Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Two Reviews: Reminiscence: The Beginning; Memory Lane

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

I am putting both these reviews together because they both deal with the distortion of time in various forms. The trailers for both films are at the bottom of the blog.

Reminiscence: The Beginning
Written cinematography, music, makeup and effects, and directed by Akcay Karaazmak
SGL Entertainment
107 minutes, 2014 / 2015

It’s nice to see a new twist on the whole Based on the True Story framework, as the opening of this arthouse style film states that it is “Based on true physics events and black hole theories.” Starting off with a Slovakian couple on their way to set up camp on a stone beach in Cesme, on the west coast of Turkey, this indie comes from that country, though the dialog is in English.

Miska (Michaela Rexova) seems to be some kind of theoretical physicist who studies other dimensions, and her companion (husband? boyfriend?), Akcay (played by the director, pronounced Ak-chai), start having strange experiences. They keep running into each other, but it appears not to be the same person, as if there were more than one of each of them. Plus, time occasionally stops, or goes backwards, or they see strange people – referred in the credits as The Others – such as a mysterious version of Akcay’s mom (Yasar Karaazmak, who I am assuming is the director’s real mother).

All this is happening while the same musical theme plays throughout most of the film, with strikingly sharp piano chords; the director is also a musician. With quick editing, little dialog (the most commonly used words are “darling” and “baby”) that tends to be lower than the soundtrack and arty shots, sometimes I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. Ironically and probably purposefully, it’s hard to follow a linear storyline with people popping in and out with regular occurrence.

It seems not just that “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time,” but here it’s rather unstuck in dimension as well. One minute someone/-thing is lifting a rock to crush a head, the next, with head intact, the person is sitting on a beach. Another person is half face-half skull (really nice effect, by the way), but the explanation? Well…

The visuals are stunning and beautiful. The natural rocks and beach of Cesme become a character unto themselves, as the camera tends to look like selfie-style angles with either long shots or very close-ups of people accompanied by the images being shaky. While it tends to be way more artsy than (in my opinion) needs to be, i.e., it feels more like showing off than anything else, I will also add there are moments that are creepy as all hell, but would be more so if I understood what I was looking at. I found the best way for me to address it was to take it scene by scene, rather than a whole zeitgeist.

At times, it seems like it’s the same people, but the consciousness of our two protagonists jump from dimension to dimension in sharp jump cuts, which of course doesn’t explain the malevolence or body distortions (scars, whited out eyes, missing eyes, and the like). Is it a dream? A premonition? Hell? I’m not sure, but I will say that “World are colliding, Jerry; world are colliding!”

There is also a meta-story happening as we watch Akcay observing himself on the video playback on his camera. He kind of figures out what is happening, even if it remains somewhat unclear to the viewer (well, this viewer anyway). I’m also glad that I saw this on a small screen, because if I saw it at a theater, I can imagine it inducing the same kind of motion sickness inspired by the likes of Cloverfield (2008).

The effects and make-up are really well done, both digitally and appliance, giving some parts an effectively creepy overlay, even with the jumpy edits. Also, some of the scenarios, especially those in a not-so vacant house are especially unnerving.

Included extras are two trailers for this film and something called a “Full Motion Menu,” but I’m not sure what that is (perhaps an Easter egg, something I’ve always been miserable at finding?). My one wish would be for captions.

Memory Lane
Directed by Shawn Holmes
553AM Creative Group / Wild Eye Releasing
71 minutes, 2012 / 2015

Poor Nick Boxer (as in fighter; Michael Guy Allen) is a returning war veteran with a hard case of PTSD, as do so many others (thank you George W. Bush for spiritually raping a generation by putting them into an unnecessary war to feed your daddy and Dickie’s wallets, and you sit around and paint; but I digress…). As we meet Nick and his sister Hannah (unconventional cutie Anna Szyszkiewicz), we are only given hints early on as to why the stress for this particular GI. What does the snail-mail letter he receives mean? What does a finger on a tube mean? Relax; it’s all in the first 3 minutes so I’m not giving away anything.

