A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

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Universe travelling and diverse storytelling are on show in Ava DuVernay’s big budget Disney film, but the grand visual pleasantries to look at don’t override the ambitious scope and its ineffectual handling of the subtext.

Distracted and struggling student Meg Murry (Storm Reid) misses her father, after he randomly disappeared four years ago. Dr. Murry (Chris Pine) was a brilliant scientist and had possibly cracked the notion of teleportation and our existence. One day, three powerful travellers of the universe appear and take Meg, her brother and a school friend to Uriel in the hope of finding Dr. Murry.

I’ll begin with the positives because there’s a lot of negatives I wish to cover. Firstly, the visuals are splendidly colourful and some of the landscapes the characters visit, are lush and rife with stunning cinematography that looks great on the big screen. I liked or perhaps appreciate the bold ideas stemming from the 1962 novel; these themes of family, spreading love and ridding hate are nice enough and espicially with the state of things currently, I found those ideals hold up well but they did feel forced and/or twee. A sequence on a beach with Michael Pena was pretty good with the most tension I absorbed but, alas it was short-lived.

The main issue, I feel, is that the movie never seems sure of what it’s projecting and it heavily flits between moments of science mumbo jumbo that most children wouldn’t grasp and saccharine annoyance that adults will tire of. It’s as if the writers and director were trying to mix childhood fantasy with profound statements on life and love together, which never succeeds, sadly.

Attempts at humour fall massively flat and again feel forced, costume and make up on display from the three astral beings are impressive but they change without reason anytime they shift location, like the movie is shooting for an Oscar nod for Costume Design and Make Up and Hairstyling next year. Meg’s adoptive brother Charles Wallace is mega annoying plus the fact they can’t ever just say Charles becomes grating. CGI in places is less than inspired and wholly distracting in a cheap way, which is odd considering the nine figure budget behind this production.

Generally, I was never by hooked any of the film. Scenes that were obviously going for tension never felt like they were raising stakes. Even with the dramatic altering of the sibling relationship, I still felt bored with the story. I for sure lost my patience fairly early on with this movie which is a shame because there could have been something very special and triumphant about it all, instead of the restrained, sickly sweet and messy feature it turns out to be.

Reid is by and large another one of the only other positives I got from this film, she’s a powerful performer with an evident understanding of this hard subject material and how to portray Meg as a difficult, somewhat stubborn but loving and brave character. Oprah Winfrey delivers messages of hope, light and typical Disney fortune cookie tid-bits in a way that stirs quite nicely. Reese Witherspoon plays Mrs Whatsit, someone without much tact and still learning, she showcases that well but is another annoying factor, as is the performance from Deric McCabe as Charles. Just Charles. Mindy Kaling plays Mrs Who, but is all but pointless in a turn that mainly has her spouting quotes from scholars, playwrights and Chris Rock. Levi Miller is Meg’s friend Calvin who is extremely pointless and I never understood why he was there.

This is a Disney dud that I’ll try and forget in a hurry. There’s only tiny wrinkles in the run-time that kept me engaged but the majority is frustratingly bad.

4.5/10

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Hot Pursuit (2015)

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What could have been a good platform to highlight the power of women in film and utilise on an odd couple pair up, this film kicks that to the curb and instead uses slapstick, predictability and general minimal laughs to stitch a half-arsed film together.

Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) grows up adoring her cop father and getting acclimatized to police activity, so it’s no surprise she becomes a member of the force though little more than a glorified secretary Cooper lands her big chance when escorting a witness’ wife to Dallas. Danielle Riva (Sofia Vergara) is a challenge for Cooper though and getting her safely to the courthouse becomes fraught with hurdles.

Let’s just put it out there from the get go, this film isn’t awful, stinking or rotten. It’s watchable and that’s perhaps as good as it can get. It never made me laugh out loud or even chuckle that much, perhaps apart from the running gag of their ages/height or the women’s problems scenario in the back of a cop car but these are hardly genius breakthroughs in comedy. It’s a weak script to start with, all these sort of testifying/police/criminal chase movies are obvious and the ‘twists’ in the film don’t really feel as such.

Anne Fletcher directs as most buddy road trip movies look, it’s not stylish but generic. So it might not stand out but it at least looks like the genre of film it is. It could have had more flair, the action moments could have been stepped up and that seriously may have helped the film out a tad. I think I’m let down with Fletcher because I’ve found out she’s on course to direct ‘Enchanted 2’ and after this and her other films I’m worried because I do love the first ‘Enchanted’!

There aren’t many ballsy moments or engaging sequences, a love interest is thrown into the mix about two thirds of the way in and a final stand off is as for from being tense as Mickey Mouse jollily whistling on his steamboat. Unless you find that old cartoon tense then please forgive me. I never saw ‘The Heat’ but from friends and reviews it seemed that it was a film that got the female dynamics right, got action and comedy in perfect unison and now I want to watch it just to see how a good police odd couple style movie should be.

Reese Witherspoon bombs from brave and broken in ‘Wild’ to this slack jawed yokel routine as obsessive police woman Cooper. From quoting police codes to failing hard at her job she plays the role well with that Texas twang aiding some resemblance of humour but it’s a poor character with nothing to get her talented teeth into. Sofia Vergara is a genuinely funny lady but is shafted with more of her expected screechy materialistic fodder becoming Gloria 2.0 in this story. Even where her arc goes cannot save Vergara from the pigeonhole she’s become wedged in.

It’s not truly an odd couple movie because Cooper and Danielle don’t hold any chemistry, it appears blandly right at the end of the movie and can’t save the flatness we’ve already witnessed. A quick pace is what keeps the film ticking along nicely but sadly it’s maybe a film that shouldn’t be ticking along at all.

3.5/10

Wild (2015)

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Moving and powerful in it’s tale of self discovery, the back and forth narrative, Witherspoon’s committed and frankly shining turn as the central character along with lush settings, pickings of humour and an inspired connection to the trek make ‘Wild’ more than what I was honestly expecting.

Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) decides to walk the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 in light of a family loss and self abuse to her person. In the loneliest time of her life faced with crippling cold and sweltering heat Strayed comes to face a triumphant growth in trekking this trail.

Yves Belanger’s cinematography is awe inspiring. Beautiful can not cover how well the landscapes of this specific trail are captured. Valleys, mountains and rivers seem to peacefully arrive into the film, their astounding nature impressing to the eye and looking like a gorgeous still from a travel brochure. Seeing these shots and then having the contrasts of arid desert conditions and also snowy surroundings just lets you see how brutally differing our planet can be and this lone woman amongst it is a powerful image to mull over.

Jean-Marc Vallee utilises a multi-linear plot for this film and it works really well. I was dreading a film sticking in order and merely following Reese wander her journey but the flashes to her past and speeding in through certain dramatic montage moments is brilliantly effective and lifts the film, also adding an atmospheric and stylistic aura to the feature. Including the voice over of Witherspoon as Strayed is another neat idea and connects us to her thoughts and being without being overly forceful or annoying. This also sheds light on the funnier aspects of the film as Cheryl realises what she’s getting herself in for.

The back and forth isn’t jumpy but it works in benefit to the story. There’s a feeling of her past blasting in as if we’re flicking through her diary to get a better read on who she is and what led her to walking this long long trail. They flip by from time to time giving us brief glimpses to a moment of her life in a hotel room or as a child in her mum’s kitchen. It’s nice for it to keep coming back and expanding on these visions but not all in one go as that would be dull, so applause for this stylish manner of presenting Cheryl’s story.

‘Wild’ doesn’t have a score or musical composer to its name and instead plays on songs already made to fit in with the film. It perhaps would have been nice to have some instrumental made for the movie to accompany her walks in some scenes but the heavy quality lying with Simon and Garfunkel isn’t exactly a negative choice. El Condor Pasa (If I Could) wafts in over and over in a pleasant way, the echoes of the folk duo being hypnotic and the vibrations of the song providing calm and serenity on this sacred trail. This track and Homeward Bound play big parts in relating to Cheryl’s home and mother and give deeper impact to the present as she walks on. Jerry Garcia gets a tribute and is quite moving if not slightly twee in having the boy meet girl moment but then it’s an apt sound for a new step in Cheryl’s life.

Reese Witherspoon is a sheer delight and carries not only a massive backpack but the weight of the film as we follow her from start to finish and come to understand who she is. If Witherspoon hadn’t got that right then we wouldn’t care but we do and through Cheryl’s harder times we too believe this trail is a necessary option to put her back on the correct course. She’s utterly wonderful and I couldn’t think of someone else who could have stepped into those too small boots. Laura Dern arrives with that sunshine smile as the caring and every happy mum and to counter this she also portrays the frailer worried side in light of her illness. Dern’s image floats in now and then as a haunting symbol, a reminder and a friendly push and it all looks the part.

Vallee sure knows how to direct real life stories with oomph and get his stars award attention. There’s enough within this film to entice and engage, with steps in all the right directions as Witherspoon strides in her finest hour for a stunning, powerful and enlightening account in overcoming grief.

7.5/10

Inherent Vice (2015)

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The great thing about this film is that it’s made me want to go out and get Thomas Pynchon’s novel to read how his style may or may not vary in comparison to this concoction of comedy, hallucinogenic surroundings in an ever maddening spiral of crime and marijuana.

I can’t really condense the plot as it is long and dense but try I must. It’s 1970 and Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is visited one night by ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), who tells him Mickey Wolfmann’s (Eric Roberts) wife and lover are planning to send him to the looney bin. As Doc tries to find Mickey and then Shasta he keeps running into hard edged cop Christian ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) who plays his own game in the world leaving Doc to uncover returning dead folk, FBI houses and some eerie Golden Fang group.

That could possibly be the worst plot summary for the last cinema watch of January but I gave it a shot. As gathered hopefully, you may realise this story has a hell of a lot going on and watching it unfold does get confusing at times. Not so much in the narrative just in keeping up with consequences and names and the like. This is why I want to go out and read the source material to try and wrap my head around it further. That’s credit due to Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay which has enticed me to Pynchon’s way and the story, however complex is an entertaining journey to push through.

Anderson directs with his expected touch, the long running time letting characters explode into believable life, settings and scenarios getting room to unwind and breathe. Happily after a couple of heavier dramatic outings, this feature is lighter, breezier and funny. The trailer jumped out at me from first viewing and it came with a Coen Brothers quirkiness that intrigued me and though the full movie isn’t as in running with that mode, it is subtly funny throughout and a few audible chuckles make their way into the open at downright odd moments that happen.

One of the strongest aspects has to be found in the costuming and general look of the film. The production crew and all hands coming together to craft clothes and decor must be heftily patted on the back for making this film look amazing and 100% feel the part. The fun to be had at seeing how Doc changes his mould from sloucher hippy with straw hat to smoothed suit and tie is a warm leap, the comedy of him even changing hair styles to fit in his P.I lifestyle makes the cinema trip worthwhile.

The voice-over decision works well too I must say, adding a neat zany touch as it interrupts from time to time between sentences of dialogue alluding to how Doc is then feeling. The narration by Joanna Newsom is just so right for the part and sounds quite blase in her delivery that it provides another eccentric layer to proceedings.

Joaquin Phoenix is a huge delight and the blank eyed stare he gives in either confusion at madness occurring in front of him or his influence under drugs helps make Doc that much better to like. You root for him and even in his quite childish way, he’s smart and loving and you want him to succeed, the past flame is a hurt in his life and Phoenix makes that clear without forcing it down our throats. Katherine Waterston has been in a few films, but I think this appearance will be the big curtain opener for people as she’s flawed but relatable and you buy into hers and Doc’s relationship. Josh Brolin is gruff and hulky as the big bad cop though as it goes on you see how much Brolin looks like he’s having fun with his character, smashing on doors and ordering morto panecako (or however it’s spelt!) Owen Wilson is nice guy done wrong trying to do right and crops up again and again in a shady role as he attempts to get back home, the huskier frat boy role is gone and a maturer Wilson emerges. Jena Malone gets a short scene, though it’s easily one of the funniest as pictures are shared and fake teeth are bared. Everyone in this film is downright terrific and make their characters thrive.

The story as mentioned is convoluted and it could be deemed as a big problem of the movie, but try to look past it as it’s a really well made film however hard the plot may be to keep up with. Not inherently easy to grip or overly hilarious but just the right amount of funny and creative puffs from Anderson’s directorial joint maintains intrigue in this strange free loving 70’s film.

6/10