Winchester and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate and CBS Films
Directed by Peter Spierig and Michael Spierig
SERIOUSLY!? We managed to go through ALL of January without a single notable horror movie!? Okay, I mean there was that INSIDIOUS movie but that one doesn’t count because… I didn’t see the other films. MY POINT IS that it’s been PRETTY light so far for a month known almost EXCLUSIVELY for terrible horror films, and for me this is the first one of the new year so I’m STILL gonna consider it a January horror film! Besides, that’s not even a particularly hard rule of thumb considering last year’s worst horror abomination Rings didn’t make it out the gate until the first week of February either. Will this be another entry in the never ending list of terrible first of the year horror movies, or are the people behind this just too darn talented to make the same mistakes that everyone else did? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the story of Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) who is the widow of William Winchester; the man who started the Winchester Repeating Arms company and got SUPER rich doing so. Now she has all this money, but she’s been using it to build and rebuild and rebuild and add on and then do some MORE rebuilding on here house. Why is she doing this? Well she believes that the ghosts of the victims of Winchester rifles, instead of haunting say… their murderers, are haunting her house and I guess the multiple rooms and weird architecture confuses them or something. Anyway, Dr. Price (Jason Clarke) has been sent by the Winchester Repeating Arms company to assess the mental fitness of Sarah in an attempt to oust her from the company, but he’s not interested in being their lap dog and seems to genuinely want to help her; not like he’d get away with being so duplicitous what with her niece Marion (Sarah Snook) watching his every move. Of course, things start to get strange almost immediately as Eric starts to see creepy things of his own and Marian’s son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey) is “sleepwalking” all over the place. Is Miss Winchester correct in believing that there are ghosts in her house and that they’re after her for what her company’s weapons did to them? Does Dr. Price have a much deeper connection to this place than either he or Sarah initially thought? Why does it matter if the house is a confusing maze of dead ends and random staircases!? GHOSTS ARE NON-CORPOREAL!!
“BOO!!” … “What? Ah, damn it! She’s not in this room either. WHERE THE HECK IS SHE!?”
Alright everyone! Now that we’ve had our fun with the GOOD list, it’s time to put on some work pants as we start wading through the unimaginable dreck that was yet another “fun” aspect of the abysmal year that we all had to suffer through. You know what though? Most of us made it through to the other side, so if looking back at the year that couldn’t beat us and having a laugh (or one last bitter tirade) at the pathetic excuses for entertainment that made daily life just a little bit worse, well I think we all deserved it, don’t you?
Anyway, let’s not beat around the bush any longer! WE’RE DIVING RIGHT IN!!
Dishonorable Mentions: Death Note & Bright
Since I didn’t even bother trying to watch another Adam Sandler movie this year, this dubious distinction goes to two OTHER Netflix features; albeit it for very different reasons. The truth of the matter is, I didn’t particularly mind either of these films as I think they had some good ideas buried within their mediocre (and cheap looking) execution with Death Note having an interestingly different take on its main character (a whiny little punk with issues of inadequacy instead a megalomaniacal genius) and Bright having an ALRIGHT set up for what is essentially a weaker version of 16 Blocks. That said… yeah, these films are REALLY flawed and in glaringly offensive ways. As much as I like the idea of taking some of the pomp and circumstance out of Death Note and reframing Light Yagami to be a less foreboding figure, I don’t see why that necessitated him to be white since they never play with that change in his identity within the text of the film. There could have been a component of White Privilege to the story (especially with L being black), but that seems to have never been the intent on the part of the filmmakers who simply seemed to associate AMERICAN REMAKE with WHITE AS DEFAULT. Similarly, the half-baked and ham fisted social commentary in the script for Bright creates one of the most cringe inducing screenplays of the year which has Orcs standing in for Black People in a world that still has Black People, and it even finds an excuse to get Will Smith to say “Fairy Lives Don’t Matter” before beating said fairy to death. Sure, the movie picks up once it gets away from its proudly ignorant views on race and becomes a straight up chase film with Will Smith and Joel Edgerton (who’s under a decent enough make up job), but that’s hardly enough to excuse everything that it gets wrong in the process. Now I don’t want this to come across as Netflix bashing because they DO put out quite a bit of decent content as I’ve heard good things about First They Killed My Father, Beast of No Nation, even The Babysitter, and while it wasn’t my favorite King Adaptation this year I thought Gerald’s Game was pretty good too. That said, they’ve had quite a few stumbles over the years, pretty much starting with their awful Adam Sandler deal, and these two movies are just further examples of their awkward steps towards becoming a media empire of their own; something they’ll need to keep working on now that Disney is gonna own everything else in the world and will eventually come out with their own streaming service to try and crush them. If Netflix wants a chance to survive the Disney/Fox merger, they’ll need to avoid having clunkers like this clogging up their service.
