Reminiscence 4K UHD (2021)

rem1Lisa Joy’s tech-noir thriller Reminiscence is a film which, like a few this year, I unfortunately missed at the cinema, which annoyed me as it seemed right up my street – someone went and made an adult, intelligent sci-fi thriller and I didn’t get to see it, and like BR2049 it bombed spectacularly. So I was really looking forward to seeing it when it came to home video, and naturally I went the full 4K UHD route (with hindsight its a pleasant surprise it has turned up on the format at all), but it proved rather disappointing.  It turns out that, for all it does well -and it does indeed do some things very well- its badly flawed, unfortunately. It’s not bad, exactly- it just doesn’t tie together somehow, it doesn’t really work, overall, which is frustrating because some elements are very good indeed. Its a case of being clumsy where it really needed to soar, and perhaps being overly familiar.

So many films and tv shows one sees these days, if they aren’t actually remakes or reboots, they still often seem to be a combination of the ‘greatest hits’ of someone’s DVD collection. Maybe its the entertainment industry’s sincerest form of flattery, or a reminder that there really is nothing new under the sun.

Reminiscence is hitched upon the central conceit that an invention enables people to re-live some of their past experiences which can be visualised for others to see and record, and this also enables access to forgotten memories or the ability to vividly recall things otherwise only dimly remembered. The law enforcement agencies use this machine to interrogate suspects who can be prosecuted by the evidence their memories reveal – an inversion of the ‘future crime’ of Memory Report, then, but similarly projecting crimes for others to see and record for evidence, criminals being betrayed by their own memories or those of witnesses.   

The seductive aspect of reliving good memories, especially in the distinctly dystopian world which Reminiscence proposes, reminds one of another tech-noir thriller, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, and its device which enabled the recording of events for others to experience, itself similar to Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm of some years before. Some characters in Reminiscence are doomed to endlessly  return to and re-experience good times in just the same way as Ralph Fiennes’ Lenny in Strange Days, and indeed this is something mirrored by the ultimate fate of this film’s main character, Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), who can’t let go of his muse, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) any more than Lenny can shake off his obsession over his own lost love. So Reminiscence seems to come to us now third-hand, almost, rather than be anything actually new, ironically leaking reminiscences of other films-  I don’t really mind that if its done in some new and interesting way, but this is where the film slips up.  While there is some political subtext and a crime to solve, Lisa Joy treats that as secondary to its romance woven through the narrative, and its that which doesn’t entirely convince. Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson are very good actors but they just seem a little too ‘perfect’ to convince as the flawed, haunted characters that Joy wants them to be. There is a feeling that we are always watching beautiful people merely approximating what desperate, hungry and haunted characters might be like were they a little more, well, ordinary like the rest of us. Perhaps this is always true of Hollywood product. 

There is, to be sure, a really great film in here, somewhere. Considering recent world attention on Climate Change and rising sea levels, seeing a film portraying a possible nightmare scenario spun off of that -in this case a half-submerged Miami and days so hot that everyone sleeps in the day and spend the majority of their waking hours during the night-as vividly as this film does is something timely and fascinating. And the reliance of the survivors upon the new technology to re-experience memories and experiences of better times as an avenue of escape is very interesting, and similar to how people during the pandemic have eulogised old pre-COVID traditions and pursuits like, hey, going to the cinema like we used to, or perhaps re-watching films that remind us of better times. There is perhaps a subtext there upon fantasy and escape and what catharsis films themselves provide us, and what a dead-end that may be. 

So what goes wrong exactly? I think its partly the romance that doesn’t wholly convince, and as that’s the central interest for Lisa Joy that’s a pretty fundamental failing. The crime that hangs in the background concerning a wealthy family, an illegitimate child, a bent cop and resultant murders just doesn’t interest either, really. Maybe its just too many balls to juggle in the air; I rather suspect that Lisa Joy has more success with so many narrative threads when she’s spacing them over an eight or ten-episode series on HBO rather than a two-hour movie, and films always tend to need cohesive, satisfying endings, not more mystery boxes. 

As someone who has watched quite a few film noir lately, I also think that Reminiscence could have possibly done without its narration, a noir device that doesn’t, to be honest, really work for me here. I always prefer film-makers to show me, don’t tell me, and the best noir, no matter how complex they may be, can often manage just fine without a voice explaining it all. Maybe I’m wrong and don’t appreciate that post-millennials are lazier. 

