Category Archives: British

69. The Woman in Black – James Watkins (2012)

First Viewing.

There’s not been too many horror reviews over the past 60+ entries on this blog, I’ve never really been the biggest fan of the genre. However, there are a few that I do love, The Exorcist, naturally, The Fly (1986 version), possibly not quite a horror, but pretty damn creepy, El Ofanto, and a small bunch of Asian films. That’s about it. The problem that I have with the whole genre is that I’m not really scared by them, and this isn’t a macho boast or anything, cos there’s plenty of things that do scare me, like people preparing my food with dirty hands, Joan Rivers/Pete Burns’ plastically altered faces, or getting a really bad hair cut.  Horror films, on the other hand, don’t bring on the night terrors, so when I see a horror flick it needs to be more than something just trying to scare the crap out of me. So, bearing that in mind, I present a quick review of The Woman in Black.

We all know Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, even to someone like me who’s only seen a couple of the films and never read any of the books he is Harry Potter. He’ll always be known for those performances. This is the first role I’ve seen him in playing someone other than a wizard, and, I suspect, the first time most other people have too. So, the big question is, does he manage to jump out of that huge spectacled shadow? I would say yes, to a certain extent. His performance is very sound, well acted, and I didn’t expect him to call for Ron at the first sign of trouble. However, I don’t think he was quite right for the role, he seems way too young. The story revolves around Arthur (Radcliffe) visiting a house, circa 1910, that has recently had a death in it, and his job is to correct paperwork for a will. Arthur is also a widower, and left with a young son. As you can guess certain things start happening to Arthur once he reaches the house, and so on…. The problem I had with Radcliffe playing a widower like Arthur is that he doesn’t carry enough gravitas or weariness to make the character seem real. He’s too fresh-faced. He does the best he can under the circumstances, but, picking a name off the top of my head,  say Johnny Depp, for instance, he would have been much more suitable. This isn’t so much a criticism of Radcliffe, but more of the casting process for the film. No doubt though having Radcliffe attached certainly helped get the movie made and, subsequently, receive plenty of attention in the press when it was released, so I can see why he’s in the lead role.

The film, as a whole, is pretty good. It ticks all the boxes for me when it comes to horror; it’s not utterly predictable, it’s fairly suspenseful and it doesn’t have characters walking around doing completely stupid things like so many other horrors movies do. I’ve always been an advocate of the “less is more” approach to making a horror. I honestly don’t want to see dozens of people sawn to death (unless it’s the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and so on, but give me flickering ghosts/people in the corner of the room, and some creepy music and I’m a lot more happy. Building up suspense is a much underrated movement in modern horror it seems. Thankfully The Woman in Black goes for the understated approach, in fact, it does it even more than I thought possible. It really takes it too the limit, and, I guess, perhaps that’s why this film doesn’t get the best wrap from other viewers. It’s, arguably, a little too slow and methodical for most peoples taste. I liked it though.

All in all I don’t really have too many complaints. It’s a good “nuts and bolts” horror as Mark Kermode would say, and that’s fine with me.

Marks out of ten – Seven.

 

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64. Richard II – Rupert Goold (2012)

First Viewing.

“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings”

This the first of four Shakespeare adaptations made by the BBC for part of their Hollow Crown season. The other three plays in the teratology are Henry IV part one, Henry IV part two, and, Henry V. The plays are a collection of historical works by Shakespeare and follow King Richard II and his successors. Anyone familiar with the BBC’s 1970s adaptations of Shakespeare’s complete works will recall the oft parodied wobbly sets, rigid actors, and, a general brown-to-brown grey colour palate. This 21st century adaptation, thankfully, is nothing at all like that. It’s positively vibrant with colour, shot on some stunning locations, and beautifully performed.

The one single thing that stands head and shoulders above everything in this adaptation is Ben Whishaw’s performance as Richard II. It is like nothing I have witnessed in any performance of Shakespeare before. Whishaw has been a favourite actor of mine since his performance in Brideshead Revisited (as Sebastian Flyte) and also his turn in the criminally unappreciated TV show, Nathan Barley, so I might be a little partisan, but it is a remarkable performance. This may sound quite bizarre, but Whishaw seems to be channelling the spirit of Michael Jackson, there’s a feeble soft spoken charm to every word he utters. I really can’t describe it in any more of an accurate way. He even has a pet monkey! It’s really quite captivating to see such risks taken with the title role. The language of Richard II is markedly more wordy and metaphorical than other historical Shakespearian plays, yet Whishaw’s performance is so strong that one never feels lost in the protracted verses.  After Whishaw role as Michael II Richard II there continues a whole list of great performances including Patrick Stewart as a reserved and dignified John of Gaunt, and a thunderous David Morrissey as the Earl of Northumberland.

