Tag Archives: Time Travel

CAPSULE: COSMIC DISCO DETECTIVE RENE (2023)

AKA Cosmic Disco Detective Rene: The Mystery of the Immortal Time Travelers; Cosmic Disco Detective Rene: The Secret Society for Slow Romance 2

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Cosmic Disco Detective Rene can be rented on Vimeo until 9/14.

DIRECTED BY: Sujewa Ekanayake

FEATURING: Sujewa Ekanayake, Alia Lorae, Natalie Osborne, Genoveva Rossi

PLOT: Cosmic Disco Detective Rene is hired to investigate the light bridges cutting through the Brooklyn skyline while his lady friend Allyson considers various potential film projects.

Still from Cosmic Disco Detective Rene: The Mystery of the Immortal Time Travelers (2023)

COMMENTS: Sujewa Ekanayake’s film tackles three topics simultaneously:

  • The current state and future prospects of independent and underground cinema, particularly in the context of New York City
  • Cosmic Detective work, focusing on a case involving immortal time travelers
  • Allyson’s butt, which is “looking really good right now.”

The particulars of the final item I will hold off on for the time being to allow more thorough discussion of the first two items which are the primary focus of Cosmic Disco Detective Rene (though considering the tone of this film, it would not surprise me if Ekanayake & Co. opted for a further analysis of the third topic). Join me now as I attempt the inadvisable and review the case results from the titular Cosmic Detective.

Ekanayake hangs his cinematic musings on a delightfully flimsy pretext: a government agent asks that he determine the motives of “immortal time travelers” who are passing through contemporary Brooklyn, hopefully so as to stave off the possibility of the US government sanctioning a nuclear attack on the “light bridges” used by these entities. That’s enough plot. Possibly, even, enough review. There are two disarming sequences in Cosmic Disco Detective Rene which make me question this exercise. First, I am presumably viewing this film through my “imperialist” lens, and as such, I will be bringing my own pre-existing biases and hang-ups to this process. (I will politely disagree with the accusation, and suggest I’d be happy to discuss the issue with the filmmaker.) This ties in with the second point: that each movie should be judged on its intentions.

Sujewa (if I may), that’s how I roll. While definitions of “entertainment” can, and should, vary, every film should divert the mind in some manner. This can be for motives as basic as simple amusement, or more ambitiously, to trigger entirely new chains of thought and reaction in the mind of the beholder. As Rene absorbs his surroundings, occasionally tuning in to the “Cosmic Disco” beneath it all—a simple process: place your left hand near your left ear, with that hand’s pointer and index fingers raised upwards—potential motives for the travelers emerge. (One of my favorites concerns dangerous future-bears.) Every now and again, socio-political asides spike the easy-breezy atmosphere, which prompted me to consider some of my notions. I have no doubt that is Ekanayake’s intention.

Cosmic Disco Detective Rene is akin to a train ride of semi-focused discussion while watching dozens of potential plot-lines and stories passing by the window. I give nothing away when I tell you that Rene solves the case; New York City is not leveled by nuclear weapons. And while that’s partially the point—otherwise this movie would not have its (primary) title—the real Cosmic Disco detective work is the ideas triggered whilst traveling along this nonsensical plot structure. If you want a linear narrative, think twice before popping this on-screen; but if you want some affably catalyzed food for thought about storytelling, breaking through preconceptions, and the nature of cinema—as well as plenty of shots of Allyson’s butt—then you should consider tapping into the Cosmic Disco and giving this film a look.

See also our Pod 366 interview with the director.

Addendum: audio review for film enthusiasts who prefer audio reviews.

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: TODD TARANTULA (2023)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Ansel Faraj

FEATURING: Ethan Walker, Kelly Erin Decker, Nathan Wilson, David Selby

PLOT: Todd Tarantula’s prized motorcycle is stolen; more disconcertingly, he keeps slipping through time.

Still from Todd Tarantula (2023)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Todd Tarantula renders L.A. in neon-sparked hues, a surreal effect heightened by the underlying grit of the smog-soaked city. The slippery narrative coursing beneath the death-candy visuals touches on ancient Pueblo lore, modern ennui, technological immortality, and a pleasing finish that is fairly rare in our corner of cinema. Also, there’s a skull-headlight time-travel motorbike.

