Review of “Winchester”

The Winchester Repeating Arms Company is run by the founder’s widow Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) and a board of directors. That board approaches Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to examine Mrs. Winchester. The reason for their request involves Mrs. Winchester having construction running continuously on her home in San Jose, California. She is adding room after room to her home along with stairwells that go nowhere, doors that open into empty space and blocking the doors to some rooms with wooden forms nailed into the frame. The company’s board wants to make sure Mrs. Winchester is competent to continue running the company. When Dr. Price arrives he is greeted by Mrs. Winchester’s niece Marion Marriott (Sarah Snook) who is less than friendly. Chatting with Mrs. Winchester, Dr. Price realizes she is a strong and forceful woman shattered by grief at the loss of her husband and only child many years earlier. Mrs. Winchester says the house is full of the spirits of victims of the rifles she and her husbands’ company have made. The constant building of the house was suggested by a spiritualist who told her she was cursed. The rooms of the house are to be designed like the rooms or areas in which the spirits died, allowing them to deal with their anger and unfinished business. Spirits that are more aggressive are locked up in their rooms using the boards. Dr. Price doesn’t believe in spirits despite seeing frightening images in his room. Marion’s son Henry (Finn Sciculuna-O’Prey) is behaving oddly, putting a burlap sack over his head and wondering around the house in the middle of the night. Dr. Price catches him when he walks off a third floor balcony and falls to the ground while seeming to be in a trance. Mrs. Winchester is concerned about one particular spirit that is angrier, more dangerous and the strongest she’s ever experienced. Dr. Price must determine if Mrs. Winchester is crazy or if there is something supernatural going on inside the massive home nicknamed “The House that Spirits Built.”

“Winchester” is a film that says it is based on a true story. The truth of that statement is at best fragile. There was a Sarah Winchester who used her fortune to build and keep building her home with stairwells to nowhere, windows that looked at walls and doorways leading to nothing. Legend states she did this to make amends for the death her company’s guns caused after a spiritualist told her she was cursed. There is no evidence to suggest any such statement was made and the oddities of her home (that you can go and tour should you ever be near San Jose, California) may not be an effort to confuse ghosts but an example of a person with more money than architectural expertise. Despite the reality being less interesting than the fable, “Winchester” proves to be a pretty good haunted house movie with more than a few scares.

While the main actors might be accused of slumming for a paycheck, stars Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke turn in respectable performances as the rich and possibly crazy lady and the psychiatrist sent to check her out, respectively. Mirren and Clarke spar well together in scenes where the doctor is interviewing Mrs. Winchester. More time spent with this pair as they rhetorically probe and prod each other might have been a better choice than the seemingly endless scenes of people walking hesitantly down dark and narrow hallways because they heard a noise or are looking for the bathroom. I know it’s a requirement in all haunted house movies that you must show people stumbling around in wide-eyed fear as they seek out whatever it is that’s going bump in the night. This is of course the first rule of all scary films; however, the makers of “Winchester” seem to have used these scenes to pad the films’ running time since they didn’t have a very big budget to work with. It would appear the majority of the production’s money went to a scene late in the film where a large amount of CGI was used. Still, “Winchester” does manage to tell a pretty good story when it isn’t skulking through the corridors.

The idea of loss and grief being the overwhelming and guiding force in the lives of the characters plays out slowly over the course of the film. Mrs. Winchester and her niece Marion are clearly struggling with the losses of spouses. Dr. Price’s grief is revealed slowly over the course of the film and guides him to an epiphany for both the story and his life. There is a fourth character crushed by loss that turns into the antagonist of the film. His existence isn’t revealed until late in the film even though we see him throughout. This through-line of loss, grief and anger shared by all the main characters is surprisingly poignant for a throw-away horror movie. It gives a deeper look into the characters than most fright films provide and I appreciated the thought put into their stories.

Of course the most important thing about a horror movie is if it’s scary. “Winchester” manages to provide some nice jump scares. A bit with a mirror that swivels by itself to show an empty chair pays off nicely with two ghouls. There are assorted other nasties that pop up to give the audience a reason to shift suddenly in their seats. It isn’t a constant tension like “Don’t Breathe” or films of that type but it does give moments that will quicken your pulse.

“Winchester” is rated PG-13 drug content, disturbing images, some sexual material, thematic elements and violence. We see a characters lounging with women that appear to be prostitutes in various stages of undress. The aftermath of drug use is shown with a character appearing to be high. This character is also shown using laudanum from a bottle with the label showing it is a poison. We see ghosts in various stages of what appears to be decay and/or injury. A slave is shown with a metal collar around his neck. A massacre is shown with numerous people being shot. Unseen figures throw and drag people around the house and one person is shown dead after part of the house collapses on him. There is little to no foul language.

