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Showing posts from October, 2015

Crimson Peak

The first thing you notice about Crimson Peak is how deliberately, consciously old-fashioned it is.  This is a movie that starts with the camera zooming in on the cloth-bound cover of a book bearing the film's title, and whose scene breaks (chapter breaks, we should say) are signaled by irising in on a prop or a character's face, as if we were watching an old-timey silent film.  The second thing you notice is that it's a movie for and about bookish people.  The heroine is a writer, and characters name-drop Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Arthur Conan Doyle as if these authors and their work were fixtures in their lives.  The third thing you notice--though seeing as Crimson Peak comes to us from director Guillermo del Toro, most of us will have walked into the movie theater expecting it--is how gorgeous this movie is, every set dressed to within an inch of its life, the late Victorian interiors groaning with heavy furniture, busy wallpaper, and knickknacks on every available…

The Martian

When coming to write about The Martian, Ridley Scott's space/disaster/survival movie about an astronaut stranded on Mars, it's hard to resist the impulse to draw comparisons.  The Martian is perhaps best-described as a cross between Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity and Robert Zemeckis's Cast Away.  Its focus on the engineering challenges that survival on Mars poses for hero Mark Watney, and on the equally thorny problem of retrieving him before his meager food supply runs out, is reminiscent of Ron Howard's Apollo 13.  The fact that Watney is played by Matt Damon (and that the commander of his Mars mission is played by Jessica Chastain) immediately brings to mind Christopher Nolan's Interstellar.  The problem with all these comparisons is not so much that they show up The Martian's flaws, as that they throw into sharper relief the very narrow limits of what it's trying to be.

Gravity and Cast Away, for example, are both, fundamentally, films about what it means …