COMMENTS:

I can’t tell if this is blood or snot! Can somebody help?

The scene is set with efficiency, because for Ansel Faraj, time is of the essence. This pressing speed is somewhat ironic when one considers that the protagonist, ne’er-do-well business scion Todd Tarantula, has time on his side. Well, more accurately, he has time at his disposal. This stubbled James Dean stand-in has his share of troubles—deceased mother, estranged father, dead-end life—but  at least hehas a bitchin’ bike: his treasured means of escape from the demons that pursue him. But over the course of an evening, he loses that, and considerably more.

Tell me one—just one dream—that’s all I ask.

Rotoscoping is a wondrous technique, creating what is possibly the uncanniest of valleys. Grafting animation on to filmed reality anchors us in form and flow, while allowing unfettered tinkering. Faraj’s peripheral tinkering is limited, for the most part, to a glorious color skew. Murky nights shift from green to black. Dazzling sun-lit cityscapes become a Technicolor kaleidoscope. Negative space morphs into clingy radiance. When Todd finally encounters his father, the wire-and-bandage-wrapped patriarch appears as a tethered angel amidst his array of hospital machines and plastic draping. During a car ride with Lucifer (a business rival of his father), the power of animation emphasizes Todd’s claustrophobia and draws the eye to the old gentleman’s skull-topped cane, hinting at the unspoken cost of the business deal playing at the tip of Lucifer’s tongue.

News of death travels fast; dare I say, ‘I’m sorry’?

Ansel Faraj’s film is not perfect. The performances are inconsistent, and the narrative thread sometimes veers too far from the main stitching. However, he has an interesting story to tell here, and it is told entertainingly, with many clever bursts. When he learns of his father’s demise, and the deceased’s disrupted attempt to achieve digital immortality, Todd is idling at the La Brea Tarpits—site of others who have failed to achieve a favorable form of perpetuity.

I don’t know what’s real any more, and I’m really fucking tired of it.

As events unfold (and, in some cases, re-fold), Todd Tarantula slows its pace, drawing everything together at the end for a finish that some will consider a touch too trite. I, on the other hand, was pleased, and relieved to see something pleasant and astounding befall this troubled bohemian nomad. Todd Tarantula sears the eyes, bends the mind, and has the good manners to elicit a satisfied grin.

Todd Tarantula is currently streaming free on Tubi.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The search for his missing motorcycle takes Todd on a journey into the darkest and weirdest byways of Los Angeles… Todd Tarantula is like the lovechild of an unholy union between an urban dungeons and dragons quest and a ‘50s teen angst movie. To bless the union, Faraj and company digitally rotoscoped the footage in post production to make the colors, characters and scenery pop like a cross between a live-action graphic novel and an acid trip.”—Brian Schuck, Films From Beyond (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE LONG WALK (2019)

Bor Mi Vanh Chark

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Mattie Do

FEATURING: Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy, Por Silatsa, Noutnapha Soydara, Vilouna Phetmany, Chanthamone Inoudome

PLOT: In the remote Laotian countryside, an old hermit and a young boy are united by the fact that only they can see the mute woman wandering the long dusty road to the nearest village.

Still from The Long Walk (2019)

COMMENTS: We recommend not reading the official synopsis for The Long Walk posted on the IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, or the distributor’s own website, as it seems to carelessly give away major plot points. Perhaps the promoters thought there was no other way to get American viewers interested in a Laotian movie, most of which takes place on a barren dirt road, than by giving away the main twist. Regardless, this is a movie you will likely enjoy more the less you know going in.

The movie opens on an older man (a haunted Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) stripping motorbike parts in the jungle, just off the path. He leaves an orange at a roadside shrine, then checks the time on his wrist—not on his wristwatch, on his actual flesh, in one of the few indications that this movie takes place in the future. Selling his scrap in town, he learns that the local noodle shop owner is sick and demented and on her last legs. He lives alone in an elevated hut where he vapes, brews strange teas, and ritualistically tends items in a cabinet shrine, including a female figurine. The locals believe he can talk to the spirits of the dead.

