The Woman in Black, Big Miracle and Albert Nobbs, plus a Pink Ribbons expose and a couple of art house gems
A haunted house, a gender disguise, do-gooding (both good and alledgedly bad), an existential police story and a visit with a Nobel prize-winning author. The choices are wide this week.
Here’s the list:
The Woman in Black 3
Albert Nobbs 2 ½
Big Miracle 3
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia 4
Jose and Pilar 3 ½
Pink Ribbons, Inc. 4
The Little Traitor --
THE WOMAN IN BLACK: Harry Potter fans will be drawn by Daniel Radcliffe stepping out beyond the boy wizard role. He’s a father in this one, and a lawyer, sent to a country village to wind up the estate of a woman who died leaving something of a mess. That describes her papers, her house, which is cut off every time the tide comes in, and her village, because of a ghost that locals say is killing their children.
Film buffs have another draw. This is the fourth movie from the revived Hammer Productions, the English company that back in the 50s and 60s was revered for what they brought to horror films: color (including a lot of red), sex (later on) and classy acting (Christopher Lee’s Dracula; Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing, among many others, and my favorite, Oliver Reed’s cursed werewolf). Woman in Black would have been a second-level entry back then, a classic haunted house film needing more thrills. Production values are high and the writing is strong but Daniel’s character is passive and undemonstrative and the scares come from periodic startles rather than a sustained eerie atmosphere. It’s based on a novel, already made into a TV movie, and a long-running London stage play. That seems odd because so much of the film is visual, with Daniel going upstairs, creeping down halls and opening doors into dark rooms to check out noises. It’s good for goosebumps not grossouts. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
ALBERT NOBBS: He’s so withdrawn that over half the film drags along painfully. Actually, he’s a woman, played by Glenn Close in dreary makeup, and working as a waiter in an Irish hotel maybe 100 years ago. Why the disguise? We don’t know until well into the tale when we learn her backstory and see a passion and urgency that she’s been hiding for years. It takes the much livelier people around her to bring a bit of it out. Janet McTeer, for one, also playing a woman disguised as a man, and Mia Wasikowska, playing a saucy maid.
Both spark her to dream of marriage and ponder the question: when is it proper to tell your wife that you’re also a woman? Before or after the wedding? Gender issues like that, big, small, serious and flippant, run throughout the film along with a larger theme: what people have to do to improve their lot. Everybody’s got plans or histories and at one point Brendan Gleeson, playing a doctor, deplores people who don’t change their “miserable lives.” Ambitious content but low-key, sometimes dull, presentation. Good acting from all though. Close and McTeer both have Oscar nominations. McTeer is vibrant and outshines Close, who previously won an award for playing Albert on stage, off-Broadway. (International Village) 2 ½ out of 5
BIG MIRACLE: Remember Free Willy? Or last year’s Dolphin Tale? Here’s another environmental heart-tugger, much like those two, although with less of a cathartic climax and with a much more complicated story attached. It’s a true one and happened near Barrow, Alaska in 1988. Three whales, a mother, a father and a baby, were trapped by ice and in danger of dying. A TV reporter (John Krasinski) filmed a story which ran as a filler in one network newscast and blew up into a major saga that brought in a herd of other reporters, local and national governments, the national guard, Alaskan Eskimos (that’s what they call them), an oil company boss (Ted Danson) looking for a public relations boost and a Greenpeace activist (Drew Barrymore) skeptical of them all.