A Wrinkle in Time Review: A Wrinkled Mess

Seeing as Disney didn’t get the memo sent by the writers of Tomorrowland, that when you write a film that’s too universally idealistic and preachy it loses any sense of realism to viewers, they made the same mistake again. This time with the fantasy/adventure movie A Wrinkle in Time.

The film stars Storm Reid as Meg Murry, a self-conscious young girl whose scientist dad (Chris Pine) went missing four years ago (after all, it is a Disney movie, at least one parent must be gone or dead). Her father had been working on something called the tesseract (no he’s not an Avenger) that allows you to travel through space and time. And through a string of events I still don’t fully understand, Meg meets three astral travelers (played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling) who inform her that her father is alive and needs her help on a distant planet. Meg then goes with the three travelers on a journey of a lifetime to save her father and bring him home.

Sadly for A Wrinkle in Time, the only halfway decent performance came from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who was barely even in the movie. Everyone else was either mugging for the camera or just acted too ridiculous to take seriously. I refuse to believe the actors and actresses are solely to blame, as the writing hardly served as a platform to work off. Most of these characters didn’t have defined personalities or motivations, and some didn’t have any reason being in the film at all.

Aside from the main cast, characters seemed to drop in and out of the film haphazardly, with no driving force moving the plot forward. Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace is who introduces us to the three traveling Mrs., yet it’s never explained how he knows who they are or where he met them in the first place. And while information like this is pertinent to convey to the audience, they choose to instead spell out the obvious with on the nose backstory’s that we already understood.

Even the special effects, which are usually showcased in these kinds of fantasy/adventure movies, were subdued and hidden. It was as if they were so embarrassed of the end product that they purposely held back on the FX when they stitched the film together in post. Moments that should’ve been visually awe-inspiring and magical were incredibly lackluster and unconvincing.

One of A Wrinkle in Times many morals it tries to convince the audience is that your flaws and imperfections make you who you are, and that everyone has their faults. A good, genuine message for kids. However, the protagonist Meg is written too perfectly and altruistically to the point where she has no real character flaws herself. All this making her an impossible person to relate to.

The other messages have the same effect. You create this oversimplified world where all the woes of humanity are boiled down into this one evil entity. It goes so overboard in so many ways that I couldn’t take any of it seriously. I think kids would appreciate a simpler, well thought out message (like the one about self-esteem and self-efficacy) over some ham-fisted hippie morals.

I can’t really tell whether A Wrinkle in Time’s themes were incompetently well intentioned or hippy-dippy propaganda meant to manipulate kids rather than inspire them. Regardless of the intent, the film was a boring mess of half-baked ideas and lamely written characters. I’d like to conclude this review with a little quote of my own for Mrs. Who to use:

“This movie sucks.”

-Zachary Flint, American

The Verdict: D-

The Strangers: Prey at Night Review

The Strangers: Prey at Night is an earnest attempt to make a fun and effective horror flick, unlike many cheap studio products of our time. Sadly this genuine attempt at scares is thwarted many a time by the lack of understanding of how to successfully craft a movie.

You know the story. A family wrapped in turmoil is trapped in an isolated trailer park with three masked individuals hunting them down just for the thrill of it. The family proceeds to fight for their lives for approximately one hour, all of this resulting in a deadly bloodbath.

The cast was well-picked and gave strong performances all around, despite portraying the stereotype characters that audiences stopped caring about years ago. And of its precious eighty-five minute runtime, the film spends an incredible amount of time developing these characters. While characterization scenes like this are often throwaways for scary movies, here it’s refreshingly purposeful.

Many scenes within The Strangers served no purpose whatsoever, and many shots lingered for way too long on nothing of importance. Instead of being intense and scary, it was more a scattershot of scenes that were either too fast-paced or excruciatingly slow.

Not helping The Strangers odd situation was its soundtrack, which was the very definition of a hot mess. Using a mixture of 80’s hits and original score, the music was so bombastic and in your face that it kills any sort of mood or style that the film was trying to establish. The opening title card has this very eerie music and tone to it that I found intriguing, but then the film cuts to a suburban family packing up their belongings to go on a trip and yet continues playing that creepy music. Where’s the consistency? What sense does that make? And this isn’t just a minor forgettable instance, as the film is full of these inconsistencies. Almost every scene where a person is killed or stabbed has an upbeat tune playing loudly in the background, which was so on the nose it became off-putting. The upbeat music contrasts with the frightening imagery, we get it.

The Strangers still leaves us on a strong note, going the extra mile into territories of excess and outrageousness, including a rather strange nod towards The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the end. It certainly off-sets the preestablished “realism” the film had, but nonetheless it was still one of the more exciting bits it had to offer.