The action then shifts to follow a young boy living on a farm. He prefers exploring the jungle to hoeing the fields; his mildly abusive father thinks he’s lazy and good for nothing, but he’s devoted to his mother, who sells the family’s vegetables at a roadside stand. The family is barely getting by, the mother is ill, and there is no money for medicine. The boy makes a macabre discovery in the woods, and soon after he begins seeing a pretty but mute woman standing in the road. The old hermit from the previous paragraph sees her, too; and soon she brings them together, as the nature of the old man’s shamanic practice comes clear.

The Long Walk is set in a world where government-issued microchips coexist with ghosts; a world like our own but with a touch of sci-fi shamanism. The movie slips into its liminal spaces—life and afterlife, past and present, and through genres like drama and horror—gracefully, but also sometimes perplexingly. As with all time travel tales, it traffics in paradox; the movie’s morality, too, is far from black and white. It takes some patience to tease out basic plot elements, but clues and new developments are laid out at regular enough intervals that my attention rarely wandered off the dusty path that winds its way through the decades. The third act takes a potentially controversial turn towards horror; it provides a resolution to a subplot about the daughter of the noodle shop owner, which was otherwise a welcome digression from the main plotline, but has the disadvantage of forcing our protagonist into a heel turn that feels a bit too arbitrary and severe. Still, this decision adds to the mystery and complexity of the story and feeds into its theme about the unpredictable effects of good intentions, as it leads us to an inflammatory ironic conclusion.

The background Buddhism, and the presence of the mundane and the mystical in the same frame, will put viewers in mind of Thailand’s , although Do’s work is a more plot-driven and less audaciously poetic. I found the ambiguously emotional payoff to be well worth the effort, but the impatient should beware: the title does not lie, it is indeed a long walk.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Ghost stories — and especially those aimed at art house audiences — might benefit from a little ambiguity and a certain poetic strangeness. But it’s a problem when the story becomes nearly impossible to follow for long stretches of time.”–Boyd van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter (festival screening)

CHANNEL 366: “UNDONE, SEASON 2” (2022)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , , Carlos Santos, Holley Fain

PLOT: Picking up where Season 1 left off, Alma continues to investigate the past, uncovering more family secrets as she travels through time.

Still from UNDONE, Season 2

COMMENTS: When we last saw Alma, she was sitting in front of an Aztec ruin in Mexico, waiting to see if her dead father was going to walk out of a cave. If he doesn’t emerge at dawn, it likely means she’s schizophrenic.

We can’t tell you if Jacob walks out of that cave, but we can say that in Season 2 Alma will go on more adventures through time, exploring other family secrets, and that this season forefronts a couple of characters—sister Becca and mother Camila—who played supporting roles in the previous series. We’ll also meet other members of the extended clan, both ancestors and newcomers, as Alma and Becca travel back further into the family’s past to uncover generational scandals and traumas.

Season 1 relied, to a large extent, on the ambiguity of whether Alma was going insane, hallucinating from a coma, or whether her dead father really was teaching her to harness the mystical powers hiding in her ancient Aztec blood in order to travel through time and create a new timeline where he survived his car crash. With that arc completed and that ambiguity no longer sustainable, it’s inevitable that some tension drains out of the series. Furthermore, Alma shares the spotlight this go-around, and the confused bursts of anger and sarcasm that made her character so endearing are greatly missed. (Here, she is too often relegated to playing the role of motivational speaker, trying to convince others to go along with her bold schemes.) Season 2 largely replaces that reality-or-insanity dynamic with a traditional mystery structure—with the twist that the investigation requires slippery, loosely defined time travel powers and confrontations with metaphors (an “unopenable” door is a key symbol). The demands of the narrative make a refocus necessary, but although Season 2 is less mysterious than the original, returning writers/creators Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg keep us invested as the saga takes a slight shift into melodrama and ancestral mystery. Returning animator/director Hisko Hulsing assures that the visuals keep up the high and distinctive standard set by Season 1, with the rotoscoped actors remaining oh-so-slightly uncanny even when washing dishes or plinking out a tune on the piano. And he conjures up more than a few trippy landscapes, with lots of fog-shrouded temporal voids and one impressive M.C. Escher inspired psychescape.

