The time-travelling hijinks of Safety Not Guaranteed and Timetrap

safety2Time-travel movies, eh? I’m always a sucker for this mini-genre of films but you’d think I’d know better: two time-travel movies in one night makes for a rather dizzying double-bill. First up, Safety Not Guaranteed, starring  Mark Duplass (of the great Paddleton) as Kenneth, a grocery worker whose classified ad looking for an assistant for time traveling into the past gets the attention of Jeff (Jake Johnson) a staff-writer of a magazine who sees the proposterous story as opportunity to look up an old high-school romance and takes two interns along for the scoop. This film is as light-hearted and quirky as its plot suggests, and while it perhaps doesn’t really work its nonetheless got a certain charm. Its success comes from the characters and performances- Mark Duplass is no surprise, but Jake Johnson certainly won me over as a brash sleazy-journo who doesn’t realise he’s having his own midlife crisis. As the film progresses, one begins to wonder if there might be some truth to Kenneth’s time-travelling claims and his fledgling relationship with intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) has a certain chemistry that adds a romcom appeal. Throw in a coming-of-age subplot for the second intern, Arnau (Karan Soni) and a few suspicious FBI agents who are more Men in Beige than MIB and yeah, its rather fun in a daft, easy-going sort of way.

timetrapLess fun is the far more seriously-intentioned (ironically, considering its strictly b-movie/exploitation title) Timetrap, in which a bunch of teens investigating the disappearance of their professor get lost in caves that are, er, unstuck in time. Its one of those movies whose high-concept intentions really isn’t helped by its strictly tv-movie cast playing beautiful young things who are too thick to see the blindingly obvious. I have to wonder what the casting-sessions were like: Andrew Wilson as Professor Hopper is a poor-man’s Aaron Eckhart and Brianne Howey as Jackie is obviously a young Anne Hathaway sub. To be fair, maybe it wasn’t intended but it looked so obvious to me that I was continuously distracted by musings of how casting is such a lost art.

Timetrap is one of those… well, lets be charitable, lets refer to it as a film-  Timetrap is one of those films that has a premise that is initially intiguing but which becomes increasingly preposterous as it goes on, and unfortunately the film just takes itself increasingly seriously as it does so, stumbling into farce before the end. Whilst avoiding spoilers, I would just like to point out how much I hate films depicting ‘average joes’ being totally nonplussed by events that would have everybody losing their minds, and this thing has people being cured of, er, certain death and then flying off to far-future Mars at the end. Its actually quite frustrating, because some sequences are done quite well, its just that as it goes on, the whole film just seems to absolutely lose its shit. I remember stifling at titter at the caveman sequence in Altered States back in the day, but there’s moments in this that are like, that sequence times ten. By the time Timetrap ends, you’re just thankful its over, whereas with how Safety Not Guaranteed ends, you feel you’d quite like to know what happens to the characters next, which is, like, the best way to feel at the end of a movie, yes?

Safety Not Guaranteed is currently streaming on Netflix, and if you’re feeling brave, so is Timetrap.

The Quiet Ones (2014)

q12016.76: The Quiet Ones (Film Four)

Its  another October horror film, and this one’s a horror for all the wrong reasons.

Its an odd one in so many ways. Partly it’s a period film, of demonic possession obviously inspired by The Exorcist, albeit with a more scientific bias akin to Altered States (I know, I know, at this point it actually sounds like it might be interesting), and its also one of those found-footage character POV films like Blair Witch Project and the early REC. films. Its a weird combo that doesn’t really work. It certainly doesn’t need any of that found-footage nonsense – the conceit of all those found-footage films is that they are based on camcorder footage or webcams etc, which is a hard sell set in the ‘seventies with a character lugging around film reels, projectors and a bloody big film camera. The whole point of that found-footage movie genre was that thanks to modern everyday technology they were somehow realistic/rational, setting it up in the 1970s is a bit of a stretch.

So the film is basically about a  young girl, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) who is either mentally ill or possessed, and is the subject of experiments by obsessed Oxford professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris chewing up the scenery like a storm) who rather than subscribe to paranormal explanations such as demonic possession, rather subscribes to it being a quantifiable mental or physical disorder that can be extracted and cured. Cue all sorts of mad scientist cliches as Coupland refuses to ‘see’ anything that doesn’t agree with his own hypothesis. Of course being a modern horror film there is no pretense of ambiguity here, which is a pity, as the central drama is interesting. A film about scientists arguing about what they believe/reason/see from differing perspectives while all sorts of strange shit is going on, a sort of horror-themed Altered States, would indeed be very interesting and possibly quite challenging had it stayed ambiguous and possibly even inconclusive to the end, but filmgoers don’t like ambiguity or having to come to their own conclusions. So instead, and this being, at its heart, very much a Hammer film, its fairly obvious to everyone but the characters in the bloody movie what is actually going on.

It doesn’t help that, on the whole, none of the characters are particularly interesting. There’s all sorts of varied relationship nonsense amongst the ensemble which adds nothing to the story other than padding out the running time. The period setting doesn’t in itself have any importance either, other than perhaps making the science basic enough to maintain the ‘mystery’ a little longer (we don’t have the internet or mobile phones to make life awkward for the screenwriters).

