Wish Upon

For F*** Magazine

WISH UPON 

Director : John R. Leonetti
Cast : Joey King, Ki-Hong Lee, Ryan Phillippe, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Daniela Barbosa, Sherilyn Fenn, Josephine Langford
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 1hr 38min
Opens : 13 July 2017
Rating : PG13 (Horror)

Wishing upon a star seemed like a fairly harmless exercise for Pinocchio. Wishing upon a Chinese music box is a different story. In this horror flick, Clare Shannon receives a mysterious box from her father Jonathan (Phillippe), a rag-and-bone man. The box, inscribed with ancient Chinese characters, promises that it will grant the user seven wishes -for a price. Not taking its power seriously Clare uses the box to enact revenge on Darcie (Langford), who has been bullying Clare at school. She also wishes for Paul (Mitchell Slaggert), the boy she has a crush on, to fall madly in love with her. Clare’s best friends Meredith (Park) and June (Purser) get drawn into the eerie goings-on and deaths that seem to follow Clare around. Ryan (Ki-Hong Lee), who has a crush on Clare, offers to take the box to his cousin Gina (Alice Lee), so she can translate the inscription. Gina uncovers the box’s dark secret, and everyone is powerless to stop the horrors it unleashes.

Wish Upon plays on the old ‘be careful what you wish for’ adage, while also hinging on the classic horror movie device of a cursed artefact. It’s a variation on the short story The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs, in which the titular object grants wishes but punishes the user for meddling with fate. Wish Upon also recalls the Wishmaster series with its sinister genie, and the deaths depicted are Final Destination-esque, albeit not as elaborate. As with many a teen-aimed movie before it, the dialogue strains to sound contemporary, and is sometimes unintentionally silly. Because of its PG-13 rating, Wish Upon doesn’t linger on the gruesome deaths. This means it isn’t gratuitous, but it also means that the consequences don’t carry too much weight. Final Destination let its inventive, gory deaths play out in full, because cutting away from them would diminish the selling point. Because we don’t see the deaths play out, they aren’t as unsettling or disturbing as they could’ve been.

The film also employs a familiar structure, in which in the protagonist unwittingly makes a deal with the devil – her wishes will be granted, but horrible fates will befall those she holds dear. We also get the requisite exposition-heavy scene of the characters doing a Google search to figure out what’s going on, as we are told the back-story of the music box. While the music box prop itself looks finely crafted and is reasonably spooky when it opens by itself, the accompanying mythos isn’t sufficiently interesting. The invoking of Chinese culture and superstition is meant to add a textural element, but this is under-developed. We’re relieved Wish Upon doesn’t fall back on an elderly Asian antique store owner to explain its central cursed artefact – instead, we get a tattooed young woman to fulfil that function in the plot.

Horror movies starring teenagers tend to have annoying characters, and one of Wish Upon’s strengths is that it acknowledges its heroine’s flaws while keeping her sympathetic. Having suffered from a family tragedy and being bullied by the popular kids in school, it’s easy to see why Clare might be frustrated. King, who also starred in the horror films The Conjuring and Quarantine, does a fine job as a relatable teen character. It does get to a point where one wonders why Clare isn’t more suspicious of this box that eerily unlatches and plays music on its own any earlier in the story.

Ki-Hong Lee demonstrates his ability to pass for a high-schooler at age 30, and is likeable enough as the guy whom Clare places in the dreaded friend zone. Park can come off as a little annoying, and her character seems more like she would fit in with the stuck-up popular kids than with Clare. Purser, best known as Barb from Stranger Things, is underused as “the other friend”. Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn doesn’t get too much to do either. The film aims for depth in depicted the strained relationship between Clare and her father, but because Phillippe is as handsome as he is, it’s hard to buy him as a down-on-his-luck average joe digging through the trash for scraps.