Goold, interestingly, plays with the idea of Richard II as an icon, he visually likens him to Jesus on frequent occasions. There is a similarity in the fate of the characters, but one never quite gets the idea of Whishaw’s Richard II as a religious figure. He talks of the power of God, and of England, and what it means to be king, yet I never saw Richard II as a martyr. He is too self-serving and angst ridden to be one.

This is a fantastic adaptation, Goold, without using worn out tricks like changing time periods, has updated Richard II to a contemporary and relevant piece. I don’t know exactly what the budget was, despite extensive googling on my part, but I’m positive it was huge. And it was well spent.

Marks out of ten – Nine

 

 

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63. The Raid – Gareth Evans (2012)

First Viewing.

This movie isn’t for the faint of heart or weak stomached; It’s 90 minutes of action, pain and brutality. The premise of The Raid is a little unusual, it’s part kung fu movie crossed with an American cop show, and directed by a Welshman. The setting is a Indonesian housing estate, one of the poorest in the country, and a SWAT team has been dispatched to bring in a notorious drug baron, but, of course, it doesn’t go down as everyone expects. The film has every single cop movie cliché in the book; the naive young rookie, the cop with a pregnant wife, the crooked cop, and a few more that I won’t mention to avoid those pesky spoilers. They’re not hard to guess though! It’s fair to say that the script is a little predictable, but that’s really not what this movie is about. It’s about action. And, damn, there’s a lot of action. The Raid has some of the most exciting fight sequences I’ve seen. I’m by no means a connoisseur of the kung fu genre, but this looks like wild stuff. Some scenes are so intense that you start to feel fatigued by it all. The action scenes avoid the trappings of cutting everything so fast that it becomes a blur, there’s long takes and you can see the effort the actors are putting in. It occasionally looks a bit rough around the edges, you can see a punch missed, or a knife not quite cutting flesh, but I found that quite charming (in the most violent way) as it feels much more real. We’re not submitted to the horrors of CGI moment after CGI moment. It’s an extremely visceral experience. It is a particularly bloody experience too. There’s a lot of extreme violence, and the characters are far from remorseful about it all. You may wish to take a sick bag, one or two moments are intense!

There’s enough pure action and plot twists, predictable or not, to make this a hugely entertaining movie. The fights sometimes go on for too long, the clichés are a constant presence, and there’s almost zero character development, but it’s just a whole lot of fun to watch. It’s destined to be a cult classic. It won’t get the same kind of attention as say an Oldboy or Infernal Affairs achieved, but it’ll have plenty of fans nonetheless.

Marks out of ten – Seven

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46. Brief Encounter – David Lean (1945)

Repeat viewing.

England may not have as fine a tradition of cinematic excellence as some other European countries, I’m thinking France mainly here, but we do have a fair amount of great movies that capture our country exquisitely, and none more so than Brief Encounter. If England were ever needed to be represented by a movie to be shown to visitors from a galaxy far, far away then you couldn’t pick anything more suitable than this. It’s what I loved about this country. It’s charming, witty, and beautifully sad. It captures a country recovering from war and entering into a period of great change and the two main characters, Laura and Alec, capture this moment perfectly. Both are married, both, it would seem, love their partner, and both have fallen in love with each other. They want each other, but know the consequences of running off together are terrible in the eyes of society. It’s the eternal question, should one do what one wants or should one do what is considered right? The films follows the characters as they make their choices. Of course being English and living in the 1940s they, Alec and Laura, cannot possibly confess their love of another person to any of their friends or acquaintances, they have appearances to uphold, and that famous stiff upper lip to adhere to, so nearly everything we hear on the subject of love is from the inner monologue of Laura. It works rather well here, but it isn’t exactly the best way to tell a film and this technique would crash and burn in other films, especially ones much less charming than this.

This film, as you may or may not know, was written by one of the legends of English playwright history, Noel Coward, the Shakespeare of his day, except he’d be more likely to be found with a Martini  in his hand rather than a goblet of red wine. Coward creates a beautiful script with such perfect dialogue that it left myself pining for the days when the people of this country spoke with eloquence and wit, not the bastard love-child of Dick Van Dyke and Ali G we’re left with instead. I also cannot finish this review without mentioning the director, David Lean, another shining star in English history. The direction is so perfect here that one barely even notices the lack of set-pieces and how this film really is a play at it’s heart.