The Strangers: Prey at Night is the most frustrating kind of film, one that has lots of misguided potential. It wants to be a slow-moving, tense horror film with characters the audience will care about; yet has a loud soundtrack, uneven pacing, and an ending that, while enjoyable, goes too far off the rails for the mood it was trying to set. The filmmakers clearly confused an excessive soundtrack an unnecessary lingering shots with suspense. And in a film like this, that’s an unfortunate concept to mix up.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

Death Wish Review

Director Eli Roth takes the reins of a rather untimely (and oddly surprising) Death Wish remake.

The movie stars Bruce Willis as Dr. Paul Kersey, an ER surgeon whose wife is killed in a burglary, with his daughter put into a coma. Filled with anger and turmoil, Kersey decides to take the law into his own hands, bringing vigilante justice into the community.

I quite enjoyed the character of Paul Kersey, who goes from a reasonable, passive man to full on vigilante. Through experiencing tragedy and observing the injustices around him, it’s interesting seeing Kersey transition into this state of violence.

When came to Willis’ performance however, I found him to be both passionless and stilted, just like his past twenty or so films. It’s sad to think that the man who starred in Die Hard, one of the best action movies ever, has completely given up on acting. And yet, here we are, the remake of Death Wish. Willis puts zero effort into the role, therefore making it hard to derive any sort of connection with the character. His straight-laced, relatively boring character doesn’t even work on a machismo action hero level, making him terrible for the part on all fronts.

The antagonists are the usual 80’s villain archetypes, nothing more than forgettable thugs. They don’t even have the guy, the one distinct main villain that everyone remembers, kind of like Hans Gruber in Die Hard. I can’t remember a single detail about any of these random goons, other than that they get picked off by Bruce Willis (whose also an archetype) one by one.

I’ve seen many critics pan Death Wish for its portrayal of gun violence and gun ownership in a jokey, humorous tone. Critics have also boldly labeled it as fascist and offensive. And while Death Wish was undoubtedly released at a sensitive and crucial point for gun legislation in the U.S., to pan this film based solely off this aspect is too childish and asinine for my taste. I also think that labeling the film as fascist is too easy, and shows a severe lack in the understanding of what that political philosophy entails.

Roth’s seemingly “gun-rights propaganda” flick can’t be taken at face value, as many of his films have a sardonic underpinning anyways. I actually found this to be one of the more fascinating parts of Death Wish. The fact that Willis’ character makes this transformation from peaceful individual into a killing machine was again very intriguing.

This doesn’t excuse the filmmaking, which was poorly paced and had a certain amount of predictability to it. Even the surprisingly few fight sequences that Death Wish had to offer were shot incoherently, which is surely a drawback for action fans.

Setting aside the complexities of our main protagonist, all the actors seem like they’re playing generic stereotypes we’ve seen hundreds of times before, and I’m afraid we’ll see hundreds of times again. And I think that’s the best word to use in the case of Death Wish, generic. Death Wish was far from a dreadful film and felt more along the lines of a generic, 80’s action movie tribute, and I think it should be viewed as such.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

Red Sparrow Review: A Muddled Spy Drama

Famed Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence returns to the screen with her Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence in one of the harder to follow dramas of recent past.

Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a ballerina dancer who suffers a terrible injury that puts her and her mother’s fate in jeopardy. As a last resort, Dominika is enlisted in Sparrow school, a Russian intelligence organization that trains individuals to use their bodies as weapons against enemies of the state. After completing her grueling training process, Dominika is assigned to extract information from a CIA agent named Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). But when he convinces Dominika that he’s the only true person she can trust, she begins to question her allegiances to Russia.

Red Sparrow contains an abundance of sexually explicit content that will certainly shock viewers, as I believe gratuity was the intention. I also believe it was well meaning, serving the general themes of sexual servitude and what it means to give yourself away. I thought this was a vastly interesting concept to dive into, especially given the strong performance of Jennifer Lawrence and the unique storyline.

And for the first hour or so, they do a lot with these ideas. The pacing is fast and keeps the audience on its toes, and we learn much about our protagonist and the horrifying things she’s put through by Russian Intelligence.

But slowly and surely the plot of Red Sparrow starts to meander about, and more or less turns into your run-of-the-mill spy movie. Complete with too many characters overstuffed into the story, tediously predictable scenes, and generally just too many things going on to stay focused.