Some in the media and online have argued the movie is a statement against America’s gun culture. I have to disagree as it is only a mindless and inoffensive horror movie. Plus, there’s a scene that is actually a frequently heard counter argument whenever gun control is debated. I doubt the writers of “Winchester” had any ulterior motives in mind when they wrote their script about the odd house designed by a woman with more money than training in building design. Watching the movie should be approached with the same lack of thought.

“Winchester” gets four stars out of five.

This week I’ll be reviewing “The 15:17 to Paris” for the WIMZ website.

If I have time, I’ll review one of the following for this webpage (Hint: It won’t be the one about bondage).

Fifty Shades Freed—

Peter Rabbit—

Listen to The Fractured Frame each week wherever you download podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Reviews of “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys”

Summer is the season of school being out, vacations, spending time at the pool or lake or ocean or whatever body of water you might be near and braindead movies meant to pass a few hours between warm weather activities. Few films this season will probably be as braindead as “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys.” I saw them both and could feel the death of grey matter as they both progressed. One was responsible for more synapse-cide than the other.

Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) has left the male stripper life behind and is now building and selling custom furniture. He gets a call from former fellow stripper Tarzan (Kevin Nash) telling him their old boss and MC Dallas (played in the first film by Matthew McConaughey but only mentioned in this film) has died. Mike travels to a motel where a wake is supposed to be held but finds Tarzan and the rest of his old crew of Ken (Matt Bomer), Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) partying around the pool. Tarzan admits he lied and Dallas isn’t dead but left them on their own to go start another club overseas. The gang is headed up the coast to Myrtle Beach for the annual stripper convention for one last ride before they all hang up their G-strings and try for some kind of normal lives. They ask Mike if he wants to go but he says no as he has a life, business and responsibilities there. That night, he hears a song he used to dance to and does an impromptu routine in his work space. The next day, he meets with the guys and agrees to go on one last ride. An accident disables their ride and puts Tobias in the hospital with a head injury, standing them until their converted food truck van is repaired. Mike decides to approach his old boss Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) who runs a private club for women in a house where male strippers are scattered around performing shows. While unable to convince Rome to be their fill-in MC, she does give them access to a car and has Andre (Donald Glover), one of her performers, give them a ride. Things are looking bleak as the troop heads to their last convention with no MC and not much of a plan.

“Magic Mike XXL” looks like a movie that didn’t have a completed script when it went into production. The story is very fragmented and jumps around like a child playing hopscotch. The only cohesive section of the film is the road trip until Tobias gets hurt; then, the section with every fortuitous turn imaginable begins. People who won’t help suddenly appear to do exactly what the boys need. There’s no slot during the convention for them to perform but that suddenly opens up. All their plans, thrown together in what appears to be a matter of hours story-wise, work out perfectly leading to a triumphant conclusion. It appears the only thing you need to live a charmed life is washboard abs and bulging pecs. Anything resembling everyday life is left behind once Mike decides to rejoin his buddies in Stipper-ville. “Magic Mike XXL” is a silly fantasy about shallow people living lives filled with as much instant gratification and recreational drugs as they can find. Of course, we discover they are all much deeper than we suspect and all they really want is just an average life with someone to love…except the New Age healer/actor/singer who realizes his dreams of stardom are likely never to be fulfilled but tells Mike, “I’m still pretty.” There were times in this film that I wanted to smack ever character on screen for being so petty.

About the only saving grace of the film is a scene involving Andie MacDowell as a divorced, modern southern belle hosting some friends at her home when Mike and the guys show up. It turns into a session of discovery and revelation that, while ridiculous, was interesting to watch. It seems like the only scene in the film that actually had a little thought applied to it. It also is one of those aforementioned fortuitous turns helping the boys get to Myrtle Beach. The film is also saved (somewhat) by the charisma of Channing Tatum. Tatum plays characters in most of his films that seem like decent people. Tatum comes off in interviews like an average guy that just happens to make movies. It’s his appeal as an everyman that keeps “Magic Mike XXL” from being an insufferable experience.

“Magic Mike XXL” is rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. Most of the dance scenes involve simulated sex acts. The only nudity I remember is Joe Manganiello’s bare backside early in the film. There are also some exposed cheeks when the boys are wearing their stripper gear. The guys are shown smoking weed and taking capsules that are referred to as Molly. Foul language is common.

While this film certainly isn’t aimed at me, “Magic Mike XXL” still manages a few laughs with the antics of the male strippers and a cameo by Michael Strahan as one of Rome’s dancers. While the humor and the charisma of Channing Tatum provide some bright spots, “Magic Mike XXL” feels like it was made from an unfinished script that left me feeling at times confused and then finally uninterested.

“Magic Mike XXL” gets a fully clothed three stars out of five.

