A Wrinkle In Time

wrinkle.jpg

It’s been a minute since the novel A Wrinkle In Time was published by author Madeleine L’Engle…56 years to be exact. A film version of the novel has always been thought to be a difficult adaptation, as the novel is incredibly complex, jumps all over the place and has many layers to peel back. Writers Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) accepted the challenge. Close but no cigar! The writing is drowning in clichés and tries too hard to be inspirational. Luckily, the imagery is picturesque, brought to life by visionary Ava Duvernay (Selma), but she too came up short. Its last hope was the star-studded cast with beloved veteran actors, but even they couldn’t save the film from going up in flames.

A Wrinkle In Time is one of the greatest fantasy novels of all time; there’s a reason why it has been assigned reading for years. Its themes are powerful: the difference between good and evil; the importance of accepting one another; and the power of love to name a few. We’ve seen versions of these themes in countless books, films, television, etc, but it’s the angle from which you attack them that makes all the difference. Take The Lion King for example, another Disney film, of which the writers didn’t make their motives of trying to be inspiring to young moviegoers SO obvious. Instead, the dialogue is indirect and still accomplishes its goal. Lee and Stockwell chose another route. Their writing was painfully obvious, hiding in plain site. They wouldn’t win at hide-and-seek, that’s for sure. Each line was cheesier than the one before, oftentimes cringe worthy. Thankfully there’s still enough substance to prompt meaningful discussions with kids about the critical themes. Give audiences a little more credit to read between the lines, instead of smothering us, and not letting us come up for air.

Hollywood didn’t know what hit them when Ava Duvernay came on the scene with her directorial debut of Selma. She is a force to be reckoned with and an inspiration to female filmmakers. This however was not her best work. She’s the first woman of color to be handed a $100MM+ budget film, groundbreaking to say the least, but there’s a big difference between $20MM (Selma) and $103MM. She had everything at her fingertips, but it may have been too much. Visually it’s stunning. VFX took her vision to a world you can only see in your wildest dreams – take one glance at the trailer and you’ll see what I mean. She had a great partner in crime alongside her, cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (Beauty and the Beast), who helped bring it to life. The problem is it reeked of desperation to go above and beyond. Ok, but it must at least be riveting? Nope! It’s slooooooooow. Warning: you may need resuscitation. To be clear this wasn’t a huge disaster, but the simple fact is Duvernay fell prey to an over budget film that may not even breakeven at the box office, overly hyped and ultimately not up to par.

Speaking of not being up to par, the cast is everything you could ever ask for and more, but just like the rest of the film, they too tried WAY too hard. Duvernay wanted a multi-racial cast. The lead is 14-year-old Storm Reid (12 Years a Slave) who is now the first young girl of color to lead a big-budget, sci-fi fantasy film. Reid is young and has a lot to learn, but she’ll get there in no time. It’s fair to assume a film will be great when you see Chris Pine (Star Trek), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Michael Peña (Crash) and David Oyelowo (Selma), not to mention powerhouses like Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple), Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde) and Mindy Kalig (The Office). I think we can all agree these are ALL incredible actors, but their performances were less than stellar. They had an opportunity to twist the script into something that it wasn’t, but their reenactment of the dialogue was even cornier than the words on paper.

Bottom line: At this point it’s hard to tell where the film went wrong, but it seems its downfall is rooted in the script. No one said this adaptation would be easy – they don’t call it a challenge for nothin. Duvernay stepped up to the plate, but didn’t hit it out of the park. For what it’s worth, there will be plenty of kids who enjoy A Wrinkle In Time and who hopefully internalize the important lessons to be learned from it. As for the adults, expect to be visually impressed, but ultimately disappointed. It’s understandable if you feel compelled to see it on the big screen to get the full effect, but as a whole, it’s a textbook rental

Black Panther

panther.jpg

You may be thinking to yourself, “is Black Panther as good as everyone says?” Yes, yes and yes, definitely a must-see. Marvel has yet to disappoint since their first film in 2008, Iron Man. However, Black Panther stands out from the rest with a predominantly black cast AND women portrayed as head-honchos. This reflects the movement in the Entertainment industry to write and produce more films for women. About time! Writer and director Ryan Coogler (Creed) jumped at the opportunity, nailing it. He has proven there's an appetite for stories like this. His success will only propel this movement futher, I’m sure of it. Based on the comic, T’Challa is the newly appointed King of Wakanda, played by Chadwick Boseman (42), but with fresh blood comes envy and jealousy. An outsider, Michael B. Jordan (Creed) challenges his throne with intent to control the African nation. 

