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Quite a lot of how I felt about The Woman in Black had to do with the atmosphere in which I watched it. I can happily confirm that I enjoyed it, but suspect that I would have enjoyed it much more under other circumstances (which I will because I liked enough to add it to my must buy list); but more of that anon.

Background:

I like a good scary movie. I love a good Hammer film. I have on occasion been too freaked to continue watching (I’m looking at you, Christopher Lee in Curse of Frankenstein) but I’ve seen enough of them and their rivals at Amicus to know that I like the style. I have read Susan Hill’s novel at least twice. I watched the 1989 TV adaptation in which Pauline Moran scared the living daylights out of me (and why can’t you get this on DVD? C’mon telly people, sort this out). So this new version had a lot to live up to but it was a story I loved and I was predisposed to enjoy it.

Context:

The Book God and I decided that it would be a good idea to go and see this on Valentine’s Day so we toodled off to our local Odeon and were slightly surprised to see a lot of people, most of them teenagers, whom I naively assumed were waiting to get into The Muppets screening next door. But no. They were all waiting to see TWIB because I had forgotten two things: the impact of Twilight and The Daniel Radcliffe Effect. For yes, the teenage audience was made up of young couples on a date (red roses much in evidence) and teenage girls wanting to see young Harry all grown up. And that meant stage whispers, nervous laughter and screaming at anything sudden on screen whether it was frightening or not. So all of my remarks about the film need to be seen in the context of a middle-aged woman turning into her mother on the spot and on one occasion turning to the young couple behind me and telling them to sit still and keep quiet.

Yes, this is what I have become.

The Film:

Having said all that I saw and heard enough to know that I really did like the film. It had some good scares, a strong supporting cast (step up Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer), good atmosphere and lovely visuals. There were times when I really felt I was watching an old Hammer movie with lanterns and open graves and handsome young heroes trying to put things right.

The Woman herself was suitably creepy and although the story had been changed a bit I didn’t mind too much at all. Daniel Radcliffe did a pretty good job, I think, but when he smiles he still looks about twelve and for that reason I couldn’t quite see him as the father of a four-year old. But when he was facing up to supernatural nastiness he was great.

This is the third ghost story I’ve seen in the past few months and its interesting to compare them. The Others is full of paranoia, The Awakening is imbued with loss and sadness, but The Woman in Black is soaked in malevolence and evil. Together they would make an excellent Hallowe’en triple bill. My heart probably couldn’t stand it though. Because despite what one of the teenage girls said walking into the screening, it may only be a 12A but it can be scary.

Chronicle is a film that came in entirely under my radar, but when I became aware of it I knew that it was something I had to see. And when the Book God and I couldn’t decide exactly what film to see one Sunday in February (he favoured The Muppets, I was holding out for The Woman in Black) we settled on this as a good compromise, and I’m so glad we did.

So, I’m going to try to set this up without giving away too much of the plot; three friends at high school make a discovery, something potentially alien but certainly out of the ordinary which has a real impact on them. Over the next few days, weeks and months they each begin to develop what can only be described as superpowers – telekinesis and the ability to fly being but two. And they’re teenage boys so of course they muck about quite a bit, and then something happens which makes them realise just how powerful they have become and they try to put some rules around their behaviour. But as their real lives start to intrude things get much, much darker…..

Somebody (I can’t find the reference, sorry) referred to this as “Superman: The Home Movie”, and although a bit flip I can see what they meant; this is a found footage movie in the tradition of Blair Witch and my absolute favourite, Cloverfield. The ever-present camera is explained pretty well at the outset and maintains its plausibility right up until the ending, which while satisfying in story terms did stretch the structure a bit for me. But that is a minor quibble in what was a really absorbing film about something many of us might have thought about in an idle moment: what would I do with superpowers if I had them?

Well, I’ve certainly wondered that…..

The young cast is largely unknown, Josh Trank is a first time director and I found the whole thing pretty impressive. Parts of the denouement reminded me of one of my other big favourites, The Fury, in terms of atmosphere at least. Some horror fans have wondered what the director might have been able to do if this had been an 18 certificate, and that could indeed have been interesting but I think it works very well as it stands.

Already added it to my must buy list.

What IMDB said:

An American military advisor embraces the Samurai culture he was hired to destroy after he is captured in battle.

Why Silvery Dude thought I should watch this:

If Tom Cruise is a guilty secret then this is a treat for you.  In this film he ‘does proper acting’ and combined with beautiful, beautiful scenery and epic cinematography, this film is a heart-wrenching tale of struggle, honour and friendship.

