2015 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Capone reviews Jacob Gentry's SYNCHRONICITY, 100 YEN LOVE, and OBSERVANCE!!!
Published at: July 24, 2015, 10 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Montreal here, once again covering a few days in the life of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. Today marks Day 2 of 5, and if I’m able to keep up this pace of seeing film and immediately writing them up (no promises), there should be a lot of titles for you to keep an eye out for in the coming months. Quite a variety yesterday, so let’s dive in…
Of all the sub-genres in science fiction, the toughest to get right (in my estimation) are time-travel films. But when a film gets it right, I fall deeply in love with it. In more recent years, I look to works like PRIMER, TIMECRIMES, and LOOPER as really fun time travel experiences that work because they are trying something unique, within a familiar mold. Most recently, PREDESTINATION absolutely floored me, with its true crime elements mixed with themes of sexual identity. Now let’s add to the list SYNCHRONICITY, from writer-director Jacob Gentry, who returns to feature filmmaking (after spending some time working in television) after his ambitious previous work THE SIGNAL.
Right off the bat, I’m going to suggest to watch SYNCHRONICITY at least twice, not because the first time is confusing, but because you can tell almost immediately that this is a film that will resonate a bit more with each viewing. I’ll take a crack at giving you the introductory plot. In one of the nerdiest time-travel films since PRIMER, the story begins with three scientists led by Jim Beale (Chard McKnight, also from THE SIGNAL) along with Chuck (AJ Bowen from YOU’RE NEXT, THE SACRAMENT, and, of course, THE SIGNAL) and Matty (Scott Poythress), about to run their first test on a machine that will open up a wormhole that will allow for the purposes of time travel. The plan isn’t to jump back or forward in time, but to send something through the hole to themselves in the past, something easily recognizable as a message from them. They bring in their primary financier, Klaus Meisner (the great Michael Ironside, in the first of two films I saw him in at Fantasia), to show him the fruits of their labor and his money.
Sadly, the first test seems to be a failure, but nothing could be further from the truth as footage of the experiment reveals two things—a blurry figure can be seen at the heart of the time machine and a rare Dahlia flower has been apparently sent from a few days in the future. Is this the sign they were looking for? As Jim runs after Meisner to inform him the experiment worked, he runs into Abby (Brianne Davis), whom Jim at first believes might have been the figure he saw running from the machine. When he realizes she probably wasn’t, he immediately finds himself attracted to her and she seems receptive, which complicated things since she also happens to be Meisner’s mistress, but she’s also a key part of this story and her knowing ways about science and time travel and life in general are important to the entire story.
With the pretzel-like structure, one of the characters goes back in time and revisits key moments in the story with fresh eyes and minor alterations that make it as much a puzzle as a narrative. And, as if the time-travel story weren’t complex enough, Gentry includes a love story that is absolutely vital to the primary tale being told, but you may not realize just how much until the very end. I assume that the film is set in the future, but even that feels deliberately nebulous, with the film’s old-school vibe (including a fantastic synth score by Ben Lovett and lush cinematography by Eric Maddison) combined with a cityscape that feel as if we’re looking at the future through 1980s eyes (think BLADE RUNNER with less rain).
McKnight is the perfect combination of hero scientist and lovesick patsy. I’ve always gotten a vaguely Guy Pearce groove from him as an actor, nevermore so than in SYNCHRONICITY, and that’s absolutely a compliment. He wears many faces here, each of them meant to be distinct yet similar. Some may complain that the film wears its influences a little too loudly on its very long sleeve, but it’s for those very reasons that I adore it. It’s more about capturing an atmosphere than copying a classic. The end of the film is spectacular and something I didn’t see coming, and the questions it brings up about the time-spec continuum are going to haunt me for quite some time. SYNCHRONICITY has heart and humor to counter its periods of despair and angst, and it all blends together with touch of grace and ambition that science fiction lovers are going to devour.
100 YEN LOVE
This one threw me in the best possible way, because you never quite know where its headed. From director Masaharu Take (MONGOLIAN BASEBALL) comes the tale of Ichiko (the remarkable Sakura Ando, best known in the US for LOVE EXPOSURE), a slovenly, 30-something Japanese women who lives with her parents above their bento-box shop, which has just become more crowded now that her sister has divorced and is living there as well with her young son. Ichiko plays video games all day, refused to really contribute to the shop, and before long the sisters have a knock-down, drag-out fight, after which Ichiko moves out, with no real prospects or idea of how to fend for herself in the world.
