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A beloved novel gets absolutely slaughtered with A Wrinkle in Time, one of 2018’s worst movies—and an embarrassment for the great talents involved.

Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel was adapted by Disney once before with an also-lousy direct-to-video release back in 2003. The book has been bouncing around Hollywood for decades, with many attempts to bring it to the big screen being aborted. It’s a sad, sad thing that Disney finally took the plunge, dropped a lot of money (more than $100 million)—and came up with this mess.

Compounding the sadness would be that it is directed by Ava DuVernay, who made the excellent Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma. While that film had a cohesive vision, excellent technical credits and powerhouse acting all around, her new film has none of these things. It’s total chaos.

Crackpot dreamy scientist Mr. Murry (Chris Pine) is obsessed with interstellar travel, and believes that wrinkles in time could be used to travel light years through space. It’s never really established what he truly wants to achieve through such travel, but his obsession eventually leads to his disappearance for four years. He’s apparently traveling through the universe with no real way to get home, and no real sense of purpose.

A ragtag group of kids led by Murry’s oldest daughter, Meg (Storm Reid), and precocious adopted son, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), set out on an ill-conceived journey to find their dad, accompanied by Reese Witherspoon as crazy Mrs. Whatsit; Mindy Kaling as eccentric Mrs. Who; and Oprah Winfrey as the ponderous Mrs. Which. Mrs. Whatsit speaks fast; Mrs. Who speaks quirkily; and Mrs. Which talks really slow. That’s this film’s best attempt at humor and distinguishable characters.

The journey leads them through various, horribly designed set pieces and terrible, candy-colored CGI. When movie magic is present, art direction, cinematography and editing combine to transport viewers into new worlds and visions. In Wrinkle, these things combine to look like a bad office costume party, at which somebody spiked the brownies with bad weed.

The film seems poorly planned from its very first scenes, as if the director really had no idea what to film or how to film it. It’s abundantly clear that many of the sequences didn’t get enough coverage shots, so nonsensical editing is constantly occurring over dialogue that doesn’t match the actions. Cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler totally blows it in the lighting department, opting for a dull sheen on the movie. The sets and costuming/makeup are laughingly bad, reminiscent of the eyesores that were Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movies.

A prime example of the elements not coming together would be early scenes in which Oprah is supposed to be a giant. DuVernay employs a mixture of forced perspective and green-screen effects that keep Oprah disconnected from her fellow performers. She probably rarely shared a studio with them, and the finished product makes it seem that way. Her character just looks like it’s roaming around in its own realm, even though she’s actually talking to others.

Zach Galifianakis shows up as … well, I’m really not sure what the hell he is supposed to be. I just know he looked and sounded stupid. The same can be said for Michael Peña. Witherspoon at least tries to be fun in her thankless role—although she’s not fun at all. I’m just saying it’s evident she tried to be fun, while Kaling, like Oprah, looks totally lost.

Now that I’ve watched the film, I’m not sure what happened or what was supposed to be happening. Perhaps A Wrinkle in Time is a novel that was, is and always shall be unadaptable. It’s admirable that DuVernay and crew took a stab at such a cherished, complicated work.

Actually, no … forget about that. They should’ve left this material alone, and their finished product is proof it was a project well beyond their capabilities. When they saw the script, they should’ve ran far, far away. I was angry while watching it, and I’m even angrier here while recapping it. Movies this bad should never happen—especially with this level of talent involved.

A Wrinkle in Time is now playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

I abstain from weed because some people really shouldn’t do drugs. If you are like me, you might need two or three viewings to completely get the vibe and plot of Inherent Vice.

However, if you watch the movie while mildly high, you might follow everything in one shot.

I’ve watched director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film twice now, and it was almost like watching a different movie the second time through. I enjoyed it both times, but the language and proceedings made more sense to me on the second go-round. I must have some sort of latent stoner sensibility stored in my brain from bong hits in years past.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a sloppy private investigator in 1970 Los Angeles who operates, inexplicably, out of a doctor’s office. When an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) goes missing, he conducts a haphazard investigation into her disappearance that involves dead people who aren’t dead, drug-dealers and kidnapped real estate moguls. All of these things are being investigated by a guy who is seriously high most of the time, and who pieces things together at his own mellow, clumsy pace.

Along the way, Doc comes across a parade of colorful characters—with each one played by a brilliant actor or actress. Josh Brolin is perfection as an unstable, macho cop with a penchant for kicking down Doc’s door. Phoenix and Brolin have a lot of fun making the characters bitter enemies, even though they’re almost chummy at times. Brolin’s final scene is, shall we say, surreal and bizarre on joyous levels.

Owen Wilson does some of his best work in years as a musician, believed dead, who has gone into hiding. He has scenes with Phoenix that are borderline brilliant, as does Martin Short as a lascivious dentist with a taste for young girls and pharmaceutical-grade cocaine. Anderson may have given Short his best role since his SCTV days, even though Short is only in a few scenes.

