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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.
The lingering effect of Sicario’s unrelenting and pitiless sense of anxiety will stay with its viewers long after it leaves the screen. Directed by Denis Villeneuve – see Prisoners – and astutely written by the T.V actor and first-time scripter Taylor Sheridan, this is one beautifully shot and tension-ridden action thriller that captures the reality – and cruelty – of the forever-ongoing war on drugs along the Southern US borders.
The story is centered on Kate Macer (Blunt); a skillful FBI agent who has been working on the agency’s kidnap response task force for the past three years. After successfully tracking leads in a kidnapping case, Kate and her team soon make the shocking discovery of a house full of dead bodies sealed within the house’s walls, leaving Kate and partner, Reggie (Kaluuya) wanting to seek justice for the crime.
The atrocious offence seem to be directly linked to a Mexican drug cartel organization, which Kate is soon tasked to track down and investigate in a covert operation across the border, with Department of Defense head, Matt Graves (Brolin). Unaware of what she’s getting herself into, Kate’s idealistic views on justice are soon challenged when she’s paired with a mysterious – and super silent – special-forces soldier named Alejandro (Del Toro) whose motives in the takedown of the Mexican kingpin Fausto (Cedillo) is unclear.
Boasting striking cinematography – courtesy of the twelve-time Oscar-nominee Roger Deakins – Sicario is one seemingly dark and poetic piece of cinema which has the power to entertain and horrify at the same time. Its far-reaching, bird-view shots of the vast and eerily empty Arizona desert - as well as the precarious and fraudulent streets of Juarez, Mexico – is captivating and demanding of attention; peeling your eyes away from the screen is not so easy to do.
Keeping its intentions well-hidden, the script is complex, twisted and action-heavy; the scene of vehicles whizzing through the streets of Juarez is nerve-racking and intimidating to watch unfold, with Villeneuve using the silence as the base for the startling and sudden bursts of action.
Anchoring the film with an intense and fiercely committed performance is The Devil Wears Prada’s very own Emily Blunt, who is absolutely superb as the idealistic FBI agent whose somewhat naïve and unrealistic views come crushing down right before our very eyes. Watching her unravel beneath all of the cruelty and injustice involved with the underground drug-war, is satisfying and often heartbreaking to watch while her co-stars, including Brolin as the super cocky head of mission and Del Toro as the mysterious war dog, both did their parts with a fittingly unswerving and dedicated attitude.
Exceptionally silent and disturbing, Sicario – which translates to ‘assassin’ – is an outstanding piece of art and an intriguing action-thriller that questions human decency, morality and ethics when faced with a life-or-death situation. It’s a must, must-see of the year.
Despite its potentially juicy political premise and Nic Cage’s relatively solid performance – more on that later - Austin Stark’s The Runner ends up being a poor-man’s version of politically-charged TV shows such as House of Cards and Scandal.
The Runner follows the story of idealistic Louisiana congressman, Colin Price (Cage) who, in the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, is working hard on rebuilding his community, both financially and morally. After giving a passionate speech about the scandal, Colin soon finds himself making headlines and with the encouragement from consultants, Frank (Pierce) and Kate (Paulson), the pathway to a seat at the senate soon opens.
However, his celebrity status and reputation in the community is blemished by the discovery of an affair with the wife of a local fisherman – indiscreetly caught on a CCTV video footage – ultimately, painting the congressman in the worst of lights as he tries to put together the pieces of his shattered life.
The film marks the directorial debut of New York-born indie filmmaker Austin Stark – his producing portfolio includes films such as Happythankyoumoreplease and Detachment – and as far as first-time features go, The Runner is not the worst of its kind.
Playing out like a docu-drama, the plot is intriguing enough and there are plenty of moments of both despair and hope throughout. However, the story’s lack of energy is The Runner’s major flaw, as no matter how interesting its premise may be, there just isn’t enough oomph to get it to the finish line.
Despite its poor pacing and several loose subplots, it’s Cage’s relatively believable performance of a down-in-the-gutter politico looking for redemption that keeps The Runner from falling apart. It’s not an Oscar-worthy performance by any stretch of the imagination, but one can’t help give credit where it’s due with a man that has often found himself a figure of ridicule.