Writers Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s (American Crime Story) writing structure introduced this exciting new Marvel superhero story very successfully. It’s sophisticated in that every character has extraordinary powers, and yet are also every day people, in other words humanized. It’s not often you see an African nation shown as technologically advanced with smarts and capabilities other countries can only dream of. What’s more, women lead the army and protect the citizens, and all the remarkable innovations are created by yup, women. It’s great that the film is kid friendly so that younger generations are exposed to these notions and come to see this as the norm. Coogler and Cole have the power to influence young moviegoers' perspectives in strong ways, and this is only the start. Besides these serious undertones, the film is fun and entertaining.

The laugh out loud moments are well timed and hit the right tone. Marvel’s films intertwine comedic relief in between the adrenaline inducing action. They don’t take themselves so seriously unlike other superhero films…cough DC Comics. Newcomer Letitia Wright (The Commuter) and Boseman couldn’t have been a better dynamic brother-sister duo, each one playing off of the other’s wit. There was a 50/50 split between serious star power and newcomers. The familiar faces include Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland). The new kid (I mean girl) on the block was standout badass Danai Gurira (All Eyez On Me). The cast looked like they had a blast making this film, which in turn sets the mood for the audience. It was contagious!

The film is pretty much perfect and I haven’t even gotten to Coogler’s phenomenal directing alongside cinematographer Rachel Morrison. Morrison was recently nominated for an Oscar for Mudbound as the first female ever. With heavy CGI and VFX the film was visually stunning and eye catching, shockingly predominately filmed in Atlanta and South Korea. Fun fact: most every Marvel film is shot in Atlanta. Who’da thunk it?!

Bottom line: The hype is real. You won’t be disappointed. See it in theaters, undoubtedly worth your time and money.  It’s ideal for any occasion – a fun night out for a couple’s retreat, a girls' night out, or an outing with the family. Already counting down the days to the sequel (always series faithful). Remember to stay until the very end of the credits to get a sneak preview of what’s to come. I hope you enjoy the best film of 2018 thus far! 

Beauty and the Beast

The nostalgia is real. Can you remember the first time you saw Beauty and the Beast (1991)? Sitting in the theater you will be transported back in time to that very moment. I remember as my parents popped in the VCR (the good ole’ days), sitting, legs butterfly style, as close as I could get to the TV, eyes peeled, smiling the entire way through. As the credit rolled, I yelled, “again, again!” This time was just as magical as the first, if not more, after all, we’re still kids at heart. Remakes are risky, originals are hard to top, but in this case, Disney continues to kill it, producing yet another must-see for all ages (kid friendly, parents).

Enthusiasts of the original are bent of shape that Disney made some changes. Oh no – call out the National Guard! Don’t worry, all your favorite songs are still there. The whole theater sang along like there was no tomorrow. But wait! They’ve added a few new songs. The beast, played by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, do it to it, you won’t regret it), sings a new song, Days in the Sun. What’s the problem peeps? Let the beast sing – he’s ghastly (insert English accent) so he deserves it. We’re given more insight into the beast’s past, brilliant character development, and a welcomed addition. Belle, played by Emma Watson (Harry Potter), has a much more in depth storyline as well. All I will say is it’s about her mother, a new character. Disney can’t help itself – always dooming the mothers. What’s up with that? Most importantly, the characters have become more diverse with at least 8 black cast members and wait for it….gay characters too. Hey Alabama Henagar Drive-In Theater owner, shame on you for banning the film because of the newest gay members. It’s called equal opportunity – and it’s about time! Ok, I’m done I promise.

Stevens and Watson were the perfect duo. Being a hopeless romantic, I had stars in my eyes and so did all the ladies for their girl’s night out. Couples take note. The two of them showed their range as actors, singing beautifully and acting like bosses. It was hard to tell what was CGI and what was real. The latest fad is live action remakes, The Jungle Book and Cinderella being the latest. This presented a new challenge for Stevens as the beast. He had to act out individual scenes twice – one from the neck-down and the second with ultraviolet makeup on his face in front of a ton of cameras, the process of which the Beast’s face came alive. This meant that Watson (or Belle) was alone in many of her scenes. It would’ve been so much more fun if teacups, candlesticks and clocks spoke in real life – I’d want to be their guest too!

