The Haunting of Winchester House

February 23, 2016


Internet Movie Database

A family moves into the ‘Winchester House’ as caretakers and of course there are ghosts and stuff.

This review contains SPOILERS but since it’s a low-budget straight-to-video movie, I doubt you’ll ever come across it…and truthfully, if you do, you won’t want to see it. Trust me.

We have had this movie in the pile of DVDs that we laughingly refer to as The Great Unwatched, and it’s been there for a while…Spider Jerusalem watched it one time while house-sitting for us and said it was kinda meh. But because it was the Winchester Mystery House, of course we had to see it!

So let me start off by saying that I have lived within two miles of the real Winchester Mystery House for many, many years. I’ve taken the tour many times (great for out-of-town guests) and have read a lot about Sara Winchester and her interesting obsession.

The real WMH is in San Jose, across and down the street from two different shopping centers, and right by the 280 freeway. It is not in the woods in the middle of nowhere, and in fact the ‘house’ (in an undisclosed location) they use to stand in for it is a really pallid imitation, like showing someone a minnow and claiming that it’s a whale. Or some simile to that effect.

The production values are okay, not great, as is the acting. The house seems to have about six rooms, plus a basement and a secret passage. There are a lot of jump scares, and a bit of oogies with the baby (where did that come from? the main ghosts are concerned with the mystery of Sara W’s daughter’s disappearance) that is crawling into the room. But mostly pretty typical horror movie stuff.

The ending was just a damn stupid ‘Sixth Sense’ ripoff.

In the immortal word of Spider Jerusalem, Meh.

Vanilla Sky

December 18, 2012


The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

Tom Cruise is in prison, talking to psychologist Kurt Russell about a murder…did he do it, or is he crazy? Or both?

OK, this one was wierd AND oogie…there was one scene where I had my hands ready to put up over my eyes if I didn’t like what I was seeing…didn’t turn out to be as scary as I thought, but certainly unsettling…

And of course I saw this one at the Red Cross…9:30 am, I haven’t had breakfast and only half a cup of caffeine, and I’m a captive audience for two hours, with a needle in each arm! Luckily the real oogies didn’t start til near the end, when I could actually put my hands up over my eyes if needed…

Not to give too much away, this was interesting (and not in the American sense, which Mr. Otter says is always pejorative.) The plot went in unexpected directions, the lead actors were fun to watch, Penelope Cruz was cute as a button, and I always enjoy Jason Lee, even outside Kevin Smith films. I have to admit, I kept wondering who the psychologist was…he looked a lot like Kurt Russell, but seemed to be too tall…!

The one thing I can say about this without giving any important plot points away is, I found that Tom Cruise was a lot more interesting to watch when he was disfigured and all scarred up that when he wasn’t…kind of sad to be so good looking that your face becomes boring…

Watch it and find out what you think, it’s worth the rental.


December 11, 2012


The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

Scientist goes to space station orbiting mysterious planet Solaris. Strange stuff happens.

OK, let me start off by saying that I really, really wanted to like this. I was not viewing it under good conditions, since I saw it on a plane, in the middle of a 10 hour flight, in daylight, going home from a wonderful vacation and thereby too tired to think, with attendants and passengers going up and down the aisles, and on a tiny screen in the awful pan&scan format…not ideal, to say the least.

But I had been sorry to miss it in the theatres, so I thought I’d give it a try…a good SF movie, with honey George Clooney in it, what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, the thing not to like was the totally incomprehensible ending…what the heck were they thinking? A really good movie, kinda oogie (his dead wife comes back, MORE THAN ONCE, ew!) but she wasn’t scary looking or anything.

Clooney was very good in this, as were the other actors, a suspenseful plot…but no resolution. Not to mention a lot of things with no explanation-where is Solaris? What is the space station doing there? How did Clooney GET there? basic stuff like that is just not explained, and the ending is totally unsatisfying.

The Russian language version of this is supposed to be much better…try that instead.

The Shipping News

December 10, 2012


The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

From the novel of the same name by E. Annie Proulx

Kevin Spacey plays an ineffectual loser who finds purpose and self worth after moving to a tiny town in Newfoundland with his daughter and aunt

This one is Mr. Otter’s fault…I had a book to read. I was just in the video room to keep him and the cats company, and didn’t want to watch any kind of serious movie, nosireebob! He put this on and my resolve lasted about five minutes into it, at which point I glared at him, grabbed a cat and started watching.

I really, really liked this movie. Mr. Otter’s smugness factor is beyond belief at this point.

Basically, it’s a lot of oddball characters all clashing together, which is what is so enjoyable about it, especially the happenings at the newspaper office. Kevin Spacey is wonderful in this, as is Judy Dench as his aunt, and Cate Blanchett is so good, you really really hate her.

Although I have to admit, every single minute of that movie made me resolve more and more firmly NEVER EVER EVER to go to Newfoundland except maybe for a brief visit in the middle of summer and only if I bring my own provisions…

ghostThere were several slightly wierd dream sequences, a little oogie there just because I didn’t know what was coming, and the guy in the ocean ditto, because it was so sudden…but overall, very low oogie factor, perfectly ok to see once things started getting worked out.
If you haven’t seen this one, get it…and the book too!


December 8, 2012


The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

A Western-like science fiction story, good guys vs. bad guys, plenty of fights and explosions, excellent special effects, a really well-done movie.

This is one of those rare movies (especially for a genre movie) that EVERY SINGLE PERSON we talked to said was absolutely wonderful. Even Mr. Otter, who sneers at SF explodo movies in general, found it so highly recommended that we went to see it.

And dang, everyone was right!

I have not seen the short-lived television series (Firefly)* that was the precursor to this (evidently when it was cancelled, the creator talked a studio into making the movie and doing it right, imagine that…) but I want to.

And not having seen the show didn’t detract from the movie one bit. And the movie was really, really good. The plot was interesting, the characters were not only distinguishable from each other, multiethnic, and not just cookie cutter stock figures…but they actually grew and changed and had personalities.

The look of the movie was good (and EXCELLENT f/x, too). The music and score were good, not something you noticed a lot, just a few times, but just right…I’ll bet the soundtrack really rocks. And my favorite part: everyone in the book talks kind of like you think people in the old west should have talked, with lots of cool phrases and metaphor and long words…and they SUSTAIN it. Perfectly. Throughout the movie. And it works. And it adds layers and depth and shading to the whole thing, because you really have to pay attention to the words, and what they said, and roll them around in your head a little, and enjoy them**. Imagine THAT in a shoot-them-up-martial-arts-butt-kicking-action flick. Wow.

Oogies: the dead people in the city… I was really expecting them to start moving, and watched some of that part with my hand half over the screen, ready to NOT LOOK any second…but it was okay.

I was a little surprised to see what I thought was yet another Baldwin brother in what looks to be the sleeper hit of the year…”Oh no!” I thought to myself. “Will the remarkably prescient folks at Fametracker have to reset the Baldwin Obscurity Clock now that a Baldwin Brother is in what looks like an actual hit movie? Could The Man From F.U.N.K.L.E. be WRONG?” But no. I should have trusted them in their wisdom. There are many Baldwin brothers…but Adam Baldwin, who is excellent in Serendipity, is NOT ONE OF THEM. Whew.

Go see this, it’s incredible.

And even better on Blu-ray! the reavers are REALLY SCARY…

*I wrote this review before we had seen Firefly, which is now one of our favorite dvds. If you haven’t caught this series, do it now. On Blu-ray, if possible.

**For those of you who love Suzette Haden Elgin’s Ozark Trilogy, the people in this movie talk exactly like the Ozarkers. It’s really, really amazing.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

November 30, 2012

The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

The first of the Indiana Jones movies: it’s 1938, and our eponymous hero goes looking for the Ark of the Covenant and finds danger and romance…

I have to admit, when I first heard the name of this movie, I thought, what a stupid name for a movie, nobody will ever remember it and it’ll be gone in a week…was I ever wrong about that one!

What can one say about a movie that is, I believe, one of my generation’s cinematic turning points? Sure, there are great action movies, but this one truly transcends the adventure genre; as Star Wars is to science fiction films, and The Princess Bride to swashbuckling fantasy, so this is to classic exotic adventure films.

And what a film! Action, adventure, romance, not too bad in the history department (Historian-on-a-Stick loves this one) dozens of excellent tag lines, exotic locales, wonderful special effects, some oogies at the end (not too bad, but the first time I saw it it was pretty scary); a wonderful cast, including Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott and Alfred Molina…wow.

