My favourite movies that deal with… Time

Here’s a thing. I recently watched Midnight In Paris and noticed that time travel drove the story along at a gentle pace. Which got me thinking; filmmakers use time as a plot device like, a lot. And why not? It shapes our existence, it may as well shape our storytelling mediums too.

This made me wonder, which time-based movies are ones that have struck a chord with me over the years?

Obviously there’s loads not included in the list below, like Groundhog Day and Time Bandits. Because whilst they’re great films, I don’t really remember them well. So I’ve got to go with what’s shaped me and made me, well, me.

So here they mine. What are yours?

Back To The Future (1985)
The daddy of time travel films. With tracks by Huey Lewis, score by Alan Silvestri, leading pair in Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd and Bob Zemeckis at the helm, it was bottled movie magic.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Let’s not forget, before Keanu got serious he started his career with stuff like this. It’s such a quotable film and spawned a trilogy which wasn’t half bad either. Remember, be excellent to each other.

Looper (2012)
Bruce Willis, an older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Not likely. But they made it work in this underrated modern sci-fi directed by Rian Johnson. In Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and others it had a great supporting cast too.

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Time travel and comedy. The best combination, right? And whilst the sequel was below par, the original came with added John Cusack, so it was a bit of a treat. Sleeper hit too. One no one saw coming.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Funny choice for this list? In that there’s pretty much no time travel until the end. Well it’s such an odd and sweet film I feel it’s earned its place. Go see it. It’s also probably Aubrey Plaza’s best performance to date.

Source Code (2011)
You wake up on a train set to explode. You’re meant to save it. You fail and go back to the start. Duncan Jones’ execution of this story was masterful and had me gripped throughout. Strong Jake Gyllenhaal performance too.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Like Tom Cruise? Well he’s in this. Don’t like him? No problem, he gets killed over and over again. Bit like Source Code in a way. Our hero keeps reliving the same loop until he can figure a way not to die and save mankind from aliens at the same time.

Interstellar (2014)
Got your thinking caps on? Because this one gets heavy. Maybe in space no one can hear you scream but at the cinema many probably did. Because Chris Nolan’s sci-fi tale got rather ‘out there’ in the final third.

Flight Of The Navigator (1986)
I would have been roughly the same age as the lead character when it came out so had that connection. It was a fun buddy movie too, in that the ship had its own zany personality and learnt about humanity from the boy. So like Terminator, but sweeter.

The Theory of Everything: Redmayne and Jones dazzle and delight

And so there was a big bang and then… A brief history of Stephen Hawking came to pass. An as Englishman I sometimes forget that, as a global power, we punch massively above our weight. Particularly when it comes to producing bona fide geniuses.

In recent months The Imitation Game hit the cinemas, charting the life of the brilliant Alan Turing, the man who cracked the enigma device during WWII – expertly played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

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And now we have another Englishman stepping into the ring… Eddie Redmayne. Putting in a very fine performance as Stephen Hawking. Based on the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen by his wife Jane Wilde Hawking (Felicity Jones), we cover a lot in this film. From his early beginnings as a student in Cambridge through to worldwide fame and recognition.

Right from the off we delve straight into the main factors that shaped who he was. His professor (David Thewlis) at Cambridge sets the class a task of ten impossible questions, everyone fails except Stephen who, in a bit of a rush, answers nine of them on the back of a train timetable.

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Within the first few minutes of the film we also meet Jane, the woman who becomes the loving constant behind the man. Felicity Jones is yet to put a foot wrong in her career and as Jane she is perfectly cast: elegant, womanly, beautiful and with a bit of an edge. Stephen, like the rest of us, become instantly captivated. And as a couple they suit each other well, as Redmayne and Jones have a very natural and believable chemistry.

As Stephen’s condition (motor neuron disease) worsens, Jane becomes the driving force of the narrative, caring for both Stephen and their growing brood of young children (apparently sexual organs are unaffected by the disease as they operate using a completely different system).

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Together, the writer Anthony McCarten and director James Marsh weave the story together well. It trots along at a good pace and we’re not overwhelmed by the science and maths of it all. Like Interstellar a few months ago, science serves the story. Indeed, the consultant on that film, Kip Thorne, gets a mention here, as someone with whom Stephen has a bet. The prize being a subscription to Penthouse magazine. This point is telling as we get an insight into Stephen’s character, as he has quite a devilish sense of humour. All the more heartwarming given his condition.

