Commentary

September 21, 2012

Fly Over: ‘The Woman in Black’, ‘The Master’

by Jason Burns and Macario Mora

On DVD:

‘The Woman in Black’

by Jayson Burns

Despite being a big fan of horror movies, I don’t immediately jump to see every single one that hits the theaters. However, when I saw that ghostly face materialize right beside Daniel Radcliff at the end of the trailer for “The Woman in Black,” I knew I had to see this one. As I walked out of the movie theater shaken, but with a smile on my face, I knew I made the right choice.
Based on the novel of the same name, “The Woman in Black” follows a widowed lawyer named Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliff) who has been tasked with finalizing the legal affairs of a deceased woman in a small English town. Accomplishing this task will cement Arthur’s position at his firm and provide a suitable future for him and his young son. When he arrives at the town, he is greeted with cautious hostility and learns that a child is known to die horribly whenever one sees the fabled Woman in Black. Much to Arthur’s misfortune, this tale began at the marshland-based home of the deceased woman, and he soon finds himself caught up with the local legend.
Though the beginning started a little slow, it picks up as Arthur starts his living nightmare. The audience also learns at a suitable pace the full story of this Woman through uncovered messages, sudden flashbacks and hushed explanations from the local villagers. Arthur Kipps is made a good protagonist not only due to his devotion to his son and his tragic past, but also because we as the viewers feel trapped along with him. There were some occasions where the classic horror movie complaint of “just leave well enough alone and run” comes up, but until the ghost becomes more aggressive much of what Arthur sees could be marked up as paranoia or tricks of the mind by the more skeptical characters. As most people realized from the start, Daniel Radcliff played Harry Potter, but I for one did not see him as the Boy Who Lived. Because the script involves many scenes that do not use any dialogue (a move I happily applaud), Radcliff has to focus on facial and body expressions and he does this well. When he is required to talk, he does just as good a job. Ciarán Hinds as Sam Daily, a local landowner and Arthur’s only real ally, also does a terrific job as a strong supporting character. Unfortunately, most of the more prominent, secondary cast members are a bit forgettable.
A creepy, foreboding atmosphere is always important for a successful horror movie, and “The Woman in Black” accomplishes this with its lighting, camera angles, and overall presence of the titular Woman in Black. This movie is very gothic and dark, but not to the point where the viewer can’t see the “good stuff” and wide shots are used to promote either a sense of isolation or imminence. And though I found the dark visage of the Woman to be creepy (especially when her mourning veil covers her face), her presence is made even more so whenever the locals simply talk about her. Rarely would the muttered words “You saw her, too?” make my heart skip a beat.
While some of the more veteran, hardcore horror movie fans might not describe this movie as “terrifying,” I don’t think this film can be cast aside as dull or unentertaining. “The Woman in Black” was a fun, worthwhile experience.
“The Woman in Black” is rated Pg-13.

 

…..and in theaters, ‘The Master’

by Macario Mora

Let me start off by saying that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” so for some that may very well be reason enough to read no further. Anderson’s newest and much anticipated film “The Master,” was certainly a first for me. I simultaneously concluded that the film was great — masterfully acted and viscerally appealing — but that I didn’t enjoy it nor would I ever watch it again.
The story revolves around Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a Naval veteran who is just returning from World War II – though perhaps not entirely. From the moment he’s introduced you’re left feeling uncomfortable by his presence, and that feeling never subsides. He’s feeble minded and lost, drifting from one place to another until he drunkenly stumbles upon a party boat sailing from California to New York City.
Fortunately or unfortunately, that’s something for each individual viewer to wrestle with, Freddie happens upon a boat captained by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd weirdly takes an immediate interest in his stowaway telling Freddie “I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but above all I am a man. Hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.” Freddie doesn’t strike me as inquisitive, but rather more like an animal, which oddly enough Dodd has to remind him of his humanity throughout the film. To the rest of the boat crew, however, Dodd is the Master who has penned a philosophy he calls the Cause, which is really a cult that Dodd makes up as he goes along.
Trying to describe the rest of the plot is pointless, mostly because there doesn’t really seem to be one. Dodd, Freddie and all of Dodd’s followers, including the creepily good Amy Adams as Dodd’s wife, Mary, travel the country spreading Dodd’s ridiculous philosophy or religion, I’m not entirely sure, which is mostly about time travel, living for billions of years, multiple lives, etc. I’ve read that the Cause is similar to Scientology; if that’s the case, Tom Cruise can count me out.
The film is visually compelling, even managing to make the desert surrounding Phoenix look beautiful – as a native Phoenician, I can assure you it’s not. But what was most gripping and simultaneously repulsive were Joaquin Phoenix and Hoffman. I’m certainly glad Phoenix has given up his charade as a drunkenly obese rapper and decided to act again; however, immersing himself so deeply in such a disturbing character makes me worried the actor may actually suffer psychologically. Hoffman on the other hand is his same amazing self – the tension between the characters and actors was almost palpable in just about every scene. Both characters exhibited the most disturbing of human behaviors, though juxtaposed intellectually.
However, what made the film most discomforting were Anderson’s subtle highlights of the flawed human need for comprehending the existential life questions that eludes all of us. And because of this hopeless search, snake oil salesmen like Hoffman’s character are able to monetarily gain from his type of quackery by preying on easily manipulated people who are in search of meaning to their hopelessly meaningless lives. We’re all small in the grand scheme of things.
A small portion of my even smaller intellect tells me that this film is good, real good. However, it’s entirely too much to comprehend in one sitting. For me, however, I refuse to subject myself to another two hours of torture. Some are raving that Anderson is reinventing the directorial wheel, but I’m not sure I like the direction it’s spinning. This film is certainly for movie buffs and not your casual viewer.
This film is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language.




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