Romance best in 'About Time'

By Tom Von Malder | Feb 11, 2014

Owls Head — About Time (Universal, blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 124 min.). From writer-director Richard Curtis ("Love Actually," "Notting Hill," "Four Weddings and a Funeral") comes this delightful romantic comedy with a slight sci-fi twist. Domhnall Gleeson ("Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part Two") is wonderful as the young man who learns at age 21 that all male members of his family can travel back in time -- but only to places where they already have been. Thus, they cannot travel to before when they are born.

Gleeson plays Tim, who, of course, believes it to be a joke initially; however, he learns it works when he manages to relive events during the summer involving beautiful guest Charlotte (Margot Robbie). Tim's dad, retired university professor James (Bill Nighy), has used his time-travelling gift to read thousands of books, including each of Charles Dickens' three times. Tim decides he mostly wants to use it to find romance.

There are many humorous times when Tim goes back a couple of minutes to reverse a social gaffe. He moves from the family home on the Cornwall coast to London, where he trains in law and rents a room from playwright Harry (Tom Hollander). There he meets the love of his life, Mary (Rachel McAdams), in one of the most unusual ways ever depicted on film. Tim and friend Rory (Joshua McGuire) go to a restaurant in which the food is served in total darkness and are seated at the same table as Mary and her friend. This is a portion of the film that is completely dark, with only conversation.

Meanwhile, the debut of Harry's new play is a disaster because becausee one of the a actors forgets his lines during the climactic scene. Tim goes back in time to help Harry -- humorously, several times -- but that wipes out his meeting Mary and getting her phone number. He does know she loves Kate Moss, and by a series of trips back in time, manages to meet her again. They fall in love -- a delightful sequence shows their growing attachment via trips through the same subway stop, with a busking band playing one song through all the scenes -- and eventually marry.

Curtis maintains a delightful light touch for the first hour. The second half deals more with the realities of live, including births, death of a parent and trying to fix his sister Catherine's (Lydia Wilson) problems, mainly picking the wrong man. Tim also learns he can no longer travel back in time before his child's birth.

Extras include audio commentary by director Curtis and cast members Gleeson, Nighy, Vanessa Kirby, Wilson and Hollander; two music videos; a bloopers reel; four deleted scenes with Curtis introductions; and, exclusive to blu-ray, looks at Tim and time travel, the locations used, and director Curtis' career. By the way, the deleted scenes are very funny by themselves, and include stripey pajamas, Mary falling asleep at a restaurant and a trip to the hospital for Mary to deliver a child that gets derailed by people taking photos at the Abby Road crosswalk. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars

The Spectacular Now (A24/Lionsgate, blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 95 min.). This story of an unlikely teenage romance often feels realistic and there is good chemistry between the two leads -- Miles Teller as Sutter Keely and Shailene Woodley as Aimee -- but the film did not work for me as I never warmed to Sutter. Plus, I did not like that both high school seniors drank so much. Also, the ending disappoints.

Sutter is the guy with the easy smile, the one everyone loves, even if he does not have a clue about his future. He lives for the now, and that is why his beautiful girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson, also in "Don Jon") dumps him. She has college mapped out.

Sutter drinks too often, and sometimes too much, which leads to Aimee, a nice shy girl at his school, finding him passed out on a lawn one morning. Her mother has a paper route, but Aimee actually delivers them. Aimee also is smart and Sutter asks her cor study help in geometry. He also invites her to an outdoor party, where they start to bond over a long talk during a walk. He even asks her to the prom. Both have problems with their single moms: Aimee's does not want her to go of to college in Philadelphia; sister's will not let him contact his estranged father (a brief but strong performance by Kyle Chandler).

Extras (not seen) include 20 minutes of deleted scenes; audio commentary by director James Ponsoldt; and a four-part making-of featurette. Grade: film 2.75 stars

Don Jon (Fox, blu-ray or standard DVD, R,90 min.). Bold, brash and very funny, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote and directed this look at a New York horndog who eventually learns why he prefers online pornography to actual sex. The film is very adult, but smartly made, and you will remember Gordon-Levitt's performance for a long time.

Gordon-Levitt plays Jon Martello Jr., known as Don Jon to his friends Bobby (Rob Brown) and Danny (Jeremy Luke) because he scores so often with women (mostly nightclub pickups). Jon,who speaks directly to the audience in his narration, points out there are only a few things he really cares about, namely, his friends, his body, his pad, his girls and pornography. He really is a man-child as evidenced by both his regular dinners with his parents (wonderfully played by Tony Danza and Glenn's Headley) and his upbeat weekly confessions at church.

Things begin to change when he meets Barbara Sugarman (a fine Scarlett Johansson), who proves harder to bed. In fact, she sets all the terms in their relationship, including making Jon take a college course to improve his chances of getting a better job. She even tells him not to clean his apartment anymore. Of course, she also bans him from pornography, unsuccessfully. Jon's whole life begins changing and he is becoming a better person, but he cannot give up the pornography. Julianne Moore plays Esther, a fellow student who helps him find some answers.

As director, Gordon-Leavitt uses a series of scenes repeatedly, just changing the dialogue. These include the diners with his parents, his confessions and even bits of annoyed driving. The technique is effective here. Six short features make up the only extras and are only on blu-ray. Grade: film 3.5 stars: extras 2 stars

Love/Hate (Ireland, RTE, 7 DVD, age 18+, 1144 min.). This set of the first four seasons.s of the Irish gangland TV series is an import, but viewable in all regions. It is extremely well-acted and features a gripping narrative about severely flawed characters. Season one consists of four episodes, while seasons two through four each have six episodes. Currently in production is season five, which will have 12 episodes.

What led me to the series was reviewing "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," which features Robert Sheehan as Simon. Here, Sheehan plays Darren Treacy, the main character of the first season. Darren returns to Dublin, after spending a year in Spain after a gun was found in his house. He returns because he is homesick and his brother is being released from prison. The brother is to be picked up by best friend Tommy (Killian Scott), only he is late because he has been having sex with Darren's sister Mary. The result is some unknown person shoots and kills Darren's brother. The whole season leads to the surprising reveal of the killer. Darren also begins to reconnect with old girlfriend Rosie, but she now lives with Stumpy (Peter Campion).

Pretty soon, Darren is sucked back into the old gang life and starts working again forr gang boss John-Boy Power (Aidan Gillen), whose paranoia grows over the first two seasons, especially after a death close to him. Darren also begins a downhill journey, going from an optimistic character one initially roots for to just another killer in the gang.

There is an amazing amount of betrayal in the series. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor plays Nidge, Power's lieutenant, who by season three is running the gang, which has made a new enemy in an IRA official, and the Guarda (police) are the main opponent in season four, as a special unit is set up under Detective Inspector Mick Moynihan (Brian F O'Byrne). Meanwhile, Tommy has established domestic life with his partner Siobhan (Charlie Murphy), but that relationship is threatened by his on-and-off relationship with prostitute Debbie (Susan Loughnane).

The series is very graphic at times, including a controversial rape scene, and the language is very rough, but the story is compelling. Kudos to all the actors. Sheehan won an acting award for his work in season one. Grade: set 3.5 stars

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