Winchester

Winchester

Winchester

Directed By: Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig
Starring: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey, Tyler Coppin, et. al.
Rated: R
Grade: B-

Loosely based on the story of Sarah Winchester, who believed so firmly that her family was being haunted by the victims of the Winchester rifles, that she bought a house in California and had 24/7 construction done on it from the day she moved in until the day she died. In this movie, the firearms company board sends Dr. Eric Price to evaluate her mental stability and determine whether she is fit to maintain her seat on the board. Shortly after arriving, Dr. Price learns that there is more truth to Sarah’s beliefs than he originally thought.

More of a dramatic thriller than a horror movie, Winchester is spooky at times, with a few genuine jump scares. The real Winchester house is fascinating in and of itself, so I found that aspect interesting. The reasons behind the constant building and rebuilding (constructing the rooms where people were killed with Winchester rifles and tearing them down once the spirits have passed on) was one of the main plot points, which focused on a particularly vengeful spirit wanting to end the Winchester legacy. I actually found the dramatic bits more interesting than the horror aspect. The history behind the house is a point of interest, but the movie doesn’t have the time to delve into just how oddly-constructed the house was.

The effects are fairly decent, mostly dealing with creating ghostly effects, and haunting-type imagery, none of which are too terribly obvious as CGI and/or practical effects.

Winchester should appeal to anyone who enjoys dramatic horror movies, and doesn’t strictly watch horror for blood and gore. If a lack of gratuitous death scenes is a nonstarter, then you may want to avoid this movie. It’s not a bad movie to watch, but it’s also not fantastic either. It serves its purpose as a not-too-scary scary movie that one can enjoy with popcorn on a Sunday afternoon.

Winchester isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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The Final Girls

FinalGirls

The Final Girls

Directed By: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Ackerman, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Adam Devine, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: B+

After losing her mother in a car accident, teenager Max is convinced to attend a screening of the movie that her mother was most famous for. While there, the theater catches fire and forces Max and her friends to try and escape through a door behind the screen, and unwittingly end up in the movie they’re watching. Once there, the group rallies the film’s counselors (including one played by Max’s mom) and tries to defeat the film’s villain.

The Final Girls does its best to parody 80s slasher movies, and for the most part, it succeeds. One of the few places the movie falters is in its PG-13 rating. 80s slasher movies are mostly known for excessive amounts of blood and sex, and this movie doesn’t have much of either. There are a couple smatterings of blood, some kissing, and two watered-down stripteases. Despite the lack of defining elements from the genre it’s supposed to be parodying, the movie overall is enjoyable. The actors all have decent chemistry, and they seemed to be having fun while making the movie.

There aren’t a lot of noticeable effects in the movie. There’s a slight daylight over saturation when the teens enter the world of the movie, but that disappears once the sun goes down. There’s one explosion and a few practical effects, and anything else isn’t easily identifiable.

Since The Final Girls is PG-13 it should attract a larger audience, but horror/comedy is a tough genre to get right. For the most part, the movie succeeds, but the rating forces restraints on the horror aspect that may alienate hardcore horror fans. All in all, though, this is a good movie, and recommend it to anyone who can handle a horror in their movies.

The Final Girls isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

The Shape of Water

ShapeOfWater

The Shape of Water

Directed By: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Hewlett, et.al.
Rated: R
Grade: A-

At a government facility in the 1960s, Elisa, a mute cleaning lady, and her friend discover that their facility is housing amphibian creature. Elisa quickly becomes both fascinated by and enamored with the creature, and when she learns that it’s being tortured and will be killed simply so they can study it, she risks everything to set it free.

The Shape of Water is a rare movie. It’s a high-concept, high-art, science fiction film, and therefore won’t appeal to everyone. The actors all have decent chemistry, and Sally Hawkins does an incredible job playing Elisa, the mute woman. Her facial expressions are masterfully done, and you can almost hear what her character is thinking. Doug Jones, who plays the creature, also deserves special mention, since he manages to display emotion through the layers of costume makeup he wears.

The visual effects are beautifully done. Though there aren’t a lot of obvious CGI sequences, the creature makeup, as well as the color timing to give the film a slightly greenish tint, all add to the slightly fairytale-like feel of the film.

This movie is something of a passion project for director Guillermo del Toro, and as with most of his passion projects, this falls into a similar kind of niche. Not many sci-fi/fantasy movies involve a somewhat touching inter-species romance. As such, this movie won’t appeal to everyone. If you are willing to give it a try, you’ll likely be sucked in by the beautiful cinematography. I would definitely recommend at least giving the movie a try, unless you can’t stand sci-fi movies in any capacity. It won’t be for everyone, but someone might be surprised by how much they enjoy it.

The Shape of Water isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

Game Night

GameNight

Game Night

Directed By: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemmons, et.al.
Rated: R
Grade: A-

When hyper-competitive married couple Max and Annie let Max’s over-achieving brother Brooks hold a kidnapping mystery for their weekly game night with friends, they vow to finally outshine him. As the teams investigate the “kidnapping” they slowly realize that Brooks was taken by actual kidnappers instead of the actors hired by the adventure company. Their efforts to retrieve Brooks from his kidnappers send the friends on a chase across the city and puts them in increasingly wild and dangerous situations, and they soon realize that things are not what they seem.