Benicio del Toro shows up as Doc’s attorney; his character reminded me of his similar role in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Reese Witherspoon caps off a great year by playing Doc’s uptight current girlfriend, and Jena Malone has a terrific scene as a wife who pleasantly and happily discusses her drug addiction and missing husband.

The mystery, if you want to call it that, ties up fairly cleanly. The film, despite what some folks are saying, has a beginning, a middle and an end that makes sense. You just have to work at it a bit.

The locations, clothing and hairstyles are very 1970s. The film plays like a stoner mood piece, swinging from relaxed to paranoid, unintelligible to highly coherent—as if you are going through the various phases of some high-grade kush.

You might be thinking, “Hey, this sounds a little bit like The Big Lebowski.” Lebowski was a lot cuter, and far funnier. Both stories do, however, feature a stoner dude investigating a missing person. (It should be noted that the Coens wrote and produced Lebowski 11 years before Thomas Pynchon put out the novel on which Inherent Vice is based.)

If you’ve never smoked weed, but have a friend that does smoke, go see the movie with them. You may not get it, while your friend’s mind will be blown. He or she will explain some things to you, and you’ll be all set for a second, more-informed viewing.

Also: Do not smoke weed for the first time before seeing Inherent Vice. The stuff out there now is pretty damn powerful, and the site of Phoenix’s Wolverine chops will surely freak out a first-timer.

Inherent Vice opens Thursday, Jan. 8, at theaters including the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

As the Hollywood A-listers began arriving at Palm Springs Convention Center for the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival's Awards Gala on Saturday, Jan. 3, hopes ran high among the fans gathered along the sidewalks across from the red-carpeted entryway.

Whether the fans were locals or visitors to the Coachella Valley, they all had favorites they were hoping to see.

Palm Springs resident Diana Doyle has joined the crowd for three years running. “I’m one of those people now,” she said. “I’m hooked!”

Has she had luck meeting celebrities in the past?

“Last year, I had a great picture taken with Bradley Cooper, and it went into the Los Angeles Times, and now it’s my screensaver,” she laughed. This year, her good luck continued as she got a chance to grab “selfies” with Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell.

For Connie Hale of Palm Desert, this was her eighth year of braving the crowd.

“We got her about 12 noon today,” she said. “I’ve met lots of celebrities over the years, and this is the spot to do it. I’ve met Brad Pitt and Robert Downey Jr. already, but this year, I’d like to meet any of the stars coming.”

At one point, Hale found herself face-to-face with Michael Keaton—but the moment passed without her getting the autograph she wanted.

KESQ/CBS Local 2 meteorologist Rob Bradley and fiancée Kristina Guckenberger were among the fortunate fans who obtained access to the grandstand seating area next to the red-carpet entrance.

“I’ve had to work in the studio the last two years doing weather updates during down time in our Awards Gala red-carpet live special coverage, so this is my first time being here at the event,” Bradley said.

Did they have any favorites they wanted to see up close this evening? “My mom said I should meet Robert Downey Jr. and Brad Pitt. And for my dad, Reese Witherspoon,” Guckenberger said. Unfortunately, neither Downey nor Pitt appeared out front to greet fans.

Still, the crowd’s mood remained festive as the almost-full moon rose and the temperature dropped, before the fans dispersed as the awards dinner got under way inside.

Scroll down to see some pictures from the red carpet.

Published in Snapshot

In her best role since she scored an Oscar for Walk the Line, Reese Witherspoon astonishes in Wild, director Jean-Marc Vallée’s follow-up to last year’s Dallas Buyers Club.

The film is based on a memoir of Cheryl Strayed, and Witherspoon plays the author, who took it upon herself to make a solo trek on the Pacific Crest Trail after tragedies in her life. The film becomes not only a fine showcase for Witherspoon, but a damn fine commercial for the PCT and those REI outdoor-gear stores.

The film opens on the not-so-pleasant sight of Strayed losing a toenail in bloody fashion to a wrong-sized boot while she’s days into her trek. It then flashes back a bit to the beginning of her hike; the film takes a non-chronological approach to its plot.

As she begins her walk, Strayed remembers moments from her childhood, her marriage, and her recent relationship with her mother (Laura Dern, shining in a small role). We discover that tragedy led her to extreme promiscuity and heroin use. Her decision to hike the PCT is an attempt to get herself on the right track.

Early during her walk, in one of the film’s most powerful scenes, Strayed comes across a man driving a tractor (a fantastic W. Earl Brown). Vallee does a nice job of creating a palpable sense of dread, and shows just how vulnerable a solo hiker could be, especially one lacking experience. The result of Strayed’s meeting with the tractor driver is fantastic and surprising storytelling.

The characters Strayed meets along the way are mostly positive, although a couple of male hikers put a dent in the goodness of the human race. A quick meeting with a man writing about hobos provides the film’s funniest moment.

While Wild is an uplifting film about redemption and Strayed’s personal triumphs, the movie also works as an authentic and informative film about the art of hiking. From Strayed’s struggles with her super-huge backpack, to her over-reliance on trail tanks for water, to her stopovers at community outposts along the trail, you get a true sense of what you might experience on such an expedition. It also teaches you that buying your hiking boots at REI would be a smart move.

