What We Learned This Week: August 19-25

LESSON #1: NETFLIX DOES SOME GOOD THINGS— For this school teacher, it’s the end of the summer and I’ve been collecting little Netflix stories all summer for a seasonal round-up through this column.  The news pieces and editorials are pretty much split down the middle between positive and negative.  Let’s start with the good.  For one, they put their money where their mouth (and hubris) is as they plan to spend an astounding $13 billion this year on content, which includes contracts with studios and their own created productions.  That sheer volume of content on Netflix has caused many to call into question what gets premium position for promotion and placement.  I like the way director Ava DuVernay put it saying “My concern isn’t being lost, my concern is being somewhere, period.”  Earlier in the year, actress Elizabeth Olson expressed a similar forward-thinking compliment stating that the screening provider gives independent films a better chance at a wider audience than far more expensive limited theatrical release to a shrinking supply of art house movie theaters.  Netflix can be a permanent home instead of a two-week swing-and-a-miss to small crowds.  I don’t know what savvy producer would say no that for a fair price.

LESSON #2: NETFLIX DOES SOME BAD THINGS TOO— The piles of negative dings against the streaming giant is pretty tall too, spanning a range between content choices and business dealings.  Competition is coming in the form of Disney’s own branded streaming service with a rumored price point of $8/month, under Netflix’s current price tag.  The Mouse House has announced that all Disney content will gradually be off Netflix by March of 2019, which might cause a drop in subscribers who want their family content.  Speaking of kid-friendly stuff, the loudest piece came just this week from opinion writer Tim Winter of USA Today.  His bold claim was that Netflix, as proven by its supposedly racy volume of content choices, has turned its back on family programming.  Along the same lines, Netflix is buying fewer documentary titles than it used to after long being a welcome hub for that genre.  Echoing DuVernay’s take from Lesson #1, the home screen is only so big and what sells is going to get the premium space.  That’s good business even if its not pretty.  Discerning consumers need to be discerning and Netflix shouldn’t have to make excuses. 

LESSON #3: MOVIEPASS NEEDS A FORK STUCK IN IT IN THE WORST WAY— Another week bring another clownish fail from MoviePass.  This time its annual memberships being refunded and thrust into month-to-month subscriptions, limited ones at that, eliminating the savings that came from having a longer term.  I don’t what else can go south.  The crazy thing is we’ve been saying that about MoviePass for months and it keeps surprising us with more calamity and circus.  Seriously, they don’t need to adopt the Lenny Kravitz song line of “it ain’t over ’til its over.”  Just quit already.

LESSON #4: ON SOME LEVEL, DIRECTORS ARE IRREPLACEABLE— It was announced by Disney this week that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be delayed from its scheduled winter shooting date indefinitely following the dismissal of director James Gunn, which disbanded the production crew he hired.  The comic sequel isn’t the first or the last (especially at Disney) film to go through a change or delay like this, but this one feels more a shade more problematic and temporary than just changing a tire or replacing a dead battery.  This is replacing the battery and all of the framework, wiring, and bolts because of how each film is a team approach.  If Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ever does make it, we know it won’t be the same.  It will take a hit no matter what not just because of the public sentiment, but because of the reduction in quality from an entirely new team working on the film.  


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

MOVIE REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time

A WRINKLE IN TIME (2018)

GOING IN

I, like so many my age, read this novel in high school English class. The details are fuzzy, and what stands out the most to me is that the story itself was fairly unmemorable (at least to my teenage self). I’ve intentionally stayed away from refreshing myself on the plot because I’d much rather let the film speak for itself and now I can go in without unrealistic expectations. Ava DuVernay looks to have constructed a visually stunning treat and that alone has me excited. A WRINKLE IN TIME also features a young, nerdy girl hero so I think seeing this with my young, nerdy daughter will be a great experience.

1 Hour and 49 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT

Prior to our screening of A WRINKLE IN TIME, we were greeted with a video message from director Ava DuVernay, in which she explained her approach to telling this timeless story. It was heartfelt and her passion was undeniable. She truly wanted to make a film that was empowering and inspirational for young teens, and in particular young girls, but hoped that by finding the child in ourselves we adults could enjoy it too. In hindsight, this message was telling, and perhaps a bit manipulative, but also important, because if there’s one thing you need to do to enjoy A WRINKLE IN TIME, it is to remember that this is a story FOR a younger audience.

In adapting Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel (that has often been called “unfilmable”), DuVernay’s vision is clearly noticeable. With a focus on swelling of emotion and incredible visuals throughout, A WRINKLE IN TIME is consistently breath-taking. The colors and CGI transformations of The Misses are stunning to look at. Early in the film the children arrive on an unknown world after “tessering” there and this one scene perfectly captures the awesome wonder of discovery and exploration. These CGI-heavy sections are book-ended by the film’s opening and closing sections set on Earth. In those times DuVernay shows her talents in force, using close-ups and wonderfully cinematic camerawork (backed by a pretty wonderful score, by the way) to provoke an emotional response.

It helps that the acting is quite good. Lead actress Storm Reid (Meg) is adorable and conveys the uncertain, intelligent, and emotionally closed-off aspects of her character perfectly. She truly is fantastic and she carries the film just fine. Levi Miller (Calvin), who you may know from his turn as Peter in Joe Wright’s Pan, is also wonderful. Some may criticize him as providing an emotionless, stoic performance but it felt true to his character in every way. Of The Misses, Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit) stands out the most. She does have the most speaking lines and the most screen time, but her eccentric silly personality comes through incredibly in her performance and she shines in every scene. Lastly of note is Deric McCabe (Charles Wallace), who is a star in the making. The character of Charles Wallace, Meg’s much younger adopted brother who is a genius and largely the catalyst for the entire plot, is integral and he owns every moment that includes him (up to the finale). If nothing else is, Reid and McCabe definitely establish themselves as ones to watch. This is also a very diverse cast. It features a realistically natural racial mix of characters and inter-racial relationships and never once felt forced.