Game Night is a fun, funny movie that should appeal to a broad audience, and there are some genuine surprise twists as the story progresses. The actors all work well together, and they all look like they’re having fun making the movie. Like with most broad comedies, the storyline isn’t that plausible, but that doesn’t really come to mind while actually watching the film.

There aren’t many noticeable effects in the movie, with only one or two sequences having anything obvious. Everything else seems to just be background filler.

As stated before, this movie should appeal to pretty much anyone looking for a laugh. There’s nothing too over the top, and it doesn’t rely entirely on bathroom humor for laughs. There’s an added bonus of an actual story to follow, so the movie doesn’t seem like a long setup to a punchline.

Game Night isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

Lost in Space (2018)

LostInSpace

Lost in Space

Starring: Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Maxwell Jenkins, Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall, Ignacio Serricchio, Parker Posey, et.al.
Rated: TV-PG
Network: Netflix
Grade: B

Lost in Space, a reboot of the 1965 series (and 1998 movie), follows the Robinson family as their vessel, the Jupiter 2, crash lands on an alien planet. As they navigate the alien planet while searching for survivors of other downed Jupiter vessels, as well as a way to get off the planet and back on their way to Alpha Centauri, where a new human colony is being established after the Earth has become nearly uninhabitable.

As stated before, this is a reboot of the series from the 60s, though I suspect that character names are about all that carried over from that show. This reboot is much less campy, and opts for a darker, more serious tone. The Robinsons are also no longer stranded alone. Their ship is one of several that crashes on the alien planet where Season 1 takes place, and there are several flashbacks to their time on Earth, as well as some to when they were on the main vessel, the Resilient. The effects are well done, with what I assume is a mix of practical and special effects used. There are some space shots of the star system they landed in that are particularly breathtaking.

The actors seem to handle themselves fairly well. From what I can tell, Toby Stephens is the only one not using his natural accent (he’s British playing an American), and he handles it well. Parker Posey seems to be enjoying playing the villain, and manages to not chew on the scenery every time she’s on camera.

If you like sci-fi, you’ll probably like this series. It might be a little much for casual viewers to handle, especially if they’re old enough to remember the original series, if only simply because they just throw you straight into everything, with no build up to the space and aliens plot. The show is also slightly serialized, so a small bit of attention is required so as to not get completely lost (pardon the unavoidable pun). It also looks like there will be a second season, so there’s no worry about getting invested in something only to be left hanging.

This show can only be streamed through Netflix, and there’s no information about whether they plan to release it on video.

Harlan Coben’s Safe

HCSafe

Harlan Coben’s Safe

Starring: Michael C. Hall, Amanda Abbington, Amy James-Kelly, Freddie Thorp, Louis Greatorex, Hannah Arterton, India Fowler, Raj Paul, Joplin Sibtain, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, et.al.
Rated: TV-MA
Network: Netflix
Grade: B+

Safe, an original series from author Harlan Coben, follows widower Tom Delaney as he attempts to locate his daughter, Jenny, who went missing after attending a friend’s party. As he delves deeper into his daughter’s disappearance he begins to realize that he may not have know her, or her late mother, as well as he thought. That, coupled with the fact that Jenny’s boyfriend turned up dead at the same party she disappeared from, means that Tom is racing to unravel an increasing number of intertwined mysteries before he loses his daughter forever.

This is the type of show that, once upon a time, would only be found on the BBC in the UK, or Masterpiece in the US. Another great example of serialized British murder mystery, this show, while not perfect, is definitely better than some of the shows on TV. It can get a little soapy and over dramatic at times, but for the most the story stays on point. It looks like there’s probably not going to be a second seasons (though no one seems to be ruling it out, either), so the probability of getting the kinks hammered out over time is unlikely, unless it’s a massive hit on Netflix.

The acting is pretty good. Most of the cast is British, with Michael C. Hall being the only American on the show. Hall’s accent can get a bit choppy, even to my untrained ears, but closer to the end of the season he seems to get something of a grip on it.

I would recommend this series. The storyline is decent, and so long as you don’t mind slow-simmering crime dramas, it should hold your interest. It requires a bit more attention than the typical crime drama, but not so much that you must remain glued to your couch.

This show can only be streamed through Netflix, and there’s no information about whether they plan to release it on video.

Annihilation

Annihilation

Annihilation

Directed By: Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Benedict Wong, et. al.
Rated: R
Grade: A+

Loosely based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation follows Lena as she attempts to figure out what happened to her husband when he mysteriously reappears in their home after being missing for nearly a year. When her husband falls ill almost immediately after reappearing in their home, Lena is brought to a military base stationed near an iridescent veil of non-earth origin called The Shimmer, which she learns her husband was exploring when he went missing. Lena, a military-trained biologist, volunteers to explore what’s beyond The Shimmer, and joins a group of four other females, including a psychologist, a surveyor, a linguist, and an anthropologist. Once inside, the group quickly realizes that everything inside The Shimmer is being affected by it, including themselves.

