The Woman in Black

This review won’t be very detailed… as I think I only saw about half the film actually in focus through my glasses. The rest of it was spent with my gaze fixed on the bottom of the screen so that I could still see what was going on (over the top of my glasses and so as a vague blur, even four rows from the front) enough to follow the story – but not enough to be scared out of my chair by the sudden, rotting appearances of said Woman in Black.

I wanted to see this film primarily because I wanted to see Daniel Radcliffe not being Harry Potter, and also because sometimes I get these urges to go against type and watch scary films, even though as soon as I sit down I remember that I don’t enjoy being made to jump every five seconds. The Woman in Black wasn’t actually too bad in this respect – it did make you jump but not just for the sake of it, and when it did it was actually terrifying, unlike Drag Me To Hell, which was just disappointing (and exhausting!).

The Woman in Black did reinforce one suspicion that I’ve had for a long time – children are creepy. On a ghost walk in York none of the stories that the guide told were quite so chilling as the one involving disembodied children’s laughter, and small, cold hands slipping into yours as you walked along. Wet, dead children are even creepier, and there were certainly a lot of those in this film. There’s a reason why I didn’t go and see The Ring, and I was reminded of it almost every scene throughout The Woman in Black!

Radcliffe was impressive as grieving, haunted lawyer Arthur Kipps, and Ciaran Hinds a strong supporter as firmly grounded Tom Daily. The real star – if that’s the right word – of the film was the Woman in Black, an unquestionably malevolent spirit on a very effective quest for revenge. The split second views of her are the most hard-hitting, glimpses in reflections, through a zoetrope and just before the camera switches angles. The tension is built and built, in almost every scene there’s an unescapable sense of threat that has you jumping at bottles being opened, or water coming out of taps as you frantically search the edges of the screen for whatever is unquestionably lurking just out of sight.

The film is uncompromisingly bleak, even the ending, which attempts at least a little redemption for all involved, is hardly happy, and I stumbled out of the cinema in serious need of some bright lights and laughter. For scares and chills perfectly balanced against jumps and shocks, The Woman in Black excels. Genuinely frightening, this film for the most part manages to avoid descending into cliche and convention, giving a satisfying and enjoyable – in a dark sort of way! – experience.

Man on a Ledge

This film caught my eye by it’s brilliantly imaginative title – but it is at least accurate. Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks and Ed Harris and Jamie Bell star in this thriller/heist flick.

There is indeed a man on a ledge for most of this film, although it’s clear even from the trailer that something more than a suicide threat is going on. The tension is ramped up nicely in the bank heist, and some of the methods Joey (Bell) and Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) use are truly brilliant (skateboard, anyone?!). There’s just enough tension, thrills and subtle laughs to get the pitch just right, and this film is hugely enjoyable. Worthington can be a little wooden, although in this, as in The Debt, he displays convincing depths.

Man on a Ledge, similarly to Haywire, is a film that reveals its story as it goes along. This film however, strikes it right, and you are drawn in, mostly by the fact that it’s never really clear, until the film is at least two-thirds of the way through, whether Nick (Worthington) is guilty or innocent, or at first, even what he did. The twists are small but manage to be surprising, and the ending is, if cheesy, then definitely happy and satisfying.

A surprisingly enjoyable and good film, one that is well worth watching.

Underworld: Awakening (Spoilers!)

Regular readers of this blog will know how I feel about sequels. And 3D. Unfortunately, this installment of the Underworld cycle fulfils all the worst parts of both.

Selene is back, awakened after 12 years in cryo-sleep in a research facility. She’s lost Michael (Scott Speedman) but gained a daughter (India Eisley). The previous Underworld films were pretty good, I actually really enjoyed Rise of the Lycans, because sometimes, when one storyline has reached a good stopping point (at the end of Underworld: Evolution), there are other aspects of the world to still explore. In Awakening, it appears that the only aspect of Selene and Michael’s story left to explore was what would happen if the film was given a seemingly unlimited effects budget (not a good thing here) and no money for an actual storyline.

For all brief 88 minutes of Awakening (and believe me, it feels much longer) we are treated to uncountable shots of Selene diving in slow motion and full rubber-cat-suited 3D out of windows, off ledges, at Lycans, humans, out of the way of cars, bullets etc – pretty much any excuse to leap and dive and fly gracefully through the air really. This wouldn’t be a problem, if the story warranted the effects, but Awakening is an excellent example of a film where story plays second or even third fiddle to the effects. Yes, Lycan’s transforming into full wolf-ish forms is impressive in slo-mo 3D, but it doesn’t warrant a whole film.

The ending left things open and set for another installment – I can only hope that for that one they remember that they’re supposed to be telling a story, as well as making it look good.

Haywire (Spoilers!)

Steven Soderbergh’s latest offering – a taut assassin-on-the-run thriller starring MMA champion Gina Careno as gun for hire Mallory, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas and Michael Fassbender.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Haywire – I knew it had been written as a vehicle for Careno after Soderbergh had seen her on a TV fight – but I had no idea about the finer points of the story.

This didn’t really change, even as the film unfolded. I like plots that gradually grow clearer as you feel your way through them, it usually makes for a more immersive experience, but with Haywire, I sat in mostly patient hope that soon I’d be allowed in and really get into the story. The film focused tightly on Mallory’s point of view, and as such we stumbled in her wake as she discovered what was going on. Whether because Careno’s not primarily an actress, or because the role was written that way – and to be fair it could be either – Mallory is a very closed off, self-contained character, who doesn’t let on what she’d thinking or feeling to anyone. Including the audience. This would be fine, but with few external pointers, it made it difficult to get a sense of the larger picture. She was so business-like, almost cold and definitely hard, that it was difficult to believe that anything really affected her on an emotional level. Which made it difficult to fully invest in the story, so that when the final unveiling came, it elicited more of an “oh well, I’m sure she’ll cope” than anything more compassionate.

The stunts and fight sequences were definitely convincing, and Channing Tatum was surprisingly good as sort-of love interest Aaron, but whether through the telling, or the way the parts were written, for me Haywire failed to make a very lasting impression.

Nottingham at Night

February 10th was Nottingham Light Night. I’d seen adverts for it every year that we’ve lived in Nottingham, but always after the event, or when it was too late to get the time off to go. This year I was already off, so when the 10th came around I charged up my camera, cleared out the memory card and set off into town.

I love wandering round cities at night, and Nottingham is no exception. The Light Night seemed to bring everyone out – the streets were crowded with families and groups of people. All the buildings were lit up and there were fire-breathers, projections and puppets everywhere. Art installations, “dream walks” and special events on at places like the Broadway cinema meant that I had too many things that I wanted to see and do, but eventually I just sort of wandered, taking in the sights and seeing what I came across.

The city looked beautiful, magical and exciting – so far from the grey streets and buildings that winter so often presents and it was great to see so many people out enjoying the event. I was speaking to one of the storytellers at the “Cloudwatching in the Lava Lamp Forest of Stories” (brilliant by the way!) and she mentioned that this year the Light Night had hardly any funding. I really hope the event continues, and maybe a DIY spirit can help it grow.

I took loads of photos on the night – but here’s a selection of the least blurry! (Must get a tripod one day!)

Dreams

I had a brilliant dream last night. I always enjoy dreaming, they’re rarely about me or any aspect of my life, it’s more like getting to watch a film in my head while asleep. I’m often aware that i’m dreaming, and sometimes can steer it in the way i want it to go, particularly if i’ve had the dream before.

Just recently there’s been a lot of uncertainty about my job, which has lead to lots of horrible work-related dreams where everything goes wrong and it’s generally a relief to wake up.

Last night, i dreamed i was walking home from work – nothing like in real life but i knew it was my usual route home. On this particular trip i saw loads of new things that i’d never noticed before, new places to explore, new people to meet, new opportunities. My route took me across a beach into the sunset, and everything was so beautiful and full of possibility that i felt as though i was about to burst with happiness, to float away on the sheer joy that was filling me. That feeling remained, even as i woke up.

I don’t know anything about dream interpretation, but this one left me with such hope. It seemed to say that even though things are normal and mundane, there’s always something more, something special to be found, if you just look in the right way.

I tend towards the opinion that dreams can sometimes be more than nightly entertainment. Whilst not wishing to commit to the thought that they’re messages from something higher, perhaps sometimes they’re messages from ourselves, helping us to see what gets lost amidst the noise and bustle of waking life.