Author: Ross Welford
Title: Time Traveling with a Hamster
Narrator: Bruce Mann
Publication Info: Listening Library (2016)
“My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty-nine, and again four years later when he was twelve. (He’s going to die a third time as well, which seems a bit rough on him, but I can’t help that.)”
Al Chaudhury is a nerdy 12-year-old growing up in the North of England who is off Indian and Welsh heritage. He lives with his mom, her boyfriend Steve with whom he doesn’t connect well, his goth half-sister Carly with whom he does not get along, and his genius Grandpa Byron. On his twelfth birthday, Al is given a letter written by his father Pye before his death four years earlier.
Al is tasked with finding his father’s time machine and traveling back to 1984 when the young Pye suffered an accident that would contribute to his early death decades later. Pye was unable to do it himself because the rules of time travel prevent the same person from appearing twice at the same time. In this very sweet story, Al makes several attempts to figure out the time machine and how to fix the past, while forming a bond with his father as a boy his own age. And yes, he travels with Alan Shearer, a pet hamster that was also a birthday gift.
I love time travel stories and really enjoyed this messy, heartfelt adventure even if it makes me feel old that traveling to 1984 is treated as the distant past. Grandpa Byron is a great character and reminds me of my own grandfather who tried to get me to read a book about learning memorization skills. And this is a light spoiler but I love that this is the only time travel story other than Back to the Future where changes in the past lead to a more positive future for the protagonist.
Title: Time After Time
Release Date: September 28, 1979
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Production Company: Orion Pictures
Time After Time is one of those movies I always liked as a child when it was frequently shown on tv. I was wondering how well it would hold up and I’m pleasantly surprised that it does. The movie tells the story of 19th century author and futurist H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) inventing an actual time machine. When showing off the machine to a party of fellow intellectuals, it is revealed that one of his guests is actually Jack the Ripper (David Warner).
The Ripper steals the time machine, and Wells follows him into the future arriving in San Francisco in 1970. To Wells’ horror, the future is not the utopia he dreamed of but a place where the scale of violence is such that Jack claims he’s an “amateur.” While attempting to track down Jack the Ripper and prevent more murders, Wells forms a romantic relationship with bank employee Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen).
The movie does a really great job of blending together several genres – time travel science fiction, fish-out-of-water comedy, romance, and crime thriller. Like a lot of time travel stories there are plot elements that don’t hold up to much scrutiny, but can be easily hand-waved away. This movie also has a great font of quirky trivia associated with it, such as:
- Director/screenwriter Nicholas Meyer also wrote the script for another movie where time travelers arrive in present-day San Francisco, have a lot of fish-out-of-water comic experiences, and one of the time travelers forms a romantic relationship with a contemporary woman who ends up joining the time traveler. That movie, of course, is Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
- Mary Steenburgen appeared in yet another movie where she falls in love with a time traveler and leaves to go with him, Back to the Future III.
- Speaking about the Back to the Future franchise, the date on which Marty arrives in the past is November 5, which is that same date that H.G. Wells arrives in San Francisco.
- Finally, Cyndi Lauper saw the title of this film in TV Guide and used it to write one of her classic ballads.
Title: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Release Date: 19 May 2018
Director: Terry Gilliam
Production Company: Alacran Pictures | Tornasol Films | Kinology | Entre Chien et Loup | Ukbar Filmes | El Hombre Que Mato a Don Quijote AIE | Carisco Producciones AIE | Recorded Picture Company
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is reminiscent of The Fisher King in that that protagonist must deal with redeeming himself for past offenses with the help of someone who is delusional. It also reminds me of Time Bandits in the way it moves among places and times to increasingly surreal settings. And it is like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in that it has a brilliant set-up and design but somehow fails to deliver on a great premise. In short, it is a Terry Gilliam film through and through. And it is one that is very close to his heart in that it took him 29 years to realize, as documented in Lost in La Mancha.
