There isn't much of a twist to The Woman in Black's haunted house tale: man goes to a creepy old house runs into an angry ghost and mayhem ensues. That standard horror plot would be fine if the execution were thrilling every scare sending a chill down the spine. But star Daniel Radcliffe's first post-Potter outing has less life than its spectral inhabitants with impressive early 20th century production design sharp cinematography and solid performances barely keeping it breathing. Much like the film's titular spirit The Woman in Black hangs in limbo haunting the quality divide.
Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is barely holding on in life having lost his wife during the birth of their child and struggling to stay employed as a lawyer. To stay afloat Kipps reluctantly takes on the job of settling the legal affairs of a recently deceased widow. Living in her home the you-should-have-known-this-house-was-haunted-by-the-name Eel Marsh House Kipps quickly realizes there's more to the woman's life than he realized unraveling her mysterious connections to a string of child deaths and a ghostly presence in the home. Even with pressure from the townspeople Kipps continues his investigation hoping to right any wrongs he's accidentally caused by putting the violent Woman in Black to rest.
Radcliffe bounces back and forth between the dusty mansion made even more forbidding by the high tides that routinely cut it off from civilization and a town full of wide-eyed psychos who live in fear of the kid-killing Woman in Black. Even after losing his own son Kipps' neighbor Daily (Ciarán Hinds) is convinced the "ghost" is a fairy tales while Daily's wife (Oscar nominee Janet McTeer) finds herself occasionally possessed by her dead son scribbling forbidding message to Arthur about future murders. Arthur wrestles with the two extreme points of view but Woman in Black doesn't spend much time exploring the hardships of a skeptic quickly slipping back into standard horror mode at every opportunity. When they have time to play around with the twisted scenario all three actors are top-notch but rarely are they asked to do anything but gasp and react in a terrified manner.
Director James Watkins (Eden Lake) conjures up some legitimately spooky imagery leaving the space behind Arthur empty or cutting to an object in the room that could potentially come back to haunt our befuddled hero all in an effort to tickle our imaginations. But like so many "jump scare" horror flicks Woman in Black relies heavily on the "Bah-BAAAAAAH" music cues obtrusively orchestrated by composer Marco Beltrami. A rocking chair a swinging door and the reveal of a decomposing zombie ghost lady could work on their own especially in such a well-designed environment as Eel Marsh House but Woman in Black insists on zapping a charge of musical electricity straight into our brain forcing us to shiver in the least graceful way possible.
The script by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass X-Men: First Class) tries to throw back to the slow burn character-first horror films of classic cinema while injecting the sensibilities modern filmmaking. The combination turns Woman in Black into visually appealing dramatically bland ghost story. Radcliffe still has a long career ahead of him as Woman in Black does suggest but this isn't the movie that get people thinking there's life after Potter.
127 Hours the new film from Slumdog Millionaire’s Academy Award-winning writer-director duo Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle feels like it was made in the titular time frame. The movie is choppy and fast-paced like the adventures of its daredevil protagonist Aron Ralston who amputated his own arm after an accident in the cavernous regions of Moab Utah in 2003. This kinetic style of filmmaking (similar to how Slumdog was produced) succeeds in artistically recreating the horrific events of those five painful days but prevents the audience from developing an essential emotional connection with the character and renders the movie limp with more style than substance.
The story begins with Mr. Ralston’s (played adequately by James Franco) ritualistic preparation for intense outdoors activities. He ignores his mother’s phone call (and it’s clearly not the first time he’s done this) so he can begin his extreme expedition that much faster. This selfish attribute is true to the character and foreshadows his eventual arc but Boyle stumbles around with irrelevant narrative detours involving a pair of female thrill-seekers and a barely-seen sister and ex-girlfriend. These subplots are ultimately counter-productive and feel out-of-place.
Instead of providing the character’s backstory through a traditional prologue we learn about Ralston’s past through his own sleep/food/water-deprived hallucinations while he’s stuck beneath a boulder at the bottom of a canyon. In this grim ill-fated state the audience is supposed to feel remorseful and on a basic level of human compassion we do. However it’s difficult to sympathize with a character as arrogant and narcissistic as Ralston who admits that he’s brought this situation on himself.
In terms of craft Boyle is at the top of his game. Aron’s spiritual breakthrough is dramatized by surreal visual sequences that deliver the most moving imagery in the entire film. His use of sound effects particularly enhanced the harrowing experience as do the realistic prosthetics used to depict his bloody sacrifice.
Though the film has the tension and suspense that made similarly-themed survival tales like Castaway and Rescue Dawn moving it lacks an introduction that builds a bond between audience and character debilitating the effect of Aron’s eventual triumph. Many will rejoice when they see Ralston emerge from his mountainous prison a wiser and more appreciative man but there’s never much reason to root for him throughout the picture unless you’re simply hoping for a happy ending.
