Category: Books

Based On: HBO’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Throws a Brutal Italian Twist on a Female Coming-of-Age Story

The latest in a series from Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad and producer-at-large at Family Theater Productions.

My Brilliant Friend, an HBO series (Italian with English subtitles) directed by Saverio Costanzo, based on the first novel, “My Brilliant Friend,” of the Neapolitan Quartet written by Elena Ferrante; translated from the original Italian by Ann Goldstein. (TV-MA violence, some language, one scene of naturalistic nudity)

Imagine if one of Jane Austen’s female-coming-of-age works was relocated from genteel, well-appointed England and landed flat in the middle of brutal, poverty-ridden southern Italy, and you would have some inkling of the ferocity of the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante.

Best friends Raffaella “Lila” Cerullo and Elena “Lenu” Greco meet in primary school and navigate the mean streets of 1950s Naples. The two are the smartest of their class and often singled out by their maestros as exemplary students. Despite the ubiquitous crucifixes that adorn every private business, public-school room and home, Neapolitans take most their social and moral cues, it seems, from the unofficial rulers of the day — black market mob bosses, embodied in this story by the aptly named Don Achille Carracci.

Violence marks many a public business transaction and informs the private dysfunction of the families who bear witness to it, day after miserable day. In the novel, a reader might almost miss the violence, the narrator; Lenu refers to it in fleeting, haunting prose. Adapting the material to the small screen, however, we see the brutality as the characters did, unflinching and in-your-face. HBO’s TV series (which recently ended its weekly run; and is now available On Demand and on HBO GO/HBO NOW) does not glorify it, but provides context for how scarred (and in some cases, inured) the townspeople become.

The childhood chapter ends with the murder of Don Achille. Some relief then is provided to the main characters by episode three, where we meet Lenu as she prepares to begin secondary school. Lila, the smarter of the two, can’t convince her parents to pay for her continued schooling and instead cobbles in their shoe-store, while voraciously reading books as an autodidact.

The story lost a layer of complexity when they changed Lenu’s course of studies from theology in the novel to Latin and Greek in the television series. Exposed to a world beyond the four-walled village, Lenu begins to question many things, the insularity of her hometown and the faith handed off to her. I’ve only read one novel, thus far, and hold a cautious optimism that the healthy questioning on her part will lead to greater faith later on.

The best part of both the novel and the TV series (and quite frankly in any TV show since Downton Abbey) are the courtship rituals. This staunchly Catholic neighborhood observes the most conservative of rites. Want to ask out the much fawned after Lila or Lenu? Ask one of their stern fathers, first. The old ways make for the best ways of storytelling. The period setting of the series requires the creative forces behind the series to eek out sexual tension and romance without peddling flesh.

Lenu and Lila arrive at Carracci’s to purchase their family’s Christmas grocery lists only to finds themselves at the end of an interminably long line. Brothers Stefano and Alfonso Carracci notice them and expedite their purchase. The charity does not happen without motive as Alfonso invites their families to the Carracci New Year’s Eve party. Teen crushes provide the setting for reconciliation of families otherwise opposed on the political spectrum and much stratified on the economic ladder.

I don’t speak Italian, but the writing and acting are so impeccably executed that I don’t feel I lose out on the rare humorous moments. Various suitors, including the most handsome of the village, Marcelo Solara, pursue Lila. Again, the social mores of the time demand Marcelo’s best-rehearsed flirt. He states he dreamt of her last night. Unimpressed, Lila responds: What of? That he proposed marriage to her. What was my response? Yes. Then, it really must have been a dream.

Image: HBO

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BASED ON: ‘Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer’ and the Book That Preceded It

 

Earl Billings as Dr. Kermit Gosnell

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, reviews the new true-crime procedural film Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, released Oct. 12, and the book that preceded it, Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer — both were based on grand-jury testimony, news reports and trial transcripts.

Married couple Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney produced the film Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, basing it on a book of a similar title. The style of filmmaking follows the book closely, a verbatim account of Philadelphia abortionist, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, convicted of grisly murders at his decrepit abortion clinic.

