One name on a cast list that always makes us click is Peter Cushing; the perennially ancient leading man of many British horror films, and notably the Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. His final film was 1986’s Biggles, an attempt to build an Indiana Jones-style franchise from WE Johns’ classic character. Such efforts had gone on for decades before Back to The Future came out, and sent the team behind Biggles scuttling off in quite the wrong direction. Thus, somehow, Biggles (Neil Dickson) isn’t the main character in his own film; Alex Hyde White plays a catering salesman who is sent back in time to join forces with the WWI flying hero and stop the German army developing a deadly machine that kills using sound. Biggles; The Movie is something of a mess, never marrying the 1980’s story with the First Would War action. But director John Hough really knew how to stage action, and the helicopter vs biplane scenarios are physically impressive. Worth seeing if only to answer the trivia question of which film features Cushing and Freddie Mercury; Another One Bites the Dust features here alongside a truly hideous score by Yes’s Jon Anderson. Dickson later reprised the role of Biggles, not for a sequel, but in Jack Bond’s musical It Couldn’t Happen Here for the Pet Shop Boys.
Time travel is once again the subject of this brainy slice of sci-fi, no less than expected from the partnership of writer and star Brit Marling and writer/director Zal Batmanglij. Journalists are intrigued by news of a woman claiming to be a time traveller, and attempt to infiltrate the cult around Maggie (Marling), who lives in an LA basement, eats only food grown there, and claims to have returned from the future where a civil war has resulted in catastrophe. Fans of The OA, and they are many and devoted, will want to check out all of Marling’s cinematic offerings, which add up to more than just dry runs. Whether Maggie is a real time traveller, or a witch, or a manipulative cult leader is up for grabs here, and there’s an edge to the proceedings that typifies Marling’s kooky but always smart take on the sci-fi genre.
As time travel paradox movies go, The Final Countdown deals itself a fascinating hand; Don Taylor’s film imagines a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier sent back in time to moments before Pearl Harbour. The question is; do they have the right to change the course of history? Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen and Katherine Ross are amongst those agonizing over the decision, and although The Final Countdown is light on action aside for a couple of exciting dogfights, it offers plenty of gravity as it contemplates an idea that’s logistically silly, but philosophically interesting. Cameos from Lloyd Kaufman and Charles Durning add to the rarity value.
Nicholas Meyer has been annoyingly un-prolific in his films as director; he also wrote the screenplay for this engaging romp of a time-travelling thriller from 1979. Malcolm McDowell plays HG Wells, who Meyer playfully suggests is building a time machine of his own. It’s stolen by Jack The Ripper (David Warner) and Welles follows him to 1979’s San Francisco to stop him from unleashing a killing spree in the unwitting public. Welles also find time to fall in love with Amy (Mary Steenbergen) and to eat at McDonalds, and even identifies himself as Sherlock Holmes to add to the confusion. Time After Time is an original and enjoyable sci-fi thriller that focuses on a clash of temperaments, and handles the time-travel paradoxes with elan.
With a Hollywood remake in the works, it’s worth appreciating writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s smart Spanish sci-fi thriller in its original state. Hector (Karra Elejalde) is sitting on the balcony when he spies a naked girl through his binoculars. Investigating, he comes across a masked figure, and then upon an eccentric neighbour who is perfecting his time-travel machine. Hector’s intervention sets time out of joint, and with several different versions of himself running around, he ends up having to travel back in time to set things right. In the vein of Looper or Triangle, Timecrimes works out the paradoxes of the deceptively simple storyline with ease, keeping audiences guessing till the end.
Dreamworks delve into the Rocky and Bullwinkle universe with Mr Peabody and Mr Sherman, a lighthearted romp for kids about a time-travelling dog (Mr Peabody) and his adopted son Sherman. One look at the character designs tells you that the overall intent is to be lovable, and while Peabody and Sherman’s adventures are easy to watch, they lack the post-modern gusto of The Lego Movie.
Peabody may be a simple canine, but he’s also a genius, and his mastery of science and particularly time travel are established early on. The intricacies of parenting are a different matter, and Sherman has abandonment issues when he starts school. Sherman breaks his father’s golden rules by showing off their time machine to pretty schoolmate Penny, and a chase through history results taking in Troy, ancient Rome, the American revolution and more.
One adult double entendre aside, Mr Peabody and Sherman is a Bill and Ted-style romp through the history books, with enough references to stop adults getting bored and plenty of slapstick for kids. Penny, however, is an unlikable character, and her early aggression to Sherman is unjustified as she rapidly becomes a member of the time-travelling team. Her presence is a bum-note in an otherwise streamlined adventure; while not as good as The Croods or How To Train Your Dragon, Mr Peabody and Sherman is decent enough fare to keep the little-ones amused.
Recently on Broadway with Daniel Craig and Rachel Wiesz, Harold Pinter’s brilliant play Betrayal is essentially a theatrical conceit, but translates well enough to the screen in his own screenplay, directed by David Hugh Jones. The story of a love triangle, Betrayal unfolds itself backwards, staring at the relationships end and working backwards to the first meeting between Jerry (Jeremy Irons) and Emma (Patricia Hodge). The third corner is Robert (Ben Kingsley), who reacts angrily to being caught in the crossfire. Pinter’s dialogue is direct and keeps the complex structure on point, allowing full reign of a distinguished cast. Betrayal is a blurred snapshot of internecine relationships, and an powerful document of one of Pinter’s best plays.