Hark! Is it that time of year again!? Yes, it is time for the film critics to have their yearly ritual of ranking the films we saw in order of how much (or how little) venom we can summon up for it, and while I would love NOTHING more than to get this crap-tastic year over with and race towards the future, we can at least afford one more look in the rear view mirror before leaving it all behind. Also, it’s worth pointing out that I didn’t get a chance to see all the movies that came out this year like The Florida Project, and there were films that I couldn’t have seen even if I wanted to like The Post, Phantom Thread, and I, Tonya, due to them getting extremely limited releases in the last weeks of the year. If the studios can’t be bothered to let me see the movie, then I can’t be bothered to wait several weeks to finish up this list. This is a 2017 list, so I’m finishing it in 2017!
Sure! Let’s start this off with a pairing so disparate that it’s likely to cause whiplash! Then again, it’s a probably a good indication of what to expect from the rest of the list as I try to find room for a little bit of everything… and by everything I mean legitimately good movies that everyone likes and amazing B movies that only I seem to like. The Big Sick was one of the better comedies of the year as I’m sure it’s been mentioned on several best of the year lists other than this one, and rightfully so! It didn’t quite make my top ten due to a bit of shaky structuring (time is a bit elusive in it) and the fact that it’s hard to overlook how much of this story is coming from only one viewpoint within it (being written by Nanjiani and Gordon who DID end up working out, it feels a BIT antagonist towards his parents who are drawn more broadly than hers are in the telling of this story), but there’s genuine heart in the way that Nanjiani is trying to navigate such an awkward situation where the right thing to do is kind of murky and his feelings about it all are even more so. It’s a situation, like many in life, that could have ended VERY badly for everyone involved but Nanjiani and Gordon’s script is smart enough to walk that line between genuinely trying to express one’s feelings for someone and having a character realize when that’s not enough and when they need to walk away. It ended up working out for these two but only after Nanjiani left her to live her life and to make her own choices which is certainly a worthwhile lesson for many of us to learn and for Hollywood to pick up on considering how much the BIG ROMANTIC GESTURE is still a staple in so many so called romance films. Kidnap on the other hand… look, I just really had a lot of fun in it, alright!? I know it’s not going to be to EVERYONE’S taste (hence why it didn’t make the list) but it’s damn near perfect in being exactly what it wants to be. Calling something a NON-STOP ACTION THRILLER is about the most hack bit of marketing imaginable, but in this case it’s quite literally true and the film’s greatest asset. Halle Berry is chasing after the people who have kidnapped her son and she can’t stop moving. She can’t lose focus, can’t lose momentum, otherwise she’ll lose everything; and she knows that. Yes it’s over the top and barely makes any sense (there’s maybe three cops in the ENTIRE state) but the tension is there and if you’re willing to get behind its rather ludicrous concept you’ll surely stay engaged all the way to the bloody end of her bloody quest to save her son. Yeah, it’s goofy and has a few less than stellar editing shortcuts (why do they keep reminding us how low on gas she is when she NEVER RUNS OUT OF GAS!?), but they did a lot with what they had to work with which is often the sign of a great film more so than a film with many more resources not taking full advantage of them. Not a bad double feature if you ask me!
The Saw films and all the images you see in this retrospective are owned by Lionsgate Films
As mentioned in my Jigsaw review, I’ve had a somewhat complicated relationship with Saw franchise as I’m sure is the case with a lot of fans who somehow stuck with this series to the bloody end despite it inarguably getting worse and worse as it went along. Now this is hardly new for horror franchises (just look at the startling sharp drop the Halloween movies took) but to me Saw wasn’t just a series that got BAD or CHEESY as it went along; it got actively toxic. What do I mean by that? Well if you read the review I’ve now referenced twice already (SHARE IT WITH YOUR FRIENDS!!) you probably already know what that is, but let’s go ahead and take a look at this series from the beginning to see just how it managed to change and pervert its core concepts over time. Oh, and we’re going into TOTAL SPOILERS on these films, so only read if you’ve already binged watched them on Netflix or cannot be bothered to ever do so. Let’s get started!!
Two men (Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell) find themselves locked in a room and chained to opposite sides of it with a dead guy right in the middle; presumably having shot his brains out given the blood on the floor and the gun in his hand. Eventually they find a few tapes left for them by the serial killer who locked them up there in the first place known only as Jigsaw. They only have so much time to get out of this trap before the killer starts looking towards their loved ones, and this means they may have to make some really tough decisions; ones that involve the titular saw of the movie.
I haven’t watched this movie in about a decade so going back to where it all started, ESPECIALLY after seeing what the series would ultimately turn into, was quite a shock as the original film has much more in common with Se7en than any of the other movies. To a certain extent it’s a bit unfair to compare this initial entry to the rest of the series as it ends up feeling like an outlier (similar to how the first Friday the 13th doesn’t even have Jason as the killer) but there are qualities to this that are sorely missed in the sequels. For one, Jigsaw isn’t the overwhelming and unstoppable force that he would become in later films and is also a downright sadistic mother fucker with no redeeming qualities. Later films went all in on the cult of Jigsaw which is one of the biggest failings of the entire series; not only because it puts forth a reprehensible world view, but it takes so much menace and danger away from Jigsaw as a character. The Jigsaw in this film (working through a character named Zep) isn’t given a platform to spout his faux-populist agenda and the film takes time to show just how horrific and unjustifiable his actions are; mostly through the extended sequences of Zep having to terrorize a mother and child while the game is going on. Compare this to the later films where even the INNOCENT victims barely get a semblance of humanity before becoming props in a giant shit show of moving parts and sharp metal, and you can see why things got so monotonous and smug as the series went along. Now I’m not about to tell you that this is a perfect movie by any stretch as the editing is rather poor and the performance by Danny Glover is surprisingly awful, but you can see why this first film managed to garner the reputation it did and why Lionsgate was so eager to turn it into a franchise. The only question is, now that we know who the killer is (the guy on the floor played by Tobin Bell was playing dead the whole time) where else could they really go?
