Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time

                               “They tumble blindly as they make their way 
                        across the universe”
                                                                      (from a Beatles’ song we’ll get back to later)

                                                           Review by Ken Burke
          Film critics debating the merits of A Wrinkle in Time
 My marvelous wife, Nina Kindblad, and I slipped away for a few days last week to the not-sunny-shores (overcast or rain most of the time, but desperately needed in here’s-comes-the-drought-again-California) where we did see elephant seals but no movies; upon our return we had time for just one easily-located-movie in exotic (we should be so lucky) Hayward, so here's the new review.
                       A Wrinkle in Time (Ava DuVernay)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Meg, a young teenager with great potential is miserable, taunted at school due to the strange disappearance of her astrophysicist father 4 years ago, but her trauma is soon turned into unexpected adventure as her genius younger brother introduces her to a strange woman who whisks them (along with Meg’s emerging boyfriend) to a distant planet where they meet 2 other supernatural women who help Meg rescue Dad, held captive on yet another distant planet by a force, the It, that seems to be evil personified (although only as an existence seemingly a cross between dark fog and a giant squid, or maybe a network of malevolent brain synapses).  The challenge for Meg is to overcome her reluctance to believe this is all happening, her fear of the dangerous unknown, and her self-depreciating-habits as the challenges mount.  The visuals on these strange worlds are stunning at some times, fascinating at others, but—despite the uplifting message driving this movie’s actionsit seems more of an encouragement to children than something for adults to easily flow along with, although the strong role of a biracial girl should be a positive inducement for younger viewers to appreciate this story, especially for children, tweens, and teens of color whose big-screen role models are tragically few.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: After a filmed welcome to the screening by director DuVernay we begin with the happy biracial Murry family, Black Mom Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)—a noted scientist in some important field (which I failed to note)—White Dad Alex (Chris Pine)—a noted astrophysicist working at NASA—13-year-old-daughter Meg (Storm Reid) with a strong interest in her father’s work, and adopted (roughly 5-year-old) son Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) a young genius who has a strong bond with his sister.  However, Meg’s bonds with her own sense of self have deteriorated badly over the last 4 years due to Dad’s sudden disappearance after he was laughed at by his colleagues for promoting the idea of travel through the universe simply by using mind control to link up with the wormholes he calls tesseracts (if you’re familiar with that term from Marvel's Avengers movies, I’ll get to the connection in our next section of this review).  The rest of the family clings to the hope he’s still alive but others assume he’s dead or in hiding in an attempt to give credence to his space-travel-theories. Meg’s especially troubled at school where she gets into constant tiffs with classmate/neighbor Veronica Kiley (Rowan Blanchard), often leading to parent-teacher-conferences about how to calm her negative, at times aggressive, attitude.  Charles Wallace finally provides the antidote for his troubled family by introducing Meg and her aspiring (boy)friend Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) to a spunky woman, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), who takes all 3 kids (using the “tesser” travel process) to planet Uriel to meet 2 more spirit guides twinkling with the power of light, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who talks only in quotes from other notables, and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), a very powerful being (naturally, considering who’s portraying her), often in 12-foot-tall-mode, who tell Meg her father accessed the tesseract, allowing astral travel (just as they do easily).

 However, Dr. Murry was captured by the It, an evil force attempting to swallow up the entire universe into “its” forceful domination (with some inroads already made to Earth bringing jealousy, pain, despair, anger all of which lead to fear, rage, violence, thereby requiring the need for various positive-thinking-warriors to rise up against the influence of such drastic darkness).  All 3 of these spirit guides seem to be familiar with Charles Wallace but have reservations about Meg because she displays so many self-doubts and reservations about all these mysterious, fantastic revelations.

 After some lovely visual scenes on Uriel with colorful talking flowers and Mrs. Whatsit transforming into a huge flying leaf with a plant-like-head, our group encounters The Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis)—who’s not very happy but instead issues dire warnings before revealing Alex Murry’s a captive on planet Camazotz, completely controlled by It.  With Mrs. Which convinced Meg’s now on the road to better self-esteem, they all head off to the next far-away-planet but upon arriving the sprit guides find their power weakening because of the massive presence of evil so they must leave, after each gives a useful gift to Meg who now needs to become the warrior destined to free her father.  As the environment itself starts attacking the kids, Meg calls on her knowledge of physics to use a tree trunk to catapult herself and Calvin over a huge protective wall where Charles Wallace somehow already awaits them.  Next they find houses on a cul-de-sac where singular children from each dwelling bounce large red balls in unison (very disturbing), but when Meg refuses to be taken in by one of the equally-rigid-mothers the entire situation changes to a crowded beach where talkative Red (Michael Peña) says he’ll lead them to Dr. Murry but instead takes command of Charles Wallace who turns against the 2 teens.  ⇒They escape, Meg uses some of her gifts to find Dad, but as he’s able to conjure up a tesseract connection (seemingly freed of It’s hold on him by Meg’s determination) she insists on staying behind to redeem her brother, so Alex and Calvin are whisked back to Earth, leaving Meg to confront Charles Wallace and the multi-tentacled-fog-monster (voiced by David Oyelowo) which she finally conquers after being battered around by both of them (and rejecting their offer of going home as a more confident, popular, traditionally-attractive teen, firmly embracing herself, faults and all) by constantly stating her unquestioned love for her brother, which breaks the spell followed by a tesser ride back home.  There all is made whole with the parents reunited, the siblings reconnected, Calvin as a romantic interest (after he straightens out things with his abusive father), and even Veronica now in friendship mode from her next-door-upper-floor-window.⇐ (There’s a bit more complexity in the book from which this was adapted but most of that story’s still followed here—except for the sense of this being an overtly Christian story.)

So What? As a 70-year-old-guy who was an only child growing up, never had kids of my own nor had any experience seeing movies with kids I’m extended-family-related-to, I face a bit of a quandary when trying to evaluate something like A Wrinkle … intended either for children (in that a major character, Charles Wallace, is very young in the midst of a story with simple conflicts and encouragements easily understood by viewers like him—although it’s been so long since I saw movies at around that age [mostly 1950s Disney animated features] I hardly have any memory of how they impacted me) or young teens (in that the primary character, Meg, is dealing with the various insecurities and emotional outbursts common to her age—my memory’s a bit better about my own teenage years in 1960s moviehouses but only that these were the waning days of the Hays Code era so everything was still at what we’d now call the G or PG level, with nothing I recall seeing truly aimed at my age group*) or as a family film (intended as something with content appropriate for youngsters but still engaging enough for their parents to watch, then maybe have conversations about later—as noted above, that’s never been my experience) because I feel I might totally be missing something valuable for such audiences when I find little to relate to within such a cinematic encounter (I also have no connection with the original book by Madeleine L’Engle (1962), despite it apparently being a near-universal-experience for a few generations of children).  Therefore, all I can do is evaluate filmic elements relative to plot intrigue, character development, filmic proficiency, and—if the theater’s full enough—audience response.  Given that, I wasn’t all that moved by A … Time.

*Of course there were such options back then as in the Gidget (original starring Sandra Dee and James Darren, directed by Paul Wendkos [1959]) and Beach Party (original starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, directed by William Ashter [1963])  movies, neither series appealing to me because even as a teenager I found such superficiality unappealing to my almost-non-existent-budget-resources while something I’d prefer to pay for, perfect for that time in my life—A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964)—was also unacceptable because I wanted to hear The Beatles rather than girls in the audience screaming so loud you could hear them on the sidewalk outside the theater (true story), so what I did see in my high-school-years were mostly adult-oriented-narratives.

 Admittedly, the messages of being true to yourself despite what others think of you, holding on to your dreams even when they seem hopeless, embracing the power of decency (light) over cruelty (darkness) are uplifting for viewers of any age (or should be, although I’m doubtful the current powerbrokers in the White House inner-circle have much understanding of such positive attitudes except where enhancing their own wealth is concerned), but, as presented, the life-affirming-lessons to be learned come across as so simplistic (parallel of Dad being laughed at by NASA colleagues for promoting the idea of space travel via mind control to daughter being laughed at in school for also being a non-conformist; tesseracts can be activated simply by somehow getting in sync with the proper frequency as if they’re stations on a radio dial; ⇒Meg able to overcome the powerful darkness of the cruel It simply by repeating her love for her little brother; nasty Veronica immediately won over by Meg just waving nicely at her)⇐ that I can only hope younger viewers will be impressed by them, take them to heart, rather than dismissing such relatively-easy-triumphs as not being appropriate to their likely-troubled-lives (show me a child—even First Son Barron Trump—who doesn’t somehow have aspects of a troubled life and I’ll show you a kid who’s some sort of humanoid robot [but even those creatures can face their own miseries, as evidenced by the unfulfilled-childish-needs seen of little David in A.I. Artificial Intelligence {Steven Spielberg, 2001}]*).

*I’ve never published a standard review of this sweet-but-disturbing-film, but if you’re willing to plow through a lengthy academic article about it, go here then scroll down to “Cinema 2001: Despite Hobbits, Hallucinations, and Artificial Sweeteners Kubrick Re-Emerges” for a big download.

 However, given the use of the tesseract device for extended-space-travel (also a component of L’Engle’s book, as well as being the mathematical concept of a 4-D cube) I can’t help but think of the similar cosmic device, the Infinity Stone called the Tesseract housed in a Cosmic Cube, which has played a prominent role in opening portals throughout the universe (along with other stunning powers) in several of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies (as best I can tell via Internet research this fictional concept originated with L’Engle, so maybe the Marvel writers took it from her) which forces me to admit the highly-successful-Marvel-Avengers series is nothing but a more-aggressive-version of the good vs. evil theme of A Wrinkle … using adult superheroes (with amazing muscles or bosoms as the case may be) rather than a thin adolescent girl as the appointed warriors, with a major confrontation on the horizon involving a couple dozen combatants vs. the monstrous Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony and Joe Russo, set for release April 27, 2018) with those Infinity Stones as a key element in this gigantic battle (if you want to read an extended preview, see Entertainment Weekly’s March 16/23, 2018 issue, pp. 46-87 or go here [if you have an EW subscription] for the digital version [at this site you’ll probably have to click on this cover, then page through the issue with the right-side-arrow]).  So, if I’m going to buy into all of these superhero contests (which I have up until now, except for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 [James Gunn, 2017]—to which I took a Gidget Goes Hawaiian [Wendkos, 1961]-style-pass) then I guess I should be more accepting of the storyline/characters of ... Time, but what has consistency ever gotten me so far?

 I admit there’s something inspiring about having notable humans (including a long list of which Nelson Mandela’s the only one I can recall) cited by the Mmes. (there's no common plural for “Mrs.” in English, only the abbreviation for the French “Mesdames”) spirit guides as previous Earthly warriors against the power of darkness, but I still find this movie a bit sentimental for my tastes, although I realize I’m not the ideal target audience.  It certainly played a lot better with Nina who finally got more of the spiritual uplift she’d hoped to find in Black Panther (Ryan Coogler; review in our February 22, 2018 posting), hoping for more about Wakandan cultural accomplishments as an inspiration for the rest of our troubled world (I’ll note she’s more optimistic than I often am about hope for betterment of our species) rather than just the constant battles for supremacy that characterize these superhero movies (although, despite the many battle scenes, she’s a lot more satisfied with Wonder Woman [Patty Jenkins, 2017; review in our June 8, 2017 posting] given Princess Diana’s fundamental opposition to war and so many other failures in our human decisions).

Bottom Line Final Comments: I’m certainly not the only film critic to distance myself from fully embracing this movie, as it’s pulled in a very-lowly-consensus-response, with a mere 42% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes (of 179—their audience score’s even lower at 36%*; oddly enough even one of those reviews listed as being positive, by James Berardinelli, reads as very negative to me so I, along with many film company executives, continue to wonder how the “fresh” and “rotten” designations are chosen at this site [maybe they put Berardinelli’s in the fresh basket because he gave it 2½ of 4 stars but little he says connotes a positive response except for the acting of Reid praised by many others as wellPine, and Mbatha-Raw]) while Metacritic’s writers offer an average score of 52% (based on 47 reviews, a reasonable number for them although with a higher total—lackluster as it may be—than RT, not a usual result).  Director DuVernay blames these negative critiques on most reviewers being White, not understanding what she’s trying to accomplish here with the differences (I assume, with my knowledge of L’Engle’s book based only on summaries) she brings by making Meg biracial as well as adding diversity to the Mmes.’s identities (DuVernay cites Meg’s dismissal of Calvin’s compliments about her hair as an example of critics’ overlooked aspect of a Black woman’s constant concerns about hair texture and identity), but whether this rejection of critical responses is valid or not, audiences were certainly responsive at the box-office last weekend contributing to a worldwide-debut-income of $41.9 million ($35.8 million from domestic [U.S.-Canada] theaters), although that still leaves an ongoing challenge to make up for the roughly $100 million budget (a possible contribution to DuVernay’s concerns, given she’s the singular female director of color entrusted with such a substantial investment of financial support).  

*Other audience surveys resulted in significantly higher scores.

  A Wrinkle ...'s significant ticket sales still couldn’t top Black Panther, though, which retains its title as #1 in the current domestic box-office results (another $40.8 million last weekend pushing it up to #7 on the Domestic All-Time list [$565.7 million], #20 on the Worldwide All-Time list [$1.1 billion], after a mere 4 weeks in release) which must be keeping the Disney (distributors of both, production source for … Time) accountants delirious with joy, just as it helps verify the financial-veracity of putting Black directors at the helm of big-ticket-mainstream-movies, a situation severely lacking in previous Hollywood history (the same holding true for a dearth of female directors of massive-cinematic-enterprises, another hindrance to true progress in moviemaking-diversity also challenged by the financial impact of Wonder Woman, now #22 on the Domestic All-Time list [$412.6 million], #67 on the Worldwide All-Time list [$821.8 million]; highest total ever for a woman director on both tallies).  Whether A Wrinkle in Time will continue to pull in such big bucks remains to be seen, but even if it begins to falter (due to tepid critical—or more importantly, audience—response) it’s still made significant achievements in establishing a young biracial girl as a successful protagonist against a powerful adversary, showing biracial romances are viable at both the adult and adolescent level, noting an adopted child can be a further enhancement to an already-stable-family (except for the 4 years Dad was trapped on Camazotz), and a typical school can feature references to James Baldwin and Maya Angelou in its hallways without emphasizing the context of Black History Month.

 Most importantly we see the light of goodness has a reasonable chance to overcome the dark gloom of soul-crushing-evil (As some might consider the tight election victory of Democrat Conor Lamb in a Pennsylvania Republican district, but I wouldn’t want to embed political opinion into a movie review now would I?), with all these depictions as life-affirming-messages even if the whole experience still feels too much to me like an illustrated children’s book to be considered a significant entry in the annals of memorable movies (although that may not be a problem for other viewers, depending on what you’d like to experience in A Wrinkle … regarding soul-healing during a time of great divisiveness in our many national cultures on a global scale).  As Dad Murry notes to Meg before he disappears: “Love is always there, even if you don’t feel it.  It’s always there for you.”

 To wrap up this review on a likewise upbeat note as well as to recognize the importance of those tesseract-aided-trips through the cosmos I’ll offer my standard conclusion of a Musical Metaphor, this time from the departed-but-not-forgotten-cosmic-consciousness of John Lennon with The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” (from their 1970 Let It Be album) at watch?v=R_ApBrVJD48 (enhanced with outer-space-imagery, subtitled lyrics in both English and Spanish to be intercultural while also being interplanetary)—or if you’d prefer to hear this song but see some aspect of the musicians here’s another version with footage of the Fab Four during their Transcendental Meditation journey to India (late 1967-early 1968, when this song was written) or maybe you'd like yet another option offering a 2016 remix of the song with appropriate ethereal imagery (seemingly supplied by NASA), as I fill up this posting’s Metaphor section to compensate for giving you only one review this time.  Lennon’s almost-chanted-song notes the “Pools of sorrow, waves of joy” in conflict throughout A Wrinkle in Time as both Meg and Charles Wallace must struggle against their versions of “Words [… that] slither wildly […] Images of broken light […] Thoughts [… which] meander like a restless wind [… before being resolved in] Sounds of laughter, shades of life […] Limitless undying love which shines around [all these characters] like a million suns [… with the assurance of these positive discoveries that] Nothing’s going to change [their improved] world.”  (The “Jai Guru Deva, Om” line refers to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s spiritual teacher, Guru Dev; the literal translation is something like “Glory to the shining remover of darkness,” a very appropriate note for … Time).  Now it’s time for me to go somewhere across the universe myself (to the Englander Pub, San Leandro, CA) until next our cosmic paths may intersect.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2017’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, March 4, 2018 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2017 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2017 along with the Oscar nominees and winners for 2017 films.

Here’s more information about A Wrinkle in Time: (1:45 anatomy of a scene with director Ana DuVernay)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 77,972 (not only my All-Time high but about 8,000 more than the previous high—my great thanks to all you readers worldwide, particularly the recent great numbers in the United Kingdom and France); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (although the irony continues that I compose these blogs on Safari because I work on a Mac yet my biggest audience sees them on Firefox where they're notably sloppy compared to their appearance on either Safari or Chrome [the only Web browsers I ever see] but thanks for reading just the same):

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