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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The Whole Truth

For F*** Magazine

THE WHOLE TRUTH 

Director : Courtney Hunt
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Renée Zellweger, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gabriel Basso, Jim Belushi, Jim Klock
Genre : Drama/Courtroom
Run Time : 1h 34min
Opens : 24 November 2016
Rating : NC16 (Sexual Violence)

the-whole-truth-posterKeanu Reeves played a lawyer in 1997’s Devil’s Advocate, in which he dealt with unexpected supernatural goings-on. In this legal thriller, Reeves in back in the courtroom, sans Al Pacino as Satan. Reeves plays Richard Ramsay, a Louisiana defence attorney. As a favour to his friend Loretta Lassiter (Zellweger), Ramsay defends Loretta’s son Mike (Basso), on trial for murder. Mike is accused of murdering his father Boone (Belushi), in what appears to be an open-and-shut case. However, as the trial progresses, disturbing aspects about who Boone really was come to light. Ramsay’s new colleague, a young lawyer named Janelle (Mbatha-Raw), tries to get to the bottom of an increasingly tricky case.

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The Whole Truth was going to star Daniel Craig, but he abruptly dropped out four days before production was set to begin, with Reeves stepping in for him. We can’t say for sure if The Whole Truth would’ve been better with Craig in the starring role. While the whodunit central to The Whole Truth is mildly intriguing, nothing in the movie reels one in. For all the narrative’s twists and turns, The Whole Truth ends up being dull and generic. One of the pitfalls of a courtroom drama film is that this is a genre that seems more at home on TV than on the big screen. Something like 12 Angry Men doesn’t come along all the often, and it will take more than a run-of-the-mill procedural potboiler to make audiences sit up and take notice. The device of flashbacks told from the point of view of possibly unreliable narrators is a good trick, but one that’s been employed in similar movies before.

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There’s no novelty to The Whole Truth, with all the characters fitting familiar archetypes. There’s trouble in paradise as a wealthy family is thrown into crisis, and as a long-time friend of said family, our hero feels an obligation to sort things out. Director Courtney Hunt, who helmed the gritty yet sensitive Oscar-nominated Frozen River, seems to be going through the motions here. She has directed episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and this could well have been a middling episode of that long-running series. Curiously enough, the screenplay was initially reported to be by veteran screenwriter Nicholas Kazan, but the end credits state that it’s by one “Rafael Jackson”. We couldn’t find any substantial information about Jackson, and Kazan retains executive producer credit, so it’s not unreasonable to speculate that this is a pseudonym. Was Kazan embarrassed to be credited as writing the film?

Reeves has a reputation for being wooden, but he’s found success in the right roles – one needs only look to John Wick for evidence of that. Alas, Reeves’ stilted performance detracts from the film’s potential to be riveting and intense. Ramsay, who spouts lines like “just assume everyone’s screwing everyone else until proven otherwise,” is meant to have a façade of glib confidence. However, there’s a crisis of conscience roiling beneath the surface, as he’s torn between the incriminating, undeniable evidence and helping his friend. Reeves appears unable to play all these notes, and perhaps Craig would’ve brought more swagger to the part, making Ramsay harder to pin down and therefore more entertaining to watch.

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This was Zellweger’s first film after a six-year hiatus, filmed before Bridget Jones’ Baby. She’s the standout performer here, playing a trophy wife who’s vulnerable and lost after her husband’s murder – or is that all an act? Zellweger’s raw, convincing performance means we’re never quite sure one way or another. As the accused teenager, Basso doesn’t get too much to do, since, much to Ramsay’s frustration, Mike chooses to stay silent. When the veil is lifted and we discover what’s going on with Mike, Basso gets his moment to shine. `

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Mbatha-Raw injects the dreary proceedings with much-needed energy, and has no problems coming across as attentive and intelligent. The scene in which Janelle cross-examines a character witness is the film’s strongest. While Belushi is fine as a well-off, none-too-pleasant philanderer, it will be a challenge for most audiences to disassociate him from his high-profile comedic roles, most of which are hapless everymen.

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The Whole Truth’s big twist should be a gut-punch, but it registers more as “oh well, so that’s what happened. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. What should I get for dinner?” We won’t go into the spoilerific specifics, but the use of sexual assault in the narrative comes off as a cheap shock tactic. It all adds up to an underwhelming courtroom drama that is neither absorbing nor thrilling, but just sort of sits there.

Summary: Keanu Reeves’ flat performance and a lack of urgency are two of several factors that sink this mediocre courtroom drama.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Concussion

For F*** Magazine

CONCUSSION

Director : Peter Landesman
Cast : Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks, Alec Baldwin, David Morse, Paul Reiser, Mike O’Malley, Hill Harper, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 123 mins
Opens : 14 January 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

            In this medical drama based on true events, something is driving America’s football players to madness, resulting in dangerous mental instability and suicides. Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith) is a forensic neuro-pathologist from Nigeria, working under pathology consultant Cyril Wecht (Brooks) at the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Steelers centre “Iron” Mike Webster (Morse) dies at age 50, homeless and deranged after suffering from dementia. Upon conducting the autopsy, Omalu finds it peculiar that Webster’s brain appears normal. The Steelers’ former team doctor Julian Bailes (Baldwin), having witnessed Webster’s decline first-hand, volunteers to help Omalu. Several other players display similar symptoms and die in quick succession. Omalu’s exhaustive research leads him to the conclusion that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease brought about by repeated brain trauma, is to blame. Omalu and his wife Prema Mutiso (Mbatha-Raw) must brave the uphill battle as the National Football League (NFL) aggressively attempts to discredit Omalu and bury his research.

            Concussion is based on the GQ article Brain Game: Football Players and Concussionsby Jeanne Marie Laskas. While a film about brain trauma research does not sound particularly exciting, the controversial hot-button issue of the NFL’s denial that collisions as part of playing football can lead to potentially fatal brain damage is fuel for a searing prestige picture. Writer-director Peter Landesman pitches Concussion as a rousing David vs. Goliath tale of the heroic little guy taking down the evil wealthy corporation, but the film always feels too slick and glossy and, as a result, inauthentic. While the death of noted football players from CTE is a tragedy that is worth discussing, the film tries to sell it as the worst thing to ever befall humanity in all of its history. There are multiple artificial attempts to pump the story up, all of it accompanied by an overblown score that sees composer James Newton Howard at his highest “sombre drama” setting.


            Because of the immense power and prominence of the NFL, the “standing up to the man” quotient that Concussionpossesses is worthy of admiration, but it’s insufficient basis on which to recommend the film. The romance between Omalu and Prema is treacly and feels entirely tacked on, while the film bends over backwards to simplify the medical jargon, boiling Omalu’s research down to its most easily understandable: football players get hit in the head; this is bad. There are things that Landesman gets right: Justin Strzelczyk’s (Matthew Willig) violent outburst against his wife and children is a frightening, haunting moment. When an angry football fan calls Omalu’s home to harass him, accusing him of “pussifying this country”, it’s a great example of how sports fans can sometimes be thuggish and bullying in their zealousness. 



            Smith is clearly gunning for Oscar glory with his performance in the film, and it is blatant stunt casting. While Smith has proven himself capable of strong, absorbing performances, he stops a good distance short of being convincing as Dr. Bennet Omalu. In a truly great performance, particularly a portrayal of a real-life person, the actor should completely vanish into the role. It’s evident that Smith has put effort into the performance, but when all is said and done, he’s still A-list movie star Will Smith. Even putting aside the fact that Smith bears almost no resemblance to the actual Omalu, his presence is distracting. Mbatha-Raw gets little to do as the designated love interest, and a scene in which Prema teaches Omalu how to dance at a club is almost cringe-worthy. Brooks and Baldwin contribute solid performances and Morse’s brief appearance as Webster, Pittsburgh’s favourite son-turned mad vagrant, is effectively disturbing and tragic.



            The nobility that drives Concussion often crosses over into smothering self-importance. Omalu has many speeches about the American dream, and he is depicted as an American hero who just happens to come from Nigeria. The shattering of Omalu’s idealism is handled via awkward chunks of dialogue. This is a film with something to say and it says so loudly and with conviction, but the feeling that Omalu’s story has been squeezed into the standard “inspirational underdog” tale mould is very hard to shake. Concussion is more Oscar bait than it is incisive exposé, and as much as it takes the NFL to task, it’s still relatively early days for CTE research and the full impact has yet to play out.

Summary: Concussion’s righteous indignation can only carry it so far, with a clumsy screenplay and a lead actor who’s not the best fit for the part letting it down.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong