Thursday, 28 January 2016

Synchronicity (2016): Review

Synchronicity is a 2016 science fiction film. Directed by Jacob Gentry (The Signal) and starring Chad McKnight, Brianne Davis (Prom Night), AJ Bowen (You're Next, The Sacrament) and Michael Ironside (Scanners, Total Recall). The film premiered at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival.

The plot revolves around brilliant scientist Jim Beale (McKnight) and his attempts to build a successful time machine along with his crew Chuck (Bowen) and Matt. These attempts are being funded by billionaire investor Klaus Meisner (Ironside) who happens to own the worlds supply of radioactive material needed to run the machine. After a mysterious item comes through the machine from the future, Beale is led through a treacherous journey through time and space by a mysterious girl named Abby(Davis). All he has to do to save the world and get the girl is bring the past and future together without causing the universe to collapse.

Right from the smoky, beautifully lit opening shots to the lush synth soundtrack it becomes very clear that this movie is an homage to Blade Runner and the sci-fi noir subgenre in general. This can sometimes go a little overboard, with lens flares that even JJ Abrams would think a little excessive. But, on the whole, the film is gorgeous to look at and the filmmakers have far exceeded the limitations of their budget. The story itself is more your grab-a-pen-and-a-pad type sci fi in the same vein as Primer (2004) and Donnie Darko (2001) and will reward you providing you can keep up with the universes and time loops in play.

I can't really say that it's a film any more ambitious than Primer, perhaps just with more aesthetic appeal and sexiness. And speaking of sexiness, the only thing that tended to drag the film down was the somewhat shoehorned romantic angle which felt pretty out of place in such a full on, physics based plot. I understand they were trying to tap into the romantic noir feel of Blade Runner and marry it to more ambitious, scientific plot points but the reason this worked so well in Blade Runner is because it was more suggestive philosophy than equations and formulas.

Definitely worth a watch if you like time travel/parallel dimension movies (which I obviously do), but by the same token, Synchronicity doesn't really offer anything new to fans of the genre and I can understand why some have been frustrated with it not quite fulfilling it's potential. Perhaps my feelings will change with repeat viewings, and it's always a compliment to the ambition of a time travel plot that you feel inclined to dig through it again, but sadly many people will watch it once and dismiss it as a poor mans Blade Runner.

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of Synchronicity? Did it need to be more ambitious?

Thursday, 7 January 2016

TMMDI Top Ten of 2015

2015 was a great year for Kiwi horror comedy and world cinema in general, Mad Max made his triumphant return to the screen in the best entry to date and the mighty Michael Fassbender pulled off an impressive hat trick (although Slow West and Steve Jobs didn't quite make this list). It was also the year that the Oscar winning films were pretty bloody good (in Birdman and whiplash). Honourable mentions to Ex Machina, It Follows, Unfriended, Crimson Peak, The Final Girls, Spectre, Green Inferno and Turbo Kid.

1. What We Do in the Shadows

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

3. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

4. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

5. Housebound

6. Macbeth

7. Bone Tomahawk

8. Whiplash

9. Attack on Titan (Parts 1&2)

10. Krampus

What do you think of the selection?  What were your favourites of 2015?

Friday, 1 January 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a 2015 sci-fi blockbuster. Directed by JJ Abrams (Lost, Super 8) and starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega (Attack the Block), Adam Driver (Inside Llewyn Davis) as well as returning cast from the original movies. This is the first Star Wars film to be produced under the Disney banner and without the involvement of creator George Lucas.

The film takes place 30 years after the events of the original trilogy and the demise of the evil galactic empire. Unfortunately a new evil empire has risen to take it's place in the form of "The First Order". Similarly, another rebellious faction has risen to meet the threat, this time called "The Resistance". Luke Skywalker has since gone into a self imposed exile and Han Solo has gone back into the smuggling game. It falls to our heroes Rey (Ridley) and Fin (Boyega), with the help of Han and Chewie, to find Luke before the villainous tandem of Kylo Ren (Driver) and Supreme leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) do.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. A pair of young heroes use a droid (which holds concealed plans) to lead them to an ageing Jedi in order to stop an evil empire (fronted by a masked villain and his withered master) from using a planet sized weapon to takeover the galaxy. This is the plot of The Force Awakens and, more importantly, the plot of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). There is a fine line between referencing the previous films in the franchise for nostalgia and overly relying on them and lifting plot points and characters wholesale. The Force Awakens steps over that line and repeatedly slaps you in the face shouting "do you remember those films you loved as a kid?"

When the producers gave George Lucas the credit of "characters based on" they really weren't kidding! Rey and Fin bear strong resemblance to the roles of Luke and Han, BB8 is obviously the new R2-D2 and the combo of Kylo Ren and Snoke is an incredibly unsubtle pastiche of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. Every time I would start to enjoy the spectacular action sequences or strong performances of Driver and Ford (who has definitely still got it) I would be ripped from the my child-like state by an infuriating recreation of a scene from the original movie (for example, a strange looking band playing in a bar full of aliens).

I don't appreciate remakes or reboots that are deceptively marketed as sequels, and for those of us that had waited decades to find out what happens after Return of the Jedi (1983) the answer is: pretty much exactly what happened before Return of the Jedi. It's great to see Star Wars fever gripping the nation once again and my heart genuinely melts when I see a brand new generation of children falling in love with the franchise. However, for long term fans of the franchise (and potentially miserable grown ups) there is nothing new or interesting here to reinvigorate the series. It's not a bad film by any means but it could have been so much better, I'm crossing 2 cynical fingers for episode 8.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of The Force Awakens? Did it borrow too heavily from previous films?