Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciáran Hinds, Janet McTeer
Directed by: James Watkins (“Eden Lake”)
Written by: Jane Goldman (“X-Men: First Class”)
There’s a reason why censorship boards cut the scene in the 1931 horror movie classic “Frankenstein,” where the Monster tosses a happy little girl into a lake and drowns her. No one wants to see an innocent child die (even if accidentally), especially in the spirit of entertainment. Eighty years later, not much has changed on the mainstream horror front.
While there are a few exceptions (Gage getting leveled by a semi-truck in “Pet Sematary”) most are anomalies, which is why in “The Woman in Black” when three little girls in frilly Sunday dresses do something terrible just moments after playing tea party it leaves such a disturbing impression. As more of these incidences follow, one might think they’ve walked into one of the gutsiest horror movies ever made. Hell, even Stanley Kubrick didn’t let Jack Nicholson bludgeon the troubled tike in “The Shining” (“redrum, redrum”) to death. Unfortunately, beyond the unsettling idea of children doing creepy stuff they shouldn’t be doing, “The Woman in Black” manages to slump back into conventional storytelling and does so in the most monotonous fashion.
In his first film post Harry Potter fame, actor Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer sent to a house in a remote village to sift through the estate paperwork of the recently deceased homeowner. Upon arrival Arthur begins to realize no one wants him poking around, for fear he will unearth the vengeful entity haunting the residence and trigger horrible incidents for the families in the area.
Based on the book of the same name by Susan Hill, which was adapted into at TV movie in 1989, “The Woman in Black” hits on most of the clichés of any typical ghost story and never lets up until the predictable ending. During most of this gothic horror, we watch Radcliffe tiptoeing down long hallways in real time, investigating creaky noises around corners, and starring dolefully out windows at the English marshland. Not even the woman dressed in black, who occasionally appears to him, brings much tension to the script. It’s unfortunate, since the murky look of the film and collection of eerie set pieces – which include rickety toys and ominous statues – add to the miserable atmosphere.
Radcliffe, who can probably steal a few roles away from British actors like James McAvoy and Jamie Bell in the future, will be fine without his Potter safety net. But it’s going to take more than a few cheap scares from a dowdy ghost lady before anyone takes notice.
Starring: Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastin, Sam Worthington
Directed by: John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”), Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass”), and Peter Straughan (“Sixty-Six”)
A friend turns to me an hour into the stimulating espionage thriller “The Debt” during a scene when retired Mossad secret agent Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) deplanes in the Ukraine only thinking of her intended target.
“It’s Jason Bourne’s grandma,” he tells me as Mirren bobs and weaves like a spy 30 years too late for the start of the Cold War. I’d join in with a couple of old-lady jokes if I wasn’t so convinced Mirren could probably Krav Maga my ass into couscous.
All teasing aside, Mirren proves she is one tough homemade cookie as she continues to explore more vivacious supporting characters. It was only a year ago in the action comedy “Red” when she showed us how trigger-happy she could be as a contract killer behind a semiautomatic. In “The Debt,” which is based on the 2007 Israeli film “Ha-Hov,” Mirren loses the smirk and gets serious when a dark secret from her paramilitary past is dug up after the death of a colleague.
Constructed by intense scenes shifting back in time to a young Rachel (Jessica Chastin) and her male cohorts (Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas) hunting down a merciless Nazi monster (Jesper Christensen) in East Berlin in 1965, director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) allows the leisurely-paced narrative to unfold naturally when their mission goes awry.
Chastin carries most of the film’s emotional weight although a melodramatic love triangle doesn’t do the script any favors. Her interaction with Christensen in their handful of unnerving encounters set the tone, which is elevated by some dank-looking cinematography and grim location choices, specifically for the flashbacks.
Unpredictable throughout, “The Debt” may harp on the fine line between fact and fiction a bit much, but with Mirren in the passenger’s seat, there’s little chance the film isn’t going to reach its final destination with some style, class and riveting insight.
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”)
Written by: Ashley Miller (“Thor”), Zack Stentz (“Thor”), Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass”), Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”)
As much as you’d like to get the bad taste out of your mouth cause by director Brett Ratner’s 2006 sequel “X-Men: The Last Stand” and director Gavin Hood’s 2009 prequel debauchery “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” adding “X-Men: First Class” into the series lineup isn’t going to do much good unless you consider yourself a diehard fan of the mutant mythology. “First Class” is another prequel in the franchise and director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”) doesn’t let you forget it for a moment. Want to know how each mutant gets his or her name or how Beast becomes a, well, beast? It’s all right here in this flat, overdone blockbuster. While “First Class” has a bit more style than the last two movies, there is a lack of intrigue no amount of shoddy CGI can save. Come for actor Michael Fassbender (AKA Magneto). He is the saving grace of the film when there’s nothing left to save except the world.
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”) and Jane Goldman (“Stardust”)
When did it all of a sudden become cool again to rip off from Quentin Tarantino? When filmmakers were doing it back in the late 90s, everyone scoffed. Now, they just slap “Tarantinoesque” on it and praise it for its stylized violence. While “Kick-Ass” boasts some of the same campiness as “Kill Bill,” it’s not nearly as fun. Besides the scenes where Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) goes medieval on the bad guys, there is not much behind the rather dull story about a geeky high school kid (Aaron Johnson) who becomes a wanna-be superhero. This should have been a movie about Hit Girl and her father (Nicholas Cage). Instead, the script devotes most of its time to the most uninteresting characters of the bunch.