Thursday, July 27, 2017


Casey Affleck     Rooney Mara

     This is truly a story about a ghost, it’s thoughts, reminiscences, and perhaps regrets.  It opens with a couple named C (Affleck) and M (Mara) saying a few words, the most meaningful of which is his saying he’s tired of talking about it, and her asking if they could discuss it tomorrow, and his response is “maybe.”  (The dialog has a Terence Malick touch to it.)  The film sets a mysterious tone right away, with noises in the night, misty smoky air (soft focus used to advantage by cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo), and a pervasive sense of agitated discomfort—not quite unhappiness.  They are clearly getting ready to move, with boxes everywhere and she hauling things out to the trash. 
      Suddenly, he’s slumped over after a car crash, and then we see her at the morgue, and still later on her own, with C in a white sheet with big eye holes standing over her.  She seems to go through with the planned move, after which a woman with two children moves into their house, but they don’t stay long, what with dishes flying off onto the floor and shattering.  Then we see a party in progress at the same house; it’s crowded, with buzzing conversations and couples slinking off to be alone.  One man pontificates at the table through swigs of beer about life and its uncertainties and disasters.  Next, we see the house abandoned, then a wrecker demolishing it, and an office building goes up in its place. 
     There are numerous indications that the ghost does not like what’s happened, and we next see him out in the country.  A covered wagon comes up, reminding us of the doomsday prognostications of the man at the table, and we think maybe we’re going back in time, or looping around to another world, another of the man’s speculative possibilities.  In the covered wagon is a man with a family, and he is starting preparations to build a house; however, we don’t get to see it finished.
      In the final scenes of the film, we’re back at the house of C and M, and their marriage is recapitulated, giving us more information about their conflicts.  She moved a lot as a child, expressing her dislike by leaving behind little notes hidden just in case if she ever wanted to go back, there would be a little piece of her there.  Did she ever go back to the places she left notes?  No.  Yet, something within her as an adult likes to move different places from time to time; C doesn’t because history of place is important to him.  With this, it makes sense that his ghost is still in the house.  The story resolves in a way that makes all this a little more understandable, but the viewer is likely to remain in puzzlement.
      As I thought about it, it did seem that the writer/director David Lowery (Ain’t them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) is depicting the sense of loss and the searches humans go through in trying to make sense of the world and stay connected with others, particularly after a loss.  When those issues are not satisfactorily resolved and hopelessness prevails, it’s something like “the end of the world.”  Lowery’s depiction of this experience in the two ghosts (yes, there is another ghost) is graphic and profound.
     I found this an intriguing film that is almost undone by the overly long scenes, such as the opening with C and M together, the pie scene, and the pontification that can’t be easily comprehended.  The near absence of humor also makes this a slog.  Neither Affleck nor Mara—both abundantly talented actors—have enough screen time to warrant their investment in this film.

This is a ghost story without a smidgen of fear, only poetic imaginings.

Grade:  C+                                    By Donna R. Copeland


John Boyega     Will Poulter     Algee Smith     Jacob Latimore     John Kraskinski     Hannah Murray     Anthony Mackie

