The Woman in Black

February 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

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.

Albert Nobbs

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Janet McTeer
Directed by: Rodrigo Garcia (“Mother and Child”)
Written by: Glenn Close (debut), John Banville (“The Last September”), Gabriella Prekop (“VII. Oliver”)

When it comes to cross-dressing and film, male characters color coordinating handbags and heels are typically played for laughs (“Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Tootsie,” “The Birdcage”). Those films wherein a female character shows off her masculine side tend more to the dramatic (“Boys Don’t Cry,” “Yentl”). Sure, there are exceptions, but in Hollywood a boy in pantyhose is funny; a girl speaking in a lower register is just too heartbreaking to imagine.

That gender-bending double standard carries over to the occasionally sympathetic but more often stagnant period drama “Albert Nobbs.” Adapted from a short story by Irish novelist George Moore, Nobbs stars five-time Academy Award-nominee Glenn Close (“Dangerous Liaisons”) as a woman living in 19th-century Dublin who disguises herself as a man so she can work as a waiter in an upscale hotel. Waiting on stuffy guests, “Albert” is saving each shilling she earns so she can purchase her own tobacco shop. When Albert’s secret is accidentally revealed, however, her once seemingly attainable dream evolves into something much more complicated.

As Albert, Close takes on the most daring role of her career since the 1987 thriller “Fatal Attraction.” The physical look of the character may not be nearly as unbelievable as Julie Andrews’ in the 1982 musical comedy “Victor Victoria,” but even the noteworthy makeup and prosthetics are a bit bizarre looking. Confined inside her black suit and tie for most of the film, it’s Close’s nervous glances, awkward smiles, and perfunctory movements that actually bring to life this reclusive human being whose character depth should be far more involved than the one-dimensional script would have you believe. “Such a kind little man,” one hotel guest says when describing Albert to her husband. Unfortunately, the rest of the screenplay doesn’t do much better in bringing Albert to light.

Credited as a co-writer, Close, who also wrote the lyrics for the original song “Lay Your Head Down” sung by Sinead O’Connor, cuts corners when attempting to expand on the emotional agony Albert endures. It’s only during a few scenes where she speaks candidly with Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a house painter also facing an identity crisis, when a more meaningful narrative is exposed beyond the tea parties and gossiping help. McTeer, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1999 for “Tumbleweeds,” matches Close shot for shot when they share the screen. The collaboration is poignant, but ultimately gets sidelined in favor of an insignificant relationship between a naive young maid (Mia Wasikowska) and an insensitive maintenance man (Aaron Johnson). Also lost somewhere inside the script is actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“Match Point”), who shows up as a hotel guest for no legitimate reason other than to don Victorian Era garb.

Directed by Rodrigo García, whose last film was the touching 2009 drama “Mother and Child,” “Albert Nobbs” is a picture lacking passion and genuine conflict. It’s also missing that great sense of female empowerment it desperately wants to convey; in fact, it seemingly has no idea where to begin. Putting Albert in a dress and sending him to run on a beach just doesn’t cut it.