Fantasia 2016 Review: Realive

When screenwriters turn towards directing their own features, the case is often that they can make their talkiest screenplay into a film. This is not necessary a bad thing at all, especially considering the case of Mateo Gil’s new science fiction tale, Realive (aka Proyecto Lazaro). Here is a film which asks a lot of astute science fiction questions around death and resurrection as our twenty-first century medical science advances towards growing organs, rejuvenating the body with stem cells, and cryogenically preserving the dead or the dying in the hopes that they may be attended to in the future. The corporation at the heart of the film’s Lazarus Project has a witty tagline that demonstrates some of the nuanced qualities of the screenplay, “Immortality is only a question of time.”

You are probably familiar with Gil’s work if you have watched any of Alejandro Amenabar’s cerebral but scary films, from Tesis to Abres Los Ojos (remade with Tom Cruise as Vanilla Sky) to Oscar nominated The Sea Inside and the criminally underrated sword and sandals flick on mathematics and religion, Agora. Gil is to Amenabar as Alex Garland is to Danny Boyle. And the adroit, glossy and verbal Realive is certainly Gil’s Ex Machina.

Structured in three layers, the film examines the case of Marc Jarvis, the first man to have his body pulled out of Cryo and re-constructed to the point where he can be paraded out in front of investors to further justify private company funding for perhaps the immortality of the human race. Much of the film is set in 2086, and involves the medical processes, and complications, in rehabilitating Marc’s body while acclimatizing his mind to 70 years of progress. Marc’s nurse explains (and demonstrates) that attitudes on sex and relationships have significantly changed in the 7 decades he was absent, and the film teases us with demonstrations on the way the internet is now fully audio-visual, and offhand mentions that nobody gives a shit about pulling oil out of the ground for energy or raw materials. Oh, and t-shirts have no neck-bands on the anymore.

Because the film is as much about the humanity as it is about the science, a second, quite significant, layer of the films structure spends a fair amount of time with Marc in 2016. He deals with the fallout of being diagnosed with cancer in his mid thirties, and the tough decision with his fiancee, here, exceptionally played by Game of Thrones‘ red wedding bride, Oona Chaplin, to commit suicide to preserve his body in the best possible shape for the slim hope that the freezing process will work, and that the company will last long enough until such a time comes to resurrect and heal the disease. The emotional crux of the matter, handled with lots of time and energy in the film, are potentially months of lost last days in Marc’s voluntary and pre-mature death. Upon his awakening, there is the anxiety that everyone he has ever had any ties will may be gone. Marc makes jokes over wine to his friends when he announces the decision, “I’ll be sure to fuck all your grandkids!” But, the levity is a cover.

There are several strata of anxiety on display here, both big picture and on an individual level. Science of course, does not work perfectly, nor free of the unexpected, and being an early test subject, Marc suffers immensly in his new body. Fans of Showtime’s exceptional medical inquiry show, The Knick, or those who may remember a certain scene from Alien: Resurrection will have a field day with how Realive understands that science, in execution, is a messy process of trial and error and far more disappointment than elation. Success is just failing not as badly. There is a classical mix of hubris and fear that has driven scientific speculation in popular art for centuries. A more daring step by Gil however is to make Marc neither the hero type, nor one who necessarily rises to the occasion of his own trail. This puts him in line with the characters of Ridley Scott’s vastly misunderstood Prometheus, where the so-called heroes were kind of shallow fuck-ups, with little self awareness of their own limitations.

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Hot Docs 2016 Review: How To Build A Time Machine

Niosi

The famous Serenity Prayer of american theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is as follows: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Jay Cheel’s beautifully rendered How To Build A Time Machine tells the stories of two men who are on the verge of that wisdom, and in the act of telling, examines line between our boundless imagination and the rigorous nuts and bolts of acquiring the knowledge required to achieve some measure of it.

Shot over five years, the film follows former Pee Wee’s Playhouse animator Rob Niosi who has been building a replica prop of the time machine from George Pal’s 1960 film adaptation of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. What started as a fun 3 month project has, through is own peculiar, yet charming, Sisyphean nature, has blown out to nearly a decade. This is a peak into the psyche of a stop-motion animator whose entire working day might yield only seconds of usable film. Rob’s father took him (and his brother) to see The Time Machine when he was a little boy, where they both became fascinated with the central machine. His father was instrumental in encouraging his son toward a career in animation, providing tools and encouragement and advice along the way. Implicit in Niosi’s recreation of the time machine is to recapture the pure impression he had of that perfect day at the cinema with his family.

The film juxtaposes magnificent montages of Niosi meticulously crafting each brass or mahogany part for the prop replicate together with the academics of Dr. Ronald Mallett, a physicist at the University of Connecticut whose scientific career has been a pursuit of the hard science of time travel.

Significant is the muse that drives these men, completely different relationships with their respective fathers, which gives the movie a surprising emotional resonance. If father-son stuff affects you as much as it does me, you might want to pack some tissue. Mallett lost his father to a heart attack when he was about the same age that Niosi was in rapture watching Morlocks fighting the Eloi at the movies. The core motivation of decades of complex theory and practical experimentation is the dream of the possibility to go back and warn his father of his weak heart, and the young boy, who idolized him, that would be left fatherless at such a young age. And yes, Mallett also idolized a comic book version of H.G. Well’s science fiction story which he believes put him on the circuitous path to a doctorate degree.

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Friday One Sheet: How To Build A Time Machine

HowToBuildATimeMachine

Hot Docs is here once again for those of us living in Toronto! Making its world premiere at the documentary festival is Jay Cheel’s How To Build A Time Machine, the latest film from a good friend of Rowthree (and occasional guest on the Cinecast). To this end, the long-in-production film gets a shiny new poster for its debut. A sheet that makes excellent use of negative white-space to imply the classroom of physicist Ronald Mallett (who keeps a tiny photo of Einstein near his chalkboard) one of two principal subjects of the film. Looming above is the both the cosmos, and the original prop from George Pal’s The Time Machine, with the lever about to be pulled, I assume by Rob Noisi, the other main character who has been building a replica of the famous victorian contraption for many years. The tagline on the poster, located in the space in between, correctly asks, “Where you would go?” As in ‘what route?’ Would it be through unimaginably difficult science in tiny increments (note the box on the chalkboard), or would it be through imagination and craft and the memory of cinema?

If you are in Toronto next week, How To Build A Time Machine plays on these dates during the festival:
Monday, May 2, Isabel Bader Theatre
Tuesday, May 3, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Saturday, May 7, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 3

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The Canadian Thanksgiving weekend provided one turkey and several tasty morsels: Leprechaun, The Canal, Tales That Witness Madness and Witchcraft.

 

Leprechaun (Mark Jones – 1993)
It didn’t really take me long to decide that the first film in the rather lengthy Leprechaun series (there’s six or seven of them in all I think) would be the end of the line for me. It’s not like I expected to be drawn into a series of horror-comedy films about an evil leprechaun, but nothing about this film gave me any reason to press forward. Everything is just mediocre. It’s not horrific or creepy or even suspenseful. And it was neither funny nor fun. That may be a subjective statement I suppose, but most of the humour is pretty basic and uninspired. Jennifer Aniston is actually pretty decent here in one of her earliest roles, but in the end I was simply bored. Warwick Davis is the titular little green guy, but his grotesque form just isn’t overly interesting after he cracks his first corny joke and gnashes his teeth. I guess there was an audience for this since they made more of them (apparently with different approaches and levels of comedy), but this particular one sure wasn’t made for me.

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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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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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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Time Lapse

 

Opening with a shot of swirling red paint, which then has tiny flecks of white thrown into the mixture to disturb the surface and complicate the image, Bradley King and B.P. Cooper’s Time Lapse shows just how bloody far you can go with a tiny budget, a great prop and two locations. The script here is a beauty, that finds new ways to look at time travel causality (or rather the dangers of perceived causality) along with the good old genre standby of the ‘big bag of money’ landing in your lap. To prove they are the real deal, the film also diligently delves into trust-issues that develop amongst friends when a morally questionable opportunity in life presents itself.

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Predestination

 

Never do yesterday what you should do tomorrow, reads a sign in the early minutes of The Spierig Brothers’ delightfully loopy new film. Another reads, If at last you don’t succeed never try again. There are many of these twisted bon-mots lifted verbatim from Robert Heinlein’s short story, “All You Zombies” and scattered throughout its film adaptation, Predestination. Here is the thing about time travel movies: much time is in fact spent waiting around for things to catch up, even if it is only for that moment when Doc Brown sends his dog Einstein 60 seconds into the future. It leaves plenty of time to read the signs.

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Cinecast Episode 369 – Sometimes You Gotta Lie to Tell the Truth

We should retitle the show from Cinecast to “room full of loudmouths.” Matt Gamble is back on the show this week to add that extra dimension of bitching, praising, complaining, droning and bloviation that this episode needed to give the series a good crane kick in the ass. First up it’s the festival favorite TIME LAPSE, which despite its high concept and heady nature, the boys find surprisingly little to say about except that it’s pretty great. Andrew and Matt report on the Jeremy Renner vehicle, KILL THE MESSENGER – which peaked far too early in the run time. Pat Morita is the sensei for THE KARATE KID in this week’s volume of The 1984 Project. With The Watch List this week, it’s more Fincher, more Duplass, more sci-fi and high concept, cannibalism, Amazon Prime, Mike Meyers’ directorial debut and Harry Potter with horns. Lastly we argue about nothing regarding HBO’s newly announced method of content delivery.

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


 
 

 
 

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Trailer: Predestination

PreDestination

The Spierig Brothers’ (Daybreakers, Undead)latest genre romp has time travel paradoxes and Ethan Hawke on the brain. And it is very, very pretty. (And it is very, very good.) Have a look, there is almost no spoilers therein.

From the Robert A. Heinlen novel “All You Zombies” the story of a time-traveling Temporal Agent on his life-long assignment where he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.