A film that stays with you.

My thoughts on seeing the film:

Well. I adored this film.

I don’t believe in guilty secrets. If you like something you should step up and say so.

The Cruise thing is something I’ve addressed elsewhere, most recently here, so if you want to know what I think about him as an actor then that is where you have to go, but I will say that I think he has the capacity to be a great actor, though his choice of films occasionally leaves something to be desired (I have not yet been able to bring myself to watch Knight and Day, for example). And as far as I’m concerned long-haired Tom Cruise always beats short-haired Tom Cruise, though he did look pretty cool at this year’s Oscars.

No other word for it. The Last Samurai looks wonderful, the story is epic and sweeping and majestic, there is love and honour and loyalty by the shedload. The Cruiser acts his socks off, drunken and brooding and then occasionally the dazzling grin appears in a flash as he gets to know the children in the village where he is effectively a prisoner, and of course he does the whole taking hard knocks to earn respect while never actually giving in thing which is an absolute given in this sort of film. He may be a drunk, but he’s a noble drunk and of course he regains his self-respect through allying himself with a worthy but apparently futile cause.

For of course, this is a Western that just happens to be set in Japan.

The supporting cast is absolutely excellent. Ken Watanabe strikes the right balance of noble warrior and ruthless fighter, trying to protect his young emperor. The bad guys get their comeuppance appropriately, the ending is suitably satisfying and Timothy Spall is great. But, much as I love Billy Connelly (and I so, so do) he needs to give up on that “Irish” accent.

The one thing I didn’t really expect was to spend the last thirty minutes or so of the film in floods of tears, I was sobbing like an idiot but that just added to the whole experience.

Lovely, lovely stuff.

This is my second film in my Films to Watch before I’m 51 personal challenge.

What IMDB says:

Clarence marries hooker Alabama, steals cocaine from her pimp, and tries to sell it in Hollywood, while the owners of the coke try to reclaim it

Why Silvery Dude thought I should watch this:

Because it’s the unsung best film from Tarantino.  It’s such a love story, whilst raw and slightly grubby at the same time.  The performances he has wrought from his actors deserved far greater acclaim than they necessarily received at the time.

It’s so ‘vast America’ meets ‘ordinary Joe struggling to get by’ meets, I don’t know what.  You’ll be a different person once you have watched this

What I thought:

The big issue for me was Christian Slater; I have never really warmed to the man. The only film of his that I have seen and enjoyed was Heathers which, lets face it, is a brilliant movie which not even he could have ruined. I just don’t get him at all; his eyes are too close together as evidenced in The Name of the Rose (a bit distracting, though that might have been due to the dreadful haircut) and he was very annoying in Interview with the Vampire (though admittedly the circumstances were difficult).

A dislike of the main actor isn’t always a problem, but here we have a story of love at first sight and lifelong obsession and I kept on asking myself what on earth Patricia Arquette’s character saw in him. Which kind of undermines the whole lovers on the run thing as I was hoping she would ditch him. Which of course I knew was never going to happen, but still, one can dream.

The other thing was the violence. Not in general (it’s a Tarantino script after all) but specifically against women. Now, this is not something that generally bothers me; I read a lot of horror and serial killer crime and believe me there is no more likely place to find that type of violence than there, but I tend to accept it and move on unless it is particularly gratuitous. Even in films I can sort of put up with it though on occasions I feel grossed out (there was a Russ Meyer film which I have thankfully largely blanked from my memory and don’t get me started on the impregnation scene in Rosemary’s Baby) and I’m generally not a huge fan of slasher pics.

For some reason I was really bothered by a lengthy scene involving Alabama which I thought was just too much.

But having said all that there was an awful lot to enjoy. Patricia Arquette was great and I really liked her character, dozy though she may have been. The cameos were superb; Gary Oldman was good value and Brad Pitt was possibly the best thing in it, except perhaps for the Christopher Walken face off with Dennis Hopper which was remarkable. the script was clever and the premise was a bit absurd. And I have a real soft spot for Saul Rubinek so loved all of his scenes.

So, put simply, I enjoyed the film but it wasn’t great. This was a bit of a disappointment for Silvery Dude who felt responsible for Christian Slater – however, no one should have that burden on their shoulders, so I have let him off on the grounds that the next film on the list stars *sigh* Tom Cruise.

This is my first film in my Films to Watch before I’m 51 personal challenge.