Quickie Reviews: Wish Upon; A Ghost Story; City of Ghosts; The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

For those who don’t go bananas over blockbusters like War for the Planet of the Apes, there are some alternatives out there. But, be careful what you wish for.

Wish Upon This creepy horror movie from the director of Annabelle starts out with a fair amount of promise, but quickly deteriorates into a dud. It stars Joey King (White House Down) as Clare Shannon, a High School teen whose widower dad (Ryan Phillippe) gives her an old Chinese music box that he found while dumpster diving. She’s able to decipher enough of the Chinese lettering on the box to know that it will grant her seven wishes. But for some reason, she doesn’t clue into the second part of the message, which basically warns that for every wish, there’s a blood price to be paid. So she starts making the typical teen wishes (to get the shallow stud muffin to fall in love with her, to be rich, to be popular, etc.) and people die. Gruesome, twisted deaths. Oops.

Review of Spider-Man: Homecoming

Ever wonder what a ‘Generation Z’ Peter Parker would be like? If so, look no further than Spider-Man: Homecoming, the latest (reboot? reimagining? prequel? pseudo-origin story?) of your friendly neighborhood superhero (and Avenger in training). As introduced briefly in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, English actor Tom Holland is the newest, and youngest Spidey to don the suit in what is, in essence, Smallville: the Spider-Man edition (i.e. instead of Tom Welling as a young Clark Kent navigating the challenges of both High School and superheroism on TV, you get Tom Holland as a young Peter Parker navigating the challenges of both High School and superheroism on the big screen). The film certainly provides a fresh and interesting take on the iconic character and his place in the Marvel franchise; I just don’t feel like we needed it. But since we’ve got it anyway, here’s the bottom line: Spider-Man: Homecoming is perfectly entertaining for what it is (a superhero coming-of-age comedy drama action flick) and sets the stage for a Spider-Man for a new generation. Only time will tell if Holland has more web-slinging staying power than his predecessors Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3) and Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Young Spidey’s integration into the Avengers franchise could give him a solid advantage.

Okja Review

In his audacious new film, Bong Joon Ho (Mother, Snowpiercer) pits a little Korean girl and her beloved super-pig against a corporate food mogul (Tilda Swinton). Okja is the name of a giant pig hybrid that little Mija (Seo-hyeon Ahn) has brought up for ten years high in the mountains of South Korea. That Okja is a GMO experiment makes no difference to her. He’s just her enormously fun pet. And in the opening scenes of the film, they do have big fun. But when the owner of the pig sends an envoy to give Mija’s grandpa a prize for best pig and decides to take Okja back to the US, Mija isn’t having it. She’s out to save her best friend. It’s wacky and the second half doesn’t entirely work, but at its heart it’s a sweet story of a girl and her super-pig.

The Beguiled Review

When I heard this film was being done, my first thought was, “A remake of the 70s Clint Eastwood flick? Why?” But fortunately it’s not a remake. Sophia Coppola has turned the previously digested source material into her own sensually atmospheric historical drama. Starring a very talented bunch, including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell, it’s a psychological tableaux set in the waning days of the Civil War at an isolated girls’ school in Virginia. When a wounded Union soldier (Farrell) is brought into their midst, their routine life is disrupted, they each begin to vie for his attention, and you just know it can’t end well.

The Big Sick Review

The Big Sick is an offbeat romantic dramedy based on the real-life courtship between Pakistan-born actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his therapist-turned-writer/producer wife, Emily V. Gordon. The pair co-wrote the script that dramatizes – in a clever and witty way – the struggles they went through to overcome cultural differences, and a major health scare, to find their happily ever after. Kumail is played by Kumail Nanjiani (not necessarily the smartest casting decision) while Emily is played by Zoe Kazan, who has much stronger acting chops, even though she’s in a coma for half the movie. The film is bittersweet and also rather timely as a platform for showcasing misconceptions about Muslim culture.

Baby Driver Review

Wow, what a ride. Baby Driver is one of those movies that truly defies description and genre pigeonholing. It’s a pulsating, frenetic, stylish, clever, violent, romantic, heartbreaking, hopeful, tense, and witty action-drama-crime-heist movie with car chases, crashes, gunfights, double-crosses, stellar performances, and a soundtrack that is a character in and of itself. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baby Driver rev a few engines when the next awards-season rolls around – for editing, direction, cinematography, and possibly even for lead actor Ansel Elgort, best known among the YA crowd for his roles in The Fault in Our Stars and the Divergent series. Elgort nails it as Baby, an innocent-looking getaway driver eager to pay off a debt and get out of the crime business – especially after he meets his soulmate, Debora (Lily James, Downton Abbey, Cinderella) a waitress in the local diner where his mother used to work.

AFIDOCS Reviews Part Two

Saturday was a full day, and I had not thought I was choosing films with a theme, but at the end of the day I realized it was a day about strong women. And it was a day of mostly strong filmmaking. Sunday, the final day of the festival turned out to be a day of films about the importance of community. And when it was all over, I was exhausted, but as usual my head is now full of ideas and new heroes, and I’m very thankful for the Girl Power on the screen.

AFIDOCS Reviews Part One

Another Year at AFIDOCS. Four days of back to back documentary films in Washington, DC (and Silver Spring, MD, though we stayed downtown this year.) We’ve been going since 2014 and each year has a different feel. Mainstream Chick and I saw a few together, but quite a few films only one of us saw, so check back to see her takes, or head to the Cinema Clash Podcast for our post-fest discussion. This time the festival felt pared down, though there were some amazing films.  I was particularly interested in the films about women and girls and was not disappointed. There were a few happy surprises and I was left with a lot of questions and inspiration.

A Newlywed Reviews ‘Rough Night’

The Washington, DC screening of Rough Night coincided with the opening night screening and reception of the AFI Documentary Festival. Ironically, the free booze came with the latter. So while Arty Chick and I drank wine and schmoozed with documentary filmmakers at the Newseum, Guest Chick Maggie Mazzetti ventured down the road to watch Rough Night on our behalf. Maggie is a newlywed. So, really, who better to weigh in on a raucous comedy involving a bachelorette weekend than someone who recently engaged in prenuptial shenanigans (okay, hers were probably a bit more subdued and crime-free). Anyway, here’s Maggie’s take on Rough Night:

Atomic Homefront Review

This is one extremely scary movie! But it isn’t zombies or slashers. It’s invisible, and it’s killing men, women and children right here in the U S of A. And it’s a true story, an inspiring activist battle that is happening today. This is the story of a community in North Saint Louis, Missouri. And the threat to their existence is a landfill right in their back yards full of radioactive waste left over from the Manhattan Project. And it’s on fire now.