February 2012 – Wow, that was such an expensive looking explosion!

So here we are: the business end of the longest variant of the shortest month. February was a month that saw two Avengers trailers (well, one for The Avengers and one for Marvel Avengers Assemble), a scattering of great movies and, perhaps most notably, the 84th Annual Academy Awards.

The month got off to a superpowered start with Chronicle, a low-budget found-footage movie that set the bar unexpectedly high for the likes of Marvel and DC to follow. There were other delights too, with The Woman In Black (haunting), The Muppets (charming) and A Dangerous Method (riveting) vying for audiences’ attention when arrived in cinemas on the same day. Also enjoyable was Journey 2: The Centre of the Earth, which provided a welcome departure from the pretence of awards season.

Like any month, however, February was also responsible for some real clunkers too. Man On A Ledge did little to sell Sam Worthington as an engaging screen presence while One For The Money saw Katherine Heigl advance from mild annoyance to genuine hate-figure (if you’re listening Katherine, I really would like my money back). Meanwhile, while Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D attracted the usual bile and derision, I once again found myself swept up in the saga and defending George Lucas to anyone who would listen. And a few who wouldn’t, too.

February was also the month of the 8th annual Glasgow Film Festival which I attended on behalf of Best for Film. Beating the new vibrating chairs to Cineworld by a good few weeks, I caught The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (joyous), We Bought A Zoo (heart-warming), The Kid With A Bike (zzz), Babycall (???) and Buck, a documentary that was ten times more entertaining than the 1998 film adaptation. Admittedly, the movies took an unfortunate back-seat as I dedicated my time to devouring Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy in advance of the first film’s March release. Putting aside for just a moment that this is a film blog, YOU HAVE TO READ THESE BOOKS!!

The awards themselves were a pretty lacklustre affair, with The Artist largely clearing up at both the BAFTA and Oscar ceremonies. While the deserving likes of Margaret, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Super 8, Arriety, Shame and Life In A Day might not have even been nominated, it was certainly nice to see such films as Hugo and Senna (at the BAFTAs, anyway) honoured by the industry.

Aside for that, I blogged about the five third instalments that have been most overlooked and the top five career paths that have been ruined forever by Hollywood. I ended this month, like any other, with the respective James Bond movie, A View To A Kill, which I really rather enjoyed.

Film of the Month: Chronicle

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The Woman In Black (2012)

Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a struggling young lawyer left to raise a son alone when his wife dies during childbirth. Assigned to handle the late Alice Drablow’s estate, Eel Marsh House, Arthur arranges to have Joseph (Misha Handley) and the boy’s nanny meet him at the property once he has finished that weekend weekend, and departs for the Marsh. Introduced to wealthy landowner Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds) on the train, Arthur sorts out his accommodation amidst resistance from the enigmatic townspeople before making his way up to the house alone. As he begins to investigate Eel Marsh’s history, however, Arthur begins to question just how alone he actually is.

The long-gestated return of Hammer Horror has so far been met largely with indifference. With such recent releases as unnecessary remake Let Me In and seedy thriller The Resident failing to impress either cinemagoers or critics, it was starting to look as though the banner might never reach the heights of its much celebrated heyday. Enter The Woman In Black: James Watkins’ adaptation of the Susan Hill novel of the same name. Following in the footsteps of the esteemed stage play, the film offered the studio the opportunity to bring one of literatures most respected ghost stories to the big screen, itself a relative newcomer that didn’t even exist during its own Golden Age.

The film is a beautifully shot, sparingly scripted masterclass in tension and Gothic atmosphere, its stripped-back approach to the genre gifting it with a stateliness and tradition sorely lacking in the torture porn and found footage gimmickry which has come to define the last decade. Rated 12A, it is impressive just how much dread Watkins can fashion from a simple creaking floorboard, a collection of cracked porcelain dolls and other such well-worn clichés. There is nothing new here, and yet it has been so long since the horror genre has been afforded such dignity and respect that a sense of originality ensues regardless.

A meditation on death and loss, there is a depth of character here at odds with the customary buxom teenagers and unbelieving parents. Daniel Radcliffe is quite simply superb as the shell of Arthur Kipps, his apparent youth a technicality robbed of consequence by the tale’s period setting. It is testament to the actor’s growth that Kipps doesn’t merely resemble an unshaven Harry Potter, investigating a Hogwarts outhouse in his dress robes. The character – by turns father, young man and troubled lawyer – is as far removed from the boyish heroism of his charismatic Chosen One as it is possible to get.

If The Woman In Black has any weakness at all it is in the woman herself. Considering the influence of the source novel and the transmedia legacy of the character, her onscreen portrayal is disappointingly half-baked and forgettable. The Woman In Black, rather than claiming her rightful place in the genre pantheon of wicked witches, supernatural slashers and straggly-haired Sadakos, instead hides from view, loitering passively in the shadows until a decidedly disappointing reveal. While her reputation definitely precedes her, and the film makes the most of its maiden’s menace, the payoff never really comes.

A classy and considered chiller, and a welcome return to form for Hammer Horror, Watkins’ The Woman In Black is a jittery and unnerving joy from beginning to end. With one too many shots of Radcliffe walking the same corridor and a resolutely non-physical phantom, however, it never quite delivers on its potently portentious potential to become the classic it perhaps deserves to be.

Ten 2012 Movies That Can’t Come Quickly Enough

So, it’s been 2012 for, like, three days now and while I might have found the time to bankrupt myself on overpriced cocktails, watch season two of An Idiot Abroad and fail dismally at 3D hopscotch, I haven’t actually had time to write anything about my socially crippling love of films. While I had planned to offload a few alternative top 10 lists to celebrate my number one guilty pleasure of 2011 (Killing Bono), my biggest cinematic surprise (Real Steel) and the film I felt was most overrated by critics (Source Code), I thought it best to shut up and move on lest I remember that Harry Potter is now finished and therefore life might as well be too. Which movies do I hope to be taking solace in this year? Well, I’ve written you a list:

The Woman in Black

Having suffered a fate worse than death and wound up father to Ginny Weasley’s children, Harry Potter is too busy wearing slippers and wiping shed hair from his pillow to find another Dark Lord to duel to the death. Luckily, Daniel Radcliffe threw in the towel at just the right moment and lives to battle evil another day: the 10th of February, 2012, to be exact, when he will use Jane Goldman’s words to (hopefully) talk himself out of a rather terrifying looking haunting.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Arthur Christmas was brilliant, wasn’t it? But for what it made up for in wit, craft and innovation, it unfortunately lacked in thumb-prints. Luckily, Aardman Animations plan to return to the painstakingly arduous process of stop-motion animation for upcoming 3D extravaganza The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Boasting vocal performances from Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven,Imelda Staunton and David Tennant, Aardman’s latest looks bloody plunderful indeed.

American Reunion

Having heroically saved a generation from the hazards inherent in humping a freshly baked apple pie, Jim Levenstein is set to return to cinemas in order to impart a few new pearls of wisdom. Set to reunite all-but-one of the first film’s winning ensemble (yes, even Chris Klein), this eighth fourth film in the American Pie franchise will see East Great Falls’ Class of ’99 return for a school reunion. While producer Chris Weitz might not have been as involved as he’d have liked, he did tell me that he’d seen some dailies and they were “really funny”.

The Cabin in the Woods

Having occupied the Joss Whedon circle of Development Hell for the last two years, thereby allowing The Avengers to arrive in cinemas as planned, The Cabin in the Woods saw Drew Goddard return to the director’s chair for the first time since 2008’s Cloverfield. Promising to subvert the more traditional tropes of the horror genre (a la Scream), and with the first trailer doing little to dhry appetites, this could well prove THE horror-comedy of 2012.

The Avengers

Why save the best for last when you can have it FIFTH! We only have to wait until May for Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, an audacious Marvel project which plans to unite four behemoth franchises in one $220 million dollar effort to save the world. Even more mouth-watering than the prospect of ALL THOSE PIXELS is the opportunity it will provide to see the titans clash out of costume, with each hero set to rub the other three up the wrong way. The silly to The Dark Knight Rises‘ serious, who needs shadows when you can have this much fun in broad daylight.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

After Cars 2 stalled in cinemas, and with How To Train Your Dragon having trounced Toy Story 3 in everything but Academy Awards, DreamWorks has really upped its game to the point where it is proving a genuinely credible match for the previously untouchable Pixar. Over the last two instalments, the Madagascar franchise has grown into something truly special, its ever-expanding cast of misfit mammals (and marsupials) developing into one of the most watchable animated ensembles around. Unless it changes its name to Madagascar: 3urope’s Most Wanted, this is undoubtedly the family film I’m most looking forward to this year.

Prometheus

With Ridley Scott channelling his dismay at the existence of two Alien vs. Predator movies into an intervention for the flagging Alien franchise he birthed (phallically) all those years ago, Prometheus promises to finally shed some light of on the colossal Space Jockey entity he teased in the original Alien movie. The first trailer (and indeed the trailer’s trailers), a masterclass in mouth-watering marketing, promised a return to form for a franchise steeped in diminished returns. Whether or not it features the series’ trademark xenomorphs, Prometheus might just be the film to beat this summer.

Brave

While I might not have thought all that much of Pixar’s last offering – or, indeed, previous release Up – I am nevertheless excited about their forthcoming project, Brave. Marking a tonal shift for the studio with the film’s less Disney Store-friendly tale of epic battles and mystic legends, Brave could prove a welcome change of pace for a studio that must by now surely be running low on things to anthropomorphise. Set in the Scottish Highlands and featuring a vocal performance from (among others) Craig Ferguson, this might just be Pixar’s answer to DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon. Maybe the most exciting arrangement of words in the English language.

The Amazing Spider-man

While I might occasionally bemoan the remake culture which has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, there is no denying that the practice does have its place in the filmmaking process. Although Sam Raimi’s original Spider-man movie did an admiral job of bringing everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood web-slinger to the big screen, a number of factors – the Green Goblin’s mask, Kirsten Dunst and the near-entirety of the third instalment – prevented the first trilogy from being as good as it could have been. (500) Days of Spider-man with Andrew Garfield might just be the big screen incarnation we’ve all been waiting for.

Resident Evil: Retribution

Everyone has a guilty pleasure franchise, and mine is undoubtedly Resident Evil. While the film series might sully the game’s mythology, routinely disappoint on just about every level and retcon at least one element with every instalment, it nevertheless delivers an entertaining slice of zombie-lite every two years or so. Marking the return of Michelle Rodriguez, Sienna Guillory and Oded Fehr, Resident Evil: Retribution promises to be somewhat of a greatest hits for the franchise.