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The Sumptuous and Empty Thrills of “Crimson Peak”

“Ghosts are real” is the first line in Guillermo del Toro’s pseudo-Gothic-but-not-horror romance (as in romanticization, not a love story) soap opera Crimson Peak. And then the movie begins in media-res before introducing our perky heroine Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a young writer with a widowed father. “It’s not a ghost story,” she assures us, “more a story with ghosts in it. Ghosts are a metaphor for the past.” And that’s the mission statement for del Toro with his bodice-ripper/Hammer Horror mashup. And therein lies the biggest weaknesses and strengths of the movie:  it features lots of ghosts, some horror imagery and symbols, but isn’t really a scary ghost story. It speaks a lot about romance, love and romanticizes (fetishizes) the gothic vibes of the Victorian era aesthetics and lifestyle, but it’s cold and clinical (cynical too). Worst of all it gives us the structure of a mystery, yet it doesn’t merely “play fair” it practically spells out the answers to you in the first 10 minutes (to say nothing of the opening scene). In fact none of the lofty ideas about how past cycles haunt us ever come into play in any meaningful way. This is a movie that knows what it wants to be but seems content to be the least version of itself and yet does notalways mind because it’s still full of marvels.

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“Transformers – Age of Extinction” The Unwanted Gift from Michael Bay (NOT A REVIEW)

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It does not really matter if the fourth Transformers live-action movie is “good” or “bad.” It will be a 9+ $ figure global megahit all the while critics lambast the film and internet bloggers/forum prowlers get their metaphorical dung, tar & feathers ready to be thrown at Michael Bay for his alleged cinematic “crimes.” However something occurred to me as I was viewing Transformers 4 (subtitled: “Age of Extinction”), as I was rolling my eyes at the mid-film barrage of explosions with eerily-centered product placement logos, I noticed that the audience, mostly filled with neatly dressed & groomed professionals and hyperactive children, in the theater were all cheering. Despite nearly every worst instinct Michael Bay has as a filmmaker and storyteller being emphasized to obnoxious degrees in the nearly 3-hour long film, audiences were eating it up with huge grins on their faces. Some actually enjoyed the film, some enjoyed it for the pleasure of skewering it for their blogs and peer amusements and then there were others who were simply fascinated with what this film was trying to say. I fall into the latter category. Believe it or not, even the most mainstream studio-backed product is in some ways a work of art and every work of art makes a statement. While some far-reaching cinephiles have often taken the stance of Michael Bay’s films as satires on one subject or another, what is ultimately more fascinating is what the films say about the man behind them. Transformers: Age of Extinction may not be a “good” film or even a functional one but like many of Bay’s films it serves as a sort of Rorschach image peer into the mind of the filmmaker.

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THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS (WORST) IN 2013 FILMS

I love movies. There are what are traditionally thought up as “bad” movies, filled with technical incompetence, odd acting choices and even middle of the road films that nobody cares about. Some movies are just “awful” enough to actually be enjoyable and entertaining in a sort of junk food level. I’ve already gone at length about how weird movie reviews are, but “WORST Movies” lists are pretty damn weird as well. Some movies are expectedly bad but their ambition was pretty low to begin with and listing only those would be like making a list of worst restaurants and only including Arby’s.

Instead I’m listing ten of the most DISAPPOINTING movies of the year (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER). Disappointment can often be worse for viewers than outright bad. These are cases when a film fails to do what it sets out to do and most of these might just simply fail to entertain.

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