A Wrinkle in Time movie review

For inSing

A WRINKLE IN TIME

Director : AvaDuVernay
Cast : Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Chris Pine, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Genre : Fantasy/Sci-fi/Family
Run Time : 1h 55m
Opens : 8 March 2018
Rating : PG

Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 young adult sci-fi fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time has captured the imaginations of children for decades. Under the guidance of director Ava DuVernay, the story makes its way to the big screen.

Young Meg Murry (Storm Reid) has never been the same since the mysterious disappearance of her astrophysicist father Alex (Chris Pine) four years ago. She and her adoptive brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) are visited by the eccentric Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a cosmic entity.

Meg, Charles Wallace and their schoolmate Calvin (Levi Miller) soon meet Mrs Whatsit’s compatriots, Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey). The three ‘Mrs Ws’ whisk the children away on an adventure in search of Meg and Charles’ father. It turns out that Alex Murry found a way to ‘tesser’ or ‘wrinkle time’, travelling through the universe and unable to find his way back. The path that lies before Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin is paved with wonder, but also untold danger.

Any time a major studio attempts to make a weird, trippy blockbuster that looks to be something outside the norm, it’s a risk. While audiences constantly crave something different, executing a project like that can be tricky. A Wrinkle in Time is as ambitious as it is flawed – while those flaws do make it very interesting, it is frustrating to glimpse the incredible film that might have been.

Ava DuVernay, director of Selma and 13th, is voice who needs to be heard. It’s a great thing that Disney hired her for A Wrinkle in Time, and DuVernay puts her stamp on the story. There are significant changes made the source material: in addition to updating the setting, the characters of Sandy and Dennys, the twins, have been omitted.

The activism that is at the heart of DuVernay’s storytelling can be glimpsed in the film, through small touches like naming the elementary school attended by Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin after novelist and civil rights activist James Baldwin.

The film’s message is admirable, and its themes of insecurity and a search for belonging are eminently relatable. Unfortunately, A Wrinkle in Time isn’t the easiest film to get into. The world-building seems somewhat haphazard, and the movie struggles to sweep viewers up. There are some beautiful visuals, but much of the computer-generated scenery feels stubbornly synthetic. Location filming in Otago, New Zealand, does lend the film some grandeur, but the landscapes stop short of feeling truly magical.

L’Engle was reading about quantum physics while she wrote A Wrinkle in Time, and in the decades since then, there has been considerable progress in that realm. Both L’Engle’s Christian faith and her interest in science manifest themselves in her writing. We are presented with a melding of science and spirituality, with a new age sensibility permeating the film. The ‘problem of evil’ is confronted head on, with all the evil in the universe emanating from a mystical, malevolent entity known as “The It”. It’s a lot to wrap one’s head around, let alone in a film aimed at kids.

The film’s diverse cast is a point in its favour and is a major way in which DuVernay exercises her voice as the film’s director. Storm Reid shows promise playing the sullen, withdrawn Meg. Many young viewers will readily identify with Meg, and the film’s treatment of body image issues is praiseworthy.

McCabe is impish and endearing, but stumbles through some of the more challenging material in the third act. Miller, best known as Peter Pan in 2015’s Pan, is winsome and just the right amount of dopey as the tagalong.

The three Mrs Ws are appropriately larger-than-life, aided by dramatic hair and makeup and colourful, eye-catching costumes. Oprah Winfrey is convincing as a powerful, benevolent being, since that mostly aligns with her public image. Witherspoon is bubbly and silly, while Kaling is stranded reciting inspirational quotes, a device which doesn’t quite work. The Mrs Ws exist mostly to dispense reams of exposition and aren’t quite as fascinating as their appearances indicate.

Pine is charming, as he is wont to be, if not quite believable as a genius scientist. Gugu Mbatha-Raw doesn’t get too much to do as Meg and Charles Wallace’s mother Kate, but the film is effectively emotional when it depicts the family coping with Alex’s disappearance. Zach Galifianakis is quirky if inessential as The Happy Medium, who fits the ‘weird character we meet along the way’ archetype to a tee.

There is great value in much of what A Wrinkle in Time has to say, but as a transportive, absorbing sci-fi fantasy epic, it doesn’t quite hang together. A Wrinkle in Time is a ‘points for effort’ movie that takes risks – it’s clearly the work of a passionate filmmaker with a distinct voice, so it’s too bad that it winds up being this muddled and unsatisfying.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