Maybe Reminiscence is just another victim of dystopian films just not appealing to audiences right now- maybe we’re swerving back to the days of post-Vietnam 1977 and audiences just want escapist fun. We’re living in a dystopian world as it is, and we know the future increasingly looks bleak; we don’t necessarily need films to remind us, or show us how bad it might get. Or maybe we just want better movies.

Logan Falls

logan2017.32: Logan (2017)

In the Special Features section of this disc, one of the film-makers behind Logan states that the goal was for the film to be the superhero equivalent of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. If so, it misses that target by some margin, but it’s clear that there is considerable ambition here for it not to be ‘just another super-hero flick’.

On the one hand, this must surely be applauded for a genre that seems to land another new film at the multiplex every other week. On the other hand, it all seems so 1980s, all this revisionist, oh-so-serious superhero-in-the-real-world stuff. I find myself missing the simple fun and innocence of stuff like Superman: The Movie.

Which does seem odd, considering how I embraced stuff like Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns when they came out- but there’s the problem; they came out in the 1980s, decades ago. I don’t read super-hero comics anymore but I hope that they outgrew all that. How long can you agonise over the existential crises of superheroes in the Real World before it all gets all just a little bit… boring?

To be fair, I’ve never really been much of a fan of the X-Men films anyway. I quite liked the first, but thought the second one got away with ripping off Wrath of Khan way, way too easily and the third film was a franchise-killing shambles. I did enjoy First Class but the franchise promptly kicked any goodwill into touch with Days of Future Past, which to this day baffles me so much I still haven’t dared get around to the next title in the franchise, X-Men: Apocalypse.  My central issue with the films is all the allegorical musing, usually hammered at the audience with the subtlety of a brick in the face, of mutants and racism and inequality and prejudice blah blah. It’s ok. I got it with the first film. Don’t endlessly beat me with a stick over it. The fun-sucking seriousness of examining outsider superheroes in the ‘Real World’ is something that runs through all the X-Men films and just seems to bleed them dry. But the one thing that runs through the X-Men films and pretty much saves them is Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, even if his solo spin-off films have pretty much oddly faltered. Which leaves us with Logan.

Logan at least distances itself some way from the other X-Men films by setting itself in the future- 2029 in fact, and a time when the other mutants are long gone. The multiple timelines of the X-Men films are mystifying to me but I guess they all got killed or imprisoned by the Government at last? At anyrate, it seems super-heroics are a thing of the past in 2029, and Logan is pretty much in hiding, protecting a heavily sedated Professor X who is suffering from dementia (“the most deadliest brain on the planet” as someone blithely offers at one point).

Er, didn’t I see Professor X get killed in another X-Men movie? Agh. I hate X-Men movies- so many timelines it’s like a Dr Who franchise run amok.

I came into the film rather expecting a downbeat, reflective piece as Logan and Charles Xavier deal with old age and the approaching end of their lives, while perhaps considering their past, lost friends, their successes and failures. Instead it actually appears to be something of a reboot, as a new generation of mutants, this time the products of mutant lab rats, appear on the scene needing protection from Logan and an inevitable passing of the baton. As a whole, it works very well, but the distraction of new kids on the block rather negates any powerful soul-searching that, say, a proper superhero Unforgiven might be blessed with.

That said, it is entertaining and Hugh Jackman is quite superb in his Wolverine swansong (even if the X-24 villain rather leaves the door depressingly open for a rebirth for the character should the salary offers prove tempting enough for Jackman). It is distinctly R-rated with lots of gritty violence that cements its real-world dynamic- if this had been released, say, before Deadpool, its impact would have been yet more substantial, but it gains greatly in what it lacks re: Deadpool‘s more comedic approach. It doesn’t quite feel like the daft nonsense it might otherwise. Here heroes can bleed and get drunk and swear, and, yes, die.

It just irritated me a little to discover it wasn’t the ending of an era but rather a reboot for another one. I think I would have preferred a ‘final chapter’ for superheroes in general, something akin to the end of all superheroes and an evaluation of where that would leave a world suddenly without them, which really would have been an Unforgiven-type film. As it is, its an entertaining and at times thoughtful diversion, but make no mistake, there’s plenty more X-Men action left and perhaps even a rebirth for Jackman’s Wolverine. The cynicism of the latter would be frankly horrible, so let’s hope this is truly the end for Jackman at least- as such, it’s the best X-Men movie yet, but might yet prove to be its most cynical worst. Time will tell.