CVIndependent

Tue12012020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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

Let’s face it: The Dark Knight has been really living up to the word “dark” since Tim Burton’s Batman came out 28 years ago. He can certainly be a morose sourpuss.

Wait a minute … has it really been 28 years since Burton’s Batman came out? Holy crap! I just totally freaked myself out. Hang on … I need to catch my breath and gather my thoughts. It’s been nearly three freaking decades since Nicholson played The Joker? I need to drink five beers.

All right … OK, I am back. As I was saying, Batman has been a downer at the cinemas. Even when he wasn’t being quite so dour, he was just plain sucking in the Joel Schumacher Batman movies that started coming out 22 years ago.

Wait a minute … did Kilmer really do Batman more than two decades ago? I think I’m having a panic attack. I have to do the breathing-into-a-brown-bag trick … I’ll be right back.

OK, back. Granted, Batman is inherently dark by nature, being all orphaned and inspired by bats and dispatching vigilante justice at night and whatnot. But, hey, sometimes it’s good to have a laugh or two while watching the Caped Crusader do his thing, if only because some of us have a sweet spot for the time when Adam West played the character for laughs in the original Batman TV series, which went off the air 49 years ago. Wait … 49 years ago?

OK … seriously. I have to take a long break and contemplate my life before finishing this review. I’ll be back in the morning after a good cry and extended sleep.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, Batman. Batman’s a trooper all right, having survived the debacle that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. (Ben Affleck is a good Batman; his cinematic vehicle was not.) Thankfully, The LEGO Batman Movie is the great Batman story that Batman v Superman failed to be.

Even better, it has Will Arnett voicing Batman in a new, super-amped, yet dark incarnation that is surprisingly well-rounded. After all of these years watching dark (and sometimes brilliant) Batman movies, it’s nice to have a vehicle where we can just have fun with the character.

Director Chris McKay, along with a long list of writers, has come up with a story that will please adult Batman fans as much as kids. Arnett’s Batman not only faces off against the Joker (a very funny Zach Galifianakis), but he finds himself in a scenario in which he’s battling a smorgasbord of movie villains including King Kong, the Gremlins, Dracula, evil British robots and Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), to name just a few. It’s a nutty plot element that also allows for Batman mainstays like Bane, Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams, who voiced Harvey Dent in Burton’s Batman) and the Riddler (Conan O’Brien!) to get in on the act.

It’s a geek-fest—a movie-lover’s delight that has funny little trivia at nearly every turn, and an emotional center (Batman has family issues; the Joker longs to be hated) that gives the movie a surprising depth among the chaos.

Michael Cera and Ralph Fiennes bring good humor as Robin and Alfred, although Fiennes doesn’t voice Voldemort, which seems like a wasted opportunity: You had the real Voldemort on hand! It just seems like some money could’ve been saved. Oh, wait, maybe Fiennes actually costs more than Eddie Izzard, and Fiennes would’ve demanded full scale for two characters rather than one. OK … I’m distracted again.

The LEGO Batman Movie gives us a Batman tale that is a little brighter than those brooding Nolan films, and way better than last year’s Zack Snyder atrocity. It’s loaded with funny nods to the entire history of Batman, and fully functions as a standalone Bat story. May sequels abound!

(Writer’s addendum: After mentioning Adam West above, I was reminded that West and Burt Ward revisited Batman and Robin last year, voicing the characters in Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. I watched it, and it’s not as good as LEGO Batman, but still pretty cool!)

The LEGO Batman Movie is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

An amazing cast, led by Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, turn Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) into an instant classic—a film like no other.

Pulling out all of the technological stops, director and co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams) made this movie as if it were one seamless shot. The movie doesn’t happen in real time; it passes through locations, with hours and even days going by between the tricky transitions. For example, the camera will track forward from a hallway to a backstage area, and while mere seconds go by, 12 hours in the film’s world will pass. It’s extraordinary.

Keaton plays Riggan, an actor on his last legs. In his heyday, Riggan made millions as the title character in the superhero blockbuster Birdman and its sequels. At the height of his popularity, he walked away in hopes of finding more creatively fulfilling projects.

However, his other film pursuits have not panned out, and he finds himself in previews of a Broadway play—a stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver story that he is financing, directing and starring in. The stakes are high, and Riggan is showing signs of mentally coming apart.

When one of his actors takes a falling stage light to the head (in what may or may not have been an accident), Riggan casts hotshot actor Mike (Norton) in a crucial leading role beside him. Mike is certified box-office gold, and his addition should help make the play a hit. Problem is, Mike is also a method actor who uses real booze onstage, and isn’t afraid to break character and challenge Riggan before an audience.

