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By midlandsmovies, May 27 2018 07:23AM

Winchester (2018) Dir. Michael and Peter Spierig

Oh Spierig brothers, what happened, guys? 2009 saw their breakthrough hit Daybreakers take an interesting angle on the vampire genre where humans are farmed for their blood whilst Willem Defoe and Ethan Hawke discover a possible cure.

After that came the phenomenal sci-fi short-story adaptation Predestination; a film which presented a twisting time-travel narrative with Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook and whose clever premise made it our 4th best film of 2015.

Snook is back in their latest movie along with Helen Mirren as heiress Sarah Winchester. The lady of the house is haunted by spirits in her turn of the century mansion. Also along for the (dull) ride is Jason Clarke as Eric Price, a doctor who is sent to diagnose her mental state of mind by the gun company she lends her name to.

Based on the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, a real location claimed by many to be haunted by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles to this day, the scares, if you can call them that, begin early. But don’t expect the slow build up needed for these kind of films. Atmosphere? Absolutely nowhere to be seen. Tension? You wish!

Quiet, quiet, quiet then BOOM, a pale looking ghost appears. If that's your thing then fill your boots but for the rest of us that technique is lifeless and predictable.

The endless jump scares and pre-emptive musical stings remove any mood the film was attempting to create and despite some good costume and set design cannot overcome its complete lack of horror in a supposedly horror film.

Unengaging and unsatisfying, the brilliant Helen Mirren sadly fails to bring her gravitas and talent to the one-dimensional character and hackneyed haunted house plot. Lazy, seen-it-all-before jump sequences (oh look, a ghost appears in a moving mirror) and boring corridor explorations make Winchester’s narrative as meandering as the layout of the mansion itself.

Hugely disappointing, the Speirigs previously delivered two exciting genre hits focusing on character, story and interesting themes but with Winchester (and their franchise failure Jigsaw) their career is heading downward in the wrong direction. A lack of true shocks, a boring narrative and scene after scene of dull exposition, not even the talented actors can raise this flop from the dead.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Oct 24 2016 03:35PM

Eye in the Sky (2016) Dir. Gavin Hood

In one of the most tense films of the year, Eye in the Sky poses some important questions of accountability in a film about the use of drones in the War on Terror.

With themes similar to 2014’s Good Kill Helen Mirren is perfect as Colonel Katherine Powell who has been tracking an extremist group, including a British jihadi bride, to a terrorist safe house in Nairobi where they meet up with a cell who plan to carry out suicide attacks.

Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to obliterate this building, Mirren and her team have to assess collateral damage and seek authorisation before proceeding. Hindering her strike is a collection of MPS, military personnel and advisors based back in London who discuss the merits and pitfalls of going ahead.

It is here where the film really excels. In so many films, common sense is jettisoned in favour of thrilling action whereas in this fantastic drama it becomes the focus. Alan Rickman as Lieutenant General Frank Benson (sadly in one of his last roles before his death) is superb as a military man who’s seen the horrors of war and who argues that to win, you have to make tough decisions. Contrary to that is Monica Dolan as Angela Northman who avoids taking a stance and, with others, sends the decision up the chain of command.

These delays create tension between the go-getting Mirren and the worried advisors, as she stresses that more people could be hurt if they don’t attack quickly, whilst they fret about the media and the blame-game. It mostly avoids gender politics – the terrorists, advisors and military are both a mix of men and women – which helps focus on the armed forces conundrum.

As these event unfold, the film tells a parallel narrative of a young local girl selling bread outside of the house. Despite some feet on the ground via an undercover agent (Barkhad Abdi from Captain Phillips in an excellent performance), they are unable to move her along as they weigh up the extent of the destruction if they send in a missile from a nearby drone. How many lives are worth saving/destroying the film asks? Yet poses no definitive answer and even discusses the issue of what a person’s conscience can handle.

As those in the house record martyr videos and put their bomb-laden vests on, the film builds and builds to a crescendo as arguments are made, analysis is dissected and heated conversations fill both the control room and the safety of the parliamentary office.

The film stretches realism with the use of fictional technology (a fly-sized video drone being the worst culprit) but it’s the conversations rather than the combat that holds the audiences’ attention. And doesn’t let up for a second. But the film places emphasis on ‘seconds’ as tiny delays could end up costing lives if the uncertainty isn’t resolved.

Marvellous powerhouse performances from the entire cast are elevated by Mirren and Rickman showing their legendary range in a remarkable film. Drone controllers Aaron Paul & Phoebe Fox are excellent support as those with their fingers-on-the-triggers but in the safety of your own home the film asks you to question what you would sacrifice for the sake of protecting others. And it doesn’t get much more significant than that.


Midlands Movies Mike

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