REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time, the readapation of basically everyone’s favorite childhood book by Madeleine L’Engle, chronicles the adventure of young Meg Murray (Storm Reid), on a quest to find her father. In the process she unwilling becomes a warrior for the light against the evil of the universe. Calvin (Levi Miller) and her younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) accompany her, guided by three seriously peculiar goddesses/guardians/celestial beings. In truth, the whole adventure is simply a coming of age story for the relentlessly teased Meg. It came so close to being a fantastic film, but tried to combine too many ideas in the space of two hours. (spoilers below)

This film felt so ordinary. Protagonist goes on a journey of self discovery and learns to love themself, aided by a corny love interest and powerful guiding forces who do nothing but offer unhelpful advice. To be clear, I have no problem with self discovery journeys. I do have a problem when the film relies on tropes and fails to add anything new. I was waiting anxiously for some plot twist or great reveal that would bump the film up the extra step it needed to greatness… aaaand nothing happened. I’m pretty sure I predicted about 96% of the film accurately.

So, the second problem. I think part of the reason it felt so discombobulated was because there were really cool elements that had the potential to be really interesting, but were kept at surface level. For example, Meg’s father discovered the tesseract, a higher dimension (???) which enables people to teleport across the universe when they tap into the right frequency. And I have so many questions!! How did her father learn this? He’s been missing for four years, so why didn’t he just tesserate back? What even is this higher dimension?? I understand this is a fantasy/science fiction movie, so I’m already suspending a lot of belief. But, it can only go so far. Like, if I’m going to accept people can tesserate across the universe there better be flawless worldbuilding that backs it up.

A lot of the film felt progressive; major lines were dropped about accepting oneself both as a woman and/or a woman of color. Aspects of these deeper themes peeked out from the plot, but were then smothered by insanely corny lines and childish dialogue creating a push and pull between a more mature film to one aimed at little kids. (Literally, my friend and I were hard-core cringing half the film from second hand embarrassment). To be fair, the kids were splendid actors and the inclusion of Oprah was a definite bonus, but I wish the director had dug deeper and explained more. Director DuVernay had the right pieces in the puzzle but they didn’t stick together well.

Image: Disney

REVIEW: Thoroughbreds


From the opening scene to the final shot, Thoroughbreds is consistently off putting like yogurt you eat one day too late. Something isn’t right with these characters, any of them, who propel the plot forward with their antics. Scenes as mundane as a long walk in a hallway or a friend tutoring another friend become moments of high tension, not because there’s a killer on the loose, but because there isn’t. Suspense is not created through jump scares or off-screen suggestions, but by the slow way viewers have to watch these characters perform this strange and agonizing dance. This effect, though it is in part the brilliant actors, is largely the music and how the scenes are shot. We watch these scenes unfold like madmen, we are unable to step outside of the teenagers’ twisted vision. There is no avenue out of the insanity.

Though certainly not for everyone, the film is a refreshing, if uncomfortable, take on teenage amorality.  If you are at all interested in watching two girls crawl across suburbia’s secrets to the spilling of blood, then this is a movie you should watch.


There are two protagonists in this movie, Lily, the rich girl with a wicked stepfather, and Amanda, a “creepy” teenager who “feels nothing.” In contrast to the stoicness of Amanda, Lily is shown to be an emotional creature–she cries, gets angry, and panics almost every step of the way. Early on, it is revealed that Amanda is reviled in their suburb because she killed her own horse–but, later, when Amanda tells that story, she says she did it because the horse was injured and unable to walk, that though the deed was bloody, it was done out of mercy and necessity. It was, in other words, a moral decision. This is the approach Amanda takes to the murder of the stepdad: not something they should do because Lily hates him, but because it is “right.” For her cold and blunt attitude, and near-psychopathic levels of manipulation, Amanda is still a moral creature, perhaps not in spite of, but because of, her inability to feel. And at the end of the movie, it is Lily who murders her stepfather and frames Amanda for the crime (with Amanda’s permission because Lily convinces Amanda her life is not worth living–though she initially plotted to do it without telling Amanda). After committing this deed, Lily is shown sobbing in Amanda’s lap; although she cries (for either the murder or the betrayal she just committed–it is unclear) she still goes through with it, still betrays the friends who was just shown to have been willing to sacrifice her freedom for Lily. It is Amanda, numb to the world, who emerges at the end of this film as a martyr, and Lily, feeling every slight, who becomes the Judas.

Part of the reason this film has left many feeling uncomfortable is because it is partially an attack on emotions and a defense of traits we usually consider psychopathic. Our understanding of what makes us good or bad is being challenged and we should consider the points Thoroughbreds raises.

The movie will continue to play at the State Theatre. Student tickets are $8.

PREVIEW: Thoroughbreds

Do you enjoy teenagers plotting and committing violence? Rich kids with boarding school problems? Young adults who are unable to process or regulate emotions properly struggling with empathy and morality? Then Thoroughbreds is the movie for you. It’s received good (if confused) critical reviews and promises to be an intense tale of teenage apathy, friendship, and of course, violence. Playing now at the State Theater. Student tickets are $8.

REVIEW: Darkest Hour

The Oscars happened this past Sunday, prompting, as always, a great deal of praise, backlash, and warring responses. People have celebrated Jordan Peele’s screenwriting win for Get Out and argued Guillermo del Toro’s victories, with The Shape of Water taking Best Director and Best Picture. One of the most controversial wins seems to have been Best Actor, which was awarded to Gary Oldman of Darkest Hour.

Darkest Hour chronicles Winston Churchill during his appointment to, and very early days in, the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. During these early days, fellow politicians are relentlessly pressuring him to attempt to negotiate a peace treaty with Adolf Hitler, whose control is rapidly spreading across all of Western Europe. Churchill refuses to consider the idea of a peaceful resolution; in one particularly impactful and memorable scene, he shouts, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!”

The main plot that rides along with the conflict of the film is that of Dunkirk and Calais, where the last of the British army has been trapped by rapidly advancing German forces. This is interesting given that the movie Dunkirk was also released last year, which focuses entirely on the battles being waged while the high-tension conversations of Darkest Hour were taking place. Darkest Hour doesn’t entirely measure up to that level of excitement, for understandable reasons, but it does include quite a lot of impassioned arguing, quotable speeches, and shouting within small rooms. In other words, it’s true to form: It’s about Churchill.

The best thing about the film is probably Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill. He looks just like him (a feat which earned the film an Oscar win for Best Makeup and Hairstyling), and he offers what many have agreed to be one of the most convincing portrayals of his career. There are many conflicting sides to Churchill — he could be courteous and caring, but he could also be brusque and abrasive. During one memorable scene from the movie, Churchill is dining with King George VI, who tells him that many people — including the King himself — find him intimidating. Churchill seems surprised, but it’s not hard to see why people would be intimidating — as George points out, one can never be sure how Churchill will react to anything. Whether or not he deserved the Oscar for it (my opinion is no, but only because Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out was also in the running), Oldman is wildly impressive and convincing throughout.

The film has a few weak points, mostly in terms of its inclusion of women. The poster for the movie features two female characters — Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James as Clementine Churchill and Elizabeth Layton, respectfully — which seems promising at first glance. However, this proves to be somewhat misleading. Thomas and James offer very strong performances, but they aren’t given very much screen time to work with, and they seem somewhat incidental to the plot, especially in comparison with the many male characters.

Ultimately, the film is indeed a very strong period drama, and it succeeds in its twin missions of documenting an important moment in history and elucidating some of the mysterious facets of Churchill’s character. Given the immense strength of so many other films released last year, I personally think it lacks some originality in comparison. However, viewed independently, it is a strong piece of film and an enlightening character study of one of the major figures of the twentieth century.

REVIEW: Black Panther

All movies owe a debt to their predecessors. It is impossible to watch a film without noting the various influences that have inspired it. This is even truer for genre films which often share entire story structures, churning out movies that are indistinguishable from each other. Superhero flicks, especially, have been accused of blurring together into a colorful, entertaining, and infinitely duplicable pictures. Each superhero, no matter if he (and it’s almost always a ‘he’) can fly, lift cars with a single hand, or just run really, really fast, seems like the same combination of bravery and self-sacrifice. Iron Man may quip a little bit more often than his stoic counterpart, Captain America, but their stories are told in a similar fashion with the familiar notes of a origin story, a challenging villain, and ultimately, total victory. It is these notes that Black Panther manages to sidestep almost entirely in favor of depicting something new and inventive. In doing so, the film separates itself from other Marvel efforts in both its plot and imagery.

Although the audience is being introduced to Wakanda for the first time, for T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), this is a country and a culture that he has been immersed in his whole life. After his father’s death, he immediately begins assuming the proper rituals and customs that come with the ascendancy to both the throne and the title of the Black Panther. He has been raised to be a king and it shows in his carefully reserved grief, in his every deliberate movement. It is this quiet confidence and familiarity that infuses the movie with a sense of purpose. This is not a superhero in the making, someone slowly coming to terms with his powers. This is a man who was born into the responsibility. However, even though he may have always expected the throne, he perhaps never considered coming into power this early. And there are some challenges that Wakandan tradition cannot prepare him for, especially the centuries long isolation that has kept Wakanda’s technological advances secure. All these challenges are represented in the character of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

Killmonger is not the typically bland Marvel villain craving world domination or the vague concept of power. Instead, he is a deeply wounded human being who has seen the oppression regularly endured by Wakanda’s African brothers and sisters. The reality of this oppression is never far from the movie on the screen which regularly references slavery, colonialism, and the continuing racism that has ravaged the continent of Africa. The proposition of a country unaffected by all of this is an opportunity to explore what could have been and what is still at stake. Although movies, especially those in the superhero genre, are seen as an escape from the headlines displaying the latest tragedy, Black Panther actively chooses to engage in these issues through the frame of a fictional country. This is how the movie transcends the usual clichés and tropes. It is how it moves from interesting to compelling and impossible to ignore. The movie always treats it’s subjects and their decisions as crucial and impactful. None of their actions come without consequences. Even the world of Wakanda demonstrates this with everything from planes that flare their wings like hawks to soaring skyscrapers that arch and twist. Everything speaks to a defined history. Contrasting this careful treatment with other examples in the genre where death is defied at every turn and injuries are brushed off without explanation is like the difference between watching a Saturday morning cartoon and a documentary. Both are entertaining and may present value, but in radically different ways.

Of course, it helps that this vision is carried out with grace by Ryan Coogler and his cast. T’Challa fights alongside a team of strong characters, especially strong women. Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s younger sister, and Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of the king’s bodyguard, are particular standouts. Like Okoye, the movie is strong and emotionally complex. Like Shuri, it is unafraid to spit in the face of tradition and have a little fun. And like T’Challa, it is willing to examine the past and bring about a new future, not only for superhero films, but for all movies.

PREVIEW: Darkest Hour

The Oscars are almost upon us, and all the buzz surrounding recent movies is finally going to come to a head. Lady Bird turned heads last fall for its run as the best-reviewed film ever on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has proved both stunningly unexpected and stunningly controversial; and Call Me By Your Name has received praise for its intimate presentation of a 1980s gay romance in Italy.

One of the few Big Picture nominees that I actually haven’t heard that much about, surprisingly, is Darkest HourDarkest Hour stars Gary Oldman — a longtime seasoned actor, who may be recently remembered for his role as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter franchise — as Winston Churchill during his early days as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It promises to resemble both a character study of Churchill himself as well as a document of many of the political conversations behind World War II and the spread of Nazi Germany. This will be an interesting angle because one of the other big films this year, Dunkirk, portrays the other side of those conversations: the actual military conflict.

Darkest Hour looks to be a serious and impressive political drama, and I look forward to seeing whether it will live up to its peers. It is currently showing at the Quality 16 in Ann Arbor.