Movie review: “A Wrinkle In Time”

“A Wrinkle In Time” is the kind of movie that drives people to fan fiction. Full of half-finished ideas, gestures at worlds, and characters missing the “why”, it nevertheless offers enough glimmers of brilliance to make the omissions really frustrating. Watching it feels like being hurried through the Louvre, at high speed, by an impatient tour guide. “Wait!” I wanted to cry. “I want to stare at Oprah’s magnificent dress! Can I get a closer look at what Mindy Kaling is sewing? What’s the deal with this eerily perfect kaleidoscope world, anyway?” The movie, however, had other plans: it wanted me to spend a long scene in a sterile white room, and multiple scenes watching CGI tendrils of black, rootlike “evil” multiplying across the universe, and even more scenes of Chris Pine, face obscured by floppy wings of hair, pretending to be an astrophysicist. I think I might prefer to explore this museum without a tour guide.

 

Unfortunately, the movie has other ideas. Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell have performed only a light update of the book’s plot, but seeing “A Wrinkle In Time” brought to life in dazzling high-definition CGI only hangs a lantern on everything that is cheesy and shallow about L’Engle, concealing all that is subtler, truer. I don’t remember much about reading “A Wrinkle In Time” as a child—“An Acceptable Time” was my personal L’Engle preference—but I remember being challenged by adult discussions that felt genuinely academic, by vocabulary that didn’t explain itself. Contrast that to the movie’s scientific breakthrough, in which Chris Pine sighs “The frequency is love! No wonder the United States ranks 35th in math.

 

The goofiness extends to the beloved character Meg (Storm Reid), as she is encouraged to become a “warrior” of light and love by the three Mrs Ws (Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon, in order of gravitas). As it turns out, the first step in becoming a warrior is loving and accepting your flaws, then learning to find balance in the “happy medium”. This bumper-sticker fare is fine if you need to be a warrior in your local hot yoga class, or in the parking lot at Whole Foods, but not so useful if you need to feed your family in the ninth month of post-hurricane blackout, or fight an insurance company for your survival, or shepherd your wife through Alzheimer’s. Real evil certainly exists, but comparing Meg to Ghandi, Mandela, and Marie Curie for having accepted her own impatience is not a convincing retort to it. It may resonate with the self-styled “prayer warriors” who convince themselves weekly that positivity and karma are substitutes for concrete action, but I’m pretty sure even Madeline L’Engle, in all her New Agey-ness, would have taken stock of the world in 2018—and grabbed a fucking shovel.

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Movie review: “The LEGO Batman Movie”

Three years ago, “The LEGO Movie” surprised everyone by being genuinely funny and heartfelt, with a tear-jerking final twist balanced like a lemon peel on the edge of the movie’s sugared rim. For many, the best part of the movie was a cameo appearance by Batman as a sullen, brooding tool who “only works in black—and very, very dark shades of grey”. Now, he’s been given his own movie in which to work out his issues, beatbox, and punch criminals, sometimes at the same time. This Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) is as spoiled and puddle-shallow as any trust-fund baby, but his life is echoingly empty, a condition beautifully illustrated by the sequence in which he comes home, heats up a Lobster Thermidor in the microwave, and eats it while floating on an inflatable donut in the center of an enormous, empty swimming pool. Being rich has never looked like so little fun. Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) tries to push Batman towards human contact, but the vigilante doesn’t work or play well with others: he regards civilians only as audiences, and the rest of the Justice League are avoiding him. Even his old nemesis, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), wants more from the relationship—try as he might, Batman can’t quite choke out the three little words every archenemy wants to hear (“I hate you.”)

The setup is solid, but the movie falters in the second act; newly minted city commissioner Barbara Jordan (voiced by Rosario Dawson), and beguiling orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) stumble into Batman’s life, but they don’t strike up much chemistry or fun with him, and the movie’s “found family” dynamic feels stilted. The Batman/Barbara Jordan relationship in particular never gels; we’re supposed to see growing mutual respect, but Batman alternates between treating Jordan as an inconvenient meddler and a sex object, while Jordan is stuck endlessly intoning concern. When, at the end of the movie, Batman refers to Jordan as his “totally platonic” coworker and friend, then tries to steal a kiss (only to be dropped on his ass), the awkward muddle feels emblematic of the entire relationship. As is so often the case, it falls to the villain to redeem things—parachuting back into the scene with an entire raft of Warner Brothers baddies (including Voldemort, King Kong, and Sauron), the Joker brings all the oxygen back into the movie in time for the climax, which registers as a burst of explosive, Simpsons-colored yellow whirling with pink and black bricks. As in the first movie, the actual building and disintegrating happens at a pace too fast to examine, which left me feeling a bit cheated; anyone with a LEGO piece or two buried in their couch cushion would want to see how such dazzlement fits together. But it’s hard to be peeved during a perfectly deployed Michael Jackson song, just as it’s hard not to walk out of the movie with a bounce in your step and a growl in your voice. “Always be yourself,” the meme goes, “Unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.”

There are worse things to be.