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MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #9 – TIME TRAVEL FILMS by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #9 – TIME TRAVEL FILMS by PAUL LAIGHT

My ongoing series writing about cinema stuff I love, has gone from eulogizing actors to directors and now to genres; oh, how progressive am I?  Seriously though, in this piece I choose FIVE time-travel films which are just brilliant examples of the (sub)genre.

I love time-travel films and the main reasons are:

  • They offer fantastic and paradoxical narratives and “what if” scenarios.
  • They really get your brain working overtime.
  • The concepts fit all manner of different genres from action to comedies and thrillers and even the Western.
  • The philosophical concepts at play often examine the nature of existence; especially where one tries to make sense of life or find meaning where there probably is none.

As evidence I present FIVE such time-travel films which meet all of the criteria and are representative of most genres. Please note I have concentrated solely on time-travel films released in the cinema so Doctor Who remains parked up for this particular piece.

**HERE BE MASSIVE SPOILERS**

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

This is probably the most perfect Hollywood movie. It’s a high-concept-time-travelling-Oedipal-narrative-joy-fest which combines action, comedy, romance, sci-fi, and nostalgia genres while backed by a past and present pop music extravaganza!  A young teenage innocent called Marty McFly is thrown back to the 1950s. In the 50s he unwittingly begins to undo his own future by accidentally beginning a romance with his own mother. Allied to that he must help his father (Crispin Glover) overcome his social weakness plus battles with horrible bully Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Following the basic temporal rule that one’s actions in the past will affect your future the tremendous script is jam-packed with so many wonderful gags, twists and chases; while the race-against-time narrative is a thrill-a-second. The rich iconography – notably the mad scientist’s DeLorean “time machine” – plus cracking performances from Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, render this one of the most exhilarating time-travel films ever.

GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)

Bill Murray is obviously praised as a wonderfully funny man but he’s also a deviously good film actor. At times he doesn’t actually seem to be doing much but his mind is always working as he gives a sly look or a sarcastic smile or a silent sigh from his deadpan, hangdog face. In Groundhog Day he runs the gamut of ALL emotions from anger to desperation to insanity to bliss to apathy to suicide to pride and finally to LOVE!  This is a wonderful film with a tremendous “what if” premise which offers the idea we can only move on in life if we’re prepared not only to accept change but also throw off cynicism and find romance. The exceptional script mines the Sisyphean narrative for so many brilliant sequences as Murray relives the same day over and over again. At the beginning this temporal immortality offers an array of gifts to his jaded weatherman Phil Connors; however, by the end his life becomes a dreaded nightmare and repetitive hell. Ultimately, time-travel has never been so funny, tragic and romantic!

PREDESTINATION (2014)

I think most time-travel films are paradoxical by nature and holes can always be found in the logic but as a time-travel/thriller genre film Predestination worked really well while providing an intriguing gender-political angle too. The nature of the loner and finding love for others and oneself was also an interesting theme plus the inevitability of fate was there in the subtext too. There’s been a lot of big budget dross at the cinema recently but for the running time this gem offers far more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. Even though I enjoy seeing stuff blown up on screen I do love a brain-twister too and this film presents one hell of a challenging narrative. Starring Ethan Hawke and with a breakout performance from brilliant Sarah Snook this film from German/Australian directors has intelligence, thrills, heart and several mighty plot twists which bear up under successive viewings.

THE TERMINATOR (1984)

This is one of my favourite films ever.  It propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron to mega-stardom in their respective fields and has often been parodied and imitated but rarely bettered. While story is simple: a killing machine has been sent back from the future to destroy Sarah Connor – the soon-to-be mother of uber-rebel leader John Connor; the journey is an absolute humdinger. Cameron’s lean, mean and muscular action screenplay combines brains, brawn, cracking one-liners and explosive set-pieces. Moreover, Linda Hamilton excels as the endangered young woman who turns from a flaky waitress to formidable matriarch over the course of the film. The sequel was brilliant too but the original will remain, despite being made for just $6.4 million dollars, the epitome of a tech-noir-futuristic-time-travel-action classic.

TIME CRIMES (2007)

This fascinating Spanish thriller has a narrative like a Russian doll as it is structured on an enigma within a conundrum within a paradox.  It concerns an ordinary Spanish bloke, who having seen some weird behaviour going on in the woods near his house, ends up looping and pursuing multiple versions of himself throughout one very bizarre day. Similar to Triangle (2009) – an underrated time-paradox gem directed by Brit filmmaker Christopher Smith – the enjoyment derives from immersing yourself in the weird and unexplained reasons why Hector (Karra Elejalde) has begun a psycho-sexual, violent loop of death involving a number of temporal leaps. This is all paradoxical plot and wicked thrills and while there is little in the way of characterisation the filmmaker Nacho Vigolondo has created the closest equivalent to a movie version of an Escher painting.

 

 

 

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SCREENWASH: JULY 2015 by PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH: JULY 2015 by PAUL LAIGHT

Pretty busy this month with my film viewings so here’s every film I watched in the month of July 2015 with marks up to 11!

**MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD**

ANNABELLE (2014) – NOW TV

Prequel to the chilling James Wan horror The Conjuring (2013) which explains the backstory to creepy doll Annabelle and how it came to be such a malevolent force.  While not reaching the heart-in-mouth scares of Insidious (2010) there is much to raise the pulse here. I found the references to the Manson death-cults and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) influences to be interesting and there are some very jumpy moments.  The ending lets it down but worth a look while the star is the gnarled doll which never fails to chill one’s core. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

ANT-MAN (2015) – CINEMA

This was a blast!  The awesome Paul Rudd plays “good” criminal Scott Lang — a Robin Hood-style thief — who while down on his luck tries one last job so he can gain parental access to his daughter. Little does he know is he’s breaking into top scientist Hank Pym’s (excellent Michael Douglas) place and thus a chain of events occur making Lang a perfect candidate for Ant-Man.  It’s simplistic narrative-wise but what it does have is a fizzing script full of zingers and comedic moments as well as some great action set-pieces built around a complex but well orchestrated final act heist. A fun supporting cast including: Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Cannevale, Michael Pena and scenery-chewing baddie Corey Stoll add class to proceedings and overall I had a great time watching this. It proved that not ALL superhero films have to be HUGE as sometimes small, rather than big, is beautiful. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

CLOWN (2014) – NOW TV

A father finds himself possessed by a monster having, inexplicably, tried an old clown suit on for his son’s birthday. It’s a low budget horror film from Canada and has decent moments of gore especially toward the end but clunky plotting really lets it down.  It gets on my nerves when screenwriters put massive bits of exposition in the MIDDLE of a film to try and get the audience up to speed with the narrative. Show don’t tell please!  The scene in the plastic-ball pit full of kids was good so worth a look at that. But coulrophobics beware as it gets nasty and definitely not one for the kids! (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

DRACULA UNTOLD (2014) – NOW TV

This is pitched like a horror version of the 300 (2006) but lacks the brutal style of that muscular classic.  Basically, Vlad must protect his Transylvanian family from marauding Turks so does a deal with a demonic vampire (Charles Dance) to become a super-being. However, it comes with a Faustian price.  Some good action but the gore was too sanitized by the CGI for my liking but brooding Luke Evans — as the eponymous anti-hero — is great in this blood-thirsty prequelization of Bram Stoker’s literary classic.  (Mark: 6 out of 11)

FLAME & CITRON (2008) – NETFLIX

This is a thrilling Danish WW2 story charting the exploits of Danish Resistance fighters/assassins codenamed Flame and Citron.  Mads Mikkelsen portrays Jorgen, the latter of the partnership as he and compatriot Bendt laid waste to Nazis and their Danish collaborators amidst the German occupation.  Mikkelsen is very good at playing smooth characters but here he’s nervy, dirty, sweaty and living-on-the-edge. He brings his classic mournful look to a character fighting inner demons, traitors and Nazis; all the while trying to cling to the family he loves. War brought the worst and best out of people; sometimes at exactly the same time as this film ably illustrates. A fine war story expertly told. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011) – AMAZON PRIME

This was my favourite film I saw in July by a long, long way.  It is a coruscating and murderous satire with a savage script that lays into the United States of the media nation; notably reality TV and talent shows. It has a majestically deadpan and downtrodden performance from Joel Murray as Frank, a lowly office worker, who after having a REALLY bad day decides to go on a kill crazy rampage to rid the world of people who sicken him.  Think Falling Down (1993) but WITH hilarious jokes!  Along the way Frank obtains a teenage sidekick called Roxy and she joins him in the mayhem as they wipe out everyone from hate-filled preachers to obnoxious political commentators. It makes simple but valid critiques about modern culture and allows one to indulge and enjoy the height of revenge fantasies while filtering influences such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), It Happened One Night (1934) and other gun crazy road movies. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM (2013) – NOW TV

This damned awful horror spoof couldn’t even be saved by a cast that includes Peter Dinklage and Steve Zahn. It went for an Evil Dead style vibe as a bunch of live-action-role-playing game nerds accidentally conjure up a demon which wreaks havoc on their game-playing.  Ryan Kwanten plays a handsome mechanic who is taken along for the ride and potentially could have been another Ash in the making. But alas the script and style are abysmal and overall this is a charmless film. I will always try and give low budget horror films a break critically speaking but, this is neither funny or horrific enough to make it worth recommending. (Mark: 4.5 out of 11)

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (2014) – NOW TV

The great filmmaker Woody Allen is quietly turning out one film a year and this one is a pleasant sojourn through 1920s France and the relationship between misanthropic magician Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) and young psychic Sophie Baker (Emma Stone).  Basically, the older Crawford sets out to debunk pretty Sophie’s skills as a medium and it doesn’t take a seer to work out what happens.  It’s a sunny film full of eccentrics and has some interesting discourse on the nature of death and the “other” side.  While it lacks some of the classic Woody one-liners there’s gentle character humour to be found and Firth is always great, so it’s a film difficult not to enjoy.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

PURGE 2: ANARCHY (2014) – NOW TV

Sequel to The Purge (2013) takes the original’s claustrophobic home-invasion style and widens the action to the violent streets of the U.S.A. Again, criminals and ordinary citizens are given the chance, for ONE NIGHT ONLY, to commit any misdemeanour (rape, robbery, murder etc.) they so desire WITHOUT fear of arrest.  I absolutely love this idea and the first film was pretty decent but this one takes a funky concept and delivers a film which lacks wit, thrills and more importantly horror.  It’s not bad and the social satire works but it lacks a star to carry it and the characters are too paper-thin and badly written to care about. Some fun to be had with the urban warfare and the revenge on the filthy rich socialites that occurs but with a more imaginative director like say, James Wan, this could have been great. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

TED 2 (2015) – CINEMA

Sequel, believe it or not, to Ted (2012) – the one from the creator of Family Guy Seth Mcfarlane about the dope-smoking-sex-crazed-alcoholic-filth-mongering-talking-Teddy-bear.  I enjoyed the original but this one was even funnier as Ted (McFarlane) and his thunder-buddy John (Mark Wahlberg) fight the US courts to prove that Ted actually exists as a “person” in the eyes of the law.  The plot isn’t important really and merely acts as mannequin to hang a litany of sexual, druggy, politically-incorrect, sexist, offensive, toilet-humourist gags on.  Wahlberg is a blast, even when he’s drowning in semen, during one particular gross but hilarious scene. If that’s the level of your humour then you’ll love this! (Mark: 7 out of 11)

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014) – NOW TV

The latest TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLE FILM was not half as bad as I thought it would be. But then again I could only sit through half of it as it was THAT bad. Here are some comments from my Facebook status: which say it all!

“I’ve never seen anything so lacking in charm.”

Starts off ok, but then becomes a mess.”

“I tapped out after 10 minutes of nothing but clunky exposition and the entire film treating it’s own premise like it’s a joke.”

(Mark: 4 out of 11 – mainly for the well-choreographed fight scenes)

TERMINATOR GENISYS – CINEMA

The iPhone spell checker changes Arnie to “sarnie” which is apt because the new Terminator film is a complete shit sandwich! It’s even worse than I thought it could be. It doesn’t make any sense as a story at all. Only Jason Clarke and Arnie himself save it with decent turns. The convoluted plot was an insult to the memory of the first two films and really this should be called Terminator: Genocide as it must have killed the franchise once and for all. How Jai Courtney gets work I do not know and the title SUCKS!  I just hope Schwarzenegger dies soon and can never say “I’ll be back!” ever again. (Mark: 4.5 out of 11)

TWO LOVERS (2008) – BLU RAY

A really intriguing, human and romantic drama which had some mature performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow, plus magnetic direction by James Gray.  It’s a slow-paced character piece with suicidal thirty-something Leonard trying to find some small happiness following the break-up of a recent engagement.  The joy comes from Phoenix’ darkly humorous and awkward acting performance and it’s the kind of film which at times is sometimes TOO painful to watch as Leonard finds he must choose between two women: the attractive, yet safe, Sandra played by Vinessa Shaw and the sexy, flaky human car-crash that is Michelle (Paltrow). I very much enjoyed this film as it acts as an anathema to the obvious slick-sugar-schtick that Hollywood usually pumps out. (Mark: 7 out of 11)  

 

SCREENWASH by PAUL LAIGHT – JANUARY 2015 FILM WASH-UP

SCREENWASH by PAUL LAIGHT – JANUARY 2015

Rather than fanatically and brilliantly reviewing EVERY film I have seen at the cinema this year, I am providing bite-sized reviews of movies I’ve experienced on various mediums:  Cinema, TV, Blu Ray and Netflix et al.  Here’s the FIRST WATCH films I saw  in January 2015!

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A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014) – DIRECTOR: J. C. CHANDOR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a slow, moody and shadowy thriller screaming gimme-Oscar-nods-material. It is really very good in ALL departments but dramatically I wanted more. Critic friendly but ultimately lacking a decent ending, thrills and character development.  Oscar Isaac is impressive in the Michael Corleone style role and Jessica Chastain is terrific if criminally underused. Surprisingly, given the title there isn’t much violence either.

