as well. It was fun to see them all return, especially Andrew Scott who plays Moriarty with his usual lunatic dramatics. This is clearly a man who haunts Sherlock’s mind palace and torments him. Another particularly touching scene was the present day Mycroft asking the present day Watson to watch over his brother. This was a sweet reminder of the fact that while extremely competitive with his brother, that Mycroft truly loves him as well. It would have been nice to include Benedict’s parents in there; it was still fun to see the bond between the brothers.

 

What I didn’t love about the movie was the serious feminist attitude that permeated the story. Don’t get me wrong, I am a woman, and I realize this was during the days of the Suffragette’s, where women were fighting for equality and the right to vote. While I applaud the writers for showing how lowly women were treated in the past and also the present, it dominated the story and there was no real resolution. Did the women all go to jail? Were they sorry? I wasn’t sure. But I felt the subject was way too over the top for my taste and I found myself rolling my eyes at times. Plus, they likened the cause of women’s rights to that of some sort of evil cult made up of vengeful women. The actual women of the time chained themselves to fences and spent time in prison, sacrificing their freedom in order to win the right to vote, not gain revenge on all the men who’d done them wrong.

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However, the part that supremely disappointed me was the story of “Hooper”. As a total Molly Hooper fan, I wondered why there wasn’t much in the trailer or promos that showed the character. I knew she was in it, but why not show any of Molly’s scenes at all? So needless to say the introduction to “Hooper” was surprising and sad at the same time. I understand that Molly is a secondary character and not a lead in the series, however, Molly Hooper endeared herself to fans by very shyly and quietly showing her love for Sherlock and her support of him as well. Molly is a very kindly character and seeing her so openly hostile was unpleasant. I realize that she is supposed to be a Suffragette but to make Molly the bad guy just felt wrong. It could have been Sally Donovan or Janine for that matter, someone who had a grudge against Sherlock in the regular seasons but instead they showed Molly as a character who truly hated Holmes, and that I didn’t like at all. It was a sad part of the Sherlock/Molly story that could have been done better.

As a Sherlock fan, I was prepared to accept anything that they could give us, as it could be a long time until the next installment, and for the most part, this was a fun and quite enjoyable chapter in the Sherlock story, if not a bit chaotic and confusing in parts.

So next will be Sherlock 4 and it will be interesting to see if any of this will be used in future story lines. Until then, I will be pondering the question Mycroft posed at the end of season three, “You know what happened to the other one…”

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Review: Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Crimson Peak’ Starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston And Jessica Chastain

Crimson Peak

In “Crimson Peak,” Guillermo del Toro unifies his two primary impulses: toothy ghost story and oversized studio spectacle. The hallmarks of gothic romance provide a starting point, but del Toro makes this telling very much his own through splashy sensory overload. This grandiose film is visually and emotionally ripe, to the point that juices nearly sweat off the screen.

The film itself states this is not a ghost story, but rather a story with ghosts in it. “Crimson Peak” is built on the bedrock of a Bronte-esque relationship, with the typical underlying hints of violence and treachery embellished and amplified. Ghosts emerge from beneath floors and stalk shadowy hallways, but the most dangerous creatures are the humans, who occasionally commit gaspingly intense bursts of violence. Never entirely satisfying as a drama, “Crimson Peak” is visually dazzling, boasting lively and at times even transfixing performances that keep the story’s blood flowing.

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Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is an industrialist’s daughter and an aspiring writer. Indifferent if not entirely immune to the charms of a young doctor (Charlie Hunnam, far more effective here than in “Pacific Rim“), Edith falls for Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Sharpe has traveled from England to Edith’s Buffalo, NY home, seeking capital to finance an invention to leverage his family homestead’s sole natural resource.

Sharpe and Edith have a rocky courtship, thanks to the intercession of the young woman’s perceptive and hard-nosed father (Jim Beaver). The couple are soon married and jet off to the ancestral Sharpe home, a towering, crumbling manse built upon a seeping mound of blood-red clay in which Sharpe’s icy sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) holds sway as a domineering matriarch.

Crimson Peak

That mansion is the film’s centerpiece: it’s a grand patchwork of sets in which no period detail has been overlooked and no opportunity to deepen the atmosphere has been missed. Leaves drift down from the ruined roof above the grand foyer; moths flutter through rooms and corridors; the basement features a set of giant vats full of the crimson clay; a portrait of the Sharpe family’s late matriarch dominates the sitting room.

The construction of the tale is almost gleefully contrived. The Sharpe siblings are suspect from the start, and the idea of their home standing on clay that stains snow blood-red in winter is charmingly ridiculous in a Hammer horror manner (Even the heroine appears to be a homage a such, with the Cushing surname seemingly a reference to Hammer mainstay Peter Cushing). We’re never allowed to settle into the idea that things might be OK with Edith’s charming goth suitor Edward; stray bits of dialogue emphasize that the young woman should keep her eyes open for duplicity from her new family.

Crimson Peak

Then there’s the matter of the film’s opening scene, in which Edith as a child is given a warning from her mother’s ghost: “beware crimson peak.” It’s as if del Toro enjoys the setup, but really wants to get to the payoff.

But that setup is enjoyable. While del Toro tends to push things just a hair too close to the cartoonish, the first-act dance of character establishments is surprisingly charming. Credit the primary cast for embracing the story’s gothic quirks. Watching Chastain scowl from the sidelines towards the courtship between Hiddleston and Wasikowska is practically a spectator sport, and I found myself wanting much more of Hunnam’s good-hearted doctor.

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Even so, del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins don’t give the beginning stages of romance quite enough time to bloom, and there’s reason to question just what Edith sees in Sharpe. He flatters her writing, but after that early flirtation, “Crimson Peak” relies on the ample charms of Hiddleston and Wasikowska and the film’s own spectacular production design to keep the drama afloat.

The efforts of the cast and del Toro mesh to consistently increase the weight of secrets and suspicions that form a connective web around these characters. Soon enough, it’s not love that connects anyone, but the sticky unresolved mysteries no one is able to walk away from. The film is one great growing crescendo, which threatens to stall out as the audience puts all the pieces together. But just when “Crimson Peak” is about to deflate, del Toro deploys a bit of stock-in-trade violence, and the energy crackles once again.
Crimson Peak

One surprising disappointment, especially after the wildly accomplished CG of “Pacific Rim,” is the digital work. “Crimson Peak” is rich in real­-world detail, from the elaborate costumes to the delightfully baroque mansion, but the ghosts haunting the halls look out of place. del Toro has said that the makeup for supernatural characters is as practical as the sets, but every spectre has a glossy CG sheen, and ghosts look like plastic casts freshly extracted from a mold. The designs are nightmarish, but their impact is dulled by the sense that they’re not quite part of the rest of the film’s world.

Perhaps the unification of the director’s impulses in “Crimson Peak” isn’t quite complete after all, but as a summation of Guillermo del Toro’s style and tendencies, the film stands as more of an ur-document of his interests and personality than we have seen before. [B]


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High-Rise Movie Review – TIFF 2015

**Okay, I decided to post this review, ONLY because I wanted people to understand what they would be in for when they go to see this movie. As Tom Hiddleston fans, I think we would all agree that he could read the phone book and we would go see it. Having said that, I found some interesting points in this critique. But I do not endorse this review, nor will it make up my mind one way or another. So in short, this is NOT a happy review, but it might give fans some insight as to whether or not they want to see this… JMO

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