Review: Synchronicity

I never thought it would happen, but I have finally, personally, hit the wall with indie time travel flicks. Jacob Gentry’s Synchronicity is not lacking in smarts or clockwork precision, but abjectly fails to convince in its core ideas of love and fate.

Love may be a sticky and difficult thing, but the film seems to only communicate lust and desire, while empathy fails to make the journey. There is one worm hole too many. This leaves some impressive homages to Blade Runner’s dreamy Vangelis score and neo-noir chiaroscuro, as well as Code 46’s delight in contemporary-future architecture, simply hanging in empty space.

Slightly strung out scientist Jim Beale (Chad McKnight) is on the verge of inventing time travel with the help of his two calmer, wise-cracking lab technicians, Chuck (AJ Bowen) and Matt (Scott Poythress). But here is his paradox: He only has enough funding and radioactive material provided from billionaire angel investor Klaus Meisner (Micheal Ironside, deliciously vile) to open one side of the space/time wormhole. How to prove that something by necessity, requires two ends, when you only have one? Don’t sweat it, though, it works as certainly as Werner Heisenberg was of his famous principle or that Nicola Tesla knew he would die broke and alone feeding pigeons. In short, Synchronicity struggles with understanding the difference between a hypothesis and a theory.

Of course, nature abhors an empty wormhole and someone comes back through the other side. The human figure is obscured in the predictable kind of way of this type of film; with so few characters, elimination can get ridiculously easy. Could it be the femme fatale, Abby (Brianne Davis) who collects serial-numbered dahlias? Or Ben himself coming to warn of the dangers of flirting with gorgeous solitary ladies found in parking garages?

No matter, the film quickly starts to draw ever tightening circles around Ben and Abby’s relationship to one another, all the while Klaus threatens to steal the invention by withholding raw materials, and Matt and Chuck have to do all the heavy lifting. There is nothing wrong with this, some of the humour is quite excellent in fact, but just nothing is terribly fresh about its execution here. Shots from Aronofsky’s The Fountain are lifted without any resonance to the story, as is all the Blade Runner stuff.

Gentry does have a nice time machine design — possibly built out of old power supply units and industrial sized speaker magnets? — and certainly lays out the pieces of the film in a manner that makes sense to any attentive viewer as the the narrative structure becomes apparent. But his world drowns in empty homage, and even more colossally empty city landscapes. This is not a post apocalyptic urban landscape, but supposedly a thriving metropolis, and the lack of denizens makes the film feel too insular to suspend disbelief.

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Treaser Trailer: Synchronicity

Synchronicity

Time travel concepts and Blade Runner science fiction noir come together in Jacob Gentry’s Synchronicity. Gentry is perhaps best known for the quirky-absurd middle vignette in the 2007 apocalypse triptych, The Signal and has a particular knack for sync’ing up framing and action to electronic music, which you will see on display in the teaser trailer below.

The film is startlingly ambitious for what is probably a very tiny budget, and is playing at this years Fantasia International Film Festival. The film stars horror-indie regular AJ Bowen (The Guest, House of the Devil, Rites of Spring) and the villain is played by iconic Canuck character actor and ham (literally, watch ABC’s “V: The Final Battle”) Michael Ironside, who is also at Fantasia, starring in the Quebecois post-apocalyptic kids adventure, Turbokid. Go Michael!

Trailer: Blade Runner

As the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cyberpunk-ennui par excellence, Blade Runner slowly trundles along towards being made, the 2K re-release (known as The Final Cut) of the original film is coming to select cinemas, I am aware of the BFI doing a special release nation-wide in the UK, as well as TIFF LIGHTBOX in Toronto in spring. A brand new trailer has been cut for this release, and it’s a master-class in evoking the images, the plot, the characters and the overall feel of the film in an very elegant package.

Take a break from whatever ever you are doing, click the video below, bump the resolution to 1080p and soak in the timeless magic of this amazing film.