BIRDMAN (2014) – DIRECTOR: ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU

BIRDMAN is an intellectual and artsy dark comedy about loads of stuff involving: celebrity, identity, artistic credibility, insanity, family, f*cked up egos, vanity as well as analysing the creative process. It is NOT a superhero film but a satire on that kind of thing. I liked the stylistic device of making it look like it was shot in one take; Edward Norton taking the piss out of ‘the method’ and Michael Keaton playing himself kind of. Smart, funny and a bit up its own arse – great stuff!

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) – DIRECTOR: MARC VALLEE

Missed this great drama first time around with Matthew McConaughey as the Rodeo Electrician struck down with AIDS. Great story brought to you by a committed cast who deservedly won Oscars for their sterling performances. What I loved most in the adept screenplay was the fact Ron Woodroof essentially found a niche market within the capitalist paradigm and challenged the status quo of the corrupt government and pharmaceutical cartels. At the same time his character transformed into a globe-trotting upwardly mobile corporate executive – with AIDS!

 

FOXCATCHER (2014) – DIRECTOR: BENNETT MILLER

A powerful and haunting tragedy with incredibly subtle direction, this complex psychological thriller which shines a light on billionaire John DuPont and his fascination with fraternal Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz. Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo are great but the film belongs to Channing Tatum; a raging bull of an ordinary Joe desperately trying to find an identity amidst the two surrogate fathers he finds himself trapped between.

 

THE GUEST (2014) – DIRECTOR: ADAM WINGARD

Awesome B-movie action-comedy starring Dan Stevens as a Gulf War veteran hiding a secret past.  Director Adam Wingard lays on the 80s parodic charm without veering into ultra-corn while the film contains a cool star-turn from Downton Abbey’s buffed and shiny Dan Stevens.

 

LAWN DOGS (1997) – DIRECTOR: JOHN DUIGAN

Morally ambiguous character piece which finds Sam Rockwell’s underdog gardener befriending a precocious schoolgirl portrayed by Mischa Barton. Apparently it’s inspired by the folktale of Baba Yaga but I felt we were in David Lynch territory with the offbeat characters, sexual subtext, sudden violence and dreamlike denouement.  Rockwell as usual is fantastic as an ordinary Joe caught in the crossfire of the mores of a rich and spoilt American community.

 

MALCOLM X (1992) – DIRECTOR: SPIKE LEE

Excellent true drama concerning the controversial Malcolm X played with formidable presence by the ever-excellent Denzil Washington. Spike Lee treats this political iconoclast with the respect he deserves as the one-time hoodlum is propelled to spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. It’s a modern epic and Lee imbues the film with some impressive stylistic flourishes, excellent drama and inspirational speeches.

 

SABOTAGE (2014) – DIRECTOR: DAVID AYER

Average actioner with Arnie’s FB-CIA-GENERIC-SWAT team colleagues dropping quicker than the Austrian Oak’s box-office takings as they get wiped out one-by-one by a rat in their dirty pack.  Agatha Christie on steroids with some chunky action and decent violence yet let down by paper-thin characters and weak plotting.

 

SACRAMENT (2014) – DIRECTOR: SHAWN EWERT

Ultra-low budget horror comedy that I watched at the Horror-on-the-Sea Festival had terrible acting, but loads of gore and violence and cannibalistic religious nuts in the Deep South (where else) of the United States.  Some fine lo-budget blood-letting and gallows humour made it great fun and highly entertaining.

 

STARRED-UP (2013) – DIRECTOR: DAVID MACKENZIE

Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn are on cracking form as father and son banged up together in this brutal slice of prison life.  O’Connell is out of control and starred-up (promoted) to the big boy’s institution as scene after scene illustrates his anger at the world; only beginning to see another way through Rupert Friend’s calming voluntary social worker.

 

WHIPLASH (2014) – DIRECTOR: DAMIAN CHEZELLE

I concur with all of the praise the film WHIPLASH has been getting. It’s a triumph in all departments from director, cast and crew. Echoes of Officer and a Gentlemen (1992) and Full Metal Jacket (1987)with the fearsome Drill Sergeant battering the young grunts for starters. But then it takes off into an incredible final act as Teller’s recruit and Simmons brutal teacher face-off to an amazing musical crescendo.  Miles Teller is great but if J.K. Simmons doesn’t win every Best Supporting Actor award this year I’ll eat my high-hat…. b’dum-dum-chh!!

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In between doing a back-to-back binge on the U.S. OFFICE (up to Season 4 so far) with Carell and the gang, I also rewatched the bastardized adaptation of LORD OF THE FLIES (1990) and Brian DePalma’s lurid Hitchcockian-slasher-giallo-homage DRESSED TO KILL (1980) with Michael Caine in a very against-type role.