I truly can’t praise this too highly…I’ve seen it so many times that I can quote the dialog right along with the actors, and it’s still wonderful, especially now that it’s arrived on DVD in a fresh and lovely print, widescreen so you can see all the action, yippee!

I would find it hard to believe that anyone over the age of 15 hasn’t seen this, but even if you have, get it. Yes, you have to get all 4 dvds in a boxed set for now, including the sucky second one, but it’s worth it. Trust the Otter.

*No, the name of the movie is NOT Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I refuse to change it just because they renamed it to make the DVD set look better.

<curmudgeonly rant>
One of my real flash points happens when the Powers that Be go back and change a work to get more people to buy it…the title, the thing itself, adding stuff back in…for example, modifying the original name of a movie to make it easier for stupid people to find (oh, we better put Indiana Jones on the front of the first movie or nobody will be able to figure out that Raiders of the Lost Ark has him in it…sorry, folks, he is ONE OF THEM. Adding “Indiana Jones and…” to the title is redundant, meaningless and idiotic.) Or putting back edited material into a movie or book to sell even more copies (Stephen King’s The Stand, for instance…the stuff that was cut from the original version doesn’t add a thing to it, and in fact bogs it down considerably…but that’s Stephen King for you…) And don’t even get me started on what George Lucas did to the Star Wars trilogy…

Anyway. Usually, editing is A GOOD THING. It’s hard to edit too much, especially with books…and the only example I’ve seen so far of extra movie footage that was an improvement is the inclusion on the DVD Special Features of the 15 minutes of footage that they cut from the original Italian version of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to make it shorter for American audiences, that contains major plot points that always puzzled me, it was wonderful to have this added to the dvd…but with very few exceptions (ok, 1776, I’ll give you that) the version that was released in the theatre IS THE MOVIE.

I can see a day where nobody will be able to discuss any movie without half an hour of blather about which version, which cut, etc. before they can agree on what they’re talking about…and I’m really really tired of people saying, well, if you haven’t seen the added material on the dvd you haven’t REALLY seen it. Yes, I have really seen it, and if the director put his name on it, he or she should be prepared to stand by it, not bleat sadly about how he had to make choices and cut stuff to make it right for the theatergoing public.

That’s the name of the game, everyone, the dollar is the bottom line…but I continually see filmmakers who are talented enough to make the movie for release in the theatres, make it the right length, and make it GOOD.

So stop all this crap, agree on a standard, and let’s go watch some movies.
</curmudgeonly rant>

And of course I have had to eat my words now that Peter Jackson has released the Director’s Cut of the Lord of the Rings movies, Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King…because he actually cut the footage back into them that they needed, that he was forced to take out so the moviegoing audience wouldn’t have to sit through four hour movies…and you know, he recut them himself for the dvd release, and they’re BRILLIANT. Even when I don’t agree with his choices for changes, they’re brilliant.

But these are an exception, the curmudgeonly rant above stays as written.

Minority Report

October 22, 2012

From a short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick. In the future, crimes can be predicted before they happen, and people are arrested and charged with murders they haven’t yet committed…

This is the short review, the long review contains SPOILERS, don’t go there unless you’ve seen it or have ABSOLUTELY NO INTENTION of seeing this movie because you’ll find out way more than you want to know.

Spielberg and Cruise. Together. The combination almost had me running as fast as I could in the opposite direction…I mean, either alone is seriously capable of screwing up an otherwise good movie, but put them TOGETHER…no friggin’ way! but the previews were good, and it’s a Philip Dick story, so I thought, what the heck, I have a free ticket…

And I’m so glad I went. Yes, there are 10 dollar signs above this movie, I would have been glad to pay more than the going rate for it.

Folks, this is seriously intelligent, suspenseful, well paced science fiction here, with GREAT special effects that are not overdone, no beating you over the head with how cool they are (hard to believe Spielberg had a hand in that)…drop what you’re doing, run out the door and go see it NOW, you’ll be glad you did.

Oogies: the hallucinatory bits of images of dead people that the precogs were showing were a little creepy, and there were a couple of other things that I can’t mention in the short review.






From a short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick. In the future, crimes can be predicted before they happen, and people are arrested and charged with murders they haven’t yet committed…

This is the long review, and I’m gonna tell you WAY more than you want to know if you haven’t seen it. Go back to the top if you don’t want to find out all the surprises ahead of time.

