Published at KCActive.com on June 1, 2012
The Woman in Black
You don’t see many old-fashioned Victorian ghost stories nowadays, and that alone makes The Woman in Black worth a look. Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, it has an interesting plot and creepy atmosphere to spare. Add a grave, grown-up performance by Daniel Radcliffe, and you’ve got a modestly successful attempt to bring back an old-school genre.
Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young attorney in 1910s England assigned to settle the estate of a recluse whose house lies outside a depressing, marshy village. The locals have good reason to feel gloomy — they’ve been haunted for years by a spectral female figure, connected to the house, whose appearances coincide with horrific child deaths. And she’s not too happy about Arthur’s visit.
Director James Watkins is working here for the revived Hammer Studios, and his pacing and visual style do his bosses proud. He’s also got a bunch of great character actors in supporting roles, including Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer as a troubled couple Arthur befriends.
The ghost herself is terrifying, although Watkins regularly undercuts the impact of her appearances with lots of screeching sound effects and an annoying musical score. Arthur engages in the kind of rock-stupid behavior that propels so many horror plots, never missing a chance to wander down a dark hallway or force open a locked door. Radcliffe is too sympathetic to make you actually root for the ghost, but it’s not much easier to root for someone this clueless.
Extras: Commentary by Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goldman; a standard making-of doc and one on Radcliffe’s casting. (PG-13) Rating: 3 — LL
Some of the best Shakespeare adaptations are set in very non-Shakespearean environments. Ian McKellen’s brilliant Richard III took place in a quasi-Nazi England. Baz Luhrmann got millions of teenagers to pay attention to Romeo and Juliet by putting the lovers in the middle of an urban crime drama. Now, Ralph Fiennes tackles Coriolanus, giving one of the Bard’s lesser-known tragedies a very modern polish.
Fiennes both directs and stars as the title character, a brilliant military leader whose skills give him access to political power. He disdains the citizens he’s expected to lead, however, and his tactlessness eventually gets him banished from his home city, “a place calling itself Rome.”
This version of Rome could be any floundering democracy, and Fiennes cannily uses images of bloodshed and protest to drive home just how universal the play’s themes are.
Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s toughest characters to make sense of, especially when he joins forces with his longtime enemy, Aufidius (Gerard Butler), in what seems like the world’s deadliest tantrum. Fiennes is up to the task, and he has a dream supporting cast in Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, and especially Vanessa Redgrave, as Coriolanus’ ambitious mother. This is the kind of movie that should be shown in English lit classes — not to mention political science, media studies, acting and film production. Just show it everywhere.
Extras: Commentary by Fiennes; a short making-of feature. (R) Rating: 4.5 —LL