“Undone, Season 2” successfully solves its central problem of revisiting a scenario that, frankly, seemed perfectly whole in its original eight episode run. This story could easily have been refashioned into an independent project, but it is richer for continuing with the characters we’ve grown attached to (even if the most popular ones sometimes get shuffled to the background here). It’s not the revelation Season 1 was, but it does have more than enough magic, old and new, to make it worth a visit. It helps that the efficient eight episodes, barely exceeding 20 minutes each, make for a highly bingeable package. And fans need not fear: the second season’s ending leaves no doubt as to the creators’ intent to continue the story. The final episode is one long setup for a new plotline, one that has the bonus of returning star Rosa Salazar front and center.

“Undone,” Seasons 1 and 2, screen exclusively on Amazon Prime (Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“With some new help, this time around, the show’s metaphysical trips examine the festering wounds in Alma’s family tree as well as within Alma herself, doubling down on its surreal premise on a new non-linear journey that creates puzzle pieces of their personal histories.”–Kambole Campbell, IGN (contemporaneous)

 

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES (2021)

Droste no hate de bokura

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Junta Yamaguchi

FEATURING: Aki Asakura, Kazunori Tosa

PLOT: Kato receives a warning from his future self over the closed circuit TV link between his café and his apartment and things cascade—from innocent hijinks to run-ins with dangerous thugs—much more quickly than he would prefer.

COMMENTSBeyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a meditation on pre-determinism and with it, the concept of history as an immutable foundation for future events and actions. It’s a tightly scripted exercise in reiterative story-telling, exploring (among other things) the Droste Effect as it pertains to temporal progression and regression. With this film’s ironclad approach to time travel, Junta Yamaguchi creates a cinematic sleight-of-hand on par with Primer. Except this time, the story is told for laughs: in addition to everything else, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a rollicking, fun-time comedy.

The shenanigans begin simply enough, with Kato closing up his café and shuffling upstairs to his apartment. Entering his room, he picks up his guitar and begins searching for something. Suddenly he sees himself appear on the computer monitor connected to the CCTV feed from his café below. His future self—two minutes ahead, it is explained—tells him that his guitar pick is underneath the carpet. He finds the missing plectrum and heads back downstairs to fulfill his present-future self’s duty to his past self, and so the cycle begins.

Beyond is a sci-fi temporal sitcom, with a romantic interest (the barber’s daughter we first see, briefly, in the opening shot; which I will remark on in a future paragraph). It’s peopled by a bunch of affable twenty-somethings who are first confounded by the anomaly, then scheme about its possibilities (horse-racing outcomes, anyone?), and then are forced to plot out Kato’s survival when a pair of gangsters crash the time party. The entire thing is shot in four rooms and a stairwell, using an iPhone, so everything hinges on the script. The two-minute gap is adhered to with commendable strictness, and the whole thing is littered with spoof-level platitudes found in countless time-travel movies gone by. (“The future keeps going!”, one exclaims; then, lamenting their earlier escapades, “There’s gotta be a better use.”)

The “opening shot” I mentioned a few minutes ago was a bit of a misnomer, because not being content with just the time-travel constraint, Beyond also gives the impression of being shot in one take. Characters cart the linked monitors up and down stairways, then linger outside the view of the “time tunnel” when they square the screens to face one another, but there is never an obvious cut to the action.

The whole shebang is one uninterrupted hour, which is impressive on account of both the running camera trick and the filmmaker’s restraint; it never overstays its welcome. Fantasia’s earlier stylistic reboot One Cut of the Dead gave the zombie genre a much-needed shot in the arm; Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes has renewed my faith in erstwhile time-worn time-traveling.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a remarkable feat that in a film with this many brain-bending moments, the only part that really strains credulity is the length of the power cords of the two screens that drive the plot.” -Thomas O’Connor, Tilt (festival screening)