by Philip Price
When your movie opens in Oakland you automatically enlist this inherent cool factor that appeals to this child of the ‘80s, especially considering I've watched “The Defiant Ones,” “Straight Outta Compton” and “Boyz n the Hood” in the last week. Opening the film with a brief history of the fictional nation of Wakanda, its origins, and how the Black Panther came to be a symbol for the monarchy that reigned over it and a hero to the people who resided within it director Ryan Coogler (“Creed”) then drops us into this unsuspecting setting of Oakland, Calif. in the early ‘90s where we are served a series of events that establish the basis for what will fulfill the drama that occurs in Marvel Studios' “Black Panther.” This is a smart move on the parts of both Coogler the director and Coogler the co-writer who, along with Joe Robert Cole roots the beginning of his film in the zeitgeist of hip-hop; when rap was finding its footing and when the world began to take notice of what was being said within the genre. This is most definitely intentional as Coogler no doubt means to draw the comparison to confirm any doubt that “Black Panther” isn't a movement within itself. Though there have been black super hero movies before (in this analogy “Blade” would be your Sugarhill Gang) “Black Panther” is more than a defining moment as there has never been anything this explicitly black in or about a super hero movie before. “Black Panther” doesn't just star an African-American in the lead role as the titular hero, but it is about black culture, about black heritage, and conveys the highs and lows, the good and bad of this world of which I have no rightful place to really speak and so I will trust that when the many black people I do know who have seen the film say it is a real *moment* for their culture and for society in general I will trust that it indeed is. On the other hand, the question is how does “Black Panther” rank in terms of being a piece of entertainment despite Coogler inherently making this about more than just entertaining the masses? Well, it's another in a long line of reliable if not completely singular Marvel movies that tend to only break the mold occasionally. Granted, Marvel has been on something of a hot streak lately mixing up the genres of which inspire their fare (2017 was especially strong) and “Black Panther” is no different in this regard as it, by default of its source material, feels fresher than anything the genre has had to offer in some time even if the potential of all the positive factors going on within the film never seem to be fully realized.
As “Black Panther” is the next in a series of Marvel Studios pictures one would expect the film to have strong ties to at least “Captain America: Civil War” as it was that film that introduced audiences to Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa and his alter ego, Black Panther, but other than a few flashbacks to the death of his father, T'Chaka (John Kani), and the presence of arch nemesis Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who showed up in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” a few years back, “Black Panther” is more or less (and by that I mean more) a standalone story surrounding that of the transition of both T'Challa from boy to man, from prince to king, and that of Wakanda's transition from being a country of closed borders and secrecy to that of sharing their gifts and discoveries with the outside world. What is presumably not too long after T'Challa has taken Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes back to Wakanda to give them safe refuge he and his right-hand bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira) venture outside the walls of Wakanda to retrieve Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) a Wakandan spy on mission in another area of Africa as well as being T'Challa's ex-lover whom he wants present for his coronation as king. While Okoye is the ever-loyal soldier of Wakanda Nakia represents the voice in T'Challa's ear that is telling him times are changing and that it is time for Wakanda to change as well; time to stop hiding under their guise of being a third-world country and while not necessarily sharing with the world their advanced technology for the purposes of weaponry rather using their resources to assist in the aid of those suffering around them. This sense of internal conflict is made clear from the earliest moments in “Black Panther” as Wakanda is described as housing five tribes and in the ceremony where T'Challa is to be made king when spiritual leader Zuri (Forrest Whittaker) asks for any challengers to the throne the Jabari Tribe's leader, M'Baku (Winston Duke), makes a play for the crown in ritual combat. In showing us this, Coogler is building the world of Wakanda, immersing the audience in it, while at the same time drawing on events within this setting and highlighting their traditions to create palpable drama and the necessary thematic material that will further support the main conflict as it arises. Speaking of which, on the other side of the world we are introduced to one Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) who is working with Klaue to steal a vibranium artifact from a London museum to sell on the black market. When made aware of Klaue's activity, T'Challa, his sister and tech genius Shuri (Letitia Wright), Okoye, and Nakia inadvertently team-up with CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) to stop the deal, but Killmonger has bigger ambitions than simply fattening his bank account.