But aside from enjoying the spectacle of A WRINKLE IN TIME, the story itself has many issues. For one thing, L’Engle’s Christianity was an important part of her writing, but Jennifer Lee’s adaptation definitely skews the story more into New Age philosophy than anything of the spiritual sort. It’s all about finding the power inside of yourself and being the light that fights the darkness, which is a good thing, but there is a lack of acknowledgment of any higher power. Everyone in this universe seems to be equal, if only they can tap into the right emotions and stay focused. As a fantasy film, you expect to not understand everything about the way the world works, as well. That is true here because how time “wrinkles” and allows travel across the universe is explained very vaguely. It’s confusing and the science speak feels tacked on as a plot mover rather than a fascinating concept to learn about. The film’s structure also is messy. There’s an opening with character backstory and such, then a brief journey across worlds (of which there are only two and one is entirely bland), and then a big CGI ending that makes very little sense and is reminiscent of the Guardians fighting inside of Ego the Planet in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2. In that last act, major characters come and go with little explanation, and everything wraps up in a very boring way. But when your hero’s powers are simply to think positively and concentrate, it’s difficult to make that compelling in a visual way.

These faults, however, don’t make the film unwatchable. With many strong messages like, “It’s okay to fear the answers, but you can’t avoid them,” DuVernay’s film does have some inspirational moments. The relationships are strong, too, and perhaps where the film shines the most: Meg and Calvin sharing an innocent, blossoming romance, Mr. and Mrs. Murray as a couple who are loving, adoptive parents and brilliant scientists, and even Meg and Charles Wallace as brother and sister who lean on each other more than anyone else. As an adult, you must really try to recognize the view from a teenage perspective. My own daughter loved the film and was moved emotionally by it. She found it inspiring, funny, and gorgeous. Watch it through younger eyes as DuVernay suggests, and you’ll probably enjoy it much more.

VERDICT

Ava DuVernay’s A WRINKLE IN TIME is an often beautiful, but messy, love letter that inspires young minds to believe in themselves and be warriors for the light. It is a bit overly preachy in its messaging, yet it does offer up some good advice, and its focus on New Age philosophy over the more faith-based aspects of the novel may upset some viewers. Acting is strong, visuals are incredible, and with a moving score the film is emotionally evocative throughout. It’s worth seeing, but don’t expect it to leave much of a lasting impression. Watching with childlike eyes and imagination will make for a much better viewing experience, though, and is highly recommended.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: May 28-June 3

LESSON #1: WONDER WOMAN IS THE HEROINE AND FILM WE ALL DESERVE THIS SUMMER— It doesn’t matter how you feel about the DC Extended Universe or the stylings of Zack Snyder, you owe it to yourself to see Wonder Womathis weekend or soon.  Sure, it’s another origin story, but I guarantee this is one you haven’t seen before.  This isn’t the fourth time we’ve seen Bruce Wayne’s parents killed.  This is a hero that the movie writers got right and absolutely nailed.  Gal Gadot (and that smile of hers) is an absolute treasure.  She’s deserves the importance and pedestal people are assigning to her.  Wonder Woman matters to more than just women and feminism.  Anyone still ranting about any all-female favoritism needs to shut up.  Go see the movie.  It will earn your praise.

LESSON #2: JESSICA CHASTAIN IS A REAL HERO IN THE MAKING— Speaking of Wonder Womanwomen deserve improved treatment across the board and I’ll all for those for who stand up and call out the needs and problems.  Bravo to Jessica Chastain!  The A-list actress called the onscreen representation of women in this year’s lineup of Cannes Film Festival films “quite disturbing” during a press conference.  That is a woman of principles.  She’s right and more needs to be done.

LESSON #3: BLACK GIRL MAGIC EXISTS AND IS COMING SOON— Speaking of empowerment of women, the stars of awesomeness are aligning to turn the buddy movie template on its ear.  Recording artist Rihanna, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, and Selma director Ava DuVernay are teaming up with Netflix for a new film that screens the title of this lesson.  It the words of former New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, “can’t wait.”

LESSON #4: WAY TO GO, GEORGIA!— I am no southerner, but raise a glass of moonshine to the Peach State.  Recent film industry studies have tallied Georgia as the number one location in the whole world for film production.  The United Kingdom was #2.  Not New York.  Not California.  Be watching for their logo in film credits.  Chances are you’ve been seeing it more than you realize.

LESSON #5: DO YOU BUY MAINSTREAM VR AS A THING FOR MOVIES?— I don’t know about you, but I laugh when I see someone with their cell phone strapped to their face doing some kind of VR display or experience.  Talk about sitting too close to the screen like our mothers told us as kids.  I turn into Nelson from “The Simpsons” and secretly hope they walk into a wall or fall from small heights.  Apparently, VR might just be a new medium for film experiences.  Oscar winning Birdman and The Revenant director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is bringing VR to the forefront and demonstrated the technology  and its film-viewing capabilities at the Cannes Film Festival in France this past month with his Carne Y Arena project.  So, what do you think of this?  Revolutionary tech or decadent fad?


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.