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Life Itself

As published in Issue #59 of F*** Magazine

LIFE ITSELF
(2014)
Starring: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Marlene Iglitzen, A.O. Scott, Richard Corliss, Ramin Bahrani, Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese
Directed by: Steve James
            In 2013, filmmakers and moviegoers alike mourned the passing of the well-known, respected film critic Roger Ebert, a household name thanks to the At the Movies television program he co-presented. Documentary filmmaker Steve James brings us Life Itself, based on Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name. A fond, in-depth look at Ebert’s life and career, Life Itself tracks the film critic’s childhood in Urbana, Illinois, the beginnings of his journalistic career at his college newspaper The Daily Illini, his Pulitzer Prize win, co-hosting At the Movies with Gene Siskel and coping with his illness in the final months before his death.
            Life Itself also features interviews with a large array of Ebert’s friends and colleagues, which range from his fellow Chicagoan journalist William Nack to his wife Chaz to director Martin Scorsese, one of the executive producers on Life Itself. Watching the film, one gets the sense that this was a man who truly found fulfilment in his life’s work and was a cinephile through and through – the license plate of his car even spells “MOVIES”. We are regaled with accounts of the Cinema Interruptus event which Ebert would host each year at the Conference of World Affairs, in which he would spend hours dissecting a given film frame by frame. We see just how much he enjoyed covering the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and how he stuck by his ritual of staying at the same hotel and having breakfast at the same café each time he returned to the French Riviera.

            If you’re not a fan of Ebert, it would perhaps be easy to dismiss him as a snob. After all, what business does any critic have telling anyone what they think? The film makes it clear that beyond being more than qualified to do so, Ebert didn’t get his kicks from feeling he was above it all and those are footsteps this reviewer has tried to follow in. The film is far from afraid of presenting a very human look at its subject, including aspects of him that might be considered embarrassing. Ebert says of the Russ Meyer-directed exploitation film Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill, “the posters displayed impossibly buxom women and I was inside the theatre in a flash.” Ebert ended up penning the screenplay of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls for Meyer and in one of Life Itself’s funniest moments, film critic A.O. Scott gulps, takes a long pause and then talks about the “earthier” elements of cinema that Ebert was drawn to (i.e., boobs).


            A good portion of the film focuses on the fascinating frenemy-bromance between Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, with Siskel’s widow Marlene Iglitzen providing a good deal of insight. For starters, they were the film critics of rival newspapers – Ebert wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times and Siskel for the Chicago Tribune. They also had wildly different upbringings and backgrounds, Ebert having been a journalist since he was in school while Siskel was a personal friend of Hugh Hefner’s, cavorting with Playboy bunnies aboard the Bunnyjet. The film reveals the deep extent of the competition that went on between the two – for example, everything was decided by coin toss, and that’s how Siskel got top billing in the title of the show. Time magazine critic Richard Corliss amusingly describes Siskel and Ebert’s double act as “a sitcom about two guys who lived in a movie theatre”. In Life Itself, we get lots of clips of the two getting into really heated arguments, including outtakes from the show. However, it’s also made heartbreakingly clear how much Siskel meant to Ebert and how he was affected after Siskel’s death from a brain tumour. Oddly enough though, Siskel’s eventual replacement Richard Roeper is not interviewed or even mentioned in the film.


            Naturally, Siskel and Ebert’s brand of TV-friendly film criticism had its, well, critics. It was seen as advertising for a film instead of objective, thorough analysis. In an essay in Film Comment, Corliss wrote “movie criticism of the elevated sort is an endangered species. Once it flourished; soon it may perish, to be replaced by a consumer service that is no brains and all thumbs.” At one point in Life Itself, Corliss reads his essay in Film Comment from which that passage is taken aloud, before he chokes up, unable to continue.

            The film also illuminates the influence Ebert’s reviews had on the careers of filmmakers such as Ramin Bahrani, Ava DuVernay and Errol Morris, with Selma director DuVernay recounting how excited she was to have her photo taken with Ebert when she was a little girl standing outside the Shrine Auditorium with her aunt on the day of the Oscars. There’s also a love story here, the relationship between Ebert and his wife Chaz a truly beautiful one. Ebert weighed 300 pounds when they first met and Chaz tells how she found it sexy that Ebert was comfortable in his own skin. “She is the love of my life. She saved me from a life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading,” Ebert says. It also feels genuinely emotional rather than plainly manipulative when Chaz breaks down while discussing her husband’s deteriorating health.

            Sure, if you feel that Ebert is overrated as a film critic and that his writing lacks insight or that his recognition is ill-deserved, this film is unlikely to change your mind. If you’re sufficiently cynical, you might say scenes such as Ebert being fed via g-tube is awards-baiting. However, if you’re a fan of Ebert’s work, if you have even a passing interest in film criticism or if you’re just a cinephile in general, odds are you’ll find this documentary inspirational, uplifting, entertaining, funny and deeply moving.

Summary: Life Itself paints a rich, compelling portrait of a man who loved movies, delighted in sharing his knowledge of and passion for movies and who continued living and working even in the face of dilapidating illness through to the end.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5Stars
Jedd Jong