The Time Traveler's Wife, and a few more movies

#204  [archive]

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Most of the movies I watch are obtained, shall we say, surreptitiously. It's a far from flawless process, often fails midway through, so it's necessary to 'test-drive' the first moments of every film as it's downloaded, to make sure it's all there, in the right language, etc. This movie was particularly tricky to get, and glitched out repeatedly, so I've watched the first moments of it about twenty times.

And jeez, I hate the first moments. It starts with very sad violins, as a woman drives a car on a rainy night, singing a sad song opera-style, and then her young child sings along from the back seat. If you've seen more than two movies in your life, you know from sad music and driving in the rain that there's going to be a wreck, and it'll be fatal.

Screech, boom, and yup. 

Henry (Eric Bana) is a time traveler, accidentally. It's out of his control, something genetic, so he pops in naked at some unknown time and place, mugs somebody to get some clothes, and then he doesn't have much time before he involuntarily pops out again, leaving the clothes behind. 

Like a magnet he's drawn to times and dates involving his loved ones, so every time and place he pops in, there's family, but he never knows whether they'll be young or old or dead. This makes his marriage with Clare (Rachel McAdams) difficult, because she never knows when he'll be home and when he'll be out gallivanting in time.

The movie is visually too dark, tonally too Valentine's Day, leaves some logical questions unasked, and it would be better with lots more Stephen Tobolowsky. But it's watchable, and I do not un-recommend it.

Time travel, though, is my favorite sub-species of science fiction. I have read many novels and short stories about time travel, seen many movies and TV shows, and there's something troubling about this one. 

A time traveling man pops in on a little girl, and then he poofs away into the ether. The girl is impressed, of course — how could she not be, when he's vanished in front of her? The moment has to become a key point of her childhood, and she'll never forget it, or him. If the time traveler returns when she's grown up, pardon my morals but it ain't appropriate for him to boink the girl he met when she was 7. Doctor Who handled this exact situation nicely, twicely, but here that girl he wowed when she was little becomes The Time Traveler's Wife. Ain't that sci-fi grooming, and kinda icky?

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

Satan Met a Lady (1936)
Streaming free

This is the second filmed version of The Maltese Falcon, though it's been re-titled, everyone's renamed, and it's been re-envisioned as a screwball comedy. The first version (1931) is very good, and the third version (1941, with Bogart) is a classic. This one's a head-scratcher.

Even making every effort to dismiss Dashiell Hammett and Sam Spade from the equation, it's a collection of bad ideas.

Warren William (Perry Mason in the movies) plays cocky private eye Ted Shane. He's helping the mysterious gunslinging Bette Davis find a missing man, and he chatters too much with future fish'n'chips magnate Arthur Treacher, who's looking for a perhaps-mythical 8th-century ram's horn said to be stuffed with jewels. 

The well-mangled story briefly, but only briefly, comes to life when the Sydney Greenstreet character pops in, only here he's Madame Barabbas, played by an elderly actress named Alison Skipworth.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1955) 

"An old tale retold by Michael Powell."

Before he was Mickey Mouse, The Sorcerer's Apprentice was a ballet, by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. I did not know that until the opening credits for this short, faded but colorful ballet movie.

It's Powell's name that drew me, not ballet. Powell, you ought to know, made Black Narcissus, The Tales of Hoffmann, The Thief of Bagdad, etc. He also made another movie about ballet, The Red Shoes, which I've heard is OK but never seen.

This movie tells the story we all know — while the sorcerer is away, the apprentice tries something beyond her abilities — but it's a ballet. Very helpfully, there's narration in the apprentice's voice, else I would've been mostly lost.

To help the audience understand that the man or woman (there's no telling) contorting themselves silly in a feathery costume is supposed to be a bird, Mr Powell helpfully has the shape of a bird superimposed on the screen. Likewise, the image of a cat tells us that two dancers are cats, and with that clue I could see the resemblance. A third overlaid image, though, I did not recognize — my best guess is that it's a cockroach. What do you think?

The dancing is an athleticism I seriously respect, especially all the toe-walking, which boggles my mind and feet watching any ballet.

The movie tells its story well, but it's all so serene it might not hold a child's attention in the smartphone era. Inarguably, this is a good movie. Too bad it's ballet.

Call me dullwitted, but ballet eludes me. Twice when I was a kid, girl classmates did ballet in class as show-and-tell, and once the whole class attended a brief maybe-professional ballet at a downtown theater, and all three times, before the show, the teacher pre-scolded the class (mostly the boys) not to laugh. The absolute only boys who didn't at least giggle were the boys destined to be ballet dancers, or at least gay.

Fifty years after that field trip, this movie has shaken the gay/ballet connection right out of me. Some of the dancing, and certainly all of the writhing on the floor, struck me kinda discreetly sexy, especially in those tight, clingy leotards that really emphasize the legs and buttocks.

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

A Better Tomorrow (1996)
A Night in Casablanca (1946)
The Celluloid Closet (1996)
The Gorilla (1939)
The Green Girl (2014)
Hiroshima (1953)
Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)
Popeye (1980)
Reflections of Evil (2002)
Truck Turner (1974)

... plus occasional schlock and surprises 

    • • • And then • • •

A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990)
Alexander Nevsky (1938)
The Bat People (1974)
The Beatles: Get Back (2021)
Berkeley in the Sixties (1990)
Brainwaves (1983)
The Card Counter (2021)
Cellular (2004) 
The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)
Dark Star (1974)
The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009)
The Decline of Western Civilization (1980)
Downsizing (2017)
Frankenhooker (1990)
The General (1926)
Get Shorty (1995)
Hugo (2011)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
The Internet's Own Boy (2014)
Kids in the Hall (debut episode; 1988) 
Kids in the Hall (reunion debut episode; 2022)
The Killing of America (1981)
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) 
Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)
Love Happy (1950)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
The Man Who Thought Life (1969)
The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
The Manhattan Project (1996)
Not Wanted (1949)
Nothing But a Man (1964)
Phone Booth (2002)
PickAxe (1999)
Poison (1990)
Revelations (1993)
Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
Romper Stomper (1992)
Room Service (1938)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
Saved! (2004)
Scared to Death (1947)
Secret Weapons (1985)
The Shooting (1966)
The Soloist (2009)
Sons of the Desert (1933)
Street of Crocodiles (1986)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Taken for a Ride (1996)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Who Farted? (2019)
Who's That Girl? (1987)
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. Sometimes you play up the cretin in you. Ballet is an art form, and I hope you've come to seriously respect it. It's a little hard to tell.

    1. Yes, I seriously respect ballet as art. Also opera. Also punk and rap, even the worst of it. I respect art, but much of it I don't appreciate or choose to endure, and if I was watching a ballet in person someone else bought the ticket and I would need lots of caffeine.

  2. When it came out, people said Time Traveller's Wife was a chick flick. That sold me, I love chick flicks, and I liked that movie.

    I think there was one scene where the grooming as you call it is mentioned. I remember it because before that scene it hadnt struck me but, it is awkward.


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