A Wrinkle In Time (Sort Of)

There’s a lot of movies I loved as a kid that make less sense the older I get. I’m not talking about the straight-up bad films that my adolescent brain thought were fantastic, but were, in reality, flaming dumpster fires. (I’m looking at you filmographies of Feldman and Haim.) Now having a son I get to look back on those films and try to introduce them to a new generation. The problem is that most of the time I sit on the couch thinking I will be delighted as he watches these movies and end up watching in abject horror as I realize that what I had lovingly watched as a child was garbage and I’m now complicit in cross-generational filth. No, I’m talking about the Never Ending Stories and Labyrinths of my youth. Those glorious fantasy epics that fueled my imagination for years. The thing is that even those movies don’t make a whole lot of cinematic sense past the age of about 13 or so.

All of this leads me to A Wrinkle In Time. A film destined to be the imagination generator for a whole new generation. I, unfortunately, didn’t see this as a child when I probably would have loved it. I saw it as an adult where I realize that the film is utter nonsense. A Wrinkle In Time is a bad film and I enjoyed almost none of it. There are large swaths of the film that made zero sense when I saw it and after the opportunity of thinking about them for a few days made even less sense. The rules of the universe change willy-nilly and are never explained which leaves the audience struggling to comprehend virtually  any of the plot. It’s bad. Like Tomorrowland level bad.

I urge all children to see this film and caution all adults against it. That’s the best I can say.

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The Return

It’s been a long time since I’ve written longform on movies, especially here on WordPress. I’ve been to other sites and back and stopped writing altogether for quite awhile. But here I am, back and with a renewed sense of purpose. Nothing about my movie habits has changed since we last talked, except perhaps that I’ve seen a lot more films. I remain a devoted cinephile and am positive I will be until the end. That said, I wanted to give an account of what’s been going on and what I want in the future from this blog.

There is a catalyst for this return to the blogosphere, and its name is Twitter. While engaging in debate on a non-movie topic I was trolled hard by a group of people and their coordinated effort was so toxic that I deleted my account. They attacked my entire timeline and brought up many of my film posts in an attempt to mock and ridicule me. I am always willing to defend my position on movies, but this was something different, and I found myself deeply affected by the exchanges. While I am fairly confident in my film opinions, I am not so confident in my writing and critiquing abilities. I have always felt like every post is a chance for someone to call me out and my self-esteem took a gigantic hit when that very thing occurred.

But this whole series of events led me to an interesting realization. I missed being about to talk about movies with the film community on Twitter. I didn’t miss the toxicity of the other nonsense that goes along with the site, but I really did miss talking to a wider audience about film. And so I made a few decisions after the dust settled. I would create a brand new Twitter account to connect with the film community and the film community only, and I would boot up the blog again. I like talking about movies with anyone that is willing to engage with me and I don’t want to give that up just because a certain segment of the population are terrible terrible people.

So here we are, back together again. Let’s talk about how I want to go forward. There are approximately 600 billion people writing about film on the internet and I’m just another in the herd. So what I’d like to do is have a more conversational style, rather than the conventional review method I’ve used in the past. I’ll post reviews and musings. Some short some long. But in the end it’s about the conversation. So, I hope you’ll join me as I continue to talk about what I love, and if you have any feelings about what I say, join in the conversation. And for those so inclined, my film Twitter handle is captainklerk81.

 

Now with all of that out of the way, I figured I’d give out a few quick hits on the stuff I’ve seen lately.

 

Thoroughbreds: The story of two upper class teenagers that renew their reluctant friendship in order to plan a murder. This film is great on every level. The minimalist score is a perfect fit and there are some truly striking images. This is a very dark comedy that reminded me in ways of Death at a Funeral (the British version, not the crappy American remake.) This is sadly the last film completed by Anton Yelchin before he passed away. I can’t recommend this one enough, but it’s a very small release so if you see it playing near you take that chance.

Strangers: Prey at Night: A sequel that we didn’t really need. I loved the original and as much as I was kind of excited to see us return to those characters, this film didn’t bring enough to the table to make it worthwhile. It’s a fine slasher movie I suppose, but the original was something special and all just fine does is sully the brand.

Red Sparrow: Jennifer Lawrence’s new movie about Russian spies is garbage on just about every level. This is sexist nonsense that has no real reason to exist. To sum the film up: the Russians have a program where they teach people how to get information from people in order to be good spies. What they teach the students is to listen very carefully and pay attention just before they get sexually assaulted. If you’re ok with being raped you can be a superspy. Just terrible.

I’ll make sure to post more sometime soon. Until then, stay positive everyone.

Mother’s Milk

Some movies are more intriguing than they are entertaining or technically sound. Mother’s Milk, a psychological horror film from first time director Edward Pionke, certainly falls into that category. There are some very good ideas here and, given the limitations of the ultra-low shoestring budget, what is presented to us onscreen is fairly well realized. There are certainly faults with the film, but they are of the variety that money and experience will likely fix. Mother’s Milk has the feel of a director learning his way around a camera, but is a strong enough debut that I look forward to his future projects. 

Mother’s Milk, in both tone and story, is Psycho and Misery mixed together and wrapped in sexual dysfunction. Claude is a statistics professor with a dark fetish stemming from his troubled past. He kidnaps a recent college graduate in order to try and fill a very specific role in his life. As the days and weeks go on a bizarre sort of relationship forms between Claude and Kim leaving the viewer wondering who is really trapped. This is an extremely dark film that will likely leave the audience uncomfortable. I’m not sure I would want to meet the person that believes this has any kind of rewatchability factor. I recommend watching it once, after that you’re on your own. 

I must give praise to the two leads as Casey Chapman (Claude Rainer) and Mackenzie Wiglesworth (Kim Rodgers) both do a superb job in the film. Chapman manages to give believability and sympathetic qualities to a monster with a delicate performance that could have easily gone wrong in numerous ways. Wiglesworth plays the victim with a strength not typically associated with that role. Both do a great job of playing off of each other, which is fortunate since they are essentially the only two characters we see on screen for the vast majority of the film. This is the first film I’ve seen for each of them, but they showed enough that I hope to see them again.

The technical aspects are where the film falters, especially in regards to the lighting and editing. The lighting was one of the first things to strike me. Pionke uses his lights to create an atmosphere of shadows and while this can create some striking images it tended to muddle the compositions of scenes taken as a whole. This mixed with the editing issues really dampened the emotional impact of a few key scenes. I’m going to bet that Pionke came out of stage theater productions because many of the films scenes are staged and edited as if they were a play. There is virtually no coverage and most of the movie is done with two shots where both actors are in the frame at the same time. When the majority of the film takes place in a basement it wouldn’t hurt to use the editing to spice things up a bit at times. 

All-in-all I was pleasantly surprised by Mother’s Milk. It’s a solid debut for director Edward Pionke and actors Chapman and Wiglesworth. They’ve created a very dark and disturbing film, and while the technical aspects may not be there quite yet, they did succeed in storytelling, tone, atmosphere, and the ability to create a whole lot of tension with just two people in a basement. I’ll forgive the flaws when that much goes right on the first time out. Grade:B-



Soul Plane

Soul Plane isn’t as bad as you think it’s going to be, but not nearly as good as it could have been. It’s a case study in wasted talent, but it does serve as an introduction to some actors that would go on to do some much better work. Soul Plane wants to be Airplane but it doesn’t have the wit and relies far too heavily on sex, bathroom jokes, and stereotypes to offer any lasting value. What is does give us is a few funny moments and a hint at what these actors can be capable of when given better material. 



I suppose Soul Plane’s biggest accomplishment is its ability to stuff as many racial stereotypes into one movie as possible. No race or gender is safe from the filmmaker’s version of comedy, but the intriguing thing is that no matter how many racial jabs are thrown they all land softly because the film never takes anything seriously. The plot concerns Nashawn (Kevin Hart) when he accidentally gets stuck in an airplane toilet and is awarded 100 million dollars in a lawsuit and decides that he is going to start his own airline. I’m not sure of any actual numbers, but 100 million dollars doesn’t seem like enough money to start an airline, let alone buy a two level airplane complete with spinners and the ability to bounce down the runway. Logic be damned. This isn’t that kind of movie. This is the kind of movie where Snoop Dogg plays a pilot who’s scared of heights.

There’s no point in trying to apply logic or criticism to a film like Soul Plane. It’s as futile as studying historical inaccuracies in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Soul Plane isn’t in the same class as Monty Python, but they are playing the same game. They’re both absurdist spoofs, but the difference is that Monty Python was continuously inventive. Soul Plane is content to take the easiest joke and be ok with that. Taken in that context, I’m also ok with Soul Plane. This is not a good film and you will forget it exists almost immediately after seeing it, but it is entertaining enough to act as a comedic diversion for an hour and a half. It’s also worth it to see some early attempts from future stars such as Kevin Hart, Sofia Vergera, Mo’Nique, and Terry Crews. Final verdict: if you’re desperate for a comedy and you are running low on your Netflix queue, you can do worse than Soul Plane. Grade: C-



John Wick

It is immensely interesting to me that John Wick is the first film I watched after seeing The Equalizer. The Equalizer is a film that I hated for a being a cliché-riddled action movie with zero originality. John Wick is a cliché-riddled action movie with zero originality, but it embraces those traits with such fervor that it is a joy to watch. The true difference between the films is that The Equalizer was a dour and somber affair with no charisma or style to brighten up the proceedings. John Wick is all style, with flashy camera moves and even flashier action scenes all set to an amazing soundtrack. If you’re going to make a by-the-numbers action movie you’d better make it fun to watch. The Equalizer felt like a chore to sit through and the 40 minute too long runtime didn’t help. John Wick is breezy, ultraviolent, and completely engaging all the way through. It is everything that The Equalizer wasn’t.

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John Wick stars Keanu Reeves in what is probably his best performance since the Matrix, but I admit that the bar was set extremely low. Wick is an ex-assassin/mythical legend in the New York underground criminal world who got out of the game when he got married. Now his wife has died of cancer and wouldn’t you know it, some Russian thugs drag Wick back into the scene by beating him up and killing his dog. With all the plot and backstory taken care of in the first five minutes that leaves the rest of the hour and a half runtime for John Wick to revenge kill everyone he sees. And revenge kill he does. With aplomb.

The wonderful thing about John Wick is that it sets up a criminal underworld that has distinct rules which all of the characters know. You can kill someone in this place, but not in that place. A particular form of currency is passed around as payment that doubles as a form of identification. Everyone knows everyone else and even when rival assassins are smashing each other up they are on a first name basis. All of these things are established in ways that make sense for the story. There is no long scene of exposition that spells everything out for the audience. This is a dumb action film that trusts its audience to be smarter than the material, and I love it for that. There is very little else to say about this film. John Wick is easily one of the better American action films I’ve seen in a long time and if you’re a fan of guns blazing, blood flying, revenge romps you’ll love it too. Grade: B+

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The Equalizer

If there was an award for the film that uses as many clichés as possible while still maintaining a stunning lack of knowledge of how anything works, that distinction would be held by The Equalizer. Denzel Washington stars in this action thriller that is not so much a movie, but a highlight reel of scenes we’ve seen done in better action movies of the past. Any tension that was intended quickly falls to the wayside as the audience realizes that we know exactly what is going to happen to each and every character because that’s what happened to that character in the last movie we saw them in. The only stunning thing to my eyes was that if you replace Denzel Washington with Cuba Gooding Jr. you could cut the budget by 40 million dollars and release it straight to DVD without changing anything else.

The film opens with Denzel Washington shaving in the dark. This is only the first scene that left me befuddled and it just continued from there. As we follow him throughout his day we’re meant to understand that he has a very specific routine which involves work, helping his chubby yet lovable friend lose weight, read a book while eating dinner at a diner, and never ever sleeping. The film’s MacGuffin appears at that diner played by Chloe Grace Moretz. She’s a prostitute with a heart of gold that really just wants to be a singer. Moretz and Washington strike up a hesitant familiarity over the untold number of times they frequent that diner and, wouldn’t you know it, Washington’s secret past resurfaces when Moretz is beaten to a pulp by her pimp and Washington must answer justice’s call.

The Equalizer is a re-teaming between Washington and director Antoine Fuqua who previously collaborated on Training Day, which is a far superior film and one I would gladly watch 100 times if I never had to watch this one again. Fuqua here directs the entire film using a color palette of black and off-black which does have the distinct advantage of never letting the viewer know what’s going on. Washington plays his character as a self-help and nutritional guru with MacGuyver like skills of making anything into a weapon and a superhuman ability to just shake off injuries and bullet wounds. Give him a cape and he’s essentially a sociopathic comic book character. Any semblance of nuance or subtlety that the pair showed on Training Day must have been lost in the conversation that included, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could do the whole walking in slow motion away from an explosion thing?”

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It’s hard to describe exactly what kind of a train wreck this film is so I’m going to use a scene from the climactic battle at the end to illustrate my point. Washington’s character has killed everyone involved with the Russian gang that was pimping out Moretz earlier until they are forced to send in a special team of Russian super-thugs to attack him at the Home Depot knock off. During this scene Washington shuts the power off (again with the darkness) and shoves a couple of combustible canisters into the break room microwave. At a pivotal moment he turns the power back on and the microwave starts up and promptly explodes ignoring the fact that no microwave I’ve ever seen turns on as soon as it receives power. This is the kind of logic that the film is working with.

The Equalizer is less a movie and more of a contest of “Who’s agent failed the hardest?” After watching the film I immediately envisioned a scenario where screenwriter Richard Wenk, Antoine Fuqua, and Denzel Washington got together to discuss this script before production was to begin and decided to play a drinking game where they take a shot every time there is a scene that take took place in a different movie. They would all have alcohol poisoning by page ten and maybe their ailments would have spared us from them continuing on to make the actual film. Sadly it didn’t happen and the result is The Equalizer. Grade: D+

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Spongebob Squarepants 2: Sponge Out of Water

Suppose you’ve found yourself accidentally wandering into a party for a child that you don’t know. Everyone there seems to be having a pretty good time. Even for yourself there are moments of amusement as you watch the children play even if you don’t have the slightest idea who those children are or why they’re acting the way they do. Now imagine that someone comes up to you after the party is over and asks what you thought of the proceedings. Do you tell them that it was great because everyone you saw seemed to enjoy themselves and those were the people that were clearly meant to be there? Or do you tell them that the whole party made no sense because you were clearly not meant to be there. That is the situation I find myself in after having seen Spongebob Squarepants 2.

I am aware that Spongebob Squarepants is a cartoon that has been on TV for quite a few years and even spawned a feature length movie in the past. However, I have never seen the show and the only knowledge I have of it is from cultural references. This makes me a prime candidate to skip this movie completely and leave it to those that may know a thing or two about it. However, My six year old son really wanted to see it, so off I went. He left happy. I left baffled.

From what I could gather Spongebob and his friends are in trouble because the secret formula for the Crabby Patty has been stolen and without it the entire community falls into Mad Max levels of apocalyptic despair. There is cultural satire here, but the movie never stops long enough to fully embrace a topic. It is a scattershot of jokes that all last about three seconds that are flung onto the wall just hoping that they stick long enough to run at a feature film length. I’m sure there was some kind of plot thread that connected the whole thing together, but even sitting here at full concentration I can’t remember what it was supposed to be. Something about Antonio Banderas as Burger Beard the pirate and a food truck that doubles as a pirate ship.

I chuckled a few times here and there, but when you throw in 1,000 jokes at least some of them have to hit right? I’m not exactly sure that’s an achievement. Normally I would take a film as its own entity and judge it based on that alone. However, in this case, the film is a sequel to an earlier film that was itself spun off of a TV show. All of which I haven’t seen. I’m going to give this movie a grade, but it’s fairly irrelevant. If you’ve seen the show and are a fan I’m guessing that your opinion will likely match the children around me at my screening and you will enjoy it wholeheartedly. I was left wishing to be anywhere else. Grade: D

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