About Time

AboutTimeThe posters and trailers for About Time prominently tout that it is from “the creators of Love Actually, Notting Hill, and Four Weddings and a Funeral.”  While About Time is curiously missing an appearance by Hugh Grant, the film is absolutely deserving of being listed as an equal among those films.  It is a warm and heartfelt film that feels incredibly “Romantic” in every sense of the word.

About Time stars Domhnall Gleeson, who American audiences know as Bill Weasley from the final two Harry Potter films, but not much else.  Gleeson, son of the great Irish actor, Brendan Gleeson, plays Tim, a name curiously similar to the principle word in the title, “Time.”  Thus, the movie is as much about Tim as it is about “time.”  On his 21st birthday, Tim is given the odd and unbelievable news from his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in his family have the ability to travel through time.  For a romantic comedy, it is surprising to see a plot resting so firmly on such an absurd and fantastic premise.  Yet, one must only look back 20 years to a little film called Groundhog Day, perhaps the greatest modern romantic comedy ever made, that succeeds due to a bizarre and unexplainable time rift that allows the film’s message to flourish and evolve!  About Time clearly tips its hat to the Harold Ramis classic in several humorous scenes where Tim bounces off to try and undo some foolishly embarrassing moments.

But About Time is not at all subjugated by its premise.  Tim’s father asks him what he plans to do with his new gift, and the film is quite ideal in its treatment of such a power.  Tim decides that he will use it for love.  Thus, Tim moves out of his parents’ house and strikes out for London where he will practice law and search for love.  He finds it in Mary (Rachel McAdams), an American publishing house editor working in London.  It is here that the movie firmly kicks into romantic gear.  While it successfully emphasizes the passion, beauty, and emotion of young love, the time travel element allows the film to search deeper into modern romanticism as Tim is able to slow down, explore the natural beauty of the world, experience the trials of the mind, free himself from the corrupting forces of society, and most importantly – discover how to make the most out of life.

Director, Richard Curtis has made a beautiful film with About Time.  Elegant, cozy country-side scenes are balanced with busy but scenic city-scapes. Curtis gives London the Paris treatment, making it look far more inviting and relatable than other films have in the past.  But like all romantic comedies, the true magic lies in the chemistry of its leads.  Gleeson and McAdams are easy to root for, and their relationship is not hokey, nor does the film commit the cardinal sin of having Tim use his powers to manipulate Mary.  Instead, his power is used to create opportunities, but it is Tim that must make the most of them.  A fine example lies in the scene where Tim and Rachel first meet by happenstance.  Ironically this first meeting is in a restaurant called Dans Le Noir, a restaurant where diners sit in total darkness, an immersive experience that emphasizes the other senses and provides a clever way for Tim and Rachel to build the foundation for their relationship.  Soon, a mistake made by Tim during time travel causes this first meeting to be forgotten leading Tim to find a way to create a new opportunity to make an impression on Mary.  Now, that is not to say that Tim does not play “puppet-master” with other people’s lives, which is a bit off-putting.  Nonetheless, these minor valleys are certainly not enough to degrade the film’s peaks.

The sentimentality of the film is authentic and while occasionally heavy-handed, it is quite effective.  The Tim and Mary story is central to the film, but Curtis as writer and director makes sure to develop the father-son relationship between Tim and his Dad.  It is in this relationship where most of the “heartstrings” are continually tugged upon.  Nighy’s inclusion in the story adds warmth but also some complexity as he too can travel through time.  The bond between the men, the shared experiences, and the lessons learned all work to make the film about more than just a love story.

About Time is a pleasing and successful film that does not exploit its premise or undermine its characters.  Fans of romantic comedies (especially those of Curtis’s) will be satisfied and touched by this film.  B+

About Time opens on November 8th, and has a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.  It is a beautiful and well-made film that would make an excellent date-night option in a fall movie season full of thrillers, action, and suspense.  It also accomplishes the dual task of making us forget about the other far more disappointing Rachel McAdams time travel romance, The Time Traveler’s Wife. 

Advertisements

Captain Phillips

ImageIn the opening scene of Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks’ character, Rich Phillips, has a frank conversation with his wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) while they drive to the airport.  As a teacher, I took special note of this conversation, as it pertained to Phillips’ concern regarding his son’s performance in school.  He tells his wife that he’s worried that the world is far more competitive than it used to be and that even putting in the minimum is not enough to rise above and have a chance at success.  I’ve delivered various versions of this message to my high school students and while this conversation stood out to me for a different reason than it will to many other theatergoers, this seemingly innocuous scene sets the tone for a far more substantial and contextual film than I had expected. 

