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The Woman In Black: An Occasionally Scary Ghost Story
Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is still depressed over his wife’s passing four years ago and his work is suffering as a result. As a last chance, his boss gives him an assignment to take care of some business in a remote village; he’s to deal with a mountain of paperwork needed to put a manor on the market – one that’s owner recently died and which the locals don’t seem very eager to sell. Undeterred by the very hostile, unhelpful locals, Kipps begins to work at the house and there he starts to see the ghost of the eponymous woman in black. He slowly pieces the puzzle together, figuring out her identity and the relationship between her and the deaths, both past and present, of many of the children in the village.
The film’s selling point seems to be Daniel Radcliffe, who stars in his first role post Harry Potter, which is great except that he happens to be the weakest part of the film. He’s not bad per se, he’s just woefully miscast. He plays a depressed father to a four-year old whose mother died during childbirth. The thing is, Radcliffe doesn’t look old enough to be a father let alone to a four-year old, and the way he interacts with his onscreen child is more reminiscent of a sibling relationship, or one between a babysitter and their ward, rather than that of a father and child. Other than that, he does a good job portraying a man grappling with feelings of guilt and forced to be in a place that reminds him of his deepest fear at every turn.
What’s really different about this film, at least compared to newer horror productions, is that it allows for breathing space. The film doesn’t shy away from long, quiet shots that aim to set up the atmosphere. These scenes lull you into a false sense of complacency before boom! A shrieking head pops out, or a wind-up toy suddenly starts moving. Thankfully, the screaming humans, running around frantically, are kept to a minimum. The film is also filled with children who get up and quietly commit suicide. The opening scene – which is of three young girls playing – shows them as they get up, cross over to the window and in sync, silently throw themselves out of it. As beautiful as it is, it is also disturbing – it sets up the film’s quietly eerie tone very well.
For the most part though, this is a run of the mill ghost story where floorboards creak, doors slam at their own accord and shadowy figures pop out, scare the daylights out of everyone then disappear again. There’s nothing in it that we haven’t seen a billion times before and while it isn’t scary – not by a long shot – it will make you jumpy; the occasionally over the top score makes sure of that. The Woman in Black brings nothing new to the table but it makes better use of the generic ghost tricks than most films of this ilk.
Despite the limited release, there is no doubt that Jean-Francois Richet’s Blood Father – a surprisingly pulpy action-revenge-thriller about an ex-con who is dragged into a dangerous war with a violent cartel - will have many talking. Written by Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff, Blood Father offers a lean and – feverishly mean – eighty-eight-minutes of violent brutality that’s paired with exciting action set pieces and one of the best performances we’ve seen Mel Gibson offer in a long time.
The story is centred on John Link (Gibson); an ex-con who has recently been paroled and trying to make some sort of a life for himself in a remote southwestern town. Living in a trailer park, John makes his living by working as a tattoo artist while also battling his addictions in a twelve-step program, supervised by mentor, Kirby (Macy).
Without warning, John soon receives a call from his runaway daughter, Lydia (Moriarty) who is seeking help from her estranged father in getting away from a group of Mexican gangsters, following an accidental shootout where she killed her boyfriend, Jonah (Luna), who was a member of the cartel. Asking to stay with her dad, John is soon pulled into Lydia’s dangerous world of drugs and guns, forcing him to break his parole and hit the road with his daughter whom he will do anything for to protect.
While one could point out the similarities with Taken – where a father with a list of ‘special skills’ is pulled in to save his daughter from harm – Blood Father is a little rougher around the edges and a film that actually takes its time in formulating its characters, sketching out their traits, flaws and dynamics before allowing all hell to break loose. First and foremost, this is a story about a father - a former bad man who is trying to make amends after a lifetime of bad choices – and a daughter – a troubled young woman who has fallen in the hands of a wrong crowd – reuniting once more and reconnecting their bond under the most life-threatening of circumstances.
Their relationship is engaging to watch and the performances from both actors exceed the expectations; Moriarty manages to sell her character well, while Gibson is in his element as a deadbeat ruffian whose tough-as-nails attitude is perfectly balanced with his more sensible and sensitive nature. Paced with incredible precision, the action is exciting– there’s plenty of blood and gore - while the dialogue written is smart and strong enough to carry the movie when the action stops.
The only drawback is that there’s a sense of predictability to the movie, but thanks to the superb directorial execution and Mel Gibson’s outstanding performance, you definitely won’t be disappointed with the overall end result.
For his latest feature film, Woody Allen decides to return to Hollywood and explore his signature themes of love, passion and lost dreams in Café Society; an easygoing yet familiar comedy-drama which, although mostly watchable, lacks focus and is in need of a richer dramatic element.
Narrated by Allen himself, the story opens in 1930’s Hollywood at a pool-side party where Hollywood agent, Phil Stern (Carell), is sitting sipping drinks, looking important and commanding the attention of business associates and other admirers surrounding him. He is soon interrupted by a telephone call from his older sister, Rose (the wonderful Jeannie Berlin) who informs her brother that her youngest son, Bobby (Eisenberg playing what appears to be a younger version of Woody Allen), is headed out to Los Angeles and that Phil should help him get settled in.
After a few weeks of avoiding the initial meet, Phil soon meets with Bobby and lands him with a job at the agency where the young boy from the Bronx soon falls head-over-heels for Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (played by the refreshingly expressive Stewart).
See, although Vonnie is interested in Bobby, she can’t commit to the relationship as she’s also canoodling with his uncle, who is trying to decide whether he should leave his wife of twenty-five years or not. Learning about the twisted love-triangle, Bobby begins looking for love elsewhere while, at the same time, dreaming of his home and uncomplicated life back in NYC.
Whilst Bobby and Vonnie’s story is seemingly the centre-point of the film, Allen doesn’t spend too much time focusing on the love birds, instead whizzing the story back and forth between NY and LA, where we also get to spend some time with Bobby’s parents and his terribly clichéd gangster of a brother - played wonderfully by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll. It keeps the story moving, but the lack of focus means neither of the stories really stick.
Set against a glossy Hollywood backdrop, one thing that stands out, however, is the cinematography. With the help of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and the employment of the first-ever digital camera in a Woody Allen film, Café Society has that appropriately flashy feel to it, which successfully brings out the lavishness of its surroundings and, at the same time, ends up compensating for the writing’s occasional laziness.
The performances are solid with Eisenberg’s jittery naivety playing wonderfully against Stewart’s subtle nature and quiet beauty. It’s a shame that the rest of the picture couldn’t match their performance with Bobby’s description of life in Hollywood, “kind of half-bored, half-fascinating” serving to be the best assessment of the movie itself.