Movie Mayhem – Winchester

Winchester

Winchester — 2018; Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig; Starring Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Bruce Spense and Eamon Farren

Horror films are one of the most lucrative genres in film. Not only are they relatively cheap to produce, but people as a whole love to be frightened, a combination that inherently make really good bedfellows. What’s even better — the film as a whole doesn’t even have to be that good to get people interested. In fact, people expect some level of corniness, whether it be in the acting, the plot or the deaths. This isn’t to say people don’t expect a level of sophistication, but as long as the movie is sincere about it’s intentions, it’s not necessarily required for entries in this genre. When producers do decide to elevate the material, such as in last year’s Get Out, it can add a new sense of pathos to the quality of the viewing experience. Then again, trying to add too much results in a oddly-psychedelic experience like mother!.

The newest entry on the horror block, Winchester — the story of the supposedly most haunted house in North America, once owned by Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), the wife of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company owner, William — wants very much for you to believe that it’s more than your average horror flick. After all, it secured the likes of award winning actors Mirren and Jason Clarke as its leads. But that’s about where it ends, as it seems the budget for the cast was used to secure those two actors, leaving hardly anything for the rest, who by comparison, make it clear they aren’t nearly ready to appear alongside these well-known stalwarts.

Clarke plays Eric Price, a psychologist hired by the Winchester lawyers to evaluate Sarah’s mental capacity before ousting her as majority shareholder in the company. The reason they don’t believe she’s of sound mind and body is because of her penchant for continuously building on her mansion twenty-four seven. But is the reclusive woman truly unfit, or are there other reasons for her quirky behavior? Eric agrees to stay in the house during his evaluation, but what he finds is far more than what he expected.

Aside from its stars, it’s clear directors Michael and Peter Spierig want to elevate the material beyond a simple haunting. They do what they can to subvert the most popular haunted house tropes — person moves in; person begins to be haunted; person goes to the library or finds a box of old news clippings; person hires a priest to cleanse the home; supernatural beings are vanquished (and sometimes they come back) — by keeping the spirits from playing games with its inhabitants and giving good reason for why supernatural phenomena happen gradually throughout.

As the story goes, Sarah Winchester built the “mystery mansion” to house vengeful spirits who were shot and killed by the Winchester rifle. To do so, she built rooms that signified or recreated the place of death and locked the spirits within these rooms by a piece of wood with thirteen nails. But there’s one spirit waiting for his room to be completed, that seems to be much more powerful than the rest, gaining the ability to possess Sarah’s great-nephew (Finn Scicluna-O-Prey). This concept is interesting, and plays nicely into the overall ideas, but once again highlight the issues that resonate within the film.

Not a lot seems to happen here, but that’s about par for this genre; they’re meant to scare you, not preach a life lesson. Winchester, though, has a nagging atmosphere without purpose. Not only do they do hardly anything with the possession aspects, but Sarah’s niece (Sarah Snook) and great-nephew have almost nothing to do with the overall story other than to pad the run time of the script, making it more a distraction than anything else. Then there’s the neglect to focus on the more intricate, maze-like quality and oddities of the mansion itself. They mention the fact that it’s not your ordinary house and there are a couple of moments that lend themselves to the plot, but the Spierig brothers never really utilize this aspect of the home, which keeps the viewer from truly investing in the abnormal bizarre that’s been constructed.

The Spierig brothers do, however, offer up a quiet message dealing with loss, letting go of the past, and having the courage to move on after someone you care about passes on. In that way, Eric is very much like the spirit that haunts the family, they just show their grief in very different ways. This juxtaposition does add a little depth to the characters, and Clarke does a good job of showing a deep, ingrained pain without hitting you over the head with it. With that said, the climax doesn’t quite feel as powerful as it should have. All of the elements are there and everything is set up nicely for a powerful moment of clarity and release, but something is still missing. We’re not told enough or given enough information to truly connect with Eric’s past, and therefore when the climactic moment comes, I know what I was supposed to feel, I just couldn’t find a way to ingest it.

Whether the events of the film are true or not is up to you to believe, but as a horror film, Winchester does what it can to elevate itself among your typical haunted house movie but can’t keep from feeling like a run-of-the-mill haunted house flick with top-tier actors. Then again, isn’t a simple story with a strong spirit who wrecks havoc on the lives of the living exactly what the general horror fan expects?

