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A Wrinkle in Time

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Ava DuVernay

Stars: Andre Holland, Bellamy Young, Chris Pine, Deric McCabe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Levi Miller,Mindy Kailing, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Rowan Blanchard, Storm Reid, Will McCormack, Zach Galifianakis

Released: March 23rd, 2018

This one is a hard nut to crack. Both for this reviewer and the filmmakers as Madeline L’Engle’s 1962 novel that serves as the source material for this latest Disney live-action adaptation has been said to be unfilmmable. A Wrinkle in Time was always going to be different though, in that this wasn’t a Disney live-action re-make in the vein of one of their treasured animated films from their golden age or renaissance period, but rather the Mouse House had enlisted Selma and 13th director Ava DuVernay to bring this much beloved material to the screen. On the other end of this review is myself who somehow made it through grade school without finding L’Engle’s novel despite being an avid reader and fan of all things science-fiction/fantasy. A Wrinkle in Time is one of those cases where my intent was to in fact read the book prior to seeing the film, but that intent never led to any kind of fruition and so I walked into DuVernay’s adaptation of this seemingly complex yet still kid-friendly source material last night with little to no expectation as to where the story might take me. What I did know was that the trailers hinted at some pretty spectacular imagery as well as some intriguing ideas that would be interesting to see worked out through a narrative. First things first though, A Wrinkle in Timemisses a huge opportunity to inject a rather epic title card (which, if you’ve read my reviews before, is kind of a thing for me), but more so by the third or fourth scene it’s clear there is a stiffness to the events that have unfolded thus far and that there is a certain flow most movies settle into that A Wrinkle in Time isn’t finding. It’s a weird kind of phenomenon that either happens or doesn’t and most of the time, especially with movies such as this AKA big-budget spectacles produced by Disney, there is such a reliability factor that we as viewers automatically settle into the groove and/or movement of the environment the movie invites us into, but this speaks to what is the biggest weakness of DuVernay’s adaptation in that it’s never sure enough of itself. Where this apprehensiveness comes from in terms of movie language doesn’t necessarily seem to come from DuVernay’s filmmaking skills as anyone who saw Selma can attest to her talent, but there is a more deep-seeded issue at the heart of this big-budget spectacle and I don’t know whether it comes from the seeming compression of the original text or the inability to materialize the countless words L’Engle put on the page, but 2018’s A Wrinkle in Time is essentially a concept that possesses these larger than life ideas as reduced to their simplest form.

Jennifer Lee (Frozen, Wreck-it Ralph) and Jeff Stockwell’s (Bridge to Terabithia) screenplay may be at the root of this problem as, by the second act of the film where we are indeed deep into the adventure despite not feeling like we really know these characters, there seems to be no sense of structure, no stakes or rising action despite events undeniably taking place. It is in this lack of character investment and the consistently evident pacing issues that plague the entirety of the picture that we find fault in DuVernay’s direction. The trailers have hailed the filmmaker as being “visionary” and the visuals present in A Wrinkle in Time, at least some of them, may warrant this adjective above her name, but if we’re talking about someone who sees the entire package, the big picture, it doesn’t ever feel as if DuVernay earns that title in this film given that unease that seeps into nearly every scene. Individual scenes are moving, individual sequences are fun and interesting, but on top of one another they never build to anything worth caring about or anything that is as interesting as these characters seem to believe their situation is. This begins by keeping Mr. and Mrs. Murray’s (Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) scientific ambitions rather vague. Sure, they want to travel across time and space without rocket ships and think they’ve discovered a way to potentially do so, but the scene given the most exposition around this also plays up what a quack the audience listening in on Mr. Murray’s lecture thinks he is by the time he comes to the end of it. Keep in mind, we are also only given such exposition after Dr. Murray has been gone for four years-disappearing without a trace and leaving his wife, daughter, and newly adopted son behind. And sure, it’s cool to want to try and accomplish these insane things and to crave the knowledge of what exists beyond our world, but why? Why do Mr. and Mrs. Murray, both seemingly respected scientists otherwise, want to achieve this or prove the possibility of such? What is the personal angle? What is their drive other than validation? Unfortunately, we never become privy to such insight because Mbatha-Raw and Pine are essentially small supporting characters in this children’s adventure that ultimately comes to reinforce the simple lesson of love conquering all rather than exploring the philosophical questions inherent in good versus evil and why as much exists in the universe as that would seem the more fulfilling territory. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate this is a rather strange and pretty trippy movie unabashedly made for younger audiences, but that isn’t an excuse to not make it mesh as well as it should or be as compelling as it so easily could have been.

