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Josh Reviews A Wrinkle in Time

I loved A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid.  I remember I had a set of the three (at the time) books in the series by Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  As I recall, I didn’t much care for A Swiftly Tilting Planet, but the mix of science and fantasy in those first two books thrilled me.  Just recently I read A Wrinkle in Time with my daughters, and they loved it.  It was fun to rediscover the book through their eyes.  They deeply invested in Meg and in her adventure.  For me, I was pleased that the book (which I hadn’t read in close to three decades) held up well.  There were some religious aspects in the novel that I hadn’t recalled and which I found superfluous, and I was a little frustrated by the novel’s abrupt ending, but I was glad to revisit this book and happy that my daughters enjoyed it just as I had.

The book felt ripe for a visual interpretation, and so I looked forward eagerly to Ava DuVernay (Selma)’s film adaptation.  Having now seen it, I can say that the film is… interesting.  There’s a lot to enjoy, but overall I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag.

First off, it’s not what I’d consider a direct adaptation of the book.  Yes, the movie follows the same basic story beats as the book, but whereas, say, the Harry Potter films attempted to bring the story of the novels to screen as faithfully as possible (understanding that, of course, changes have to be made when transforming a novel into a two-hour movie), there were many places in Ms. DuVernay’s adaptation of A  Wrinkle in Time in which it felt to me that Ms. DuVernay and her team used the novel as a jumping-off point for their own ideas.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach.  But the result is a film that feels very distinctly like one filmmaker’s version of a story loosely based on A Wrinkle in Time rather than a faithful adaptation.  (I freely admit that, for most of cinema’s history, that’s what practically ALL movie adaptations of novels were!  But in a post-Harry Potter era, when we have seen how successful those films were, both creatively and financially, I find myself more drawn to projects that are faithful to the source material.)

As an example of what I am talking about, take the film’s depiction of Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.  Ms. DuVernay has cast three wonderful actresses in the role (Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey), … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2012: The Campaign

In The Campaign, Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a handsome, smugly arrogant Democratic Congressman from North Carolina.  His easy-street string of running unopposed is broken when two corrupt businessmen (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) convince someone to run against him.  That someone is Raymond Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis.  Raymond is a weird, squirrely little man, and he is chosen because of how simple and easy to manipulate he is.  As the simple Raymond is transformed into a canny political operator, he becomes a real threat to Cam, and the two men soon set out to destroy each other.

After digging deeply into real-world politics with Recount (which chronicled the weeks of indecision following the 2000 Presidential election — click here for my review) and Game Change (which focused on Sarah Palin and the 2008 Presidential campaign — click here for my review), director Jay Roach decided to stick with politics but move into a fictional, more straightly comedic film.  I thought that was a good idea when I first read about The Campaign, but I was disappointed by the execution.  I found The Campaign to be only mildly amusing, far from the laugh-riot I had hoped for from the pairing of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.

But even more than that, what dissatisfied me about The Campaign was that — particularly in comparison to the incredibly sharp films Recount and Game Change — I could never quite see the point of The Campaign.  What message does the film have to tell us?  That politicans can be stupid and/or arrogant?  Wow, what a groundbreaking idea!  Had Raymond started out as a fairly normal character, who then was turned into a cruel, selfish politician, that would have been a story-arc.  Not a particularly original or insightful one, but that would have at least shown me that the movie had a point of view, and was commenting on the corrosive effects of the state of politics in 2012 America.  But Raymond starts out the film as a total nutball, equally as weird and unlikable as Will Ferrell’s John Edwards-like Cam Brady, just in a different way.  So… what’s the point  of view of the film?

Which leads me to conclude that the film has absolutely nothing substantial to say about politics, and is just using the political arena as a setting for a funny story.  Coming after Recount and Game Change, that would be a little disappointing to me but still a perfectly reasonable approach to take.  Except that the film isn’t nearly funny enough to make that work.  If The Campaign was intended by Mr. Roach and his team to just be a fun yuk-fest, then in my opinion … [continued]