   Hardcore racism is difficult to watch, especially when the offender is weak and overcompensating for it with sadistic acting-out.  Detroit puts us in the shoes of black people who have endured hundreds of years of false accusations and persecution.  When I became so disturbed watching it in the movie and had the urge to leave, it told me this is something I need to stay for, watch, and listen. 
      Kathryn Bigelow and her trusted writer Mark Boal give an account of the 1967 race riots in Detroit from a perspective that perhaps has never been presented before.  Its value in dramatizing it is in their bringing white people in to see firsthand what black people experience every day, and hopefully to give black people the sense a) that some of us do understand, and b) they get some vindication for the stereotypes that have been foisted on them.  Stereotypes of black people are rampant in the story, and sadly are still prominent in our society fifty years later.
     The film focuses on random people getting together in the Algiers Motel on the third night of rioting.  They include a member of the aspiring vocal group, The Dramatics, and their agent, two young women from Ohio who enjoy the company of black men, their black male friend, a prankster, and a couple of his friends.  Unfortunately, the prankster has a starting pistol (for track races) that makes a pop like a real gun, which he uses to play a joke on his guests.  Then, when he looks out to see patrols on the street, he shoots it out the window, “to show them how scared we get when they’re after us.”  Little does he know that one weak officer Krauss (Poulter) will jump to conclusions, think there is an actual sniper in the motel, and proceed to locate the shooter, no matter what it takes, including planting evidence.  He has already been reprimanded by a superior for his conduct, but it doesn’t “take.”
     The film portrays the rioting and looting similar to a newsreel, (perhaps deriving from real ones) showing police and politicians taken by surprise (because they had not paid attention to the growing unrest from joblessness and promises not kept), and the National Guard is brought in.  The rioting has already been going on for two days before our hapless Algiers Motel group gets drawn in by what Krauss (Poulter) hears is a sniper.  He then proceeds to round up anyone in the motel he can find who might know something, and abuse them in an attempt to get them to identify the shooter.  (Difficult, since there was none.)
      I understand the story is based on reports of the events that occurred before the riot, as well as events leading up to it.  Boal and Bigelow elaborated on these accounts for dramatic effect, including the creation of the Krauss character, loosely based on an officer who was charged with a crime, but subsequently found not guilty by an all-white jury.  Some questions are not addressed, such as why none of the hostages mentioned that Carl’s gun was a starting pistol (no bullets) until they were in court proceedings.  Why was Krauss put back on the force after he had shot a looter in the back and killed him?  Why didn’t the hostages get the officer’s name?  Why didn’t people ask for lawyers when they were arrested?  Was the prosecution in the court trial really that bad?  These are minor points, and may be explained partly by the time; in 1967, the people held hostage may not have realized they could ask such questions.
      My skepticism has lessened after reading Mark Boal’s account in Vulture, “Why I Wrote Detroit  His sources included “the historical record”, consisting of documents, police files, John Hersey’s book The Algiers Motel, and interviews of the people involved, including Cleveland Larry Reed, the Dramatics co-founder and singer who was held captive by police officers and emotionally damaged permanently as a result.  In actual fact, three black men were killed that night and nine people were kept hostage in the Algiers Motel.
     Rather than the story being character driven, Boal and Bigelow wanted to show that at times, social forces take precedence over individuals’ actions and will.  He says, “The underlying intention…was always pretty straightforward: to unpack the riot and this one incident at the Algiers from the point of view of its many participants, and thereby enable the audience to experience the events themselves.  And in that respect, the filmmakers are entirely successful in giving viewers the sense of really being there and experiencing the horror, a horror that could conceivably be entirely true, even today.  Helplessness in an individual in such system-wide movement is aptly illustrated by the fine actor John Boyega playing a security guard who valiantly tries to intervene in the Algiers Motel, but is usually brushed aside and even falsely arrested.

The dramatization of horrific events fifty years ago that can inform us today.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Florence Pugh   Christopher Fairbank   Cosmo Jarvis   Bill Fellows   Paul Hilton   Naomi Acki