The cast couldn’t have been better to add to this fun, feel good, laugh out loud and at times, tear jerker film. Seriously though, I had a 30-something year old women next to me balling her eyes out when the beast died. I just wanted to give her a bear hug and say it’s going to be okay, you know the story ;) It has some big names, including, but not limited to Luke Evans (Dracula), Josh Gad (Frozen), who was absolutely hysterical, Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda), Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting), Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings), Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games) and last, but certainly not least, my favorite, Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility). Director, Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), and writers, Stephen Chbosky (Rent) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (Hercules), did it up big.

Bottom line: Mesmerizing, dreamy and all around remarkable – Beauty and the Beast is one you won’t want to miss. It’s tale as old as time, a timeless classic!

 

 

The Queen of Katwe

The Queen of Katwe has every ingredient for a feel good, family outing: an uplifting true story with an inspiring message; evidently the best director for the job; and a standout cast.

As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of true stories. Going to the theater to learn something new and be entertained at the same time – what could be better! You history buffs likely don’t know this story in particular (that is of course unless you’re a huge fan of chess). Phiona Mutesi, played by Madina Nalwanga (this being her big debut), lived in the slums of Uganda selling corn in order to earn money for her family to be able to eat and have a roof over their heads. After her father died of AIDS (a fact not discussed in the film, but is important to explain the hardship they endured), it was close to impossible to stay afloat, let alone survive. It wasn’t until by happenstance that she stumbled upon Robert Katende, played by David Oyelowo (Selma) that things started to turn around. An opportunity of a lifetime presented itself and boy did she seize it. Rather than giving away more than I already have (my apologies) believe me when I say, you will not only appreciate your life, but also be inspired to never let a challenge stand in the way of your dreams. Yeah yeah yeah cheesy, I know, but somehow the director found a suitable balance.

Director Mira Nair (The Namesake), made up for the cheesiness with an authentic film, shot entirely in Katwe and South Africa. The beautiful cinematography and movement of the characters through the streets portrayed the full picture of their lives in the slums. And although it was hard to stomach at times, the touching moments overshadowed the heartbreaking ones, thanks to her direction.

Nalwanga couldn’t have been a better choice as the main character – congrats to her on a stellar breakout performance. Her charming personality shined through, making the film all that more enjoyable – can’t beat a smile like hers and you’ll love her humor, you’re sure to laugh out loud. Oyelowo, her coach, and her vibed off of each other to make one heck of a team. Her mother in the film, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), delivered yet another powerful performance.

Bottom Line: It’s great to see a true story that is kid friendly. Who knows, they might even want to try their hand at chess (next champion eh? Wink, wink). Head to the theaters for a film that is lighthearted and a joy to watch. 

The Secret Life of Pets

Two words: must-see! I know I am among the minority whom doesn’t prefer animated films, but good thing this isn’t about me. Much to my surprise, I absolutely adored this film. It was the first animated film since I was a little girl that I loved. I’m confident in saying even you non-animation believers out there like me would appreciate this one. It was a wonderful, feel good film that was written and executed to perfection.

The film was set in NYC, the ideal city to portray the life of stay-at-home pets that are typically left by their owners for extended periods of time. Haven’t you always wondered what your pets do for hours and hours? I certainly have and this movie brought my imagination to life. The animals were cast with talented actors, all of which added their own flare and energy to the film. While you’d naturally think it would be kid friendly, beware parents, at a younger age I would’ve been frightened by some of the animals portrayed in the film. I mean seriously, who likes massive, deadly vipers and repulsive looking, mean cats? Not I! But don’t get me wrong, take the kids, they’ll live.

It is certainly the perfect summer movie for a family outing because it’s fun for everyone, but even more enjoyable for adults. The score couldn’t have been better – music you are sure to sing and dance to; oldies, but serious goodies. The whole theater couldn’t help themselves, but to sing in unison to Grease – not something you find everyday. The humor is grown up and bound to make you laugh out loud. Your children will not catch all the jokes; for example, they probably don’t know who Trump is – oh to be young again, lucky them is all I have to say! But they will take away the lessons of kindness, sharing, loyalty and love – great for all ages, all found in The Secret Life of Pets.

Bottom Line: This movie is worth every penny and every minute – go with anyone… the unique quality of this film. And if you do go, I hope you like it as much as I did!