Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Danish Girl

Year 8, Day 261 - 9/17/16 - Movie #2,453

BEFORE: Alicia Vikander carries over from "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and while I saw this film primarily as the main link between that film and "Spectre", I've been interested in seeing this film not only because of my personal history, but because I'm working for an animator who's starting production on a film about her marriages, and parts of her story are also reflected here.  However, she saw this film and hated it, now I'll have to discuss it with her and find out more about why.

But this also qualifies as part of my European chain, and it's yet another film about artists...

THE PLOT: Loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegene, Lili and Gerda's marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili's groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer.

AFTER: I wonder if anyone was disappointed or confused by this film, when they found out it wasn't a story about a woman who worked in a pastry shop.  You know, selling danishes. 

This was a tough one to watch, and it's going to be a tough one to review.  Not because it's inherently a bad film, that's not really for me to judge, it has more to do with personal connections to a similar topic, the way this story reminds me of the way my first marriage ended, after my wife determined she was gay. (I know, the language gets tricky here, and I'm in danger of offending people on this topic, just by using the word "determined" instead of "realized", this is why I have to tread lightly today.  But I have to state what's in my head, and stand by it.) 

Transvestite/transgender people have not had an easy road, that's for sure, and have not been depicted well in films, either.  A lot of times, it's just a man dressing up in women's lingerie, and also being a serial killer or something at the same time. ("Dressed to Kill", for example.)  So there's this connection that Hollywood has made between transvestitism and sociopathy, just because those are both regarded as psychological conditions.  Have there been that many documented cases where men who are gay but also self-loathing have put their energies toward killing people, just because they don't have any positive way to express themselves?  Or is that simply a narrative convention employed by murder mysteries?  

But I digress.  We live in a more modern age, where society seems to be on the cusp of accepting transgender issues, umm, except for those people who don't, so in that sense, we're a nation divided.  The recent hubbubs over bathroom visits in North Carolina shows that society has a long way to go to reach understanding, as many people would rather use legislation to deny or shut down the whole system, rather than work toward any kind of social progress.  I mean, who takes their birth certificate with them into the bathroom?  What if it gets wet in there, or there's a desperate need for toilet paper?  I kid, but in all seriousness, if we're going to allow people to change their gender on a legal document, that should stand.  

The science of it all, I don't even pretend to understand.  I know there's a point at which a developing embryo is neither male nor female, and at some point a choice gets made, by God or fate or DNA or whatever, and then that fetus gets born, and then sometimes believes that the choice was made incorrectly, or it doesn't identify with its gender.  Whether this is a genuine genetic mistake or brought on by the trappings of society is what seems to be the topic of some debate.  The problem is, we can't really ever get inside someone else's head, so if I'm being completely honest, I don't know if a trans person is truly "trapped" in the wrong body, or is having some neurons misfiring, or is just a boy got enamored with girly stuff somewhere along the way.  

Why is it always "trapped" in the wrong body, that sounds so negative, why is it never "placed" in the wrong body, or just "happens to be" in the wrong body?  I mean, you never hear someone who wants to get a nose job say that they're "trapped" in a face with a big nose.  I think they'd plainly admit, "Hey, I'd just like to have a nicer-looking nose."  Then some people have that stomach-stapling surgery, but you never hear them say, "I'm a skinny person trapped in a fat person's body."  It's probably more like, "I'm fat, and I'd like to be thin, and this seems to be the way to make that happen."  So at what point does corrective surgery go from making one's appearance better to fixing a mistake the universe made?  Where does that line get drawn?  I try to be accepting of other ideologies, and other ways of life, but there's something inherently self-centered about the transgender process in that sense, as if someone is saying they're smarter than the universe. 

And this whole thing gets tied up with so many other issues - religion for one.  Is God in control of the universe, and if so, why did he create a universe where people are born the wrong gender, or at least have come to believe that they were?  And is the science that changes a man into a woman a modern miracle, or a subversion of the natural order, or just a luxury akin to cosmetic surgery?  See, I've got a few dozen questions that I've probably got no right to even ask.  I'd like to think that people who undergo gender reassignment surgery have all received extensive therapy to be sure of their choices, but what do I really know about it in the end?  Very little.  

And then those people who are advocates for the process, the ones who give interviews and put themselves out there in the name of enlightening ignorant people about the process, well, there are still a few things that they're not willing to talk about, so which is it?  Are you going to shine a light on the issues around this topic, or aren't you?  Is it possible to be so in touch with yourself that you want to change your gender, but still be sexually repressed in some fashion?  Sexual orientation, gender, religion, science, it's all one big confusing muddle right now, so what an exciting, innovative, radical, dangerous time to be alive.  

But this film goes back to the 1930's, which was a very different time in terms of understanding these issues.  Einar Wegener, who started cross-dressing and posing for his wife's paintings under the name Lili Elbe, was variously diagnosed as a homosexual, schizophrenic, deviant pervert, and probably more.  It seems that this was much more than cross-dressing, because he seemed to keep Lili as a separate entity, so it's almost like a split personality.  And then when he dressed as Lili, he flirted with men, and in the film one of those men is homosexual, so it's possible he was attracted to Einar in a dress, and not Lili.  

This does open up a lot of narrative possibilities, once you get past the pronoun trouble.  Hollywood hasn't really made a love triangle story before, not one where a character is attracted to one woman when he's dressed as a man, and to a man when he's dressed as a woman.  (This is before the surgery, so I'm still using the pronoun "he", even if that's not P.C.)  I guess my question then is, why couldn't Einar/Lili live in this transitional state, being married to a woman and then loving men when he was dressed as a woman?  Sure, it's a compromise, but isn't every relationship a compromise?  Lots of people seek out other partners and stay married, and sometimes the more progressive spouse is OK with it.  (I couldn't handle it, but Gerda seemed like maybe she was getting there...)

My point, I guess, is that it's a slippery slope.  One day Einar put on a pair of stockings just to model for his wife's painting, and according to this film, that's what opened the door.  Stockings led to make-up, that led to wearing dresses, and once you start down that road, it leads to not only happiness with the new discoveries, but also disappointment or disenchantment with the way things are, and then somehow it leads to being on an operating table in Dresden and having your sex organs removed.  

And this is where the movie fails as a story, since it can't properly get inside a person's head and confirm what's going on in there.  The character has to start with putting on a pair of silk stockings, and from there the journey is (more or less) inevitable.  And I disagree with that, because then anyone who enjoyed the feeling of a fur glove would end up engaging in bestiality, or at least at a "furry" convention, or anyone who had a fantasy about, say, killing their boss would HAVE to act upon it at some point.  This is a fallacy, because thousands of people have sexual fantasies every day that they just enjoy as fantasies, that they would never, ever try to reenact in the real world.  Because they, or society as a whole, has a moral code, even if it's ambiguous, that controls what can and cannot happen. Now, that code has evolved over time, and things that were forbidden decades ago are now more acceptable, but there are still limits. 

For example, the real history of Gerda Wegener supports the idea that she was a lesbian, even though she was married to Einar, and probably preferred being with "Lili".  But the movie doesn't go there, because that's too complicated - instead we're shown Gerda asking Lili to turn back into Einar.  Somebody thought that audiences would accept a man transitioning into a woman, but only at the expense of his marriage, and only if he had a plan to have male lovers after his surgery, not female ones.  Why?  How can a film be supportive of transgender issues and yet remain so homophobic?  

Transvestites I sort of get, men who for whatever reason dress in drag - and I'm not sure why it comforts me to know that some of them are gay and some of them are straight.  Maybe it's because I think clothing is a societal construct - men dress like THIS and women dress like THAT, and even that has changed dramatically over time.  (Think of men in the 1700's, when the fashion was to wear powdered wigs and a lot of make-up.)  And sexual orientation is a separate issue from how someone dresses, right?  And gender identification is a completely different issue, it's not which gender you're attracted to, but what gender you truly are.  

I think this film sort of fell into the same trap that many people do, which is assuming that all of these issues are linked together.  For many it's so easy to believe that a man who dresses like a girl also wants to have sex with men, or also wants to BE a girl.  It's not necessarily so, and until society learns to parse all this out, instead of painting everyone with the same brush, we're looking at decades of confusion still to come.  Einar, of course, was not aware of all of these options, and seemed also to be racked with guilt, while making his transitionary moves at the same time.  He (she) had the misfortune of being born before anyone had much understanding about what he was going through.  