Happy Death Day and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Christopher B. Landon
There are very few premises that will get more on board with a film than “like Groundhog’s Day, but…” and honestly I’m not even sure why. That movie is certainly a phenomenally crafted comedy that I revisit from time to time, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s one of my favorite films of all time. I guess it really is just how great of an idea that premise really is as I see it as basically THE perfect interpretation of a Bottle Film (it allows limitless possibilities while also having an enormous constraint) and its one of the few ideas that gets me to eagerly start putting together scenarios of what I would do in that situation. Throw a murder mystery in the middle of it, and you have something that could be not just a GREAT film, but an absolute classic for the genre! Can this movie POSSIBLY reach the lofty goals that it sets for itself, or will this be a bigger waste of time than Before I Fall? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Tree (Jessica Rothe) waking up in an unknown dorm room with a guy she doesn’t really know named Carter (Israel Broussard) and heads back to her sorority so she can ignore the fact that today is her birthday. She ignores calls from her dad (Jason Bayle), brushes off her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) who’s at least making an attempt to make her birthday a little bit nicer, and just goes through her usual routine as if there’s nothing special about today; even going to see the married professor she’s sleeping with (Charles Aitken). At the end of the day, when she’s heading to her own surprise party, it turns out today is NOT going to be a normal day because someone in a crappy baby mask (the school’s mascot… for some reason) stabs her and she… wakes up in the same dorm room she did that morning. Same guy, same day, same ignored phone calls from dad. Oh, and also the same murder. Clearly she’s doomed to repeat the same day over and over again until she finds out just who it is that’s killing her each night which may not be an easy thing to do considering how many people she manages to piss off on a regular basis, though murder DOES seem to be a bit extreme to be just anyone she knows so she’ll need to narrow down the suspects as each night (and each death) brings her closer to the truth. Will Tree be able to put an end to this endless cycle of misery and stabbings by unmasking the one person on campus who wants her dead? Is every day TRULY a repeat of the last, or does something linger every time the clock goes backwards? Just how many absurd and hilarious ways will Tree have to experience the ice cold hand of death before this is all over!?
IT and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Andy Muschietti
MAN this one takes me back! I still have my grandfather’s copy of the book that I read in middle school; torn to shreds naturally considering how much I carried it around. I’ve read a few Stephen King books here and there and I tend to like his style overall, but his movies are some of the most hit and miss films you could imagine; ranging from critically acclaimed masterpieces like The Shining to garbage you’ve never even heard of like Riding the Bullet. IT is one of the weird ones as its one of the most definitive King books out there (not just in popularity but in terms of content as well) but it’s honestly… a little bit… weak. Not saying it’s BAD, but there’ just SO much going on in there that it feels like several novels fighting for control of the narrative. Heck, if The Dark Tower didn’t LITERALLY do this, I’d say it’s almost akin to mashup of everything King had done up to that point only without a single shred of restraint to keep the whole thing manageable; hence why the damn thing is so thick you could beat a man to death with it. Still, we already got one adaptation of this story that everyone seems to like which means that someone EVENTUALLY had to take another crack at it for BRAND NAME RECOGNITION, but they at least had the foresight to make it a hard R movie instead of a PG-13 which works for SOME movies, but not for a story like IT. Will this be the new standard for Stephen King adaptations, or will this be like The Dark Tower where I’m the only one out there who actually enjoyed it? Let’s find out!!
The story of IT is set in the town of Derry (zero points if you can guess what state it’s in) where there’s been an unusual uptick in missing kid reports which has most of the town on edge; especially the kids themselves who fear they’ll be next. We know what’s up though! The first thing we see in the movie is little Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) falling victim to the supernatural menace that has been picking off kids left and right while taking the form of a really creepy looking clown known simply as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). Everyone believes little Georgie to be dead, but his brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is convinced that he’s still out there and plans to find him by any means possible; including going into the spooky sewers that may be full of waste but could ALSO be full of answers! His friends Richie, Stan, and Eddie (Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, and Jack Dylan Grazer) are helping him despite their better judgement and this circle of friends increases to include Mike, Ben and Beverly (Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray, and Sophia Lillis); all of whom are outcasts in one way or another and seem to be the only ones even TRYING to figure out what’s going on in their small town. Will they find the answers they seek the further they delve into the town’s cryptic history? What will Pennywise the clown do once he realizes these kids are onto him, and is there more to him than meets the eye? How the heck are they gonna do in two hours what a TV movie couldn’t do in less than three!? AND THEY HAD TIM CURRY TO HELP WITH THAT ONE!!