Nick needs to find a way to get past the psychological pain, and his way is certainly unorthodox: it involves a bathtub and a plugged in radio. There is actually is a high level of suicide among returning GIs after the things they have needed to do, and the sights before them. It is not an easy life coming back traumatized. But what is the cause? Ahhh, in there waits Memory Lane.

Through a series of sometimes disjointed events, he meets Kayla M. (Meg Barrick, who would soon go on to be a regular in the Cinemax series, “The Girl’s Guide to Depravity,” with the name change of Meg Braden) who is (possibly) about to jump off a bridge. Nick is hard to resist with his Ryan Reynolds vibe, and Kayla is trouble(d), sexy and a touch dangerous, making her irresistible as well.

After a brief (?) relationship, he buys her a house (from what money, I wonder) and then a ring, flashing back to an earlier subtle reference. As he brings it to her, he finds her deceased in their bathtub. He freaks out, of course, and through a further series of fragmented events, finds that if he electrocutes himself and has his two best buds (Julian Curi and Zac Snyder) bring him back through a second shock, he can retrace some of his steps and see things he hadn’t noticed the first time, which leads him to believe she was done in by another than herself.

Well, you can find most of that out from reading the box, IMDB, or even Wikipedia, so I’m not giving anything away, I promise. This is all in the first 10-15 minutes of expository, so the story really starts to take off from this moment.

What Nick is doing is obviously dangerous, but his two loyal pals stand by him as he is shocked to and from what they call Memory Lane, break into Hannah’s veterinary (he’s a vet and she’s a vet; coincidence?) lab for equipment, and other acts that could put them all in jail. After all, the dudes are literally killing their friend on purpose; think the police are really going to say, “Oh, it’s okay, you were just helping yer bud talk to his dead girlfriend”?

Self-considered more sci-fi than horror, this was shot for a reported $300 (mostly spent on food) in Wheeling, WV and across in Ohio, the film definitely has a good look to it, with muted colors to represent the moodiness and angst. Shot on a Cannon T2i and edited on a MacBook Pro, director Shawn Holmes makes the most of what he has, such as talented acting roommates and friends who were willing to devote their time and efforts into a project of which they could definitely be proud. It’s no surprise it’s played at a number of festival, and even won some prizes (including Best Director).

Honestly, I watched the film three times, and I recommend that as well for the following reasons: the first time through, I had a bit of trouble following the story here and there, such as, how did he know she was murdered by the events he saw? And how did he come to know who the murderer was? Perhaps I’m thick, but I seemed to have missed these imperative pieces of information. Because of questions and what felt like some holes in the story, I found myself getting a tad antsy.

The story and editing jumps a bit here and there, the latter being on purpose for a reason that I came to understand through the second sit-through. The rerun was with the director’s commentary turned on; Holmes does it solo (thank you) and manages to do a magnificent job of it. He tells anecdotes, motives, and explains some things about the plotline that I totally did not get the first time through. It cleared up a lot for me, to the point where it made me happy (and no longer antsy).

With this knowledge in hand, I sat through it again, and a lot of pieces fell into place that I had missed the first time (e.g., the ring I mentioned earlier). The third time was actually more enjoyable than the first, even with the same computer program created music droning through the whole film.

What we learn through it all it that by whatever means necessary (realistically; I would not recommend through self-electro-death therapy), it’s important to face what you have done, even if it’s hard (such as Hawkeye did with the Vietnamese baby on the bus during the last episode of M*A*S*H).

Lots of extras abound, including the fact-filled commentary track. There is a take-it-or-leave-it “Deleted Scenes,” “Memory Lane Short Films” that is a series of kind of “Making Ofs,” “Promotional Videos,” and a couple of interesting “Screen Tests.” Being a Wild Eye Releasing product, there’s also a few fun trailers of their other releases.

The film has been compared to Pi and a couple of others that play with some aspect of time, but this is actually a nice, mostly original piece that is well-written as a premise (even with some problem areas). The cast is suburb, especially Allen and Curi, and I can see a possible future for much of the top of the crew, such as the director and co-writer Hari Sathappan, though this is his only IMDB credit so far.


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