I loved this movie. I like good noir-ish sf, Gattaca and Dark City were both excellent (and had serious honeys in them too, Jude Law and Rufus Sewell respectively), and Matrix was good explodo and f/x even though it was philosophy 101…Minority Report succeeded on so many levels, it was a joy to sit through. Yes, there are 10 dollar signs above this movie, I would have been glad to pay more than the going rate for it.

Folks, this is seriously intelligent, suspenseful, well paced science fiction here, with GREAT special effects that are not overdone, no beating you over the head with how cool they are (hard to believe Spielberg had a hand in that)…drop what you’re doing, run out the door and go see it NOW, you’ll be glad you did.

I really hate Tom Cruise, he’s almost as much an “anti-honey” as Costner and Stallone (I am not actually to the point of swearing that I will NEVER see another movie with Cruise in it, as I have the other two, but he certainly isn’t at all appealing)…but he was REALLY GOOD in this. Really, really good.

And Spielberg, I don’t know what happened to him, but he didn’t do his usual ‘I will use my magic powers to push all your emotional buttons because I can, whether or not it’s approprate to the story’ thing…I couldn’t see any evidence of him stomping all over it with his heavy iron boots as he usually does. Amazing.

Yes, some of the plot twists were really obvious…I mean, think about it, is Max Von Sydow ever NOT the villain? and as my friend Virago pointed out, it didn’t make sense for them to still allow him eye access to the building once he was locked up safely in it, esp. since they knew he had changed his eyes and so his old ones were still kicking around somewhere…but that’s a small thing. There were a LOT of great surprises in this movie, enough to keep me on the edge of my seat all through it (and it’s a long one, over 2 hours).

I also liked the fact that they DIDN’T solve the question of the son’s disappearance, that would have been too neat and tidy. The sick relationship between the precogs and their ‘caretaker’ was creepy and interesting, and the black market doctor that swapped his eyes, what a GREAT scene, even with the icky fridge scene…

Oogies: the hallucinatory bits of images of dead people that the precogs were showing were a little creepy, and the whole refrigerator scene with the crazy doctor was REALLY REALLY GROSS. I didn’t mind the eyeballs at all, but that SANDWICH, EWWWWW!

So, ok, I could go on and on about this…but basically, it’s great, go see it, you’ll be glad you did.

Finding Nemo

September 21, 2012

The Internet Movie Database
CinemaSins      Movie Reviews

Marlin the clownfish searches for his lost son.

Well. And I thought that would pretty well sum this one up. Mr. Otter and I rented this from Netflix (well, ok, let’s be honest, I pick most of our Netflix movies) just to see the animation, which everyone we talked to said was very good.

And it was. The surprising thing was, the story was better than we expected. Should have known that Pixar wouldn’t let us down…

Mr. Otter especially liked the character that Ellen DeGeneris did the voice for, Marlin’s helper Dory. My favorite was the angelfish (William Dafoe) in the aquarium…I liked all the aquarium fishes, nuttier than a fruitcake as they were…and I LOVED the surfer dude turtles, can I come back as one of them in my next life? Like, wow. Dude. And isn’t that exactly what seagulls are like? Perfect!!!

Anyway. If you’re tired of the same old same old yearly Disney sort of thing, try this: a good story, good characters and stunning animation, even on the small screen. Haven’t even seen the disk full of bonus stuff yet, but it sounds very watchable.

Oogies: the shark. Man, was he scary! I would have been out of that room screaming and had nightmares for weeks if I had seen this even five years ago…ok, maybe not, but he was scary, even though he turned out to be a good guy, sort of. Truly, don’t let an overimaginative kid get anywhere near this, it’s as bad as the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

September 20, 2012

The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet break up and each go to a company that erases memories because they want to forget each other, but of course it doesn’t work out like it’s supposed to.

I really wanted to like this movie more than I did. Firstly, the trailers made it look like a suspense/thriller sort of thing, almost as misleading as the trailers for U-571. It’s more of an oddball love story.

Also, Jim Carrey acts like a relatively normal person, a rare and good thing…in fact, he’s toned down his wierdness quite a bit so that Kate Winslet will seem even more outre, a hard thing for him I’m sure, but very effective.

