Movies in Theaters February 3, 2012
It's heavy on the fantasy this weekend as we get Daniel Radcliffe's first big post-Potter endeavor (The Woman in Black), a cautionary tale about how teenagers become even more irresponsible after they inherit supernatural powers (Chronicle), another argument for never trying to prove that a place is actually haunted (The Innkeepers) and the Material Girl's first (and completely unexpected) foray into the wild world of film directing (W.E.). Plenty of opportunities for you to escape reality!
Is there life after Hogwarts for Daniel Radcliffe? He's sticking pretty close to familiar territory as he tests the post-Harry Potter waters with this aggressively art-directed dark fantasy that looks like a mix between The Others and last summer's sumptuously designed creepfest, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. The former Boy Who Lived plays Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer (!!) who's sent to a remote village to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased eccentric; he soon discovers that the house belonging to his client is haunted by the title ghost, a vengeful spirit that's got all the townsfolk -- including Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer -- living in mortal terror. The all-grown-up Radcliffe looks to be right at home in a period horror film, working the concerned looks and sideburns like a pro -- and the movie surrounding him doesn't look half-bad, either. However, his next cinematic endeavor should be something without any supernatural elements to fall back on, something smart and slick -- might Steven Soderbergh have a place for him in his next all-star ensemble?
A superhero origin story told Cloverfield style (sort of), Chronicle follows three high school friends (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan) who gain supernatural powers after discovering a big glowing thingamabob in an underground cave; after initially using their abilities to pull pranks and get into mischief, they find themselves at a moral crossroads when one of them starts turning to the dark side. Chronicle isn't necessarily another "found footage" film; the video camera is used to create a kind of "real-time" narrative as the boys romp around their neighborhood, filming their various exploits (one of their powers apparently involves being able to get camera angles that "normal" people aren't capable of getting -- and being able to hold it pretty steady, too). It was probably only a matter of time before the comic book genre went the way of Paranormal Activity -- the story looks to be well-told in this kind of DIY style, with the added bonus of some really incredible special effects. If the three leads can handle the film's tonal shift into more sinister territory in the second half (and it looks like they can), Chronicle could be the first truly worthy sci-fi companion piece to the excellent Cloverfield.
Director Ti West's follow-up to his excellent retro-'80s flick, The House of the Devil, centers around the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a supposedly haunted hotel that's closing its doors after 100 years of service; when two employees (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) decide to spend their last days on the job attempting to prove the existence of Madeline O'Malley, the woman whose ghost allegedly roams the inn's many rooms and halls, the past comes back to haunt them -- literally -- as a mysterious elderly man with melancholy memories of his honeymoon shows up, requesting a room for the night. The Innkeepers doesn't look like it covers any new ground, but neither really did The House of the Devil; what makes West's work so distinctive (so far, anyway) is his clever and classy approach to familiar material that makes you feel like you're being told an old story from a completely different point of view. Sara Paxton looks like she gets to do more in this one than just run around in a bikini and look worried like she did in Shark Night (not that there's anything really wrong with that); you also get Top Gun star Kelly McGillis' triumphant return to the big screen as a guest who claims she can help the young innkeepers communicate with the spirits in the house.
Madonna has successfully reinvented herself at least a three dozen times over the course of her career, so why not also try on the skin of a "movie director" and see how it fits? The Material Girl's first shot at "A Film by Madonna" looks to be as far from her ex-husband Guy Ritchie's work as you can get, which is probably most definitely on purpose. W.E. tells the story of two passionate but forbidden romances, separated by over six decades: in the 1930s, the affair between King Edward VII (James D'Arcy) and American socialite Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) threatens to tear England asunder with scandal; in the 1990s, a lonely New York woman (Abbie Cornish) embarks on her own affair with a Russian security guard (Oscar Isaac) as she researches their story, which reveals a much darker relationship than what she originally perceived to be the "perfect" romance. W.E. looks mighty ambitious, though we would never expect Madonna to go for a small intimate chamber drama for her directorial debut -- in fact, how could this movie be anything but sprawling, passionate, embarrassing, frustrating and ultimately just too bizarre to dismiss as a mere failed "vanity project?" Apparently, Madonna lived to tell her tale after all.