Time Lapse

time lapse
United States. Directed by Bradley King, 2014. Starring Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary, George Finn, Amin Joseph, Jason Spisak. 104 minutes. 3/10

Many science-fiction writers seem to find endless fascination with the mechanics and “rules” of time; Bradley King’s feature début, Time Lapse, shows what happens when that fascination fails the serve the story. The script (co-written by King and BP Cooper) focuses on a trio of roommates–starving artist Finn (Matt O’Leary, Brick), his girlfriend, aspiring writer Callie (Danielle Panabaker, Arrow/The Flash), and their ne’er-do-well mutual friend Jasper (George Finn)–who discover that their recently deceased neighbor (John Rhys-Davies) built a strange machine, bolted it to his living room floor, and pointed it at their apartment.

The contraption turns out to be a device which, at 8pm every evening, takes a Polaroid photo of their shared living room…as it will appear twenty-four hours in the future. The gang wastes little time coming to a consensus on how they can use the camera to their benefit: Jasper bets on greyhound races based on information he sends through the photos, while the creatively-blocked Finn recreates the paintings his future self places in the camera’s field of vision. This probably can’t end well, can it?

Actually, King and Cooper have struck upon some intriguing ideas; pity they’ve put so much effort into constructing their puzzle-box film that they almost completely neglected the personalities they created to solve it. The characters move through the plot like figurines on a track, never deviating from the path the narrative requires them to take; the filmmakers devise a couple of token conflicts to drive the drama, such as a love triangle and Jasper’s textbook-psychotic bookie (Jason Spisak), which utterly fail to bring the personalities to life. Their behavior runs the gamut from dull to dumb. In fact, film’s final twist depends on them to be so stupid that they fail to deduce the most obvious solution to a mystery established in the film’s first 15 minutes–and which the audience will figure out the minute the filmmakers introduce it.

Even the most skilled ensemble would experience difficulty with such material, but the core cast seems consistently confounded. The relationship between Callie and Finn particularly suffers from the complete lack of chemistry between Panabaker and O’Leary. I can just about believe in a world where television stations broadcast dog races and a bored millennial can paint an elaborate and complete–if utterly pedestrian–work in a couple of hours. But I can’t believe that Callie and Finn have known each other for more than maybe a couple of weeks, let alone been together long enough for their relationship to have gone sour. The supporting ensemble does a bit better. Spisak and Sharon Maughan deliver thankless performances as glorified environmental challenges and exposition-delivery devices, better than the film deserves. King should face criminal charges for wasting Rhys-Davies, who delivers a stronger performance in a single still photograph, holding a sign reading IF YOU CAN READ THIS IT’S TOMORROW, than the three lead actors combined.

Time Lapse narrowly squeaks by a classification of “complete waste of time” by dint of the occasional thought-provoking idea or bit of cleverness…but it’s also the perfect example of why one shouldn’t rely on concept alone to drive a film.

TIME LAPSE poster.

Synchronicity

Synchronicity

Synchronicity

United States. Directed by Jacob Gentry, 2015. Starring Chadrian McKnight, Brianne Davis, AJ Bowen, Scott Poythress, Michael Ironside. 101 minutes. 5/10

Few ideas in science fiction tantalize or intrigue like that of time travel. But let’s get real: if it were possible, what would we actually do with it? That question has an obvious answer, succinctly summed up in a line of dialogue in the last act of Synchronicity, the latest film from writer/director Jacob Gentry (The SignalMy Super Psycho Sweet 16): we’d use it to get laid.

Admittedly, that’s probably not how the film’s protagonist, Jim Beale (Chadrian McKnight), thinks of it. Beale and his two assistants (played by genre stalwarts AJ Bowen and Scott Poythress) conduct cutting-edge research on time travel through the creation and manipulation of wormholes, but they depend on venture capitalist Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside) for financing. Matters complicate further when Abby (Brianne Davis), a raven-haired gothic bombshell with a mysterious connection to Meisner, enters the picture. Beale quickly falls for her, and she seems to reciprocate…but mysterious forces seem to conspire to keep them apart. In order to learn the truth and win Abby’s heart, Beale makes a snap decision that could prove to have disastrous consequences.

Synchronicity’s publicity makes much of comparisons to Dark City, whose influence manifests most clearly in the film’s “future noir” imagery and puzzle-box plot construction. If you can forgive the film’s depopulated locales (presumably due to the low budget, although it does add to a lovely eerie atmosphere throughout), the occasional crummy CGI, and what I’ve dubbed “That Ubiquitous Blue Filter,” Synchronicity certainly looks good. Similarly, its plotting impresses with its cleverness.

Yet its lack of thematic depth and world-building keeps Synchronicity from standing beside influences such as Dark CityBlade Runner, and (less obviously) Donnie Darko. It may seem unfair to constantly judge the film in the light of its forebears, but by constantly going out of his way to invite those comparisons, Gentry leaves the audience little choice. The odd, retro-futuristic devices and dystopian trappings look nice, but they’re only there for show. Similarly, The film has little insight or substance to say about human relationships, and doesn’t seem particularly interested in thought-provoking philosophical flights of fancy. That’s not to say the it’s all style and no substance, but what you see is largely what you get. Like too many “puzzle movies,” once solved, it gives the viewer little reason to tackle it again.

That all being said, Synchronicity has enough in its favor to justify a look see. McKnight and Davis work as the leads, possessing enough chemistry to make a romantic subplot even if you can’t imagine their relationship lasting much past the end titles. But the real MVPs are the support players, especially Ironside, who seems to relish the chance to play a somewhat different kind of villain. Bowen also turns in a strong performance, proving once again why he’s the go-to guy for movies like this. Composer Ben Lovett also deserves special mention for his score; while retro analog-synth-based scores have become all the rage over the past few years, he delivers one of the few truly distinct examples of the form since It Follows.

As much as I enjoyed Synchronicity, it sadly seems destined to obscurity. It doesn’t distinguish itself enough to merit eventual cult classic status.

synchronicity poster

Mary Steenburgen and Malcolm McDowell star in TIME AFTER TIME.

Retro Review: Time After Time

United States. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, 1979. Starring Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen. 112 minutes.

“What if H.G. Wells really was a time traveler?” is a logical question and one that many narrative works have sought to explore. With Time After Time, writer/director Nicholas Meyer goes one step further and asks, “What if H.G. Wells really was a time traveler…and he chased Jack the Ripper into the future?” Malcolm McDowell plays Wells and David Warner plays his (wholly fictional) friend Dr. John Stevenson, an eminent surgeon who steals Wells’s time machine and uses it to escape when the police discover he’s really the Ripper. When the machine returns to Wells’s lab without its passenger, he decides he has no other choice to follow the mad doctor and stop him–a journey which leads him to San Francisco in the year 1979.

Meyer is best known for his association with the Star Trek movies based on the original series, particularly The Wrath of Khan. Keeping that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that he produced a thoughtful work imbued with a strong humanist point of view. The historical Wells was a utopian socialist, and so is this fictional counterpart; unapologetically so, in fact. He goes into the future assuming the human race will build its perfect society within four generations, but humanity disappoints by improving its efficiency with warfare and violence. By contrast, Stevenson feels more at home in the new age than in his own time. Meyer, McDowell and Warner lay out the differences between the characters in a chilling sequence about halfway through the film.

The film maintains the consistent tone of a rollicking adventure yarn, neither tipping too far in the direction of “too light-hearted” or “too dark” despite a number of elements which must have bordered on camp even in 1979. (Look, it’s Jack the Ripper, wearing a leisure suit and stalking his victims in a disco!) Unfortunately, the more science-fiction-oriented elements of the script don’t hold up to scrutiny; several elements of the time machine’s operation are obvious contrivances to keep the plot moving. I also felt one minor twist towards the end of the film was a bit of a cheat, although I understand why Meyer went in that direction.

McDowell and Warner deliver two of the best performances of their careers. McDowell perfectly embodies the idealistic yet naïve Victorian gentleman with plenty of wit and charm, while Warner radiates menace as an intellectual and philosophical psychopath. Mary Steenburgen is the weak link in the primary cast as Amy, a bank employee who aides Wells in his hunt and later becomes his love-interest. Her line-readings are a bit stiff and she doesn’t have much chemistry with McDowell. In her defense, she doesn’t have much to work with. Meyer attempts to strengthen the character with corny and too on-the-nose dialog about Women’s Lib, and he largely relegates her to a passive role for much of the final act of the film.

Despite some flaws, Time After Time is an enjoyable thinking person’s adventure tale, buoyed by two fine performances and a well-thought-0ut set of themes. Very much worth looking into.

Time After Time