Furthermore, this vagueness within who these characters truly are extends even into our trio of main characters as beyond the fact she misses her father and has let her grades and mood deflate because of it we don’t really know why Meg Murray (Storm Reid) is so disconnected from those around her save for her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), who is beyond pretentious and a little grating in the way he comes across via the child performer. Reid comes across as an endearing enough presence and we want to root for her Meg, but while she is supposedly not as ready to experience or understand what Charles Wallace has more easily taken to we never fully comprehend why this is such a difficult transition for Meg to make when her biological father of all people is the one to have discovered and fulfilled its potential (it being the ability to “tesser” across space and time into other parts of our universe). There are hints of Meg feeling inadequate and unsure of herself as there are bullies at school who are kind of beyond cruel for no apparent reason (as led by Girl Meets World‘s Rowan Blanchard), but this aspect only seems present so as to show that bullies more often than not are coming from a place of their own pain. Still, while bullying and her father’s disappearance may play into Meg’s inability to feel worthy of the possibilities and opportunities she is presented with shortly thereafter there is never a strong enough sense throughout the rest of the film as to why the solution to her insecurities is that of being herself and being okay with being herself other than it feels like the right message to send to the many kids who will be seeing this movie. That isn’t to say this wasn’t the same message that was conveyed in the novel, I’m sure it’s in there somewhere, but if so I have to believe it didn’t feel as blatantly bland as presented in this new adaptation. Meg is a character who, as we come to learn, is meant to become one of the great minds of our human race alongside Einstein, da Vinci, and Gandhi, but there are no glimpses as to why Meg would be positioned as such given Reid’s portrayal of the character other than the fact she learns through the coaxing of these three celestial beings that she has more to offer than she gives herself credit for. And it may be unfair to come down on a character who is on the cusp of her teenage years for not fully knowing who she is or what she wants to be yet, especially after dealing with a traumatic experience, but while Meg seemingly should be this surrogate for so much of what DuVernay wants to say she ends up feeling as empty as the spectacle that surrounds her throughout much of the (what feels like abbreviated) runtime.

Speaking of those celestial beings, how do they play into the proceedings and is there more weight to them than their extravagant wardrobes? Well, somewhat. In many ways, they are the most engaging characters in the film as they offer this doorway to these galaxies and planets we’ve never seen before and while Reese Witherspoon is delightfully eccentric in her first appearance as Mrs. Whatsit she is given very little room to spread what are very clearly very wide wings any further other than in a sequence where she morphs into a CGI leaf creature with a face that exists solely for the visual spectacle of it all as well as to introduce the audience to the antagonist of the piece in a planet referred to as Camazotz and the “IT” which, as I understand it, is the disembodied brain that controls all the inhabitants of Camazotz or the embodiment of evil on this planet. Sounds menacing, right? Too bad it looks like something akin to Parallax in 2011’s Green Lantern (yes, that awful Ryan Reynolds comic book movie) which brings me to how, despite a handful of stunning shots, this feels nowhere near as stunning as it should. Anyway, if Witherspoon has the most to do out of the three celestial beings and already feels limited one can only imagine then how expendable Oprah and Mindy Kailing’s Mrs. Which and Mrs. Who must feel despite being inherently intriguing. As Mrs. Which, Oprah more or less does her Oprah thing and spouts inspirational adages that are meant to give Meg just enough insight to figure out what she really needs to possess within herself in order to defeat the “IT” and free her father without spelling it out whereas Kailing’s Mrs. Who only speaks in quotations from famous thinkers and writers which leads to the most unbelievable moment in a movie with a flying lettuce monster where Calvin (Levi Miller), a thirteen year-old white kid in 2018, knows an Outkast lyric by ear. So many of these elements are fascinating on their own terms and would likely be more effective were the narrative compounded in a way that gave the audience any real interest in where this journey was taking them, but as it unfolds on screen A Wrinkle in Time more feels like a series of events with no real connective tissue which is never more apparent than in the scene featuring a fun, but ineffective Zach Galifianakis. Even in the climactic sequence, the visuals in which DuVernay chooses to illustrate these large ideas and lessons her characters are supposed to be learning feel more basic than they do cinematic; as if something out of a commercial rather than that of the mind of a visionary director. Ultimately and unfortunately, much of A Wrinkle in Time comes to be rote and recycled rather than fresh and inventive. It’s a flat and uninvolving mess of a movie that needed to take its time to figure out where all of its individual parts stood before beginning their collaboration.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

LFF Review 2018 – Madeline’s Madeline ★★★★

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Madelines Madeline Movie Marker

Director: Josephine Decker

Stars: Miranda July, Molly Parker, Helena Howard

Released: London Film Festival

Indie favourite actress/director, Josephine Decker premiered her third feature, Madeline’s Madeline at Sundance earlier this year where she received praise for her unconventional take on mental illness.

