“Crimson Peak”

“Beware… Beware of Crimson Peak.” We hear this line several times throughout Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous, violent, and redundant haunted house picture, “Crimson Peak”.

“Crimson Peak” has a line at one point that a character’s novel isn’t a ghost story, but a story with a ghost in it. That sums up the movie well. Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) plays Edith, a young aspiring writer who marries Thomas (a brilliant Tom Hiddleston), a charismatic engineer. They move Edith into Thomas and his mysterious sister Lucille’s (Jessica Chastain) mansion where Edith discovers her marriage with Thomas isn’t perfect. And why is Lucille insisting Edith drink her tea? Why is Edith constantly woken up in a cliche horror movie fashion by ghosts?

I love Del Toro’s work. I loved both “Hellboy” movies, “Blade II” is my favorite installment in the trilogy, “Pacific Rim” is a criminally underrated monster flick, and “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a damn masterpiece. “Crimson Peak” is still as stunning and bizarre as his previous works, but it doesn’t feel like Del Toro’s heart is in this one.

The basic plot structure of “Crimson Peak” goes something like this – girl has a romantic afternoon with her lover and a standoffish encounter with her sister-in-law. Girl wakes up in the middle of the night and has a disturbing encounter with a ghost who leads her to a secret. This happens at least four times in “Crimson Peak”, and leads to a predictable conclusion.

Wasikowska gives a charming performance as Edith, Hiddleston easily has the best performance and character, giving Thomas a level of complexity, and Charlie Hunnam of “Sons of Anarchy” fame is enjoyable as a hopeless romantic doctor. Jessica Chastain has the weakest role in this movie. She’s wonderfully crazy, but she’s just there for the most part. We don’t get to know what drives her madness.

“Crimson Peak” is worth watching for the visuals and Hiddleston alone, but don’t go in expecting another “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

Grade: C

“The Martian”

I almost lost faith in Ridley Scott after seeing “The Counselor” two years ago. I’m so glad that “The Martian” restored my faith in the man because this is not only one of the best movies of the year, but also one of Scott’s best movies ever.

“The Martian” stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut stranded on Mars after a mission goes wrong. After his second day of being stranded, he says, “I’m not going to die here,” and immediately begins an epic fight for survival. He finds an innovative and scatological way to grow food, entertains himself with disco music and “Happy Days” reruns, and eventually communicates with Earth, letting his superiors know he survived. NASA, Watney’s team, and eventually the whole world want to help bring Watney home.

What surprised me and charmed me the most about “The Martian” was its cheerful attitude and witty sense of humor. I was expecting something grim and tragic like most of Ridley Scott’s previous works, but this was a nice change for him. It’s also Scott’s most restrained film to date due to his focus on the characters instead of scenery. Don’t get me wrong, “The Martian” is beautiful to look at, but it’s a rare space odyssey (or Mars odyssey) about characters.

Matt Damon delivers one of his best performances of his entire career. I’ve always liked him, but he reminded me of how charismatic and funny he can be. With his likable personality, he portrays Watney as the most levelheaded and optimistic hero this year (Mad Max would hate him).

This isn’t “Cast Away” on Mars because we spend time on Earth and in space getting to know everyone else involved. And everyone in this movie are just as likable, sassy, and charming as Damon. We have the great Chiwetel Ejiofer as the protagonist on Earth, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, and Kate Mara as Watney’s team, Sean Bean and Jeff Daniels as clashing NASA superiors, and Donald Glover from “Community” as a mad genius engineer.

It’s Drew Goddard’s (“The Cabin in the Woods,” “Daredevil” (2015)) confidence and sharp wit that make “The Martian” work so well. We do get a few too many “We can’t do this in X time,” banters, but it’s forgivable. Scott’s grounded direction and change in tone paid off and made me wish I paid more attention in science class.

Grade: A