Film Review: “A Wrinkle in Time”

A Wrinkle in Time

Starring: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon
Directed By: Ava DuVernay
Rated: PG
Running Time: 109 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Disney has had no problems taking a few risks here and there, especially since their Marvel and Star Wars properties guaranteeing the studio an easy half billion dollars (at the very least) every time one is dropped. So it’s understandable that they can make a calculated gamble or two on tricky creative properties. With “A Wrinkle in Time,” the movie studio certainly rolled the dice with a very well-known, but difficult to transcribe, story. Unfortunately, Disney has rolled snake eyes.

By no means would it be easy for anyone to take the most frequently challenged pieces of literature of the 20th century and turn it into a big budget visual delight for mainstream audiences. The book’s blending of Christian spirituality and grounded science are a complicated combination that creates a fear for movies producers when it comes to potentially upsetting several groups. Writers had to not only conjure something enlightening and mentally stimulating, but have it be void of controversial thesis statements about life. Of course if you don’t know anything about the book, you’ll be confused on how the film handled that narrative regardless.

Meg Murry’s (Reid) father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine), has been missing for several years. Many believe he simply abandoned Meg, her brother Charles (Deric McCabe), and their mom. But others believe something planetary happened because of Dr. Murry’s pursuit and interest in interdimensional travel. He had a theory about the brain being able to traverse universes and being able to move from locale to locale with the use of the mind’s focus. It’s a lot of exposition and scientific theory to take in already; it doesn’t help that “A Wrinkle in Time” quickly ushers in three astral travelers, each with a specific quirk and power.

At about the halfway mark, I began to wonder if “A Wrinkle in Time” was more concerned with telling rather than showing. I also questioned the film’s direction because at this point, I felt nothing for any of the characters on their journey. Sure Meg and Charles feel slighted by their father, who they’re ultimately searching for, but outside of those abandonment issues, there’s not much there for viewers to latch on to. It doesn’t help that much of the emotional core of the movie is derailed by having to shoehorn in a new character every five minutes.

The movie really doesn’t work until the final act, after we’ve had to suffer through a lot of confusing tone changes, half-hearted story beats and dead end CGI spectacles. I believe the final act only works because the movie finally embraces the concept of alternate realities and begins treating Meg like the adult she’s maturing into. Although it could have paid off more if we got more time with the characters being themselves instead of reciting exposition and acting wooden in the face of extraordinary circumstances.

I remember reading “A Wrinkle in Time” back in sixth grade as an assignment. It came after a class reading of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” My recollection of the book itself is fuzzy, but I remember having to reread an entire chapter because I felt like I had just tried to digest algebra for the first time. Disney tried to adapt “A Wrinkle in Time” back in 2003 and it was met negatively. It looks like they’ll have to try for a third time in about 15 years.

Film Review: “Wonder Woman”

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and Robin Wright
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs 21 min’s
Warner Bros.

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

Superman. Batman. Out of the literally hundreds of super heroes in the DC Comics Universe (and please, let’s not get into the “Batman isn’t a Superhero” discussion), these two are the only ones that have sustained success on the silver screen. This week, a third hero rises to give Warner Bro’s a trifocal of enjoyable and, for the studio, hopefully profitable film subjects. Say hello to “Wonder Woman.”

Present day. A package is delivered to Diana Prince (Gadot) at Wayne Enterprises. Inside she finds a photo, taken almost a century ago, with a very familiar face starting back at her. Her own.

Journey back now to the time of World War I. On the fog-hidden island of Hems, young Diana (Lilly Aspell) watches with wonder as the woman around here constantly train for a battle they pray to the gods will never come. Diana’s mother, Rhyolite (Connie Nielsen) allows her sister, Antiope (Wright) to train Diana. Cue nice montage scenes of Diana, gradually getting older and soon being able to fight off her attackers. Which reminds me…they always show a knife or sword barely missing its target. Surely there must be some unfortunate people who do NOT narrowly miss death. One day Diana observes a plane crash into the ocean. She finds the wreckage and saves the pilot, Steve Trevor, who luckily looks like Chris Pine. Something tells me if Josh Gad had been playing Trevor the film would have ended much earlier. Steve informs Diana and her friends that there’s a war going on out in the real world and soon they two find themselves in the middle of it.