Speaking to the dramatic and thematic elements of “Black Panther” is to speak to the film's strongest elements. It is in these moments of pure, raw human emotion that bubble to the surface consistently throughout and in between the obligatory action sequences that “Black Panther” displays its greatest strengths. Though we are unsure the circumstances that are taking place in the opening sequence we can sense there is a feeling of great conflict and of drastic decisions. Fast-forward to the present day when T'Challa is getting set to take his father's place and we can again sense the apprehension in Boseman's performance as the titular hero who may not actually be as bold or as fearless as his previous appearance might have led us to believe. One of the most surprising threads in “Black Panther” is that of T'Challa not necessarily being afraid to take on the mantle of king, but more his fear of leading a life without the guiding light that was his father. It isn't the pressures that come along with filling this position, T'Challa still has the aid of his sister and mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), but it is more the fact he will have to move forward in life, making decisions that will no longer be guided by the man he could always look to for advice. These kinds of small feeling, but hugely impactful themes no doubt stem from Coogler's strong ties to his own father and the influence he had on him as a man and as a filmmaker and have thus manifested themselves in the form of the basis for the way in which T'Challa views the world and his sense of self. It is mid-way through the film when this picture, this belief that T'Challa has in his father is altered by a truth revealed via Killmonger's identity and while our hero is forced to face the reality of the situation and the threat Killmonger poses it is the fact that T'Chaka might not have been all his son imagined him to be that hits T'Challa the hardest. Furthermore, Coogler doesn't make it easy on the audience to choose sides making Killmonger's agenda as compelling, deeply personal, and even understandable to a degree even if he goes about trying to accomplish what otherwise might be a justified end in unspeakable ways. Jordan's Killmonger has a right to be angry and a right to want to seek revenge against the Wakandan monarchy while Boseman's T'Challa is understanding of Killmonger's position and even agrees with the injustice of the actions Killmonger finds anger and rage within, but it is in the way the two express themselves and execute their ideas that the true heroes and their rightful legacies are defined; Coogler echoing a Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X type match of philosophies between our protagonist and antagonist. The film’s movement retains its importance and gravitas thanks to these deep-seeded themes and ideas that emerge through the film's somewhat unconventional structure despite the overall product devolving into a predictable mash-up of CGI non-wizardry.
This brings me to the biggest complaint I must lodge against “Black Panther” and it is unfortunate that it is completely out of the hands of Coogler and his crew of actors and department heads that contribute to a majority of what we feel coming across the screen. What is unfortunate is that the majority of what we see on screen is at fault for being the most underwhelming aspect of “Black Panther” and who is to blame is not a single person, but a conglomerate of people and reasons. First and foremost, it is the reliance on CGI that is the real issue here as a film, with a reported budget of $200 million (that's $30 million more than the first “Guardians of the Galaxy”), should not have special effects that look as unfinished and phony as “Black Panther” does. Much of this might have to do with the workload and insufficient number of people available to do such work in the multiple animation houses that bid on such projects for revenue, but there is also the fact that $200 million should maybe be spent more wisely by Marvel Studios on things such as real sets, practical effects, or at least a better sense of merging the practical with the CGI as early action sequences in “Black Panther,” namely the one where T'Challa extracts Nakia, feel tangible and raw as compared to the final, climactic battle between our titular hero and Killmonger that is like watching an actual video game on screen as the underground railroad setting (I see you, Coogler) as well as the two individuals