(Note: While the film discusses grisly and horrific crimes, it is not gory or sensationalized. There is no sex or overt violence. Its PG-13 rating refers to adult themes and things more implied than shown. That said, it’s probably not suitable for anyone under its stated age range.)

The book and film rely on police reports, grand-jury testimony, the court stenographer and interviews with Gosnell himself (subsequent to his conviction). The account of Gosnell’s misdeeds left me speechless as the crimes were unraveled in 2010; the movie elicits the same response now. One illustration of the banality: Gosnell felt it appropriate to gleefully play classical music on his grand piano as Feds search his home, following a more recent search of his clinic which uncovered jarred baby parts from previous abortions.

The verbatim approach follows a rarely utilized adaptation style most famously realized in The Passion of Joan of Arc.  Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, this silent film’s source material was based entirely on St. Joan of Arc’s heresy trial transcript. The stark, silent format that 1920s technology demanded actually worked to the film’s advantage. The back-and-forth interrogation between the saint and her inquisitors needed no embellishment from a screenwriter. The story speaks for itself. An innocent young woman dies at the hands of an overweening religious tribunal. The viewer, then has the opportunity to respond to St. Joan’s witness or not.

Philadelphia and federal law enforcement, city prosecutors, a journalist blogger and later, filmmakers, faced Gosnell’s brutal crimes in their verbatim form. They all played parts in not shirking from this evil, but instead exposed it in all its gruesome literalism and brutality.

Most suspiciously absent from the expose was (ironically enough) the institution most entrusted with uncovering truth and exposing lies … the mainstream media. As documented in the film and book, one journalist blogger snapped a photo of any empty journalist gallery and posted it to social media. A lay Twitter campaign publicly shamed traditional media outlets into sending their journalists to cover the trial. I would posit blame at human knuckleheadedness and typical shying-away from admitting some conspiratorial media blackout, but recent events might prove me wrong.

The book’s release immediately made it a bestseller, but the New York Times initially refused to place it on its list, despite empirical book sales demonstrating otherwise. Perhaps, more jaw-dropping was National Public Radio’s denial of the filmmakers’ attempt to pay for ad spots referring to Gosnell as an abortion doctor, even though the radio station’s own previous scant reporting on the case used the very same title.

I prefer themes subtly massaged into the media I both consume and produce. After all, our own Savior spoke through parables, metaphors and good ole-fashioned stories. When confronted with evil so depraved, there’s something to be said about lifting high the Cross and exposing evil in all its lurid detail. Does one respond with facing evil head on and administering justice, or retreat back into a bed of lies, blanketed by sins of omission?

Image: Courtesy Hat Tip Films

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BASED ON: Netflix’s ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,’ and the Book That Inspired It

The latest in a series by Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., USC film-school grad and producer-at-large at Family Theater Productions …

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, screenplay by Don Roos, directed by Mike Newell based on a novel of the same title written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. (Now streaming on Netflix.)

The Netflix original movie tells the story of the German occupation of the Channel Island of Guernsey during WWII and the ways in which the tiny island community copes with their situation. In some ways, they’re creative in their predicament: one small band forms a reading group, of sorts. In other ways, occupation becomes a veritable prison for the inhabitants and boredom ensues, evidenced by the serving of potato-peel pies as the culinary staple of choice.

The novel executes the story by way of written letters between the main characters. After the conclusion of the war, Juliet Ashton (played by the lovely Lily James of Downton Abbey fame) hears of the underground literary society and begins a written dialogue with the former members, in hopes of impressing her publisher in London. The entire novel then, alternates in these back and forth letters between her and the society. When she arrives at the island at novel’s mid-point, correspondence in this same letter form continues between her and her publisher, Sidney Stark (Matthew Goode).