      Oh, what a fine production, poetically capturing the human character so completely and mysteriously it’s transfixing to the very end.  This is more a takeoff of the Shakespearean play than a re-interpretation, but contains many of the same elements of obsession, cold desperation, guilt, and betrayal.  Except for the well experienced Christopher Fairbank who plays Boris, the husband of Katherine (Pugh), the director, writer and most of the cast have worked primarily in television, which may account for the sense of freshness.  But it can also be attributed to the novel by Nikolai Leskov on which the screenplay was adapted. 
     Leskov, originally from a wealthy family who subsequently lost its estate, traveled widely in Russia, acquainting himself with all kinds of people.  He was a novelist, short-story writer, playwright, and journalist.  Politically, his sympathies were with Leon Tolstoy, and his truthfulness made him a pariah in some circles, but he was admired not only by Tolstoy but also by Maxim Gorky and Anton Chekhov.  His novel, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District, was ignored at first but later praised for containing illuminating stories about female characters from all classes of society.
     The movie opens with the young Katherine being dressed by her handmaid Anna (Acki) on what appears to be a wealthy estate.  She is married to an acerbic older man who shows no interest in her, and their bedroom scenes set the stage for the bizarreness that is to come.  Katherine is impressive in her quiet politeness and compliance with Alexander (Hilton), her husband, although she appears to be very self-possessed and even commanding with Anna and other workers on the estate.  “Are you cold?” asks Anna.  “No, I’m quite thick-skinned.”  She relishes “taking the air” by going outdoors.
     While she’s out, she comes upon one of the field workers, Sebastian (Jarvis), and at first she is authoritative because he has clearly not been working, but there is something about him…and she is going to seek him out again.  A pot begins to boil, and instead of the Shakespearean Lady Macbeth saying, “Out, out, damned spot”, this Lady Macbeth will say, “Out, out, anyone who stands in my way.”  The lovers playfully quote a psalm praising a figure (the Messiah) who comes “from heaven” “to save me”, “my debt to pay.”  Will Sebastian be that Messiah for Katherine as she hopes?
     The story gets embellished with the maid (Acki) becoming mute, the discovery of a ward of Boris, and multiple deaths.  It’s intriguing, comical, and suspenseful all at the same time.  Florence Pugh is a real star in evoking all the associations the viewer will have in watching her.  The film is mostly on her shoulders, and she carries it ably.  Praise to William Oldroyd and Alice Birch for bringing this innovative and captivating story to us.

Take only a peek and you won’t be able to stop watching this captivating film.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Christian Friedel     Katharina Schuttler     Burghart Klaussner
Johann von Bülow     Felix Eitner     David Zimmerschied

     This film is a thriller based upon the life of a heroic German resistance fighter during WWII.  The story opens with George Elser (Friedel) painstakingly planting a bomb in the wall behind the podium where Adolph Hitler, his target, will be speaking.  After he accomplishes the task, he attempts to flee to Switzerland, but is stopped by border guards, who find incriminating evidence on him, and he gets arrested.
     As a young adult, Elser is a musician in a small-town pub in southern Germany.  He is clearly a ladies’ man, and has that reputation among the locals.  It’s around 1932-34, and Nazi officers and party leaders are just beginning to harass people for not towing the party line and for associating with Jews.  Elser is completely repelled by their boorish behavior, and incensed by their treatment of Jews and people even associating with Jews.  By 1939, he is convinced that Hitler is going to be really destructive to people and to the country, and feels like he can’t just stand by and watch it happen.  Hence, he meticulously makes his plans to take Hitler out.  Elser is very smart and resourceful in managing to come up with all the materials he needs and how to use them.
     The bomb does indeed go off and kills innocent people nearby, but Hitler had left the building 13 minutes before; hence, the title of the film. While Elser is incarcerated, he’s tortured in various ways by the Nazis to get information about accomplices (and to protect their pride; they don’t want to look foolish by being outsmarted by one man).  Hitler and his aides cannot believe that Elser could build such a bomb on his own, and bring in experts to verify his ability, which they do.  But the brass is still not satisfied, and in frustration, Elser offers to draw a diagram and answer specific questions about how he built it, which he did.  The obstinacy of Hitler and his henchmen even in the face of these facts is shown by their shocking actions toward the end of the story.
     The film inserts flashbacks in Elser’s mind to fill us in on his history.  We learn that he had no respect for his drunken father, and had to return to his hometown to straighten out some of his father’s bad business deals.  While there, he met Elsa (Schuttler), who is married to a man who abuses her.  Of all the women he’s been with, she is the only one he falls in love with.  To protect her and his family, he tells them nothing of his plan, and when he leaves to go to Munich to implement it, he promises her he will return and marry her.  He was absolutely right in the secrecy, because she was brought to the prison during the interrogations.  When the interrogators threatened to harm her, he confessed to the crime and gave them all the information about it, and they released her.
     Some of the more interesting segments of Elser’s imprisonment has to do with the perspective of one of the interrogators.  Arthur Nebe (Klaussner) seems to believe him, and sets limits on his torture, angering some of Nebe’s colleagues and bosses.  He will pay dearly for this later, which validates just how ruthless and vindictive the Nazis could be.
     13 Minutes is very well crafted by Director Oliver Hirschbiegel, editor Alexander Dittner, cinematographer Judith Kaufmann and musician David Holmes.  The technique of using Elser’s flashbacks to give us his background story provides relief from the horrors of his imprisonment.  Also, by seeing all of his experiences, it becomes apparent how truly heroic Elser was.  He was a complicated person who at first seems rather irresponsible like a playboy, but as events unfold, we see him taking personal responsibility in trying to help his fellow Germans and his country.  It’s eerie when he predicts what will ultimately happen to Germany under Hitler, because he was right.  He showed his honor to the end, when he blames his failure on his not being committed enough to what he believed was right.
     As Elser, Christian Friedel delivers an award-worthy performance in portraying a very complicated man who is transformed radically by his choices and life experiences.  Burghart Klaussner as Arthur Nebe likewise projects subtlety and range beneath a stoic façade.

