#NativeNerd movie reviews: 'Spontaneous,' 'Synchronic,' and 'The Queen's Gambit'

Vincent Schilling

‘Spontaneous’ is literally explosive satirical fun, ‘Synchronic’ was a sci-fi dive into time, and ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is a must-see series on Netflix

Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

Greetings Indian Country Today film review readers. I hope you have been holding up well as we go forward into November. Holy Moley, it’s November.

This has been a long week with the election day that just passed by and of course, we are welcoming a new president and vice president.

And as we are all well aware, in the midst of an ever-continuing pandemic, the movie world is changing. Regal Cinemas is facing multiple closures. The one near me is closing its doors, and AMC Theaters it appears isn’t far off. As I recently looked through my AMC Cinemas app, I see a plethora of discounts, $5 dollar movie specials and more. I hope they don’t close down.

I really want to support them as I am a huge movie enthusiast, but I am just not ready to go into the theater just yet. And looking at the series of closures, it appears audiences are not entirely ready to go back yet either.

So for the majority of this year, much like you, when I wanted to watch a film, I began scouring the streaming services I have, trying to make a decision.

To my appreciation, it appears that the National film studios are beginning to recognize the power of VOD (Video On Demand) and the importance of related movie critic reviews.

At first, I felt — as a movie reviewer — forgotten. I even shared it on a recent ICT program.

(See related: Native Nerd: It's been 'tough' for critics)

And finally, I am getting an increasing number of requests from major studios to review their films/screeners before the video-on-demand release. I want to say publicly how much I appreciate this. It is a nice validation and I appreciate the opportunity. Thanks this time around to Paramount and Well Go Entertainment. (I found Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” on my own.)

One small side note is that when you view a screener from a studio, oftentimes they put a watermark over the screen. Understandably it’s so that people can't record and pirate the film, which I totally understand. But one screener I received, the watermark was so massive I could barely watch it.

I understand you want to be cautious but can you be a little courteous to the reviewer? Okay, enough belly-aching.

So I have three great films this week, “Spontaneous,” “Synchronic” and the mini-series on Netflix, “The Queen's Gambit.”

A note about my #NativeNerd scoring system

When reviewing movies, I employ the decimal system to a tenth of a point. So instead of 7 stars, I might give a 7.4 out of ten. Some movies aren’t an eight but deserve a little more than a seven.

Spontaneous

8.8 out of 10

My quick quote: “This film has the potential to be the Heathers of 2020, with a little bit of Ferris Bueller thrown in. An explosively-fun film. Pun intended.”

Spontaneous

Synopsis: When students in their high school inexplicably start to explode, seniors Mara and Dylan struggle to survive in a world where each moment may be their last. As an unexpected romance blossoms between them, they soon discover that when tomorrow is no longer promised, they can finally start living for today.

When I first started watching this film, I didn’t know what to think. It began as the all-too-familiar stereotypical high school film, with bored students, boring teachers and more, all dealing with complicated relationships and an even more complex system of social inner workings young kids face in Everywhere Town, USA.

And then, a student blows up.

And not like a cartoon blowing up, where a victim explodes and when the smoke clears, birds are flying around their head. This was a true explosion — with the spraying of blood, intestines flying out onto the desks, and fragments of bone — going everywhere.

I wasn't certain where this was going. But I championed forward.

I started to enjoy the approach. The students and actors began to break the fourth wall and speak to the viewer.

True to reality, a huge percentage of underage high school students were smoking, drinking and doing drugs. It resonated with a scary truthfulness.

Rejected and ignored students struggled in the face of the privileged. The cheerleaders and football players turned their noses down at the nerds, or knocked their lunch trays onto the floor. Laughing and scoffing came from everywhere, adding more reality to the film.

And of course, students were continuing to spontaneously explode.

I have to give a tremendous shout out to the young actors who starred in the film. The best friends Mara and Tess, portrayed by Katherine Langford and Hayley Law, respectively, did a tremendous job, and I am appreciative of how well they handled their roles. Beautifully done. They were a joy to watch. Mara’s affectionate male friend Dylan, played by Charlie Plummer, was a shining light on the screen as well. Nice work.

So romances blossom, friendships struggle and teens wonder what the world has to offer in the face of horrifying circumstances. They collectively wonder, ‘who will be next?’

I wondered that too.

I realized as kids continued to blow up. How much different is this scenario than any other? Blowing up is just as much a fear-creator than anything else.

How many times in high school, did I feel as if I could just explode? Yes of course, not literally, but what does that matter? I needed answers to questions that I felt no one could answer.

I couldn’t go to my peers, lest I risk being ostracized, blamed, teased or ridiculed. I could not go to an adult, they would have never understood. So who was I supposed to go to? The pressures of being a young teenager are incredibly tough.

Throw into the mix that you are at the point in your life where you want to leave your parent’s house as soon as possible, which means you have to choose what you want to be in life, you have to get a job, which means you will have to get an apartment and pay bills, and also, get into college? The pressure never releases, you never get a break.

This unrelenting pressure that continues to build? Is it so far off, that we could suddenly someday just spontaneously explode?

The film resonated with me for several days and I thought back on it often. A testament to the great work by Aaron Starmer (story) and Brian Duffiled (screenplay.)

While I certainly recommend this film, I also welcome the thoughts of our readers. Let me know. My contact info is below, or you can comment below.

Available on VUDU or other platforms.

Synchronic

7.8 out of 10

My quick quote: “An interesting and new concept, but I would love to have seen the storyline become a bit more developed.”

Synchronic

Synopsis: When New Orleans paramedics and longtime best friends Steve and Dennis are called to a series of bizarre and gruesome accidents, they chalk it up to a mysterious new drug found at the scene. But after Dennis' oldest daughter disappears, Steve stumbles upon a terrifying truth about the supposed psychedelic that will challenge everything he knows about reality — and the flow of time itself.

“Synchronic” gets off to a good start, but I wish it could have finished just as strong.

I love Anthony Mackie for many reasons and certainly look forward to what he will be doing as the upcoming Captain America.

In “Synchronic” Mackie plays Steve Denube, a paramedic who continues to come across horrifying and gruesome accident scenes in which the victims not only have strange injuries, but questionable ways in which they died or were injured.

The premise of a new drug causing weird scenarios and realities is a concept that in my mind looked as if it could have gone absolutely wild.

But to me, after the introduction of the concept, it didn't get developed much further. It felt as if I had embarked on a journey to a strange and other-worldly carnival, except upon arriving, many of the rides were closed.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie, and I like Mackie — even if sometimes during this film, I think he struggled with the part of his role that could be a mean-spirited jerk.

It seems as if he really is a cool guy in life, and he might struggle when acting mean or disrespectful to someone—but there was more that could have been explored.

Tickets to “Synchronic” are now available. (Please be safe if ever going to a theater. Please social distance and always wear a mask.)

The Queen’s Gambit

9.8 out of 10

My quick quote: “Anya Taylor-Joy delivers an exceptional performance, portraying a young female pro-chess prodigy. One of the best series I have seen on Netflix”

Queens Gambit

Synopsis: Set during the Cold War era, orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon struggles with addiction in a quest to become the greatest chess player in the world.

I stumbled upon this mini-series on Netflix, noticing Anya Taylor-Joy was the starring actor in a film about a young orphan, who becomes a chess prodigy.

This series is incredible from start to finish. From the start, in the series directed by Scott Frank, Taylor-Joy delivers an incredible performance, which ranges from a young teenage girl struggling with life in an orphanage, who begins a journey of addiction, to a seasoned internationally renowned chess player navigating the international chess-playing circuit.

I thought of the days of playing chess with my father, and this film brought that same feeling of connectivity.

But it was more than that, you certainly don’t need to know the game of chess to enjoy this series, it is inclusive to everyone, and I imagine professional chess players would appreciate just as much as the inexperienced.

Taylor-Joy’s performance was flawless. I believed everything, felt nothing was contrived, and she led me successfully through the life of a young woman who struggles, excels, falters and fails, then finds her own rightful place in a world dominated so often by sexist males.

I also loved the performances of her supporting actors to include Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling and Moses Ingram. In fact, they were all super.

Prepare to be immersed in the world of an addict and a genius, a prodigy and a naive little girl, who collectively come together in unison as one person, seeking to dominate a male-dominated game and make a name and identity for herself.

I highly recommend this, now on Netflix.

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Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor of Indian Country Today who enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling. Email: vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com he is also the opinions’ editor, opinion@indincountrytoday.com.


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