My Grade: B+

Bonus Review:

For a movie that is full of the three C’s — coincidence, contrivance and convenience — Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a fun escape that does what it needs to entertain fans and close out the intriguing  trilogy with satisfaction. A-

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Next week, new movies include Fifty Shades Freed, Peter Rabbit and The 15:17 To Paris. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.

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Movie Mayhem – Quick Takes

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Hostiles — 2017; Directed by Scott Cooper; Starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, John Benjamin Hickey, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons and Ben Foster; Forever My Girl — 2018; Directed by Bethany Ashton Wolfe; Starring Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, Abby Ryder Fortson, and John Benjamin Hickey

The only new major release out this week was Maze Runner: The Death Cure, but since I didn’t get a chance to see it, I decided I’d give everyone quick takes on a couple of movies I did see this weekend — one that came out last year and just now went wide enough for me to check out, and one holdover from last week I didn’t intend to see. Read Reviews

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Movie Mayhem – Den of Thieves

DenofThieves

Den of Thieves — 2018; Directed by Christian Gudegast; Starring Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and O’Shea Jackson Jr.

Gerard Butler has worn many masks throughout his career. After breaking into the zeitgeist as a six-pack wielding warrior, he’s taken on a menagerie of roles in many different genres, most prominently in action and romantic comedy. I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of them (the most obvious exception being Gods of Egypt), and am generally excited to see what he’s got up his sleeve next. Why? He’s not a character actor like Gary Oldman, who’s able to disappear into a role with ease, and tends to play the same rugged, sarcastic chap across all of his films regardless of genre, but the honesty of knowing he’ll never be an Oscar winning actor carries over on screen, reflecting the passion he has for whatever project he’s in, no matter how good or bad it may be. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – The Commuter

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The Commuter — 2017; Directed by Juame Collet-Serra; Starring Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill

A few years back, at the ripe age of 56 years young, Liam Neeson turned the tide of his illustrious career and became a household name for a second time — as an action star! It wasn’t as if he wasn’t unfamiliar with action, having starred in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Batman Begins, but up to this point, the majority of his films had been more romantic fare and dense drama. Then Neeson claimed his “particular set of skills” and started kicking villainous butt across the silver screen. Some of them were high-octane thrillers that kept us glued to our seats, and others… not so much. At 65, you wouldn’t think he’d be continuing to pound the grindstone like he has, but he must know a good thing when he sees one, as Neeson is once again back in reluctant hero mode in The Commuter. How does this action-thriller stack up against to the rest? Let’s find out. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Best & Worst of 2017

I saw ten more movie in 2017 than I did 2016 (that’s 117 for those who are counting), and the reason I bring that up is because there was one less movie (57 as opposed to 58) that earned a grade at A- or above. (I’ll let you be the judge of what that actually means!) Like all year-end lists of the past, this one will only include films I saw in 2017 (or that came out in 2017, but earned award recognition), which means films like Molly’s Game (which, after seeing it, would have landed in the #4 spot had I seen in two weeks ago), I, Tanya and The Post weren’t considered, but films such as Patriot’s Day (which was officially released in 2016) were. With that said, here is what made going to the movies in 2017 both great and a bit terrible.

Let’s find out.

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New Things Are Coming in 2018

Hello Internet and the world. This is Bryan coming to you from sunny California with a wee bit of an update on all things me, your personal Creative Genius™!

To begin, let me explain a little about why I was all but missing from this blog and social media over the past couple of months. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to finish a grand masterpiece of writing; that was sadly put on the back burner. No, the reason I was MIA for the better part of the last fiscal quarter was because I was focusing on rebuilding my website and figuring out ways to improve my presence on this very platform.

As some of you may know, I am pretty reserved when it comes to putting myself out there, so I’ve always been tentative about social media. I’m going to attempt to subvert that a little this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not going to divulge a lot of personal things about myself, tell you where I am at all times of the day, snap pictures of every meal I eat, or go on extreme political tirades. What I am going to do is attempt to deliver more content to a wider audience. Along with my continued movie and book reviews, I’m going to be a little more vocal about my work — reporting on my progress, showing samples, and possibly (when it’s deemed appropriate) giving people a behind the scenes look at the process. I’m also going to attempt to deliver more thoughts on writing, design and the world at large, and be more attentive to others, hopefully showcasing a few more businesses, authors and the like.

But none of this will happen until I officially unveil my new website on January 26! Here’s a quick taste of what’s to come:

The entire site has been redesigned to be be more sleek, easy to navigate and completely responsive!

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First look at the home page of Phoenix Moirai’s new website.

I’ve also completely overhauled the portfolio page to give it a much more dynamic feel.

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First look at Phoenix Moirai’s new portfolio site.

And finally, I will be adding a separate subdomain specifically for weddings.

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First look at Phoenix Moirai’s new wedding site.

Once this is complete, I will be working to get both my author site and my film site completed. The author site will go live alongside the publication of my new book.

Speaking of my next latest and greatest, before I stopped writing to concentrate on my website, I was about 65% done with the first draft (which in terms of writing, means I am about 5% done with the book as a whole)! I will begin divulging more info over the next year leading up to the release, but all I can say right now to whet your whistle is that it’s a metafictioanal sci-fi/fantasy which I have tentatively titled, “Threads.” I am hoping for a November release, but we’ll see how the year goes. (Who knows, we may get to see it this summer!!)

That’s it for now. Again, look for more updates here on my blog as well as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Until then, live life as if you won’t see tomorrow.

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IndieBooks Review – Eomix Galaxy Books: Identity

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Eomix Galaxy Books: Identity by Christa Yelich-Koth

When you end a book, movie or an episode of a television series in a way that informs the reader or viewer that the story will continue, speculation, especially now through the use of the Internet, can run quite rampant. People who enjoyed your work may begin to dissect everything that happened and devise their own theories about what’s to come and what should happen to the characters they love, leading to high expectations that more than likely will be crushed under the hammer of the author’s plans. One recent example of this phenomenon is Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which subverted a lot of fan theories and upset a lot of people because it didn’t go the way they thought it should. This is a tricky thing to navigate for writers, but that shouldn’t stop them from telling the story they are inclined to write. It is up to the reader to subvert their own prejudicial expectations; if they can’t, there’s nothing the writer can really do about that. But when they can, it becomes a much richer experience for the reader as they enjoy the evolution of the story the way it was meant to be told.

In my review for Christa Yelich-Koth’s novel, Eomix Galaxy Books: Illusion, I thought it was a little off-putting that the book didn’t feel complete; the story abruptly ended without any real closure on the events that happened. My feelings haven’t changed after reading the second half of the story, Eomix Galaxy Books: Identity, which does a good job of bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion. The thing is, had the two books been combined into one larger piece, a lot of what feels superfluous and repetitious could have been stripped, leaving behind a story and pace that would have made the entire thing that much more riveting.

Identity picks up a few days after the events of Illusion, but the focus of the book dramatically shifts from the trials and tribulations of our original heroine, Daith, to a rescue mission orchestrated by her friend, Torrak. This shift might be somewhat jarring for those who are more interested in Daith and how she handles the events of the last book, but where I thought Daith and her journey was the most exciting part of Illusion, her storyline becomes quite flat for the first two-thirds of Identity, giving way for Torrak and his adventure to become the highlight of this chapter in the Eomix Galaxy series.

Because Torrak was a witness to Daith’s abduction by Trey Xiven, the commander of the Aleet Army, he is now a target of clean-up attempts by Xiven to hide what happened. When Torrak wakes up in the hospital, he quickly learns that he’s the only person who remembers Daith. Not even her own sister can remember (and when she starts to, the mind-altering drug she was given causes her to forget once again). So it is up to Torrak and his best friend Kalil to find out what happened and rescue her from Xiven’s nefarious plans. Along the way, the two unlikely heroes run into a bevy of colorful characters who help Torrak track her across the galaxy in one form or another, while being pursued by one of Xiven’s assassins.

Meanwhile, Daith continues her struggle to find peace with her new life. She still isn’t quite sure who to trust, and her determination for revenge grows stronger as Xiven and the Aleet Army get closer to their ultimate destination. To prepare her for the eventual war on Xiven’s home planet of Sintaur, Daith begins training with a new mentor, Cenjo, who starts to have reservations about where everything is heading. He isn’t quite sure Xiven is on the up-and-up, so he keeps a watchful eye over the both of them to hopefully prove himself wrong.

A lot of what happens with Daith feels a bit repetitive as she continues her training and fights her daemons — in this case, her dreams — for control over her powers. At the same time, some of what happens to Torrak feels like a waste of time, as it doesn’t do anything much for the story. Take for example a scene in which Torrak stops on a planet to fuel his ship. Though this is an example of grounding the story in reality, the entire moment of him landing and fueling takes up about a page or so where nothing at all significant happens. Something like this could have been mentioned in one quick sentence in passing and no one would have batted an eye as to the realities of space travel.

It is instances such as these when I wish Illusion and Identity would have been combined into one book. This way, the timeline could have been condensed so it didn’t feel so stretched out, and both Daith and Torrak’s stories could have been told simultaneously, making the pace much quicker and keeping our interest more contained.

But with all of that aside, the last third of Identity almost makes up for everything. Christa does a terrific job setting up all of the character arcs to lead to an explosive finale that is written with an extraordinary flair, wrapping everything up in a way that was wonderfully unexpected, giving weight to Daith’s character and ending Torrak’s wild, fun adventure on a high Illusion failed to achieve.

My Grade: A-

Christa Yelich-Koth is an award-winning author and graphic novelist, and co-founder and head of submissions for Buzz & Roar Publishing. Born in Milwaukee, Christa graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, which helps her when writing creatures and worlds in her science fiction. She writes because “I love creating something that pulls me out of my own world and lets me, for a little while, get lost inside someone or someplace else.”

Check out all of Christa’s social media platforms:

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Christa Yelich-Koth

Author Blog

Amazon Author Page

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

YouTube

If you are an independent author and would like your book reviewed, let me know in the comments section with a link to where I can purchase the book. If I find it intriguing, and it’s something I think I’d like, I will purchase a copy and add it to my reading list. I will be doing one independent book review per month, so not all requests will be accepted.

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Movie Mayhem – Coco

Ever since they revolutionized animation with Toy Story — the very first fully computer-animated feature-length film — back in 1995, Pixar has been a pillar of creativity. With twenty-two years and nineteen movies under their belt (not counting shorts and spinoffs), they haven’t been perfect every time, but even their worst outing tends to be better than the majority of films that hit the multiplexes these days. Aside from pushing the boundaries on photo-realistic animation and their incredible consistency (kudos to keeping John Ratzenberger employed!), the one component that makes Pixar such a powerhouse in the animation world is their insistence on telling a good story above all else. To do this, they populate each and every story with strong characters and an amazing heart, allowing them to pull at your heartstrings like a master puppeteer. Not only that, but they aren’t afraid to take risks. A kids movie with an old man at its center? A space opera where two words take up the bulk of the dialogue? A tasty treat about rats in Paris? A colorful tale dealing with death and protecting your heritage? Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Wonder

Feel-good movies always walk a fine line between inspirational and exaggerated  schmaltz. On one level, they present a rosy picture of the world, a near-utopia where nothing too terrible ever happens, and when it does, it’s resolved rather quickly, and on another level, they do everything they can to motivate you to be an overall better person, but try do so without sounding intentionally preachy. This mix often leads to over-the-top sentimentality, or pushes the film to become so unrealistic, you just can’t buy its sincerity. When done right, though, they leave you emotionally cleansed, joyous and hopeful for the future. With Wonder, the newest entry into the family-friendly inspirational drama based on the novel by R.J. Palacio, this line is extremely thin, yet expertly teeters on both sides without ever going too far one way or the other. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Murder on the Orient Express

Disclaimer: I have not seen any of the previous iterations of Murder on the Orient Express, nor have I had the pleasure of reading Agatha Christie’s novel on which the films are based. This review is based solely on Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation.

What makes a good mystery? First and foremost is a great lead detective who an audience can relate to, have fun with and feel invited in to join them on their quest to solve the puzzle. Second is an eclectic cast of suspects; each one with their own distinct personality and secrets lying in wait to be discovered and move the detective closer to his final revelation. Third is a bevy of overt and subtle clues and misdirections strewn about that help guide the detective through the case. And finally, there must be a great reveal, one an audience doesn’t see coming but should have with all the clues and information that have been openly provided for all to digest. Kenneth Branagh, director and star of the newest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, Murder on the Orient Express, does everything he can to include every one of these pieces, yet forgets one very key ingredient: a blanket of intrigue. Read Full Review

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