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Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Toward the end of Winchester—the new haunted house movie starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke—a character has a moment when she says the words, “I am not afraid,” repeatedly.

My sentiments exactly.

Mirren and Clarke head a decent cast in what proves to be a movie without any real scares, personality or real reason to sit down and watch it. The acting is terrible; the editing is sloppy; and the special effects are third-rate. This level of failure is very surprising, considering it was directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, the brothers who put together the inventive science-fiction thriller Predestination.

Clarke plays Eric Price, a doctor addicted to drugs and alcohol. His wife died due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound via a Winchester rifle, a rifle from which he also took a bullet, although he survived. (The script alludes to him being dead for three minutes before being brought back to life, so he might be able to see dead people.)

Meanwhile, the members of “the board” at the Winchester firearms company want Eric to evaluate the mental health of company owner Sarah Winchester (Mirren), hoping that the disgraced doctor will basically take their bribe, declare Sarah unfit to run her company, and strip her of company control. Eric has nothing better to do, so he takes the gig and travels to the infamous real-life house—a cool-looking giant abode that makes an appearance in the film. Upon seeing the real haunted house onscreen, I was hoping for a haunted house spectacle like Kubrick’s The Shining, which featured the labyrinthine Overlook Hotel.

Instead, we get a ghost movie that trots out the same old tricks used in countless ghost movies before it. Ghosts suddenly appearing, accompanied by a loud soundtrack noise? Check. Ghosts appearing in a mirror after a user adjusts it? Check. Little possessed kids singing a well-known song in that oh-so-creepy-possessed-kid kind of way? Check.

The actual Winchester house, located in San Jose, has an impressive ghost story to go with it. The real Sarah Winchester, after inheriting the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, believed the house was inhabited by the spirits of those who fell victim to Winchester rifles. One would think that premise would make for a snappy movie, but instead, there’s just a bunch of nonsense involving Mirren’s Sarah nailing all the rooms shut and trying to avoid getting killed by her possessed, super-annoying grandson. There’s also the spectacle of Clarke doing some embarrassingly bad drunk/stoned-guy acting.

The special-effects ghosts are laughable—but even worse are the ghosts played by people wearing practical makeup. Price has a scene with his deceased wife in which she looks like somebody who tried to put her makeup on with the lights off—not a ghost. I know it would make the movie even more clichéd, but ghosts should be see through, right? When an actor or actress stands around in bad makeup in this film, it looks like somebody from the local junior high-level production of Jeepers, I Got Spooked by Ghosts in My Mom’s Basement crashed the film set.

There’s a ghost in this movie that poses as a servant on the Winchester staff. This got me thinking: Where did the ghost get his Winchester employee uniform to pull off his impersonation scheme? Is there a special costume warehouse in the afterlife where mischievous ghosts can go to rent them? When we die, are we empowered with massive tailoring abilities to go with our powers to pass through walls and shit? Or do ghosts looking to start trouble simply grab previously worn uniforms off the rack at Savers? Do they consult with Beetlejuice?

My mind was so bored, it started coming up with this kind of crap while I watched this thing. The movie is one long scene after another of Mirren and Clarke trying to make sense out of the mess. I suspect we’ll be talking about this one again in about 10 months, when we are compiling our year’s-worst lists.

Winchester is now playing at theaters across the valley.

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A drone pilot (Aaron Paul) has a missile lined up and is about to pull the trigger on a houseful of terrorists when a little girl appears within the blast zone to sell some bread.

This is just one of the dilemmas brilliantly depicted in Eye in the Sky, director Gavin Hood’s tense thriller about drone warfare and the political ramifications of collateral damage.

Helen Mirren is superb as Col. Katherine Powell, determined to take out multiple targets on Great Britain’s terrorist list, yet needing to check the legalities of all her strategies before she can make a single move. In his final live-action screen appearance, Alan Rickman is terrific as Lt. Gen. Frank Benson, drolly responding to the bureaucracy that’s keeping him from doing his job.