16 years old Madeline suffers from unspecified mental health problems which have created a wedge between her and her slightly over bearing mother (Miranda July). Spending most of her time alone, she finds comfort when joining an experimental theatre troupe and even develops a strong bond with its ambitious director, Evangeline (the psychotic Molly Parker). When Evangeline starts to use Madeline’s delicate mental state and personal issues with her mother as part of her play, the line between reality and illusion quickly starts to blur.

‘The emotions you are having are not your own. They are someone else’s. You are not the cat – you are inside the cat’. So begins 15 minutes of blurred and beautifully shot sequence that immediately puts the audience in a state of daze. When we are officially introduced to Madeline, we find an energetic young woman who would much rather disappear behind wild animals in theatre rehearsals than have any serious discussion with her mother. Sharing the screen is the interesting Evangeline, who is as passionate as inspiring but whose play doesn’t seem to make much sense to anyone, including herself.

The film’s stand out is the acting and nothing ever feels rehearsed. Helena Howard as Madeline is terrific and easily switches between the disturbed teenager, the cat, the seductress, the turtle and the actress, always bursting with energy and vulnerability.

The film has its witty moments, particularly when during an acting exercise Madeline decides to punish Evangeline for using her personal confessions by simulating a painful childbirth, in the hopes of terrifying the freshly pregnant teacher.

Decker also explores the interesting duality of the role of the artist. Often torn between the idea that creating is disappearing behind someone’s else story or on the contrary it is all about using real experiences to bring depth and authenticity, Decker seems to suggest it is a little of both and that both extremes could end up with either an artificial or violating result. No one understands what Evangeline’s play is about at first and when she finally finds substance that speaks to others (Madeline’s personal issues), she chooses to entirely focus on it instead of adding her own substance and ends up being kicked out by the troupe.

Madeline’s Madeline is visually stunning thanks to Ashley Connor ‘s imaginative cinematography and both Howard and Decker bring to life a condition that is still misunderstood and dismissed. The storyline does takes its time to emerge and the daze occasionally mixes with confusion. Howard keeps the audience in her mental maze throughout the film. It is messy, unusual and dense and maybe that was the whole point.

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LFF 2018 Review – A Private War ★★★

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A Private War Movie Marker

Director: Matthew Heineman

Stars: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander

Released: London Film Festival 2018

‘ I see it so you don’t have to!’ Rosamund Pike, as war correspondent Marie Colvin, spits out at her Sunday Times editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) towards the end of A Private War  as they argue on the banks of the Thames which rolls serenely past. She means the atrocities of war which she is compelled to return to time and again to report on despite hating her own compulsion. She does it, she believes, to give a voice to the ordinary men, women and children who are fodder for the military and political ambitions of dictators and leaders themselves safe in their palaces, well, until the mob gets to them and takes selfies with their mutilated corpse as we see later in the film.

Marie Colvin was a much celebrated war reporter who was killed in Syria in 2012 along with her interpreter/guide. She achieved fame in her lifetime for her fearless, uncompromising journalism but also for the black eye patch she wore after losing an eye in Sri Lanka when reporting on the Tamil Tigers in 2001. Her death will still be fresh in the minds of those who follow current affairs as will her extraordinary persona.

It’s a testament then to the tremendous power of Rosamund Pike’s performance that minutes into A Private War she becomes Colvin. The deep gravelly voice, the Long Island accent, the no nonsense, blunt manner of speaking are not only completely captured but taken possession of by the very English rose Pike.

She embodies Colvin with a natural ease which exposes the private vulnerabilities of a woman who could have been simplistically portrayed as a one of those annoying ‘strong, uncompromising women’ that Hollywood seems to think raises the female profile but real women find unbearable. Pike is not afraid to make the chain smoking, heavy drinking, conflicted Colvin unlikable at times. But it’s in the quiet, reflective moments of Colvin’s life when she is alone with her ravaged eye and light desire for the normal suburban life she rejected that Pike is at her most effective. This is a film about the psychological damage of seeing what the rest of us don’t have to as much as it is about the grotesque mess of war on the battlefield.