The whole situation causes Riggan to take breaks from reality. He converses with his superhero alter ego (also played by Keaton), who is not at all pleased with the state of Riggan’s existence. The ego has taken some hits; the money has dried up; the place in which he currently resides “smells like balls.” Riggan has moments when he believes he may have telekinetic powers, but in reality, he’s probably just throwing crap around his dressing room.

The moments in which Keaton and Norton square off are most likely the best-acted scenes you will see in a movie this year. Obviously, Keaton’s role is semi-autobiographical, in that he was once Batman and ruler of the box office. Norton’s role seems to be somewhat based in his own history, in that he is a notorious perfectionist. These realities help make their clashes seem quite authentic, and even a little scary. You get a true sense that Keaton and Norton are really pissed at each another, and any punches thrown are the real thing. Both actors should be solid contenders in the Oscar race.

As Riggan’s rehabbing drug-addict daughter, Emma Stone makes her own bid for Oscar contention with her compelling, intense work. She has a speech in this movie in which she eviscerates Keaton’s character, and it’s a real stunner.

Zach Galifianakis has shown dramatic chops in the past, and as Riggan’s agent and lawyer, he again shows that he is far more than a laugh-getter. Also worth noting are Naomi Watts and Amy Ryan in small but important roles. This is basically the best cast of 2014.

The movie works on so many levels. It’s an intense drama, but it’s very funny and satiric. It’s also an interesting take on a man’s decent into insanity, while being a scathing indictment of celebrity. It’s even a pitch-perfect depiction of the rigors of putting on a play.

You have never seen anything like Birdman, and I doubt you will ever see anything like it again.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342), the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342) and the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

I had high hopes for The Hangover Part III, the conclusion to director Todd Phillips’ trilogy about a group of guys who get into a lot of R-rated trouble after ingesting bad stuff.

In retrospect, I feel like a major idiot for having such high hopes.

The Hangover franchise, as it turns out, should’ve never become a franchise at all. With the first film, Phillips and his gang of actors captured comedic magic when an awkward bearded man drugged his buddies at a bachelor party, which led to sordid acts including the kidnapping of Mike Tyson’s tiger.

The Hangover Part II was a carbon copy of that film, shipped from Las Vegas to Thailand. It had about 15 percent of the original’s laughs; however, it wasn’t a complete loss, even though it was a supreme disappointment.

Alas, Part III is total garbage, a film lacking any sense of purpose and woefully lacking in the laugh department. Phillips tries to make a completely different sort of film with his final chapter—and he succeeds, in that this movie has just one, or maybe two laughs.

It doesn’t even come off as a comedy. It’s crime thriller/kidnap movie—which is not a scenario we need to see the Wolfpack (Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms) going through.

The movie starts with a giraffe beheading that contains one of the film’s laughs. It then moves into an intervention, where Galifianakis’ Alan is told that he will be going away for a little while. Alan does some very awkward crying; I laughed a little more.

Then the boys hit the road … and the laughter stops cold, as if some sort of movie demon sprung from the ground and smacked the film over its head with a sledgehammer.

An evil crime lord (John Goodman) forces them off the road and introduces the moronic plot thread: the search for Mr. Chow, played by the increasingly annoying Ken Jeong. The trio embark on a search for Chow—and regrettably find him. This leads to some nonsense involving stolen gold, a return to Vegas for a cocaine party, and some surprisingly violent moments involving guns.

This Hangover film has a pretty big body count, and that’s not something I expect from a Hangover film. I expect people humping tigers or Helms’ Stu comically removing his pancreas with tweezers while on heroin.

There’s a sequence atop Caesars Palace in Vegas that looks cool, and Melissa McCarthy shows up in a not-altogether-terrible cameo. However, Galifianakis seems to be the only one really trying out of the trio, and most of his shtick falls flat here. Cooper still plays an OK straight man, while Helms seems lost.

Phillips makes the mistake of thinking we actually have some sort of sentimental connection to these characters. I like these actors a lot, but the characters themselves? I didn’t need three films full of them doing the same thing over and aver. Make another comedy, and cast these actors if you want, but do something new with them. The Hangover was a unique premise that should’ve been one film and out.

What started as a good idea got unnecessarily revisited, and then got pummeled into the ground until it became unrecognizable and ugly. The Hangover Part III is Hollywood greed at its worst, and has no redeeming value. But if you must go, stay for the credits and a sequence in which Phillips gets truly desperate and goes for last-ditch laughs that can’t save his crap movie.

The Hangover Part III is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews