A Wrinkle in Time

Posted on March 8, 2018 at 5:38 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and some violence, some scary images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 9, 2018
Date Released to DVD: June 5, 2018

Copyright Disney 2018
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is one of my all-time favorite books. I loved it when I was 11, read it aloud to our children, and went on to read all of the sequels and most of her other books as well. So it was with a lot of anticipation, excitement, and not a little trepidation that I looked forward to the film.

On the one had, the book had been dismissed over the decades as unfilmable due to its planet-hopping storyline, fantastical characters, and genre-straddling themes. On the other hand, I have the utmost respect for director Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”) and co-screenwriter Jennifer Lee (“Frozen,” “Zootopia”) and the all-star cast looked promising. I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and leaned forward and caught my breath as the iconic Disneyland castle in the opening logo suddenly…wrinkled.

Most of what I love about the book was beautifully realized, and the movie is sure to be a middle school sleepover perennial and a family favorite for generations. It’s made straight from the heart of people who remember what it feels like to be 12 — and the way we all become 12 again in moments of uncertainty. If there’s a bit more Oprah-esque “you go girl” and “living your best life” than in the book, well, the movie features not just Oprah (who was also in “Selma”) but a house-sized Oprah with lips and eyebrows that look like someone went overboard on the Bedazzler.

Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is the daughter of two scientists (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris Pine). She was once a gifted and attentive student, but since the disappearance of her father, four years before the movie begins, she has been sullen and uncooperative. Mean girls pick on her, and when she responds by throwing a ball at the ringleader, she gets in trouble. Nothing makes sense to her, and she wonders if her father left because she was not good enough.

Meg has an exceptionally precocious six-year-old brother named Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). In the book, he is her bio-brother and they have two older brothers as well but in the movie it is just the two of them and Charles Wallace was adopted just before their father disappeared. Charles Wallace is one of the major challenges of adapting the book, because on the page he is endearingly hyper-aware and ultra hyper-articulate, but on screen it is difficult to make him believable and keep him from being annoying. It is one of the film’s most salient weaknesses that this critical character does not work.

Meg gradually learns that Charles Wallace has been befriended by three extraordinary and very strange women known as Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey). (NOTE: L’Engle insisted that there be no period after “Mrs” in the British style.) As disturbing as it is reassuring, they seem to know what the Murrys were working on, a form of “wrinkling” time and space to permit instantaneous travel to other planets that they call a tesseract. (For some reason, the explanation appears in the trailer, but not the film.)

Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller), is a well-liked, confident boy who seems to have nothing in common with the Murray children. But one day he impulsively visits them, and stays for dinner, appreciating the warmth and acceptance in their home. And then the three ladies explain why they are there. They have heard a call for help. It is the children’s father. And they are there to help Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace rescue him from “the darkness.”

And so, the rest of the film is candy-colored CGI, as the group visits first a paradisiacal planet for no particular reason other than a romp through a delightful garden of gossipy flying flowers who communicate via color and a soaring tour on a creature like a flying green manta ray with a rainbow Reese Witherspoon face. They visit a psychic called the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) for more information about where Dr. Murry has gone, and finally they get to the planet where he is being held captive by an all-controlling force. The film brings to life one of the book’s most vivid scenes, with a pristine suburban street where every house has a child standing in the driveway bouncing a ball in perfect rhythm and all of the Stepford-style moms come out at the same moment to call them in to dinner. The book was written a a time of post-WWII concerns about conformity and “houses made of ticky-tacky that all look just the same.” But the image is just as compelling today. The 1950’s may have led to an explosion of “do your own thing” individuality in the mid-to late 1960’s and self-actualization in the me-decade 70’s, but the importance of intellectual courage, thinking for yourself, and challenging assumptions is even more important in the era of fake news and “both sides.”

The book’s most memorable message comes when Meg is told that what will help her to rescue her father is her faults. Though how those faults help is not as explicitly explained in the film, that idea retains its power here. That makes up for some faltering in the climax, some under-imagined images, and some distractions that seem to stem from a lack of trust in the audience. We don’t really need that extra back story on the mean girl or Calvin (an odd change from his home life in the books, which will be a problem if they decide to film the sequels) to understand what their insecurities are or the time spent cheering Meg on (and apologizing to her and deferring to her) without making it clear what her strengths are and how they are connected to her faults. It would be better to focus on the book’s rare combination of both faith and science and how important both are. In the book, the children visit the planets to learn about the darkness and to see that it can be overcome (Mrs Whatsit is the result of one such triumph). The movie leans more toward an Oprah-eque message of empowerment, so the focus is more on individual self-realization (and being appreciated by others, including Calvin, which seems to be his primary purpose in the story).

The three Mrses are not quite as fun as the movie thinks, though Mrs Who’s Bumblebee-like “post-language” use of quotations (always noting the nationality of the author, from Rumi and Shakespeare to Lin-Manuel Miranda and OutKast) is charming. But Reid is a heroine to root for, and the Murry family is one we are, like Calvin, glad to have a chance to visit.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi/fantasy peril with some violence and scary images, issues of an absent father, a school bully, and an abusive parent.

Family discussion: What are your most valuable faults? Why was Meg so important to IT?

If you like this, try: “The Neverending Story,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and the Narnia series

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Oscars 2018: Inclusion Riders, the Jetski Challenge, and Rita Moreno’s Dress

Posted on March 5, 2018 at 8:15 am

Oscars 90th Academy Awards

The 90th anniversary Oscar broadcast was one of the best in many years and not a minute too long. Look, with the Oscars you know what you’re signing up for. You may not be interested in the awards for Best Sound Editing or Best Sound Mixing, but I respect the Oscars for recognizing the dozens of people you never see the rest of the year for every one you see on screen, all vital to the impact of the film. And if they didn’t televise those awards, how would we see people like that guy whose tuxedo sleeves stopped just below his elbows? And I expect and appreciate the political issues addressed in the show. Without them, it would be eerily sterile. What are the nominated films about, after all? They are about justice. They are made to touch our hearts and inspire us to be more inclusive and fair. So, it is not just right, it is deeply moving when Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani remind us that they are immigrants. And also funny when Nanjiani says, “And I am from Pakistan and Iowa, two places that nobody in Hollywood can find on a map.”

I normally do not watch the red carpet, but this year I turned it on a bit early and was really delighted with the ABC pre-show interviews, especially when Michael Strahan showed Timothee Chalamet a video of the high school drama teacher who changed his life wishing him well, along with current students at the “Fame” school he attended just a couple of years ago, and the glimpse of Gary Oldman in full Winston Churchill makeup and costume, dancing to James Brown.

Then, on a prism-circled stage set that kept reminding me of the Shimmer in “Annihilation,” Jimmy Kimmel led off with a graceful, witty opening, candid about the turmoil of the past year, that set the tone perfectly. The promise of a Jetski for the person giving the shortest speech was silly, and having Dame Helen Mirren as the prize girl really made it work. It also inspired a couple of funny callbacks through the night.

Highlights:

Frances McDormand, asking the women nominees to stand, and introducing the world to the term “inclusion rider” — a contract provision stars can insist on that requires film productions to employ a specific number of women and minorities, including the crew, and may require pay equity/parity as well,

Alexandre Desplat, thanking the musicians who worked on “The Shape of Water” and the musicians playing live at the broadcast,

Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph, who should be Golden Globe hosts next year,

Jordan Peele, the first African-American to win a screenplay Oscar, speaking from the heart about what the experience has meant to him,

Jodie Foster blaming Meryl Streep for Tonya-ing her,

Two golden age of Hollywood presenters reminding us what “star” really means — Rita Moreno and Eva Marie Saint, Moreno in the same dress she wore when she won the Oscar for her performance in “West Side Story,”

The outstanding 90th anniversary montage, reminding us of the best that movies — and humans — can be,

The excellent montages introducing the acting awards,

Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder singing Tom Petty during the In Memoriam segment,

The third “amigo” wins — Guillermo del Toro joins his two director friends from Mexico in winning a Best Director Oscar (Alejandro G. Iñárritu won in 2014 for “Birdman” and in 2015 for “The Revenant.” And in 2013, Alfonso Cuarón won for “Gravity”).

Misses:

“Remember Me” is a lovely song, which well deserved its Oscar, but for some reason the live performance sounded off-key,

The trip to the movie theater next door, a stunt that went on too long and didn’t really work,

The people inexplicably left out of the In Memoriam segment, including Tobe Hooper, Oscar-winner Dorothy Malone, Powers Boothe, and John Mahoney.

For a show in which there were no surprises or upsets, it remained lively and engaging all the way to the end. And Faye and Warren and Price Waterhouse got it right this time.

PS Check out rogerebert.com’s annual “If We Picked the Oscars,” including my tribute to Laurie Metcalf.

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Getting Ready for the Oscars

Posted on March 4, 2018 at 9:24 am

Copyright AMPAS 1939
Tonight is the event my family refers to as “Mom’s Super Bowl.” I don’t take the Oscars that seriously as arbiters of quality. It’s the industry awarding itself. Still, I would never miss it and this year will be especially interesting given the younger and more diverse voters and the #metoo and #timesup and now #askmoreofhim issues. Some of the best commentary this year:

Stephanie Merry of the Washington Post describes some Oscar categories the Academy should have included, like best opening credit sequence, best motion-capture performance, best fight scenes, and best performance by a child. I agree with every one of her categories, nominees, and winners.

The New Yorker asks whether the nominated films pass the Bechdel test. They pretty much do, with exceptions like “Dunkirk” — and, I’d argue, “Call Me By Your Name” and “Phantom Thread.”

And if you need a cheat sheet for your Oscar party predictions, your best bet is Goldderby.

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Internet Film Critic Society Awards 2018: Shape of Water, Get Out, Brigsby Bear

Posted on January 30, 2018 at 9:39 pm

The Internet Film Critic Society announced the winners of our 11th Annual Movie Awards, giving the top honor (Best Drama) to Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.” Sally Hawkins won the Best Actress prize, also for the film “The Shape of Water.” Other awards went to Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” (Best Horror or Science Fiction), “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Best Action Film), and “I, Tonya” (Best Comedy). Daniel Kaluuya picked up the award for Best Actor for his performance in “Get Out” and “Brigsby Bear” won the award for Most Underrated Film of the Year.

The Eleventh Annual Internet Film Critic Society Awards:

Best Drama: The Shape of Water
Best Comedy: I, Tonya
Best Horror or Science Fiction Film: Get Out
Best Action Film: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Best Actor: Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water
Best Director: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water
Best Experimental Film: Faces Places
Most Underrated Film: Brigsby Bear
Worst Film of the Year: The Mummy
 
About the Internet Film Critic Society
The Internet Film Critic Society is an international association of online film critics and journalists. Our members provide expert opinions, analyses and criticisms on all forms of cinema, primarily or exclusively through online outlets. The IFCS is designed to stimulate awareness of the internet as a respectable and professional source of film critique and studies. The IFCS has given year-end awards for excellence in filmmaking annually since its founding in 2007. Additional information and previous awards can be seen at www.InternetFilmCritics.com.

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Oscar Nominations 2018 — A Small Step Forward

Posted on January 23, 2018 at 3:49 pm

Copyright 2017 A24
The traditionally all-white male category of Best Director took a small step forward in this year’s Oscar nominations by including Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), with both films also getting nominations for Best Picture and for acting (Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf for “Lady Bird,” Daniel Kaluuya for “Get Out”). It is worth pointing out that both Gerwig and Peele are young by director standards, and both are nominated for the first films they directed (Gerwig was co-director previously, but this is her first solo outing).

Copyright Universal 2017

I would like to have seen Dee Rees get nominated for “Mudbound” (and “Mudbound” nominated for Best Picture, but it was good to see Mary J. Blige get a Supporting Actress nomination for her extraordinary performance in that film. I would also like to have seen “Florida Project” get more attention, though I am glad Willem Dafoe was nominated for one of his all-time best performances, even more extraordinary because he was the only professional actor in nearly all of his scenes. I did not like “The Phantom Thread” but was mesmerized by Lesley Manville’s performance and am delighted she was recognized with a nomination.

For me, one of the most interesting line-ups this year was the Best Director category because for the first time, all five nominees also wrote their films.

I was very sorry that the following were overlooked: Michael Stuhlbarg and Armie Hammer for “Call Me By Your Name,” Tiffany Haddish for “Girls Trip,” “Wonder Woman” and “The Big Sick” for Best Picture. I’ll be looking forward to the Spirit Awards (for independent films) to correct some of these oversights.

And the toughest category to predict this year is the one at the top. “The Post” seems like the all-around likeliest candidate in terms of seriousness and broad appeal. But the preliminary indicators all seem to be going toward much more divisive films: “Three Billboards” or “Shape of Water.” “Shape of Water,” with it’s near-record 13 nominations, may just get the top prize.

Best Picture:

“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Director:

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

Animated Feature:

“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman

Animated Short:

“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

Adapted Screenplay:

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Original Screenplay:

“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

Cinematography:

“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen

Best Documentary Feature:

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman
“Faces Places,” JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda
“Icarus,” Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan
“Last Men in Aleppo,” Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jepersen
“Strong Island,” Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel
“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon
“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon
“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

Best Live Action Short Film:

“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk
“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.
“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“On Body and Soul (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)

Film Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory

Sound Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green
“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King
“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

Sound Mixing:

“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Production Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola
“Darkest Hour,” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
“Dunkirk,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
“The Shape of Water,” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

Original Score:

“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell

Original Song:

“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Makeup and Hair:

“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten

Costume Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira
“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle

Visual Effects:

“Blade Runner 2049,” John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick
“Kong: Skull Island,” Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlon
“War for the Planet of the Apes,” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

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