the action is centered around are completely computer generated creations that possess no weight and no real life consequences as a result of the fact. The large battle going on outside on the plains of Wakanda is only marginally better for the more natural looking landscape, but the CGI rhinos and plastic-looking weapons that might as well be what are on the shelves of Wal-Mart's right now make what should feel epic instead feel rather cheap and therefore the audience, rather cheated. At least, I did. With the drama this rich and the thematic elements sky high one could only hope Coogler and cinematographer Rachel Morrison (who shot the incredibly gorgeous “Mudbound”) might match as much with their visuals, but while Wakanda itself is fully realized and lived-in with the set and production designers more than excelling at the small parts of their jobs they were actually allowed to construct-not to mention the detail-oriented and jaw-dropping costume designs by Ruth E. Carter-the majority of “Black Panther” reveals the ugly truth of the over-reliance Marvel Studios has on computer generated effects (this was apparent in “Thor Ragnarok” as well) to the point it detracts from the overall experience of what could and should have been as monumental looking a film as it certainly feels like this is for a lot of people. That said, Black Panther does manage its large ensemble cast well-with Daniel Kaluuya deserving mention for his role as W'Kabi, Serkis going all-out in what can only be interpreted as a plea to let him do more work without sporting a mo-cap suit, and Jordan just oozing swagger with every move he makes. There is a lot to love here just as much as there is a lot you wish Coogler and co. might have fought for to make it that much better, but while the action is subpar the drama is fantastic and the movie's heart is absolutely in the right place which ultimately makes for an experience that is enthralling if not always visually is at least more often intellectually than not; a genuine rarity in blockbuster filmmaking these days.
by Philip Price
Everything about writer/director Alex Garland's (“Ex Machina”) latest film, “Annihilation,” is subtle; it more alludes to everything than it does outright tell you what it wants you to think or what you should believe. This is key as “Annihilation” still presents a very specific set of circumstances and specific set of details around what is happening within these weird circumstances, but if you're going in for the creature effects and twist endings don't be surprised if you walk out disappointed on both accounts. In fact, as the credits began to roll in my screening the first thing I heard from a viewer seated behind me was a disdainful, "...okay?" as if they were more than a little unsatisfied by the conclusion Garland delivered. It's not hard to see why this might be case though, as most viewers and people in general have been set-up and conditioned to expect explicit answers and resolutions from our mainstream entertainment, but it was clear after Garland's 2015 directorial debut that the filmmaker wasn't interested in pleasing the masses, but more in pondering the possibilities. “Annihilation,” in many ways, is a movie that explores this very phenomenon of what our minds create when prompted and how so often what is imagined is greater than anything the reality of a situation could ever deliver. Each of the leading women who participate in the expedition that takes place in “Annihilation” have certain ideas of what they might encounter when entering "The Shimmer", but none of them really have a grasp on what they're getting themselves into or what lies ahead prior to their journey; each has no doubt imagined what might lie ahead of course, and it is in these ponderings that the reality of what they encounter comes to be so frightening. There is likely a large metaphor of some kind and/or a deeper meaning to the film at large that my limited mind has yet to comprehend, but after an initial viewing what is going on in Garland's latest is more than what can be comprehended in a single viewing. In fact, I almost wanted to re-watch the film again as soon as it finished because I knew what I'd gathered from that first viewing barely scratched the surface. “Annihilation,” I think, is largely a movie about self-destruction with the catalyst of "The Shimmer" serving to personify whatever type of self-destruction the individual viewer might relate to most, at least that's what I'm going with now.
