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.

Feelin’ TV: July 24-30

In the spring of 2002, a group of comic actors including hardworking character actor Paul Rudd, new Saturday Night Live cast member Amy Poehler and Hollywood newcomers Bradley Cooper and Elizabeth Banks, now all household names, got together with director David Wain to make the 80’s summer camp comedy spoof Wet Hot American Summer. The film, which also stars such comedy mainstays as Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Christopher Meloni and the great H. Jon Benjamin (who lends his voice talents to a talking can of vegetables) was a box office and critical flop at the time. Since that spring though, the film, penned by Wain and Michael Showalter, has aged like a fine wine. It’s a glorious, self-aware little movie that chronicles the last day of summer camp in 1981. It’s relentless in the number of jokes it throws at the wall, not taking the time to come back and see which ones stick.

While a lot of the content that Netflix has found it necessary to revive has been mediocre (Fuller House) to poor (Arrested Development Season Four), the 2015 revival of Wet Hot American Summer that chronicled the first day at Camp Firewood in a short 8-episode season was inspired. It took everything that worked well about the film and gave us more. It added the talents of Jon Hamm, Chris Pine, Jason Schwarzman and many others. It worked well enough that last week, Netflix gave us 8 more short episodes to hang with our campers. Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is completely insane. To outline the plot here in a way that made any sense at all would be impossible. Suffice it to say, it’s a lot of poking fun at early 90’s nostalgia (seriously, the number of times we hear about B. Dalton Booksellers is astounding) mixed with the exaggerated versions of the tropes we’ve come to expect from movies and TV shows about reunions. If that isn’t enough, there’s a good bit intrigue in the B plot involving Ronald Reagan, the first President Bush and a nuclear warhead. The humor is as broad as the Atlantic Ocean but has the depth of a baby pool, but man, is it a lot of fun. Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is currently streaming on Netflix.

If one were judging the merits of an episode of Game of Thrones based on the number of memorable scenes, this week’s episode would have to be one of the best of the series. Arya’s return to Winterfell and her sparring session with Brienne, Bran’s interaction with Littlefinger, Dothraki soldiers in battle on the open field and, of course, large amounts of dragon fire, were all moments that brought waves of satisfaction to long-time fans of the show. But “The Spoils of War” is an episode that didn’t add up to the sum of its parts.

Last week I discussed the hastening of the action of Game of Thrones and mentioned how I was enjoying the change of pace. This week, I’ll admit, I’m beginning to change my tune. It isn’t even taking characters an entire episode to travel across continents. They’re going ridiculous amounts of distance, from Dragonstone to Casterly Rock for example, in between scenes. It’s all becoming a little too convenient for my taste, and I don’t think I’m alone. So while it was pretty cool to see the Mother of Dragons ride Drogon into battle and Arya’s long awaited reunion with Sansa, overall, this was my least favorite episode of the season.

What say you? Do you think that GoT needs to slow its roll? Who saved Jamie from the wrath of Drogon? What will become of him when he surfaces? Leave your thoughts in the comments or our Facebook group. Game of Thrones can be viewed Sunday nights on HBO or streamed on the HBO NOW and HBO GO platforms.

That’s all for this week! Leave us your thoughts in the comments. If there’s anything you’d like to see covered that hasn’t been yet, let us know.

MOVIE REVIEW: Wonder Woman

In the opening minutes of Wonder Woman, young Princess Diana (played by the precocious Lilly Aspell), bounds about the island of Themyscira with such a tireless enthusiasm, imitating lady warriors in training, channeling the energy of Wall Street’s Fearless Girl, defiant of rules and stereotypes.  Even as her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson), tries to subdue her daughter’s eagerness to place herself in precarious circumstances, we can tell that Diana is cut from a different cloth. This is an origin story untold on the big screen before now, and in a cinematic society weary of such redundancies, the coming of age of the would be Amazonian princess is welcome, and in so many ways, necessary.

For the past decade, Marvel Studios has coasted along on the coattails of a genuinely decent cinematic universe, wherein rival DC has limped along with luke warm to abysmal attempts post-Nolan at keeping up with the Jonses. Rabid fandom aside, DC has mostly earned the reputation of being the VH1 to Marvel’s MTV.  But credit where credit is due, DC is the first studio to test the theory that a female centered superhero film can stand alongside the glut of “fill in the blank”-man movies that have strong armed the studio’s purse strings for far to long.  Giving the reigns to a passionate, visionary filmmaker like Patty Jenkins was also the right thing to do. There is an undercurrent of authenticity to this film, as if it knows it carries an extra burden.  Fair or not, Wonder Woman needed to be more than entertaining.  

Wonder Woman needs to be examined on multiple fronts. As a superhero film, it’s decent, much in the way most of these genre films are.  There will be things that work and things that will not, but generally you will feel a sense of satisfaction when the credits start rolling.  And yet, Twitter trolls will spew nonsense, and fanboys will gather to defend. If you can block out that noise, you can expect an above average slice of blockbuster pie that isn’t without its flaws.

Comparisons can be made to Captain America: The First Avenger in both style and structure.  The pacing isn’t always a strength, and it does feel the full weight of the 141 minute run time as a result.  The film ultimately falls into familiar genre trappings, where CGI assumes command of a final battle between super-beings in a dark cacophony of sight and sound.  But enough good will has been earned by that point for me to forgive most of that.  It isn’t terrible, just familiar.  

As maligned as Producer Zack Snyder is with a lot of his creative choices, casting Gal Gadot is purely inspired.  She is perfect, and with no disrespect to Linda Carter, she is the Wonder Woman for all going forward.  Gadot brings so many layers of Diana Prince to life, portraying her with a fearless intensity that smacks of both strength and vulnerability. There is a grace and beauty to Diana, and yet her fierce sense of duty never wavers.  Between Gadot’s talent and Jenkins’ direction, Wonder Woman never strays down a path that could have cheapened it.

To that end, props to Chris Pine (as Captain Steve Trevor), who never oversells himself.  He seems to understand there is something bigger going on here, and his portrayal of Trevor never impedes on Gadot.  Pine shows range with the character- sometimes frustrated, confused, or downright angry- but he’s always respectful of Diana’s role within this world.  

All of the plot devices and technicalities of filmmaking aside, the success of Wonder Woman, at least for me, lies squarely on its ability to serve as a beacon for gender equality.  And I’m of the opinion (admittedly the opinion of one white bred, middle aged dude), that this film succeeds on that front.  Every time I started to get concerned the line might get crossed- when the male hero might be called upon to save the day- Jenkins and Gadot sidestep, making sure the focus stays on Diana as hero, keeping the male characters involved but at a respectable distance that never feels unnatural. 

To that end, we male critics can comment on the basics of storytelling, or on technical merit, or character development, but I don’t feel as if we have the right to pass judgement on this film based on our experience outside of those particular contexts. It isn’t our film, guys.  We can love it or hate, but what matters is the way it lands with women who find inspiration from the main character.  What matters are the women who have felt the brunt of misaligned gender politics and look to a simple film as a step in the right direction.  What matters are women who find courage and strength in a world that doesn’t often allow them to express those traits.  What matters are the multitudes of little girls who don the warrior princess’ outfit and walk away empowered, seeing themselves as equals, seeing themselves in the same context as their male peers who sport Iron Man and Captain America gear on Halloween.  It’s really the only thing that matters here, and it’s long overdue.

Episode 061: Wonder Woman

We go for the team-up this week by calling in Andrew Dyce for this special episode on DC’s newest entry into their comic book film universe. Wonder Woman let into theaters shouldering an enormous weight as the first female-directed and led superhero movie. Not only has it garnered incredible financial success in its first weekend, but it has received overwhelming praise as something fresh, new, and necessary. We dig into the film and have a great conversation about its themes and importance to the future.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:52

(Aaron – You’re Next)
(Patrick – The Last of Us)
(Andrew – American Gods/Twin Peaks: The Return)

Wonder Woman Review – 0:21:14

The Connecting Point – 1:40:04

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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