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Review: “A Wrinkle in Time” is a Beautiful Mess of Bluntness



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There’s a slew of inspirational messages in this film, and Ava Duvernay wants to make sure every young person hears them. She does so by repeating and stating them so directly and forcefully I almost expected her to jump out of the screen and start shaking every preteen girl into being positive. That’s a profound goal for such a director to instill a sense of heroism in the least popular kids at school, but it comes with a twinge of awkwardness in how the hero has to be told multiple times she is special and that only she can defeat the evil in the universe. She’s given so many pep talks I wondered why she didn’t start displaying the same uncomfortable nature of a kid’s over-encouraging parents at their baseball game.

What’s so unique about our protagonist of Meg (Storm Reid)? Nothing much. She seems to be your average nerdy kid in school that misses her dad (Chris Pine) who went missing years ago. But she’s in for a big surprise when her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and her crush Calvin (Levi Miller) all discover that dear old dad found a way to bend space and time. He’s been held captive on the other side of the universe, and Meg needs to rescue him with the help of three astral travelers. These travelers include Reese Witherspoon trying to channel the ditziness of Amy Adams ala Enchanted, Mindy Kaling speaking only in Earthling quotes (a gimmick so monotonous even the character stops doing it), and Oprah Winfrey literally watching over them as a towering giant. I don’t fully understand who these beings are supposed to be past their good samaritan attitudes with warping space and time. Get used to this unexplained surrealness because the film won’t slow down to explain any of this.

While the story seems as though it’s taking steroids to sprint through a teenage hero plot in under two hours, I almost prefer it as opposed to when the movie slows down to focus on the theme delivered with the force of a sledgehammer to the face. When Meg isn’t having her self-esteem boosted by the magical female trio, she’s speaking awkwardly with her smart brother or shyly with her crush. Their dialogue is so matter-of-fact that their delivery comes off more clinical than charismatic. This is especially true for the young Deric McCabe that is struggling to pull double duty as an insanely intelligent young man and then a possessed vessel by the easily-angered spirit of evil. I felt bad for him since he’s the youngest and has the most demanding of roles among the young heroes, whereas Meg needs to look bewildered and Calvin needs to look cute.

It’s undeniable that A Wrinkle in Time is beautiful to look at, but one would hope so with a $100 million budget. Indeed, the first stop on a trip around the universe is too a grassy meadow of sentient flowers and flying creatures that look like a cross between a fairy and a manta ray. It seems like a fun place to frolic, but the plot seems to stop instantly as if the astral trio demand the children enjoy the production design. Those visual effects teams spent a fortune on making this world, and you will enjoy it, an impending quest for your long-lost dad be damned! There is an additional stop at the cave of a universal seer (Zach Galifianakis), dwelling in a cave of balanced rocks. Again, great to look at, but does little more than either push the plot or stop it. There’s no happy medium of establishing our characters, even with Galifianakis playing a role called The Happy Medium.

And you better get used to those ridiculous and base names. Oprah Winfrey’s character is Mrs. Which, a name that is quickly exhausted for all its comedic potential. The same goes for Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit and Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who. Curiously missing is Mrs. Huh to ground their clunky introductions. The evil they must face is referred to as the Darkness, controlled by the being known as the It. And when the It is finally met, it’s about as bland as its description implies. It’s a mess of dark tendrils that pulsate with bursts of orange light, completely underwhelming when finally revealed after the less frightening Darkness entrances of a wheat field and a crowded beach.

While I half-expected the movie to go for the old cliche of the Darkness representing all the anger in the universe and Meg is the only one that can stop it, I was still disappointed that the film went there. And in case that wasn’t blunt enough, the movie goes the extra mile to call Meg a warrior to be compared to the likes of Nelson Mandela, Oskar Schindler, and Gandhi. Those men made great sacrifices that will be remembered in history, but I guess you can be their equal if you fight a giant tendril monster by stating your love for your brother.

A Wrinkle in Time is mostly whimsy for the sake of whimsy, tossing as much magical surrealism as it can at the screen without much emotional weight behind them. It’s a gentle enough story where kids get to be the hero and boast positive messages so obvious it’d be impossible for kids to miss the themes. But so much gets lost in the race towards the special effects and broad motives that the film becomes difficult to follow at times, making most developments in the plot seem random at times. There came the point in the picture where I just stopped caring about what happened to these characters and tried to enjoy the spectacle of it all. That’s the best possible way to enjoy a picture that feels like playing the most trippy of video games with an empowering television commercial on a loop in the background.

As a kid’s first fantasy film, they’ll probably get a kick out of the visuals and the message. Just don’t expect it to stand as tall next to stronger fantasy films that do a far better job at placing young heroes on pedestals without directly telling them that they’re special.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]

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Review: “Happy Death Day 2U” Goes From Clever to Confounding



The sequel to 2017’s fresh and giddy horror concept of Happy Death Day comes crashing in with the least remarkable discovery: why the time loop that kept making one college student repeat the same day? The previous film was interesting and clever for featuring Jessica Rothe as the college student Tree, infected with Groundhog Day syndrome where she keeps reliving the same day until she cracks the mystery of her killer. It was a unique play on the murder mystery scenario without getting bogged down in specifics. Happy Death Day 2U, unfortunately, tries to explain the looping in a manner that is as clunky as it is unnecessary.

The story catches up with Tree, relieved that she has solved the case. But now science student Ryan (Phi Vu) is infected with the looping, once more being slaughtered by a mysterious figure in the iconic baby mask. Ryan explains this to Tree who is ready to go all Edge of Tomorrow on this scenario and stop the killer again. But due to a very convoluted smattering of multiverses, time travel, dimension hopping, and time devices assembled from technobabble, Tree soon finds herself right back where she started; same day, same events, but a new killer and new relationships.

And here is where the film loses sight quickly of its fun. We spend far more time trying to decipher the logic of Ryan’s time experiment that has caused Tree’s curse than we do with the drama and comedy of a different universe. And with so little time to enjoy it, the script concocts a quick and cheap method of tying all this together. Somber moments are assembled as corny melodrama, where Tree’s loving embrace of her now-revived mother carries far less gravitas than her fiercer moments of bitterly forcing herself through the motions. Playing with the dimension shifting and repeating lives grinds to a halt of exposition because Tree hasn’t watched Back to the Future and needs to be brought up to speed. Oh, and that whole murder mystery aspect? Yeah, the baby-masked killer is still lingering but the mystery behind the new attacker seems so secondary to the time loop nonsense its easy to forget that Tree has to crack this case because she honestly doesn’t have to. What’s the point of foiling the bad guy when the whole timeline will be reset one way or another?

Clearly, the film is going more for a comedic angle than a terrifying one in how it treats time-loop scenarios and horror situations with a knowing wink. But the gags spun from such a story come off decent at best and datedly drivel at their worst. Imagine my shock when in order to steal the keys from a cartoonish campus official, an acting student puts on the most stereotypical of French outfits and poses as a blind student that gets into all sorts of wacky slapstick as she babbles in damsel-style French. I started having bad flashbacks of similar scenes from the sequel to Porky’s. The more clever bits of Tree skydiving without a parachute and taking a chug of drain cleaner in the supermarket are sadly overshadowed by the lamest of kooky college kid antics that seem as though they were ripped directly out of a forgettable 1980s teen comedy or a rejected sitcom pilot.

Happy Death Day 2U is maddening for all the potential it squanders. Think about how much more unique the story could have been if Phi Vu took control of the story with Rothe the teacher of all things murder and death, ala Edge of Tomorrow. But the story aborts too quickly and decides to once again make the story about Tree, torn between deciding on a reality to favor when there’s little time to care about any of her crucial decisions among cartoony antics. And that off-the-rails ending left such a nasty aftertaste that I’m already dreading the inevitable Happy D3ath Day, where I fear Rothe’s keen sense of rage and roar will only grow hoarse.

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Box Office

“Lego” Makes Little Splash at #1 For Weekend



As we head into February, a larger crop of films are headed to the theater to take the top spot away from films that have been dominating the top 5 for quite some time. And while most of the older films were knocked a few spots down, the champions of the weekend didn’t exactly have the grandest of debuts for being so high on the charts.

While it’s no surprise that The Lego Movie 2, the sequel to 2014’s surprise hit of an animated film, was at #1, it wasn’t by as hefty an amount as the previous movie. The animated sequel premiered at $34 million, surprisingly weak considering how strong the last film did on its first weekend. Still, it’s by far the highest of the weekend box office. Just below it at #2 was the gender-based comedy What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson and Tracy Morgan, coming in with $19 million. And just below that was the thriller Cold Pursuit, starring Liam Neeson and Laura Dern, at #3 with $10.8 million. And debuting even further down at #6 is the new horror film The Prodigy with a weekend debut gross of $6 million.