The year is 2057 and Al Gore be damned global cooling is threatening mankind: The sun is on the verge of death which would equal the death of the planet. Seven years earlier a space mission Icarus I was shot up to deliver a payload that would reignite the sun; nobody has since heard from those aboard all of whom are assumed dead. Now it’s up to Icarus II comprised of an eight-passenger crew of physicists and astronauts led by Capt. Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada) and including pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne) biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) and archrivals Capa (Cillian Murphy) and Mace (Chris Evans). As the ship is floating along a blip shows up on the audible radar ostensibly coming from Icarus I. The crew is faced with a difficult crucial decision only to be compounded when a miscalculation by the navigator (Benedict Wong) takes them slightly off course. If they pursue the signal from Icarus I it could unlock key secrets as to what went wrong the first time and provide an extra payload—or it could be a fatal mistake. Either way it’s nowhere near the toughest decision they’ll be forced to make. As a heartthrob who can act Cillian Murphy is precisely the double threat Chris Evans aspires to be someday soon. Maybe that’ll happen on his next movie The Nanny Diaries because Sunshine finds him miscast—and testosterone-y when he’s supposed to be testy. Evans fresh off the more suitable Fantastic Four sequel isn’t quite cut out for the heady stuff in which he must internalize his inner action star. Murphy to be fair is no great shakes either. Clearly he’s now a Danny Boyle favorite but in their last collaboration 2002’s 28 Days Later the doomsday scenario was different and Murphy’s character would’ve been toast if he were half as sedate as his character Capa is in Sunshine. He comes alive towards the end but that’s when the movie comes undone. A possible future Boyle favorite talented Aussie actress Byrne who starred in this year’s Boyle-produced 28 Weeks Later could’ve benefited from more face time—as could have the film. In other words there’s no true female voice. Talented supporters like Yeoh (Memoirs of a Geisha) and Troy Garity (Barbershop) who stars as the second-in-command are grossly underused but Sunshine does need all the Chris Evans it can muster lest bad box office attacks. Just as his actors in Sunshine are our last great hope to save the dying sun director Danny Boyle may be our last great hope to save the sci-fi genre. Accordingly sci-fi fans will definitely love where Boyle’s head is at but the rest of us will think he’s just got a bad case of ADD. Boyle director of beloved movies Trainspotting and 28 Days Later as well as largely reviled The Beach spends most of the movie with proper pacing messages and themes—only to erase it all from our memories with a spastic final act. He takes the ending in all manner of directions and genres after sucking us in with serious quasi-topical commentary on life in general and life aboard a spaceship. It’s too bad. Ditto writer/frequent collaborator Alex Garland (The Beach 28 Days Later) who touches on some fascinating far regions of sci-fi-dom but winds up leaving them in space dust to co-indulge on the ending. The superb cinematography is on par with that of Boyle’s past work but the simpler shots are more entrancing than the complex ones: When the characters sit on an observation deck to reflect on a close-up of the burning sun it’s more profound and impressive than the frenetic special-effects-heavy camerawork at the end. Which is perhaps the best way to sum up the slow-fast dynamic of the film.
For a few years in the '60s and '70s producer Gerry Anderson made "supermarionation" all the rage in the world of British children's television. His stop-motion puppets starred in a number of sci-fi adventure series most memorably Thunderbirds which followed the exploits of International Rescue -- a team comprised of ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his sons. Based out of their secret fortress on Treasure Island the Tracys (aided by lovely secret agent Lady Penelope) used their amazing rocket-powered vehicles to prevent disasters and save lives around the world. Now 40 years after Thunderbirds' TV debut Star Trek vet Jonathan Frakes has brought Anderson's characters to life on the big screen. Front and center is youngest son Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) who dreams of the day he too can pilot one of his family's fab ships and lead missions. But first he has to prove himself to his father Jeff (Bill Paxton). That opportunity comes sooner than either expects when mysterious villain The Hood (Ben Kingsley) strands Jeff and the older Tracy boys in space and attacks Treasure Island. With only his friends Tintin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) and Fermat (Soren Fulton) to help him Alan has to grow up quickly if he wants to save his family ... and the world!
