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.

Down From the Shelf ~ RoboCop (1987)

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robocop
The Facts
:

Synopsis: In a dystopic and crime-ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg haunted by submerged memories.

Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise, Paul McCrane

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Released in the summer of 1987 on the same day as Jaws: The Revenge and a re-issue of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, RoboCop was a unique package that landed at the right time amongst the larger studio fare being offered.  Keep in mind that this was also the summer of The Untouchables, Predator, The Witches of Eastwick, Spaceballs, and Dirty Dancing (are you nostalgic yet?) and if you comb through the other films released that year you’d be able to tell why Paul Verhoeven’s dark comedy sci-fi was able to make its way to the fifteenth highest grossing picture of the year.

Yeah, I called RoboCop a dark comedy…because there’s ample amount of wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to pop culture and the changing face of news as entertainment.  Peppered in between the story of a cop killed in the line of action reborn as “Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop” are hysterically lampoon-y commercials and the kind of graphic news footage that still wouldn’t be accepted in today’s society.  Casting Entertainment Tonight television personality Leeza Gibbons as a news anchor was a nice touch in riding the line between hard hitting news and the carefully lobbed barbs at the kind of fluff stories Gibbons was accustomed to dishing on.

Comedy aside, its remarkable how ahead of its time the film was.  Though some of the effects don’t play quite as well nowadays, it’s still a very watchable action/sci-fi film thanks to Verhoeven’s gonzo direction and the sleek special effects.make-up from Rob Bottin.  Admittedly, the plot is a bit thin from screenwriters Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, never really building upon its own original concept.  It feels half-baked and not as fully thought-out as you may remember it being.

Peter Weller makes for a nice leading man even though the top half of his face is obscured for much of the middle half of the film.  A last minute replacement to the cast, Nancy Allen would get more to do in future RoboCop installments (none of which are half as good as this) so here she’s regulated to a Girl Friday role more than anything.  As far as 80’s villains go, you couldn’t ask for smarmier candidates than Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer, both are scene-stealing wonders as executives that stretch their roles into high camp.

Originally given the dreaded X rating for its copious amounts of gore, the restored film is pretty graphic but given the package it’s delivered in there’s a way to laugh off some of the more squirm inducing moments.  A fun movie to revisit…especially for those of us that remember when the film was first released.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Mermaids

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

The Facts:

Synopsis: An unconventional single mother relocates with her two daughters to a small Massachusetts town in 1963, where a number of events and relationships both challenge and strengthen their familial bonds.

Stars: Cher, Bob Hoskins, Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, Michael Schoeffling

Director: Richard Benjamin

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Maybe not so much a hidden gem as an underappreciated one, Mermaids is a quirky comedy about an eccentric single mom nomadically raising her daughters in the early 1960’s.  The film was a perfect fit for the talent involved…though there were several key players that weren’t originally signed on when the movie moved into production.

First off, director Richard Benjamin was the third director of the movie after Lasse Hallström and Frank Oz both were ix-nayed by star Cher.  Speaking of being replaced, blonde brit Emily Lloyd was supposed to play Ryder’s role until it became clear that Lloyd bore little resemblance to the woman supposed to be playing her mother.  So Benjamin and Ryder stepped in and I can’t imagine the film any other way.

For all the jokes and jibes Cher has received over the years, she’s a damn fine actress and hasn’t really turned in a performance that was an embarrassment.  As Mrs. Flax, she’s relaxed and carefree…keeping the kind of home we’d probably like to visit if she was the mom of our best friend.  A bit of a man-eater, she meets her match when she arrives in a small New England town and takes up with Hoskins’ lovable sh0e-salesman.

The story is seen through the eyes of Charlotte (Ryder, Frankenweenie) as she struggles with her love of all things holy and a burgeoning attraction to a local caretaker (Schoeffling).  Not wanting to turn out like her mother and feeling like she has to be a surrogate parent to her sister Kate (Ricci, in her first film), Charlotte takes several missteps that have ramifications both humorous and dramatic.

Based on a novel, Mermaids has a fair share of laughs that go in tandem with some serious exchanges.  Cher and Hoskins have an opposites attract chemistry that glows as does Ryder with the handsome Schoeffling who knows how to play conflicted with the best of ‘em.

With Benjamin’s sensitive direction, a nice attention to the early 60’s time-period, and a greatest hits soundtrack, Mermaids is received swimmingly whether it’s your first or thirty first viewing.

Down From the Shelf ~ House of Games

The Facts:

Synopsis: A psychiatrist comes to the aid of a compulsive gambler and is led by a smooth-talking grifter into the shadowy but compelling world of stings, scams, and con men.

Stars: Lindsay Crouse, Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay, Lilia Skala

Director: David Mamet

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  I recently noted in my review of the trailer for Now You See Me that it’s hard to put magic onscreen because audiences don’t like to be cheated.  Especially in film, anything to do with magic or trickery can be doubly frustrating for a viewer than a live performance because we know that the actors/directors onscreen had the safety of an extra take to get it right.  House of Games is one of the rare exceptions where an audience will welcome the sleight of hand both visually and thematically that’s pulled on them and respect the magicians that pull it off.

