Movie Review ~ Wish Upon

The Facts:

Synopsis: A teenage girl discovers a box that carries magic powers and a deadly price for using them.

Stars: Joey King, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Ki Hong Lee, Mitchell Slaggert, Sherilyn Fenn, Elisabeth Röhm, Ryan Phillippe

Director: John R. Leonetti

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: This movie sucks. Let’s just get that out there at the start so you can never ever say you weren’t warned. I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to these types of PG-13 horror flicks but even I have a breaking point. Maybe it was because I lament the mid-level studio film that’s slowly disappearing in favor of endless sequels and franchise starters, but I really was rooting for Wish Upon to be 90 minutes of harmless fun. Be careful what you wish for.

Supposedly, the budget for Wish Upon is a staggering 12 million dollars, not exactly cheap considering decent horror films like Split, Insidious, The Visit, and The Purge franchise were made for considerably less. I’m not exactly sure where that 12K was spent. It surely wasn’t on the director, John R. Leonetti (Annabelle) who doesn’t seem to understand how to assemble a movie, much less how to create any kind of sustainable tension. It definitely wasn’t on Barbara Marshall’s threadbare amateurish script which feels an outline of an idea never fully fleshed out. It certainly wasn’t spent on a decent casting director based on a ensemble of forgettable faces almost entirely dead behind the eyes.

A Chinese wish box is the MacGuffin at the center of our tale. Given as a gift to high schooler Clare (Joey King, White House Down) by her dumpster diving dad (Ryan Phillippe, I Know What You Did Last Summer) it’s a good thing Clare is taking Intro to Chinese because she quickly translates that the box will grant her seven wishes. If only she had been in an AP class, she’d have been able to see the warning that went along with it. See, for every wish granted someone she knows will meet a gruesome end…well as gruesome as Wish Upon’s teen friendly rating will allow. As she uses her wishes up on important things like wealth, admiration of her peers, the attention of a hot senior, revenge on a tyrannical mean girl, and for her dad to be less embarrassing (no, really), she gets ever closer to the final wish for which she’ll pay dearly.

A big problem is that our lead protagonist vacillates between being so bafflingly clueless and knowingly reprehensible that you feel nothing for her. It doesn’t help that King is far from up to the task of carrying a movie on her own, too often looking like she can’t decide if she wants the chicken or the beef for lunch. Phillippe is a sad sack in his taped on beard that mysteriously grows and shrinks in size and the less said about his badly faked saxophone playing, the better. Though she’s etched herself on a commercially large canvas, I at least appreciated Sydney Park’s energy as King’s sassy friend…she’s light years better than Shannon Purser (crazily Emmy-nominated as Barb from Stranger Things) who’s acting chops are so green she literally can’t walk and talk onscreen at the same time.

I’m wondering if the studio gave Leonetti and editor Peck Prior a note to tighten the film up because there’s an alarming number of short scenes that don’t make sense when stitched together. Some people are barely introduced only to be swiftly killed before you ever know their name.   It’s just a mish-mash of plot contrivances spewed forth with no one to corral them into anything resembling a cohesive product. As it strenuously plods to its conclusion, the shrieks shrink and the laughs loom large.

It’s not an entirely thumbs down idea for a movie if I’m being totally honest and with a better director, a more polished screenplay, and just more risk-taking in general (clearly the film was edited down from a gorier R-rated escapade) something far more entertaining could have been accomplished. There’s a myriad of problems with countless aspects of the movie, so many in fact that if the film has any redeeming quality it’s that it could be used as grave warning for future filmmakers on just how badly you can screw up.

Movie Review ~ The Dressmaker

dressmaker

The Facts:

Synopsis: A glamorous woman returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.

Stars: Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Judy Davis, Caroline Goodall

Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Watching The Dressmaker made me think back to a different time…not just the time when the haute couture fashions on display were commonplace but just a hop and a skip back to the mid 90s. That’s when there was a big influx of films imported from down under, mostly wacky comedies like Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and dramas such as Shine. There’s just some particular Australian sensibility that plays like a genre unto itself, a fearlessness to sketch outsider characters that don’t have to be sympathetic or hyper-broad to engage us.

I’d almost forgotten about The Dressmaker, having posted my thoughts on its preview over a year ago. When its October 2015 release date passed, I all but put it out of my mind…save for a nagging worry in wondering why it didn’t open stateside as planned. Either I had the dates wrong or the pushback was deliberate because there’s certainly nothing wrong with this dark dramedy that scored a record 13 nominations at the Australian Oscars (that’s 1 more than Mad Max: Fury Road received, by the by).

The rural Australian outback is likened to our Old West and that ties in nicely with The Dressmaker’s operatic overtones. While it’s not an outright Western and there’s no horses, spittoons, or cowboy hats on display the film is very much in that vein, delighting in its revenge tale and maximizing the mystery surrounding a woman returning to town with a score to settle.

Arriving without notice in her one horse town in the dead of night, Tilly’s (Kate Winslet, Labor Day) first line, “I’m back you bastards.”, is delivered through an exhale of crisp cigarette smoke. It’s clear something bad happened here and through a series of flashbacks Tilly’s history with the town and its secrets comes to light. But first…there’s work to be done.

Her first stop is to the ramshackle house on the hill where her aged mother lives. Not recognizing her glamorous daughter at first (and continuing to deny knowing her long after she connects the dots), Molly (Judy Davis) gets scrubbed up and her clap trap home receives a good cleaning. The town is full of gossips, busybodies, crooked councilmen, and an array of other tightly wired curiosities…none of which are the least bit happy to see Tilly’s return. The only folk showing some interest is Teddy (Liam Hemsworth, The Expendables 2, dreamy to look at but at least a decade too young to play Winslet’s peer) and the cross-dressing town sergeant (Hugo Weaving, Cloud Atlas) who gets the first big laugh of the film with an unexpected exclamation.

Though they still prefer to keep her at a distance, Tilly’s transformative way with a needle and thread revitalizes the fickle women of the town who are willing to let bygones be bygones as long as they look good doing it. The past comes back to haunt them all, though, when old scars are opened and fresh wounds revealed, culminating in an unusually satisfying finale that successfully ties off a whole host of loose ends.

With her impressive Australian accent, Winslet fits right in as a woman who sticks out. Her fair white skin is a perfect contrast to the weather beaten sun scorched faces of a past clan she’s left behind but can’t quite escape. Weaving and Caroline Goodall are lively while Sarah Snook (Jessabelle) transforms from an ugly duckling to a glamorous swan with a dark side. The movie truly belongs to Davis, though, in a performance that deserves major award recognition. Nailing each laugh and then some, she’s the one you’ll be watching whenever she’s onscreen.

If there’s fault here, it’s that director Jocelyn Moorhouse (adapting the screenplay from the novel by Rosalie Ham) lets the film go on longer than it has to. Reaching its first climax about 75 minutes in, there’s still 45 more minutes for the wheels to grind and sputter before finding some fire as it leads up to the finale. All in all, it’s a minor problem to have when the rest of the elements are so solid. The Dressmaker hasn’t arrived in the US with much fanfare but here’s hoping that, like it’s heroine, it sneaks up on audiences in most surprising ways.