The Films of Ava DuVernay
This Is the Life
I Will Follow
Middle of Nowhere
Selma (January 9/14)
A well-intentioned yet persistently underwhelming drama, Selma details Martin Luther King's (David Oyelowo) efforts to secure equal voting rights during the 1960s - with King's efforts building to a historic march from Selma to Montgomery. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay has infused Selma with precisely the sort of slick, Oscar-ready sensibility that one has come to associate with movies of this ilk, and it's not surprising to note that the picture is, as a result, rarely as engrossing or captivating as DuVernay has surely intended - with the arms-length atmosphere compounded by an overlong running time and often excessively deliberate pace. It's equally clear, however, that Oyelowo's superb performance goes a long way towards smoothing over the movie's many deficiencies, as the actor does a fantastic job of stepping into the shoes of one of the 20th century's most iconic figures. (Oyelowo deserves credit, too, for humanizing a man that easily could've been portrayed as a saint.) As good as he and the supporting cast are, however, Selma remains pitched at a level of watchable mediocrity from start to finish - with DuVernay's inability to cultivate even a wisp of momentum preventing the film from taking flight. It doesn't help, either, that the narrative has been suffused with a whole host of padded and flat-out needless sequences, with the most obvious example of this virtually all of the scenes revolving around King's relationship with his wife. It's a shame, really, given that Selma does boast a number of stirring moments - eg King's ongoing conversations with President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) - and a rousing final stretch that attempts (yet fails) to elicit an emotional response from the viewer. The end result is an effort that often seems to be trying too hard to earn its designation as an Important Movie, which is a shame, really, given the strength of Oyelowo's work here and the incredibly timely nature of the film's content and message.
A Wrinkle in Time (March 14/18)
Based on the book by Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time follows siblings Meg (Storm Reid) and Charles (Deric McCabe) as they embark on a trip through the universe to find their missing father (Chris Pine) - with the journey set into motion by a trio of exceedingly, excessively off-kilter celestial beings (Reese Witherspoon's Mrs. Whatsit, Mindy Kaling's Mrs. Who, and Oprah Winfrey's Mrs. Which). Filmmaker Ava DuVernay delivers an adaptation that is, for the most part, nothing short of a complete disaster from start to finish, with the movie's unfocused, all-over-the-place vibe established right from the get-go and effectively preventing the viewer from connecting to either the material or the characters - which is problematic, to say the least, given the ongoing emphasis on the central characters' emotional exploits. The perpetually incoherent, nonsensical atmosphere is compounded by DuVernay's aggressive overuse of computer-generated special effects, as large swaths of A Wrinkle in Time have been suffused with headache-inducingly over-the-top visuals that serve only to distract and ultimately feel as though they've been pulled out of a contemporary video game. It's clear, too, that Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell's patchwork screenplay paves the way for a momentum-free midsection devoid of compelling sequences, while the pair's often infuriating dialogue, which forces the aforementioned celestial beings to speak almost entirely in aphorisms, grows more and more infuriating as time slowly progresses (ie it's just too much quirkiness for one movie). And although DuVernay has peppered the narrative with one or two comparatively engrossing sequences (eg a montage of different Earth-bound characters and the problems they face), A Wrinkle in Time, by and large, comes off as an interminable bomb that instantly joins the ranks of Hollywood's most prominent misfires.