If every day seems to be like yesterday, and the one you might have tomorrow, you are in a “time loop”, or sensing what the French call déja vu.
It’s popped up several times lately in movies, perhaps reflecting or coinciding with the past year of lockdowns and people working remotely from their homes.
The time-loop phenomenon has occurred in action shows as well as romantic comedies. Its first and most popular use was in Groundhog Day (1993), starring Bill Murray as he awaited the time-setting animal’s emergence at the end of winter. Tom Cruise exploited it in Edge of Tomorrow (2014), but at least it had plenty of variety in how he gets to live again and again.
This the same approach taken by Boss Level (Rialto) and framed within a computer game. Its gunslinging hero (Fran Grillo) gets closer and closer to his target villain after each reboot.
The screen violence is over the top, but remarkably director and co-writer Joe Carnahan (The Grey with Liam Neeson) attracted two big Australian names, Mel Gibson and Naomi Watts, for critical roles in what would normally be a routine thriller.
In Palm Springs (Amazon Prime Video), the sister (Cristin Milloto) of the bride at a wedding becomes time-entangled with one of the groom’s best friends (Andy Samberg). He wakes up repeatedly in a hotel room on the day of the wedding after being hunted by an assassin and surviving strange events.
The romantic spin comes when both of them share wacky time-distorting adventures in Andy Siara’s inventive plot. It’s an impressive debut by director Max Barbakow.
While not given a cinema release here, Palm Springs sold for $US17.5 million and 69c at Sundance this year, beating the previous record by those extra cents.
Equal in many respects is The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (Amazon Prime Video), another rom-com with an unknown but promising young adult cast.
Every day is the same for a high school senior (Kyle Allen) living in small-town America. He fills his time preventing minor accidents and making asides to Groundhog Day. Then he meets his match: a kooky teenager (Kathryn Newton, Perfect Things, Lady Bird), who outsmarts him at each turn.
They share the experience of being masters of their world by building a map of the “perfect things” they notice in the actions of other people. This changes their behaviour – he by taking her advice to pay more attention to his studies and his family; she by living more for the moment and appreciating his male antics rather than just being an observer.
This is ideal young adult (YA) material because it suggests positive options without resorting to the typical mix of drugs and bad language. Writer Lev Gossman and director Ian Samuels have worked on other YA projects, but this should lift them into a bigger league.
Ratings: Boss Level – restricted to audiences over 16, 84 minutes. Palm Springs – 16+, 90 minutes. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things – 13+, 99 minutes.
Anthony Hopkins leaves little chance in the overpowering title role – his hair is never ruffled, even if the mind underneath it is all over the place. He grapples with the onset of dementia and the presence of his daughter (Olivia Colman), the man (or men) in her life (played by Rufus Sewell and Mark Gatiss), and a parade of carers (Imogen Potts among them). His failing ability to know where he is and who he is dealing with is shared by the audience, who are shown only his version. French-born writer-director Florian Zeller, who first staged his play in Paris in 2015, overcomes the theatrical pitfalls by changing the rooms and furniture in what appears to be the same apartment, and by keeping explanations at minimum through taut pacing. (Two other examples of directors doing stage and film versions are London Road (2015) and Hope Gap (2020).)
Rating: Mature audiences. 97 minutes.
It’s not novel to put a group of people in a spaceship and send them on a decades-long trip to a new, more habitable planet than earth. Recent attempts include Passengers (2016), in which a rogue crew member wakes up 90 years early, and Claire Denis’s thrilling High Life (2018), where the characters go feral. The twist is that the Voyagers crew is made up only of young adults, who have been raised in isolation – shades of the chilling Never Let Me Go (2010) – for the specific purpose of creating new generations in 86 years’ time. But this promising premise is left hanging when they mutiny after learning their mentor (Colin Farrell) is suppressing their libidos. Alpha male aggression forms two factions, and each fights for supremacy, signalling writer-director Neil Burger (Divergent) isn’t interested in extending what happened in Lord of the Flies, written way back in 1954 and filmed a number of times. Given today’s focus on diversity, YA audiences deserve more imaginative possibilities.
Rating: Restricted to audiences over 13. 108 minutes.
(Amazon Prime Video)
A North African detained for 14 years without charge at the Guantanamo Bay US military base in Cuba became as much a personal crusade for Jodie Foster, who deservedly won a Golden Globe for her performance, as it was for his lawyer, Nancy Hollander. This is a tour de force, based-on-fact drama that shows the best and worst of the American justice system. Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahir Rahim, The Serpent) was abducted because of a link to the jihadist cell in Hamburg that plotted the 9-11 attacks in 2001. Hollander took up his case, and pushed it all the way to the Supreme Court. Co-star Benedict Cumberbatch, as the military’s counsel, plays a critical role by turning on his employer after he realises the internment was illegal. Scottish director Kevin Macdonald’s effort is must-viewing for all interested in jurisprudence.
Rating: 16+. 129 minutes.