Making his directorial debut in this 1987 trick of a film, Mamet has everything in order from the start.  What’s true of Mamet on the stage is also true of Mamet onscreen…he doesn’t tell you anything or show you anything he doesn’t want you to see.  That way, when you find the rug has been pulled out from under you (as Crouse does several times in the film) you only have yourself to blame because the clues were there from the beginning.

Though a tad less clever than some of his later films, House of Games stands out today as a highly respectable directorial debut of the master wordsmith and one of Crouse’s (the now ex-Mrs. Mamet) best performances.  She’s a psychiatrist that blindly gets in with the wrong crowd of people, led by Mantegna as a con man that practically licks his lips when he sees naïve Crouse enter the bar where he has set up shop.  She’s there to help out a friend that’s in trouble; he’s more than willing to show her why he’s not to be trusted.

To give more of the film away would really be a disservice for anyone with even a passing interest in the movie but let’s just say that the movie is has more twists than a bundle of holiday lights – just when you think you’ve unraveled it all you see that you’ve only gotten more tangled up.  I’ve seen the film several times over the years and it gets better with each repeat viewing.  It’s a mature film for adults that like their films smart, savvy, and clever enough to be interesting without being frustrating.

Bond-ed for Life (Bonus!) ~ Never Say Never Again

The Facts:

Synopsis: A SPECTRE agent has stolen two American nuclear warheads, and James Bond must find their targets before they are detonated.

Stars: Sean Connery, Kim Basinger, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Barbara Carrera, Max von Sydow

Director: Irvin Kershner

Rated: PG

Running Length: 134 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  Before the release (and boffo success) of Skyfall, I took the time to go through the previous 22 James Bond films that had come before it.  What I didn’t do in my initial marathon was look at two of the ‘rogue’ Bond films that exist outside of the production company responsible for the 007 films over the last 50 years.  1967’s Casino Royale was a spoof of spy films in general albeit one that featured James Bond and took its title from an Ian Fleming novel.  The second outlier Bond adventure is 1983’s Never Say Never Again and its storied history and journey to the big screen are interesting Hollywood tidbits.

A script was fashioned with writers Kevin McClory, Ian Fleming, and Jack Whittingham that would have laid the basis for Bond’s first adventure.  It eventually was scrapped but Fleming went on to use large parts of it to create the novel of Thunderball.  While the movie of Thunderball was closer to the book, original writer McClory took Fleming to court over his contributions used without his permission and eventually  was granted the remake rights to his script.

As the producers of the MGM Bond films were gearing up to film the 13th Bond film Octopussy  in 1983, they had a big shock when they found out not only would McClory’s script be produced as a big budget summer film from Warner Brothers, but that Warner Brothers had lured none other than original Bond Connery to come back to the role.  The media had a field day with this and while both movies were released four months apart and did respectable business, Never Say Never Again could never fully get out from under the shadow of the big daddy franchise.

It doesn’t help that the movie isn’t that great to begin with.  Even with Connery on board and Moore on unsteady ground in his Bond tenure, Never Say Never Again comes off as a jokey excuse for a James Bond film.   Legally, Warner Brothers couldn’t have many of the Bond trademarks so what’s left is a second rate spy film with several above average action sequences, extremely dated technology,  and a heckuva lot of farcical moments that leave a real bad aftertaste.

Right from the beginning, director Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) doesn’t do Connery any favors by showing the actor goofily going through the motions of a rescue attempt in some unnamed jungle climate.  Connery looks tentative and, while still a trim gent, seems a bit out of sorts.  Like in Diamonds are Forever, it takes Connery a fair amount of time to find his inner Bond and even then it’s a pale imitation of what it used to be. 

Casting for the film is iffy to say the least.  As Domino, Basinger makes for a dull main squeeze of Mr. Bond and is burdened with two dance routines (one in aerobic gear and one all dolled up with Connery) that are laughably awkward.  Brandauer and von Sydow may have been nice villains in the established Bond franchise but here they are saddled with feelings of déjà vu thanks to more memorable actors that have played bad guys Largo and Blofeld in previous films.  Only Carrera as wicked Fatima Blush seems to understand that she’s in a farce and plays it as an early precursor to Grace Jones in A View to a Kill and Famke Janssen in GoldenEye.  Her final scenes are pretty ridiculous but up until that point she’s over-the-top enough to keep your eyes locked on her.

Special mention needs to go to Edward Fox and Rowan Atkinson as M and Nigel Small-Fawcett, respectively.  With accents that would make Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins look like the epitome of diction, they are absolutely awful and capsize every scene they’re in.  How Kershner and Connery allowed these performances to happen are beyond me.

What Never Say Never Again has to recommend it are several exciting action sequences…thankfully all of them are underwater so you are spared the eye-rolling dialogue.  I’m not sure how the filmmakers created an underwater chase with Bond being pursued by sharks (from what I can tell there weren’t extensive uses of animatronics) but this scene creates the few nifty thrills the film has to offer.

For Bond fans, this is one that may be of interest to you…especially if you are familiar with Thunderball you’ll get a kick out of how similar the movie is but how different it diverges at the same time.  Thunderball wasn’t my favorite Bond film but had it had some of the more exciting moments (and Fatima Blush) from Never Say Never Again, it may have been up there with the more fun Bond flicks.