But no. This movie is just plain strange. Even though it is somewhat redeemed at the end, when you find out why the movie started like it did, and start to get involved with them and their relationship, it’s too little too late.

And let’s face it, how stupid do you have to be to let strangers screw around with your mind (I mean, directly, rather than just in normal everyday interactions?) Especially in a movie, you just KNOW things are going to go wrong. And yet, a small voice tells me, if this technology were available, of course people would do it. And then get upset and blame the doctors when it went wrong. Because people are really that stupid. Sigh.

Sorry about the otter rant. Most people seemed to like this movie more than we did, but aside from a few interesting shots and segues, this one just didn’t do it for us. Mr. Otter checked out about halfway through, choosing sleep with Bob on his lap over watching the rest of the movie. I stuck with it, but just wasn’t impressed. What did you think?

Oogies- When people started showing up in his memories without faces, ew! especially the first time. Even Mr. Otter thought that was kinda oogie.

Donnie Darko

September 19, 2012

The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

This is the long review, and it contains COMPLETE SPOILERS. This is a good movie, and if you read this it’ll give everything away…you may want to watch it first, it is worth it.

Is Donnie crazy? or more in touch with the universe than anyone around him?

The Bird Lady and her spouse gave me this for my birthday last year, it being one of her favorite movies, and to tell the truth, it had been on my Netflix list for quite a while. “You’ll like it,” she said, “it’s got a demonic bunny in it.”

So I took it with me on one of my visits to Southern California, to watch in my motel room.

And Frank the bunny was oogie. So I stopped watching it about 15 minutes along, thinking I would wait until Mr. Otter could watch it with me. I mentioned this to the Bird Lady. “Oh, no,” she said, “Frank isn’t oogie, really, you’ll see.”

So Mr. Otter and I watched it. And, as I had suspected: Frank was way, way oogie. Even after you find out what’s going on with him…he’s oogie.
Having said all that, this was a pretty darn good movie.

Firstly, it stars Jake Gyllenhaal, serious honey. This was made in 2001, when he was only 21, but his honeyness is apparant, and is only getting more and more evident. And he’s a good actor too, double points to you Mr. Gyllenhaal!

The other actors in this move are good too, and Drew Barrymore is so understated that I totally didn’t recognize her. Amazing. And the special effects are really good too. And of course Frank is there for oogies.

And the plot. Hm. On the one hand, it was really fascinating…on the other hand, I had problems with how it worked out, which is where the reality police show up.
Let me preface the next part by saying that I love time travel stories (except Wells’ The Time Machine, that does nothing for me, especially the 2002 version). I love ‘change the past and change the present’, ‘modern people dealing with the past’, and ‘wierd paradoxes ensue and make your brain hurt’ among other kinds of stories, and this movie falls into two out of three of those categories.

So here’s where the reality police show up: he sees the plane crash with his mother and sister on it (the storm is coming!!!) and he (makes the decision? gives up? is drawn back against his will?) goes back in time…and is killed by the airplane engine, which means that his girlfriend and Frank don’t die.

But. Hold on a minute, folks. Yes, he solved that problem, and maybe that’s all he was trying to do…the film ends with his girlfriend Gretchen riding her bike past his house and you know she’s going to be ok because she never knew him. And he doesn’t do all the vandalism and stuff. Which means that the child pornographer played by Patrick Swayze…will not be caught, and will go on doing his thing. Not good.

And also, since Swayze wasn’t caught til after the talent show, it means that Donnie’s sister will still be on the plane that crashes, even though his mom won’t be…unless there’s some reason to believe that the freak tornado that kills her/them doesn’t happen…but why wouldn’t it? And the English teacher might still get laid off, but that’s debateable.

So Donnie has decided to go back and die, to save his girlfriend and Frank, but his sister is still going to die and the guy he hates is still free to do his porn thing…hm. And how in heck did a 15 year old kid manage to write words IN CEMENT? in CURSIVE, no less??? I might accept that hysterical strength could put the axe in a bronze statue, but the letters? didn’t work for me…

But quibbles aside, it’s a very good, suspenseful movie, a little scary, kind of perplexing, great psychological stuff that’s interesting to try to put together, good for those who like conspiracy theory sorts of stuff and also plain ol’ science fiction buffs like me. Watch it and enjoy it, this is a good one.