Marks out of ten – Eight

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43. Tabloid – Errol Morris (2010)

First Viewing.

In the interests of full disclosure and fairness I should say that I’m not the hugest fan of documentaries. Now I wouldn’t say I hate them, but it’s not often I’ll pick watching one over a dramatized narrative movie. I think I’m still a little scarred from film-school and their endless, and I might say fruitless, attempts to get me to watch and make more documentaries. It’s just not my thing, I’m all about the fictional motion-picture….

I did, however, enjoy Tabloid. It’s a crazy story with, perhaps, the craziest of all endings. Certainly the surrealist ending I’ve ever known in a documentary, I mean it goes from a religious-bondage-kidnapping film into a Korean-dog cloning story in a matter of moments. Like all documentaries it really depends on how interesting you find the story being told as to whether you’ll enjoy it. Joyce McKinney is bizarrely engaging enough to keep you entertained, but it’s the nature of the British press and it’s, um, unusual methods for reporting a story that are real high points of the story being told, or maybe I should say low points? It’s a interesting enough film, but it ain’t no La Grande Illusion.

Marks out of ten – Six

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40. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Tomas Alfredson (2011)

First Viewing.

After the huge success of the, well, lets be honest, tad overrated Let the Right One In Alfredson has been trusted with the reigns to a comparatively large budgeted English language film. Alfredson, known for his downbeat style of filmmaking, brings a similar colour palette over from his Swedish movies and paints London in a swell of greys, faded greens and lacklustre blues. London looks cold and unloved, mirroring our protagonist George Smiley’s mood. Gary Oldman, as Smiley, provides a performance of great subtlety, and profundity, he never gives a breath away more than he needs to. It’s positively sombre, if you know what I mean. The film is littered with great performances, from Colin Firth’s snidey Bill Haydon right across to Tom Hardy’s hardy Ricki Tarr. And they are all photographed in a beautiful, detatched way. You can really notice Alfredon’s love of long lenses, which he employs adroitly to capture and distance us from each character. The nature of the film reminded me of the great Coppola film, The Conversation, – I’d take watching The Conversation any day of the week, and twice on a Sunday, over Apocalypse Now, but that’s a whole different blog entry waiting to happen- they both build up their narrative in an equally enthralling way. However, and here is my main bone of contention with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the ending lacks something. I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t seen it yet, but there’s a distinct lack of surprise to it all. I shall say no more, but that’s what’s stopping me from scoring it more highly.

(I apologize for calling Tom Hardy hardy, I can’t resist a pun.)

Marks out of ten – Eight.

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29. Shame – Steve McQueen (2011)

First Viewing

After a fair amount of hype about the provocative nature of Shame I can’t help but feel this is all style over very little substance. McQueen directs his arse off, but the audiences complete lack of connection with any of the characters makes the film an utterly aesthetic pleasure. The supposed depravity of the main character, Brandon (Fassbender), has been taken to greater lengths with far more shameful acts performed in appreciably more accomplished films (Gaspar Noé’s work immediately springs to mind) often with deeper, more interesting characters and considerably better scripts. Brandon trends too close to unintentionally pastiching Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman (from American Psycho.) I almost expected Fassbender to announce he had “some videotapes to return” and start chopping the heads off of unsuspecting hookers. The saving grace of Shame is the cinematography, it’s often beautiful and the extended, uncut scenes are wonderfully acted and composed, they really are the high points of the film. However it’s not enough to save the film for me, and, if anything, Shame doesn’t go far enough, it’s too much of a tease.

Marks out of ten – Six

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13. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? – Mike Nichols (1966)

First Viewing.

I’m sure this joke’s been made before, but you could be forgiven for thinking this is a documentary of Burton and Taylor’s marriage. It’s intense, it’s fiery, and it’s wonderful. Burton and Taylor devour Albee’s cruel and cutting lines and give, perhaps, their finest performances captured on film. The best moments of this film are Burton and Taylor going at each other, Segal and Dennis hold up their end of the picture, but there’s no doubt where the greatness in this movie lies.

Marks out of ten – Nine

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11. LA Without A Map – Mika Kaurismäki (1998)

First Viewing.

Charming without ever being close to greatness. Vincent Gallo’s acting vacuum- as ever- is a reason to watch LA w/o a Map. Johnny Depp’s cameo(s) is amusing too. (And it has the bloke who was Doctor Who as the lead!) It’s predictable, formulaic and fun, there’s really not much more to say.

Marks out of ten – Six

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