An instructive film portraying heroism in unexpected circumstances.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Sunday, July 23, 2017


Adan Jodorowsky     Brontis Jodorowsky   Leandro Taub     
Pamela Flores     Alejandro Jodorowsky     Jeremias Herskovits

     Jodorowsky is a man unto himself.  He likely has no parallel in his range of occupations:  Chilean-French film and theatre director, screenwriter, playwright, actor, author, poet, producer, composer, musician, spiritual guru, and even cartoonist.  He has always wanted to have a positive influence on young people, wanting them to explore, think, and look beyond what is seen in reality.  His work is considered avant-garde, and culminates in this his latest film, a poetic memoir that highlights his relationship with his father and how it made him the artist that he is.  He perhaps owes his artistic sensitivities to his mother, whom he portrays as a kind, loving woman whom he has speak her lines in operatic song.  He sympathizes with her never being able to please her mother as he was never able to please his father.  Defying his father, who expected/counted on his becoming a doctor, he became a poet (although not a “faggot”, which his father was convinced every male artist to be).
    This film starts out giving us a picture of Jodorowsky’s early years as Alejandre (portrayed by his son Adan) living in a poor neighborhood where his father has a shop.  It shows his father’s attitude toward the poor (“they’re all thieves”), his sadistic treatment of them, his horror at his son’s interest in poetry, his mother’s fawning over a family who doesn’t value her, and his early fascination of poetry and poets.  But when he is having a particularly bad time, he is comforted by a drunk in the street telling him not to worry; “A naked virgin will illuminate your path with a blazing butterfly.”  He came to realize that that “naked virgin” was a poetic muse who would lead him into becoming a true poet.
    Reflecting what actually happened in his life, the film shows Jodorowsky coming upon a group of artists who will allow him to live with them and foster his artistic pursuits.  One sends him to Café Iris where poets and their muses frequent, and there he meets Stella Diaz (Flores) a red headed, voluptuous poet, who becomes his muse.  She spurs him toward daring to give his imagination full vent, and his reputation in this circle is established.
Eventually, he is on to bigger and brighter things—Paris, for instance, where he is in search of his true self and, in his grandiose way, to salvage Surrealism.  He has an emotionally compelling farewell with his father, in which he makes peace, and comes to understand what his father actually gave to him.
   Jodorowsky’s art permeates this film, even extending to his progeny’s contributions.  Adan not only portrays his father in his younger years, but lends his music to the score.  Alejandro’s other son, Brontis, portrays his father in his younger years.  The production design and cinematography (Christopher Doyle) are endlessly (pun intended) creative, such as in the beginning of the film when storefronts are cleverly switched and a locomotive runs through town.  Sara Jodorowsky’s (Flores) operatic “talk” is enchanting, and the metaphorical images, such as devils and skeletons dancing, are beautifully filmed throughout.  Christopher Doyle is the cinematographer.

For those interested in art house films, Endless Poetry is a must-see—the most poetic of memoirs

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, July 20, 2017


     There was a recent National Geographic Channel program called “Hell on Earth:  The Fall of Syria and the Rise of Isis”, which reconstructed events in the Middle East that led up to the terrorist organization’s establishment in the area, which I reviewed earlier (  This documentary is a report of subsequent events that have occurred in the city of Raqqa.
     In 2012, Raqqa began the cry for freedom from Assad’s regime during the Arab Spring, and protests began spreading throughout Syria.  They were beginning to feel successful, but when a vacuum in leadership after the revolution occurred, Abu Bakr Al-Baghadadi and ISIS saw the opportunity, entered the city with great fanfare and public assassinations, and declared it their Caliphate, a territory within which ISIS’ power could be exercised.  Raqqa would be the capital of what they called the Islamic State.  They immediately began instituting Sharia law and punishing severely any who resisted.
  When journalists of Raqqa, became aware of the number of people ISIS was assassinating, a group of them joined together to resist by reporting deaths and other news on social media.  They call themselves RBSS (Raqqa is being Slaughtered Silently).  For a time, they were able to secretly film ISIS’ cruelties, and the disappearance of schools, universities, or hospitals, in the city, which loses its electricity repeatedly for as long as a week.  But when they started being discovered, some had to flee to Turkey and Germany.
   Then, ISIS itself began to use the media, hiring professionals, and sending out false reports about how calm the city is, using western games like “Grand Theft Auto” for recruitment of followers:  “Come join ISIS and play the game in real life.”  There are organized, concerted efforts like “camps on the streets” to capture the minds of children.  They offer them phones and other goodies to join them.  Eventually, ISIS banned all satellites in Raqqa, eliminating most of the channels of communication RBSS was using.
     RBSS consists of only a few journalists, most of whom have had to leave Syria for their lives; still, ISIS pursues them, even murdering them in other countries like Turkey and Germany.  These brave souls continue to try to do their work, but know full well their lives are always in danger.  They have received international acclaim.  For instance, their bravery was acknowledged by awarding them the International Press Freedom Award in 2015 in New York City.
     City of Ghosts is a tale about modern-day terrorism, in which a whole city can become a ghost town if the wrong people can enter at the right time.  It has special poignancy in the close following of a few of the resistors and the turns their lives have taken and the losses they have incurred.
     Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land) has produced a documentary that needs to serve as a warning to western democracies.  It seems that it doesn’t take much for ISIS to see an opportunity and seize upon it as a way of exerting power upon an unsuspecting people.  One of the ways is to attack journalism and squash its reporting of real events.  We should be grateful to those who fight back at great risk.

A sobering look at how ISIS can assume power over a people.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Dane DeHaan     Cara Delevingne     Clive Owen     Ethan Hawke     Rihanna    
Herbie Hancock     Sam Spruell     Voices of:  John Goodman   Elizabeth Debicki

