The Best Time Travel Films of All Time

2013_05_07 Predestination_0407.tif

There’s currently a film on VOD called Predestination, which has to be one of the trippiest time travel flicks I have ever seen.  Based on the Robert Heinlein short story “All You Zombies,” directed by the Spierig Brothers (don’t worry, I didn’t know who they were before this either) and starring Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook (if there is any justice, a star should be born here) as two temporal cops hopping through time to stop the crimes of the Fizzle Bomber, it blew my mind that this had not been given a major theatrical release.  Had the similarly minded Wachowski Siblings made this right after The Matrix, it would’ve been a huge hit and they would probably be remembered today for the latter and not the former.  But it blew my mind more for what it was able to achieve in storytelling.  It’s impossible to talk about what happens in detail without giving away major plot points.  Early on I had a hunch what might be happening, but I was totally floored by the depth of what was happening and how the filmmakers dragged us down deeper and deeper into this endless temporal loop.  It makes no sense while simultaneously it makes beautiful sense in its own twisted logic.  It made me wonder…could this actually be one of the greatest time travel movies ever made?  Only time will tell…

…for the purpose of this musing list, let’s be optimistic on its lasting impression and notch it at number 10.  Let the rest of the countdown begin:

Somewhere in Time

9.  Somewhere in Time (Jeannot Szwarc, 1980) – Legend has it this was one of the first films to find success in the early days of video cassette rentals (ahhh…somewhere in time indeed).  I remember making my parents let me watch it with them when I was very young (maybe 6 or 7) because Superman (Christopher Reeve) was in it, and it left me confused as I didn’t understand how one of King Henry’s wives (Jane Seymour) was still alive and acting in movies.  Also during this timeframe in my life I was similarly confused as to how a medieval Saint (Joan Van Arc) ended up staring on TV’s Knots Landing.  At any rate…lush visuals, haunting music, a beautiful setting and a love story beyond time has made this a huge cult hit, and rightfully so.

Happy Accidents

8. Happy Accidents (Brad Anderson, 2000) – This is not a romantic comedy.  I repeat: this is not a romantic comedy.  It’s actually one of the best time travel movies ever made.  It’s a shame Brad Anderson has never really found the huge success he deserved after delivering a trio of thoughtful, well done genre pieces (this, Session 9 and The Machinist).  This one is also a bit of a miracle as it made the always annoying Vincent D’Onofrio actually likable for once in his miserable acting life.  Oh yeah, and Marisa Tomei is lovely here, too. Continue reading

The 9th Annual Davies Awards in Film

 

A Look Back at 2014:

Cinematically 2014 was a long, bizarre year that seemed like it would never end, much like many of the runtime-be-damned films we watched.  It’s hard to pinpoint a defining theme as filmmakers were all over the map and seemed to be throwing everything and the kitchen sink at viewers, though time travel (in fantastic terms in Interstellar and The Edge of Tomorrow while in more realistic terms in Boyhood) and biopics (especially at the end of the year) seemed to make the most compelling cases.

Strangely I found myself disconnected from many of the overly praised but still very high quality “independent” films (Boyhood, Birdman and Selma) while I found enormous entertainment value in the smartly crafted mainstream masterpieces (Interstellar and Gone Girl).

Early in the year we were treated to some of the strangest and most unnerving independent fare with the cold Canadian entry Enemy and the ever-odd Under the Skin, both slow-burn psychological thrillers that could make David Lynch squirm and swoon.  At the end of the year, when it came to the biopics, The Imitation Game showed us how it should be done even when going by-the-numbers, while The Theory of Everything showed us how wrong by-the-numbers can go.

When it came to up-and-coming directors, Jeremy Saulnier (with Blue Ruin) and Jennifer Kent (with The Babadook) left us on the edge of our seats begging for more, while Ava DuVernay basked in the glory of being the first to attempt a MLK biopic with the noble Selma.

On the veteran auteur front, David Fincher delivered a dark comedy for the ages with Gone Girl while Christopher Nolan aimed for the stars with the year’s most ambitious and memorable effort, Interstellar.  Meanwhile in a tale of two Andersons, Wes Anderson delivered his best yet with The Grand Budapest Hotel while Paul Thomas Anderson delivered his least yet with Inherent Vice…which was still a pleasing effort and a notch about Wes’ best. Continue reading

Going Back to the Bridge in Selma

Selma

Like two of the other most ballyhooed films from 2014 (Boyhood and Birdman), Selma is a really good film that has been a bit oversold.  I suppose if one is going to overrate a film, it might as well be one as noble as this, but in the slightly paraphrased words of my girlfriend, “I just wish they would’ve gotten the facts straight and given this girl a little more gospel.”  There’s something curiously missing from Ava DuVernay’s intelligently directed and reverent biopic of our nation’s most celebrated reverend and Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., despite many convenient current parallels reminding informed viewers there is still so much work to be done.  That missing piece is the call to action.

Standing tall in the film are DuVernay’s depiction of the most harrowing events (from the bombing of the four little girls in the church and the violent police suppression of the first attempt to march across the bridge out of Selma towards Montgomery, to the quieter but equally disturbing moments showing the casually institutionalized hate-fueled suppression of the right to vote in court houses across the Deep South) and, naturally, David Oyelowo’s commanding performance as MLK.

DuVernay, taking a cue from Spielberg’s Lincoln, does a commendable job showing the slow tension-building behind-the-scenes process of what it takes to organize a meaningful march against injustice and how that can be used as a tool to raise public sentiment for the passing of legislation (in this case, the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965).  The tenants of nonviolent protest are on glorious display here, showing how powerfully effective yet dangerous it can be, as it coaxes the irrational radicals out into the open light of day where those watching on the sidelines are suddenly spurred to stand up because they are left with no other option once violence erupts against the peaceful marchers.

Sadly, Paul Webb’s uneven screenplay betrays both DuVernay’s skills and Oyelowo passionate portrayal as the writer plays loose with some key facts and insists on fitting King into the archetypal mold of a leader riddled with self-doubt.  Continue reading

Of Art, History, Cannolis, the Wicked Cold, Green Monstahs and Ringing in the New Year in Boston

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Happy New Year from The Spin!

We rang in 2015 braving the wicked cold of Boston.  Oddly, though I’ve had numerous personal and professional connections to Boston for the past 15 years and for most of my life it’s been a mere six-hour drive away, this was my first trip to the New England metropolis – better late than never!  For me, it felt like a quaintly quieter piece of NYC spiced with a Dublin-esque sensibility and is chock full of all of my favorite things: history, art, pubs and baseball.  And it’s super easy to get around by foot or on the T.

We stayed in the Back Bay but ventured all over during our four-day stint.  We hit up some pubs around Faneuil Hall; toured Fenway Park; ate at Tasty Burger; visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; took in the Goya exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts;  did Italian and cannolis (the best cannolis ever, mind you, from Mike’s Pastry on Hanover Street) in the North End; strolled through the historic Boston Granary burial grounds, along Beacon Hill and Boston Common; stretched out to Brookline; and had drinks at The Pru’s famous Top of the Hub.

And, of course, here come the photos: Continue reading

Battle of the British Biopics: Mr. Turner, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game

Below is The Spin on three end of the year awards hopefuls…all British biopics about tortured geniuses that when viewed together represent the best and worst of classic Oscar-bait.

Mr. Turner

First up is the finely pedigreed Mr. Turner from Academy darling writer/director Mike Leigh detailing the waning years of famed eccentric proto-Impressionist maritime artist J. M. W. Turner.  The film contains a lot of what one comes to expect from a Leigh project: Timothy Spall superb in the lead role, gritty yet refined attention to realism, fantastic supporting turns from a sometimes improvising cast, and excellent dialogue (the dark, dry, British humor runs delightfully amuck here).  The film also contains some surprises, most notably the perfectly lit cinematography from Dick Pope who photographs the film like a moving painting, masterfully capturing the scenes and environments (the approach of a retired warship he would later paint coming into harbor while Turner and his friends row out to meet it is fantastically rendered) that inspired Turner’s art. Continue reading

A Walk Amongst the Tombstones in Laurel Hill Cemetery

Laurel Hill 35

Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia’s East Falls’ section overlooking the Schuylkill River between Kelly and Ridge Drives is one of the oldest cemeteries in the nation.  It houses such pop culture artifacts as Veteran Stadium seats surrounding Harry Kalas’ microphone-shaped tombstone and Adriaaaaaane! Balboa’s fake grave.  It’s also the eternal resting place of numerous historical dignitaries from various wars and the Philadelphia area along with countless family plots dating back to the early 1800’s.  The gardens of the dead there are sprawling, monument-laden and fecund with stories told and untold.  It’s a perfect spot for an autumnal stroll as the towering trees sheading their brightly covered leaves under the waning sun cast a perfect light on the splendid environs.

Below are photos I captured on one such Sunday stroll.

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The Cathedral of Space and Brand Survival in Interstellar

Interstellar 3

Christopher Nolan might not be the incomparable artiste that Paul Thomas Anderson has become, the lyrical poet that Terrence Malick succeeds at being, or the rabble-rousers that the sicko David Fincher and the pop pastiche-aholic Quentin Tarantino are…but damn it, he’s the best Brand there is in Hollywood.  You know what you are getting every time you see a Christopher Nolan film, and unlike, say a Michael Bay, you should be ecstatic you’re getting it.  He’s going to entertain you and make you think while conjuring his own impossible cinematic dreams, attempt (sometimes clumsily but always admirably) to tap into a zeitgeist, dazzle you with his technical skill, twist the plot and up the dramatic ante every time he steps behind that camera.

His sprawling space opera, Interstellar, is no exception.  It is at times wondrously ridiculous and miraculously beautiful in its ambitions

In the not so distant future, food is running out from over-population and environmental calamities that have produced a new Dust Bowl.  There people are forced into farming as society has transformed from one of innovation to one of scraping by that has been branded as “caretaking.”  It is here where the widowed Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) eeks out an existence with his son and daughter, Murphy (played by Mackenzie Foy as a child and Jessica Chastain as an adult), while he dreams of his lost opportunity to be an astronaut after a test flight crash and the disbanding of NASA years earlier.  The boy has already been tested by the school system and found to be a perfect candidate to be a farmer, while the smart-as-a-whip Murphy gets suspended for bringing a book to school that teaches the Lunar landing as a fact and triumph of the human spirit, when the new consensus teaches it was Cold War propaganda (and no one should ever dream of space travel again as growing food is the only noble pursuit).

But strange things start happening.  Automatic technology (drones and plows) begin acting up.  There are gravitational anomalies happening.  And Murphy thinks there is a ghost in the farmhouse trying to deliver her a message.  It all adds up to father and daughter stumbling upon a secret base where, lo and behold, Cooper’s former professor, Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), is leading an underground NASA team that has discovered a wormhole beyond Saturn and is plotting manned voyages to search for inhabitable planets on the other side.  The very survival of the human race is dependent on their mission, and they want Coop to pilot the next one which will be headed by Dr. Brand’s own daughter, the aptly named Amelia (Anne Hathaway). Continue reading

Drinking Wine in the Valley of the Moon

Robledo Winery 3

This is the third in a three-part photo series on my recent trip to San Francisco.  Click here for Killer Views of the City or click here for photos of Muir Woods.

A tour of Sonoma County Wine Country makes for a memorable (provided you don’t drink too much) day-trip while staying in the city.  We opted for Sonoma over Napa as we read it was more bucolic and laid back…and we weren’t disappointed.  Our choice of touring companies was also spot-on.  Green Dream Tours provide guided shuttle services that will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel downtown, stop at scenic overlooks along the way, and take you to family run wineries off the beaten path.  Their shuttles are limited to 14 passengers, and are perfect anecdotes to overcrowded anonymous buses.  They really make you feel like you’re out with a group of friends, and our driver and guide, Dakshina, couldn’t have been more professional, friendly and knowledgeable.

We stopped at three wineries as well as a brief sojourn in the “city” of Sonoma, which for those comparing is a quaint town of about seven thousand people vs. Napa which has swelled to a city of over seventy thousand. Continue reading

Muir Woods: A Cathedral of Trees

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This is the second in a three-part photo series on my recent trip to San Francisco.  Click here for Killer Views of the City or click here for photos from Sonoma County..

No trip to the San Francisco Bay area is complete without a day-trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County and the famous redwoods of Muir Woods.  Word to the wise: go early (the park opens at 8am) before the throngs of tourists and locals descend and make parking and silence impossible.  We got there around 8:30am on a Saturday, and the timing was perfect for primo parking and thin crowds hiking the paths.  Another word to the wise:  the road up is winding, cliff-side, often without guard rails, and has no bike lanes but plenty of suicidal bikers competing for road space.  Once safely ensconced in the belly of the forest, the trees – amongst the tallest on earth and towering like cathedral spires – are astounding, and I could imagine Terrence Malick coming here to die and be buried so he can forever be under sunlight streaming through treetops.

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San Francisco: City of Killer Views

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This is the first in a three-part photo series on my recent trip to San Francisco.  Click here for photos of Muir Woods or click here for photos from Sonoma County.

San Francisco is one of those cities that flaunts convention and tempts fate.  The bay, the fault line that promises destruction, the fog, the jutting and tempestuous hills…it’s a city that by normal rights shouldn’t exist (much like two of my other favorite cities: Amsterdam and New Orleans).  But when you’re there, you can see why people refuse to leave and continue to rebuild and adapt.  Iconic bridges (with the Golden Gate straddling into Marin County and the Bay Bridge connecting the city to Oakland), impossible hills, beautiful architecture, a temperate quasi-Mediterranean climate, and views to kill for make San Francisco the most beautiful city I have visited in North America to date.  You simply can’t understand the insanity of the views until you see them for yourself…and although I’ve tried…no pictures can really do them justice.  No wonder this is the city where hippies are eternal, the most daring of bicyclists flock, homeless people retire, and real estate prices soar higher than the headlands.

The following spots we found to be the best bets for leaving you gobsmacked:

  1. The view from the Marin Headlands scenic outlooks – just over the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge one can tempt fate and precipitously winding roads to end up at the top of the Marin Headlands (which moved upwards a full 40 feet after the 1989 earthquake) where along the way you can see exposed tectonic plates and once parked can enjoy nose-bleed, windblown-hair views of the bridge, bay, and city beyond.
  2. The view from atop Twin Peaks – right in the city proper not far from the Presidio and Golden Gate Park is this outlook that can be easily reached by car and will shock you with its amazing view of the city spread out below.
  3. The view from inside Top of the Mark – this swanky but laid-back old-school bar on the top floor of a swell hotel will give you the best building-top views in the city and is the perfect spot for a drink at twilight.

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