With a few exceptions (such as her excellent turn in last year’s Mud), Witherspoon has been showing up in quite a few mediocre-to-lousy films (including this year’s Devil’s Knot). Before her Oscar glory and crap like Legally Blonde, Witherspoon was a reliable, off-the-beaten-track actress with projects like Freeway and Election. Wild represents the sort of role that got her a stellar reputation early in her career: She’s raw, edgy and real; there’s not a false note in her performance. You get a true sense she put herself through some physical hell for the role. It’s not a “showy” role, but rather one that allows her to be understated and stripped-down.

Dern breaks hearts as the eternally optimistic mom who attends college at the same time as her daughter and is thrown a nasty curveball—one that very much contributes to Strayed’s life missteps. Thomas Sadoski, as Strayed’s husband, Paul, captures the essence of a person very much in love and struggling with his wife’s actions. He remains civil in the most unpleasant and challenging of circumstances.

Vallée and company make a great-looking movie, covering all the terrains Strayed must’ve experienced on her hike, from desert to the snowy Sierras. He complements the meditative movie with beautiful choices for his soundtrack, including Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa” and a stunning cover of the overlooked R.E.M. track “Walk Unafraid.” Many of the tracks sound as if they are being played on loudspeakers along the trail, with their musical strains gently bouncing off the trees and echoing through the forests.

Witherspoon is a lock for an Oscar nomination; she already received a nod from the Golden Globes. She deserves the accolades. Hopefully, Wild (and her small role in this year’s Inherent Vice) are indicative of more adventurous choices in her future.

Wild is now playing at the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Atom Egoyan, an inconsistent but sometimes brilliant director (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica), delivers his very worst film with Devil’s Knot. The film is a dramatic representation of the child murders that were the subject of four documentaries (the Paradise Lost films and the Peter Jackson-produced West of Memphis). Egoyan casts Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth in major roles, yet everybody seems lost in a film that feels truncated with no sense of direction.

The story of the three little boys murdered in Arkansas, and the resulting witch-hunt that resulted in the wrongful incarceration of three teenagers for two decades, is powerful. Even though the story has been told in the documentaries, it could be the subject of an amazing film. However, what Egoyan delivers is a standard courtroom drama, featuring a stilted, confused performance from Witherspoon as Pam Hobbs, mother of one of the murdered boys. Witherspoon’s approach to Hobbs is muted and dull. She captures none of Hobbs’ personality.

The casting of the West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr.) is uninspired, and the characters barely factor in the film. Instead, the movie spends most of its time with Firth as Ron Lax, a private investigator who doesn’t do much here other than act mildly appalled.

This film is a sad, tragic mess. The movie feels like a made-for-TV effort that the producers decided to make R-rated at the last minute.

Echols himself has publicly decried the movie. He couldn’t be more right about this one.

Devil’s Knot is available via various online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

It’s official: Jeff Nichols, who gave us the brilliant Take Shelter, is a writer/director who stands among the best of the current crop.

Matthew McConaughey plays the title character in this amazing film, Mud. He’s a chipped-toothed, wild-haired drifter living in a boat in a tree along the Mississippi. Two kids, Ellis and Neckbone (Tye Sheridan, of The Tree of Life, and Jacob Lofland) stumble upon him and become a part of his strange and dangerous world.

McConaughey is catching wave after wave of success lately, and this role is his best one yet. He makes Mud a little scary, yet charming and cunning. Sheridan and Lofland are terrific as the young friends who should probably stay away from guys living in boats in trees.

The cast also boasts Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard. All of them are equally great.

A lot of us wrote off McConaughey a couple of years back, especially after that Surfer, Dude movie in 2008. This movie caps an amazing comeback: He makes Mud into a memorable character who is equally heartbreaking and scary.

McConaughey is not done; he’s got a role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s looking like 2013 could be another banner year for the man.

As for Nichols, it’s time for the world to notice this director. He has incredible vision, and he makes movies that dent skulls (in a good way). I want a movie every day from this guy. Give me more Jeff … give me more now.

Special Features: A director’s commentary and some decent behind-the-scenes stuff.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

It’s official: Jeff Nichols, who gave us the brilliant Take Shelter, proves with Mud that he is a writer/director who stands among the best of them.

Matthew McConaughey plays the title character, a wild-haired drifter living in a boat in a tree along the Mississippi River. Two kids, Ellis (Tye Sheridan of The Tree of Life) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), stumble upon him, and become a part of his strange and dangerous world.

McConaughey is catching wave after successful wave lately, and this is his best performance yet. He makes Mud a little scary, yet charming and cunning. Sheridan and Lofland are terrific as the young friends who should probably stay away from guys living in boats in trees. The cast also boasts Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard; all of them are equally great.

Ladies and gentleman, we have the year’s first “excellent” movie. It sure took long enough.

Mud is now playing at the Century Theatres at the River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940); and opens Friday, May 3, at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565).

Published in Reviews