In Theaters

Life’s challenges sometimes appear daunting, especially to those of us still growing into our maturity. We may see life as unfair and insurmountable, conditions that lead to frustration and behaviors that ultimately don’t adequately prepare us for what lies ahead. But this doesn’t mean we should just roll over in the face of these circumstances; we can grab ahold of our personal power and look for inventive ways to resolve these matters. And finding out what that means is an undertaking explored in the whimsical new fantasy adventure, “A Wrinkle in Time” (web site, trailer).

When physicist Alex Murry (Chris Pine) goes missing, his disappearance creates a mystery – and a variety of problems. At the time he vanished, Alex had been studying the theoretical notion of folding over time, creating a “wrinkle” in the fabric of the Universe that would make it possible to traverse great distances instantaneously. This audacious idea was groundbreaking but largely considered implausible by Alex’s peers, who openly laughed at him when he publicly presented his theory. Even Alex’s scientist wife, Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who helped him develop the concept, believed that he should proceed cautiously in publicizing it, given its radical nature and the fact that not all of the details were worked out, conditions that left him open to ridicule.

Physicist Alex Murry (Chris Pine) tests out his inventive theory about how to instantaneously traverse the Universe in Disney’s new fantasy adventure, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

But Alex, eager to see things though, was undeterred by the doubt and scorn. And, even though the nature of his disappearance was never officially confirmed, those close to him believe that he figured out how to make things work and went on a journey across the cosmos. But was this indeed true? And, if so, where was he now?

Alex’s unexpected absence creates more than a scientific conundrum; it also raises a number of issues for his family, especially his 13-year-old daughter, Meg (Storm Reid). As a bright but somewhat temperamental teen, she experiences the usual adolescent issues of fitting in, challenges made worse by her dad’s absence and by the routine taunting she receives from those who mock her father and his ideas. These circumstances land her in trouble at school, further complicating her life.

Troubled teen Meg Murry (Storm Reid) faces a variety of challenges at home and in school when her physicist father mysteriously disappears in the inspiring new fantasy adventure, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

All is not lost, though, thanks in large part to the support Meg receives from her protective, encouraging friend, Calvin (Levi Miller), and her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), a prodigy who believes in his older sister’s ability to resolve her challenges. However, Charles Wallace has even higher hopes for Meg; he believes she’s capable of finding their missing dad.

Before long, Charles Wallace introduces Meg to a trio of magical interdimensional guides whom he believes can help her find Alex, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). They share insights into how Meg can proceed with her quest, providing the means and the wisdom to move forward. And so, in no time, Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin, accompanied by their guides, pass through their own wrinkle in time to search for the missing scientist.

Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), a sage old soul, is one of three metaphysical guides charged with aiding a troubled teen search for her missing father across the cosmos in the new fantasy adventure, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

As their journey unfolds, the travelers visit a number of beautiful and mystical locales where they meet a number of unusual individuals, such as a seer known as the Happy Medium (Zach Galifinakis). But, even with the newfound knowledge and experience they amass during their trek, Meg and company are no closer to finding Alex. Eventually their travels take them to a foreboding land known as Camazotz, a place characterized by ever-present deception and an ever-growing evil. If this band of seekers is ever to achieve their goal, they’ll need to tackle a number of additional challenges, many of which relate to their personal growth and development. But, if successful, they’ll be able to embrace skills and traits that they can employ in taking on the perils of Camazotz – and that, one hopes, they can take home with them (that is, if they ever manage to escape).

As Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin explore these far-flung exotic dimensions, they learn a variety of valuable life lessons, teachings that are just as pertinent to their peers in the viewing audience as they are to them. In that regard, the film is highly instructive to impressionable young minds in need of a hefty dose of such noble qualities as responsible thinking, courtesy, consideration and compassion. That’s not a bad message for those growing up in an age typified by rampant cynicism, self-absorption and less-than-honorable behavior.

Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a magical, shape-shifting spirit, helps a troubled teen search for her missing father across the dimensions of the cosmos in director Ava DuVernay’s latest release, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

However, with that said, “A Wrinkle in Time” is also a frustrating watch at times. As ambitious as it is, the picture is somewhat uneven, an issue attributable mainly to its problem-ridden screenplay. Having not read the Madeleine L’ Engle book on which the film is based, I can’t personally say how faithful it is to its source material, though I have seen many accounts that suggest that the original story would undoubtedly make for a difficult adaptation, largely due to the breadth of topics addressed in it. And, as I screened the film, I truly got that sense, that there had to have been material that was left out – and whose exclusion from the script had to have impaired the flow (and sometimes the comprehension) of the story. What’s more, some of the screenplay’s treatment of the source material seems rather anachronistic. For example, hordes of scientists scoffing at Alex’s radical theories may have been the norm in 1962, when the book was written, but they’re far from laughing matters among contemporary physicists, many of whom consider the notions presented in the film quite legitimate.

Also, given the sensibilities of the movie’s target audience – pre-teens and adolescents – the film includes elements that I can’t help but think would be either a little too complex and/or a tad frightening, especially for younger tykes. While I applaud the picture’s efforts to incorporate such information as the inherent harmonious nexus between science and spirit, the related principles (especially those of a scientific nature) are often explained in ways that could easily sail over the heads of viewers not well versed in the subject matter (most likely younger viewers).

Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), a storehouse of inspirational quotes, provides insights that help a troubled teen search for her missing father in “A Wrinkle in Time.” Photo by Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Yet, despite these shortcomings, “A Wrinkle in Time” also represents a valiant cinematic undertaking. It’s indeed refreshing to see a film boldly take on the kinds of subjects it addresses, especially for a younger audience. Director Ava DuVernay does a fine job in crafting a finished product that makes the most of what she had to work with. The film’s dazzling special effects are worth the price of admission, presenting gorgeous images reminiscent of such releases as “Avatar” (2009) and “What Dreams May Come” (1998). And the picture’s genuine warmth comes through loud and clear, thanks to the heartfelt performances of the ensemble’s principals.

