Forget It, Jake. It's Miami.
Yeah, tough guy, 'Reminiscence' is noir in its premise and performances
Current Cinema: Wearing a tough-looking raincoat, head adorned with a snazzy fedora, film noir introduced itself by slapping me in the kisser, three times.
In 1979, I was eager to see as many films as possible that were not made by Disney. I'd already seen plenty of those, and mostly those, so I wanted to see things that were fresh and new, even if they were made years ago. My eyes on older films had been opened the year before by enjoying an old comedy in black-and white with a full house of high-school students, who laughed themselves silly. I wanted to see more like that.
Happily, repertory theaters thrived in that era in Los Angeles. My guides were two free newsweeklies: LA Weekly and Los Angeles Reader. Thus armed, I decided to sample film noir and started with Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity. Holy smokes!
Familiar to me only from the Disney family films The Shaggy Dog, The Absent Minded Professor, and Son of Flubber, as well as the gentle TV comedy series My Three Sons, I was absolutely shocked to see Fred MacMurray as the amoral sap who is seduced of his own free will by Barbara Stanwyck. (Dad! How could you?!)
In the years since, I have developed more admiration for the photography and the performances in film noir than the attitudes and actions. I still enjoy watching Noir Alley on TCM, for example, whenever I can -- invariably via TCM's stand-alone app for cable subscribers -- and I appreciate that many modern filmmakers are drawn to using film noir tropes for their own creative impulses. [See The Criterion Channel selection neonoir.]
Nearly all modern filmmakers have thoroughly draped their films in adult elements, however, which made me quite curious about Lisa Joy's Reminiscence, which is rated PG-13, thus sliding into 'essential family viewing' consideration. It's definitely at the 'mature teenage' level, I would think, characterized by a surfeit of downbeat emotional tones and an ever-present level of brutal violence.
Hugh Jackman stars as Nick, who lives in Miami, where he is a private investigator who runs a memory visitation service with his former military running mate Watts (Thandiwe Newton). They live in future Miami, where the streets have no name because most of them are underwater, or soon will be, due to climate change. Akin to a tanning salon, their service allows a declining customer base to lie down, drift off, and visit a favorite memory from the past, as brought to life in their head by Nick.
One night, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) walks into the joint, and Nick is immediately smitten. The two become a couple and spend very enjoyable times together, before she abruptly disappears. Nick becomes obsessed with finding her, leading to extended sequences of turmoil and trouble. And then more turmoil, and even greater trouble.
Several tropes are immediately identifiable: a romantic sap, a mysterious femme fate, a cynical but loyal best friend, a nasty villain, a nasty sidekick (or two), and a fatalic world view. With all those elements in place, it's easy to see why Lisa Joy's original script reportedly became a very hot item in Hollywood back in 2013.
She was already a working writer at the time, Joy sold the script, which then began development. In the meantime, and, she co-created and co-produced HBO's Westworld, more evidence of her ingenuity and rich imagination at work. All this would seem to set things well for her to make her directorial debut.
I missed our local press screening, though advance word from other critics was not generally positive. Since the film is available to watch on HBO Max, I remained eager to watch it and decide for myself, but perhaps it will require another viewing for me to discern exactly why this particular kettle of fish did not make me want to fire up the fryer.
Somehow, Reminiscence does not catch fire. It's not so much the familiarity of the themes and characters and primary narrative as it is a certain sluggishness in the pacing. It seems to dawdle at times, for no apparent reason. Maybe if it was meditating on something truly meaningful, I would have been gripped by its intent. Good movies prompt me to ignore or disregard or minimize their shortcomings; this one just kept tempting me to hit the pause button. [HBO Max]
Upcoming: The one major wide theatrical release this Friday is Candyman, a horror remake that should prompt anyone sensible to stay away from mirrors, at least. Not for me.
The major streaming services have no major new releases this coming weekend, not that I can see, so I'm hoping to catch up with something I haven't seen before, something that's more than two hours, something sports-related, something that stars Brad Pitt and is inspired by a book that I actually read years ago: Moneyball. [Amazon Prime Video]
Also sport-related, also previously unseen, also about a sport for which I have fond nostalgic memories that tie to my youth: Top Spin. [The Criterion Channel]