FlixChatter Review: UNCLE FRANK (2020)

I had the privilege of seeing this film at Twin Cities Film Fest last October, one of the three films I saw on the big screen. I had come into it blindly, not having seen a trailer or even read in details what it’s about at all or even seen the trailer. I find that as a rarity in the age of social media where incessant promotional campaign tend to reveal too much about a film. So for this review, I shall try not to spoil too much details about the plot, and when I absolutely have to, I’ll warn you about it and hide the spoiler-y bits.

Sophia Lillis as Beth

Now, even reading its description on IMDb would reveal key details about the plot, so if you want to come into it blindly, I’d refrain from going to its IMDb page. What I can safely tell you is that the film takes place in early 1970s in South Carolina and later New York City. It’s told through the eyes of the title character Frank Bledsoe’s (Paul Bettany) teenage niece Beth (Sophia Lillis) who clearly admires his uncle and claims he’s the only one in the family who sees and appreciates her for who she is.

We first see the Bledsoe’s family at a Christmas family gathering and while everyone seems to treat Frank well, it’s apparent right away that Frank is dismissed by his dad, the family patriarch referred to as Daddy Mac. At first it’s not clear why he isn’t quite welcomed at home and my initial thought is that the family isn’t too keen that he left the South to work as a literature professor at NYU.

Paul Bettany as Uncle Frank

It’s not until 18-year-old Beth ends up going to NYU that Frank’s true identity is revealed. Again I won’t spoil that for you, but it happened at a party at Frank’s apartment where Beth showed up without being invited. The person who shows up at the door is Walid or Wally (Peter Macdissi), Frank’s roommate. He was taken aback by Beth’s presence at first, but immediately warms up to her as if he’s known about her for some time. Now, if you don’t want to know more about the plot, I suggest you stop reading.

The party itself would easily give away just who Frank really is. Spoiler alert (highlight to read) – Beth soon finds out that uncle Frank is gay and he’s been living with his lover Wally for the past 10 years. There are guests of diverse backgrounds mingling, drinking, definitely not the kind of crowds Beth was exposed to in the South. The real journey began when Frank got a call that Daddy Mac has died and he had to take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, SC for his funeral. College is naturally a coming-of-age moment for many teens, but this road trip and all the revelations concerning Frank, as well as the reactions stemming from that, ends up being a growing experience for both involved.

This film is a sophomore effort from award-winning writer Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under, True Blood). He also penned the script, which apparently is partly based on his own dad’s life. I have to commend Ball’s ability to balance the drama, comedy and even tragedy aspects of the story as the film takes viewers in an emotional roller coaster. I always admire filmmakers who can tackle difficult subject matters and manage to inject humor into it without turning it into an absurd farce.  This one definitely covers tricky topics and sensitive, hot button issues, yet it’s not a downer of a movie despite some harrowing scenes.

Throughout the journey south, there are multiple flashback scenes told in stages as more and more of Frank’s past is revealed. This narrative style could’ve been really clunky and problematic, yet it works quite well here to tell the source of why Frank is so ravaged with guilt and the incident that changed his relationship with his father forever. I think the lack of subtlety is deliberate, though some of the scenes and dialogue are too on-the-nose and forced emotionally. Despite the inherent conflict between Frank and his dad, however, I appreciate the fact that Ball refrains from completely demonizing him despite the intense hurt he’s caused his own son.

The performances are definitely the film’s strong suit. Paul Bettany is quite a revelation as Frank in a committed, genuinely heart-breaking performance. His character is filled with so much sorrow and self-loathing which makes him infuriating and even hard to love, but Bettany tackles the role with a nuanced emotional honesty. Peter Macdissi is simply delightful here in such a warm, lively performance. The stark contrast between the eternal-optimist Wally and the often despondent Frank make for some comic-relief moments that would make you laugh and cry. Sophia Lillis is terrific as Beth and I think the fact that the film is often seen through her perspective makes the story more relatable. The supporting cast are filled with talented character actors such as Margo Martindale, Steve Zahn, Stephen Root, Judy Greer, and Lois Smith. I rarely see Root play such an unsympathetic character but he’s quite believable here as the insensitive patriarch.

I think the biggest issue I have with this film is that at times it feels like an ‘agenda film’ that tries to blatantly push certain values to the audience. Some of the familial scenes and Frank’s alcoholism feel a tad too maudlin and ham-fisted. Overall though, it’s a compelling and emotional drama that would definitely spark interesting conversations with people after you watch it. Definitely a perfect release around Thanksgiving, even if this year people might have to spend family gatherings virtually.


Have you seen UNCLE FRANK? Well, what did you think?

HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Memorable Thanksgiving Scenes In Movies

Happy Thanksgiving 2020, everyone. Well, wherever you are in the world, most likely this year’s holiday won’t be like the usual times. Where I am in Minnesota, we are under lockdown once again since Spring, so not only we can’t have a meal in restaurants but we also can’t have gatherings with people outside our household. It’s going to be take-out food and Netflix + chillin’ for us tomorrow, well actually it’ll be Disney+ chillin’ as we’re going to finally catch up on The Mandalorian, yay! [gotta enjoy life’s simple pleasures when you can] 😀

Well, since most of us probably aren’t going to be having big lunch/dinner with your extended family/friends, I thought I post some memorable Thanksgiving scenes. Well, they’re not always heartwarming and fun… let’s just say I’m grateful I don’t have to attend any awkward dinner scene anytime soon.

SCENT OF A WOMAN (1992)

I saw this years ago in the theater with my older brother right before I went to college (I just dated myself, ha!). I think this is Lt. Col. Frank Slade is one of Al Pacino‘s greatest roles and he won an Oscar for it. Pacino and Chris O’Donnell made quite an intriguing unlikely couple and it’s definitely a Thanksgiving to remember for both of them.

The tango scene is no doubt my favorite, but this Thanksgiving dinner at Frank’s brother is certainly a memorable one. 

SPIDER-MAN (2002)

I can’t believe this movie was done 18 years ago. There have been a bazillion more Spider-man movie franchises since Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire made their mark. I still think there are tons of memorable scenes in this franchise, especially involving Peter Parker and friends-turned-foes the Osborns.

Willem Dafoe is perfectly cast as Norman Osborn, and this dinner scene is quite suspenseful as Norman suspected Peter’s been hiding his alter-ego identity.

 

The Blind Side (2009)

I remember this movie caught a lot of flak when Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her portrayal as the mother who adopted a homeless boy who later became an NFL player. I actually liked the film and Bullock’s sensitive performance portrayal which is quite different from her mostly rom-com roles at that point. 

The Thanksgiving dinner scene started out with everyone all eating dinner in the living room watching football instead of at the table… but Leigh Anne invited the family to gather at the table as to give her new guest Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) a sense of family during the holidays. The movie portrays a refreshingly flattering picture of a Christian family saying grace before they have the meal.

 

You’ve Got Mail (1998)

Now, this one isn’t exactly a Thanksgiving dinner scene but it’s certainly an activity many Americans do before the big day, that is grocery shopping. I love the slice of American life in Nora Ephron movies which fuses humor in awkward situations.

No matter how many times I’ve watched this movie, I always cringe the moment Kathleen (Meg Ryan) realized she’s in the cash-only cashier because she was distracted by trying to avoid his nemesis-turned-boyfriend Joe (Tom Hanks) only to have him rescue her. This is also Sara Ramirez‘s first ever on-screen role and definitely a memorable one.


Have a wonderful Thanksgiving day + week, everyone! What’s YOUR favorite Thanksgiving scene(s) in movies?

 

FlixChatter Review: THE NEST (2020)

I saw The Nest on a screener thanks to IFC Films and the premise intrigued me immediately. Jude Law and Carrie Coon Life play husband and wife whose already-fragile marriage take a twisted turn after moving into an English country manor.

The film opens when the family still resides in the US. Rory O’Hara (Law) is shown taking the kids to school, and Allison (Coon) works as a horse trainer. The O’Hara seems like the perfect family – live in a nice house with a pool and everything seems normal. Rory seems like the perfect dad to his young son Ben (Charlie Shotwell), and their daughter Sam (Oona Roche) seems like a typical angsty teen. Then suddenly one morning, Rory tells Allison he wants to move back to England. It’s not clear at first just what it is Rory does, but he assures his wife that she’d never have to work and they can live like royalty.

Despite her initial refusal, Allison agrees to uproot her family to England. They even take move her horse Richmond all the way across the Atlantic. Once they’re in the UK, Rory excitedly gives his family a tour to a large farm mansion in the London suburb of Surrey. I kind of get a Devil’s Advocate vibe and the mood of the film, which decidedly shot like a horror film by cinematographer Mátyás Erdély (Son Of Saul), makes it look like there’s something ominous about the house. There’s even a moment where Allison scream to her kids ‘you’re both are strangers to me’ after hearing noises in the house at night, which seems to come out of nowhere. I wonder if perhaps Durkin is saying that the real ‘horror’ of this family breakdown has nothing to do with the house, or external forces… that real evil can come from within each person.