A little over-padded at an almost two and a half-hour running time, “Wonder Woman” may finally be the Warner Bro’s/DC Comics film that is both fun to watch and full of some exciting action. Gadot, who almost stole last years “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” is outstanding here as the Amazon goddess who not only learns about her destiny but that of her people. Pine is equally strong as a true “man’s man” who must learn to not only trust women but finally recognize them as equal. The battle scenes are exciting, though, again, there is a lot of “talking sounds,” scenes that almost seem to be there to ensure a longer running time,– that sometimes takes you out of the moment. But when the moments are right, “Wonder Woman” truly delivers.

Film Review: “Hell or High Water”

Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges
Directed By: David Mackenzie
Rated: R
Running Time: 102 minutes
CBS Films

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Out of curiosity I researched the phrase, “Come hell or high water” since the movie title clearly borrows from that popular saying. My research yielded the fact that it’s an early 20th century saying that relates to the difficulties of cattle ranching. And here I had always assumed it was more of a Biblical saying or something cool Americans would say when facing adversity. That’s not to say that the originators of the saying weren’t God-fearing ranchers.

Brothers Tanner (Foster) and Toby (Pine) aren’t ranchers and certainly don’t appear to be fearful of any afterlife repercussions of their sins. Although the would-be cowboys are working on their future beer guts and sport rough stubble that could certainly mislead one to believe they’ve had to wrangle livestock. They live in western Texas where there’s clearly a hangover from the 2007 market crash. Residents dotting the drought ridden landscape seem more focused on staying true to the beliefs they grew up on, rather than adapt or evolve.

Toby isn’t old fashioned, but he definitely seems lost on what to do in this brave new world. He’s desperately trying to save the family farm and is looking for a life preserver as he swims in debt. His ex-con brother, Tanner, helps him with the first of many bad ideas, robbing banks. They’re not stupid about it at least. They commit robberies at banks in small towns with smaller police officers nearby, they’re only asking for unmarked bills smaller than $100 so the money can’t be traced, and they’re literally burying their getaway vehicles.

On their trail are, outside of the normal law enforcement, are two Texas Rangers, Marcus (Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Their comradery stems from a passion for what they do and years of working together. Marcus is near retirement and has a shoot from the hip viewpoint of everything, even making racist remarks about Alberto’s racial mix. But Marcus isn’t just some out-of-touch old timer; his racist jokes and jabs come from a deep appreciation and bond with Alberto. Alberto gets that too, making sure to quip back at Marcus. Alberto understands that under Marcus’ rough Texas exterior is an elderly man appreciating the friends he has as he dreads the purposelessness that’ll come with his retirement.

The movie follows these two groups journey and most of the time it’s exciting, funny, and heart felt. But behind the upbeat veil is one of hopelessness and deadly uncertainty. Any story about a two bank robbers, armed to teeth, being chased by the Texas Rangers won’t have a happy ending. For every laugh, our characters seem to wonder and ponder the consequences of their actions and the sins that will haunt us to our death day.

“Hell or High Water” captures the rustic West, the deep-seeded “Don’t Mess with Texas” attitude of its characters and the unflinching misery of living in impoverished small town America. It flips between jovial Western and teeth gritting thriller flawlessly. It’s a smart script with rich meaning that offers its characters realistic dialogue. They’re simple folk delivering simple lines, and anything near Shakespeare writing would feel horrendously out of place. Instead we get plain Midwestern men delivering speeches worthy of a Johnny Cash song.

The dialogue is further bolstered by the cast. We get to see a side of Pine we’ve never seen before, and one we’ll hopefully see more of, as well as a side of Bridges that we’ve come to love. Foster also gets the chance to make up for summer misstep, “Warcraft”, giving one of his best performances as the conflicted Tanner. If the summer movie season is truly over and it’s now time to turn the page to award season, “Hell or High Water” is a wonderful primer and a sign of good things to come.