FlixChatter Review: REMINISCENCE (2021)

Sometimes a film seems to have ALL the right ingredients, great cast, intriguing premise, big production budget and a filmmaker with bonafide cred (albeit in big-budget TV series), but even all that doesn’t guarantee a film’s quality.

Lisa Joy, one of the creators of Westworld, has fused multiple genres before with the hit HBO show she co-created with her husband Jonathan Nolan (who served as one of the producers here). Instead of a sci-fi western, Reminiscence is a sci-fi noir romance set in the near future where climate change has caused sea level to rise. The film is set in Miami, where the protagonist Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) lives is in a constant state of flood and the extreme heat has made most people to become nocturnal. The opening sequence is quite a visual feast, shot by Paul Cameron (who also worked on Westworld) though something about the narration (by Hugh Jackman, doing his best American accent) feels a tad melodramatic.


Nothing is more addictive than the past, Nick says… but then again, he and his business partner Emily Sanders who goes by ‘Watts’ (Thandiwe Newton) are in the business of reliving people’s memories via a certain memory-machine and voice prompts. It’s a pretty immersive procedure (literally), as the client has to be immersed in water in a tank, wearing a wired helmet. Business hasn’t been doing well for them actually, partly as Nick often gives pro-bono work to his war-vet friends. 


One fateful day, a beautiful woman named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) turns up at their shop asking for help finding her missing keys. It’s closing time but Nick was immediately smitten by her, so despite Watts’ reluctance, in she goes into the machine. As the subject relive their memory, the visuals of that memory is projected as a 3D hologram and visible to everyone operating the machine. Nick is suddenly obsessed with Mae’s memory as it shows her going into a night club and sings his favorite song. 


If only Nick heeded his own advice in the beginning about being careful of memories’ ‘voracious appetite’ as it could consume you if you’re not careful. Well that’s exactly what happened to him and the two embarks on a whirlwind romance, much to the chagrin of Watts. As it turns out, Nick has been reliving his romantic memory with Mae this whole time, as Mae has disappeared suddenly months ago and he still hasn’t been able to find her. Nick’s search for Mae ends up overlapping with a Miami’s prosecutor’s case involving a drug lord by the name of Saint Joe (Daniel Wu) which takes Nick to New Orleans to track him down. He also encounters one of Joe’s henchman, Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis) which leads to a pretty bizarre fight scene under water. By the third act, Joy still piles on one plot twist after another up until the end, which requires a great deal of patience from the viewers that I’m afraid is a bit too much to ask.


The film is less than 2-hours long but felt so much longer. I feel like perhaps the filmmaker is trying to go for slo-burn suspense, evoking the tone and vibe of some celebrated classic noirs. But it’s not a good sign when the intended slow build tension actually becomes dreary and tedious.

Joy’s talent in world building is pretty credible here however, the visuals of a dystopian world is stunning to look at, especially at night under the glare of neon lights which reminds me of Blade Runner. I especially love the way the city is reflected in water, which creates an atmospheric mood that’s perfect for noir. Besides the visuals, I really love the ensemble of actors put together here, even if they don’t all amount to perfection. 

Let me start with the good… Jackman and Ferguson are so charismatic they easily light up the screen, though Newton ends up being my favorite character here who manages to hide her feelings for Nick beneath that practical, no-nonsense persona. I do appreciate that the filmmaker resists the tired love triangle trope here. The two supporting cast, Chinese-American Daniel Wu and New Zealander Cliff Curtis are two brilliant actors of color I wish would get more prominent roles in Hollywood, so I’m always happy to see them in anything. Their characters are more than just one-dimensional baddies and both have some notable moments in the film. Angela Sarafyan on the other hand, was barely given anything to do in this film.


As for the two leads, I have to say that despite Jackman’s immense talents and commitment to the role, he seems devoid of charm and wit here. Yes he’s supposed to be a melancholic, forlorn romantic but he comes across as mopey and miserable. Ferguson is suitably seductive but I find it odd that she’s gone for a long period of time about halfway through. I’ve loved Jackman and Ferguson when they teamed up in The Greatest Showman, they do have a nice chemistry together but somehow their romantic interlude doesn’t quite sizzle here as I had hoped.


But the biggest problem for me is the unwieldy plot. It’s as if I were being dragged through a long, winding, twisty road with sharp corners, with a promise of something really exciting at the end, but once I get there it’s seriously underwhelming. I mentioned the pacing issue, but that is a tough element to master in a film, so I won’t hold it too much against her as this is her feature directorial debut. I also think the story itself is immensely intriguing, apparently the spec script of Reminiscence was on the Black List in 2013. But what’s good on paper doesn’t always translate well to screen even when all the right elements are seemingly in place.

I really want this one to be good so it’s disappointing that this turns out to be a largely forgettable affair. I’m not sure it even warrants a recommendation unless you’re a huge fan of the cast. That said, I always appreciate original stories that aren’t based on an original IP, especially from a female filmmaker. I still have faith in Lisa Joy’s talent as a writer/director and I hope she continues to hone her craft to come up with something better in the future.


Have you seen REMINISCENCE? I’d love to hear what you think!

Guest Review: The Promise (2017)


Directed By: Terry George
Written By: Terry George, Robin Swicord
Runtime: 2 hrs 13 minutes

It has taken more than ten years for Terry George to return from Hotel Rwanda with another sweeping historical narrative – again about genocide. The Promise is a sobering, beautiful disappointment. The film has a beautiful score and decent cinematography, but is hindered by two competing and uncomplimentary story-lines, flawed casting, and lackluster performances by usually gifted actors.
One thing that The Promise does right is its dogged determination – at least in the beginning – to accurately recreate the Ottoman Empire at its peak. The diversity of the Ottoman Empire is highlighted in the script and on the screen: crowded streets and classrooms alike brim with a rainbow of skin colors and a wide variety of clothing styles. This attention to detail falls to the wayside later on: extras become less and less Armenian with every passing scene, leaving me wondering if the casting department doubts an audience’s ability to see facial features through dirt.

That initial pursuit of realistic cultural immersion was also highlighted in moments like the one when our stars leave a stuffy party full of people in European clothing to hit up the nearby belly dancing club where they drink absinthe, sugar cube ritual and all. The effort to establish the Ottoman Empire as a progressive, inclusive, educated, and wealthy place is palpable.

Unfortunately, The Promise falls short constantly. The focus of the film is what can only be described as a love square: one man is betrothed to a woman but he falls in love with a different woman who is already romantically involved with another man, but she also falls in love with that first man. On its own, this might be a decent movie, but this love square has been placed in the foreground of a genocide. The result is a bad love story (because the backdrop is too dark) and a bad historical drama (because the love story is more carefully developed than the history).
The flashes of the Armenian Genocide that we get are stark: labor camps, cattle trains full of people, violent killings, riots, executions, people on the run and trying to hide. They deserve a telling that does not hide them behind a petty romantic squabble. This is a story that is more than 100 years old and is still illegal to tell in Turkey. 1.5 million people were killed in five years. That story can be told without a love story.

Casting was poor. Oscar Isaac is a great actor, but why a man who is nearly 40 years old is playing a medical student who is betrothed to be married in two years is completely beyond me. He also does not look particularly Armenian. Neither does Charlotte Le Bon, who plays his romantic interest. Angela Sarafyan who, is both a phenomenal actress and an Armenian was cast in a lesser role. I would have liked to see her as the leading actress and a younger, more Armenian man in the place of Isaac.

I get the feeling that this set was not especially actor friendly, which is evident in a lot of lackluster performances. Christian Bale’s character (which should not exist, but that’s a rant about American centrism that we can save for another day) had many a stale outburst. Marwan Kenzari gave a consistently mediocre performance. Charlotte Le Bon seemed out of place in the 20th Century.

It is unfortunate that The Promise fails in its execution because the film explores many prescient themes:

In what ways might people respond to an atrocity? What compromises of our own character might we make when put in a difficult situation? How do we know what side of a story is the true one, both journalistically and personally? What sacrifices might we make for the sake of our families and our friends?

I can only hope that we’ll get the opportunity to explore those questions in a different movie. With any luck, it will be about the Armenian Genocide, because clearly we still haven’t found it in ourselves to tell that story in the way it deserves to be told.

hollyHolly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz.  She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times.  You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century.

Have you seen ‘The Promise’? Well, what did you think?