Which goes a long way toward explaining why Einar felt alone and unsure about everything, and I wonder if he had more options, like living part-time as a woman, or existing somewhere in the space in-between genders, if he could have ever found solace.  I still have a ton of questions, some medical and some social, but I'm willing to table the discussion for now.  Sorry if I offended anyone with my rambling thoughts, but at least I've been open and honest about them. 

Also starring Eddie Redmayne (last seen in "The Theory of Everything"), Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw (last heard in "Paddington"), Amber Heard (last seen in "Zombieland"), Sebastian Koch (last seen in "A Good Day to Die Hard"), Pip Torrens (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Emerald Fennell (ditto), Nicholas Woodeson (last seen in "Mr. Turner"), Adrian Schiller, Henry Pettigrew.

RATING: 4 out of 10 nosebleeds

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Year 8, Day 260 - 9/16/16 - Movie #2,452

BEFORE: Henry Cavill carries over from "The Count of Monte Cristo", which was one of the last little pieces to fall into place to make the rest of this chain possible.  Once I realized I could get here, it was just a short jump to the new James Bond film, which I'll get to in a couple days.  

Huh, I didn't even realize this, but Napoleon (the Emperor) appeared as a character in "The Count of Monte Cristo", and tonight's film is about another Napoleon, Napoleon Solo.  

THE PLOT: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.

AFTER: Yeah, it's another reboot tonight, but I don't think I ever watched the original TV show "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", which aired from 1964 to 1968.  I mean, I'm old but I'm not THAT old.  I was busy being born when this show was wrapping up its run.  So that's a long time to wait to re-launch a franchise, but hey, everything in its own time.  I guess it took a while for the Cold War era to be cool again.  

Ian Fleming helped develop the original TV series, back in 1963, but didn't like that NBC wanted to call the pilot "Ian Fleming's Solo".  The producers of the James Bond films then filed a lawsuit, and the movie "Goldfinger" also had a character named Solo, so they had to change the name of the TV show, which is when they came up with the acronym U.N.C.L.E., for "United Network Command for Law and Enforcement".  The pairing up of an American agent with a Soviet one made sense on the TV show, because together they took on a common enemy, the organization known as T.H.R.U.S.H. (the Technologial Hierarchy for...ah, the hell with it.)

My main problem with the movie here is that there's no larger, shadowy organization for the two agents to fight, which makes it much more unlikely that they would team up, especially at the height of the Cold War.  Sure, at the start of the film Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are on opposing sides, but it's not long after they face off that their handlers say they must partner up.  And even though it's an uneasy alliance, it still felt forced.  

Maybe it's the lack of strong villains - sure, the count and countess or whoever they are are trying to get nuclear warheads, and no good can come of that, but they just didn't seem as sinister as your average Bond villain, so I didn't feel the same sense of danger.  The leads were stylish and suave, and seemed to be very good at what they do, but I have to wonder if the justification for reviving this franchise has everything to do with how much money the last few Bond films have brought in.  "Skyfall" took in over 1 billion (yep, with a "B") dollars, and three years later, there's another film about 60's era well-dressed secret agents?  You do the math.  

It also feels like they couldn't go too far in any direction - there were bits that were supposed to be humorous, but clearly they didn't want to make a comedy, like "Spy" or "Austin Powers".  But they didn't want this one to be too serious, either, like, say, "Jason Bourne" or "John Wick".  So everything seemed a little middle-of-the-road and negotiated by focus groups, if that's really the way they decide on a film's tone.  And there's stunt action, too, but nothing as impressive as the big-budget stunts they do in the "Mission: Impossible" films, like hanging from a building or flying on the outside of a plane. 

I did like the idea of making the two leads "imperfect" characters - Bond's just a little too perfect sometimes.  Here Solo made a few mistakes, plus he has a criminal background, and Illya has his own problems, namely fits of uncontrollable rage.  I thought this created a good balance for two characters who would otherwise seem to have a form of superpowers, like the spies in "Kingsman".  

Also starring Armie Hammer (last seen in "The Lone Ranger"), Alicia Vikander (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Elizabeth Debicki (last seen in "The Great Gatsby"), Luca Calvani (last seen in "To Rome With Love"), Sylvester Groth, Hugh Grant (last seen in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"), Jared Harris (last seen in "Pompeii"), Christian Berkel, with a cameo from David Beckham (last seen in "Bend it Like Beckham").

RATING: 6 out of 10 hidden microphones

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)

Year 8, Day 259 - 9/15/16 - Movie #2,451  

BEFORE: Well, my plan was to spend most of August catching up on a lot of television, which was stored on both the DVR and a pile of VHS tapes, and I failed to completely catch up.  I've got about 5 tapes left and a half-full DVR, and the new TV season starts next week.  The one upside is that new episodes of "Gotham" and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." air soon, and I feel like I JUST watched the last season finale a few weeks ago - largely because that's exactly what I did.  

I had to binge-watch the last 2 weeks of "America's Got Talent" tonight, just so I could see the winner announced without seeing it in social media first.  And I only got half-way through the third season of "BBQ Crawl" before getting distracted, and I've got about 20 episodes of "Carnival Eats", plus episodes of whatever new TV aired during July, so I guess I'm only about 2 months behind.  But once that new season starts, I'm going to fall much further behind, unless I devote the time I usually spend watching movies to TV shows, at least while I'm on break.  

And this is usually the time when I read through the Fall TV previews in magazines, and cross off show after show that I've got no interest in - but with a soft spot for sci-fi TV and time travel, I think I'm in trouble.  TWO shows about time travel?  "Timeless" and "Frequency"?  Plus a new "Westworld"?  Sure, all the movies these days are reboots and ripoffs, why not TV shows too?  Arrgh, I guess I've got to give these a try, since I picked up "12 Monkeys" and "Wayward Pines" 2 years ago.  But it all seems like placeholders until they can get "Twin Peaks" back on the air.  I really should find the time to finally watch "Lost", but there never seems to be an opportunity to do that. 

Patrick Godfrey carries over from "Mr. Turner", and my path is clear for the next 5 days.

THE PLOT: A young man, falsely imprisoned by his jealous "friend," escapes and uses a hidden treasure to exact his revenge.

AFTER: When I'm not watching reboots or superhero films, it seems like I've been bouncing around somewhat this year between films about art, music and literature.  (Yeah, I'm counting films about punk rockers under "music", even though that seems to be a crime to me, putting that in the same category as a film about, say, Beethoven)  For literature this is the year I finally covered some Jane Austen adaptations, plus "Anna Karenina", "Barry Lyndon", "King Lear", "Macbeth", "Catch-22", and another version of "Around the World in 80 Days".  But let's focus on Alexandre Dumas, since I watched a few versions of "The Three Musketeers" several years back, and I don't think that Cheech & Chong's version of "The Corsican Brothers" can really be counted as a faithful adaptation.  

I've always avoided "The Count of Monte Cristo" for some reason, never read the book, and I think in my mind it got kind of lumped in with "The Man in the Iron Mask".  Both are about people imprisoned for a long period of time, right?  But what a mistake I made, not checking this story out sooner.  It's got danger, intrigue, romance, and a giant con/heist that's better than what you see in films like "Ocean's Eleven".  Plus there's a lot of swordfighting and a prison escape, and I can see dozens of stories that were probably influenced by this one, including everything from "The Princess Bride" to "The Karate Kid" to "The Shawshank Redemption".  ("Shawshank" even indirectly references this story, by having a prisoner pick up a novel and mispronounce the author's name as "Dumb-ass" instead of "Dumas".)

Plus, this was originally printed in serialized form, a fact that's pretty evident by the sweeping changes throughout the book, as Edmond Dantes goes from ship's mate to prisoner to pirate to mysterious wealthy person.  That makes this tale feel like a very early version of a comic book, or perhaps a soap opera (comic books just being soap operas for teen boys, mostly).  Charles Dickens serialized a lot of his stories, too, and just as you can see "The Prince and the Pauper" played out time and time again in soap opera form (with actors notoriously playing their own brothers, or identical cousins...) it's important to note that when a soap opera character returns from the dead, with a sudden fortune after a plane crash in Bolivia and extensive facial surgery, I think that's more Dumas than Dickens.  

Because that's essentially what Edmond Dantes does - he returns from the dead, or at least life in prison, after his family and fiancée were told that he was dead.  Same thing, right?  And to them it seems like a magic trick - but the readers/audience are in on the trick this time, we get to follow Edmond as he befriends a fellow inmate, learns to read and write and swordfight in prison, during breaks while he and his mentor are slowly tunneling out.  That's the plan, anyway, but things then take a narrative turn...

Once he's out of prison, though, he spends months working with a pirate crew before he can break off and find the hidden treasure - but even with enough money for ten lifetimes, he's not satisfied until he gets his revenge on his former friend for having him imprisoned, and for his fiancée, who... well, I'll leave some of the soap opera-style twists out, in case anyone hasn't read this story.  Suffice to say that he returns to society with a new identity, a new fortune, and a new mustache, to keep from being recognized (umm, sure, that works...).  He's also got a grand scheme to discredit his enemies, using their own greed and vices against them.  

The message for the readers/viewers is that living well, is not the best revenge - REVENGE is the best revenge.  But at the same time, Edmond was cautioned against revenge, and he went after it anyway.  This is a bit like trying to have it both ways - so, is revenge good or bad?  Also, he mentioned a few times that he didn't believe in God, but by the end seemed to be much more of a believer.  It's not that clear what changed his mind, unless it's the fact that he sort of came out on top.  But faith doesn't really work that way, it seems to mean the most to people when they're down on their luck.  Really, these are minor quibbles, on the whole it's a great, exciting story with a few great twists in it. 

Also starring Jim Caviezel (last seen in "Escape Plan"), Guy Pearce (last seen in "Lawless"), Richard Harris, James Frain (last seen in "Shadowlands"), Dagmara Dominczyk (last seen in "Keeping the Faith"), Luis Guzman (last heard in "Turbo"), Henry Cavill (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Michael Wincott, Christopher Adamson (last seen in "Judge Dredd"), JB Blanc (also last seen in "Shadowlands"), Alex Norton, Barry Cassin, Freddie Jones, Helen McCrory.

RATING: 7 out of 10 treasure chests

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mr. Turner

Year 8, Day 258 - 9/14/16 - Movie #2,450   

BEFORE: I forgot to mention I was going to Atlantic City for a couple of days - and it's not that I couldn't have watched movies while I was there, I probably could have, but on the last trip I watched one film on my wife's laptop, and then the 2nd night I got locked out and didn't know her password.  It was easier at that point just to skip a night, and with 107 days left in this year and just 50 more films to watch, I'm fairly confident I can finish on time, and I can take days off here and there if I want to.  I've only got 6 films left in my September schedule anyway, before I take a break and wait for October 1.  

Timothy Spall carries over from "From Time to Time", and my euro-trend chain continues.  And I'm back on the topic of fine art, following films this year about Klimt paintings, Monet forgeries, Crumb illustrations and New Yorker cartoons.

THE PLOT:  An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner's life.

AFTER: I had this on a DVD with "The Invisible Woman", that film about Charles Dickens' secret love life - but that other film made it into the February romance chain, and this one didn't, and it was definitely the right call.  Because Dickens and Turner were two very different British people, with two very different approaches to life and love.  Both men were married and carried on secret affairs, but if the films are to be believed, it seemed like Dickens had some understanding of what love was all about, but Turner had a lot of issues, and settled for just getting it on.  All in all, he seemed like a big grump - a talented grump, but a grump nonetheless.

I wish there had been more about Turner's art here, maybe an explanation of his techniques, something that could help me place him between landscapes and the start of impressionism, a reasoning for working snuff or coffee grounds or other food-based items into his art (a fact which he was apparently maligned for by a local theater troupe) or why he felt that another artist's seascape needed a bright red buoy just THERE (which he was happy to provide, without the other artist's approval...).  Heck, I'd settle for just learning the politics of the art academy he presented his work at, how his paintings ended up in the back room during shows (gee, maybe it had something to do with his temperment...).  