John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) along with the rest of their troops are on the verge of destroying Skynet and ending the extinction of the human race. One team is hitting a facility where Skynet is based by Connor and Reese lead a team against a facility that contains the time machine used to send Terminators to the past. Skynet is disabled and all the robots shut down; but the time machine has been used to send a T-800 model back to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Kyle Reese volunteers to go back and protect Sarah. John knows if he doesn’t he’ll never be born. Kyle begins the process of time travel but sees John being attacked by someone in the crowd. Kyle shows up in 1984 and is almost instantly attacked by a liquid metal T-1000 model (Lee Byung-hun). Hiding in a clothing store, Kyle is saved by Sarah Connor driving an armored truck. In the back is an aged looking T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Kyle tries to shoot him but the old T-800 knocks him unconscious. When he wakes, Sarah tells Kyle that the Terminator she calls “Pops” has raised her since she was nine. He’s there to protect her. Kyle is suspicious and doesn’t trust Pops. Things have changed from the history Kyle was told by John. Kyle also has memories of being a child and telling himself that Genisys is Skynet. Nothing is making sense.

I don’t want to give away any more than that brief synopsis as I often get yelled at for telling too much. Besides, the whole story of “Terminator: Genisys” is far more complicated as time is twisted into knots and histories and futures are as fluid as water. Nothing you know about the “Terminator” universe stays completely unchanged from film to film so this shouldn’t be a big surprise. That the timeline can be manipulated and changed was one of the most appealing aspects of the film. It also means there can be endless sequels since the past can be manipulated like soft clay and molded into whatever the next writer wants.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the star of the film even though his is more of a supporting character. Pops is given the job of putting the science of the film into words. It seems like a risky idea considering Schwarzenegger’s thick accent. Still, he manages to deliver explanations for the various timelines that at least sound like they have a scientific basis. Schwarzenegger also provides much of the film’s humor. His scary dead-eyed smile is usually delivered at the perfectly inappropriate time and his lack of emotion and understanding of emotional expressions means lines that aren’t funny take on a humorous context.

Most of the film’s action is created through CGI. While many scenes look pretty good, including the film’s climax, some look bland, particularly a helicopter chase amongst the skyscrapers of San Francisco. There are shots that look flat and unfinished like the nighttime setting would hide the flaws. It doesn’t. This is a brief scene compared to others but it stuck out. One highlight of the CGI is the fight between old and young Schwarzenegger. An Australian bodybuilder with matching physical measurements to 1984 Arnold was used as a body double then had Schwarzenegger’s young face digitally stitched to his head. It works surprisingly well and looks almost completely natural. Oddly enough, the digital Arnold face actually has a brief flash of too much emotion.

I believe the studio made a tactical error in releasing a major plot twist in one of the film’s trailers. It caused a bit of a stink on the Internet but I didn’t think that much of it at the time. Having now seen the film it was a much larger mistake than I originally thought. This kind of surprise (which I won’t tell if you don’t already know) is the kind of major story event that can raise the audience excitement for a film and give it enormous word-of-mouth buzz. Since it was revealed in the trailer, the reveal is ho hum. According to press reports, director Alan Taylor didn’t know about the spoiler being in the trailer and is quoted as saying he wouldn’t have revealed it before the film came out. Since the film is underperforming at the box office in its opening days, this may actually be costing the studio some money. It also doesn’t help that “Inside Out” and “Jurassic World” are still performing strongly this late in their runs; but people talking about that surprise might have driven a few more patrons the film’s way. The trailer reveal seems at best short sighted and at worst incompetent.

“Terminator: Genisys” is rated PG-13 for gunplay throughout, brief strong language, intense sci-fi violence and partial nudity. Guns of various types are fired throughout the film, most frequently at non-human characters. Those humans that are shot show very little blood. The fights between the various types of Terminators involve lots of bodies getting thrown around and through walls and ceilings. The flesh gets beaten, burned and ripped off the T-800 models in various ways. The nudity consists of those people who travel in time as they must do so naked. The most we see is bare male backsides. Foul language is intermittent.

If you don’t think too hard about the twisty timelines (or know anything about actual physics and the improbability of time travel), “Terminator: Genisys” is a fun action flick with plenty of nostalgia for those of us old enough to have seen the first film in the series. Seeing Arnold in his various forms saying his most famous “Terminator” lines in completely different contexts brings a smile to those of us who have aged along with the T-800. Resetting the timeline also opens the door for more films with two already planned and getting 2017 and 2018 release dates. It would appear Arnold is telling us, “I’ll be back.”

“Terminator: Genisys” gets five stars.

Horror, sci-fi, a sex romp and little yellow helpers are all on tap at theatres this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following.

The Gallows—

Minions—

The Overnight—

Self/Less—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.