When life hands us circumstances that seem patently unreasonable or inequitable, we may be tempted to lash out, especially if we’re not equipped with the coping skills and creative thinking needed to address such issues. But all need not be lost. With a little ingenuity and a properly focused moral compass, we can take on these challenges and overcome them. And sometimes all it takes is a little wrinkle in our thinking – or our existence – to reach our goals. 

A full review will appear in the near future by clicking here.

The Race for the Brass Ring

When opportunity knocks, it may be tempting to pursue it with all the gusto we can muster. The rewards awaiting us can be incalculable. But what if such a quest prompts us to engage in questionable, almost Machiavellian behavior? Is the prize still worth it if we must go to such extreme, unethical, immoral lengths? It probably depends on one’s mindset and ambition, qualities examined in detail in the dark new political satire, “The Death of Stalin” (web site, trailer).

In 1953, longtime Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) met his demise, opening up the door to a host of prospective new leaders. But, like the aggressive residents of a koi pond all jumping over one another to get to the fish food tossed their way, the coterie of would-be successors who once unabashedly sucked up to the old man eagerly began positioning themselves for a power grab. However, given the complicated dynamics of the situation, who would come out on top? For each of the contenders, this represented a challenge that meant balancing a number of complex issues, some personal, some political – and all of them heavily invested in self-interest.

The leading candidate was Stalin’s deputy, Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor). But, as a weak-willed, often-clueless apparatchik, he often didn’t know what to do now that he didn’t have his boss around to dictate his every move. Then there was rising politico Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), a savvy operator who claimed to be a reformer but who always looked out after himself first, never hesitating to screw over others in the inner circle if it would work to his advantage. Of course, Malenkov and Khrushchev had to deal with Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), the sinister, scheming head of the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police force, which was known for its efficiency in making enemies of the state – or the premier – disappear on a moment’s notice.

An ailing, incapacitated Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin, foreground) is surrounded by wannabe successors to the Soviet leader, including Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi, left), an up-and-coming politico, Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor, second from left), Stalin’s lapdog deputy, and Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale, right), head of the secret police, in the outrageous new dark comedy, “The Death of Stalin.” Photo by Nicola Dove, courtesy of IFC Films.

As the big three battled it out, several other ministers (Michael Palin, Dermot Crowley, Paul Whitehouse, Paul Chahidi) vied for their place in the thick of things, too. But they, like everyone else, also had to contend with the involvement of others, such as Stalin’s children, Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough), a somewhat-sheltered but often-hysterical protector of her now-deceased doting father’s reputation, and Vasily (Rupert Friend), a manic, self-important ne’er-do-well with alcohol issues and a history of being shuttled off to projects to keep him busy (and out of sight) but who now wanted to play an active role in glorifying his old man’s legacy. And then there was Field Marshal Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), head of the Soviet Red Army and a decorated World War II hero, who wanted to make sure his voice was heard, especially now that Beria and the NKVD were trying to marginalize the role of the military and his influence in affairs of state. Meanwhile, lurking in the background were dissidents like concert pianist Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), who quietly tried to undermine everything – and may have unwittingly had more influence in setting off this scenario than anyone knew.

Set against this backdrop, the games – and gamesmanship – began as the country’s leadership (if one could call it that) attempted to sort out its challenges and find direction for its future, a process that proved far easier said than done. With everyone trying to one-up one another, unlikely alliances began to form, arrangements that led to outcomes even more unpredictable than anyone might have imagined. As events unfold, however, one clearly comes to see the pitfalls inherent in these kinds of power struggles. And, even though this story is superficially a dark comedy, it’s ostensibly a potent cautionary tale, one that might easily be viewed as no laughing matter, given the actions that take place and the stakes involved for the population of an entire nation, if not the whole world.

Keeping up appearances of grief proves challenging for the would-be successors to Soviet strong man Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin, background), most notably up-and-coming politico Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi, middle) and deputy head of state Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor, second from right), in “The Death of Stalin.” Photo by Nicola Dove, courtesy of IFC Films.

All seriousness aide, though, “The Death of Stalin” is nevertheless a devilishly funny romp that skewers the lunacy of bureaucracy and the buffoonish behavior of the power hungry (the fact that it’s based on a comic book of all things should say a lot about it!) The film’s stellar international cast, combined with a wickedly funny script and endless touches of high camp, make for uproariously funny viewing. Not all of the jokes work, and sometimes the film gets a little too political for its own good, but, these shortcomings aside, director Armando Iannucci serves up loads of big laughs, an effort that earned the picture BAFTA Award nominations for best adapted screenplay and best British feature film. Enjoy, comrade!

A full review will appear in the near future by clicking here.

Tell Me Your Story

Everyone’s got a story to tell, and you can hear mine on Sunday March 25 at 10 am ET on the Peabody Award-nominated Tell Me Your Story with host Richard Dugan. We’ll discuss conscious creation in the movies, especially as reflected in my new book, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies. Tune in for a lively and inspiring discussion by clicking here, or catch the show on its on-demand podcast link. Listeners can also find the show on Richard’s Soundcloud page.

Movies with Meaning Is Back on the Air!

Join host Frankie Picasso and me for the next edition of Movies with Meaning on The Good Media Network’s Frankiesense & More broadcast next Thursday, March 29, at 1 pm ET. We’ll discuss a number of new movie releases and other film-related news. For the video version, tune in on Facebook Live by clicking here. And, for the audio only podcast edition, check out The Good Media Network’s home page by clicking here. Join us for some fun movie chat!

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.