Adapted from Richard Phillips’ memoir, Captain Phillips tells the somewhat well-known true story of an American cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in the Spring of 2009.  The surprisingly rapid turnaround between original incident and major film production speaks volumes to the merits of the story.  The film presents a form of “bio-pic” that forgoes the melodramatic retelling of fact, and instead uses real life to make a statement, in this case about globalization.  Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum), aims his “shaky” camera not only at the heroic protagonist, but also at what leads these Somali pirates to take such risky action.  By the time the pirates board Phillips’ ship, we are thoroughly disturbed and authentically frightened for what they may be capable of doing to take over the vessel.  The four pirates are meticulously realized through some menacing bilingual performances by a group of first-time Somali actors.  As the film unfolds, their story and motivations are every bit as fascinating and gripping as those of Phillips and his crew.  Phillips’ opening conversation with his wife about the stresses of competition and the vanishing opportunities for those less fortunate becomes realized as we see this despair front and center.    

Tom Hanks is sure to earn an Oscar nomination for his performance in this film.  In fact, this may be the performance of his career, certainly his best since Philadelphia.  His pragmatic performance is captivating, and he is never over-the-top.  In a scene where Muse, the lead pirate, invades the cargo ship’s control room, Phillips squares off with the pirates for the first time.  Hanks responds to this scenario so well and so realistically that it is easy to forget that this is a movie and not real life.  As the film goes on, Hanks tempers his performance for every new development culminating in a scene towards the end that is nothing short of brilliant, heartbreaking, and stirring.

Captain Phillips is another great movie for 2013.  While the story is still relatively current and many film-goers will be aware of its outcome, Greengrass, Hanks, and the supporting cast ensure a thrilling experience.  The film also works on a deeper level by examining the motives of the pirates and theorizing about some of the policies that should, perhaps, be revisited regarding freighter security measures and the “acceptable” risks that are taken for the sake of transporting goods overseas.  The film resonates with vivacity but Hanks’ performance is the film’s true strength.  A-

Captain Phillips is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 14 minutes. 

Gravity

ImageGravity director, Alphonso Cuarón said that after this, he will never make another “space” movie.  Thankfully, the “space” movie that he did make is nothing short of spectacular, and should certainly make any director think twice before making the next “space” movie. 

Superlatives abound when describing the intensity and the mind-blowing visual effects of Gravity.  Set in space, Gravity opens with the words, “Life in space is impossible,” and five better words do not exist to serve as prologue for the film that follows.  Doctor Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are on a NASA satellite repair mission 600 kilometers above Earth’s surface when rogue debris from a Russian satellite detonation rip through their station at 50,000 MPH, decimating their ship and sending the astronauts hurdling into space. 

Cuarón majestically dazzles the viewer in the opening scene with epic silence, sweeping camera movements, and sensory immersion that rivals that of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  He magnifies the strangeness and utter complexity of being suspended in space as Stone and Kowalski are shown performing a variety of tasks as they complete their mission while communicating via radio between each other and their contact at Mission Control in Houston (Ed Harris). 

The peaceful, serene tone of the film’s first ten minutes is mesmerizing but unsettling as a twinge of impending doom is resting uneasily in the audience’s mind.  The thrilling contrast of the sudden catastrophe that befalls Stone and Kowalski is also handled with pure terror.  Tonal comparisons can be made to the 2003 film Open Water where primal fear is explored as two scuba divers are abandoned in the middle of the ocean hundreds of miles from shore.  Gravity taps into that same primal fear with expertise and style.    

Gravity is a true cinematic ride.  While not deep in content, the film is absorbing, terrifying, and authentic.  Clooney and Bullock carry the movie with ease and with a tight running time of 91 minutes, the small cast merely emphasizes the ironically claustrophobic nature of space.  Cuarón’s choices of point of view are magnificent as he allows the camera to effortlessly and seamlessly transition in and out of first-person at the most opportune times.  Few films give an audience such awareness and consciousness.  In once scene Bullock’s character is suddenly sent spinning into deep space.  She loses radio communication and the camera assumes Bullock’s point of view.  The audience abruptly is thrown into a very real experience of spinning, attempting to gain a point of reference, discovering oxygen levels are low, and likely literally holding their breath.  This is a movie to experience in a theater!  A

Gravity is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 31 minutes.  See it on the largest screen possible; it is playing in IMAX and XTreme theaters and can be seen in both 2D and 3D.  The People’s Critic saw the film in 2D, but many critics say this is a film worthy of the 3D surcharge.