Quick Hit: Slow, misguided, and never quite finds the point.
The Winchester mansion in San Jose, CA is one of those places in American history that just doesn’t quite add up. Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune and company, constructed a huge home by consistently adding on to the sprawling mansion, taking an eight room house and making it seven stories. There is no discernable reason for her to do this, and so therefore, ghosts come into the American legend of the story – particularly those affected by the Winchester family’s most famous product. I’m honestly surprised it took so long for a story to get made about this, because it’s perfect horror movie fodder.
However, the execution by The Spierig Brothers, who wrote and directed the film, leaves so much to be desired that it’s practically laughable. Given the premise for an excellent story, they instead drape the film in mediocrity. The first example of this is the plot – Jason Clarke plays Dr. Eric Price, who has been submitted to the mansion in order to psychologically evaluate the Ms. Sarah Winchester. He has his own past story, which I won’t spoil here, but he also has an addiction to laudanum, which is bad, mmmmkay. Honestly, though I liked the character, his inclusion in the movie definitely serves as a detractor. It’s not as if Helen freaking Mirren couldn’t carry the movie herself, and she proves that consistently in every interaction with other performers. It instead gives the movie a bit of a shoulder shrug with a “meh” feeling, as if they couldn’t figure out how to write a story and end it, and instead just decided to throw a white guy with a gun in it to fix all the problems.
That’s one other thing I think tanked this movie, both critically and financially. Releasing a movie about gun toting ghosts is probably the last thing we need at a moment when gun violence and gun control is such a hot topic – particularly when the movie doesn’t really fall on either side. I’ve stated before I don’t enjoy preachy movies, but I would have preferred that over the bland “well there’s points to both sides guyyyyyyysssss”.
The scares, if you can call it that, all arise from that most hated of scares – the jump scare. But whereas sometimes these can be effective, instead we have the typical offenders – angles that change our sight lines, like doors and mirrors. There’s nothing new here, which is a bit upsetting considering the movie does a pretty decent job at setting up the labyrinthine nature of the Winchester mansion. There’s a huge gothic influence here, particularly once the story gets going, and a much more Poe inspired movie could have made better work of the scenery. Instead, we get ghosts popping up behind people.
And why oh why did we need to see the outside of the home… via CGI? Just don’t show it – that would be better than poorly animating it.
I’m giving Winchester a “D”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: A frenzy of animation styles, full of relatable characters, and a great story to boot.
This post is for Enoch and Rachel, at Enoch's request for more Anime on the site. More coming soon, I promise.
I often relate a lot to characters in movies – I think most people like movies the best when they find pieces that they like. Sometimes this can be simple – “I wish I was as cool as Liam Neeson” is probably the lamest of things I’ve thought in a movie. But more often, it’s when you really see yourself as a character. I was a really shy young boy, afraid of speaking to others for fear of being judged. In some ways, I grew from that – I dove into literature and math, and began very early in life to write stories. This allowed me to open up – but in some ways I’m still that math-obsessed young boy. That’s why when I see a well-written character like Kenji, I can’t help but love some of his surroundings.
Without diving too much into the plot for fear of ruining things, allow me to give you a quick rundown. Kenji accompanies Natsuki to her family’s home, posing as her fiancée. This is mainly to give her Grandmother, a strong matriarch, a reason to be proud of her and continue to live life longer, Natsuki’s family is huge. Meanwhile, something very akin to Ready Player One’s Oasis takes place in the world of Summer Wars – here – it’s Oz, and it’s a digital world that has now taken over many aspects of life and work.
One of my first observations about Mamoru Hosoda’s film was the fact that it mixed the different animation styles. The scenes in the real world feature a softer, more hand-drawn animation. The style is similar to some of Studio Ghibili’s bigger films, like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. But Oz is a whole different animal, featuring a style that is more akin to digitally animated characters. One of the closest comparisons I can get to is a mix of Dragon ball-Z and Adventure Time. But all the hallmarks of Japanimation are still there, giving the film an even flavor despite changing styles frequently.
Besides the obvious parallels to Kenji, who goes from zero to hero and has a fairly traditional arc, I loved the Japanese focus on the family. There’s not a character that doesn’t get a moment to come on screen and shine, at least for a moment. The film has no problems allowing the different characters to really come alive, and show their importance, even in the most menial of skills. However, this does get a little bit too out there for me, particularly when it seems that everyone is super connected or super skilled. Not the worst thing in the world, but maybe a bit too convenient.
I loved the ending though. I love giving Natsuki, the moment, and in many ways advancing the feminine cause that started with Granny. The way it occurs is nice because it’s not overtly “girl-power” way. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s both triumphant and willing to acknowledge loss. One of the things about electronic worlds, no matter how great they are, is that they aren’t real. This extends to virtual reality, The Oasis, Oz, The Sims, or even Call of Duty. What really matters is learning who you are, learning to be confident in yourself, that’s the important part. Even if it takes an AI gone wild to do it. I’m giving Summer Wars an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Slow ghost-film that gets mixed results.
I can’t remember where I came across this film. After so many horror movie lists, I often add things to hopefully address. That’s where I came across this ghost story set in Italy, starring British actors, who are American.
If that doesn’t tell you where I’m headed with this review, then you probably don’t read my writing enough. Check out the browse page for more.
Anyways, Neverlake isn’t bad, but it isn’t amazing. The story is pretty simple – Jenny (Daisy Keeping) has left New York to visit her father (David Brandon), who is working on a discovery about Etruscans in Italy. There’s also a creepy housekeeper, Olga (Joy Tanner). The movie takes a turn to the supernatural when Jenny runs into a young blind girl nearby the lake (which is the center of nearly all the events in the movie). This leads her to a home, where a bunch of creepy children are living, sans adults.
More events occur, including some random twists, but that’s pretty much the gist of it. As the film goes, you get some elements of body horror, as well as some monster/ghost elements toward the end of the film. It’s not particularly great in the way of plot, because it consistently tells us where it is going thanks to Jenny’s consistent voice over of poetry. It’s annoying and inconsistent in the way it’s presented. There is also an extremely uneven tone to the film, due to the fact it’s part ghost story and part body horror. They don’t tie together well, at least not in the way that someone like del Toro would have performed.
That being said, there’s some really atmospheric shots throughout the movie, particularly featuring the woods and the orphanage. It breaks up the story’s momentum when they leave to show the different areas, like the different shops that Jenny’s father goes into. The zigs and zags also do the same thing – they break up the goodwill that the story has going for it. The ending also leads to some terrible, cheaply driven CGI. And that’s really unfortunate, because there is really no reason for it to be so. Where there is atmospheric horror, there doesn’t have to be more than that. But, hey, who doesn’t love green ghosts right?
In the end, I can see why Neverlake may have made it on a list – because it skirts the edge of being good instead of being terrible. I’m giving it a “C-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"