Catholic movie reviews - The Woman in Black, Big Miracle and more

By  Catholic News Service
  • February 3, 2012

This weekend sees Daniel Radcliffe's first role after the success of Harry Potter in Woman in Black. Is it worth your time and money this Super Bowl weekend?

We also have reviews of Big Miracle, One for the Money and Man on a Ledge.


The Woman in Black

By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - Reputed to be one of the most frightening ghost stories ever written, Susan Hill's 1983 novel "The Woman in Black" must certainly count as one of the sturdiest: It has been adapted both for British radio and U.K. television, while the 22-year-long -- and still ongoing -- run of its London stage version makes that property one of the longest-lived nonmusicals in West End history.

As penned for the big screen by Jane Goldman, directed by James Watkins -- and with Daniel Radcliffe headlining as barrister Arthur Kipps -- the latest iteration of "The Woman in Black" (CBS) aims for a classic horror feel.

And well it might. Hill's premise, after all, offers us a remote mansion haunted by a malevolent, avenging specter.

While we're second to none in our appreciation of Gothic chillfests in which spooky creatures pop into the frame, peer out of windows or -- better still -- are seen in shadowy form down a hallway, this entry has a queasy and troubling feature that renders it unsettling in all the wrong ways. Not only do the proceedings include a high body count, the casualties in question are children lured to suicide by the ghost of the title.

Film being such a literal medium, one image of this kind would be problematic enough. Here they go on multiplying right up to the end.

Jennet (Liz White), the ghost of the title, doesn't kill anyone directly -- she entrances them to their deaths. Her motive? Deemed mentally ill in life, Jennet had her son taken away from her to be raised by another couple. He later drowned in the body of water from which our eerie manse, Eel Marsh House, takes its uninviting name.

Ramping up the pathos, Kipps is shown to be a grieving widower with a 4-year-old son (Misha Handley). And he's in trouble: Successfully settling the affairs of Eel Marsh House represents Kipps' one chance to hang onto his job.

But with her rage reaching out from beyond the grave, Jennet, it seems, will keep on killing the children of the nearby Yorkshire village unless someone finds a way to appease her.

The fearless Kipps -- one does think of Harry Potter here -- finds help from Daily (Ciaran Hinds), a villager who is himself in mourning. Daily possesses religious faith of a sort, telling Kipps, "When we die, we go up there. We don't stay down here."

In that connection, some Catholic imagery -- such as Daily blessing himself and the use of a rosary -- has been tossed in. But not, it would appear, for any deeper purpose than added visual effect.

The film contains numerous scenes of suicide by children and occasional gore. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.



Big Miracle

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - "Free Willy," the 1993 whale rescue film, looks like child's play when compared to "Big Miracle" (Universal), in which not one but three giant mammals are trapped in Arctic ice, and it takes a whole lot more than a sleepy Alaskan town to save them.

Directed by Ken Kwapis -- and based on the real-life events recounted in Thomas Rose's 1989 book "Freeing the Whales" -- the film is an animal rights activist's dream. Families, neighbors, corporations, and even superpowers set aside their differences for a spell and work together, seeing in the innocent cetaceans a metaphor for peace and understanding.

It's 1988, and television reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) is biding his time in Alaska, hoping to land the really big story that will serve as his ticket to a better job in the Lower 48. Knocking about the desolate town of Barrow with local Inupiat boy Nathan (Ahmaogak Sweeney), Carlson stumbles on a hole in the offshore ice.

Within it he finds a headline waiting to happen: Peeking out as they surface for air is the cutest family of California gray whales you've ever seen, a clan Carlson eventually names after television's Flintstones: Fred, Wilma, and Bamm-Bamm (not Pebbles, as the baby is a boy, you see).

Their migration south was halted due to freezing ice. Trapped five miles from open water, they'll drown unless something is done to free them.

Carlson files his story -- and catches the attention of NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw who is -- so Jack Amiel and Michael Begler's script informs us -- "a sucker for these animal stories." Carlson's piece is broadcast nationally, and overnight the world takes notice. The media descend on tiny Barrow, unprepared for the frigid conditions and lack of amenities.

Luckily for Carlson, his ex-girlfriend, Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), runs the local chapter of Greenpeace. She badgers oil magnate J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson) to finance the release. She jumps into the icy waters to swim with Bamm-Bamm, the better to raise awareness. And she fends off the Inupiats, who want to harvest the whales for food, interpreting the creatures' arrival as a gift from their traditional deity.

The rescue takes on an international dimension when the Reagan White House espies an opportunity to burnish its environmental record. The National Guard is called up and, in the spirit of glasnost, the Soviet Union is asked to bring in an icebreaker.

Whether President Ronald Reagan (Quinn Redeker) really picked up the phone and opened his conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev by saying, "Gorby? This is Ronnie!" remains, however, open to question.

Chilly relations thaw along with the ice as enemies cooperate, at least for a while: Greenpeace and big oil, Yanks and Russians all join in the effort, and both modern methods and native ways are brought to bear. As it recalls these unifying events, "Big Miracle" emerges as an inspiring and uplifting feature suitable for all but the youngest viewers.

The film contains a few mild oaths and one semi-profane expression. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.



One for the Money

Forgettable fish-out-of-water comedy in which an unemployed New Jersey department store saleswoman (Katherine Heigl) takes a job as a bail bondsman, and an old high school boyfriend (Jason O'Mara) for whom she still carries a torch -- despite his having spurned her -- becomes her first target for recapture.

As the two go from rivalry to cooperation in trying to solve the crime of which he's accused, she gains the protection of a formidable colleague (Daniel Sunjata) and encounters representative denizens of the wrong side of town (most prominently John Leguizamo and Sherri Shepherd). Director Julie Anne Robinson's slack adaptation of the first of Janet Evanovich's popular series of mystery novels -- which also features Debbie Reynolds as the protagonist's breezily eccentric grandmother -- tries to get by on jauntiness but fails to charm.

An attempt to capitalize on sexual tension, and such gags as an elderly exhibitionist that the heroine takes into custody, and a surfeit of profane dialogue are further deficits.

Some action violence, brief rear and partial nudity, an instance of blasphemy and at least 20 uses of profanity, much sexual humor, frequent crude and crass language, a couple of obscene gestures.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.



Man on a Ledge

Tedious thriller about an ex-cop (Sam Worthington) wrongly convicted of stealing a fabulously valuable diamond from a morally stained millionaire (Ed Harris).

His convoluted plan to vindicate himself involves distracting a crowd of New Yorkers -- as well as the police negotiator (Elizabeth Banks) who's trying to coo him down -- while his brother (Jamie Bell) and his brother's girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) crack open the moneybags' vault and prove the putatively purloined jewel is still in situ.

As director Asger Leth's wronged-innocence caper piles conspiracy on top of collusion, with dull consequences, the Lord's name is under constant assault in screenwriter Pablo F. Fenjves' risibly bad dialogue. Occasional action violence, an implied premarital situation, much profanity, at least two uses of the F-word, considerable crude and crass language.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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