The Weight of the Name

In the world of cinema, folks see a certain name tacked onto a film poster, or a particular face in a trailer, and, regardless of anything else, think, “Oh, so-and-so is in this!” and immediately decide to see it. I’ve got a few of those myself – actors and actresses whose body of work is so impressive to me and I trust their acting ability enough to see a film solely because they are attached to it. That’s not to say that I see every single movie they are in, but usually, certain names are enough to lure me in to the theater above all else, and they are –

1.) Christian Bale
This is coming from someone who saw Terminator: Salvation in theaters simply because Bale was in it. After his turn as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, Christian Bale quickly became my favorite actor, and a name that will instantly grab my attention even if the content of a film doesn’t immediately appeal to me. It doesn’t hurt that he’s no slouch at his craft, either, and seems to put the same amount of effort into every role, no matter how small – I mainly saw Hostiles earlier this year because he was in it, since I’m not big on Westerns, and was blown away by his performance and the film overall.

2.) Jessica Chastain
After watching her mesmerizing and powerful performance in Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain became a trusted name in my book. She has the ability to carry a film on her shoulders and disappear completely into a role, which makes her acting all the more appealing. Her recent appearances in The Zookeeper’s Wife and Molly’s Game are proof of that.

3.) Dev Patel
Back in 2010, Dev Patel was the sole reason I went to see The Last Airbender, especially after the (well-deserved) audience backlash. Sadly, he couldn’t save that film, but ever since his brilliant breakthrough performance in Slumdog Millionaire, I’m easily lured in by a film bearing his name. I mainly went to see Lion last year because he was in it, and it’s a good thing, too – it was one of my favorites from the Oscar race that year.

4.) Emily Blunt
From the very moment I saw her in The Devil Wears Prada, I was a fan of Blunt’s work – and I’ve never been disappointed as a fan by any role she’s done. She’s another actress who can easily make a role her own and seems to put in significant effort to do so, whether the role is supporting or main. I can say, with almost 100% certainty, that Blunt is the driving force behind me being willing to see the upcoming Mary Poppins movie, because I’m not even a fan of the first one. And yes, I know that’s blasphemous.

5.) Domhnall Gleeson
If I see his face in a trailer, I immediately and gleefully say – either to myself or to whoever I’m with – “Oh, Domhnall Gleeson!” and typically resolve to see the film. It doesn’t hurt that he’s my celebrity crush, too, but back in 2015/2016, there was a string of four movies I went to see that he was in – Star Wars: TFA twice, Brooklyn, and The Revenant – and I was impressed by each performance, and have been impressed by all of his performances since. I am super stoked whenever I see his name attached to a project because I know he’ll give a nuanced and enthralling performance. I even went to see Peter Rabbit, folks – and I’m 26 years old.

6.) Meryl Streep
Um, hello? SHE’S MERYL STREEP. Enough said.

7.) Tom Hanks
Um, hello? HE’S TOM HANKS. Enough said.

8.) Saorise Ronan
From Atonement to Lady Bird, Saorise Ronan always delivers a memorable performance. I mean, look at all the award nominations she’s had, and at so young an age – that speaks for itself. I even went to see The Host solely because she was in it.

9.) Chris Pine
Of all the famous Chrises, Evans is actually my favorite – but Pine is more likely to get my butt in a reclining theater seat. He’s got stellar range, from Steve Trevor, to Captain Kirk, to Cinderella’s Prince, to Nicholas Devereaux, he’s never let me down! My favorite all time Chris Pine scene is when he has to take a comically large bicycle to chase down Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries 2. No, I’m not kidding.

10.) Octavia Spencer
Ever since I saw her prolific performance in The Help, Spencer’s name has been enough to intrigue me when I hear she’s attached to a project. That “Eat. My. Shit.” line shall be forever emblazoned in my memory, and I’m happy with that. And she’s hilarious – if anything, her performances never disappoint me, even if other parts of a film do.

11.) Christoph Waltz
He is the main, if not only, reason I went to see Spectre, the latest James Bond film – quite a feat, considering I don’t like James Bond films. And I didn’t like his performance in that film, but I’ll still see any film that he’s attached to, even if the subject matter doesn’t necessarily appeal to me. Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained were what drew me in, and if I end up seeing Alita: Battle Angel, it will ONLY be because of him, because that trailer was a steaming pile of NOPE.

12.) Amy Adams
She was equally as convincing and memorable as Giselle in Enchanted and as Louise in arrival, though they were drastically different roles. She is a true chameleon, from serious to comical roles, and makes it seem so effortless. I’ve never, not once, been disappointed by her, and can’t wait for her upcoming limited series on HBO.

 

Honorable Mentions: Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, Helen Mirren, Peter Dinklage, Frances McDormand, Henry Cavill, Cate Blanchett, Timothee Chalamet, Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Sally Field, Maggie Smith, Dan Stevens, Armie Hammer, Jason Momoa, Lily James, Anne Hathaway, Harvey Keitel, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Zhang Ziyi, Wes Studi, Ken Watanabe, Marian Cotillard, Tom Hardy.