       Valerian (DeHaan) is obnoxious as he can be, but I enjoyed the rest of the cast in the movie, the story, and the special effects.  I’m curious about why Valerian is made to be heroic and still be so obtuse.  Does this come from the comics on which it is based or from Besson’s screenwriting?  Valerian’s fellow agent Laureline (DeLevigne) is sharp, emotionally attuned, and a real fighter when she needs to be.  The film should have been named “Laureline Saves an Agent and a Planet.”  Or at least “Valerian and Laureline”, as the comics are titled.
     At any rate, this very expensive indie film must have invested large sums for the portrayal of exotic creatures, Olivier Bériot’s costumes, Hugues Tissandier’s production design, and all the efforts and equipment involved in special effects; an investment well worth it in my opinion.  If the viewer just “goes with it” and suspends reality, it is an otherworld experience with exotic creatures, harrowing light-speed flights through space and falls to the depths of unknown places.  My favorite creatures are the willowy, iridescent Pearls, who are gentle, gentile, and smart enough to acquire knowledge of science and mathematics, and anything else they need to know to reconstruct their planet, which has been destroyed by an ignorant military force.  The pearls—ejected by “converters”—are life sustaining for the people of Mül, and they treat them respectfully. 
      Pearls in the film are metaphors for that which is of value, like the earth and nature.  “We give to the earth what the sea grants to us”, the Mül people say about their recycling, as they deposit pearls into the water.  In keeping with the film’s central message, we find out what happened to the Mül planet, and the ignorance on which the attack was based (e.g., “primitive” civilizations are not as important as ours—a la the current day message, “America First”). 
     Valerian and Laureline are charged with finding and recovering the universally coveted converter belonging to the people of Mül, called the Pearls, which went missing when they were attacked. The converter, which looks like an adorable animal, makes copies of anything it ingests and ejects the copies in endless amounts.  The Pearls give it pearls because they’re essential for their survival.  Others covet the converter for their own nefarious purposes.  The assignment to retrieve the converter takes the two agents through numerous venues—other planets, U.S. military space stations, a colorful “Big Market”, and even a fancy brothel.  Their paths cross those of Commander Filitta (Owen) and General Okto-Bar (Spruell), a Jabba the Hutt kind of character (Goodman), the pimp Jolly (Hawke), and an exotic dancer Bubble (Rihanna).  In the process of carrying out their assignment, the two agents survive life-threatening situations, but eventually uncover the mystery of what happened to the planet Mül.
     Director Luc Besson (Nikita, Lucy, The Fifth Element) wrote the screenplay, based on a French comics series, and although he successfully attempted to recreate some of the Star Wars elements, the dialog lacks the sharpness and creativity of the visuals.  Better editing could have omitted a number of scenes that are extraneous and shorten a 2½ hour film.  DeHaan is miscast as a heroic character, and he comes across as braggadocios and self-centered.  The rest of the cast are highly entertaining, particularly Delevingne, Owen, Hawke, Goodman, and Debicki.  Rihanna’s exotic, shape-shifting dance and song act is a highlight. 

Besson’s adventure is a wild tour of other worlds in time and space.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Regina Hall     Queen Latifah     Jada Pinkett Smith     Tiffany Haddish    
Kate Walsh     Mike Colter     Lara Grice     Larenz Tate

     Four friends decide to get together again after years of doing their own thing.  Ryan (Hall) has become famous for her book with the message that You Can Have it All, and with her football hero  husband Stewart (Colter) they make up a golden couple promoted by their agent Elizabeth (Walsh) and looking forward to their own TV talk show and product line.        They have a public engagement in New Orleans, and Ryan thinks it would be a perfect time to get the “Flossy Posse” (partying college roommates) back together for a reunion. 
      Sasha (Latifah), Lisa (Smith), and Dina (Haddish) are on board and meet up for a flashy, fun weekend in the party city.  They all have back-stories, though.  Sasha has her own blog, which digs up “dirt” about celebrities, but she’s hanging on financially by only a thin thread.  Dina has impulse control problems and has just been fired from her job.  Lisa and her two children live with her mother after Lisa’s divorce. 
     They also have colorful personalities, all very different from one another, and there is a certain amount of painful history that surfaces from time to time.  These stories are cleverly sprinkled in, so that the viewer is informed gradually.  They only come to a head towards the very end, which, to me, was the most interesting part of the film.
     But the personalities are the entertainment.  First and foremost is Dina, who has no limits as to what she will do or say, which makes her the comedian/problem for everyone.  Ryan is forceful by virtue of her success in life (which is far from stable and predictable) and her message to women about being able to have it all.  Sasha looks/acts the part of someone who has made it, but something keeps coming up about her and Ryan.  Lisa seems to have traveled backward in time, and the others have to bring her up to date in her frumpy dress, her frumpy attitude, and her obsessive nurturance.
     This mixture is dynamite in New Orleans where everything the filmmakers could dream up in raucous comedy, embarrassing situations, and friendship brinkmanship gets played.  To spice it up even more, cameo appearances by Common, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, Ava DuVernay, Mariah Carey and their groups blitz the screen.  The jokes don’t always come across well, but there are so many, one can overlook those few.
     Girls Trip will be savored more by those whose culture is represented by the characters.  The audience in the screening I attended was optimally interactive, applauding, making comments, and groaning throughout.  As a white woman of a certain age, I sat through most of it interested, but not engaged, up until the concluding scenes when the characters developed more insight into their friendship and its value.  That is the substantive point of the whole film; that underneath everything, above all, is friendship.  I can certainly go along with that!
    Director Malcolm D. Lee, wanting to avoid black female stereotypes, highlights the genuine warmth among the women.  They fight and argue, but not for long, and they always make up.  The four talented main actresses (Hall, Latifah, Smith, Haddish) are funny and entertaining, deftly showing off their skills.  Walsh and Colter lend strong supporting roles. 

A raunchy, raucous indulgence that eventually gets to what most of us value in life.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, July 13, 2017


Joey King     Ryan Phillippe     Ki Hong Lee     Mitchell Slaggert     Shannon Purser     Sydney Park

     Wish upon a star?  How about an exotic Chinese box?  This film is about that box and the lesson it teaches about “Be careful what you wish for.” 
     As in many/most horror films, the story starts out very ordinary with a happy young girl riding her bike with her dog down the block and back.  Of course, this is just illusory; as soon as she gets home there will be a tragic surprise.
     Flash forward a dozen or so years, and Clare (King) is a teenager living with her father (Phillippe), and having two close friends, June (Purser) and Meredith (Park), but not much else.  She’s bullied by the most popular girl in a high school clique, longs for the attention of Paul (Staggert) who is in the clique and doesn’t even see her, and feels embarrassed about her father emptying the dumpsters near her school where everyone can see.  Clare’s father is a packrat, gleaning things from dumpsters that he thinks will be useful someday.  He proudly brings home an ornate box that he is sure Clare will love, and leaves it on her bed as “an early birthday present.”
     It is attractive, with Chinese writing on it, which Clare is intrigued with for a while, given that she is taking a class in Chinese.  She asks her Chinese teacher and fellow Chinese student, Ryan (Ki Hong Lee), about it, but they can’t translate everything; however, Ryan has a friend who knows much more Chinese and could help.  Off Clare and Ryan go to visit Gina (Alice Lee), where they learn that the box gives the possessor seven wishes…with caveats, as in blood prices.
     Of course, in her discomfort, Clare makes some wishes, and lo and behold they come true.  She makes some more, and all of her troubles seem to be over.  But oh so gradually she is reminded of those caveats, which she tries to ignore, but the box is insistent. 
     Wish Upon is a horror movie for fans, particularly those in the teenage years.  Much is there for them to identify with and be horrified and frightened of.  I have an idea that the high school scenes are exactly true to life, showing mixtures of angst, rudeness, and superiority.  Director John R. Leonetti tells writer Barbara Marshall’s story well, divulging information gradually with touches of suspense and with special effects enhancing the mystery.  Tomandandy’s music is spot on in conveying the mood/terror of the moment. 
     Although Star Joey King’s performance is OK, it lacks the nuance and subtleties called for in the main actor.  Her expression seems always to be the same, regardless of what situation she is in.  I didn’t see the pain in her portrayal that the character must have felt when she realized how self-focused her wishes were and the consequences they brought about.  On the other hand, the actors playing friends June (Purser) and Meredith (Park) are much more entertaining, showing a range of smartness, insight, and humor.  They also contrast with the actor Staggert in his role as pretty boy Paul, who is rather wooden in his presentation.  Ryan Phillippe plays Clare’s father in a minor role, but competently executed.

Be careful what you wish for and its price.

Grade:  C                                    By Donna R. Copeland


     This documentary will sweep you off your feet with its brilliant images of underwater life, then bring you up short in informing you of the precariousness of ocean reefs and the dangers to us all in the event that a whole eco-system on which 500 million people rely for food and livelihood disappears (which could actually happen in our lifetime).  When Director Jeff Orlowski (Chasing Ice), underwater photographer Richard Vevers, and the oceanic researchers witnessed the state of affairs, they were determined to make an educational video for the world.
     Coral reefs make up one of the fundamental bases of our eco-system, in its uniqueness.  It performs photosynthesis by day, and by night, reaches out with tiny tentacles to capture organisms, constituting a “food factory” that sustains the coral’s nutritional needs.  But a major problem cropping up only recently (in the last 30 years) has been observed by marine biologists, and that is “whitening” of coral, which soon dies from starvation as its food producing capabilities are impaired.  Moreover, they have determined the source of the problem and verified their findings with photographic proof.
     In addition to the impressive imagery and scientific rigor, Chasing Coral’s scientists presenting the information are engaging, warm, human individuals who remind me of favorite teachers I’ve had in my university experience.  One, Richard Vevers, seems to have gotten the whole project started when, as an adman in London he began to see the emptiness of his endeavors and wished to pursue something meaningful.  Another, Zackery Rago, calling himself a coral nerd in his avid marine interest, in setting up coral aquaria in his home, and in idolizing the “father of coral reef science” Dr. John Veron (whom we also get to see), is an underwater engineer who helped design the underwater cameras and collected data.  All the marine biologists and camera crews are a source of inspiration in their accounts and in cinematography by Andrew Ackerman and Jeff Orlowsky.
     The challenges of photographing the progression of the decline of coral reefs involved adapting cameras that could be left in place for months, withstanding both water and ocean pressure.  We go through the agony of the researchers in the setbacks and their heroic efforts to compensate, including multiple dives throughout the day to film manually rather than having a camera in place for continual filming.  The good news is that toward the conclusion of the film, they finally got their cameras to function well, which means we should be getting updated information at a later date.
     Sites visited by the researchers include the Florida Keys, which has lost 80-90% of its coral; Discovery Bay in Jamaica, America Samoa (where in six months all coral became white as far as the eye could see); the Hawaiian Islands, Bermuda, and the Bahamas; and, finally, the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia.  Here, they encountered additional phenomena, such as the “fluorescing” of the coral, its attempt to block out the sun.
     Now comes the sobering news.  In the last 30 years, the world has lost 50% of its corals.  When 25% of all marine life relies on coral reefs, it’s easy to fathom the implications of such.  In 2016, 29% of the Great Coral Reef animals died, and this is happening all over the world.  Within 30 years, most of the world’s corals will have died.  UNLESS we do something.  It’s not too late, say the scientists.
     Chasing Coral appears to have been a truly collaborative project, with the filmmakers and scientists working closely together in presenting the facts, the rigors and setbacks of filming underwater, and their emotional experiences in discovering the phenomena and the extent of the damage to coral around the world.  They are convinced that climate change in the form of global warming is a fact. They emphasize how important the ocean is for life on this planet, and the danger of 93% of the heat trapped in the atmosphere going into the oceans.

You owe it to yourself—and the planet—to see this wake-up call in film.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland