December 15, 2018

A Wrinkle In Time (2018)

Storm Reid, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey


Oh, Ava.

I wanted to like this movie. I wanted to love it. I love the book. Even years after I'd read it for the first time, it held up as an adult. In such a short book, Madeline L'Engle managed to capture the nerve-wracking insecurity of the tween years and complicated familial relationships while simultaneously whisking young readers into a world filled with magic--both good and evil. It is somehow both optimistic and at the same time, terribly dark and foreboding--something I appreciate in a story for kids.

Fast forward to the movie, which is styled like a Disney princess puked all over it. I don't know, maybe I'm just a cranky old lady now who doesn't want precious memories from my childhood being changed, but why oh why are the witches bedazzled and sparkled like Glinda on steroids? Don't get me wrong--they're beautiful. They're just not supposed to be. They're also not supposed to be young. So while I like both Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling as actors, I have no idea what either of them are doing in this movie. And while I don't necessarily object to Oprah (because she's been around long enough she can do pretty much whatever she wants), her character is never actually supposed to be seen, so...

But the styling choices are just the first of my many grievances. Is it the end of the world that they inexplicably made Charles Wallace an adoptee and old than the toddler he is in the book? Not really. Was it unnecessary to add Rowan Blanchard as a next door bully who then gets her own sympathetic backstory as a sort of PSA to tweens watching the movie? Yes, but not a dealbreaker. But cutting out the sequence of planets landed on, the nature of IT, Camzotz, and even the attempted rescue is unforgivable in favor of fabricated "action" to liven up the story is unforgivable.

Look, the story is pretty introspective. For a fantasy, not a lot happen, action-wise. Meg spends a lot of time in her head, and a lot of the bad stuff involves more insidious feelings than external evil. But in adapting that for the screen, we somehow lose the actual suspense or evil involved. For as bright and colorful everything is, the whole story lacks punch. Everything has been stripped back to a very blah, straight-forward search and rescue story with some magic sprinkled over it. It's boring, frankly.

When I read this story as a kid, I was terrified of IT. The book did a good job of making the setting dark and creepy, without the need for flashy fight scenes or theatrics. The mental game was suspenseful and the anguish real. This movie, in its rush to add pizzaz, glossed over everything that made the story great and instead made a somewhat boring, overblown children's movie that tried to be everything except what the actual story was.

Final word: It feels traitorous to say I didn't like this, but I didn't like it.

December 4, 2018

Paddington 2 (2018)

Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, et al


I never reviewed the first movie, though rest assured, I did watch it. It was honestly so baffling and not enjoyable that I didn't even bother writing about it. While I thoroughly enjoy skewering a bad movie, sometimes I can't even bring myself to do it because that means I have to spend time thinking about the movie to even write about it (see: John Carter).

So when the reviews for Paddington 2 came out, I was even more confused. People loved it? So much so that they were willing to rave about it? And Hugh Grant in particular? I was damn near convinced there was some kind of hypnosis happening at theaters across the globe, putting critics and audiences in some kind of trance.

But I have kids, so I knew I'd watch it eventually. Because no matter how terrible it seemed, it had to be better than sitting through one of those insipid Tinkerbell movies.

I'm sure you know where this is going...

I liked it. I can't believe it, but I liked it. It's still stupid and ridiculous and definitely baffling (especially the part about a simple b&e carrying a 10 year prison sentence), but somehow much more enjoyable this time around. It's simple in its joy of Paddington's goodness and hard lines it draws about selfishness and and unkindness. In terms of a kid's movie, it's uncomplicated and sweet. No snarky jokes made for the adults, no mouthy friends that say things you wish your kids wouldn't repeat--nothing but an animated bear and a clear villain.

Speaking of the villain...it is almost uncomfortable to recognize how good Hugh Grant is in this movie. I think we take him for granted as an actor because he is so good at playing a particular role that when we do notice his brilliance, it's almost awkward. The first time I noticed was in Florence Foster Jenkins. The second time was here. Maybe the less I expect of a movie, the more I appreciate him. 

At the end of the day, I understand why audiences were so charmed with this movie. I love a dark or funny or exciting children's movie, but sometimes we need a break to indulge in some good old-fashioned clean entertainment too.

Final word: Finally, a sequel better than the original!