Tag Archives: Downton Abbey

Gollywhopper of a Ghost Story

Sumptuous ‘Crimson Peak’ is full of deliciously dark surprises


Crimson Peak

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston & Jessica Chastain

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Rated R

Released Oct. 16, 2015

Crimson Peak is a ghost story with a capital G—a couple of them.

The first is for writer-director Guillermo del Toro, the acclaimed Mexican filmmaker renowned for the dark-fantasy, supernatural-horror and sci-fi blowout movies Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and Pacific Rim. Just having his name attached has kept fans and industry insiders buzzing for months.

The other big G: This ghost story is a real gollywhopper, a voluptuous, sumptuously festooned saga of love, lust, jealousy, money, madness, secrets, ambition and spirits that refuse to let go, all set in a gigantic Gothic manor on a barren hillside in early 19th century England.

Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska

Mia Wasikowska plays Edith, a young New York heiress who falls in love with a visiting British baronet, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). An aspiring writer, Edith believes in ghosts, ever since she was visited as a child by the wraith of her departed mother, who ominously warned her to “Beware Crimson Peak.”

“Where I come from, ghosts are not to be taken lightly,” the baronet tells Edith, which is one reason she falls for him over the objections of her father (Jim Beaver from TV’s Supernatural), who tries to send Sharpe and his coldly aloof sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), packing. But a gruesome incident—that wasn’t the “accident” everyone seems to think—leaves Edith to make her own decisions. She decides to follow her heart and marry the handsome Brit.

When she arrives in England with her new hubs, Edith finds his big, creaking, groaning house, Allerdale Hall, with a hole in the ceiling, leaves in the foyer, and gloopy blood-red clay oozing through the wooden slats of the floor. She also finds things that howl, scream, creep, crawl and go bump in the night.

Crimson Peak

And she learns that estate is nicknamed Crimson Peak—and that ghosts aren’t the scariest things inside the house.

Audiences accustomed to the cheap thrills and gutbucket carnage of many contemporary horror flicks might be a tad disappointed that del Toro is much more interested in meticulous, old-school storytelling and creating a spectacular world for his characters to inhabit. Blood does flow and there are moments that will make you gasp, but they jarring red punctuation marks on a much bigger tale, one with horrors on an even grander, more operatic scale.

And in this big, big-looking, super-stuffed spook-fest, the attention to detail is astounding, from rooms, costumes, furniture, jewelry, kitchenware and candelabras, down to the tiniest of trinkets. The haunted house of Allerdale is a thing of wonder in itself, a real-life, three-story-tall cathedral of gloom (constructed especially for the movie) with a rasping, decrepit elevator, a sweeping grand staircase, murky hallways, hundreds of moths on the walls, locked vats of goo in the basement, and some deliciously dark, twisted surprises.

Sometimes everything feels like a phantasmagoric Downton Abbey nightmare knocking around a forbidden section of Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

“Ghosts are real,” a battered-looking Edith tells us twice, bookending the movie at its opening scene as well as its violent, sprawling finale—during which she discovers not only the power of her pen, but also the brutal effectiveness of a coal shovel. If you ever get put through the wringer like she does in Crimson Peak, you’ll believe they’re real, too.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Of Rags and Riches

New ‘Cinderella’ updates age-old fairytale with modern spectacle



Lily James, Cate Blanchett & Richard Madden

Directed by Kenneth Branagh


Downton Abbey launched the acting career of Lily James as the rebellious young Lady Rose, a character who joined the show’s sizeable ensemble in 2012. Now, in her first major movie role, the 25-year-old actress steps outside the Downton manor and into the iconic glass slippers of the most famous rags-to-riches fairy tale of all time.

Actor-turned-director Kenneth Branagh’s lavish, live-action production of Cinderella hews closely to the once-upon-a-time basics of the centuries-old European folk tale, especially the version with which most modern-day viewers are most familiar, Walt Disney’s iconic theatrical cartoon of 1950. But Branagh fills the outlines of Disney’s animated characters with pounding human heartbeats, encourages robust performances from his fine, mostly all-British cast, and wraps it all up in a sumptuous package of colorful, to-die-for costumes, spectacular settings and lush cinematography.

This Cinderella is also built on a deep foundation of tenderness and forgiveness, an antidote to all the cruelty and unfairness that our Cinderella will ultimately face, and overcome. “You have more kindness in your little finger than most people possess in their whole body,” says her dying mother (Hayley Atwell) to the little girl, “Ella” (Eloise Webb), who will grow up to become the “ragged servant girl” eventually transformed—for one literally magical night—into the princess of all princesses.


Cate Blanchett (center), Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera

Lily James is as lovely as sunshine as the grown-up Cinderella, whose limitless optimism and kind-heartedness endures even after the arrival of her “evil” new stepmother (Kate Blanchett) and her two mean, dingbat daughters (Sophie McShera, also from Downton Abbey, and Holiday Granger).

You know the rest. But one of the coolest things about Branagh’s movie is how he makes this familiar tale feel so fresh, even though you know exactly where it’s going. He stages it like a full-scale period drama rather than a bedtime story, and there’s an epic splendor to everything—sweeping vistas of coastlines and oceans of the British Isles; vast, ornate castle interiors teeming with extras and activity; the lonely spaces of Cinderella’s attic quarters and kitchen.


Richard Madden

The ballroom sequence between Cinderella and the prince (Richard Madden from Game of Thrones) is magnificent; the transformation of the pumpkin into a glistening, golden carriage—courtesy of the fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter)—is a thing of whimsical wonder; the climactic, kingdom-wide search for the foot that perfectly fits the left-behind slipper has intrigue, humor, edge and suspense.

Both James and Madden find characters beyond—and beneath—their starry-eyed storybook romance, and Blanchett maintains a delicious, delicate balance of coldness and camp.

This grand new version of Cinderella may not make you believe in fairytales. But it might make you think, like Cinderella, that with enough “love, kindness and occasionally, a little bit of magic,” the world might, indeed, become a better place.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Grim Reaper

Liam Neeson takes a stroll on the Big Apple’s dark & seedy side


A Walk Among The Tombstones

Starring Liam Neeson & Dan Stevens

Directed by Scott Frank

R, 113 min.

“Behind you! Behind you!!!” the lady seated beside me urgently whispered to the screen, to Liam Neeson’s character, as unseen danger crept toward him from the shadows.

At this stage of his career, Neeson is fairly accustomed to threats in the shadows—and often it’s him. At 62, he has emerged as one of Hollywood’s leading “older” action stars, playing weathered, well-worn men well-versed in covert ops, and more extreme activities when needed, in the successful three-movie Taken franchise and the recent high-in-the-sky airplane drama Non-Stop.

A Walk Among The TombstonesIn the new thriller-chiller A Walk Among the Tombstones, based on a novel by popular crime-mystery writer Lawrence Block, he’s Matt Scudder, a rumpled, crumpled New York City ex-cop loner on the trail of two pervs plucking women off the streets and subjecting them to unspeakable horrors. The title helps set the creepy stage right off the bat, and the opening credits—which play over a “dreamy” scene that you slowly realize is actually a nightmare—hit you like a punch to the gut. The grim atmosphere is orchestrated by cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who shoots the grungy New York locations in muted, washed-out tones and smoky pastels that match Scudder’s bleak, bleached emotions, drained of color and joy after all that he’s seen…and done.

The story is set in 1999, which also plays into the look of the movie—it was a time before much of the Big Apple’s modern urban-renewal polishing, and it burrows into the city’s shabbier side streets and seedier locations to give real-life dimensions to its down-and-out drama. Scudder’s a recovering alcoholic, which also contributes to the theme of brokenness—and also the hopeful idea of working toward reparation.

A Walk Among The TombstonesBrian “Astro” Bradley plays a homeless teen—and aspiring detective—who becomes Scudder’s tag-along sidekick. Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey) is a prosperous heroin traffiker whose wife’s kidnapping draws Scudder down an ever-darkening trail that ultimately leads him to the tombstones of the title.

This is a movie about violent, twisted people, although much of the violence is left to the imagination rather than depicted. Most of the story is about the process, the escalating cat-and-mouse game, the “procedural” that will be familiar to anyone who watches TV shows like CSI, Law and Order or Criminal Minds. But that doesn’t make it any less unsettling, especially when one of the victims is a 13-year-old girl, or when the camera lingers on a kidnapper fondling the bloodied tools of his torture trade, or asking one of his terrified, bound captives a question that should make the skin crawl on any woman, of any age.

“People are afraid of all the wrong things,” says the movie’s tagline. The wrong things, it suggests, are “scary” but benign places, like cemeteries, or the fear of death. The true terrors, and the real monsters, it so chillingly reminds us, can be ordinary-looking people in a cargo van cruising up and down the street, in a house next door—or sneaking up from the shadows right now, behind you, behind you!

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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An ‘Abbey’ Companion

What makes the popular PBS British period drama tick

Behind The Scenes At Downton AbbeyBehind the Scenes at Downton Abbey

By Emma Rowley

Hardcover, 280 pages ($29.99, St. Martins Press)

Fans of the popular PBS TV series will delight to the hundreds of color photos and the inside info in this dandy, richly detailed companion book, which goes behind the scenes of the scripts, music, sets, props, costumes and other gears that have to turn to bring the award-winning British period drama to life. The author, a journalist for Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper, includes interviews with numerous members of the cast and crew, and a foreword by the show’s executive producer, Gareth Neame, notes how the successful show, popular on both sides of the Atlantic, reminds “us there is still an appetite for a drama that the whole family can sit down to [watch] together.”

 —Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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