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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

DVD Review: 95ers: Time Runners

I admit: I’m a sucker for films that play with time and reality. Maybe that’s because at times it seems our grasp on reality is tenuous at best. Perhaps it’s because those films explore those strange areas of possibility and probability where we can fix mistakes and have second chances. Or destroy humanity. It’s all rather appealing.

The newest time-bending film, 95ers: Time Runners, tells the story of Sally Biggs, an FBI agent who has the ability to travel backwards slightly in time, which enables her to correct mistakes and become an expert marksman and so on. It is an enjoyable, interesting and imaginative film, and features a decent performance by Alesandra Durham as Sally.

The opening scene has a dreamlike quality to it. A man has died, and his daughter looks out the window at snow falling. After a moment, the snow stops, freezes in place, and then begins to rise, as the young girl continues to look out. And then the opening title comes on. It’s a nice, simple, but intriguing opening, with no dialogue.

And then we’re in the future, where a battle is taking place. The Earth seems under siege. Meanwhile, a mission is being discussed, with a target in the date December 19, 2003. So then we go to that time and meet Horatio Biggs (Joel Bishop), a man who is keeping a diary and is a bit full of himself, though possibly with good reason. Congress, based partly on his recommendation, has set aside a lot of money for an important project. On this date, he falls in love with Sally, who is part of a Christmas carol group that he sees through the window of the cafĂ©.

The film shows us the relationship growing between Horatio and Sally. There is some narration from Horatio, and it is a bit annoying, with lines like “I find it very charming that Sally has convinced herself that she’s in control of our relationship.” His narration tells us it’s now Christmas Eve, 2004, and he’s going to propose. The narration is odd, because we then go to the future and get the impression that those people have been watching everything we’ve been watching. So did they hear the narration as well? (The director answers my question in the commentary track: the narration is the future computer reading the diary into the navigator’s mind.) These people in the future are trying to get a lock, first on Horatio, then on Sally. We don’t yet know their intentions, but we know it has something to do with the ongoing war.

Throughout the film, we stick mostly with Sally, who in the present time is pregnant with Horatio’s son. She is obsessed with collecting information on strange phenomena, and notices that much of it occurred on March 17, the day Horatio died (though his body was never found). The present, as the past, is just before Christmas (and there is a rehearsal for A Christmas Carol, another story which of course takes place in three times).

The film slowly lets us in on Sally’s special ability. There is a scene of Sally at work, where she has three chances to guess a password. The first time we see this scene, she guesses it on the third try. We then later see that she guessed incorrectly, then moved back slightly in time until she got it right. And we learn that is how she has accomplished several remarkable things.

At one point, Sally is summoned to the office of a new boss at the bureau, Hamilcar Grandon (Terence Goodman), who begins asking her some unusual questions. The scene is at first shown from one side of the two characters, but when Sally goes back a moment and corrects something, we suddenly switch to the other side. It’s a nice way of showing the different timelines. Then when another change occurs, we go back to the other side. This is one of the few times a film can legitimately cross the line. This movie has a lot of nice touches like that.

Even more interesting is the scene where Sally actually expresses regret about having met Horatio and having gotten pregnant. Their relationship wasn’t as romantic and loving as we first saw. It’s interesting, because this scene is about her choices – and a movie about time travel is all about choices. Later Hamilcar says to her: “Life is about making choices. About making better and better choices.”

Sally begins seeing Horatio’s ghost, and almost interacting with this apparition. And she finds his diaries, which allow for more narration from Horatio. The diaries also shed a lot more light on the changing nature of their marriage, shedding light for both the audience and for Sally, which is interesting. “Could it be that I’m married to a living specimen of the things I’m theorizing about in my work?” Horatio asks in one diary.

I got completely caught up in this film, in both its plot and its characters. Are there some problems? Of course. Some things are brought up, but not explored, such as the call from Sally’s doctor that her baby might have cystic fibrosis. And there is the larger unanswered issue regarding what exactly the war in the future is about, and who precisely are the combatants. There are times when we lose sight of the whole relation to the war. And as the pace accelerates toward the end of the film, the actual logistics of the time travel seem a bit muddled and confusing. But by then we’re so caught up in what Sally is doing that it doesn’t seem that big an issue. Also, they’ve clearly left themselves open for a possible sequel.

Be sure and watch the end credit sequence, because there is a bit more of the movie there. The title, by the way, comes from the highway, I-95, which has some significance in the future world (as well as the present time).

Bonus Features

The DVD includes a commentary track by director Thomas Gomez Durham and star Alesandra Durham. Thomas says that the project started thirteen years ago when he and his brother James started creating the story. Because this project is so important to them, and because they put so much time and energy into it, Thomas and Alesandra speak with great affection and joy, and have lots of wonderful anecdotes to tell. For example, they couldn’t afford a stunt guy, so it’s the director that gets hit in the head with the guitar at the beginning. Alesandra was actually pregnant at the time of some of the shooting. This film was really a family affair, with various members of the Durham extended family making contributions. (And one of their kids interrupts the recording of the commentary track to ask for a password, which they give him. And then later two of the kids are invited in to talk briefly about the film. One of them says the film is confusing.) Both Thomas and Alesandra also clearly enjoy dropping hints regarding the larger story that has been created for this universe.

There are also five deleted and extended scenes, complete with introductions explaining how they fit into the story. One of these scenes takes place after Sally has seen the Horatio apparition on a ladder outside their home. The next morning, Horatio’s sister holds up a sweater that Sally had been knitting as a gift for Horatio, but hadn’t completed, and she realizes that the apparition she saw was wearing the completed sweater. In the introduction to the extended chess scene, Thomas Gomez Durham talks about how there are sequels and books planned. (By the way, Kennings, Horatio’s chess opponent, is supposed to be an incredibly intelligent man, but he misuses the word “comprise” – he says, “will be comprised of,” when he should have said “will be composed of.” It’s a common, but annoying mistake. And that bit is in the film, not just in the extended scene.)

The DVD also contains the film’s trailer.

95ers: Time Runners was written and directed by Thomas Gomez Durham, who also was a co-editor, producer, visual effects supervisor, lead digital effects artist, and compositor among other things. Alesandra Durham, who plays Sally, is the other co-editor, and also props assistant, set decorator and one of the wardrobe people. So clearly this film is a labor of love, which makes me appreciate it even more.  The DVD is scheduled to be released on April 15, 2014 through Inception Media Group.

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