To describe the events of “Annihilation” is to make it sound much more straightforward than it is. In the opening moments of the film we see something akin to a meteor hit a lighthouse and begin to immediately expand. We meet Lena (Natalie Portman) who is a biologist at John Hopkins University where she is presently lecturing a class based on all life on the planet which is to say it is a lecture about cells. We will get many shots of cells dividing throughout “Annihilation,” but this is the first of those that is meant to emphasize "small beginnings". Lena is approached by a fellow professor, Daniel (David Gysai), inviting her to a garden party he and his wife are throwing that weekend that informs the audience Lena's husband is gone and has been for quite some time, that she is still not able to move past this loss, and a slight-more intimate than it should be-gesture from Daniel suggests a history of some sort between them. Lena turns down the invite in favor of re-painting her bedroom over the weekend where, seemingly out of the blue, her husband returns. There is something different about Kane (Oscar Isaac) though, as he seems disoriented and doesn't know how he arrived at their house. During Lena trying desperately to extract even the smallest amount of information from him about where he's been for the last twelve months Kane shows signs that all is not well-with his mind or with his body. In being transported to the hospital a police escort surrounds the ambulance and takes both Kane and Lena to a classified location where Kane is essentially put on life support and Lena is made privy to the details of her husband's last mission that included venturing into "The Shimmer" along with the fact Kane is the only one to have ever made it back out. Lena is updated on what is known about "The Shimmer" via Doctor Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who tells our protagonist that there are many theories around what this mysterious force field of sorts encompasses, but very few facts. Lena subsequently meets the team of Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and Radek (Tessa Thompson) who, along with Ventress, are preparing to enter "The Shimmer" themselves as Ventress has watched for three years as she's put together teams just to send them on expeditions and never see them return. Lena, feeling she owes something to Kane, also volunteers to go with the group and so we watch as Lena and Radek's scientists, Thorensen's former EMT, and Ventresse’s psychologist venture into the unknown hoping to find something they don't know to look for.
With a film like “Annihilation” it is easy to get bogged down in the themes and meanings of it all and while this is certainly one of the greatest strengths of such a movie, there is an abundance of other choices that are worth being noted as well. First and foremost is the production design that has been created for the film. If “Ex Machina” surprised everyone a couple of years ago by winning the Best Visual Effects Oscar at the Academy Awards, “Annihilation” has every right to that Production Design trophy in 2019. There is also the facet of pairing this more rural and earthy score with these surreal images that registers a response that recognizes the juxtaposition but isn't sure what to do with it. Back to the production design though, this is very obviously for what is seen within "The Shimmer" and while I hate to talk too much about what we see and what becomes each member of the team's perceived realities when inside "The Shimmer" it is the risks taken here so as to not go overboard and the balance that is found between the revoltingly grotesque and the beautifully ornate that Garland and his team, including Mark Digby (“Slumdog Millionaire”), somehow manage to pull off. Nearly every shot in “Annihilation” has that same color scheme as puddles on the road do when it rains and drops of oil float on the layer of water creating those distinct bands of color. Like the water itself, these images feel translucent in that they are allowing the light in to be projected and for the audience to make them out, but this quality always makes what we're seeing feel as if it's bouncing off something else or refracting which, as you'll see, comes to be a major point in the film and its story. Taking this production design to another level entirely is the way Garland sees these confusing, but intriguing designs that have been created to bring his vision and original book author Jeff VanderMeer's world to life. Garland, though he fancies himself more a writer than anything else, is certainly a director as he consistently finds interesting places to put his camera or even more interesting ways in which to view the events that are taking place in front of us. Never does this really distract from those events as it in fact has the opposite effect of bringing us more into what might have otherwise been a more routine scene. This is especially true early on when Kane first returns home and he is unable to answer any of his wife's questions despite her desperate attempts to reach out to him. At one point, Lena literally reaches out and grabs her husband's weightless hand, but instead of capturing this in a typical two-shot, Garland focuses in on the two hands through the distorted lens a glass of water provides hinting at the importance distortion and refraction will play in the narrative.
Small touches such as this make it feel as if everything Garland writes and shows us in his movies serves some type of purpose. That may sound like an obvious statement or that as much should be the case with every movie, but obviously that's not the case and with Garland, there is a stronger feeling of intent behind this action. Throughout much of “Annihilation” I would watch with the mindset of wondering what the aesthetic choices and colors might mean and/or represent as well as what significance certain lines might hold, but in doing so I likely stopped myself from basking in the bigger picture by focusing so much on these details. I don't know this for a fact, but this inherent realization no doubt had something to do with my urge to re-watch the film immediately after it ended my first time through. So, what is “Annihilation” about exactly? It's a modern parable of sorts it seems-in this volatile age filled with abundant amounts of transparency thanks to social media “Annihilation” is a parable about figuring out who we are, where we belong, what our true desires are, and how to figure out all those things without first self-destructing. There is a scene in the film where Leigh's Dr. Ventress and Portman's Lena discuss how almost no one commits suicide, but almost all of us self-destruct in some way and to different degrees. That these tendencies are impulsive as well as being a part of our biology, they are "built into each cell," Ventress tells Lena. As it turns out, each of the women who venture into "The Shimmer" including Lena have their own reasons for doing as much and while each are performed reliably and endearingly by the talented cast of Thompson, Rodriguez, and Novotny it is no surprise the fates that await each of them as Garland is so confident in his narrative that he informs us at the top of the film what happens to the others on Lena's expedition team. This further emphasizing that “Annihilation” is not about the details of the plot and that its tension isn't held in standard devices such as death as much as it's pointed toward this question of how do we continue to live a fulfilling life as this formation of cells without self-destructing when even the God that made us has the ability to make mistakes; aging being a fault in our genes. Of course, that last sentence could easily set-off a firestorm of counter-arguments based on different interpretations of the word "mistake". Is aging really a mistake if it allows us to better understand and appreciate the best moments and parts of this life we've been granted? Maybe? Maybe not? The point is, with “Annihilation” Garland seems to want to try to find a way to describe the unfathomable and to a certain extent he perfectly captures what it feels like not to be able to explain that very thing he's chasing. Which is probably the point of it all anyway.
The 15:17 to Paris
by Philip Price
“The 15:17 to Paris” is not a good movie and likely never should have been a movie in the first place.
Prior to “Gone Girl” coming out in 2014 there was an interview with director David Fincher where he stated regarding the adaptation process that, "The book is many things. You have to choose which aspect you want to make a movie from." This is likely what writer Dorothy Blyskal should have done were she to stand the chance of making a compelling picture out of the lives of the three young men that saved a passenger train full of people from being killed by a terrorist in 2015.
There is no disputing what these guys did was heroic and that, if their story was going to be turned into a feature film, that it deserved to be a compelling one, but “The 15:17 to Paris” is not that movie. No, “The 15:17 to Paris” isn't much of a movie at all despite the fact it could be looked at as one of great risk and ambition.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, Blyskal's script decides to tell the broad story of the friendship between our three protagonists whom Eastwood decided to cast with the real heroes themselves rather than having actors portray them. Unfortunately, Blyskal not choosing an aspect of these guy's lives to zero in on and make a movie out of essentially separates the picture into two distinct halves: one being the military recruitment ad the first half functions as while the second 45 minutes may as well be a European travelogue with the event we're all in the theater to see being tacked on in the last 20 or so minutes.
This final sequence is the only part of the film that holds any real tension, any real drama, or hint of any real style that resembles that of a film produced by a major studio and made by an Academy Award-winning director. Of course, just as “The 15:17 to Paris” probably never should have been a feature film it was never going to be a feature film in the traditional fashion, but more one that solidified Eastwood is now making statements with his efforts rather than simply pondering and contemplating with his art.
For Eastwood, “The 15:17 to Paris” is the definition of heroism; no qualms, no frills, no debate about it. That's fine and I can appreciate the choice but defining a certain quality doesn't automatically make that representation of the same quality. Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos are heroes, no doubt, but their movie is (unfortunately) terrible.
by Philip Price
Though the directing duo of brothers Michael and Peter Spierig made one of the worst films of 2017 in what was the eighth ‘Saw’ film it was hard not to hold out hope for what these guys might do outside the IP pool given “Jigsaw “was likely an opportunity they couldn't (financially) turn down. And so, in what feels like their true follow-up to their highly underrated and underseen 2014 time travel flick, “Predestination,” the brothers Spierig take on the real-life mysteries likely still held within the walls of the winding Winchester mansion that is in San Jose, Calif. and was constantly under construction by the widowed Sarah Winchester for 38 consecutive years until her death in 1922. Weird, right? Definitely. Couple this unique spin on the haunted house premise with the fact the Spierig's have somehow managed to attract the talents of rather pedigreed actors like Jason Clarke and the indelible Helen Mirren and one must wonder what the attraction was. The Spierig's also reunite with “Predestination” star Sarah Snook here, but Snook is unfortunately underutilized as Mrs. Winchester's niece who has recently moved into the ever-growing mansion with her son after the death of her husband. This is all to say that “Winchester” has plenty of potential and while it never fully capitalizes on the ample opportunity it must transcend the genre trappings and become something of a more self-conscious and timeless work it is a solid and sometimes even surprising haunted house tale that uses the audience’s expectations to its advantage and takes certain elements in directions that feel fertile. The Spierig's screenplay, in collaboration with Tom Vaughan, relies too heavily on jump scares to garner the necessary reactions for being a member of the horror genre, but even still-they serve their purpose often. Resorting to these easy, cheap scares feels a way of accounting for a requirement the Spierig's weren't really interested in though, as “Winchester” is seemingly more inclined to explore how cruelty, grief, and loss can affect people in different ways and to varying degrees. If the Spierig's had figured out a more inherently haunting way to convey their tone and the actions of those supposedly trapped souls in the rooms of the titular mansion this might have been a more convincing study on such topics, but as it is the film comes and goes with more simplicity than it does depth or scares.
Taking place over the course of eight days in April of 1906 we are first introduced to the Snook character and her son who takes to wandering around the winding house in the middle of the night with eyes that look to be glazed over while on a mission intended to hurt himself in some manner. If at first this seems a default move for a scary movie to make to garner up a few jumps early on that is certainly what it feels like. Fortunately, these efforts are not done without reason as we are next introduced to Doctor Eric Price (Clarke) who, upon that introduction, is shown to have several demons of his own-getting high on his own supply, if you will-and therefore subject to all kinds of questionable decisions and hallucinations. It is somewhat surprising then when a lawyer from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company shows up at his door to offer him employment. It seems the board of Mrs. Winchester's late husband's company has decided she may be too mentally unstable to continue holding her place in the company. Being the biggest shareholder in the company has nothing to do with the additional $20 million Mrs. Winchester inherited after the death of her husband, mind you, but the boards concerns come to light a rather than investing in other outlets all of the money Mrs. Winchester makes from her firearms apparently goes back into her house so as to remedy the price she and her family had to pay for profiting from death in such a way. This is getting ahead of the film itself though, as Dr. Price, who was he himself hand-picked by Mrs. Winchester, is taken out to the Winchester mansion to observe and counsel the widow to make his own, professional assessment of the woman's mental state. Though the board members would immediately claim the woman is as mad as the house she's built Dr. Price isn't as quick to judge having had his own personal run-ins with death, loss, and the pain that follows a la the attempt to numb himself of any such emotions or memories. It is upon the meeting of Mrs. Winchester and Dr. Price where we see what “Winchester” might have had the chance to become did it not feel it had to adhere to a strict structure or the tropes of such a finite genre. It is said that after the death of her husband and young daughter, Mrs. Winchester turned to a medium who took advantage of her fragile mental state and convinced her she is cursed by the ghosts of those who died at the hands of Winchester firearms. One can imagine the discussions this might spurn between a woman with such strong convictions and a man of science such as Dr. Price.
What is immediately striking about Winchester with the introduction of Mirren's presence into the mix is how assured this main character is in her belief as to what is happening around her balanced by her seeming understanding for how hard it would be to believe. As they are positioned in the story it would seem viewers are meant to assume Price is the protagonist as he is clearly the one the film is setting up to go through this transformative experience, but it is he who comes to represent more the other side of that coin once Mrs. Winchester enters the picture with her assuredness and the sympathy this quickly creates. The movie wants us to sympathize with Winchester as it becomes apparent she is more a victim of this image and mentality she must convey than she is an advocate for it. To this effect, it is Mirren's portrayal of this uneven and largely obligated state that guides the movie in more promising directions than even the Spierig's might deserve. As Mirren's initially mysterious character comes to be more and more familiar throughout the course of the film and as the layers are slowly peeled back and the audience begins to better understand the dynamics and details of what the house represents and what Mrs. Winchester is dealing with the picture they paint is both simultaneously engaging and always on the edge of devolving into your standard "we must accomplish this singular thing to expel the spirits" climax that we've seen countless times before. And yeah, the last act kind of undoes all the great mythology that the film has built into the walls of the house in which it takes place with a resolution that is as anticlimactic and contrary to what it seemed to movie was actively preaching against up until that point that “Winchester” largely fails to succeed at what it wanted to accomplish, but it gets points for doing a few things right along the way. There is a message somewhere in here about what you think might be the end of you is what could eventually or ultimately save you, but this doesn't make a whole lot of sense given the events that unfold. Again though, this feels more due to the fact the Spierig's had to figure out how to stay within their genre lines rather than venturing into territory where they might allow Clarke's character to really figure out how he's going to cope with his backstory going forward and how the events documented in this film may or may not help him do so, but without venturing into spoiler territory, “Winchester” instead ends up essentially telling our supporting protagonist that comes to be Dr. Price that we all must learn to be at peace with our destiny otherwise we'll never have peace in our present-even if that means shooting a man who is haunting you because he's mad your guns are the ones that were used to shoot he and his brothers. Logical though, right?
Don't get me wrong, the screenplay tries its best to justify and bring meaning to this exchange, but it all feels muddled and unclear out of little more than the fact the explanation doesn't hold any weight. This may all sound more negative than what is intended though, as for most of the film it's not hard to acknowledge the strides that are being made to subvert both the haunted house film and the audience's expectations. Much of this begins in the casting of faces like Clarke and Mirren who are typically revered as being actors who star in serious dramatic material so as to be taken seriously themselves, but as of late Mirren has seemed open to more genre-friendly fare (she was in a ‘Fast & the Furious’ movie last year, remember?) and to see the actress afford herself the chance to play as human a woman in the most supernatural and outlandish of circumstances strangely grounds these events in a manner where there is a balance of how frightening these spirits could have actually been made to be and how easy it might have been to laugh at the old kook. Rather, there is a trust in Mrs. Winchester's stories from the get-go as Mirren never allows the outer-image she projects as Winchester to account for much of how she is perceived. On the other side of the coin, Clarke is one of these actors who has an interesting face and can carry the dramatic weight of the story in his expressions. In “Winchester,” Clarke's character is forced to come face to face with the moment that has left his life wracked with guilt and a burden he still carries and tries to numb by re-living what is undoubtedly the worst moment of his life to realize that he can't repeat this same mistake twice. It is another of these moments that are sprinkled throughout Winchester where we see real humanity-be it either through the performances or the uneven screenplay-that hints at what type of film this really wanted to be despite including and standing by the belief spirits and ghosts are real and many times truly demonizing in their ways. The Spierig's know they can't have their cake and eat it too it seems, but it would be fascinating to see this film through the eyes of a filmmaker who believed they could. The point being, Clarke gives an inspired and rather devastating performance in this instance that deserved not necessarily a different context, but a better conveyed context than he is given by the Spierig's. It's hard to say if “Winchester” then succeeds in saying much about grief and guilt, but it at least has a thorough story that is executed in a fashion that is respectable to the genre it feels it must remain within.