Reminiscence

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Warner/HBO Max;
Sci-Fi;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for strong violence, drug material throughout, sexual content and some strong language.
Stars Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Brett Cullen, Natalie Martinez, Angela Sarafyan, Mojean Aria, Marina de Tavira, Daniel Wu, Nico Parker.

Memories of happy times can often be a bittersweet reminder of things lost, particularly when nothing better comes along to supplant them.

That seems to be a motivating dilemma in Reminiscence, an ambitious sci-fi mystery from in the mold of a Christopher Nolan thriller. As with most Nolan noir, Reminiscence is marked by a time-shifted non-linear narrative built around a high-concept sci-fi hook — in this case, a device that helps people re-live their favorite memories as if they were new.

Hugh Jackman plays a nostalgia merchant named Nick who runs a business where people can pay to use such as machine. The film is set sometime in the near future in a Miami flooded by rising oceans, where peoples’ everyday lives tend to be so depressing they’d rather turn to the past for a respite.

Late one night, a woman named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a singer at a local nightclub, walks in and asks to access her memories to find her lost keys. Nick is immediately obsessed with her, sparking a brief relationship that ends when she vanishes without a trace. Unwilling to let her go, Nick delves into his memories with her, until his partner and former war buddy (Thandiwe Newton) forces him to face reality.

Nick also takes contract work with the district attorney to depose criminals by retrieving their memories. When he discovers Mae in the memories of the associate of a drug lord, Nick sets off on a quest to uncover exactly what happened to her, even if it means learning she wasn’t exactly who she claimed to be.

Reminiscence was written by and marks the directorial debut of Lisa Joy, whose husband, Jonathan Nolan, is Christopher Nolan’s brother and frequent collaborator. The husband-wife team, who co-produced the film as well, also developed and produce HBO’s “Westworld,” a show with equally trippy sci-fi themes about the nature of identity and existence.

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The sci-fi trappings of Reminiscence make for a visually arresting experience, though the story and premise are often reminiscent of other films. The pairing of Jackman of Ferguson, for example, immediately brings to mind their teaming in The Greatest Showman, in which she also played a singer who caught the eye of a Jackman character (P.T. Barnum in that case). The drifting in and out of dreams to drive the narrative has echoes with Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which dealt with dreams instead of memories. And the very idea of memory manipulation, leading to questions of what is really happening or not, bring to mind films such as Total Recall. The depiction of a future world that has shifted its day-to-day routine around the culture of water travel, while interesting in its worldbuilding possibilities, seems a bit like a proto-Waterworld.

Still, if not as profound as its cinematic cousins in the Nolan canon, Reminiscence should manage to provide an entertaining diversion for a couple of hours, however fleeting the romance at its heart might be.

In addition to playing in theaters, Reminiscence will stream on HBO Max through Sept. 17.

Doctor Sleep

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Horror;
Box Office $31.58 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use.
Stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood.

It’s not exactly a secret that Stephen King didn’t much care for Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of King’s 1977 novel The Shining. King’s distaste for the film was even a plot point in the 2018 film version of Ready Player One.

So it’s a bit remarkable, then, that King, serving as executive producer of the adaptation of his 2013 sequel Doctor Sleep, would allow the film to quote so much of Kubrick’s work.

Somehow, director Mike Flanagan has managed to make a film that both faithfully follows Kubrick’s version of The Shining while reconciling the differences between the source material and the film that irked King to begin with. The result is one of the better King adaptations, a terse game of supernatural cat-and-mouse that manages to be far more interesting than other recent King-to-screen efforts such as the bloated It: Chapter Two.

Like the book, the film picks up the story of young Danny Torrance, the little boy tormented by his father in The Shining, as he grows into a troubled adulthood (where he’s played by Ewan McGregor). Like his father, Dan has descended into alcoholism, turning to booze to drown out the traumas of his experiences at the Overlook hotel.

But he has also learned to deal with the ghosts that sought him due to his telepathic powers, and after reaching rock bottom manages to sober up and get a job at a hospice, where he uses his powers to help the terminally ill die peacefully, earning the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

His telepathy also puts him into contact with others with the shining power, including a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran). She alerts Dan to a cult of shiners led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) who seek immortality by murdering innocent children to claim their youth.

Dan then must take steps to protect Abra when the cult decides to come after her next.

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Flanagan re-creates sequences from The Shining, albeit with different actors embodying the spirit of the original film, to effectively bridge the time gap between the two stories. The use of different actors can be a bit uncanny for those familiar with Kubrick’s film, especially if watched back to back with The Shining, since Flanagan admits he didn’t feel the need to go down the rabbit hole of digital re-creations of the original actors as long as he stayed true to the characters. He does a nice job matching Kubrick’s visual style, however, re-creating specific scenes and even using the original film’s music to good effect. Flanagan’s script also references plot elements of the second book that weren’t fully carried over into the film version.

As much as the film is a journey for Danny to reconcile traumas of his youth with the potential for using his abilities to help the world, so too it seems is it a chance for King to embrace the legacy of Kubrick’s version, which is often considered one of the greatest horror films of all time. In interviews before the theatrical release of Doctor Sleep, he spoke to elements of Flanagan’s screenplay that redeemed Kubrick’s version for him, and he echoes those sentiments in the home video bonus materials, in which he seems very much to have softened his stance toward the original film.

Indeed, the sequel does provide some deeper context for what transpired at the Overlook in the first film while giving Dan a chance to atone for his father’s demons.

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The Blu-ray includes a three-hour director’s cut, which runs about a half-hour longer than the theatrical cut. There aren’t really any scenes that change the meaning of the work, but the new material does give the story a chance to breathe by developing the characters a bit more. There are also more scenes of young Danny and his mother that take place shortly after The Shining, deepening Danny’s personal story and enhancing the film’s effectiveness as a psychological thriller while making it more of a bridge between King’s and Kubrick’s interpretations of the first novel.

Really, the director’s cut is the definitive version of the film, so anyone who hasn’t seen it should probably just start there.

The Blu-ray combo packs of Doctor Sleep include the theatrical cut on one disc and the director’s cut on another — so the 4K Ultra HD combo pack has just the theatrical cut on a 4K disc, with the director’s cut on a standard Blu-ray. The bonus materials are presented on the theatrical cut disc in both the 4K Ultra HD and standard Blu-ray combo packs. Each combo pack is only two discs, so the 4K pack doesn’t have a theatrical cut or extras on a standard Blu-ray.

However, the digital redemption code gives access to both the theatrical and the director’s cut, and all the extras as well, with the digital code from the 4K Ultra HD combo pack providing a 4K digital copy of the director’s cut.

Included are three featurettes running a bit more than a half-hour in total that are aimed at fans intrigued by the prospects of a King-approved sequel to Kubrick’s Shining. The 14-minute “The Making of Doctor Sleep: A New Vision” deals with the general making of the film, the five-minute “From Shining to Sleep” provides an overview of how the filmmakers went about trying to connect the disparate movie and film versions of King’s vision, while the 15-minute “Return to the Overlook” focuses on re-creating the iconic sets of the first film.

The Meg

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 11/13/18;
Warner;
Action Thriller;
Box Office $143.01 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for action/peril, bloody images and some language.
Stars Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Sophia Cai, Jessica McNamee, Masi Oka, Cliff Curtis.

Despite its general faithfulness to the man-versus-monster formula, The Meg turns out to be a fun romp thanks to a likeable cast and the filmmakers treating the absurd premise with the appropriate level of gravitas without going over the top.

The film is based on a 1997 novel about a long-extinct giant shark called a megalodon emerging from an isolated section of the ocean to terrorize modern times. In adapting the story, director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) manages to blend the research premise of Deep Blue Sea with the imperiled tourist angle of Jaws, and add a healthy dose of modern visual effects to deliver an effective if not always engrossing action thriller. The film looks great, and the Blu-ray really nails the beautiful blues of the ocean vistas, even if the CGI becomes a bit too noticeable at times.

The plot involves a deep-sea research platform sending a submarine to explore a hidden realm of the Marianas Trench previously cut off from the rest of the ocean thanks to some mostly convincing pseudo-science. Soon enough, the sub is attacked by a large creature and trapped, leading the station to call in deep-sea rescue specialist Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham). There’s some rumbling about Jonas being nuts because he claims a giant creature screwed up a previous rescue, but that’s mostly some conflict to build tension among the human crew.

Suffice it to say, Jonas’ rescue attempt allows the creature to get past the trench’s natural barrier, which let it evolve in its own unique ecosystem for millions of years, and up to the surface, where there are plenty of delicious boats and beachgoers it can play with. And since the megalodon is basically a giant shark 10 times bigger than a great white and capable of biting a humpback whale in half with one chomp, the platform’s financier (Rainn Wilson) and his team are eager to blow it up before it can do much harm.

The Meg isn’t overly reverential of previous shark movies, though audiences familiar with them will certainly recognize the foibles of this crew’s attempts to stop the threat. Attacks are played for either shock or humor, depending on who is getting swallowed whole, and there are even quieter moments that allow the characters to express some emotion as they deal with their colleagues, friends and family members getting killed.

Statham’s Jonas character is of a certain aquatic adventurer archetype that one could imagine another franchise entry subjecting him to any number of quests along the bottom of the ocean that don’t necessarily involve him fighting giant sea monsters, though it’s pretty much a given that any sequel would put him up against another menacing beast. The original book’s author, Steve Alten, has written a series of sequel and prequel novels about prehistoric carnivores, so when the time comes to cash in on The Meg’s box office success with a follow-up movie, the filmmakers will have no shortage of source material from which to pick.

The Blu-ray arrives rather light on bonus materials, sporting just two decent featurettes: the 12-minute “Chomp on This: The Making of The Meg,” covering the production as a whole, and the 10-and-a-half-minute “Creating the Beast,” which focuses on the shark.

Movies Anywhere also offers a two-minute promotional video about filming in New Zealand.