This detrimentally harms the messages and themes of the film, which are stretched so thin by the elongated plot that it all becomes quite skewed and confusing. When the film finally ends you can’t remember what it was all about in the first place. The motives of our protagonist and the moral messages/takeaways are so ever-changing that I can’t confidently state what Red Sparrow was trying to convey. Is it a film on sexual servitude, current political corruption and ideals, or just a dramatic spy movie overindulging in offensive gratuity? Maybe it’s none of those things, or maybe it’s not, I think the audience deserves to know.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

Pixar vs. DreamWorks Debate

Today, I’ve decided to dive deep into the most controversial topic in current American politics, that being the Pixar v. DreamWorks debate. It’s ruined families, polarized the political climate, and now I’m here to discuss it.

I’m sure many individuals could be asked this question and not have to think twice about an answer: Pixar. Their films are beyond revolutionary, with films like Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. forever immortalized into the childhoods of millions. Starting with films like Toy Story (based off their own short film Tin Toy) and A Bug’s Life, Pixar created an empire of award-winning family movies. Led by the former Disney animator John Lasseter, his guidance and passion for animation has helped Pixar to produce hit after hit.

For the purpose of this article, DreamWorks could be considered the underdog of the matchup. Established by former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, director Steven Spielberg, and David Geffen, DreamWorks built their empire from the ground up. Starting with their 1998 production of Antz (which rivaled Pixar’s own film A Bug’s Life), they quickly proved themselves to be a fierce competitor in the animation field.

When it boils down to the quality of film being produced, there’s a lot of trade-off between them. Both companies have had really high highs (like Shrek 2 and Up) and really low lows (like Shark Tales and Cars 2). Overall, I think both companies are of equal talent in the art of animation, just in slightly differing ways.

For example, Pixar’s Finding Nemo is one of most stunning 3D animated movies around, while DreamWork’s The Prince of Egypt is one of the most stunning 2D animated movies around. Pixar films typically deal with heartfelt themes of parenting, aging, or friendship while mixing in lighthearted humor. DreamWorks definitely emphasizes the comedic elements of a film more, with the humor often overshadowing the themes. To use an analogy, Pixar is a sophisticated and nurturing parent, while DreamWorks is the goofy uncle who usually doesn’t take himself too seriously. This isn’t to say Pixar never focuses on humor and DreamWorks doesn’t get deep, I’m just pointing out the general trend I’ve noticed.

When comparing the content, right off the bat Disney Pixar has an unfair advantage just in the type of content they tap into, which tends to be more emotional and whimsical. Award shows, film critics, and general audiences are more likely to warm up to the touching relationships and timeless themes of Wall-E or Up than the off-the-wall humor of Bee Movie.

While Pixar is the more critically acclaimed company, when it comes to who I have the most respect for, DreamWorks takes the cake. Pixar’s films are truly terrific, but are always obvious, play it safe hits. You know that Toy Story 3, Finding Dory, and Monsters Inc. are all going to be instant classics just based on the simplistic subject matter (again, the emotions their films tap into).

DreamWorks on the other hand is much more willing to take a chance on an idea, even if that idea appears to be a surefire disaster. Some of their films like Shark Tales and Shrek the Third are dead on arrival, but occasional missteps are normal for the creative process. And it’s all worth it in the end when we get great works of animation like How to Train Your Dragon and Chicken Run.

If you would’ve told me back in 2008 that a movie about a self-conscious, Kung Fu fighting panda that’s voiced by Jack Black would not only be successful but be one of the best family pictures of recent years, I’d tell you you’re crazy. And what about the satirical fairy tale movie starring a pessimistic ogre that’s voiced by an actor whose career was already beginning to wither away? Not only was that film great, but it spawned an even better and funnier sequel that remains one of my favorite animated films of all-time.

So, the answer to who is better is rather complicated and anything but clear-cut. I think it’s safe to assume that most people would choose Pixar as the clear choice for better animation company and I don’t blame them. Pixar’s animation is rich, their characters highly memorable, and the themes of their movies timeless.

But my respect for DreamWorks and their willingness to take a chance on wild ideas is unwavering, therefore I’d have to choose DreamWorks as the better company based on this dedication to the craft.

-Zachary Flint


The Rocketeer Review: A Forgotten Disney Classic

Hearkening back to action/adventure serials of the 1940s and 50s (like Flash Gordon), The Rocketeer stars Billy Campbell as Cliff Secord, an overconfident pilot in love with a stunning actress Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly). When Cliff discovers a hidden jet pack that was stolen from the U.S. government, he puts on the rocket, creates a makeshift helmet, and becomes the hero known as The Rocketeer. But when the criminals who initially stole the jet pack catch wind of this hero, they attempt to retake possession of the jet pack and use it for evil. Cliff must now assume the role as this masked hero to save the day, and his girl.