The novel’s chosen medium is essentially personal narration for nearly 300 pages — it’s like reading dialogue the entire time, without there actually existing a line of dialogue. It makes for a tedious read to say the least. To borrow language from the translation field, I’m glad the filmmakers decided not to adapt this using formal equivalence. For had the film told the story entirely through letters, as the novel did, it would have required tremendous amounts of voiceover … a smart choice only if Terrence Malick directs your film.

Don Roos’ best adaptation technique is to write the story more in real time — Juliet interviews the islanders on past events, and her poking and prodding create the effect of an engaging procedural. Juliet soon uncovers the central tension between society members. They provide cover for Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay, also from Downton Abbey) who mothered an out-of-wedlock daughter with one of the German officers.

Reading these events in the novel’s letters format produced what I would call a “settled effect.” Since the letters reference a past sin, the only thing left to do on the other side of its committal is to offer forgiveness. With the filmmakers’ adaptation choice to dispense with most of the letter writing, the morality takes on a more immediate effect. When Juliet first learns of Elizabeth cavorting with the Germans, an innkeepers’ judgmental quip on the whole indiscretion takes on a more considerable bite.

A wise screenwriting professor once told me when adapting material, try to answer the question: “What is the one thing the story is about?” The filmmakers accomplished that in capably updating this story of mercy and forgiveness. Discerning the “form” through which the novel tells the story, and determining whether or not that suited the big screen, was an even better question the filmmakers answered.

Image: Courtesy Netflix

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BASED ON: Our Father Vince Kuna Looks at Spike Lee’s ‘BlackKkKlansman’ and the Book That Inspired It

Editor: First in a new series by our producer-at-large, USC film school grad Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., that looks at a movie based on a book.

He begins with the recent feature film “BlackKkKlansman,” co-written and directed by Spike Lee, based on a memoir by Ron Stallworth by the same title.

It’s R-Rated and definitely NOT for the family audience.

Set against the idyllic mountains of 1970s Colorado Springs, “BlackKkKlansman” tells the real life story of Ron Stallworth, police officer and the Jackie Robinson of his profession. Stallworth put up with a tremendous amount of discrimination in breaking the color barrier for black detectives in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Prior to going onto a long and distinguished career in law enforcement, Stallworth infiltrated the city’s growing chapter of the Klu Klux Klan.

The set piece of both the memoir and film begins when the department quickly promotes Stallworth (played by John David Washington (HBO’s “Ballers”; yes, Denzel’s son) from archival work to the more enviable intelligence division. Upon discovering a promotion for the KKK in the local newspaper, Stallworth leaves a message for the answering machine. To his surprise, the local knight calls him back and invites him to meet some of the other Klansman. His first investigation begins. Stallworth’s colleagues are less impressed and in fact are amused at the phone call … Stallworth accidentally gave his real name. Rookie mistake! As KKK members would never accept someone not of their own skin color, it will be up to Stallworth’s Jewish partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to be the face of Stallworth, while the real Stallworth will continue to supply his own voice.

As you probably have gathered by now, Stallworth’s memoir achieves an absurdist, yet comedic vibe. The film’s best attribute lies in Spike Lee’s ability to pull off this very tone. Phone conversations between the real Stallworth and Grand Knight, David Duke (Topher Grace), are guffaw-inducing and would be more hilarious, if not for the racist content serving as a disturbing undertone. Real-life encounters between Zimmeran’s “Stallworth” and Klan members are well-executed by Driver. He quite capably feigns a racist persona for the sake of the investigation. Both characters, in effect, do as Christ did, not fighting ugliness with more ugliness, but absorbing some of the worst parts of their enemies and turning it against them, exposing evil for what it is. “Infiltrate hate,” the tagline goes of the film goes. Not “flee” or “fight” hate as the world often demands.

The biggest addition to the film, not found anywhere in the memoir is the romance between Stallworth and Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), a fictitious Colorado College student and leader of the school’s Black Student Union. This subplot was to enhance Stallworth’s character: he’s sympathetic to his people’s cause and even smitten with Dumas, but nonetheless doesn’t fall in with the militant means of affecting change that at times, plagued civil rights activism.