Aside from the thriller Miss Bala taking the biggest dip of the weekend at 60%, most returning films took very low drops in box office. The lowest drops were for the heartwarming dramas of The Upside and Green Book, only dropping 16% and 18% respectively. Finally being knocked out of the top 5 was Aquaman with a current domestic gross of $328 million and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with $179 million.

Check out the full top 10 for the weekend below:

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part ($34,400,000)

What Men Want ($19,000,000)

Cold Pursuit ($10,800,000)

The Upside ($7,220,000)

Glass ($6,422,000)

The Prodigy ($6,004,403)

Green Book ($3,567,000)

Aquaman ($3,300,000)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($3,040,000)

Miss Bala ($2,725,000)

Next weekend will be Valentine’s Day weekend where romantic comedy will do battle against futuristic cyborgs and bloody curses. Isn’t It Romantic, the romantic comedy satire starring Rebel Wilson, will hit over 3,300 theaters. Happy Death Day 2U, the horror sequel about a woman who can’t stop by dying, will premiere to 3,000 theaters. And Alita: Battle Angel, the dystopian sci-fi adventure based on the classic manga, will premiere to 3,700 theaters.

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Movie News

Review: “The LEGO Movie 2” Builds More of the Same



There’s was such an inspiring surprise behind 2014’s The LEGO Movie that resculpted the landscape of property-based movies. LEGO already had several animated features on home video but the first theatrical film of the classic and still-popular toy brought things to a whole new level of entertainment. It managed to merge a positive message about family and creativity while still being a self-aware showcase of various franchises. But with The LEGO Movie 2, the originality mostly evaporates by following too close to the manual.

The problem is that this sequel tries to double itself up in the wrong areas. It begins where the first film left off, with the younger-targeted Duplo toys invading the LEGO world. They seem friendly and innocent at first but then terror strikes and the world is sent into chaos. Five years later, the LEGO community has grown defensive against the Duplos as a more Mad Max society. It’s an identifiable landscape for the likes of the hardened Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the goofily-gritty Batman (Will Arnett) but not for the plucky Emmet (Chris Pratt). Even in the face of war threatening all that is brick, Emmet still jams to his tunes, drinks sugary coffee, and holds out for a better life.

The Duplos seemed to have evolved as well. A spaceship kidnaps most of the key characters and brings them to the questionably devious Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) of the Systar System. The Queen wants to marry Batman in hopes of bringing about some secret plan she assures everyone is not evil, which Wildstyle doesn’t buy so easily. It’s up to both her and Emmet to save their friends and the LEGO universe by halting the wedding with the help of the space outlaw, Rex. If they don’t, an evil prophecy could be fulfilled of Ar-mom-ageddon where everyone will be banished to the bin of Storage.

All the verbiage comes with the obvious referential gags that don’t surprise much past what the first film accomplished. The story obviously steers towards the live-action tale of a brother and sister learning to come together with age. A sweet lesson but one that can be seen coming a mile away without any twists, despite a solid supporting performance by Maya Rudolph as the mother. Within the LEGO world, however, there are a handful of twists that don’t rattle the cage but at least give it a good kick. We learn more about Wildstyle’s background, Emmet’s desire to be tougher, Batman’s feelings about settling down, and the true plan of the girly toys. And while the twist of all these characters are telegraphed, they’re at least presented in a manner manic enough to keep up with the fast and frantic pacing of the comedy and action.

What didn’t let me down as much were the songs which are more abundant and pleasing than the previous film. Even though the film’s new catchy song is literally called “Catchy Song” with the lyrics “This song is gonna get stuck inside your head” repeated over and over, I can’t deny there’s a twinge of truth to its absurdity. I also really enjoyed a revision of “Everything is Awesome” and a bouncy song by Haddish about trying to make Batman jealous.

The LEGO Movie 2 proceeds as most sequels do by repeating what works, only providing a few more dashes of absurdity and surprise. But after two LEGO theatrical spin-offs since the first film, the bag of tricks is starting to wear thin, to the point where cameos must literally be pointed out to the audience with the guest characters addressed by celebrity name and profession. And that winking nature can only go so far, even when pointing out the sloppy logic of time travel and how all of this is just within the imagination of a boy. There’s still a bit of fun to be had within the knowing and playful nature of the picture but the age is certainly showing as it may be time to pack this franchise up for storage before it gets too weird for its own good.

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