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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 10, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 06
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Woman in Black a classic Gothic thriller
by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

The Woman in Black
Now Playing


The Woman in Black is the filmed classic telling of a haunting English Gothic tale. Based on the 1983 book by Susan Hill, the story tells of a shadowy wraith whose sighting carries a powerful curse. With a steady pace and beautiful cinematography, the film provides another vehicle for the star Daniel Radcliffe to prove that when it comes to his acting abilities, we've only seen the tip of the iceberg.

The movie takes place in turn-of-the-century England, in a remote village where the first car has just been introduced. A young lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), is assigned the task of going through the papers of a deceased client at her remote estate, called Eel Marsh House. A lone winding road connects the desolate residence to the village, leading through deep bogs with treacherous quicksand traps. The house is isolated when the tide comes in as the waters wash away the only path through the heavy marshlands. Kipps' appearance is met with the town's resistance, and he soon finds out why.

Aside from the forlorn estate of Eel Marsh being isolated, it also carries a tragic history. Because of this terrible past, the specter of a woman in black has appeared to haunt the estate. The sight of the wraith holds a deadly consequence: it triggers the tragic and horrific death of a child. Odd occurrences begin happening in the deserted house, and Kipps begins having glimpses of the mysterious woman. Immediately, children in the village begin to die, and the people in the town rise in resistance to the young lawyer's pursuit of the mystery. Being a widowed father of a young boy, Kipps becomes drawn further into the shrouded past, and begins to slowly unravel the haunted secrets setting consequences in action.

Daniel Radcliffe plays the widowed lawyer with taut emotion and good pacing. He's learned from some of the best actors in the world, and it shows in his work here. His soft voice and youthfulness allow him to emote both the sense of his character's own personal loss as well as his subtly growing fear at the ghostly appearances. Radcliffe has learned to use not only his own body stance, but control of his facial expressions, to allow us to further understand his character's thoughts. He has done what few other actors have accomplished: he's broken out of his career-making past film history, and has shown us that he is capable of doing far more. That's a good thing with this film's relatively smaller cast, as Radcliffe practically carries the film with his performance - and does it well.

The Woman in Black is a beautifully filmed movie. The cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones does a wonderful job of showing the desolate English manse and the surrounding countryside, by filming in sepia colors and grey tones. The first few appearances of the infamous woman (played by Liz White) is done with such subtlety that you may not notice the blurred movement in the background. She is slowly brought further into the film but never in complete focus until near the end, keeping the audience at as much distance as the main character.

The movie does a great job of showing us the setting, building the storyline, and developing the characters, but it comes to rely on Hollywood tricks - despite it being a British production. The score (by Marco Beltrami) does the job of setting the background mood, but builds too much with false jarring additions. The film's director (James Watkins) falls back on the tried-and-true (but trite) tricks of things jumping out of close-up shots, and quick flashes of things popping out at the audience. Those sleight-of-hand tactics aren't needed here - the storyline holds enough interest. Although the ending of the film differs from that of the novel (I won't give either away here) it was less satisfactory, as the screenplay writer (Jane Goldman) opted for a more 'traditional' movie ending.

The British writer Susan Hill first published her 199-page novella in the United Kingdom on October 10, 1983. Although it has enjoyed several radio incarnations on the BBC, and an adaptation for British television, its greatest success has been the London stage version (written by Stephen Mallatratt). The stage production is told as a two-person-play, with only spectral appearances by the ghostly woman. Originally mounted in 1989, the Gothic thriller has become the second-longest-running play in London's West End, where it is still performed.


Madonna's W.E. revels in superficial artifice
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

W.E.
Opening February 10


As a pure experiment in superficial artifice, Madonna's directorial sophomore effort W.E. is spectacular. From Arianne Phillips' (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) Academy Award-nominated costumes to Hagen Bogdanski's (The Beaver) suitably glossy cinematography to Martin Childs' (Shakespeare in Love) sumptuous production design, the movie is as immaculately detailed and designed as anything a person is ever likely to see, the final product an eye-popping extravaganza of opulence that's borderline extraordinary.

Too bad the movie is a fatuous piece of crap, because if it were even remotely dramatically passable, there might be something to talk about. Madonna's script, co-written with Alek Keshishian (Love and Other Disasters), is a mind-blowing mess, so one-dimensional and filled with melodramatic pabulum one wonders why the Grammy-winning icon even bothered in the first place.

I get that she's been interested for ages in the romance of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII. I understand why she wanted to make a film outside of the boundaries of your typical BBC-style biopic, looking to mix things up by bending time between Manhattan circa 1998 and a pre-WWII England. I applaud the audacity behind tackling such a concept, and by and large I respect Madonna's willingness to devote every ounce of her creative acumen to bringing this picture off.

But so what? When a scenario is as insipid as this one is, when the whole thing is only interested in the surface, in those costumes and that production design, or in the sets or the art direction, when a narrative couldn't care less about its characters no matter which era they live in, why the heck should I be concerned with any of it? The simple truth is that I shouldn't, and other than a budding art student trying to glean a few insights from the sensational visuals, I can't imagine anyone who actually would.

Pity, because Madonna has cast two of the best young actresses working today in this disaster, and then stranded them in nothing roles. Andrea Riseborough, so good in small parts in Brighton Rock and Made in Dagenham, comes off best, portraying Wallis Simpson with an internal feminine ferocity the script only fleetingly hints at. She has decent chemistry with James D'Arcy's King Edward, and even though the script paints him more as a nondescript toothless mannequin than it does anything else, Riseborough manages to give their romance a bit of fire the rest of the picture sadly lacks.

It's a shame that Abbie Cornish cannot do the same. The talented young actress who shimmered in Bright Star, Stop-Loss, and Limitless is stuck in the brutal catastrophe that is the 1998 portion of Madonna's romantic epic. She's Ally Winthrop, a frustrated new wife marooned in an abusive marriage who ends up meeting a Ukrainian security guard (Oscar Isaac) during a Sotheby auction of Wallis' and Edward's estate. But as easy melodramatic fodder as that setup sounds, the movie does nothing with it; so intent on crafting beautiful Hallmark card visuals and music video montages, it leaves its modern-day adulterers mulling around desperately searching for something to do.

At some point, Madonna might make a good movie. She has a good visual eye and (it sort of goes without saying) her sense of style is incandescent. But as a director, she has no idea how to handle actors, and as screenwriter, her writing isn't even up to the same standard as her classic and catchy four-minute pop songs. W.E. shows that, while the superficial glossy surface level sheen is impressive as a dramatic sojourn into love, life, and the mystery of romantic entanglement, this film is as big an epic fail as any I could have personally imagined.






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Jimmy James, diva of a thousand voices
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Woman in Black a classic Gothic thriller
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Madonna's W.E. revels in superficial artifice
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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