The better story lies in reality, however. In his memoir, Stallworth recounts a concurrent episode where a 15-year-old black boy named David Scott Lee murdered a young white male outside a 24-hour diner. Stallworth agreed with the conviction as it was a clear cut, cold-blooded murder. The local predominately black Baptist church took issue with the ruling and, in what Stallworth felt was a desperate plea for self-promotion, invited Dr. Ralph David Abernathy (successor to MLK as Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader) to bring attention to the closed case and thus, their church. Stallworth warned Abernathy of his being co-opted by the local church.

Lee makes no mention of this story. It’s a shame, because the real-life Stallworth rose above partisan politics, living out his profession in terms of right and wrong, the criminals and the innocent, irrespective of whether they wear police blues or not. Lee on the other hand, can’t quite seem to extricate himself from seeing the world solely in black and white, ending the film with an upside down Old Glory drained of its Red, White and Blue. The film ends on a downer, whereas the real-life Ron Stallworth provided hope. The reality of his memoir, it seems, is indeed better than the historical fiction of the movie.

Image: Courtesy Focus Features

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Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Wisdom Compiled in New Book

Journalist turned PR maven Alexis Walkenstein (one of the team behind our recent documentary “The Dating Project”) recently released “Ex Libris — Fulton J. Sheen,” a compilation of writings from pioneering Catholic media evangelist Venerable Archbishop Sheen, who spread the Gospel on radio and TV from 1930 until the late 1930s.

He died in 1979 and is currently interred at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Since today, May 8, is the 123rd anniversary of Sheen’s birth, we decided to check in with Walkenstein and see what Sheen means to her, and what she’d like him to mean to others.

How did you first hear about Archbishop Sheen?

Archbishop Sheen would be an occasional topic in our Catholic home growing up, since he was really more of my parents’ generation. In my young-adult professional life as a journalist, I recall particular things about Sheen during one Christmas when my dad decided to gift my mother with a collection of his old radio broadcasts. The media connection intrigued me because I worked in TV.

More personally, I would say Sheen dramatically broke into my life around the time I accepted a new job as spokesperson and director of communications for a diocese in South Florida. I was transitioning from a secular news career in Boston, and I was flooded with all my hopes and dreams (and fears) as I was moving into new territory, career-wise and geography-wise.

I was so excited about moving and praying at the same time for a God-sent husband. I meandered into a local Boston Catholic bookstore before I drove myself south on I-95 to the east coast of Florida. I perused the shelves looking for a spiritual work to mark this time of transition. I plucked Sheen’s Three to Get Married from the shelves and was intrigued because here was this bishop teaching about marriage.

There was so much focus on vocations to priesthood, but at that time I couldn’t remember a bishop speaking about the Sacrament of Marriage with such profound pastoral care pointing to the high call of this vocation. On a practical level, I had no idea what it would be like to work for a bishop and thought Sheen could help me on two fronts, my new job and my desire for my own vocation — marriage.

Why a book, why this book, why now?

The truth is, I never imagined I would be compiling a book on the spirituality of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Ever. But I can honestly say that Heaven pressed me into service and kept me at my word.

This book is a fulfillment of a promise I made before God and Venerable Fulton Sheen 10 years ago. When I prayed inside the crypt where Sheen buried at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York a decade ago, I asked him to intercede for five intentions.

The whole experience of getting inside the crypt and being in New York was as spontaneous as my last prayer to him that December day. I ended my heartfelt string of prayer requests by saying “If you help me, I will promote you.” I never prayed that way — and was certainly not bargaining with God — but it was more of an offering of myself, almost thanksgiving in advance for what I knew he could do before the throne of God.

Immediately when I emerged from the crypt, I had an email at the top of my inbox from a priest I never met before. The priest was the executive director of the Fulton J. Sheen Foundation in Peoria, Illinois [Ed.: Sheen’s birthplace], and he said he heard about me and asked me to consider helping promote the Sheen cause for canonization in south Florida where I was working. That email dropped the mic and created a domino effect of all types of promotion of Sheen’s cause within Palm Beach and on a national level. The prayers I prayed were being answered almost immediately one by one.