At about the same time she finds a low-wage job at a local convenience store, she also becomes slightly obsessed with a man that shops there often (he only buys bananas, thus earning him the highly original name of Banana Man), who she has seen at the local boxing gym and is more than a little attracted to. With no social or practical skills and hair that typically hangs in her face, Ichiko has a tough time relating to other human beings, let alone one she’s interested in. Lucky for her, Banana Man (real name Yuuji) is also something of a misfit, and the two go on one of the most uncomfortable dates in recorded history, which doesn’t stop him from moving in with her very soon after.
At this point, I thought 100 YEN LOVE was going to be about Ichiko coming out of her shell and maturing as she meets more people both at work and in her personal life, but after a traumatic encounter with a co-worker (which is handled so inappropriately by the film, I was slightly shocked), which inadvertently leads to her boyfriend breaking up with her, she begins to take interest in boxing as well—less in a self-defensive way, and more as a means of discipline and centering in her life. The transformation is radical and almost unreal as Ichiko trains with the hopes of getting a shot at fighting in a tournament.
By the time she steps into that ring, you almost don’t recognize her as the same actor from the first scenes of the film—both her physical appearance and her total demeanor are so radically altered. By the end, 100 YEN LOVE resembles GIRLFIGHT more than anything else, and it’s the final of many welcome surprises the film offers. I’m not exactly sure what the film is doing at a genre festival, but I’ll take a great movie anywhere I can. And the final boxing match is pure devastation and triumph, all in one brutal, bloody expression. This is a fantastic movie that blurs the lines between winning, losing and growing into the person you were meant to be.
Here’s a great example of a relatively new director who has a bunch of great ideas and a rock-solid visual sense, but can’t quite make it gel into a narrative that holds together. From Australian director Joseph Sims-Dennett (BAD BEHAVIOR) comes OBSERVANCE, featuring an exceedingly cool set up. Following the death of his son and the resulting destruction of his marriage (both of which have drained him financially, as well as emotionally), private investigator Parker (Lindsay Farris) is forced to take a job for a great deal of money but very little information on the client. Working through an intermediary, Parker is asked to do one simple thing: spy on a woman (Stephanie King) in her apartment building from an abandoned unit across the street. Finding the assignment slightly tedious, Parker begins to dig into the backgrounds of anyone who has contact with her, which he is immediately told not to do, but his boredom gets the best of him, and he investigates the woman’s husband (Brendan Cowell) as well, assuming he might be the client.
Not only do a series of strong things begin to happen in the wife’s apartment, but even stranger things start to occur in Parker’s stripped down, dilapidated space as well, which has just enough dark corners and creaky floors to make us believe there might be something supernatural going on the film, in addition to the inherent tension of surveying someone. Part of his contract is that he’s not allowed to leave his surrounding, except to plant bugs in the woman’s apartment when given the chance. And before long, Parker starts to hear things, see things, have terrible dreams, and even gets sick, which makes his paranoia and fever dreams all the more vivid. Director Sims-Dennett always leaves open the possibility that Parker is imagining all of the terrible moments he’s experiencing—some of which are too messed up to even talk about.
Before long, Parker begins to suspect that the true point of this stakeout is to somehow sacrifice him in the name of some bigger evil or maybe a cult or voodoo or something less tangible. However you interpret the goings on in OBSERVANCE, something ain’t right. I’ve been at this movie-watching thing long enough that I don’t need every movie to spell out for me what everything bit of strangeness means (in fact, I wish films did less of that these days), but at a certain point watching Sims-Dennett’s work, it becomes clear that the film is a clear case of style over substance.
That’s not to say that OBSERVANCE doesn’t know exactly what it is, and if it does, it doesn’t convey that clearly to its audience. The main performances are terrific, the cinematography is top notch, and the director’s hand is strong and sure. But his script (which he co-wrote with Josh Zammit) needs another pass to get rid of the weird for weirdness’s sake moments. It’s actually a really close call for me on this one, and I’m curious what the director is going to do next. But like the lead character’s sanity, OBSERVANCE falls apart just when it gets interesting.