Winchester (Full Review)

There’s a reason I hardly ever review ghost stories. Hollywood seems to be obsessed with jump scares and operates under the assumption that using true events for inspiration is the best way to enthrall moviegoers. Not me. Winchester is basically everything I loathe about the genre rolled up into an hour and a half mess.

Winchester_(film)The Winchester estate is a real mansion located in San Jose, California. The story goes that Sarah Winchester (portrayed by Helen Mirren), a widow and heir to a gun manufacturing company in 1906, believed she was being haunted by the ghosts of the people killed by the company’s weapons. To keep the unruly spirits at bay, she keeps the mansion under endless construction with halls, doors, and stair cases that lead nowhere. In this film, the company’s board of directors enlists drug addicted psychiatrist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to give Sarah Winchester a psychiatric evaluation in hopes that they can strip her of ownership. Once invited into the mansion, he begins to experience the haunting for himself.

Let’s start with the scares, or lack thereof, in Winchester. Every single moment meant to frighten the audience is telegraphed beforehand thanks to the usual juvenile tactics of silence and unsubtle camera placement. And, like most films in the genre, these moments are few and far between. When they aren’t lazily yelling ‘Boo!’ at the screen, the movie sluggishly moves along with Jason Clarke’s dull, unlikable lead taking up screen time with a backstory you won’t care to remember.

The supporting cast is useless and forgettable and when the movie turns into a dark and lackluster version of Ghostbusters, it quickly nosedives into unwatchable territory. Despite such impressive talent in the lead roles and a somewhat eerie subject matter it feels like a squandered opportunity. But make no mistake, there is nothing entertaining or suspenseful about this story. You’d be better off just taking a trip to San Jose and walking through the real house at night.

FINAL GRADE: F

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Terminator Genisys Review

Apparently the concept of redundancy is completely lost on the producers of Terminator movies. Seriously, how many times can a human looking robot be sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor? Better yet, how many action films does Arnie have left in him? But, this is the era of sequels, remakes, adaptations, and reboots. So here we go, for no real reason, with another Terminator film.

Terminator_GenisysIf you’ve seen any Terminator film before, then you know the gist. An artificial intelligence known as Skynet kills most of humanity in 1997 on “Judgment Day”. A freedom fighter named John Connor (played by Jason Clarke this time around) leads the human resistance that defeats them in the year 2029. To prevent their defeat, Skynet sends a humanoid robot (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to the past to kill Connor’s mother (Emilia Clarke) before she can give birth to him. In response, Connor sends back a soldier named Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to protect her.

It’s best to think of Terminator Genisys as its own entity and not a sequel or reboot. It borrows concepts from James Cameron’s original films, while completely ignoring the more recent incarnations (2009’s Terminator Salvation). The film starts off almost exactly like the original, with John sending Kyle Reese back to 1984 to protect his mother. Many of the scenes are, in fact, shot-for-shot recreations. The twist is that this time when Kyle arrives, Sarah is not only a tough soldier in her own right, but she is also being protected by a reprogrammed Terminator she calls Pops (Schwarzenegger).

At this point, you’re probably expecting me to go on and on about why this movie shouldn’t exist and how it is a soulless cash grab that doesn’t come close to the original. Well, while that is true, it should be noted that there are plenty of things that Terminator Genisys does well. Things that actually make this movie worth seeing. For one, the villain is up to par. The T-3000, a human-robot hybrid, is as menacing and visually stunning as Arnie’s T-800 from the original 1984 film and Robert Patrick’s T-1000 from my favorite, 1991’s Terminator: Judgment Day. This helps create some awesome action sequences, which is inevitably what you come to see a Terminator movie for in the first place. The cast, while mediocre on the surface, isn’t half bad either. Emilia Clarke is certainly no Linda Hamilton, but she holds her own. And the actors seem to at least have a hint of noticeable chemistry even if the film’s romance feels nonexistent.

But don’t be mistaken into thinking Terminator Genisys is either inventive or necessary. The plot is overly convoluted, filled with tons of plot holes the minute you stop to think about it, and the ending is unfittingly meager. This film exists only to squeeze out every last drop of a franchise with few surprises left in it. But if you’re bored, or a few months down the line you want to rent something from Redbox, you can do much, much worse than Terminator Genisys.

FINAL GRADE: C+

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_poster_a_pThere is no secret as to why Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the surprise hit of summer 2011. His name is Caesar. He is what turned Rise into not just a good movie, but a classic one. His journey from pet, to frightened outcast, to brilliant revolutionary was something out of greek mythology. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes wisely steps us back into Caesar’s world. This time, however, his world is much different than before, and it allows director Matt Reeves to explore the tribal, man vs. his worst nature elements from the classic films while also incorporating the mob-esque tone from Rise.

If you saw Rise (which you should have) and watched the ending credits, then you know where this film picks up. Alzheimer’s testing on apes made them super intelligent and also created a virus that began spreading throughout the world. By the time this film roles around, humans are seemingly down to only a community of survivors. Meanwhile, Caesar, now the father of two, has created a flourishing society of super smart apes.

The humans (specifically Keri Russell and Gary Oldman) all do a fine job, but it’s the apes and their interaction that make this movie even more captivating than the last. Andy Serkis, a.k.a. the king of motion capture (Gollum in Lord of the Rings, Kong in 2005’s King Kong) once again returns to masterfully portray Caesar. He is stronger and wiser than he was in the previous film. Part Professor X, part Mufasa, part Tony Soprano, it is easy to see why he is such an iconic character. His entourage of apes, including the orangutan, gorilla, and bully chimp from the first film and now his teenage son Blue Eyes, are all solid supporting characters even with limited dialogue.

But the character that moves the story and makes the movie more lively, is Koba (Toby Kebbell). Remember that creepy looking, caged ape from the first film with all of the scars… yeah that guy. He is the ultimate adversary, playing out the worst natures of any creature with higher intelligence. We watch as he goes from Caesar’s friend to his ultimate enemy, attacking humans because of fear and hatred that we can’t even blame him for having, because it is warranted by our same fears and hatreds.

Like with the previous installment, there is the perfect balance of heart tugging drama to go along with the bad ass moments and quotable dialogue. I especially love a moment during the climax when Caesar and the human lead (Jason Clarke) give their sorrowful goodbyes and apologize for the inevitable war they both thought they could naively avoid.

Because there are more apes and more personalities, we get a grander scope that makes Dawn better paced and more vibrant than Rise. Not to mention the CGI is incredible. I could’ve sworn those were real apes talking. If there is a knock at all, it’s that the 3D is highly unnecessary. I also thought the film sets itself up for a sequel when it actually could’ve wrapped things up. But maybe there is more story to tell. Maybe there is one more element missing to transform our world into the true planet of the apes. If so, let’s hope it’s as smart, thought provoking, and gritty as these first two.

FINAL GRADE: A