My activities became a labor of love in service to a saint in the making and one of my newest and most fierce intercessors. It wasn’t until about a whole seven years later, when I was approached by Pauline Media to consider compiling this book. That was April, 2015, when I was about to move to Los Angeles, and my life was taking an entirely new direction. I thought my Sheen promo days had peaked and that was it. Not so fast!

My movie work and move to LA was all part of Sheen’s intercession. When the book opportunity emerged the night of my re-entry into the movie biz, Sheen was letting me know very directly that he was behind all the curvy twists and turns of God’s plan for my life.

The book introduces the Gospel as presented by Sheen to a new generation. I’m like the reader. I didn’t know much about Archbishop Sheen, however, I share my personal testimony via the introduction. I then present Sheen’s own words under areas of his main thought such as the mystery of God, human freedom, divine love, sin and knowing Jesus.

On another level, this book reveals Sheen’s efficacy as an intercessor – he’s not just a powerhouse Emmy-toting evangelist, he’s an intercessor for every manner of need. You want a friend in heaven who can move on your behalf in a New York minute? Go to Sheen.

What’s been his biggest impact on your life?

This is hard question to answer because there are very deep and profound things that have happened to me through his intercession as well as his writings, that have impacted me with wisdom to better understand the Gospel. However, I think the biggest impact is the very personal relationship that the saints (or in this case, a saint in the making) want to develop with us.

Again and again, I am astounded by how thin the veil is between heaven and earth, and how responsive Venerable Sheen is to me personally, in the manner in which specific prayers are answered like live scenes from theater and in strategic methodical ways.

On a concrete level, Sheen was the big force in heaven behind my move to Hollywood. I had lived in many other cities, including Atlanta, New York and Palm Beach where I was introduced to Sheen, but three years ago I was back in Boston working in the mainstream at a public relations firm tailored to the business sector. My dad had been very ill, and it was good to be back at home at this particular time, and it seemed that’s where I would stay.

The mainstream job just didn’t satisfy. One day I heard God say, “today’s the day you leave.” I said, “If that’s really you God, make it the worst day ever.” It became the worst day ever ,and I quit my job on the spot without notice. I called on Sheen’s intercession to assist me in pursuit of the roots I wanted to plant in work and in life.

A month later I was asked to help on a movie, which turned into another movie ,which turned into me moving across the country to Los Angeles. I never envisioned moving to L.A. or the very many things that have emerged as a result of this unexpected catapult.

I started my own business, am host of a national radio show and just released this book on Archbishop Sheen. Sheen’s intercession is laced throughout this cross-country move and the new territory and relationships that God had planned for me from the beginning of time. Sheen helps me to see the greatness and vastness of God’s plan for my life when I invite Him to take over. It’s a much better show than I could ever produce.

What do you hope people take away from this book?

It’s my ardent prayer that seekers and the faithful alike will come into a deeper understanding of the meaning of life under Heaven, and that people would come to a greater understanding that, in God’s economy, He gives us saints to assist us in our life’s pilgrimage.

I share a lot in my introduction about my powerful encounter with Archbishop Sheen, and, beyond the introduction, I can say that of the five intentions I asked for help with, three have been realized with the final two unfolding now in Sheen-style dramatic fashion.

What God has done for me through the intercession of Archbishop Sheen, He will do for others. I also want people to know the depths of prayer that went into unearthing the selected quotes for the book. He wrote so many works, but you can’t fit everything in a book like this, so I asked the Holy Spirit to bring forward the themes and words that would penetrate hungry hearts in today’s world.

The care and prayer was intentional in hopes that the seeds of truth on the pages of this book would become rooted in hearts and souls and that every person who picks up this book would receive transformation in Christ through friendship with Archbishop Sheen.

How does Archbishop Sheen matter in the modern world?

