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About Time (2013)

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If you were to ask the casual film-viewer what their thoughts are as to what is ultimately hampering the romantic-comedy these days, odds are they’d reply that their premises, unfurling of events, and happy-go-lucky nature aren’t very realistic, therefore supremely disengaging. Put in layman’s terms, almost everything about them is far fetched which renders their message, their point, their reason for simply being inert and unattainable. The rom-com used to be and should still be one of the most elemental, down-to-earth, and audience compatible genres. Yet nowadays, it seems that every week another cold, forced, and faceless piece of less-than-romantic, unfunny drivel is released. To make matters worse, the dialogue is contrived and overly gooey, and the characters either come off as pretentious, act un-rightfully entitled, or are just plain out loaded…in other words, they’re nothing more than couple of spineless, snobby saps unworthy of your time. Thankfully however, “About Time” is none of the sort.

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Now, what’s quite ironic is that this aforementioned general opinion regarding the genre is itself fairly contrived, more just going with the flow instead of forming personal opinions…but there is a method to this madness. I mean, you used to go into the theatre to see a rom-com and be fairly sure that this, your dark, lonely existence would be illuminated…at the very least dimly lit by the opportunity, the chance at something with purpose. You know, something that would make the remainder of your days meaningful, bearable. Why? you ask. Well let’s face it, the honest truth is that this short span of time we have is extremely disheartening and the only thing that lights up our brief days is love, in its many transcendent forms. Today, you’re lucky if 10% of rom-com flicks are superb enough to evoke such a reaction and the rest miraculously flop, predictably.

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I know that some of you are married or have significant others, and even kids, so the previous rant might not apply to you. If this is the case, just smirk condescendingly at my vulnerability…but I digress. Look, if I’m to be honest with you, my readers whom I adore endlessly. Recently I had given up on the big “L” word and the genre entirely (neither had anything to do with my dismissal of the other). The last rom-com that I can confidently say I swept me off my feet was “Wedding Crashers,” so yeah, it’s been a while. This year however, I’m feeling slightly more optimistic, I’m still, slightly young so there’s still time to turn everything around, and it just so happens that two of my favourite films of the year are romantic-comedies, those being “Drinking Buddies” and the one I’m about to review, “About Time,” a good sign for my progression if you ask me (optimism). However, this being said, my previous statements about the genre still remain prominent and true. With the exception of a few here and there, the genre is suffering…but this debate is for another day.

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To switch things up rather abruptly, here’s a peeve of mine I hope you reflect. Don’t you hate it when a film’s marketing doesn’t do it justice or presents the flick itself incorrectly? This common, grave error occurs all too often and essentially leads to misinterpretations, bad auras, and critic negativity…you know, absorption misconceptions. A few off the top of my head, “Only God Forgives,” “On the Road,” and “The Counselor” just to name a few. Why I bring this up is because I fear that “About Time” was branded all wrong and that it’ll be misunderstood and underrated as a result…a thought my buddy brought up upon exiting the theatre that I had swirling around my head throughout its runtime that I agreed with.

To go even further off topic, did you know I went to the same university as “About Time” star Rachel McAdams, just a few years after she graduated? And Malin Akerman, but that’s besides the point. Doesn’t that suck? Here I am sitting alone, when I could be married to my ultimate crush had I been born just a few years earlier. Wow, this review got sidetracked in a hurry, let’s get back to the film.

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There are few who know love as well as Richard Curtis, and even fewer who can execute it to such an effective degree on the big screen. Director of “Love, Actually,” and scribe of “Notting Hill,” just to rattle off a few of his most notable rom-coms, Curtis is one of the most talented and perennial minds the genre has ever known. He continues down this road he has long trotted and helped solidify with another piece of solid gold containing such mesmerizing humanity and willing vulnerability that it rivals even his most accomplished outing, whatever you feel that may be.

Following a quirky, romantic lawyer who has the ability to time travel to any moment in the past and change whatever he wishes. “About Time” might not be Curtis’ most original piece, but is definitely the most inventive, funny, and emotionally relentless he’s ever conjured, in my opinion anyway. Granted, the story’s structure and premise is nothing you haven’t seen or heard before, but try not to focus on the weary ploy of a lonesome time-traveler. What is most mesmerizing, astounding, and rewarding about this flick doesn’t have to do with the story or thematic retread, but rather what Curtis accomplishes and evokes with it. There is only one other filmmaker (Drake Doremus) I know of that can capture those subtle, minuscule movements and glances that exude true happiness, sadness, and disheartening realizations as well as Curtis does here. For just his third feature behind the camera, Curtis shows the talent of a wily veteran. Regardless if you’re a fan of his work, a cinephile, or just becoming aquatinted, this is a must see.

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What’s even more important than having an invested, well-versed overseer conducting and directing the flow is a cast with chemistry, charisma, and honesty. Starring the lovely Rachel Mcadams, the immensely talented Bill Nighy, and sky-rocketing up-and-comer Domhnall Gleeson, it’s fair to say that “About Time” is formidable across the board. Gleeson, although remarkably skilled, still managed to stun me with his performance. The vast spectrum and depth of the emotions he portrays is decidedly accurate and plain-out staggering. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more authentic, driven performance this year. Nighy, who still flies unnecessarily under the radar here in North America, adds another flawless undertaking to his already stellar resume. Finally, the always radiant Rachel McAdams has somehow managed to leave me breathless once again. I’d love to go into more detail, but I don’t want to come off as a creep. All you need to know is that she delivers in every aspect…just stunning.

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Nothing like the negativity you’ve probably read or heard and is anything but what you expected. “About Time” is, without question, one of the sleeper hits this year.

About Time: 8.5 out of 10.

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Midnight in Paris (2011)

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Leaving a lot for the imagination to ponder and envy. Woody Allen’s clever, insightful, magical Midnight in Paris is what fantasies are made of. Full of inspiration and romance, Allen returns to top form with this gem. Venturing through time, showcasing the who’s who in arts and literature, Midnight in Paris is an enjoyable history lesson. Garnering four Oscar nominations in 2012 and earning a victory for best original screenplay, Midnight in Paris is ripe with invention and individuality. Reviving the likes of Earnest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and T. S. Elliot, amongst other countless, unrivalled talents. Midnight in Paris is a writers wet dream. Leading the way through the wormhole is Owen Wilson who is supported by the beautiful and talented Rachel McAdams. Midnight in Paris also features terrific supporting performances from Michael Sheen, Tom Hiddleston, Adrien Brody, and the effervescent Marion Cotillard. Directed and written by the aforementioned Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris’s hallowed glow emits a calming, entrancing warmth.

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Gil (Wilson) and Inez (McAdams) tag-along on their parents business trip to Paris. Gil, who is a successful writer in Hollywood would like to make a change and begin writing novels. At first glance, he falls in love with Paris and insists he and Inez move their permanently. Inez does not agree with Gil’s infatuation with Paris or his notion that the 1920’s is the golden age. Gil is left alone for the night when Inez goes dancing with her friends. Gil decides to take a walk through Paris at midnight hoping it will spark his imagination. When the unthinkable happens, Gil is transported into a world filled with his wildest fantasies. This might be the break Gil is looking for, but it also might destroy his relationship with Inez.

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Allen’s satirical, ironic twists on the rom-com genre have never been more intoxicating. Blending the feverish, impulsive, hopeless romance and the disheartening reality of its lowering priority level amongst our social and political commercialism is ingenious. Allen hasn’t conceived a story this idealistic and unique since his 2008 release of Vicky Christina Barcelona. In that span of three years, he released two films, both misses. However, all is forgiven and forgotten with Midnight in Paris. I’ll contently digest the bad in order to obtain the good, and this good is an acquired and particular taste. Midnight in Paris’s easygoing, eccentric, fruitful completeness is a pleasant sedative that lulls the viewer into the bewildering perplexity of cinemas intended stupefaction.

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Midnight in Paris might cater to a certain level of expectancy, which might be off putting to some. It is fully plausible to understand how one might find Midnight in Paris presumptuous and founded upon pretentiousness. On the contrary, it has no intention of condescending to any viewer. A facet of Allen’s brilliance is the simplicity in Midnight in Paris. There is no overcompensation or unnecessary explanation for the time travelling aspect and as a viewer, among many, there is no need or desire to question the implication. Midnight in Paris is enjoyable and easily comprehended, regardless of a factual explanation. All the tools needed to connect with Midnight in Paris are traits of the human body. Laugh, weep, or spite, Midnight in Paris is one of the easiest films to adore that you’ll ever come by.

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To my surprise, Owen Wilson did not earn an acting nomination at the 2012 Oscars for his role in Midnight in Paris. His performance is distinguished by the subtlety of his comedic indifference radiating from slight body movements and facial expressions. This is the most effective Owen Wilson has been since 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, possibly even further back to 2005 with Wedding Crashers. In a surprising change of pace, McAdams undertakes the role of a villain in Midnight in Paris, or maybe that’s just my interpretation. However, coming from me, someone who’s bordering adoration for McAdams is teetering towards obsession, to say that she’s the antagonist, it must be a powerful performance. Finally, Cotillard continues her North American domination with another outstanding effort. In the film, she is the reason we search for love. To sit here and nitpick the impeccable supporting performances from Hiddleston, Brody, Sheen, and Kathy Bates seems pointless. It’s hard to argue perfection when it is only on display for minutes at a time. Take their track records and my word for it, they’re terrific.

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In conclusion, just to be clear, I was joking about my McAdams obsession. I simply enjoy her films and performances, as well as think about her night and day…kidding. Midnight in Paris has the comedy and emotion to back up its boastful endeavours and melancholic moments.

Midnight in Paris: 8.5 out of 10.

To the Wonder (2012)

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It just wouldn’t be a Terrence Malick premiere without a divided audience, one half cheering ecstatically while the other group claps a bit less enthused. At the Toronto International Film Festival this past year, To the Wonder was perceived by some of its viewers to be choppy and disengaging while others found it vibrant, full of artistry, and undeniably heartfelt. I was in attendance and was in the latter category. To the Wonder is a respectable follow up to The Tree of Life proving that Malick’s sudden splurge into rapid filmmaking hasn’t hampered his abilities. Starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko, and Javier Bardem, To the Wonder has plenty of talent to showcase both on and off screen. As with most Malick films, the sparse dialogue and his infatuation with letting the visuals do the talking might discourage even the most avid filmgoer.

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Upon visiting Mont Saint-Michel, Marina (Kurylenko) and Neil (Affleck) return to Oklahoma where Marina has trouble adapting to her new lifestyle. Marina confides in Father Quintana (Bardem) who is struggling with his religion and faith in humanity. While Neil and Marina continue to distance from one another, Jane (McAdams), a childhood friend of Neil’s enters the picture. As Neil and Jane become closer, Marina fades out of Neil’s life and he is left trying to recoup their relationship.

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A bit more structured than Malick’s past endeavours, the intertwining tales in To the Wonder much like The Tree of Life criss cross the limitations of faith, family, and fate. The themes and scenarios might be too diagnostic and preachy for some, but To the Wonder knows its message and subtly displays it in beauty and strength. After viewing To the Wonder at its TIFF premiere, I was taken back by Olga Kurylenko’s performance. She is weightless as she drifts in and out of her characters own importance as it clashes with her daughters, trying to live her life while still doing right by her child. Ben Affleck, Kurylenko’s other half is primal and compassionately segmented between love and reality. McAdams and Bardem, while scarcely used are scene stealers whenever they do hit the screen. Malick doesn’t miss a beat in directing To the Wonder even though it is the fastest consecutive film he has ever completed. To the Wonder is transcendent, illuminating, and bold, a must see for fans of Malick and cast.

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To the Wonder: 8.5 out of 10.