Set in the early 80s during Thatcher-Reagan era, the film’s theme plays with the idea of the American dream and ‘fake it until you make it’ adage, and we later learn Rory’s lucrative job as a commodity broker is what he thinks would enable him to achieve the ‘dream’ he’s imagined for himself and his family. Without giving too much away, The Nest is family drama/cautionary tale of greed and ambition run amok. It’s as if this is the antithesis to the famous line from Wall Street that ‘greed is good.’ Well, we don’t have to watch this film to realize that, but filmmaker Sean Durkin hammers that message quite potently here.

This is the first of Durkin’s work I’ve seen so far, which is his sophomore writing/directing feature film he did since the highly-acclaimed Martha Marcy May Marlene. I think Durkin is a talented filmmaker and has a pretty unique storytelling style. The way the tension keeps on building, and using Allison’s horse as a metaphor for their crumbling marriage is pretty effective. That said, I’m not seeing the film is without flaws.

For one, the pacing is quite slow, and while I don’t mind slow films, there’s a sense of dread and unnecessary doom & gloom feel that makes the film seems lethargic. There are also some events happening in the film that seem foreboding but in the end amount to nothing, which isn’t frustrating necessarily, I just find it quite odd.I think some viewers would also find it quite frustrating that there’s no truly-sympathetic characters in this film, except for the subtle gesture of kindness from Sam towards the end. I like Allison and she’s quite a strong female figure, but the way she finally snaps at Rory during a client meeting doesn’t exactly paint her character in a compassionate light. She also seems far more obsessed with her horse than she is with her kids, at least the way it’s presented in the film.

The strong point in this film is definitely the performances. Jude Law is believable as a man with delusions of grandeur and unbridled ambition to get to the top. Though at times Rory’s actions seems absurd, you don’t completely hate the man, in fact I feel really sorry for him. The conversation with the Uber/Lyft driver is quite a turning point for Rory and perhaps one of my favorite scenes in the film. Carrie Coon is an actress I’m not familiar with at all (apparently she was in Avengers: Infinity War but unrecognizable in CG makeup as one of Thanos’ warrior minions), but I’m very impressed with her here. There’s an effortlessly cool vibe about her and she has a palpable chemistry with Law. British-Pakistani actor Adeel Akhtar and Irish actor Michael Culkin are both reliable character actors and both lend memorable performances as Rory’s colleague and boss, respectively.

Overall, I admire Durkin’s talent as a filmmaker even though I’m not overly fond of the film. As I mentioned above, there’s a sense of dread throughout, so this one isn’t exactly a pleasant film to watch. I’d still recommend it to film enthusiasts as I think it’s well-crafted, though I’m not sure this film would be a hit with mainstream audiences despite Jude Law being in it.

THE NEST is now available to stream across all cable and digital VOD platforms for rent: iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, YouTube, Vudu, PlayStation, Xbox.


Have you seen THE NEST? Well, what did you think?

TV Review: THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (2020)

The Queen’s Gambit (2020 – Netflix)
Directed by Scott Frank
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Marielle Heller, Moses Ingram, Bill Camp, Harry Melling, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Christiane Seidel, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd

Nearly a month removed from debuting on Netflix, there’s no shortage of publicity and buzz surrounding this 7 part mini-series. During these pandemic times with nearly everyone (hopefully) staying home these days, there’s a plethora of quality streaming shows to discover. (If you need recommendations, just peruse Flixchatter and you will find truly informed reviews of what’s out there.) This is the age of the streaming platform and with The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix has really stepped it up and delivered an engrossing and wildly entertaining mini-series.

Set in 1960s Kentucky, the series chronicles the rise of chess prodigy Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). Orphaned at age 9, we see her meager beginnings at an all-girls orphanage run by the practical yet sympathetic Miss Deardorff (Christiane Seidel). While there she meets Jolene (Moses Ingram), a black orphan who takes her under her wing, showing her the ropes.

Isla Johnston as young Beth + Bill Camp as Mr. Shaibel

While cleaning erasers in the school’s basement, she spies Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), the school’s janitor playing chess and is intrigued to the point of obsession. She picks up the game just by watching and he proceeds to teach her the intricacies of the game as well as its etiquette. He recognizes her talent and invites a local high school chess organizer to play her. He then invites her to play the local high school team who she defeats singlehandedly. To complicate matters, Beth becomes dependent on Librium – a drug given out to the children to sedate them into compliance – a widespread and abusive practice at the time.

Marielle Heller as Alma

Eventually, she is adopted by a couple and develops a unique bond with her adoptive mother Alma (Marielle Heller) who nurtures her chess career while surrendering to her own addictions and disappointments. In the universe of high school and high stakes chess tournaments, Beth is faced with the trials of chemical dependency and psychological trauma, all in her quest at becoming a grandmaster.

Based on Walter Tevis’ novel of the same name, director Scott Frank’s adaptation is concise and well executed. Frank, who wrote Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (1998) and Logan (2017) has a proven track record and The Queen’s Gambit is no exception. Stylish with a good balance of wit and humor, Frank tones down the melodrama with subtle detachment. Scenes don’t seem overdone and you won’t find any extended soliloquies either. Frank gets and keeps it to the point with flair and confidence. Steven Meizler’s photography and Michelle Tesoro’s editing provide an exciting tension and suspense especially to the chess tournament sequences – no easy feat I’m sure. Gambit’s steady pacing and editing, excellent cinematography and a beautiful score (Carlos Rafael Rivera) make this binge-worthy.

The real joy here though is watching Anya Taylor-Joy’s magnetic performance as Beth Harmon. Her chameleon-like and quiet intensity is nothing short of brilliant. With silent-era charm, her strongest moments aren’t even when she speaks but when she stares down her opponent in icy coldness. It’s an establishing role in a film career that’s already well seasoned with starring roles in The Witch (2015), Thoroughbreds (2017) and most recently this year’s Emma. Supported by a terrific ensemble cast including Harry Potter’s Harry Melling in a nice grown up role and Thomas Brodie-Sangster as the likable chess champ Benny, The Queen’s Gambit is full of memorable performances making it one of the most satisfying shows to stream in 2020.

 

The Queen’s Gambit succeeds on so many levels.  Origin story, coming-of-age, cold-war thriller, psychological drama – all apply to this highly entertaining series. Scott Frank has put together a well-oiled machine that’s fun to watch and easy to digest, so you might as well surrender to it. I’ve no doubt it will be on many critics’ top 10 lists this year.

5/5 stars

Vince_review


So did you get to see THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT? Let us know what you think!

In appreciation for 5 great female DPs working today

I’d been wanting to do this post for a while, but somehow haven’t got around to it. Well, thanks to last week’s Thursday Movie Picks on favorite cinematography, which I had actually missed, I thought I should make up for it this week.

The awesome topic came from Brittani who went with films highlighting female cinematographers on her post, so for this list I’m picking five female DPs whose work I admire, and it’s safe to say they’re some of the best DPs working today.

Before I get to that, I must say that perhaps more so than other key players in filmmaking like directors/writers/producers, DPs are still very much a man’s world. Based on WomenAndHollywood.com, of the top 300 films from 2016 to 2018, 97% were male and 3% were female were credited as the director of photography (DP) across the top live action films, which translates into 33 male lensers for every 1 female lenser. Well, let’s hope this grim stats will continue to improve, I mean, there’s only one way but up!

So let’s get to the list, shall we? Here they are in random order:

1. Charlotte Bruus Christensen

Though the Danish cinematographer had been working since 2004 in a bunch of short films, I first noticed her work in Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 Danish thriller The Hunt. It’s such a beautiful, atmospheric film, shot in her native Denmark.

A few years later she collaborated again with Vinterberg in Far from the Madding Crowd. I distinctly remember being in awe of the lush visuals of that movie, shot mostly in the UK. The forest scene is simply breathtaking. Behold:

She also did impressive work in the underrated music-themed drama Hunky Dory, The Girl on the Train, and A Quiet Place.

2. Rachel Morrison

You can’t have a list of female DPs and not mention Rachel Morrison. Though her most famous work is no doubt The Black Panther, she actually earned an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography for Mudbound, the film she shot before the huge Marvel film. She had the distinction of being the first woman ever recognized by the Academy in the cinematography category.

I actually still need to see MUDBOUND, which also made history for DeeRees for being the first Black woman nominated for an Oscar in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

Black Panther is one of the most stunning films I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to pick which scene is the most beautiful, but I LOVE the visuals of the night car chase scene in Busan. It’s probably one of the most beautifully-shot car chases ever!

3. Maryse Alberti

The French-born DP has quite a career spanning 3+ decades, starting in the mid 80s with shorts, TV work and documentaries. Some of her films I remember well are Velvet Goldmine in the late 90s set in the world of 1970s glam-rock, The Wrestler, and Creed. The last two consist of plenty intense action scenes, given the nature of such contact sport, which I’d imagine are tough to shoot.

I love the realism in Alberti’s visual style… the scenes are dramatic and beautiful to look at, but not glamorized. There’s a realness and grit to it that also helps you as the audience to really get in on the action and also relate more to the characters.

4. Mandy Walker

The Victoria, Australia native had her start as a DP in Australian movies. The first movie I saw that she shot was Shattered Glass, about American journalist Stephen Glass. But the one movie that made me take notice of her work was in Baz Luhrmann’s AUSTRALIA, which of course was shot on location. The movie is practically a promo video for Australia, and for one of its hunkiest export Hugh Jackman in one of his most glorious form.

She also shot the stunning Chanel No. 5 perfume advert, collaborating again with Luhrmann and Nicole Kidman. She also worked on Hollywood films Red Riding Hood, Tracks, Truth and one of my favorites, Hidden Figures. I have yet to see MULAN yet, but she’s also the DP for that Disney live-action movie, so I hope to see that during the holidays!

5. Ellen Kuras

The New Jersey is known not just for her cinematography work, but also for directing documentaries. In fact, she nominated for an Oscar for her first directorial debut documentary The Betrayal in 2009. She continues to juggle both narratives and documentaries as a DP, such as JANE about Jane Goodall, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, and David Byrne’s American Utopia directed by Spike Lee.

One of her most well-known narrative work includes Blow, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Ballad of Jack and Rose and the period drama A Little Chaos which was all shot in the UK despite being set at Versailles, France. I quite enjoyed the romantic period drama, starring some of my all time favorite actors, especially Kate Winslet + Alan Rickman (reunited after Sense & Sensibility!) and there are plenty of beautiful shots to admire in it.


Surely there are more female DPs working today who do excellent work, so this is by no means a comprehensive list. So, with that in mind, 

Who are some of your favorite female DPs? Feel free to include links to photos or videos.

FlixChatter Review: MR. JONES (2019)

I’ve always been a fan of journalism film and this film shed a light on a horrifying event that I wasn’t familiar about – the Holodomor, the man-made famine-genocide in Ukraine in early 1930s that killed many Ukranians. The story is told through the eyes of Gareth Jones (James Norton), hence the title, a Welsh journalist who uncovered this horrific, but at the time was unreported genocide perpetrated by the Soviet government under Stalin. Jones was renowned at the time for having interviewed Adolf Hitler, and thanks to his connection with a former British PM, he was able to travel to the Soviet Union to interview Stalin.

James Norton as Gareth Jones

I immediately find the film genuinely gripping as well as stylish, directed by Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland who’s no stranger to war-related dramas. Her historical drama In Darkness, set during Nazi occupation in Poland, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of 2011. The film plays out like an engrossing spy thriller under Holland’s superb direction that makes you invested in Jones’ journey right from the start.

Now, Jones’s original mission was to find out more about the Soviet’s economic expansion, but he ended up uncovering something truly sinister behind the success of the Communist Party’s economic plan. Ukraine was referred to as ‘Stalin’s gold’  and clearly Stalin’s government tried to silence anyone who tried to uncover what happened there. Two fellow journalists that Jones met along his journey have two different reactions. Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby), a British journalist, confirms that the truth about the famine is being repressed but she feels it’s too dangerous to speak about it. It’s understandable given an American journalist Paul Klebnikov turned up dead in Moscow while doing an investigative reporting on that topic.

Vanessa Kirby as Ada Brooks

The scenes in Ukraine where Jones saw with his own eyes the stark contrast between the prosperous Moscow and the stark villages in Soviet Ukraine is quite heart-wrenching. Set in the frosty Winter time, Jones was shivering as he walked on foot to see empty houses and dead bodies who have died of starvation. One of the most indelible scene is when he encountered a few kids and they took him to their home and gave him food. I won’t spoil it for you but let’s just say I’d have thrown up immediately like he did once I realized what I had eaten.

The solid script by Andrea Chalupa feels personal somehow, and likely because she was not simply documenting a horrific event in history, but her own grandparents had suffered the Holodomor during Stalin’s regime. In fact, Chalupa had recognized parallels between what’s written in Animal Farm, a seminal allegorical novella by George Orwell (portrayed by Joseph Mawle in the film), which speaks against totalitarianism and socialism. The humanistic approach was palpable and emotional, one truly sees the horrors in Jones’ eyes and his dismay that his story didn’t find the traction he hoped for upon his return. In fact, Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), the rather flamboyant chief of The New York Times’s Moscow bureau whom Jones had met in Moscow, vehemently denied his claims. It’s as if people knew what was happening but because of political and economical reasons refuse to let the truth come out. Worse, some people simply don’t care what happen to people they barely know about and it’s simply easier to turn a blind eye.

Peter Sarsgaard as Walter Duranty

Norton is a perfectly-cast as the idealistic journalist who strived to uncover the truth, even risking his own life to do it. Glad to see him in lead role in a feature film, after seeing him in mostly tv work and small supporting roles in movies. He’s definitely got the charisma and talent, so I hope to see him in more films. Kirby isn’t in very many scenes but she was memorable in the scenes she was in; while Sarsgaard is a reliable actor and he plays an unsympathetic character believably.

Mr. Jones is an important story that’s told brilliantly. It’s suspenseful, thrilling as well as emotional, filled with dread when it needs to be, without making the entire film feels gloomy or dejected. In fact, it has a lively pacing and uplifting tone, and in the end it is an uplifting film (though truth comes with a price).  The cinematography with bold, dynamic camera work by Polish DP Tomasz Naumiuk is simply stunning and has that eerie, atmospheric feel that’s perfect for this story.

If you’re a history buff, or even interested in a captivating story about a topic most people don’t know about and rarely portrayed in cinema, I definitely recommend Mr. Jones. Upon further research about Gareth Jones, he was inevitably banned from Soviet Union and ended up killed in 1935 by the Soviet secret police. His story certainly deserves to be told and this film is one of the most chilling but effective political thriller that’ll stay with you long after its opening credits.


Have you seen MR. JONES? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: SYNCHRONIC (2020)


Directed by: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Written by: Justin Benson
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Ally Ioannides

Coming off the critical success of The Endless (2017), Synchronic is the fifth collaboration between the directing duo of Benson and Moorhead. While not in the same universe as that of their previous 2 films (with 2012’s Resolution as a semi-prequel to The Endless), the film categorically shares the sci-fi/horror genre and with similar stylistic flair along with high tier lead actors in Anthony Mackie (The Avengers) and Jamie Dornan (50 Shades franchise).

Set in modern-day New Orleans, Mackie and Dornan play paramedics Steve Denube and Dennis Dannelly who come across a bizarre case of young people overdosing over a new designer drug called Synchronic. The cases grow and become more horrifying each time, all while their personal lives are taking a dark turn – Mackie a lonely playboy with a serious illness and Dornan with domestic family difficulties. Everything falls apart when Dennis’ teenage daughter Brianna (Ioannides) disappears while allegedly taking the drug. While Dennis tries to repair things at home, Steve decides to try and find his friend’s daughter at a high cost.

With its atmospheric pacing and neo-psychedelic sequences, Sychronic is a stylish sci-fi thriller that seems to be the love-child of Ken Russell’s 1980 cult-classic Altered States and Scorsese’s 1999 supernatural film Bringing Out the Dead. The filmmakers set it up promisingly with creepy strokes of imagery and for the most part maintain it through the 2nd act. As in their previous films, Benson and Moorhead add touches of H.P. Lovecraft and at times mirroring some of the themes we see from Lovecraft Country. There are portrayals of racial profiling and segregation as well as slavery. However, for good or bad, the filmmakers chose not to use this as a plot development point, even though it’s insinuated that present day New Orleans is (as most of the country) still rife with racism.

Mackie is fine as an involuntary bachelor with an existential crisis. While he tackles the character with serious gusto as usual, he’s able to dash on some likable humor which tellingly are the filmmakers’ attitude in not taking things too seriously. Dornan is merely there and the other actors as just props.

The 3rd act is when Synchronic becomes a predictable time travel yarn with the usual flaws in believability. There are those moments of “really?” with a big question mark but that is to be expected and the film glosses over those shortcomings with pacing and Mackie’s likable performance. It is also commendable that the film did not devolve into a full-on gore-fest. That was comforting given the compelling subject matter of a drug epidemic.

Ultimately, beyond the two-dimensionality of the characters and the believability of the plot, the film is a nice enough pit stop for science fiction/thriller fans. While it doesn’t succeed wholly in making us forget the trivialities of time travel science, Benson and Moorhead seem to say that Synchronic need not be synchronous with reality. After all, momentary escape should do.

Vince_review


So did you see SYNCHRONIC? Let us know what you think!