Movie Review ~ About Time

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The Facts:

Synopsis: At the age of 21, Tim discovers he can travel in time and change what happens and has happened in his own life. His decision to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend turns out not to be as easy as you might think.

Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan

Director: Richard Curtis

Rated: R

Running Length: 123 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: The majority of the films that writer/director Richard Curtis has been involved with have required a few viewings before I was able to make up my mind whether I liked them or not.  As the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and both movies in the Bridget Jones franchise Curtis displayed a cheeky and very British charm that he extended into his directorial debut: Love, Actually.  For his third (and reportedly final) time sitting in the director’s chair, he’s delivered one of his most well-rounded and deeply felt flights of fancy.

I get the feeling that About Time is the product of two ideas that wound up being molded into one crisp film, the romance angle is something that Curtis could probably do in his sleep but it’s the time-travel element that makes the movie truly unique.  In adding in that fantasy element, Curtis has allowed the film to break free of the romance flick clichés and chart its own path, becoming less about finding true love but in valuing the love right in front of us.

Love-lorn Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, Anna Karenina) narrates the film from a time and place we’re not quite sure of, he clearly knows how this will all end but doesn’t hint at what’s to unspool over the next two hours.  We meet his family, eccentric in their own right but not quite as daffy as some of the other loons Curtis has scripted through the years.  Dad (Bill Nighy, The World’s End), Mom (Lindsay Duncan), sis Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) and Uncle D (Richard Cordery) all live in blissful harmony in a home nestled by the sea outside of London.

When Tim’s dad spills a family secret (all of the men in the family have the ability to travel through time) Tim does what any young man would…uses it to manipulate a situation to impress girls.  Setting his sights first on a visiting friend of his sister’s (Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street), he learns over one lazy summer that maybe not even time travel could solve some of his woes.

Though the film is billed as a love story between Tim and American Mary (Rachel McAdams, The Vow, Passion), there’s a lot more to recommend as the movie twists and turns down its path showing the consequences of Tim’s actions or lack thereof.  Though leaping through time has its advantages, there are drawbacks that will alter the course of Tim’s life and everyone he loves…leading to a three hanky finale that brims with the situational warmth that Curtis wields so slyly.  The film crept up on me to be quite touching, and I predict many audiences will feel the same way.

Gleeson is a wonderful, affable lead that provides exactly the kind of shaggy dog charisma the role would have been lacking without.  He even brings out the best in McAdams who can sometimes feel like she’s giving a McPerformance – that is, something highly processed and not all together good for you.  Her defenses are down here and she’s grounded nicely by her costar and the convincing screenplay.  Nighy is always up for a devil-may-care performance but he tightens up his usual loosey goosey act to surprisingly affecting results.  As is the norm, Curtis has a knack for his strong casting of not only the leads but his various supporting roles.  Whether they are onscreen for the whole movie or just a passerby, there’s always an interesting face you want to know more about.

Fans of romantic dramadies would be advised to make the time to catch this in the theater because there’s a certain warmth that lends itself well to seeing the movie on the big screen.  Even if these types of films normally aren’t your bag, About Time is a worthwhile watch thanks to a script with real heart and performances to match.

Movie Review ~ All Is Lost

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.

Stars: Robert Redford

Director: J.C. Chandor

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  I have to be honest; I’ve never been the biggest Robert Redford fan.  Though he represents a time in Hollywood and filmmaking that’s nearly forgotten, I’ve sometimes struggled with his films and a general aloofness that’s hard to warm to.  It hasn’t helped that Redford has spent the last three decades in front of the camera and behind it in mostly serviceable cinematic excursions, chosen less as opportunities to produce strong work but rather as a showcase of impressive landscapes (The Horse Whisperer) and people he wanted to work with (The Company You Keep).  The days of Ordinary People-esque work were pretty much over.

So you’d imagine how high my eyebrows arched when I heard that Redford’s latest project was just him in a boat on the ocean for one hour and forty five minutes.  What kind of Redford performance would we get?  Turns out, Redford is a sneaky devil and has provided to audiences the chance to watch a screen legend remind us why he’s been an A-List star for much of his career. 

With next to no dialogue to speak of (aside from a brief opening voice-over, the most we get out of Redford is a four letter no-no word) and no leading lady to romance, the movie is entirely on the broad shoulders of a fully present Redford and he more than rises to the challenge as Our Man, an interesting choice of name for this All-American movie star.

Woken from sleep by a collision aboard his sailboat, Our Man doesn’t respond with a kneejerk reaction of racing around the ship, bailing water and yelling for help.  He silently and calmly moves into action, using his resources and resourcefulness to fix the problem at hand.  Over the next days the problems start to stack up and it’s left to our experienced sailor to navigate through storms, fires, and other maladies that can happen at sea.

Even with all the bad stuff happening, the movie never feels like it’s piling it on for poor Redford.  Through no fault of his own, Our Man find himself in a tricky situation and he responds like any practiced man of the sea would…by taking stock of the situation and making the best choice at the moment.  Redford’s weather-worn face speaks volumes, adding the character some extra wrinkles (literally) that tells his back-story without having to spell it out for everyone watching.

The movie doesn’t deal with the past or the future but the here and now, an excellent choice by writer/director J.C. Chandor (an Oscar nominee for the screenplay to 2011’s Margin Call).  It doesn’t matter what brought Our Man to the center of the ocean or what he may be escaping from, it just matters that he keeps going forward and doesn’t give up.

Redford keeps our attention even when the movie sags ever so slightly around the halfway mark.  Even with that minor quibble, it’s a strongly recommended film for its engaging narrative and star performance that proves that old sea dogs may not need new tricks to get the job done.

The Silver Bullet ~ Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

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Synopsis: After being “marked,” Jesse begins to be pursued by mysterious forces while his family and friends try to save him.

Release Date:  January 3, 2014

Thoughts: For this fifth entry in the cash-cow franchise for Paramount Pictures, the producers of Paranormal Activity have changed things up a bit.  Straying from its usual October release schedule, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones arrives in January and eschews the series previous use of security camera footage and night vision views in favor of a handheld approach on the streets of California.  What’s a tad distressing is that this first trailer seemingly gives away everything about the movie, even its climax.  I’m hoping I’m wrong but if you know the Paranormal Activity formula of a slow build up to a nerve jangling finale, you can’t help but notice a few shots that look awfully familiar.  I didn’t hate Paranormal Activity 4 as much as most but felt like that installment didn’t move the story ahead like the other sequels did.  Will this new setting and new focus help the film maintain its audience hungry for scares?