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Film Review: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

Dir: Ava DuVernay
Starring: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zack Galifanakis, Storm Reid, Deric McCabe, Levi Miller, etc.
Runtime: 1hr49min
Rating: PG
Spoiler level: Light

A Wrinkle in Time, one of the most-hyped releases of 2018, and based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle, follows uncertain teenager Meg (Reid), who, along with her younger brother, friend Calvin, and three mysterious beings known as the Mrs., must embark on a journey across the universe to rescue her scientist father from a darkness known only as “IT.”

TAWrinkleInTimeTeaser.jpghough some folks adhere to the idea that films should be judged apart from their source material, I think it is more appropriate to judge a film both as an adaptation and then as a film. Therefore, as a fan of the original novel/series, I feel it is important to say that this film is not a good adaptation of L’Engle’s work.

Though it features characters with the same names, similar worlds, and strives to teach at least part of the same lessons, the film and the book are not on the same frequency, and for die-hard fans of the classic book, this adaptation will likely be disappointing. Much of the core message of the original book is lost to a sheen of glossy special effects, nonsensical (if beautiful) costumes, and a convoluted plot that allows some of the most beautiful sentiments from the book to slip through the cracks, lost to the universe.

A Wrinkle in Time (1962) is notable for it’s seamless blending and consideration of both science and religion, and how it handled sensitive social issues and other problems plaguing children like Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin, and continue to plague children and young adults in today’s society. The film touches on this particular aspect exceptionally well – exploring Meg’s insecurities and doubts about herself, especially – but because the focus is all over the place, the impact of that message is dampened. Religion is removed entirely from the film, as is a portion of the science, to the detriment of the narrative. So much is cut from L’Engle’s original story that the movie feels disjointed, the pacing suffers, and much of the plot comes across as confusing and the explanations insufficient for those not familiar with the source material.

It seems like those behind the film were trying to bend the book’s story to fit the message they wanted to tell, instead of adapting and doing justice to L’Engle’s work. I’m generally accepting of artistic liberties when it comes to adaptations, but when Aunt Beast gets trimmed down to a 2 second cameo so the kids can go on a CGI-laden sky ride above on a plant creature, and something that was so important to the author and a vital component of the story (religion) gets removed entirely, then I get a little steamed. And I’m an atheist, so that’s not any sort of bias speaking. There’s a difference between trimming superfluous scenes from the source material in order to accommodate run-time, and straight-up butchering the intended themes and vital components of the story itself.

I will say, however, that the “IT” stuff with Charles Wallace near the end (no spoilers) was impressive, and made me recall just how much I feared “IT” as a kid when I first experienced the book. However, though it is briefly touched upon, the whole “conformity” idea as it pertains to “IT” and Camazotz does not get explored in the film with as much depth as it does in the novel.

But… that’s just my views of A Wrinkle in Time as an adaptation.

As a film, the movie is a passable adventure aimed at children and young audiences that will charm and enchant them, and hopefully inspire them to believe in their own inner-strength and be “warriors” themselves. The message this film strives to impart upon its viewers – which, though it differs in the way L’Engle’s story is told, is no less important or powerful – about embracing your perceived “flaws” and using them as your strength will hopefully resonate with kids, and maybe even older viewers as well. Some threads of the plot – such as Meg’s insecurities about her appearance and intelligence and the father/daughter bond between Meg and Alex – are a success, but because there is so much going on in other aspects of the film, the focus is fractured, and those few shining moments often get drowned by the admittedly beautiful special effects, such as the sweeping, floral-kissed landscapes and storm-tossed forests.

The acting, for the most part, is commendable – the Mrs. (Kaling, Winfrey, and Witherspoon) do what they can, though, as a die-hard fan of the book, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the way they were depicted. The children, especially Reid as Meg and Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace, give believable and occasionally heart-wrenching performances, especially at the climax of the film, and though Levi Miller’s Calvin is underdeveloped, his acting isn’t at fault for that. Pine and Mbatha-Raw also turn in excellent performances, though the spotlight shines mainly on the younger cast members.

For a film that is meant to explore the vastness and wonder of both the light and dark of the universe, the end result feels disproportionately small. An ambitious effort on the part of the visionary director and talented cast, A Wrinkle in Time falls short of greatness and might not please fans of L’Engle’s work, but even though it’s a bit of a mess, it is a beautiful mess. For an afternoon out with the kids for some popcorn and stunning visuals, this film might be worth a watch to pass a couple of hours.

But for older viewers like myself, capable of getting into R-rated movies… if you’re looking for a female-empowering/led, diverse (which A Wrinkle in Time is, don’t get me wrong) sci-fi film with excellent visuals and an exploratory, unconventional, and compelling plot, please, please, please check out Annihilation (2018) if it is playing in your area. Fair warning, it’s got some gore and horror elements, but it completely blew me away – it’s not getting nearly enough praise, and deserves much more.

Overall rating: 6/10