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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.
It should be pretty clear by now that if you’ve seen one Nicolas Sparks film - Notebook, The Last Song, A Walk to Remember - you’ve seen them all. Continuing in the trend of relentlessly sappy romantic melodramas, The Choice - adapted to the big screen by Bryan Sipe and directed by Ross Katz - will speak to those who are willing to listen. However, those who prefer their movies with a little less cheese might want to rethink their order.
Set in a small idyllic coastal town in North Carolina, the story is centred on Gabby Holland (Palmer); a medical student who has moved away from the chaotic city life for some peace and quiet while studying to become a doctor. Unfortunately, the peace she was looking for is not to be found as she has moved in next door to, Travis Shaw (Walker); a handsome veterinarian, who, along with his on-and-off girlfriend, Monica (Daddario), enjoys throwing loud parties and get-togethers, much to Gabby’s distaste.
At first, the two are at each other’s throats, with Gabby not withholding her obvious exasperation with the hunky neighbour. However, when their significant others - including Gabby’s boyfriend Ryan (Welling) - conveniently disappear from the picture for a few days, it’s not long before the two fall for one another.
Logic, common sense and reality, are nowhere to be found in this idyllic romantic setup, set along a sun-dappled coastline where each sunset is better than the next. For fans of this particular brand of romantic movie, what ‘connection’ the two leads manage to cultivate is satisfying enough. Unfortunately, for those who might be a little bit more grounded and connected to reality, this latest heavy serving of romantic sap just won’t do.
Sticking unremittingly to its formulaic mould, The Choice - boasting all of the worst romantic movie tropes under the sun - is the definition of derivativeness, featuring plenty of hand-holding, eye-gazing and corny romantic exchanges. The leads, although, pretty to look at – this is a Nicolas Sparks movie after all – are just not strong enough to carry the film through; Palmer’s overacting is bothersome at best, while Walker largely serves as the eye-candy of the piece.
All in all, those who enjoy the comfortable predictability that can be found in Nicolas Sparks stories, will definitely find something to like about the author’s eleventh book-to-screen adaptation. It’s everyone else that we’re worried about.
After a series of questionable career choices – After Earth, Focus anyone? – Will Smith returns to form in Peter Landesman’s biographical sport-drama, Concussion; an entertaining, but relatively safe, biopic.
Concussion tells the story of Nigerian-born forensic neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith), who in 2002 makes a startling medical discovery when the body of a former American football player, who’s reported erratic behaviour and mental instability led him to suicide, is brought in for an autopsy.
Omalu’s findings suggest that the persistent head trauma, which the players endure on daily basis out in the field, can cause permanent brain damage, which often leads to various mental disorders, including memory loss, anxiety and depression.
Naming the disorder CET - Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy – Omalu decides to publish his findings in order to educate the public on the potential dangers of the game. Unfortunately for him, the NFL isn’t too keen on what he has to say.
Based on a true story that rocked professional sports in America, the film starts off on an investigative and relatively intriguing note by opening with the struggles and then the death of Hall of Fame football star, Mike Webster (Morse). This is when we are introduced to Omalu, whose quiet and yet somewhat quirky demeanour - he talks to his corpses before beginning an autopsy - doesn’t sit all that well with his less traditional colleagues. Striking a good balance between highlighting Omalu’s journey as an African-born doctor in America and later his struggles when dealing with the NFL, Concussion ticks most of the boxes of an affective biopic; however, the film often swerves into the melodramatic, which diminishes the weightiness of the story at times.
In addition, the script doesn’t take risks in unravelling the story from its very core; it would have been nice to see a bit more dirt hiding underneath NFL’s impenetrable façade, for example, and the hurdle that the NFL presents to Omalu in publishing his findings never really seems challenging in any real way, leaving the film as a whole rather unrewarding.
Luckily, Smith, in one of his best performances in years, is there to remind all of what a passionate and empathetic actor that he can be, even if the romantic subplot never really pays off. Intriguing and thought-provoking, Concussion works, but thanks to its safe approach, it never really resonates as the important or a must-see film that it could have been.