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 ~ Joy

joy

The Facts:

Synopsis: Joy is the story of a family across four generations and the woman who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Elisabeth Röhm, Bradley Cooper

Director: David O. Russell

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  The good news to report about Joy is that it’s eons better than American Hustle, the last film that teamed up director David O. Russell with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro.  The bad news is that, like American Hustle, it’s largely a watch it and forget it kind of experience with only Lawrence’s performance lingering in the memory after the credits have rolled and the lights have come up.

Working with the same three actors for his last three pictures, one could argue that Russell is gathering a bit of a cinematic repertory of talent that he finds a way to plug into his films.  That’s an interesting concept and one I’m not totally opposed to, but the problem arises when the roles being offered to these stars don’t fit them, forcing them to be the square peg valiantly sucking in their guts to fit into Russell’s round hole.

Touted as being “loosely” based on the life of Joy Mangano (c’mon Russell, it’s either based on her life or it isn’t…you can’t ride the middle ground), Joy is all over the map when it comes to its narrative.  Much of the movie is recounted by Joy’s grandmother (a divine Diane Ladd)…except when it’s not.  Long stretches of the movie go by without the grandmother’s guiding voice so the narrative device becomes a tool to assist in transitions when simple filmmaking alone can’t do the trick.

Mangano’s life plays like an ‘80s sitcom: she’s a divorcee living in her mother’s house and her ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez, Point Break) lives in the basement.  Her mom (Virginia Madsen) hides away from the world, losing herself in her soap operas (hilariously recreated by the likes of Susan Lucci and Donna Mills) and letting her daughter do most of the household upkeep.  When Joy’s hot-tempered father (De Niro, Cape Fear) moves in after his longtime girlfriend kicks him out, the dynamic of the already erratic household is thrown into disarray.

The first hour or so of Joy is an awkward mix of family situational comedy and pallid drama.  Joy’s airline job is going nowhere and her attempts at promoting a new kind of mop of her own invention isn’t attracting any business.  When her dad starts dating a rich Italian widow (Isabella Rossellini, Enemy), Joy sees a potential investor for her creation and enters into a business deal with the woman, along with her father and half-sister (Elisabeth Röhm)

It isn’t until Joy winds up in the offices of upstart company QVC that the movie starts to take some kind of shape.  Meeting the brainchild behind the business (Bradley Cooper, American Sniper), she’s encouraged to go big with her idea, leading to her becoming the first “real” person to pitch a product on the network.  The scene where Joy first appears in front of the camera to demonstrate her Miracle Mop was the only time in the entire movie that I felt something magical was happening.  That’s largely due to Lawrence’s ability to shed the skins of her previous roles and totally disappear into this woman.  A relatively short scene, it’s stuck with me in the weeks since I first saw it.

Sadly, the film reaches its peak at that moment and the rest of the time is spent tracking Joy’s bumpy ride to the top, complete with epic failures and miracle reversals of fortune.  How much of it is actually accurate I couldn’t tell you but in the eyes of Russell and co-writer Annie Mumalo (This is 40) the journey is one of pure will and unflinching drive.

The main issue I had with the movie is also the one thing that makes it worth seeing…Jennifer Lawrence.  Though she’s entirely believable as a young mother looking to make ends meet, she becomes less successful as the years go by and her character has to move into the early stages of midlife.  By the time we see her in a power suit and French manicure, all plausibility has left the room and it comes across as a great actress playing dress-up for her favorite director.  I know Lawrence and Russell have a deep fondness for each other, but both need to see that there are limits to the roles they can work on together.

The story being told here is interesting and the actors are attention-grabbing in and of themselves.  Yet something kept everything from gelling in a way that made a lasting impression.  Russell is known for his quirky tone and unexpected performances…it’s why Silver Linings Playbook worked so damn well…but his two follow-up films haven’t been able to latch onto that same magic.

The Silver Bullet ~ Joy

Joy

Synopsis: Joy is the story of a family across four generations and the woman who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.

Release Date:  December 25, 2015

Thoughts: Here’s the deal: I loved Silver Linings Playbook, the first film that brought together Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Bradley Cooper (Aloha), and director David O. Russell and I hated American Hustle, the film that reunited the three.  So my interest in Joy is marked with more than a little trepidation.  On the one hand, it places the best thing about Playbook and Hustle (Lawrence) front and center, telling the true life tale of the woman that invented the Miracle Mop.  On the other, I’d hate to see it drown in its own love of self which was what torpedoed Hustle for me.  It looks like a wild ride, one everyone in Hollywood is waiting for to see if Lawrence finds herself in the Oscar race yet again.