Callum Greene

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Crimson Peak Review

Weak

Gifted Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) makes an odd misstep with this overwrought gothic horror thriller, which is so bloated that it's more silly than scary. At least it features a starry cast that has a lot of fun with the characters, providing some emotional undercurrents as things get increasingly crazed. But the truth about this film is that it's a haunted house movie with ghosts that aren't remotely frightening. And worse yet, they're essentially irrelevant to the story.

It's set in late-1800s Buffalo, as young aspiring writer Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is unsure about the romantic advances of her childhood friend Alan (Charlie Hunnam), who is now a hunky doctor. But he fades into the background when the dashing Sir Thomas (Tom Hiddlestone) arrives from England seeking funding from Edith's father (Jim Beaver) for a machine to mine valuable clay from his crumbling ancestral home. As he sweeps Edith off her feet, Thomas' sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) enters the picture with a clearly nefarious plan of her own. Sure enough, Thomas whisks Edith off to get married and return to the family mansion, a freaky towering wreck that oozes red clay. Or that might be blood. And since Edith has a history of seeing ghosts, the house feels particularly crowded to her.

The spirits are rendered as stretched-out skeletons surrounded by spidery wisps. And in England they're of course blood-red. Oddly, they merely seem to be observers to this story, never actually doing much proper menacing. And since they look faintly ridiculous it isn't easy to muster up the dread required to make this work as a horror movie. Everything else on-screen is just as absurd. The mansion looks more like an elaborately dilapidated over-sized movie set than a neglected manor house. Thankfully, Del Toro packs every scene with witty details and a lurid colour scheme that keeps the audience on its toes.

Continue reading: Crimson Peak Review

Second Best Review


Good
An embittered writer's movie about the coruscating damage of jealousy and the impossibility of finding nobility in failure, Second Best has a pretty good time with its characters, even with all the sad sacks on display. Written and directed by Eric Weber, it's all about Elliot Kelman (Joe Pantoliano), a former publishing executive who bombed out and returned to his small New Jersey hometown - more than a whiff of autobiography here, as Weber was once a big-city ad exec but now lives in a small town and writes screenplays - where he spends his time obsessing over his failure and that of his group of friends. As a means of getting his creative juices out (or simply rubbing his depression in everybody's face), Elliot writes a weekly missive about "The Loser," which he is too scared will be rejected and so just prints up several thousand of them and hires a high school kid to leave them around town. And so, Elliot's self-hating, barely-fictionalized musings about why he and others like him are failures, and why it's better to acknowledge that than delude themselves, flutter in the wind, taped to delicatessen windows, stuffed under windshield wipers, blowing down the street.

The big event awaited by Elliot's friends - a bum but friendly bunch that include a broke real estate agent, an ER doctor and an older guy with prostate cancer - is the arrival of their old friend, movie magnate Richard (Boyd Gaines), whose newest blockbuster just won a slew of Oscars. The jealousy that envelops all of is deadly, of course, but at least Richard lets them play at a nice golf course, so it's not all bad. Although Weber doesn't go the expected route by turning Richard into a preening Hollywood villain, that doesn't stop Elliot (who sells suits at the mall and cadges money from everybody he knows, including his nursing home-confined mother) from feeling bitterly resentful at his friend's wealth and success.

Continue reading: Second Best Review

This So-Called Disaster Review


Bad
While he's better known as an actor with a distant, lonesome cowboy air about him, Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff, Black Hawk Down) has for the past couple decades been one of America's greatest living playwrights - but you'd hardly know it from this film. Having cast Shepard as the ghost in his modern-day, Manhattan-set Hamlet (the Ethan Hawke one), director Michael Almereyda then agreed to make a documentary about the weeks of rehearsal leading up to the 2000 San Francisco premiere of Shepard's play, The Late Harry Moss. The play's cast is impressively star-heavy - Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, Cheech Marin - and one imagines that Almereyda thought he could simply act as a fly on the wall, catch these greats at work, throw in some interview bits, and have a compelling document on the creation of live theater.

Needless to say, things didn't turn out that way. One very large problem is that Almereyda is new to the documentary biz and doesn't seem to have figured out how things work. Normally a visual innovator in his films like Nadja and the aforementioned Hamlet, Almereyda leaves the camera static, hoping that his subjects will provide all the necessary drama. They don't. Penn looks to be in full Mr. Hollywood mode, reading a newspaper and barely paying attention, while a shaggier-than-usual Nolte is in the throes of some chemically-induced meltdown; Harrelson and Marin just look happy to have been asked along.

Continue reading: This So-Called Disaster Review

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Callum Greene Movies

Crimson Peak Movie Review

Crimson Peak Movie Review

Gifted Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) makes an odd misstep with this overwrought...

This So-Called Disaster Movie Review

This So-Called Disaster Movie Review

While he's better known as an actor with a distant, lonesome cowboy air about him,...

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