Toby Grummett (Adam Driver) is a self-centered director filming a commercial in rural Spain which is not going well. He flashes back to his student movie, an adaptation of Don Quixote made with with non-professional actors from a Spanish village. Returning to the village he learns that the film had long-lasting negative effects on its participants. These include Javier (Jonathan Pryce) who has come to believe that is actually Don Quixote, and Angelica (Joana Ribeiro), who has essentially became a courtesan for the Russian oligarch Alexei Miiskin (Jordi Mollà).
The film starts really well with Toby cast by Javier as his Sancho Panza and joining him on his quest. It’s especially effective with Toby traveling in time between the present day and medieval Spain, which may be dreams or may be costumed locals, depending on the moment. But towards the third act the film goes off the rails and just becomes a jumbled mess of ideas and images that don’t really seem to fit the established story. The final scenes are absolutely excellent, but it’s not enough to make up for the fact that everything leading up to it did not earn this finale.
Author: Casey McQuiston
Title: One Last Stop
Narrator: Natalie Naudus
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio (2021)
After a troubled childhood with an obsessive mother, August finds it difficult to connect with people. Things begin to change when she moves to Brooklyn to attend college and is pushed out of her comfort zone by her eccentric housemates, Myla, Niko and Wes. She also finds herself enraptured by a beautiful punk woman she meets on the Q train, Jane. However, finding love and happiness is challenged by three strange things about Jane: 1. she can’t seem to leave the train, 2. she can’t remember her past, and 3. she hasn’t aged at all from a picture taken of her in 1976.
This book is great fun as it uses a unique time slip story mixed with a queer romance and a story of New York’s gentrification. It’s particular interesting to read the contrasts of Jane’s experiences in the early LGBTQ+ liberation movements of the 1970s compared to the more accepting contemporary times. There are a lot of subplots in this novel that get things a bit confused, and perhaps there’s just a bit too much “deep conversation,” but all is forgiven because I love the characters. McQuiston does a great job of bringing to life a community of fun, creative, and really horny young adults in the city.
Title: Les Visiteurs
Release Date: 27 January 1993
Director: Jean-Marie Poiré
Production Company: Gaumont
I watched the hit French comedy The Visitors back in the 1990s and remember it being a funny, Monty Python-style comedy. It surprised me that the French could be so crude. The story involves a 12th-century knight, Godefroy de Montmirail (Jean Reno) and his servant Jacquouille la Fripouille (Christian Clavier) who through the machinations of a wizard are to travel through time to right a mistake. They are accidentally sent to late-20th century France instead, where they meet Godefroy’s descendant Béatrice (Valérie Lemercier) and learn that Jacquouille’s descendant Jacques-Henri Jacquard (also Clavier) now runs the Montmirail castle as a hotel. Chaos ensues as Godefroy looks for a way to return to his time, while Jacquouille begins to like the opportunities for a peasant in post-Revolutionary France.
This movie is not the laugh riot I remember. If anything, it seems to lack ambition for telling a bigger story and taking advantage of the culture clash and fish-out-of-water elements for comedy. Instead there are a lot of gags involving people hitting other people and breaking things, which gets old fast. I don’t know why I liked it so much all those years ago, but it still does have certain charm. Reno is great at never breaking from his serious character despite all the madness around him. Meanwhile Clavier is like Rowan Atkinson in his ability to be funny by doing things that are very dumb. It’s a mystery why this movie became such a global hit, but despite all its flaws I still have a soft spot for The Visitors.
Title: Palm Springs
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Director: Max Barbakow
Production Company: Limelight Productions | Lonely Island Classics | Sun Entertainment | FilmNation Entertainment
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Palm Springs follows the same basic premise of Groundhog Day where someone is living the same day over and over again on a seemingly infinite time loop. There are some key differences. When the film begins, Nyles (Andy Samberg) is already caught in a time loop attending a wedding in which his girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) is the bridesmaid. He accidentally pulls a second person into the the loop with him, sister of the bride Sarah (Cristin Milioti). And the movie has more elements of gross-out and sex comedy than Groundhog Day.
It’s an interesting reworking of a formula, and leads to a perfectly enjoyable romantic comedy. Nyles and Sarah are initially contentious but grow closer after who knows how many thousands of repeats. It’s a fun lark, but it’s not likely something I’ll return to.
Title: Bill and Ted Face the Music
Release Date: August 28, 2020
Director: Dean Parisot
Production Company: Orion Pictures | Endeavor Content | Hammerstone Studios
The long delayed sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) finds our heroes Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) having failed to write the song that will unite the world, despite exploring increasingly esoteric musical styles. The strain begins to affect their marriages with Princess Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and Princess Joanna (Jayma Mays). Then Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of their late mentor Rufus, arrives from the future to tell them that their failure to write the song is causing time and space to collapse.
The Bill & Ted films were about goofy teenagers who talked like surfer dudes, so the challenge here is how to make these characters work as middle-aged men. Winter and Reeves adroitly bring plenty of charm and believability to their roles as man-children. It also helps that their main plot is to travel to the future and visit older and increasingly antagonistic versions of themselves as they attempt to “steal” the song from themselves. But youth is served well by Bill and Ted’s daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving, the niece of Reeves’ Matrix antagonist Hugo Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) who travel back in time to put together a band for their dads consisting of Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ling Lun, Grom (a prehistoric drummer), and the real life Kid Cudi.
This movie is far better than it has any right to be, channeling the quirky charm and imagination of its forebears into an updated setting. It has its flaws. Schaal, a great comic performer, is underused and the Dennis joke is one-note and annoying. But overall it’s a great finale to the series. And while a fourth Bill & Ted movie would be unwise, I’m totally on board for a Billie & Thea spinoff movie.
Title: La Jetée
Release Date: February 16, 1962
Director: Chris Marker
Production Company: Argos Films
Working my through lists of all-time greatest movies means watching lots of very long movies, so I was relieved that this one is only 28 minutes. The joke was on me though, because this is an intense 28 minutes of experimental film set in a post-nuclear war Paris. The movie is almost entirely made up of a montage of still images.
The plot involves scientists researching time travel and finding a man (Davos Hanich) who has a strong memory from his childhood of a young woman (Hélène Châtelain) standing on the observation platform (“la jetée”) at Orly Airport. The post-apocalyptic setting, time travel, and even the significance of an airport reminded me of the 1995 movie 12 Monkeys, so it was no surprise to find out that La Jetée was a credited inspiration for that movie.
La Jetée is a chilling but surprisingly beautiful film, with sound effects and music carrying a heavy load and Hanich and Châtelain expressing a lot of emotion and nuance in their acting (or perhaps more accurately, “posing”).
Title: Meet the Robinsons
Release Date: March 23, 2007
Director: Stephen Anderson
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Animation Studios
Lewis (Jordan Fry), a 12-year-old orphan with a talent for inventing, creates a device that scans the mind for lost memories. After the memory scanner seemingly fails at a science fair, a 13-year-old time traveler from the future named Wilbur Robinson (Wesley Singerman) tells Lewis he needs to protect the device from the Bowler Hat Guy (Steve Anderson), a literal cartoon villain with a twisted mustache. They travel to the future where Lewis meets Wilbur’s large and eccentric family while continuing to fight against the Bowler Hat Guy. Lewis finds himself with a feeling of belonging for the first time ever with the Robinsons, although naturally he cannot stay in the future.
There are a number of fairly obvious twists in the plot and some dark moments involving the sentient bowler hat. The movie tries hard to be clever but it often misses the mark, and I found myself groaning more often than laughing. The whole film seems like a failed attempt by Disney to make a Dreamworks-style animated film. The whole thing stinks of self-congratulatory mediocrity.
Author: Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Title: This is How You Lose the Time War
Narrator: Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller
Publication Info: [New York] : Simon & Schuster Audio, 
This novella features letters exchanged by a pair of agents – Red and Blue – on opposite sides of a war where they each travel through time to manipulate events in a way to harm the opposing side. The initially snarky and boastful letters soften over time as Red and Blue realize they are falling in love. The novel relies on poetic language and experimental writing styles (the authors wrote their sections of the book in response to one another much like the characters). Call me a philistine, but for all that creativity, I still found the book to be rather boring.