Which is really the confounding thing about it- why indeed set it in the ‘seventies (lots of period pop songs infect the soundtrack if only to enforce the period setting) and why bother with the found footage nonsense if it’s so technically awkward? You could tell this story in the present-day and still get away with it. Maybe its all a ruse to maintain a ‘based on a true story’ subterfuge to keep audiences hooked. I don’t know, but none of it really works. Ambiguity is lost and things become increasingly literal and obvious as the film progresses towards its non-climax. Well, I say non-climax; its loud and violent but it’s quite emphatically non-involving.

A rather sad stumbling block then for what was a promising Hammer revival.


A Fireside Chat: Ghost’s A-Z Part One

altered-states-1980A is for… ALTERED STATES. I remember being intrigued by ALTERED STATES way, way back, when it first came out and John Brosnan wrote a glowing review of the film in Starburst, comparing it to 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY, which was a comment that hit me square between the eyes. Now, Brosnan was a picky guy with his movies and if he liked a film then it was a film worth seeing. At the time his views could be annoying to me as his opinions didn’t always gel with mine, but hell, what did I know? I was a kid back then and a sucker for the marketing boys. Remembering Brosnan’s regular column in Starburst, I find I greatly miss Brosnans views and baiting of Trekkies and Star Wars fans. In hindsight, his was an independent voice,  a critic who held his own views irrespective of the marketing departments and mass opinion. He died several years ago. Turns out he was a depressive who drank too much (which killed him in the end, apparently), but I’m open to being corrected on that if anyone reading this knows better. I’d love to be reading his reviews of the films being made today, they would piss him off no end, I’m sure.

So anyway, he wrote great things of ALTERED STATES. It would be years until I eventually saw the film. I bought it on VHS, in the dim, very early days of the sell-through market- it may even have been an ex-rental copy. I remember not knowing what to make of it at the time. It was pretty strange and no doubt the film lost much of its impact on the small-screen, but I liked it. It seemed like a very ‘grown-up’ movie, and the acting was high quality, unlike most genre films. I recall it was one of those few films in which the scientists seemed to talk and act like ‘real’ scientists, you know, slightly off-kilter and other-worldly, in which the real-world seemed a distraction from their research.  I watched the film again on DVD a few years ago and found it still quite rewarding, albeit inevitably slightly dated.  Thinking about it now, and loathed as I am about remakes, I must admit that with today’s tech and done with IMAX  in mind, perhaps even (shudder) in 3D, a remake of ALTERED STATES could be quite extraordinary.

Blade_Runner_quad_movie_poster_lB is for… BLADE RUNNER. Well, of course it is. Thinking back about John Brosnan, reminds me of his review of BLADE RUNNER in Starburst- I remember the opening of that review well; “Blade Runner is a masterpiece, much to my surprise“. This was back in the days when the film was ill-received and proved a massive box-office failure. Unless you were around in 1982, you cannot understand how it was back then regards BLADE RUNNER. It was the very definition of cult. I used to read Brosnan’s  review over and over again. Man, I’d love to be able to buy Brosnan a drink for that review and chat about it (which considering how things turned out for him wouldn’t,  perhaps, be such a good idea, but the sentiment is there, anyway).

Funnily enough, in my office at work I’m now the oldest guy there and I’m surrounded by young turks who weren’t even born back in 1982 . Its a sobering experience, and I lent one of them a DVD copy of BLADE RUNNER (“part of my ‘education'” as he put it, teasing me). The film rather confused him as it turned out. Certainly to this generation BLADE RUNNER fails to have the impact it did back then.  My mate Andy lent a copy to one of his own younger friends awhile ago and she described the film as being “nice”, which is about as damning an assessment as I can imagine. Its like the world is slowly going mad.

close-encounters-of-the-third-kind-styleC is for… CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Which brings me to CE3K. At work the other day one of the lads was looking up travelling times online and Google Maps slipped over to a map of the USA, and I noticed the state of Wyoming there. “Devils Tower,” I commented, pointing at that place on the map. To which bemused puzzlement was the office response. What the hell was I going on about? “Lord of The Rings?” one of them asked. “Close Encounters,” I replied. Incredibly, even more puzzled frowns. Turns out none of them had even heard of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. Incredulous, I suspected they were winding me up, but it was true, none of them had seen the film, or even heard of it.  It was like I’d slipped into some alternate universe or an episode of The Twilight Zone. Now I finally realised I really am growing old.

I remember the impact of CE3K back when it came out, in those heady post-STAR WARS days. I guess Spielberg couldn’t believe his bad luck having his mate George steal his thunder, and one can only imagine a world where CE3K was released onto an unsuspecting world that hadn’t been wowed by STAR WARS several months before (I wonder at the impact of those Douglas Trumbull effects had audiences not seen the blue-screen wonders of ILM before). I remember the social impact of the film back then, how its five-note ‘tune’ that represented the conversation between us and the aliens permeated pop culture so. Its incredible to consider that there are people now that have never even heard of the film. Maybe pop-culture is all just fluff and nonsense. Being a movie buff, its natural to think some movies live forever but I guess even the greatest of films can have their fame and impact diluted by future generations of audiences and film-makers, but really, I’m living in a world wherein some people have never heard of CE3K, and that’s somehow an oddly disconcerting thought.