WISH UPON: Then there was the film I was prepared to completely dismiss out of hand because it was a formula PG-13 high school horror story. I saw it anyway (because that’s what I do). Well... I don’t think I actually knocked the film publicly in advance, but if I did, I owe somebody an apology, because this blend of THE MONKEY’S PAW and FINAL DESTINATION does its job quite well even if it’s incapable of re-inventing the tropes (or of using Sherilyn Fenn properly, which it fails to do in one of its bigger flaws). Unpopular student Clare (Joey King) has been suffering ever since her mother’s suicide. Her scavenger dad (Ryan Phillippe) just happens to find an antique Chinese wishing box... what a coincidence that Clare is studying Chinese at the time and has knowledgeable friends available! You already know from the trailer that her simple, vain wishes will come true but that they come with a price... I can’t possibly describe the plot and make it sound original or interesting. But director John R. Leonetti (ANABELLE) knows his stuff (not just the mandatory death scenes but the buildup and misdirection along the way which result in actual suspense where’d you expect none); the performances are more than acceptable; and the ending is quite satisfying (obligatory credit-cookie epilogue notwithstanding). Sometimes all it takes is genuine enthusiasm to save another OUIJA from becoming... another OUIJA. Of course, there’s sure to be a juicier ‘unrated’ version coming down the pike. Your call.
THE BEGUILED: And what do you know--I ended up seeing this anyway. And I’ll assume your familiarity with the premise or that of the original Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood vehicle. Sofia Coppola said that she wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the women in the school... but I don’t think that does the story any favors, unfortunately. On the plus side, Coppola commands a most impressive and haunting female cast (headed by Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning). Nor is there anything lacking in Colin Farrell’s performance. But there’s definitely something lacking in the material he’s given to perform with: specifically, the deliberately uncomfortable and unsavory aspects of Clint Eastwood’s McBirney (remember “old enough for kisses?” Well, you won’t find that here, for instance) that truly raised the stakes and made the viewer squirm while debating whom should be allowed to prevail. The viewer is also spared any of the confrontational slavery-themed material (in this Civil War story, we’re abruptly told that the slaves ‘just left’ without any further explanation), so there’s no Hallie character for McBirney to work on, either. So it should come as no surprise that the amputation sequence is skipped entirely. Frankly, even the TURTLE in the original had more personality than the one included as an afterthought here, reducing its fate to a mere throwaway moment (I just had to get that one in, okay?) instead of heralding the direst of consequences. On the other hand, the act of castration is referred to in the dialogue. And I hate to say it (in light of the fine acting and photography on display throughout), but I’m afraid that’s exactly the operation to which THE BEGUILED has been subjected here.
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