I love The Rocketeer in the same way I like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars. It’s simple action/adventure movie fun. A straightforward story with traditional characters and themes from a much simpler time, all leading up to an exciting, action-packed conclusion.

Our main protagonist Cliff Secord is the dashing everyman, as in every man would want to be him. Really, that’s the entire appeal to his character. The personality of Cliff is almost nonexistent and is more just an afterthought, but that’s okay as he serves his role in the story well. He’s charming, heroic, and willing to risk his own life to save those closest. And best of all, Jennifer Connelly is his girlfriend, a major plus.

The charming and devious Neville Sinclair (played by Timothy Dalton) is as evil as his name sounds. Dastardly villainous in every way, Sinclair turns out not to be a greedy businessman, but a Nazi secret agent. Can there be a worse evil? Well, Sinclair stands as the perfect antagonist for our heroic Rocketeer, who dukes it out with Sinclair and his cronies in a finale of epic proportions.

I enjoyed The Rocketeer in its entirety, and I wish more films could embrace the same simplicity that it operates on (while also putting in the same amount of attention and care). The Rocketeer never really got the affection it so rightfully deserved, and as far as Disney flicks go, this is long gone and forgotten. Audiences shrugged, critics shrugged, and everyone eventually forgot all about The Rocketeer.

I’ve heard news about a potential remake of the film by Disney, which would fortunately bring attention back to this wonderful, forgotten flick. At the same time, I fear Disney would lose sight in what made The Rocketeer a good film in the first place, attempting to force too much crowd pandering messages/themes into what should be a simple, cut and dry story. Just as a remake of something like Alice in Wonderland can’t tarnish the image of the Disney animated classic, a poor remake of The Rocketeer would only help to remind people of why the original was so good in the first place.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Annihilation Review: The Best Science Fiction Film In Years

Based on the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation is the latest movie endeavor into the science fiction genre.

Starring Natalie Portman as Lena, she plays a biologist and former soldier whose military husband (Oscar Isaac) goes missing. Reappearing twelve months later as a shell of a man, Lena discovers that he embarked on a secret mission into a secret scientific anomaly known as the shimmer. Landing here from space only a few years back, the shimmer continues to grow in size and swallow everything it touches. Multiple expeditions into it have proven to be failures, with Lena’s husband being the only one to have ever returned. So, with her extensive knowledge of biology, Lena decides to join the latest expedition into the shimmer and hopefully find a way to heal her husband.

The fear of the unknown is one of the most visceral and scary feelings a human can encounter, and it’s something everyone deals with at some point. Some may even grapple with it on a day to day. And it’s this exact feeling that Annihilation portrays with such explicit and alluring detail. Our protagonists are thrust into a domain they, nor we, fully comprehend. Alone and isolated, the unsettling tone sets in for the audience very quickly, and never leaves. As soon as you start to feel like you’re grasping the complexities of the shimmer, something new is thrown into the mix that chills as well as intrigues.

With all this focus on isolation and the unknown, I’m automatically drawn to make comparisons to the film Alien (my favorite movie of all time). Some scenes were intentionally reminiscent of Alien, as I believe the writers must’ve taken inspiration from. And what a wonderful film to be influenced by, as Annihilation is nearly as effective in its pacing, build-up, and satisfying payoffs.

The cast of Annihilation matched the quality of filmmaking quite well. Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, and many others work to make Annihilation the provoking film it is. Each moment shared between the characters was strongly performed and executed, perfectly conveying their inner-burdens and the slow psychological decent they undergo.

The environment of the shimmer is, on a visual and artistic level, as diverse as it gets. We are first greeted to a dense, colorful forest that surrounds our disoriented protagonists. And as they trek further and further into uncertainty, the film flaunts its ability to increasingly delve deeper into imaginative content, especially at the stylistic and mesmerizing climax. A climax which gives very few concrete answers to the events depicted, leaving the audience to put the fragmented pieces together themselves.

Among all the well-developed and sometimes perplexing themes of self-destruction, what remains clear is how powerfully poignant Annihilation is. Director Alex Garland transports us to this seemingly horrifying world and not only shows the beautiful side of it, but by the end of the film makes us reevaluate are preconceptions about that world. We see the beauty, terror, and everything in-between that this world has to offer, which is the mark of a truly wonderful science fiction film.

There’s no way getting around it, Annihilation was one of the best theater experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in. Everything from the guitar-laden soundtrack to the thought-provoking climax was perfectly orchestrated. All compiling into one big sci-fi/horror masterpiece. I loved Annihilation in all its visual and emotional beauty, and I will continue to ponder its meanings for some time.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint