Wrinkles, Fantastic Women and Choices in Theaters This Weekend
One million movies come out this weekend. I’m ball-parking, but it’s a pretty accurate number. Too many—The Strangers: Prey at Night, Gringo, The Hurricane Heist, Thoroughbreds—didn’t screen for critics, which is never a good sign. But a bunch did, and some of them are pretty great. Choices!
A Wrinkle in Time
It was a dark and stormy night.
With this cheeky line, Madeleine L’Engle began an odyssey that entertained and emboldened, taught us to take responsibility for our own choices, highlighted the drawbacks of conformity and showed us how to be warriors for the light.
A Wrinkle in Time was smart and groundbreaking, which, of course, makes it the ideal tale for filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma, The 13th).
The casting is where DuVernay, with little fanfare and no disruption in the story, breaks the most ground. Storm Reid (Sleight) turns out to be the best choice the director makes, offering the perfect mix of adolescent self-loathing and smarts as our reluctant hero, Meg.
With the help of scripters Jennifer Lee (Zootopia) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia), DuVernay remains faithful enough to L’Engle’s vision without being limited by it. But, she stumbles to translate some of the more dated concepts in the book, creating a conclusion that feels a bit rushed and confused.
The adventure is colorful and beautiful, though. It’s also full of lessons that feel less like a sledgehammer than reasonable nudging. (“You can do this. You’re choosing not to.”)
The supporting cast—Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw—balance the fantastical with the heartfelt. Galifianakis is particularly impressive.
Yes, there are more than a few corny, too-precious moments, but it is a kids’ movie. DuVernay can be credited with keeping that audience in mind to create a lovely film unabashed enough to bear-hug L’Engle’s message of positivity.
A Fantastic Woman
The grace that envelopes every moment of Daniela Vega’s turn as the fantastic woman in question is very nearly magical. This is aided by director Sebastián Lelio’s surrealistic, Almodovar-esque flourishes, but it’s mainly the result of Vega’s quietly fiery performance. Resolutely uncommunicative, her deeply interior character demands your attention, refusing to surrender her dignity even as forces pummel it from every direction.
The film opens as the sixtyish Orlando (Francisco Reyes) meanders through a day leading to an audience with Marina, a trans singer (Vega). Then it’s on to Marina’s birthday dinner and home, to the apartment they’ve just begun sharing. The evening is lovely in its run-of-the-mill newness, and though Lelio appears to be setting up the coming conflict in rather broad strokes, the truth is that every moment so far has been a type of misdirection.
When Orlando dies, the assault begins: at the hospital, where Marina’s treated with suspicion; with the family, whose contempt cannot be contained; with the police, whose baseless investigation is perhaps the most degrading moment of all.
There is an aching tenderness to the first act as we begin to understand the nature of Marina and Orlando’s relationship, and we grieve the loss of that tenderness along with Marina. In Vega’s lovely performance we see not only her strength and resilience but also the courage it must have taken Orlando to be himself.
There is a drawback to such a quiet performance, though. In detailing the harassment and abuse Marina suffers from all sides without offering a clearer look inside the character, Marina becomes a symbol rather than a character, an object of sympathy rather than empathy.
Even if Lelio and Vega don’t let you truly know Marina, you cannot help but respect her.
Sally Potter’s jet-black comedy The Party mostly succeeds as social satire examining the savagery churning just below the surface of the polite and prosperous. Where it definitely succeeds, in ways that must seem truly unfair to every single other actor alive today, is crowning Patricia Clarkson a national treasure.
Not that the rest of the tight ensemble is full of slouches. Clarkson plays April, one of five guests attending a party for Janet (the almost equally superb Kristin Scott Thomas), who is celebrating a political promotion.
Timothy Spall plays Bill, Janet’s husband and a literal odd man out: he is nearly catatonic when the guests arrive. When he finally reveals why, it sets off a series of violent delights, both verbal and physical.
The cast might actually be too good for the material (written by Potter). That’s an envious problem for a movie to have, but it’s still a real one. The repartee is shocking and funny in turn. Just about every single line delivery from Clarkson, Scott Thomas and Spall is perfectly measured—so much so that the barbs feel like they’re cutting a lot deeper than they really are.
But for all the wicked pleasures to be had from watching this masterclass in verbal sparring, there’s a nagging superficiality to it all. The rapid-fire pace distracts from the reality that nobody ends up discovering some deeper personal meaning about themselves other than rank hypocrisy. And a gimmicky twist at the end doesn’t help.
And yet. It’s easy to forgive The Party’s shortcomings after you’ve heard Clarkson tell someone “You are surpassing yourself” or “You could consider murder” in tones so deadpan that we really ought to invent a new adjective.
It’s a strange, perfectly flawed bunch Potter has thrown together. And I could have stayed with them for hours more.
The Dublin of the not-so-distant future is home to the world’s most cataclysmic outbreak of the MAZE virus—a 28 Days Later kind of thing.
Senan (Sam Keeley) is among the stricken. Along with thousands of his countrymen, Senan has spent the last several years a zombie of sorts—a mindless, cannibalistic killing machine.
And though a cure has been found—relieving 75 percent of the infected—returning to a society proves difficult because the cured can remember their beastly behavior. So can the uninfected.
Plus, there is still that tricky question of what to do with the other 25 percent, “the incurable.”
For a world in chaos (ours, not that of the movie), zombies offer a simple way to contend with the unimaginable: racism being celebrated at the highest offices, child molestation being excused when it’s politically convenient, Nazis being labeled good guys. For director David Freyne, publicly sanctioned fear and hatred leads first to oppression and then to uprising.
His set decoration echoes WWII-era propaganda as his characters struggle with shame, disenfranchisement and righteous indignation. Keely’s deeply human performance remains focused on overcoming, but it’s the unnerving turn by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor that makes this film a keeper.
There are two concerns with The Cured. 1) By horror standards, it’s a sociopolitical drama. 2) By the time it decides to become a horror movie, any hint of novelty or originality vanishes.
But don’t discount it. The Cured is smart and relevant. It doesn’t leave you guessing and won’t satisfy your bloodlust, but there is something satisfying in knowing that the ugliness and chaos of the day has not gone unnoticed.
Submission opens with the sardonic narration of an exhausted novelist/professor. His monologue sounds a lot like the opening to a novel but his book, we discover, isn’t being written. Ted Swenson (Stanley Tucci) is uncomfortable, unhappy and uninspired. Then, in waltzes the first conscious student he’s had in years, Angela Argo (an incredible Addison Timlin).
Writer/director Richard Levine adapts Francie Prose’s 2000 novel Blue Angel (based on Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 film The Blue Angel, which is in turn based on Heinrich Mann’s 1905 novel Professor Unrat). The story is not a new one. Fortunately, while the plot feels overwhelmingly predictable, the building tension is immense, largely pulled taught by the strong performances of Tucci and Timlin.
Levine does the good work of leaving breadcrumbs without pointing to them with a neon arrow. This film works because of its layers. And also because Stanley Tucci can do anything.
Honestly, I wanted a little more from Submission. I wanted to know more about the tragic death of Swenson’s father. I wanted to know why Swenson’s daughter hated him. I was desperate to know which of Angela’s somber backstories were real and which were contrived. I wanted more cause to care about the destruction of a man’s family. And shockingly, I wanted more voiceovers ripped from the pages of the resulting novels.
Submission’s inevitable resolution suggests that no matter the terrible things we do, we’re all just potential fodder for America’s next great novel.
Also opening in Columbus:
Before We Vanish (R)
The Hurricane Heist (PG-13)
Save the Crew: The Battle for Columbus (NR)
The Strangers: Prey by Night (R)
Reviews with help from Cat McAlpine and Matt Weiner.