Sheen matters in the modern world because Truth matters. Our world would like to drown Truth out. Our world would like to convince us that we don’t need God, and we can do things our own way. Yet, people everywhere are sin-sick and in bondage to things that separate them from the freedom they crave – a freedom that can only be known in Jesus who is Truth itself.

People are looking for solutions to problems and seeking false power for quick fixes. Sheen matters in today’s world because he shows us that Love has a name, and that name is Jesus, and he shows us the power source that connects us to this Love in the Sacramental life of the Church.

Sheen also takes the spiritual ax to the root of our spiritual ills (sin, ego, addiction, lack of faith) and sin habits by exposing the woundedness in a soul void of God.

Sheen unabashedly proclaimed Christ and had a charism for conversion, a zeal for life pointing all to the reality that “life is worth living.” Not only do his potent words matter today, but his intercession matters – for our Church, for youth, for families and all who are called to a particular life of holiness to be lived for the glory of God.

What do you think he’d say about social media?

Can you imagine the Facebook lives and the fiery Tweets? I think Sheen would say #LifeIsWorthLiving and would give everyone a run for their money on Instagram Story! I can only imagine that the two-time Emmy Award-winner would see the social landscape as missionary territory, and the “digital continents” of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram would be fair game for a contemporary platform to proclaim the Gospel.

Knowing his disciplined life and attention to the whole person, I can also imagine Sheen would have something to say about excessive social media use, and the crutch to hide behind screens instead of fostering authentic interactions and relationships. Would he use these platforms to preach Jesus? Yes. Would he warn about living your life out on social media alone and warn against traps to social addiction? Yes, I think he would also help tame the dragon of technological dependence.

 What’s your favorite Bishop Sheen quote?

Easy. “Love is a mutual self-giving that ends in self-recovery.”

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m an East Coast transplant to Los Angeles, and even though most say I don’t have a Boston accent, I sometimes sound like a Wahlberg or a Kennedy, depending on the day or the score of the Red Sox game.

After just about three years in California, I have fallen in love with the West Coast and all the influences that make up this side of the planet. I’m a storyteller at heart, as a former newswoman turned PR pro. Movies are my day job (more like my 24/7 day job), but writing is my personal passion. I have a little radio show called Mary’s Touch that I host each week and is broadcast on over 60 stations around the world. My contemporary heroes are Saint John Paul II and Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.

If I’m not moving or flying on a plane, I’m not living.

Click here to buy the book from Pauline Books & Media and here for Amazon.com.

Images: Wikimedia Commons; courtesy Alexis Walkenstein, Pauline Books & Media

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘A Wrinkle In Time’: You Can’t Iron Out These Difficulties [UPDATED]

Up front, I have to say that I haven’t read Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 children’s fantasy novel “A Wrinkle in Time,” which inspired the megabudget Disney movie that came out on March 9. But I do know that the author’s Christian beliefs were woven throughout it.

If I hadn’t known that going in, I never would have been able to tell from this ramshackle, glitter-drenched mess of a movie.

Directed by Ava DuVernay from a screenplay by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, it follows the adventures of awkward but smart teen Meg Murry (Storm Reid), her adopted genius little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and her admiring pal Calvin (Levi Miller). They follow the lead of three powerful beings — vaguely goddess-y Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), mercurial Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and quote-spouting Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) — to find Meg’s missing scientist father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine), who mysteriously vanished four years earlier.

Also starring are Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Meg’s mother, Dr. Kate Murry; Zach Galifinakis as the Happy Medium; Michael Pena as Red; and David Oyelowo as The It.

The idea is that Alex discovered a way to hop between dimensions — called “tessering” — and in his desire to know the universe, got lost in it. The three Mrs.-es, decked out in a dizzying variety of big dresses, bigger hair and disco makeup, take the trio of kids on a weird trip to computer-generated worlds, ending in a confrontation with a big dark spidery thing, which … well, I don’t even know what exactly happened.