It might seem trite to say but Redmayne really transforms himself, going full Verbal Kint and then some. To give a performance where for half the movie you have to greatly limit the way you speak must have been tough. In some ways it’s like actors who have to wear a mask that covers all or part of their face; in that you have to find other ways to convey the emotions of your character to the audience. And Redmayne does just that, bookish, shy, inquisitive and intelligent and at times intense, yet disarmingly likeable. Characters are drawn to him. This is evident with his fans and admirers, but more specifically with those closer to him: his speech therapist, his professor and old Cambridge friends and, obviously, his wife Jane.

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This is where Marsh treads a masterful balancing act as director, blending together the relationship and affection Stephen and Jane have for each other, whilst at the same time keeping the audience drawn into Stephen’s rise as a world-renowned theoretical physicist.

As far as biopics – and indeed films in general – go it’s spirited, heartfelt, tragic and engaging; part love story part think piece. It’s one of those that will have the words ‘feel good’ and ‘life-affirming’ plastered all over the marketing material. But for once, without sounding cynical, that’s spot on.

Interstellar: Nolan goes intergalactic

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We’ve entered a time in which certain filmmakers – directors and writers to be precise – are being afforded a fairly free license to make the films that they want to make. Films on an epic scale, but with added smarts. The thinking person’s blockbuster.

With Interstellar director Christopher Nolan has firmly left the Batman franchise behind and struck out into bold new territory. You could argue he’s been doing this sort of thing his whole career: Memento, The Prestige, Inception – they all deal, to a certain extent, with time, memory and personal identity. And each film in his filmography is a big step up from the last.

Interstellar begins on an earth ravaged by dust storms, akin to America during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The earth has had it and it’s up to former pilot-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to fly a spaceship through a black hole in search of a better world.

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So far so epic. The setup has been done before, that’s for sure. But we’ve never seen Nolan tackle it. He starts by setting up the characters on earth, taking his time with them.

We see Cooper’s relationship with his children, particularly his daughter (expertly played by Mackenzie Foy) who seems wise beyond her years. Their relationship is key throughout, so pay attention early on. We also meet old NASA scientist (Michael Caine) and his daughter (Anne Hathaway), also at NASA. Both attempting to solve Earth’s agriculture and environmental problems as best they can.

Once we head into space Nolan asks us to get our thinking caps on, for this story demands you give it your full attention in terms of space, quantum physics, the relativity of time and the nature of gravity.

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That’s not to say it doesn’t pack emotional punch. With the voyages through space and time families and divided, perhaps to never see each other again, and their limits are tested. This affords the likes of McConaughey some big emotional moments (which we know he can do) and keeps us in the story. Hathaway, too, gets her time to shine.

That said, space film clichés remain. With space you’re always going to have someone who’s been left on their own for years and, with no one to talk to, gone mad/insane/to the dark side. You’ll have the desperate quest to get back to earth. You’ll have a few people selflessly sacrifice themselves for the mission.

But, to rein in my cynical side for a moment, it’s a decent film. Tense, thrilling, human, heartfelt. It makes you think and it tests you. There’s a strong emotional pull throughout, although it does have a somewhat melancholy tone, but perhaps that’s in the nature of the message that Nolan is trying to deliver.

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This may seem patently obvious to say, but if you go into the cinema expecting to see Inception – or even Batman – in space, then you’ll be disappointed. However, as a cinematic experience it’s got action and thrill moments (a la Apollo 13 and Gravity), yet it also shares some ground with films like Moon, Sunshine and maybe Event Horizon – although the latter might be pushing it.

There’s a section in the final third where you think maybe Nolan has handed over the director’s chair to Darren Aranofsky, as it gets really quantum and asks the audience to take a bit of a leap of faith (or imagination). This could be considered a brave move, but Nolan is a heavyweight director these days, and more often than not, what he does works.

This could be one of those films in which you have a wholly different experience on a second viewing. Time will tell how it stands up in Nolan’s filmography. But, as far as space films go, it’s an intelligent one that asks a lot of the audience, but does so in a respectful way.