Colvin wants a child and considers it with the man (Greg Wise) she’s already divorced a couple of times despite having suffered two miscarriages. She may or may not be prone to seeking connection through other convenient liaisons. Her friend tells her she’s an alcoholic and she thinks about convincing a psychiatrist she’s sane so she can leave a rehab clinic she’s an inpatient in before she’s really up to it. She’s plagued by flashbacks and nightmares.
We learn all this about her but, like her, don’t have time to fully process any of it before she and we are whisked off to Iraq. There she meets a freelance photographer, Paul Conroy, (Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades Freed) and the two quickly form a professional partnership with Colvin very much in the driving seat as to where they go and what risks they take. In one case this involves her confidently flashing a gym membership card to get through a heavily armed checkpoint. The friendship which builds between the two is not explored enough and Dornan is not given enough to do but when the inevitable danger which is foreshadowed throughout the film befalls them it’s intense and a swallow-hard moment.

Even though we know her death is coming , when it actually does, there’s a real sense of loss, largely due to Pike having brought Colvin to life so brilliantly beforehand. I predict we’ll be seeing a lot of Rosamund Pike during awards season for this timely film produced by Charlize Theron about a very modern heroine.

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LFF 2018 Review – Assassination Nation ★★★★

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Assassination Nation Movie Marker

Director: Sam Levinson

Stars: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

Released: London Film Festival 2018

When Director, Sam Levinson started writing Assassination Nation over two years ago, he probably had no idea how shockingly relevant this dark comedy would be today. Written as his wife was about to give birth, he credits his fear of raising his child in an increasingly brutal country as the main inspiration behind this vivid satire, depicting the disastrous consequences of living online.

The city of Salem, Massachusetts is about to delve into chaos when a data hacker starts exposing highly porn-ified secrets of its population. Internet search history, digital photos and texts conversations are published. Political careers and marriages end. The hack reaches Salem’s high school whose principal is also targeted and forced to resign, despite claiming his innocence. In need of a scapegoat, the town’s authority (macho detective and police man) finds it in high school head girl, Lily (Odessa Young), whose affair with a married man,  just leaked. Lily and her friends must face the town’s growing hysteria that quickly turns into a blood bath of sexism and brutality.

The film’s core storyline revolves around Lily, who with her friends make up the popular clique of Salem’s High School. The 1990’s had their mysterious virgin nymphs (“Virgin Suicide”) and the 2000s, their bullying princesses (“Mean Girl”) but in 2018, the popular girls are fun, clever and most of all, nasty. Born in a comfortable middle class family, Lily has good grades and a cheeky talent for drawing. What Lily and her friend lack is a reliable grown up figure to look up to. Surrounded by threatening boyfriends and denigrating parents, the only grown-up who pays her some attention is her principal but even he cannot completely give in when she makes a clever accusation of the sexism of internet and social media while defending her pornographic art work.

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There is thin line between victim and executioner in Assassination Nation and Levinson strategically jumps from teasing to threats as if one didn’t exist without the other. Levinson seems less interested in exposing the already well established outcomes of the digital age than exploring the hypocrisy and shaming young people, and particularly young woman, face on a daily basis.

Half way between  Little Red Riding Hood and Nikita, and far from victims, these girls fight back with whatever they are threaten with, usually guns but at times razors and even a shovel. Full of extreme close-ups, the camera is intrusive, and if this closeness can be difficult at first, it quickly helps creates a real connection with those girls.  Surrounded by obvious and familiar characters (naïve head cheerleader, immature boyfriend, cheating husband…), and lifted by invigorating performances by Hari Nef (Bex) and Odessa Young (Lily), these girls can only shine in authenticity and it is hard not to root for them.

Salem’s utter obliviousness takes final form in the slushy sipping little brother, revealed as the hacker. Youngest and quiet, he seemed like a harmless addition to the dinner table and yet could bring a nation to its knee. The warning signs were there, adults chose to ignore them. The film ends with a public letter to a certain president of a certain powerful nation and a feminist call to action against any form of violence and misogyny.

The film will most likely not affect every generation in the same way and will probably swing between anti-sexist fantasy revenge to painfully relevant. Yet there is nothing in this film that can’t be traced back to a recent newspaper headline or twitter feed, regrouped to create a bloody picture of the modern America, kids are made to grow up in.

“Don’t take your anger out on me, I just got here.”

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