Annihilation is more of a psychological thriller than it is a sci-fi monster movie. You can almost feel the tensions rising as the group goes further into The Shimmer. The actresses all have a decent chemistry and play well off one another. The story remains taught and tense right up to the end, and while the brief flashes to the past and future can be a bit jarring, but they don’t detract from the overall story. As with most psychological thrillers, there isn’t really a specific villain, per se, at least not until the last 15 or so minutes of the movie, and even then you’re not quite sure it’s real. You’ll definitely want to pay attention while watching.

The effects are fantastic. Nearly everything inside The Shimmer posses an otherworldly quality and seems to be a tad bit over saturated. While there aren’t a lot of big explosions or giant creatures, much of the movie has touches of CGI, though I suspect that much of it was achieved through set pieces as well.

If you’re a sci-fi fan or just like intense psychodramas, then this movie is definitely for you. There aren’t a lot of laughs, and the action is low-key, but the powerful, intelligent story keeps viewers interest held until the end, which leave just enough wiggle room that they could make a sequel based on the next book in the series.

Annihilation isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

Black Panther

BlackPanther

Black Panther

Directed By: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Bozeman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Angela Basset, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: A+

Black Panther, the latest home video release from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, follows T’Challa, who was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, as he attempts to settle into his new role as King of Wakanda.  Shortly after returning from a failed mission to capture Ulysses Klaue (pronounced claw), an arms dealer introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron who stole a valuable mineral, Vibranium, and set off an explosion that killed several Wakandans, T’Challa is challenged and overthrown by a man named Erik Stephens, who calls himself Killmonger, and is a long-lost cousin T’Challa never knew he had.  After his defeat, T’Challa must fight to regain his thrown and stop Killmonger from using Wakanda’s advanced technology to devastatingly attack cities across the world.

Black Panther is a great movie.  Since the MCU began their endeavor over 10 years ago, they’ve managed to change comic book movies from story-lite, action-heavy popcorn fare into compelling, character-driven stories about the (usually) human beings behind the super hero personas.  The result is a ground-breaking movie like this.  While the main villain may be a little one-note (revenge, while a common and easy motive, is a tad bit overused and is no longer as compelling as it once was), Michael B. Jordan gives his all to inject as much pain and humanity into Killmonger as he can, and for the most part, he succeeds.  All of the actors clearly have a blast in the movie.  While not filled with the cheeky humor of Thor: Ragnarok, they still get to have fun, usually at the expense of Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett Ross.  From what I can tell, the only main actor in the movie using their native accent is Michael B. Jordan, though my admittedly untrained ears didn’t notice anyone stepping on the ones they use.

The effects are well-done.  Marvel/Disney always make sure their graphics are top-notch, and this movie is no exception.  The CGI blends well with the scenery, and isn’t overly obvious.  They even manage to turn a horse into a rhinoceros without much difficulty.

I definitely recommend seeing this movie.  Not only is it a record-setting example of why representation in cinema matters, but it’s also an enjoyable story that’s accessible to everyone.  Those who hate comic book movies might not like it, but the general public should.  And anyone worried about not know what’s going on should breathe a sigh of relief, since this is the first Black Panther movie, and most of the characters are making their debut.

Black Panther isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

The Burning Maze

TOA3

The Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze

Written By: Rick Riordan
Published: May 2018
Grade: A

The third book of Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series, Lester-as-Apollo, along with his “master” Meg McCaffrey, and Grover Underwood (from the original Percy Jackson series) end up in California, where they enlist the help of Piper McLean and Jason Grace (both from the Heroes of Olympus series) to defeat the third emperor in the Triumvirate.  While there, they learn that part of the Labyrinth has caught fire, and they need to figure out what’s causing it so they can put a stop to the wildfires raging through Southern California.

Riordan once again takes his vast knowledge of history and mythology and makes a compelling, engaging story that holds your attention and makes you wish there was more to read.  Apollo continues his character development, and we get small insights into the previously-established characters as well.  He also gives a tiny history/mythology lesson and drops some interesting and educational trivia without hitting you over the head with it.

As the series continues, Apollo seems to discovering his humanity, as he becomes more and more concerned about those around him, including a new friend he picked up on his journey.  In addition to the established characters mentioned above, there’s also a brief appearance by Leo Valdez, who also first appeared in the Heroes of Olympus series and also played a role in this series’ previous installment, The Dark Prophecy, and we meet new characters in the form of several dryads, or nature spirits, who are taking refuge on the land once owned and cultivated by Meg’s deceased father, all of whom go by the name of their plant type (Joshua Tree, Aloe Vera, Prickly Pear, etc.), and Crest, a pandos, which is a mythological race of furry, big-eared, eight-fingered-and-toed creatures from India which appeared in some ancient Greek literature.

There are still two more books left in this particular series, as is typical with Riordan’s Greek-centered books, so don’t expect everything to be wrapped up by the end.

This book should be available at your local library or through a local or on-line retailer.