It would be easy to mock several of the performances in Thunderbirds-- to chide Paxton for his earnest seriousness as Tracy patriarch Jeff to dismiss Corbet's angst-tinged eagerness as Alan to roll your eyes at Kingsley's over-the-top mystical fierceness as The Hood and to wince at Fulton and Anthony Edwards' nerdy stuttering as science whizzes Fermat and his dad Brains. But actors are only as good as their script and the one Frakes has given his cast (courtesy of screenwriters William Osborne and Michael McCullers) is weak and clichéd at best filled with after-school-special-worthy lessons for Alan to learn. "You can't save everyone " Jeff tells his son somberly and even Tintin has a moral for her crush when he's feeling selfish and indulging in self-pity: "This is hard on all of us Alan." Talk about insight! What makes it even more frustrating is knowing that the actors are capable of much more even the kids: Both Corbet and Hudgens did well with supporting roles in Thirteen. Thunderbirds' only real bright spot is Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope. A cross between Reese Witherspoon's Elle in Legally Blonde and Jennifer Garner's Sydney on Alias Myles' Lady P doesn't let her pink couture wardrobe prevent her from coolly kicking ass when the situation demands it. Attended by her droll driver/man-of-all-trades Parker (Ron Cook) Lady Penelope is a fresh feisty heroine with all of the film's best lines -- and the coolest car to boot.
Frakes cut his directorial teeth on episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and his first feature film was Star Trek: First Contact so he would seem like a natural choice to bring a cult sci-fi TV show to the big screen. Unfortunately while he does an admirable job re-creating (and improving on) the original Thunderbirds' mod sets cool ships and special effects (which are fine if a bit more TV-sized than summer blockbustery) Frakes can't seem to decide who his audience is. If he was aiming at grown-ups who remember the show fondly from their own childhood he should have embraced the source material's campiness (à la Starsky and Hutch) rather than restricting it to the Tracys' plastic Barbie-like furniture and Lady P's bouffant hairdo. If on the other hand Frakes was hoping to entertain today's kids he should have really reinvented the show for a 21st-century world (à la Stephen Hopkins'1998 Lost in Space) rather than clinging to the '60s references As it is he's stuck somewhere in the middle leaving adults bored during the kids-on-an-adventure bits and children mystified by the handful of jokes aimed at their parents.
As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.
The Associated Press reports Robert De Niro has filed a $1 million lawsuit Monday over a photo taken of him and actor Sean Penn blowing out birthday candles at a private party last year. The actors share the same birthday--Aug. 17--and were celebrating last year at a rooftop party in New York's TriBeCa area when the photo was taken. Celebrity Vibe photo agency offered the photo for sale, and it has appeared in one newspaper and one national magazine, De Niro's lawyer told AP. The suit, which names Celebrity Vibe in the filing, claims someone sneaked into the party, while Celebrity Vibe maintains its photographer was invited.
The London Evening Standard reports Friends star Matt LeBlanc has announced plans to marry his girlfriend, Melissa McKnight, at Christmas. The pair have been engaged since November 1998.
Actor Jason Priestley remained in serious but stable condition Monday after undergoing six hours of surgery last Wednesday, People.com reports. The actor fractured both feet and his spine Aug. 11 when his race car hit a wall at 180 mph, but his doctors have said the 32-year-old racing enthusiast is expected to make a full recovery and could start rehabilitation as early as this week. That just sounds painful, doesn't it?
Lot 47 Films President Jeff Lipsky has resigned from the independent film distribution company he co-founded with his brother three years ago. Lot 47 has released films such as L.I.E., Scotland, PA and The Fast Runner. Variety reports he is leaving for "personal reasons," but will remain on the company's board.
Thanks to the success of Scooby-Doo, now there's going to be Hong Kong Phooey. Director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 2) will adapt the 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon about a clumsy dog detective who uses kung fu to stop the bad guys. It'll be a smash, no doubt.
American Idol producers are worried "power dialers"--so-called computer nerds with high-powered Internet connections and autodialing software--have been slamming the show's voting system with thousands of votes, making it difficult for individuals redialing manually to get their votes through. "We know who these people are and we're tracking them, and if it gets to a point where they're starting to support a specific person over another, then there are steps that we have discussed that we may take at that time," Michael Eaton, vice president of home entertainment for Freemantle Media, the show's London-based producer, told CNN.com.
A porn star on the next Survivor? This could be interesting. CBS producers are defending their decision to allow porn actor Brian Heidik, who also had a guest stint on Days of Our Lives, to join the upcoming Survivor: Thailand edition.Said the network in a statement, "CBS was aware of his past film credits, but all of our survivors ultimately have the option to decide what elements of their background they do and don't want written in their bios. Brian Heidik is certainly not the first actor to omit certain credits from his biography. While this is a part of his past, he is now a successful used-car salesman raising a family in the suburbs, and we feel he definitely brings something to the show." What that something is, exactly, remains to be seen.
Attorneys for Courtney Love are expected to ask for another extension on Tuesday in the singer's court dispute with her record label, Universal Music Group, as both sides continue talks to settle the case. Universal claims Love owes the company several more albums, while Love counters that the long contract terms are unrealistic.