Setter’s ‘Spectives: Stop All the Clocks—’About Time’ Lags Behind

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Time-travel movies are risky. Repeated situations and scenes can go nowhere unless they’re tweaked enough to convey something new. And you need an urgency informing the proceedings; if you’re going on a temporal journey of any length with a character—main or otherwise—it’s got to matter.

Richard Curtis’ latest flick About Time misses on all of those fronts.

The story of Tim, a young man (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who uses his ability to travel backward in time to foster romantic adventures and generally change things for the better in his life, this insufferably dull, mawkish film makes Rashomon look cursory in its depiction of the same story told in various ways. Yet temporal adjustments can’t explain the duration of a scene in which Tim’s wife (Rachel McAdams) asks for his opinion on an endless stream of outfits, nor can it shed light on the woefully underwritten characters peppering the film in an attempt to infuse it with charm and humor. (Tim’s obnoxiously free-spirited sister Kit Kat and bitter playwright landlord are two such examples, providing full servings of eccentricity without definition or context.)

The fact is, the movie lags. I didn’t care about the protagonists. And despite the addition of some by-the-book weeper ingredients—a devastating illness for Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) and alcoholism for his sister—the picture comes off as disingenuous, with manipulation being the takeaway. That it’s derivative is a lesser issue, though films such as Run Lola Run and Groundhog Day, which used the same idea more judiciously, can’t be blamed for AT‘s faults. This movie made all its miscues on its own.

Curtis, who wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral, has done sparkling work before, and every director produces a dud once in a while. But flicks such as About Time get me worried about the cinema. They suggest, in my opinion, that a touch of unreality can make up for other issues—script, direction, performances and the like—yet it’s not an effective substitute. The best time-travel (or any) movies take you back with them and make you want to come along. They move quickly and economically … like time itself.

And you don’t check your watch while viewing them. About Time, sadly, waits for everyone.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: I Sing the Movie Romantic!

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Every so often, I start thinking about Odd Man Out and how romantic the film is.

Yes, I’m talking about Odd Man Out, Carol Reed’s elegiac 1947 masterpiece about the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. The one where James Mason’s dying gunman staggers from alley to alley after killing a man in a robbery. The one where Robert Newton plays a crazed painter aching to create a portrait of the doomed fellow. The one where Robert Krasker’s cinematography captures all of the shadows and snow cloaking Belfast’s forgotten corners.

That doesn’t sound romantic, you say. But it is, it truly is.

When you get to the end and watch Kathleen, the woman who loves Mason’s Johnny McQueen, make the decision to go with him on his predetermined journey, you might agree with me. Because they’re both incredibly flawed, often unlikable, even criminals–yet they overlook their faults for love.

By the way, I’m not advocating this behavior at all. As Sibella says in Kind Hearts and Coronets: “Not at all.” Johnny and Kathleen are just characters and not to be emulated–especially in light of the fact that they use violence to achieve their ends.

But their actions oddly remind me of another pair of I-don’t-care-about-anyone-else lovers, Heathcliff and Catherine in the towering novel Wuthering Heights. The idea that the connection between two people can be so strong that everyone else is immaterial is, to my mind, one of the most romantic and completely untenable notions around. That it exists, presumably, just in art is a blessing; anyone who apes Heathcliff in real life would be the most insufferable person around. Still, it informs the screen, with Johnny and Kathleen providing perfect examples of all-forgiving, all-consuming adoration.

And it makes a spellbinding story. Emily Brontë, I’m sure, knew that well.

I think about Odd Man Out most often when I’m mulling life beyond our own–not that on other planets, but on ours, in a movie that superficially is about political divisions yet really concerns people. It’s about humans’ insularity, how selfish we can be … and how personal our goals are. Maybe that’s what I like most about the film, that it shows us in all our disarray, in characters who are lost everywhere they go except together.

It doesn’t mean they’re right. It does, however, mean romance.