There’s a lot of hugging and declarations of love, but I honestly had no clue what was going on most of the time. Caleb gazes adoringly at Meg, who’s gutsy and clever, but generally cranky and out of sorts; while Charles Wallace alternates between precocious cuteness and radiating snarky menace like the demonic moppet from “The Omen.”

Other than some vague themes of valuing yourself and accepting your faults, the rest of the movie’s message — or a least as much of it as I could decipher — is mostly New Age-y, “be one with the universe” psychobabble.

L’Engle’s Christianity is entirely absent. Lots of figures from history get shout-outs, from Rumi to Outkast, but Jesus is jettisoned. Since this is a major-market movie from Disney, I can’t say I’m surprised.

Reid does a good job as Meg, considering the general wackiness of the situations she’s put in. Of the three Mrs.-es, Winfrey is vaguely inspirational and imposing; Kaling is slightly impish; but Witherspoon is resolutely puckish and comic (have to say she’s my favorite part of the movie because of that).

I suppose “A Wrinkle in Time” is, as Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” said of Earth, “mostly harmless,” but I can’t really recommend it.

But, I’m neither a L’Engle fan nor the target audience, so your results may vary.

UPDATE: There’s been a kerfuffle in the FB comments on the amount of Christianity in L’Engle’s book, and whether it was actually removed. Here’s what I found out:

There are some folks complaining that the book didn’t have overt Christian references. This post from Terry Mattingley’s On Religion blog disagrees:

It would be hard, explained L’Engle, to grasp this book’s cosmic war between life and death, good and evil, darkness and light without two crucial passages.

A key character is Mrs. Who, who speaks only in famous quotations. She is part of a trio of mysterious characters – guardian angels, according to L’Engle – who help the children in the novel. To explain the power of “light,” Mrs. Who quotes the Gospel of John: “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Also, in a climactic word of encouragement to heroine Meg Murray, Mrs. Who quotes St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. … God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.”

None of the novel’s Bible quotations made it into the Disney film, but there were new quotes from popular music and the musical “Hamilton.”

“L’Engle’s work is a highly imaginative one in which good and evil can literally be sensed and felt by the characters,” said Barbara Nicolosi Harrington, a former Catholic nun who now teaches screenwriting.

These kinds of inner, spiritual realities are hard to visualize on screen, plus it’s clear that the “heart of L’Engle’s work is deeply Christian,” she said. “Surely these themes would cause ambivalence or disgust in secular filmmakers. Now you have a recipe for the gutting of a beloved Christian classic into a weird, even creepy mess.”

In addition, screenwriter Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”) knew Christian references were in there and excised them. From Uproxx:

The book is pretty open about its Christian ideals and the movie doesn’t directly reference them. As a fan of the book how do you approach that aspect?

What I looked at, one of the reasons Madeleine L’Engle – as I’ve been told; I never got to meet her – but one of the reasons it had that strong Christian element to it wasn’t just because she was Christian, but because she was frustrated with things that needed to be said to her in the world and she wasn’t finding a way to say it and she wanted to stay true to her faith. And I respect that and I understand those feelings of things you want to say in the world that need to be said that are out there. In a good way, I think there are a lot of elements of what she wrote that we have progressed as a society and we can move onto the other elements. In a sad way, some of the other elements are more important right now and bigger – sort of this fight of light against darkness. It’s a universal thing and timeless and seems to be a battle that has to keep being had.

It also feels like this is a movie that celebrates inclusiveness and diversity, so having it be about one religious denomination wouldn’t really be keeping with that theme. Does that make sense?

It does. And I can’t put words in her mouth – and I worked with one of our producers, Catherine Hand, who was very close to her – but that wasn’t her intention. Her intention was looking at the ordinary real hero in an extraordinary situation. The power of love in this world, and we stayed very true to that. And her lens through it was Christianity and everyone has a different lens in. And that’s what inclusiveness is to me in this film, is really looking at all of us have a role to play in this no matter where we come from or what we look like.

Image: Courtesy Walt Disney Company

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