Paul delivers his best big-screen performance yet as Steve Watts, a drone commander torn between killing an innocent child and preventing a potential terrorist bombing. Phoebe Fox gives a breakthrough performance as Carrie Gershon, a drone co-commander.

The film poses many questions and many dilemmas, and wisely doesn’t take sides. It presents you with the frustrating situations and the consequences, and the viewer is left to mull it all over. This is one of the better-acted films so far this year.

Eye in the Sky is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342), the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, PalmDesert; 760-779-0430) and the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682).

Published in Reviews

Although it is being pushed as heady Oscar fare, Hitchcock is a little too bizarre and too goofy to find itself seriously in the running for Best Picture. I'm not complaining; I am a fan of bizarre, goofy movies, and I like this one. I just don't think it's going to take home a bagful of awards.

As this film explores the making of Psycho—Alfred Hitchcock's biggest risk as a filmmaker—Hitchcock takes a few enjoyable diversions. It contains a blast of a performance from Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, with Helen Mirren perhaps outpacing him as Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville. The film has a surface sheen to it, seemingly placing more of an emphasis on Alma's possible love affair with a fellow writer (Danny Huston) than on the making of Psycho.

Still, when it's dealing with Psycho and the mechanics of making a movie, Hitchcock is a lot of fun. Hitch and Alma must mortgage their house to finance Psycho themselves when studios pass on the project. That really happened.

Sacha Gervasi (the documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil) directs from a script by John J. McLaughlin (which, in turn, is based on Stephen Rebello's book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho). McLaughlin takes on some factual angles, such as Hitchcock's running problems with Vera Miles (an excellent Jessica Biel) and his struggles with his weight.

Then there are the slightly oft-kilter embellishments, like Hitchcock's imagined discussions with real-life serial killer Ed Gein (a perfectly cast Michael Wincott), on whom the book Psycho was loosely based. Seeing Hitchcock and Gein in the frame together having a conversation is welcomingly bizarre. Had the two ever spoken, I imagine it could've gone the way it does in this film.

Scarlett Johansson captures the allure and sweetness of Janet Leigh, who withstood the torturous shower scene and was back to smiling shortly thereafter. It's no secret that Hitchcock had troubles with his leading ladies. (HBO's recent The Girl chronicles this fact with Tippi Hedren.) Johansson's Leigh treats the job like nothing but a job, and shares little beyond gratitude and candy corn with her boss.

Hopkins—wearing a decent-looking fat suit and makeup, and employing just enough of Hitchcock's nasally voice—delivers work that captures enough of Hitch's characteristics without being a full-blown impersonation. His Hitchcock is obsessive, funny and sometimes a little sad and lonely. Hopkins does a remarkable job of delivering myriad Hitchcock moods without really changing the expression on his face.

Mirren brings a nice, dry wit to Alma, who reportedly helped rewrite and direct Hitchcock movies without screen credit. When Alma and Hitch risk it all to make a slasher movie nobody seems to want, Mirren delights in portraying the rush Alma must've felt when throwing all caution to the wind.

James D'Arcy provides a convincing Anthony Perkins, who, of course, played Norman Bates. D'Arcy gets Perkins' mannerisms just right, to an extent that I wish there were more of him in the film. According to the Internet Movie Database, Andrew Garfield had been considered, but couldn't take the role due to scheduling conflicts. That would've been interesting.

This isn't a flattering picture of one of cinema's most influential and masterful directors. It isn't a smear job, either. He's seen as a relatively insecure man who maintains his sense of humor while obsessing over blonde female leads and occasionally stuffing his face to get back at the wife. Some of that is probably stretching the truth. Did Hitchcock hallucinate about Ed Gein while filming Psycho? Did he peer at his female stars through a hole in the wall, as does Norman Bates in Psycho? Did he need to hide his wine-drinking and snacking from his domineering wife? I don't know. I do know that it makes for a moderately fun movie.

For such a hefty subject, Hitchcock is surprisingly lightweight. It is also undeniably enjoyable.

Hitchcock is now playing at Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs), UltraStar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City) and Cinemas Palme d'Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert.

Published in Reviews