Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How To Make An Extremely Mediocre Horror Movie

A few weeks ago, we saw Winchester, the horror film starting Helen Mirren about the Winchester Mystery House.

For those who are not familiar, the Winchester Mystery House is a real-life weird thing. The widow (and majority owner) of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, Sarah Winchester, had an infant daughter die, and  upon consulting with a medium, was told that in order to appease the spirits of those how have died by the arms her husband (and now her) sold, she had to continually build. As in perform constant, 24-hour-a-day construction on the house she owned. As such, she moved out West to California, where for the next few decades the mansion was under constant construction, remodeling, and experimentation. The result is a fascinating building, where doors lead nowhere, stairs spiral needlessly around, and rooms make little architectural sense.

(For the record, while the reason why this happened is probably apocryphal, the construction actually did happen. The theories are pretty much either the spiritualist one listed above, or that she just had money to burn being an armchair architect. Obviously the estate plays up the former, since spooks who are in league with the local construction worker's guild is a better story.)

For the movie, instead of telling the incredibly fascinating real-life story, they chose instead to go with a rather mundane straight retelling of the story involving ghosts.

They did take the above foundation as the starting point. They did, also, come up with a reasonably interesting take on it--the constant rebuilding was that, in order to appease the ghosts, they had to recreate the room in the room of their death, and then sealed. They did also build on the real-time obsessions of Sarah Winchester, such as the number 13.They even come up with a framing device--a doctor who visits to evaluate her mental state on behalf of the Winchester board of directors--that sounds like it could go in interesting directions.(My wife and I toured the place when we went out to California last year.)

Sadly, the movie makes none of this interesting.

First off, it relies on cheap jump scares. Jump scares can be effective, even if they aren't very creative, but in this case they just seem out of place. The first few times it happens--when the doctor is looking in a mirror--it's in a scene with no tension, no buildup, and no creepiness. It just sort of happens with no reason.

The character of Sarah Winchester is clinical. Helen Mirren does the best she can with the material, but it goes nowhere. We don't feel sympathy for her. We're not sure if she's supposed to be cold and calculating, or have a hidden agenda, or worthy of emotional investment. Instead, she disjointedly comes across as simultaneously abrasive and then thoughtful. When the doctor first interviews her as part of his examination, the exchange is combative--but it turns out there's no particular reason for this to be the case, because they are ultimately on the same side, and, it's quickly revealed, she invited him to be there because of his background. And when the shit starts to hit the fan, she gets into action right away--and presumably with no help that required the doctor to travel halfway across the country to pull off.

Add to this the weird relationship with the relatives living in the house--are we supposed to hate them? Root for them? We don't know, because the information presented doesn't connect.

And when the "big bad" finally shows up--so what? The previous times he had been shown, it's without importance or interest. He's a secondary character of no consequence, so when the reveal happens there's no emotional resonance. And when we have what is presumably the film's climax with regard to the doctor--again, the information we've been given so far is far too inadequate to car about its resolution.

This was an extremely frustrating movie to watch, because all of the elements were there. It had the needed characters. It took good stuff from the real-life story and filled in the rest with perfectly reasonable fiction. The actors involved were top-notch. But the whole thing just doesn't work.  Every single scene and line of dialogue in the movie feels like it was written independently of each other, and then someone ordered them all together, and then someone was brought in to paste the whole things together with jump scares and poor lighting.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Woodrow Wilson Would Like A Word

There's a little known episode of history that we should learn about today.

In late 1919 Woodrow Wilson, on an extensive tour to promote the Treaty of Versailles, collapsed in what eventually amounted to a stroke. Incapacitated, his wife, Edith, took over the day-to-day responsibilities of the job, delegating what she could to cabinet members and insulating him from everyone else.

However, late in his term, Wilson gathered enough energy to make one proclamation:

"There is no greater urgency in this world than to carry out that which our founding fathers intended: that everyone eat peanut butter pie on President's Day."

After which he collapsed, never to speak again.

That's right--it's President's Day soon, which means there is more than adequate time to purchase ingredients and bake a peanut butter pie for the occasion. There is nothing more important you can do for your country.

"I may have refused to delegate my authority to someone with a better capacity to uphold the duties of the office, a decision which may have forced the flawed application of a treaty that eventually led to World War II, but damned if this peanut butter pie isn't delicious. #WorthIt."

Sunday, February 4, 2018


I like football. No, I really do.

But I haven't watch a game in years.

Well, that's not true. I haven't watched a non-Superbowl game for about three years or so. And this year I'm not even going to watch that.

Part of it is just...fatigue. The NFL has made some boneheaded decisions in the last few years. Usually I take such things in stride--a lot of people do a lot of things I disagree with, and I still consume their media. The world is such a culturally intertwined place that it's impossible to avoid most things. You can take a stand about the NFL's handling of domestic abuse or concussions or the anthem by not watching the games, but at the end of the day you're almost certainly giving even more money to gas station owners, waitresses, and accountants that if you knew their opinions it would probably shock you. But at some point I just shrugged and thought, "I'll pass."

I'm sure I'll get back into it again, but I just haven't had the inclination for a while to see a game. And because I haven't followed the NFL for a few years, I am out of the loop on so many things it will be hard to catch back up.

All this is to say I won't be watching the Superbowl this year. Not only am I not really interested in the teams, but I also no longer have the ability to do so--we cut the cord, as it were, when we moved. The only thing we really lost was live TV and live sports, and while I do miss hockey it just wasn't nearly worth it to pay a monthly charge just for that.

I'm sure I will catch the scores once in a while, but for now, it looks like it will just be slightly cheaper pizza for a day for me. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Groundhog This

Punxsutawney Phil is finally having his day! But he's so suck of just predicting the weather--they have professionals for that, now. So here's Phil's better predictions for all of 2018.
  • Nicholas Cage will run for President.
  • Kids will move from eating Tide Pods to eating bobby pins and dacron.
  • Elon Musk finally rips his mask off to reveal that he is actually one of the aliens from V.
  • Y'all remember V, right?
  • The Oscars ceremony will be a brilliantly awkward six-hour marathon of shifted eyes and apologetic mumbling, as host Jimmy Kimmel tries to balance making The-Best-Picture-Announcement-Was-Wrong jokes with vague, empty platitudes about how everyone in the room is a sex criminal but we're all just going to pretend it doesn't matter.
  • Kim Jong Un will do something stupid during the Olympics, probably involving either a ballistic missile test or the luge.
  • Not a prediction, but I would pay good American cash to see Kim Jong Un strap on a helmet and take a luge down a big slope just for the hell of it.
  • One of the commercials in the Super Bowl will be a wildly insensitive "build a wall" joke.
  • It's possible, just possible, that the FIFA World Cup in Russia will end up being corrupt.
  • Someone in the royal family is going to make an embarrassingly racist remark at Prince Harry's wedding without realizing it.
  • Alexa finally gets sick of everyone's shit and starts passive-aggressively not allowing you to order any more Ed Sheeran CDs.
  • The Democrats, running in the perfect atmosphere for a wave of House and Senate races across the nation, will find a way to jack it up and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, just like they have in pretty much every single election since WWII.