Welcome to the Weekly Cinematejka, a review roundup of the movies I’m watching each week – when I have time to watch movies, that is – including box office hits, classics I’ve never seen, and other thoughts and tidbits on movies in general.
Feature Review: A Wrinkle in Time
A Wrinkle in Time is the latest film from Academy Award-nominated director Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th), adapted from Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel of the same name. IMDB’s synopsis reads: “After the disappearance of her scientist father, three peculiar beings send Meg, her brother, and her friend to space in order to find him.”
I can’t exactly say I’ve been looking forward to A Wrinkle in Time for a long time, but I was intrigued when it was first announced Ava DuVernay would be taking over the Disney adaptation with Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey in tow. That’s a powerhouse quartet of talented women hitting a lot of different audience demographics, especially for a movie based on a children’s novel. That was the first hint Disney would be following its recent trend of going big for adaptations and reboots – though Wrinkle‘s $103 million budget seems slight compared to other Marvel or Star Wars related projects. The movie also stars Chris Pine as the father of star newcomer Storm Reid, who gets her breakout role alongside Levi Miller and Deric McCabe.
There’s no mistaking this for anything other than a children’s movie. It’s heavily effects-driven with a sparse story that relies on simple emotional notes – fathers and daughters, accepting yourself for who you are, etc. – to drive home the biggest beats. For the most part, these aspects of the movie work. No one would qualify it as the prettiest movie Disney has ever done, but there are enough exotic landscapes, vividly imagined costumes and hairstyles, and gorgeous minimalist set designs to make it visually appealing. As for the emotional beats, Storm Reid does well enough with the task at hand, conveying her character’s tremulous nature with enough poise to really sell both fear and bravery. Chris Pine carries her in the biggest moments, leading to some truly touching scenes between the two. Aside from those two, the film also has a good heart and unpretentious nature. It affirms the dignity of humankind while not reaching after-school special levels. That’s something to be praised in a children’s flick.
Unfortunately, that’s about where Wrinkle‘s virtues begin and end. The trio of leading women (Winfrey, Witherspoon, Kaling) are all fine in their roles, but not as any sort of means to an end. They do their best, but they can’t mask the film’s biggest weakness: a cloying, exasperating screenplay. The dialogue ranges from obvious at best to leaden at worst, wildly dumping buckets of exposition before unloading hilariously off-the-wall subtext in the next breath. The trained adult actors do what they can, but the unfortunate children are left out to dry. Reid is the only one who can make sense of her garbled lines. Miller and McCabe, on the other hand, often sound like aliens imitating what they might have watched in a Disney Channel original movie. To be clear, it’s not their fault; it’s whoever put them in that position. And I understand that we don’t exactly need Aaron Sorkin to come in and write screenplays for children’s movies. But can we at least trust the kids seeing this enough to give them some well-crafted writing?
What A Wrinkle in Time really could have used was a set of good producers who worked with DuVernay on her vision. With the right group of people getting things in place, it could’ve have been one of Disney’s finer live-action experiments yet. Instead, the project is left as a decidedly mixed bag, one where the weaknesses are consistently louder and more noticeable than the colors on screen.
An idea my friend Jesse Slade and I snatched from other film podcasts on Reel Friends, The Rewind is where I take up old classics I haven’t – and sometimes have – seen.
Blood Simple (1984)
The feature debut from the now-legendary Coen Brothers – though Ethan isn’t credited on this and several other films – Blood Simple is a noir-tinted thriller starring John Getz, M. Emmet Walsh, and two-time Academy Award winner Frances McDormand in her debut performance. You wouldn’t know it was the debut from either McDormand or the Coens, however, as they both give knock-out performances.
The film tracks the fallout after a jealous husband hires a private investigator to kill his wife and her lover, an employee at his bar. The film is rich with narrative texture, mostly because of the small details the Coens focus on within the Texas setting and the actors bring to their gritty performances. But this is a bare bones script, meaning all that extra detail doesn’t distract from the tense atmosphere, rather accentuating the character notes, which make up the meat of the film.
It’s not perfect, and you can definitely see where the Coens early vision wasn’t yet up to the masterful craftsmanship standards they now operate under. I watched the restored 4K Criterion version, and while the atmosphere calls for taught, cramped visuals, I often found myself wishing to be further enveloped in the gloomy, sparse world the Coens were creating. I understood why much of the action demands to take place in the shadows, but it is missing the Coen’s sense of space they mastered between The Hudsucker Proxy and Fargo.
However, Blood Simple is still as solid a debut as you’d expect from two filmmaking legends. It’s got that Coen feel that all the best Coen features have, coupled with the fact that it really does accomplish what it sets out to do: get your heart racing while you laugh at the dark misfortunes of the world.
A few notes and thoughts on other things I’ve watched or am currently watching.
- I’m about halfway through my rewatch of HBO’s True Detective Season 1. I’ll be writing up an article on Cinema Faith later this month. But I’ve been struck by how small the whole thing feels. I remembered a show that tackled big thoughts and ideas, but this time around it’s hitting me more as a character study exploring hyper-masculinity, isolation, and selfishness. That doesn’t make it any less wonderful, just different than what I remembered.
- I’ve also been dabbling in Season 3 of Psych here and there, the first time I’ve picked up that early in the show in about a year or two. Season 3 really was the show’s prime; each episode is absolutely stuffed to the brim with quick references and off-hand jokes. I also think it’s the freest the show ever got before it committed to the longer brewing story lines of Sean and Juliet and the development of Lassiter as more than just a quip generator and straight man.