But no, this film would rather depict how annoying and overbearing Turner's wife was, by way of explaining why he chose to live apart from her and their daughters, with a housekeeper who happened to be his wife's niece, but who he was also having relations with, from time to time.  Plus he frequently took the steamboat down to Chelsea, presumably to get inspired to paint more seascapes, but after renting a room there under a fake name, eventually had another long-term affair with the woman who ran the boarding house.  Oh, and he liked going to brothels, too.  

There's part of me that despises a character who has a lot of affairs, yet won't leave his or her marriage. But divorce was probably frowned upon back then - that doesn't justify the affairs, but it does help explain them.  (as does the wife's personality...)  Then there's another part of me that says, hey, this guy was a creative type.  Whatever he needs to do to keep his creativity alive, that's part of the process.  To feel the art, he's got to experience life, and that means being as alive as possible.  That doesn't really justify the affairs either, but it's something.  I think I go back and forth on this point a lot.  

Look at the celebrities of today, at a time when divorce is more acceptable, and after the "free love" era, as a species, we're more confused than ever.  It's rare when high-profile marriages last for a long time, heck, it's probably rare for any marriage to last for a long time.  But people still get married, because so many people believe that it's the best way to be happy, or at least content.  But others have come to terms with never getting married - hey, if you never get married, you never have to get divorced - and other people get married five or six times before they're done.  Keep trying until you get it right, I guess.

EDIT: Ah, a little research informs me that J.M.W. Turner never married - the woman seen in this film was his friend's wife, who claimed that he was the father of her daughters.  Whether she did this just to get money out of him is unclear, but the fact that he allowed them to visit clearly suggests the possibility that they might have been his daughters - in other words, he slept with his friend's wife.  And he was also sleeping with his friend's wife's niece, who was his housekeeper.  The movie didn't really make all of this clear, but at least this explains why Turner said to another character that he was not married and had no children.    

But this film unfortunately never rises above being a series of (mostly) disconnected vignettes, without a consistent narrative or a coherent point to me made.  So Turner did this, Turner went here, Turner slept with these women.  So what?  It feels like someone forgot to tell me why any of this is important, or why I should bring myself to care. 

Also starring Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Karl Johnson (last seen in "Copying Beethoven"), Ruth Sheen (last seen in "Vanity Fair"), Lesley Manville (last seen in "The Theory of Everything") Sandy Foster, Amy Dawson, Martin Savage, Richard Bremmer (last seen in "Les Miserables"), Mark Stanley (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Jamie Thomas King (last seen in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), James Fleet (last seen in "Sense and Sensibility"), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (last seen in "Shadowlands"), Clive Francis, Robert Portal (last seen in "The Iron Lady"), Simon Chandler (also last seen in "The Theory of Everything"), Edward de Souza (last seen in "The Spy Who Loved Me"), Patrick Godfrey (last seen in "The Importance of Being Earnest"), Karina Fernandez, Kate O'Flynn, Joshua McGuire (last seen in "About Time"), Peter Wight (last seen in "Pride & Prejudice"), Sinead Matthews (ditto), David Horovitch.

RATING:  4 out of 10 pig heads

Sunday, September 11, 2016

From Time to Time

Year 8, Day 255 - 9/11/16 - Movie #2,449   

BEFORE: I'll get back to Ben Whishaw and Sally Hawkins in a few days - Hugh Bonneville carries over from "Paddington", and from the plot description on IMDB, I can't really tell if this film is a time-travel story or a ghost story.  I'm hoping for the former, because the linking has put it here, and it doesn't link to anything in my October horror chain.  And there's no way to shuffle the chain around to put it closer to October.  Though I am just 7 films away from taking a short break, there's a natural link at the end of this U.K.-based chain to the start of the horror movie chain, but there will be about a 10-day gap in-between. 

THE PLOT: A haunting ghost story spanning two worlds, two centuries apart. When 13 year old Tolly finds he can mysteriously travel between the two, he begins an adventure that unlocks family secrets laid buried for generations.

AFTER: OK, for my purposes I'm calling this a time-travel movie - which makes it a follow up to the other time-travel films I watched this year, like "About Time", "Twice Upon a Yesterday", "Edge of Tomorrow" and "Hot Tub Time Machine 2".  But being keenly aware of how few slots are left in 2016, it looks like I won't be getting to "Project Almanac", "The Butterfly Effect 2" or even "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" until next year.  So let's put a pin in this topic after tonight and re-visit it later. 

This film concerns a young teen at the end of World War II, who's sent to live with his great-grandmother after his father is lost in action.  As he explores the family's manor, he appears to see ghosts of the house's former residents, from some time in the 19th century.  But when some of the "ghosts" can see him, he realizes he is really engaging in a form of time travel, and can speak with select people in the past, and influence the events of that day.  And as he learns more about the family's history in the past, he gains insight that could help him find the stolen family fortune, and allow his grandmum to keep living there. 

Of course, no explanation is provided for how the communication between the centuries is possible - there's no macguffin like in the film "Frequency", where a magnetic anomaly allowed a man to speak with his dead father back in 1969 via ham radio.  (It's been running recently, I've caught bits of it each night after my movies end...)  This sort of thing just....happens in the U.K., I guess.  The film "Lost Christmas", also set in the U.K. featured a man trying to fix his past.  (Umm, I think.)   

But here's what "Frequency" got wrong, and "From Time to Time" got right - "Frequency" assumed that if a person could communicate with the past, they could change the past, and then the entire timeline between the past and present would change and shift somehow, including that person's memories.  But that ripple of change could effect everything, including the events that put him in contact with the past - so there's a paradox.  "From Time to Time" shows someone contacting people in the past, and influencing events, but those influences, the changes he made were ALWAYS part of the timeline.  

Let's say I built a time machine and went back to kill Hitler as a baby - the mission is doomed to fail, because I know that Hitler grew up.  If I did succeed in killing baby Adolf, then anything he did wrong as an adult would also cease to exist, so in my present there would be no need to go back and kill him, so I wouldn't.  And there's no end to this paradox.  So we can assume that if I went back to prevent the Hindenburg disaster, I'd be unable to prevent it, and perhaps I'd be more likely to cause it with my presence.  That's one theory, anyway, unless you believe in multiple timelines and parallel universes.  But the fact that disasters DID occur and are part of the timeline is almost de facto proof that no one will ever invent time travel, or be successful in changing things for the better.  

Like "Paddington", this film is adapted from a series of children's books, this one was based on 1958's "The Chimneys of Green Knowe", part of a six-book series written by Lucy Boston.  This does explain a bit, as the entire house is regarded as magical throughout the series, there are tree-spirits and necromancers and an animated statue.  This series seems like it was a 1950's version of "Harry Potter", or perhaps closer to the "Narnia" series, written earlier in the same decade.  What a magical place the U.K. must be, with fantasy worlds inside of wardrobes, schools for young magicians, and even talking bears....

There's some revisionist history here, especially concerning the way that a young blind girl might be treated in 1805 - Braille hadn't been invented yet, so a person blind from birth might well be considered somewhat useless.  But here her father's solution is to bring home an escaped slave boy to be her companion and look after her.  It seems very forward for a man in 1805 to basically adopt a young black boy, even if doing so resulted in extra protection for his daughter.  Would the society of the time allow for this arrangement, or would it have been frowned upon, for a number of reasons? 

I have to hold the film accountable for the horrible casting of the main character - this kid's acting was just terrible.  He might have been cute as a 12-year old, but he's got so few credits on IMDB, and hasn't been in a film since 2010, and I can definitely see why.  You just can't put a stiff, emotionless teen actor next to Maggie Smith and Tim Spall and hope that people won't notice.

Also starring Alex Etel (last seen in "Millions"), Maggie Smith (last seen in "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"), Timothy Spall (last seen in "Quadrophenia"), Pauline Collins (last seen in "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"), Carice van Houten (last seen in "The Fifth Estate"), Dominic West (last seen in "A Midsummer Night's Dream"), Eliza Bennett (last seen in "Inkheart"), Douglas Booth (last seen in "Noah"), Kwayedza Kureya, Rachel Bell, Allen Leech (last seen in "The Imitation Game"), David Robb, Harriet Walter (last seen in "Sense and Sensibility"), Jenny McCracken, Christine Lohr.  

RATING: 5 out of 10 dinner guests