Cinecast Episode 383 – Dogpocalypse

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Ever walk into a typical coffee shop, order a basic cup of joe and think to yourself, “well this is a much nicer brew of java than I would have expected!”? This is how we bookend this weeks review on the show. While we rarely dive into “the news” on The Cinecast, the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the magnificent Mr. Spock himself, is an important issue that both Andrew and Kurt feel needs addressing; as does Harrison Ford in another Blade Runner movie. Meanwhile, canines take over the city in White Dog God, which the boys discuss despite Andrew’s screener conking out at the halfway mark (Kurt managed to get it all in however).

In The Watch List, Andrew tackles two more films on the IMDb 250 Project after defending the choice of using such a list for viewing fodder, while Kurt caught up with a Wong Kar-Wai influenced piece of joy in Millenium Mambo as well. Kurt also gives a brief sneak review of Jay Cheel’s (FilmJunk.com) How to Build a Time Machine based on the current work-print (fair warning). Lastly, Liam Neeson goes smokes on airplanes and Anne Hathaway is cute then sexy. All in an evening’s work here in the third row.

Please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below, and again, thanks for listening!

 

 

 

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Friday One Sheet: The Blade Runner is Still Running

In light of the strong rumour than Dennis Villeneuve is going to be the director of the long delayed sequel with a returning Harrison Ford, enjoy this handsome poster above. If we are going make another legitamite Blade Runner film (1998s Soldier doesn’t count), I cannot think of a better choice than the director of Enemy and Incendies to give it his best shot.

Here is hoping that he does NOT listen to Ridley’s whispers that Deckard is a Replicant.

Cinecast Episode 356 – Bearfucker

 
Welcome to the time-discombobulated episode of the cineast. First things Last: Kurt’s son number one, Willem joins in for a detailed discussion of Edge of Tomorrow, with emphasis on details and minutiae. It’s tucked at the end of the show. Andrew and Kurt discuss the specifics of the new Rowthree design before getting into the 1984 project with taciturn Chuck Norris and side boob, but slapped in between Gamble joins in for a lighter-on-the-spoilers discussion of the Tom Cruise movie, so we can Live. Die. Repeat. There is a bit of a love-in for the action stylings of Neil Marshall as he helms the penultimate Season 4 episode of Game Of Thrones with an eye for continuity and geography at Castle Black. Finally there is a Watch List where Kurt & Gamble debate (again) the merits of Orange is the New Black. Also: Roger Dodger, Rango, Full Metal Jacket, Blade Runner and Deathproof. So grab your G.O. juice and your copy of Italian Vogue and hop into the fray.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 


 

 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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Now Playing at the Row Three Rep: What is Human?

[Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema]

Blurring the Line Between Android and Human

Metropolis – 5:00pm
Blade Runner – 8:00pm
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence – 10:00pm
bonus: Battlestar Galactica – all night and the next week :)

With the concept of mankind creating sentient robots and androids inevitably follows the question of how we are to treat them – since we made them, can we do with them what we want, treating them as disposable slaves? Or by creating something that can think like us, and eventually react and feel like us, are we bound to treat them the same as we would (or should) treat other human beings? And faced with such a potential reality, what does it really mean to be human? These are the kind of questions that cerebral sci-fi has always asked, with robots and now clones being among the most appropriate catalysts to spark such explorations of ethics, morality, and ontology itself. There are many films (and TV series) I could’ve chosen for such a triple feature; I chose these partially to tie in with our ongoing Ridley Scott marathon, and also because these films also specifically feature androids, that is, robots that appear to be human, who fool humans into thinking they are human, and who may not even themselves be aware that they are androids. Of course, all of these works use androids to explore the issue of “otherness,” or what happens when a dominant group comes into contact with a group they deem “different.”

Note: Scott’s Alien also features a human-fooling android, but questions of human-android ethics are not really explored in that film.

Taken on the surface, there’s not a whole lot of inquiry into the robot-human question in Metropolis; the human Maria is unequivocally good, almost angelic, while the robot Maria is evil and destructive. But I wanted to include it because it is really the first iconic cinematic depiction of a robot, and it’s telling that the first use of a robot in cinematic science fiction is to mislead and misdirect a humanity that believes the robot to be human – and not only to be human, but to be somebody they know and trust. It would be many years before sci-fi would have good human-mimicking robots – even the robots in Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still are distinctly non-human in appearance. In Metropolis, that question of whether robots should be treated as humans is superficially irrelevant, because the only robot we see is given the role of enacting the worst that humanity has to offer. On the other hand, the Complete cut of Metropolis fleshes out (so to speak) the back story surrounding the creation of the robot, which inventor Rotwang created as a substitute for Hel, the woman he loved and Joh Frederson took from him. So before the robot was commandeered by Frederson as a means to put down the undercity rebellion, Rotwang already intended it to be a human stand-in. Deeper questions are begged – would Rotwang have found comfort in this shadow of Hel? Would the robot have been an adequate substitute? Are robot-Maria’s evil excesses solely due to Frederson’s mission for her, or is a mechanical creation of man inevitably going to disappoint and betray, and if it does, is that because if its mechanical nature or the humans who built it? Would (should) Rotwang have treated robot-Hel as human, or would he simply have enslaved her, a helpless puppet to his desires? It’s unclear from the film whether robot-Maria had full sentience or autonomy, so the questions may be moot. But they’re there, nascent even from the very first cinematic depiction of a human-mimicking android.

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Countdown to Prometheus: A Ridley Scott Retrospective

With this week’s release of Prometheus, Ridley Scott returns to his roots, revisiting the world of his second feature film for the first time in over thirty years. It seemed like a good time for us in the third row to look back over Sir Ridley’s career as a whole; with brief essays about selected films from throughout his filmography as well as a week-long tribute to Scott’s films and the Alien universe.

Scott’s background is in art and design, having studied at the West Hartlepool College of Art and London’s Royal College of Art in the 1960s. He directed one short film during his time at the RCA in 1965, but wouldn’t direct another film until 1977’s The Duellists. In between, he worked as a designer for the BBC and formed a company with his brother Tony to produce commercials. It’s unsurprising that with this background, his films are well-known for their visual style, with Alien and Blade Runner especially outstanding in the field of visual design (thanks not only to Scott but to concept artists like H.R. Giger, Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Syd Mead) and becoming extremely influential in the look and feel of later sci-fi films.

Later Scott films have not necessarily captured the long-term imagination of moviegoers to quite the same extent as those two, but his sense of visual style and narrative storytelling has never faltered, even when the stories he’s telling don’t quite live up to the flair with which he tells them. After trying on a number of different genres (romance, fantasy, crime drama, etc.), he settled into a string of highly acclaimed war films, from the pageantry of Ancient Rome in Gladiator to the modern grit of Black Hawk Down and the medieval scope of Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood. Yet the anticipation of Scott’s return to the world of Alien shows perhaps just how much his early work continues to enrapture viewers.

If there are two legacies that stand out in Scott’s career besides his fantastic visual sense, the first is likely his recurring strong female characters, most notably Ripley from the Alien series (who is among the first modern female action stars in cinema, and has become a cultural icon even apart from her role in the film), and the dual heroines in Thelma & Louise, who have become feminist cinema icons of the highest order. And Scott’s other legacy is his pioneering use of the Director’s Cut, which he has employed on most of his major releases, whether it was his idea to release a secondary version or the studio’s. Scott has declared himself happy with the original release of Alien, with the Director’s Cut being merely an alternate version. Blade Runner, on the other hand, marks one of the most significant Director’s Cuts in the history of cinema, and helped develop the film’s rabid fan-base after its initially poor response upon theatrical release in 1982. The Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven represents a return to Scott’s original vision after the theatrical release was overly influenced by preview screening reactions. Whatever the reason, Scott and his studios have seen fit to revisit these films and others, some more than once, but notably without ever destroying the theatrical cut in the process (yes, we’re looking at you, George Lucas).

Without further ado, let’s look at some selections from Scott’s filmography in greater detail.

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