Eppler: "Wrinkle" and "Annihilation" approach common themes diff

Eppler: "Wrinkle" and "Annihilation" approach common themes differently

It's interesting to me that "A Wrinkle in Time," Disney's long gestating adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's beloved sci-fi fantasy novel is sharing theater screens with a much smaller sci-fi picture called "Annihilation," because they have so much in common. Both feature female lead characters braving time-twisting dimensions for the sake of loved ones and learning greater truths about themselves. But only one of them has much staying power.

In a "Wrinkle in Time," a teenage girl played by Storm Reid in a pretty wonderful performance, wants to find her scientist father, Chris Pine, whose been missing for four years. She, her adopted brother and school crush are whisked away by three mysterious beings to other worlds to follow the trail. What should be a stunning and magical journey is weighted down by a lot of exposition by the three beings (Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey) - each of them a bit of a bore. Oprah is the leader - a larger than life presence who says Oprah things. 

The movie really picks up and shook me out of a snooze when the three beings bail and leave the kids on their own to face an evil thing called "The IT" - not to be confused with that scary clown.

Direction is by Ava DuVernay, a filmmaker with a unique perspective who I greatly admire. Her previous movies being so grounded ("Selma," "The 13th") makes her an odd fit to direct this fantasy. Her insistence on a multi-racial cast is exciting - trumpeting a new norm in Hollywood.

There's never any doubt how "A Wrinkle in Time" will end, which is not something I can say about "Annihilation," made by another visionary director, Alex Garland.

Natalie Portman is tremendous as a biologist who joins an expedition into a mysterious disaster zone that did something terrible to her husband. The movie has shocks and surprises lurking around every corner, and we're never sure where the next turn will lead. 

The final quarter is a mind-bender - refusing to give easy answers. I'm not sure it completely holds together, but it's a fantastic ride getting there. "Annihilation" also has some profound observations about humanity including a proclivity toward self destruction. "A Wrinkle in Time" only feigns profundity. It's a movie to forget after a few days. "Annihilation" is one to chew on long after the popcorn is gone. 

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