Monday 31 October 2011

Movie Review - The Woman in Black (1989)

The Woman in Black: a fantastic ghost story from start to finish, creating huge levels of eerie tension yet also telling a deep, emotional story that unravels in a satisfying, organic fashion and paves the way for a relentless barrage of supernatural hauntings. Though most people know the novel by the stage play adaptation which began in 1987 (and continues showing often to this day), a more obscure and equally incredible portrayal of the story is none other than the 1989 television film; airing on Christmas Eve that year, it became an unexpected success but soon exceedingly rare due to legal distribution issues. So, with Halloween under way, let's take a look at this classic horror flick and see why it shouldn't be missed.

Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins) is a young lawyer whose firm dispatches him to the lone market town of Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of the late Alice Drablow and retrieve some legal documents from her house on Eel Marsh. But when Arthur arrives at the town, he feels a growing sense of unease as locals seem reluctant to talk about Alice Drablow or of a pale woman dressed solely in black. As Arthur continues to work at Eel Marsh House, he slowly uncovers the true origins and intentions of The Woman in Black (Pauline Moran); and her frightening purpose.

Those looking for a well crafted horror film will find much to love about The Woman in Black. Admittedly things can feel a bit slow sometimes, but the film consistently relies on the use of tension through powerful mise en scene and excellent sound design to create an uneasy, frightful atmosphere; perfect for the type of film it is. The Woman in Black is rarely seen; she appears sporadically, and is often absent when you don't expect it, which conjures a relentless amount of tension for first time viewers. And when she is actually shown, prepare to get serious goosebumps.

But rest assured this is no clumsy barrage of jump scares or just a flood of tension with no backbone; the plot really sews together the entire sequence of events organically and wonderfully, making for some shocking revelations and clever narrative twists as Arthur investigates the tales surrounding The Woman in Black as well as Eel Marsh House. Being an adaptation one can expect a number of changes to the source material which are always welcome; this movie mostly got the changes spot on, but there were a few I was not a huge fan of. For those who have read the novel, I will just say the rocking chair and leave it there.

Further pushing the levels of tension and outright horror is of course the acting; Adrian Rawlins performs Arthur with a great deal of curiosity and arrogance (this is good! The character is like that in the novel), and it's extremely easy to take him seriously when he is subjected to the terrors inside Eel Marsh House. The Woman in Black herself is portrayed without words as one should expect, but her facial expressions (and of course her frightening make up) make for a very strong performance that will surely get under your skin, especially when she is shown more clearly.

Why is it that such a great movie has to be so rare? If you plan to watch this you can find it on Youtube in several parts, but unfortunately home video copies are usually very rare and expensive if found. I'd recommend any fan of the horror genre checking this film out though; with a fantastic eerie atmosphere, well crafted spooky sets and an excellent story, it provides a well rounded adaptation of Susan Hill's classic novel and, hopefully, will scare the life out of you...it certainly did for me!

Now, let's hope the 2012 adaptation will be just as good, if not superior.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Movie Review - Johnny English Reborn

Though it was never seen in the same limelight from critics perspectives, the original 2003 Johnny English appears to have established somewhat of a fanbase; and now, eight years on, this sporadic 2011 sequel once again starring Rowan Atkinson is surely a treat for said fans, despite its identical critical mauling.

Once again parodying the acclaimed James Bond-esque spy genre, the film follows a disgraced Johnny English (Atkinson) who returns to his position at MI7 when a group of assassins dubbed 'Vortex' formulate a plot to murder the Chinese premier; of course, our titular character's prime idiocy makes this no easy feat, resulting in mish mash of slapstick chaos as we go from one lead to the next.

Though humorous, there's a distinct lack of, shall we say, 'wit' in many of the jokes; the film relies heavily on daft slapstick humour, which in fairness still conjures a lot of laughs, but eventually dissolves into mundane repetition. It's certainly funny and exceedingly amusing but at the end of the day there's not a lot of intelligence behind the comedy, making for a film that provides a lot of entertainment but at the same time feels a bit shallow.

A pretty forgettable cast of characters also downgrades the level of humour throughout; aside from Johnny English himself, pretty much none of characters provide any sort of comic or emotional engagement. The story is riddled with clich├ęs and is certainly nothing to write home about, but at the end of the day, it's not unreasonable to say it does conjoin nicely with the tone of the film, and simply allows all this spy craziness to take place realistically.

Johnny English Reborn is not a bad film, far from it actually; it's really funny sometimes, and consistently entertaining at best. But it's mindless entertainment, with not much wit behind the jokes and little else to offer. The characters aren't truly amusing, save for the titular one and perhaps his sidekick, and it just isn't very stimulating at times. Fans of the original will lap it up, but for those who aren't interested, there's no point.

Friday 7 October 2011

Movie Review - The Lion King 3D

A whopping 17 years after its initial release, Disney's The Lion King returns to the big screen in dazzling 3D; though some will see this as a lame cash grab, others (the sensible ones) will see it as a golden chance to relive a timeless classic. But no matter where your ideologies lie, it's hard to deny the film's pure excellence even to this day.

A story inspired by Hamlet ties together the beautiful animation and jubilant musical sequences; in a kingdom of anthropomorphic animals in Africa, we meet young cub Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Matthew Broderick) who is destined to take the throne of Pride Rock. However, when his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is killed and he himself exiled, he seeks to run from his past through Hakuna Matata (no worries!), taught by new friends Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumba (Ernie Sabella). But when his past soon catches up with him, he realizes that running is no longer an option and that he must confront his sadistic uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) to take back his rightful throne; thus cementing his place in the Circle of Life.

The film shows no signs of age even 17 years on; the well paced plot of love, bravery and friendship still exudes a variety of emotion and laughter, the latter stemming mainly from lovable sidekicks Timon and Pumba, and the cast of characters is just as memorable as any other Disney classic.

It's also great to look at, boasting rich and beautiful animation with eye popping colours and dazzling scenery; this accompanied by a truly fantastic musical score by Hans Zimmer and an equally jubilant array of songs by Elton John and Tim Rice already gives The Lion King enough reason to be loved. In 3D, the film lacks some of its vibrancy, though you'll be surprised how well a 2D animated film translates to 3D graphics. It doesn't detract from the experience nor does it truly enhance it, but you'll notice times where the 3D definitely conjures some amusing visual effects.

The cast? Brilliant. Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Rowan Atkinson, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella all play their respective characters flawlessly, establishing their unique and charming personalities with ease. It's not commonplace to see a Disney film with mediocre voice performances, and The Lion King certainly doesn't break this convention.

There's much to love about this timeless classic, be it the gorgeous visuals, memorable music or lovable characters. For Disney fans of any breed, The Lion King 3D is a rerelease you simply cannot miss.