2019 | dir: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead | 103 m
Almost invariably, time travel films incorporate some issues of causality into their plot. Essentially, there's some event in the past that influences the characters in the present / relative future and it turns out that the characters in the future were actually the ones who were actually responsible for the later events. And almost invariably, the character who is most directly affected by those past events is usually revealed to be the one that caused them initially. This is a well-worn trope in the time travel genre, and like most tropes, the fun isn't in recognizing it, but in seeing how the author/creator finds unique ways to deploy that trope within the worlds they've created.
Synchronic is no different. Which is to say, it's very different. But still the same.
It's time travel, so admittedly, there's going to be some head scratching. The best advice I can give when engaging with any story involving time travel is to quote the late, great Hunter S. Thompson: "Buy the ticket, take the ride..."
Synchronic is the fourth feature film from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, and one of the few movies I was truly looking forward to in 2021 (and in 2020, but the less said about that particular historical period, probably the better). Not just because I'm a sucker for a good time travel film (or even a bad one), but because Moorhead and Benson have established themselves in the indie film circuit as men of a visionary nature and a distinctive voice. I was hooked immediately after watching their debut, Resolution, last year and was similarly impressed/enamoured with their follow-up to their follow-up movie, The Endless, and their just plain follow-up, Spring. Though Resolution and The Endless have roots reaching deep into the fertile soils of both science fiction and horror (I couldn't help shake the feeling after watching Resolution and The Endless and Ari Aster's Hereditary and Midsommar in the space of a couple months last year that I was witnessing a new age in horror), the dominant genre seems to be science fiction. This is a genre that, like fantasy, requires that rare combination of Big Ideas and Big Imagination and the willingness to, as the character Eames from Inception might have put it, "dream a little bigger, darling."
| dir: Patrick Tatopoulos
I always had the impression that Rise of the Lycans was a misfire in the Underworld series fueled by the loss of Kate Beckinsale. Maybe I was barely paying attention, but the advertising of the film definitely led me to believe that Kate was in the film, and when I discovered she was replaced by someone who looks pretty similar (Rhona Mitra), that I had lost most of my interest in going to see the prequel. The same thing happened in the previews of the film Doomsday, also starring Mitra and mistaken for Beckinsale, except that I couldn’t pass up Doomsday in theatres and was happy to revisit the film fairly recently to appreciate what a ride it was (and Mitra kicked a ton of ass in that film). This was my first viewing of Rise of the Lycans and I’m still not quite sure why this film exists. Didn’t we cover most of the ground here before in the previous two films?
So, Rybeone and I did a thing. Reel Film Chronicles has been humming along pretty smoothly for a couple of years now, so we decided to take the plunge into the world of podcasting. I know that for many of you of a certain age (and who are obsessed with pop culture), there's a specific episode of The Simpsons that probably comes instantly to mind at the mention of starting a podcast these days:
"We've all thought about counterfeiting jeans at one time or another, but what about the victims? Hardworking designers like Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt, or Antoine Bugle Boy? These are the people who saw an overcrowded marketplace and said, 'Me too.'"
I think it's safe to say that podcasting has taken on a life of its own since the early days, and if any descriptor fit the podcasting scene these days "overcrowded" could certainly be said to apply. I remember back in the halcyon early days of podcasting when the phenomenon was still just catching on, a few friends and I started a podcast, and managed to put out fifty or sixty-odd episodes before I blew the whole thing up by moving away. In those days, it was a lot easier to stand out, and considering the audience we built up and the success of a few podcasts that started around the same time as us and had reached out at the time for cross-promotional opportunities, I still think about what could have been.
When Ryebone suggested that we expand the scope of our little ongoing project at the Reel Film Chronicles from a website to a website and a podcast (and a bag of chips), my first thought wasn't about being able to climb to the top of the podcast heap and get rich with advertising deals and sponsorships (although, it would be nice). Instead, I was reminded of why my friends and I had originally started a podcast way back when. It wasn't about any delusions of grandeur or fantasies of making it big; it was simply an excuse for us to get together every week and hang out and talk about shit that seemed interesting to us. Without that weekly standing appointment, we might have missed out on each other's company, which I fully admit, I got the better bargain on.
So now, ten years older, and hopefully a little wiser, I find myself embarking on a new adventure in podcasting. This time the endeavour is guided by Ryebone's singular, inebriated vision, but still ultimately driven by the same motivations: we just want an excuse to hang out, if only virtually for the time being, what with the global pandemic still disrupting any sort of in-person social interaction.
I'm a little biased here, but I also think that the Reel Film Chronicles podcast has something to offer to the cultural dialogue, specifically movies in our case. Ryebone and I both share a passion for movies, and as anyone who's spent any significant time in the hobby will tell you, the more you watch, the more you tend to diversify your viewing habits in terms of content. Especially, I think, for those of us who are still collecting physical media and are exposed to a lot of the boutique labels that have sprung up over the years, we tend to get a lot of exposure to films that are a little more off the beaten path. It's not a knock against blockbusters or the mainstream; it's just an acknowledgement that the really popular (and well-financed) movies that make it to the big screen every year in big multiplex theatres are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the sheer amount of content available out there waiting to be discovered and supported.
Because of our experience - and the sheer amount of time we've dedicated to watching movies, going down rabbit holes of increasingly obscure movies and genres, and a disproportionate amount of time spent analyzing movies just for the love of doing it - Ryebone and I have developed a healthy appreciation for films of all varieties and a great many aspects of the incredible effort that goes into making any movie a reality.
That isn't to say that we are somehow the arbiters of what is "good" or "bad" cinema. We have our likes and dislikes when it comes to films, just like anyone else. Though we often get very passionate about movies that we really, really love or really, really hate, I think we've both reached a point in our lives where we acknowledge that just because we love or hate a movie, that those opinions are not an objective indication of that movie's quality. I think that's part of the value that Ryebone and I bring to the ongoing dialogue about film; despite loving or hating specific movies, what we care most about is moving that dialogue forward in a positive way, trying to foster an environment where people can discuss their overall love of film, and engage in that age-old art of civil disagreement. What's important isn't that we agree with each other or anybody else about the artistic merits of any given movie, but that we try to encourage an overall appreciation of the artform.
Hopefully, as we've tried to do with the Reel Film Chronicles website, the Reel Film Chronicles podcast will help to spread our love of movies as Ryebone and I share our insights from the perspective of life-long fans whose lives have been enriched and inspired not just by the movies we've watched, but with the people we've watched them with.
| dir: Eliza Hittman
In an effort to piece together a somewhat coherent top ten list for 2020 movies this year, I embarked on a short journey to watch a few critically celebrated films that I may had missed. This project had me putting on Never Rarely Sometimes Always, an especially impactful film both written and directed by Eliza Hittman whose tale chronicles the journey of two teenage girls making their way to New York city “to seek out medical help after an unintended pregnancy.” And I can’t tell you why – because I had zero exposure to any element of the film save for the high Letterboxd user ratings and the poster of the film – but I went in expecting a bit of a quirky, if dark, comedy. It does not take long for one to realize how far my expectations strayed from the end product, and I’m happy again that my expectations were upended and the film I did take in was quite thoughtful, emotional and poignant.
| dir: Mark Steven Johnson
Without any kind of initial explanation, I have a soft spot in my memory for Ghost Rider and a hesitation to really say anything negative about the film, but damn, this movie is bad. While revisiting Nicolas Cage in the starring role of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, I had an inkling that I would discover something new about the film, and if not new, then something to grasp onto that could elevate this film and redeem it. Unfortunately, it’s not the case: this might be worse off today than when I initially saw it over a decade ago.
A bit of personal context here: I am in no way familiar with Ghost Rider, his origin, cast of supporting characters or history. The Ghost Rider comics I bought in the early 90’s were purchased because of a killer cover done by Adam Kubert on an 1992 issue of Sprits of Vengeance (link here) where Venom is hanging upside down in the sewers, holding Ghost Rider’s flaming skull wrapped up in a chain. I probably went onto buy a dozen or so Ghost Rider comics, read them, bagged them into the collection, and ignorantly forget them moments later.
Ghost Rider is quite a visually striking character and that holds true in this film (for the most part). Wrapped in biker leathers, his skull ablaze in eternal flame and speeding forth on a badass motorcycle with flaming wheels, Ghost Rider is - at least on the visual scale - a fun character to watch. Johnny Blaze (in this film, at least) inadvertently signs a deal with the devil (really Mephistopheles here) that would cure his father’s cancer and in return, hand over Johnny’s soul. Of course, in true genie fashion, the deal comes true, but the devil ensures his father dies the very next day anyway. Johnny, now knowing how serious this is and understanding that the devil can take his loved ones at any time, just leaves, isolating himself for a couple of decades and leaving his sweetheart behind without answers.
There are a few modern directors whose movies I make a point to add to my collection at my earliest possible convenience, and Martin Scorsese is one of those few. The Irishman is Scorsese's latest movie, a contemplative exploration of legacy and as we grow older and begin to weigh the choices we made along the way with the consequences of those choices, a final reckoning we all must face. It also serves as a melancholic reflection on Scorsese's own filmography and in many ways feels like the thematic culmination of ideas he's been exploring since the very beginning of his career. The Irishman seems like the end of an unofficial trilogy of Scorsese movies that include Mean Streets and Goodfellas. All of these movies explore the lives of criminals (specifically gangsters) and the inevitable consequences that those sort of lives eventually yield, but because each of them was made at distinct points in Scorsese's life and career, we're given a unique collection of perspectives from the same man on the same themes.
The Irishman was rather notably produced by Netflix and released on their streaming platform in 2019. It was great for the rest of us that Scorsese was able to find a production company willing to back the film (if you're ever feeling low, remember that even Martin Scorsese, with his incredible body of work, still has trouble rallying financial support for his films, so, you know, keep on truckin', and whathave you) but also slightly troubling considering Netflix's tendency not to release movies on physical media and their continually rotating library of movies and television shows. Luckily, Scorsese was a big enough name that The Criterion Collection took notice and distributed it on DVD and Bluray. Normally, I'd try to play the price game and wait for a sale, but considering this is both peak Scorsese and peak Netflix, I put this on my wish list to Santa Claus post haste.
| dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Wow, I can’t recall the last time that I felt so much dread and unease in a horror film, but here we are with Kairo (Pulse), having me double check the shadows in my room and not only making sure that the doors in my apartment are closed, but also that they don’t have any red tape around them. Suffice to say I didn’t turn on my computer until the next day, in the safety of sunlight. We follow our characters as they navigate strange occurrences, including sightings of a recently deceased friend and a truly creepy website. Everything is driven forward by having as much information as the characters themselves: easily relatable as I never found myself questioning their behaviour: with a belief that ghosts don’t exist, who wouldn’t investigate strange markings on the wall of a friend’s home, or start asking around about how to rid yourself of some malware? These characters are never entirely sure what they’re dealing with, and the audience is given barely anything more, which I think makes the journey all the more terrifying. Everything is beautifully framed in the colour-drained world and the ghosts’ movements and appearances are slow, deliberate and unsettling. Although I found the end of the film to a little unsatisfactory, it doesn’t add much to overall criticism of the movie. I find myself wondering what it would have been like to watching this film twenty years ago, as I recall the internet being a much more unkempt and mysterious utility with limitless potential, and yes – for someone who wants to believe – a reasonable habitat for the supernatural.
| dir: Len Wiseman
Immediately, we abandon the slick confines the original’s city, mansions and underground settings for the (somewhat) blanket openness of Eastern Europe. The story picks up just where we left off as well, with Selene and Michael on the run from the aftermath of the mayhem before, including the (spoiler for the first film) slaying of Victor. I'm just about fully on board with Evolution delving deeper into the lore of the “Vampire-Lycan” war and appreciative that it ties a number of strings together, including our main vampire played by Kate Beckinsale all without feeling like story beats and characters are just done for the sake of being convenient or filler.
I mentioned in the previous film that there were very few (if any) human characters present, which has been rectified in Evolution. Rectified, because I need to see how our vampires and werewolves perform in the face of your average human, which helps craft this world’s reality against our own. There's a scene early on where Michael is chased into the woods by a group of humans – as he resists the urge to feed on them – and Selene comes out to the rescue; we’re treated to some supernaturally wonderful powers of movement and abilities that – from the perspective of those humans and to an extent myself, the viewer – is truly terrifying. Those powers don’t show up when vampires are fighting other vampires because presumably, they’re being used all the time and the film is showing us the normalized action. It was a fun scene to watch and I wish there was more of that stuff in the film.
The other world building that goes on is fun: early on we see a cleanup/investigation crew dispatched in an attempt to unravel what happened in the first film’s events, and an amusing scene where a giant vampire bat learns how to use a computer by drinking the blood of another vampire. Quite handy indeed! One of the few things I remember upon seeing this over a decade ago was a steamy sex scene and am happy to report that the scene is still just as steamy, although their (that is, Selene and Michael) romance feels a bit empty. The film does deliver in a decent quality, gory action scenes, although some of the logic and reasoning of the characters and plot leave a little bit to be desired. I found myself chuckling quizzically every so often, but I guess that comes with the territory as Evolution attempts to layer on complexity via backstory, when the strength of the first film was very much on being straightforward and heavy on style.