Wish Upon might not be as actively grating as most teen-centric horror films of its ilk, but it’s too derivative to be truly scary. Director John R. Leonetti, who also helmed Annabelle, passes up a chance to meaningfully develop an engrossing mythology around the music box, and the ending is as unsatisfying as it is shocking. Stick around past the main-on-end titles for a sequel bait stinger scene.

Summary: The teen target audience might be spooked, but horror aficionados won’t find too much of value when they look in the cursed music box.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Going in Style

For F*** Magazine

GOING IN STYLE 

Director : Zach Braff
Cast : Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Joey King, Ann-Margret, Christopher Lloyd, John Ortiz, Matt Dillon Peter Serafinowicz
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 36min
Opens : 20 April 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Coarse Language and Drug Use)

Here in Singapore, senior citizens have been urged to use their SkillsFuture credits to take courses in I.T., languages, cooking and crafts. There is yet to be a SkillsFuture course on bank robbery. In this comedy, lifelong friends Willie (Freeman), Joe (Caine) and Albert (Arkin) find their pensions funds dissolved after the steel mill they work for undergoes a restructuring. Joe, who found himself caught in a bank robbery, proposes that the trio steal what is rightfully theirs from the bank. While Willie seems open to the idea, Albert is adamant that the plan will fail. Through his ne’er-do-well former son-in-law Murphy (Serafinowicz), Joe contacts Jesus (Ortiz), who is a part-time pet store proprietor and part-time thief. Jesus trains Willie, Joe and Albert in the art of the heist, so they can pull off the audacious robbery and retrieve their hard-earned pension.

Going in Style is a remake of the 1979 film of the same name, directed by Martin Brest and starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. Adapted by Theodore Melfi of Hidden Figures fame and directed by Zach Braff, this remake is amiable if rather toothless. This is obviously aimed at moviegoers of a certain vintage, with the filmmakers taking care not to make things too depressing even as in the film touches on how the elderly get gradually forgotten by society and are taken advantage of by financial institutions. Even though its characters are shown smoking weed and one is depicted post-coitus, it’s far from an edgy enterprise and is likely to be a hit with the retirement home set.

This is nothing short of a top-shelf cast, the film’s three leads having all won Oscars. The characters’ personas are generally in line with how we perceive each actor: Caine plays the steadfast team leader, Freeman is warm and has a twinkle in his eye, and Arkin is the curmudgeon who’s grumpy and caustic but ultimately well-meaning. These actors have no problems garnering sympathy from the audience, and while nobody will be nominated for Oscars for this one, their camaraderie is fun to watch.

There are recognisable names in the supporting cast too. Ann-Margret, the Oscar-nominated triple threat pinup of the 60s, is entertaining as a grocery store employee who makes romantic advances towards Albert.

Matt Dillon plays it straight as a dogged FBI agent on the bank robbery case, while Christopher Lloyd is hilarious as the guys’ senile friend Milton. Milton is a one-joke character, the joke being “he’s crazy because he’s just so old”, which isn’t exactly tasteful but is in line with most of the characters Lloyd has played in his recent career.

Caine shares some sweet moments with his onscreen granddaughter Joey King, and it’s additionally amusing because Alfred is Talia al Ghul’s grandpa (The Dark Knight Rises is five years old, we can spoil it all we want). The Jesus character could’ve easily been a bad case of racial stereotyping, but Ortiz fleshes him out well, and the character is depicted as being competent and ultimately good-hearted, even given his criminal actions.

Going in Style is light-hearted if a touch too sentimental at times, and because of its powerhouse cast, can’t help but feel slightly underwhelming. Because so much time is spent with the characters just hanging out before the heist is even proposed, the intricacies of the planning, execution and aftermath of the heist seem rushed through. However, thanks to the overall likeability of its cast and glimmers of wit, Going in Style is easy to go along with.

Summary: You’ll be forgiven for expecting more from a cast of this calibre, but Going in Style’s reliable, talented leads make this a fairly enjoyable old time.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong