Caught in Time

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 5/30/23;
BayView;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Qianyuan Wang, Daniel Wu, Jessie Li, Michelle Wai, Xiaochuan Li.

A general rule of thumb in crime dramas is that the more deep down despicable the villain, the more a director has to work with. (It’s doubly true when the writer and director are one and the same, as is the case with Caught in Time double-threat, Lau Ho-Leung.) Chases and heists were fleetly dispatched, but when it came to stringing them together, transitional scenes and simplified plotting that freighted characters from one action set piece to another was the stuff “Hawaii Five-0” reruns are made of. Eagle (Daniel Wu) certainly fits the psycho bill. The ruthless slag, and leader of a gang of six, doesn’t aim, so much as he sprays lead and woe unto anyone — cop, civilian, woman, child — who gets in his way. Nothing about Eagle points to violent insanity more than his haircut. If anyone deserves punishment heaped upon them, it’s the stylist who sticks Eagle with shoulder-length locks topped by sugar bowl bangs. (Think Moe Howard with a mullet.) And what can be said of a scumbag who in mid-caper hands a toddler a grenade and tells him to “Have fun!”

The fact-based crime saga set in the 1990s opens in the aftermath of a brutal crime spree recently committed at Hong King’s jocosely dubbed Friendship Store. Without much to define him, Cheng (Qianyuan Wang), the detective assigned that case, is a cop without a modifier, Harry minus the Dirty. His bland, by-the-book demeanor leaves one cheering on the thrill-killing Eagle Gang. The brutes don dingy, three-holed face masks that suggest reptiles, not birds of prey. Cheng is the designated hostage who, after a long, unbroken take from inside the back of the getaway van, is masked and kicked to the curb, leaving it to the cops in pursuit to sort things out. Cheng’s one bald-faced gesture of venality is nibbling off a chunk of Eagle’s ear to make him more easily identifiable in a lineup. He’d been on the force for a decade and the first day he’s transferred to a new district he winds up in jail. No sooner do the opening credits finish rolling than we return to the beginning of the Friendship heist. Why the need for a flashback when the event is still fresh in the viewer’s mind? Rather than an achronological slather of style, Ho-Leung would have been better served by starting on Cheng’s happening across the robbery and moving forward.

Cross-cutting to pulsating music that leads nowhere is at best a stylistic distraction. Scenes of computer generated explosions, grenades blowing off fingers, victims jumping off buildings and landing on police cars weren’t destined to win any special effects awards. Equally cumbersome is the director’s reliance upon establishing character similarities simply by cross-cutting between two people doing the exact same thing in the exact same place at a different time. “We’re possessed by the same demons” Cheng mumbles, followed by the blinding realization that a cop can’t resist going after a criminal any more than a criminal can resist committing a crime. Lau Ho-Leung even goes so far as linking Cheng’s female partner with Eagle’s pregnant girlfriend, none of which packs much in the way of forward momentum. Eagle perching atop a space needle talking down a suicidal brunette is a great time to hit the kitchen for a snack. 

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When the action focuses on the gang of six (then five, etc.), you can’t go wrong. These boys aren’t kidding; they’d rather kill you than wait for an answer to their question. Arrogant prick that he is, Eagle orders lunch for the boys at a restaurant opposite the bank they’re about to knock off. When the waitress assures him that lunch will be ready in 10 minutes, Eagle has the loot bagged and the boys at the table before the noodles have a chance to cool. That and a climactic shootout in a bathhouse alone made it worth a look. The “no man left behind” trope the thugs live by echoes that of the American military, only this squad of mercenary fortune hunters would go to any length, even shooting up a packed public square, to collect the remains of a comrade who had paid the ultimate price.

The pieces ultimately fall into place too easily. As police procedurals go, this will be best remembered as six robberies in search of a hero. And if you think Cheng’s character is nonexistent, wait until you dig around for special features. Not even a trailer!

Reminiscence

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 11/9/21;
Warner;
Sci-Fi Mystery;
Box Office $3.9 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
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.

The Blu-ray includes nearly a half-hour of entertaining behind-the-scenes featurettes. The four-minute “You’re Going on a Journey” focuses on the premise, while the seven minute “The Sunken Coast” is about the production design and visual effects used to depict a Miami partially submerged by water. The eight-and-a-half-minute “Crafting a Memory” looks at how the filmmakers set about depicting the dream projections. The eight-minute “Reminiscence: A Family Reunion” looks at Joy’s collaboration with the cast and crew, some members of which worked with her previously on “Westworld.”

Rounding out the extras on disc is a five-minute “Save My Love” music video featuring Lonr.

The Blu-ray also includes a heartfelt printed note from Joy in which she relays her reasons for making the film, her inspirations, love of noir and appreciation of the cast for how they brought the characters she envisioned to life.

Originally published as a streaming review Aug. 30, 2021.

Third Season of ‘Into the Badlands’ Coming to Disc Aug. 27 From Lionsgate

AMC’s martial arts drama comes to an end in Into the Badlands: The Complete Third Season, arriving on Blu-ray (plus digital) and DVD Aug. 27 from Lionsgate.

In the final season of “Into the Badlands,” Sunny’s son contracts a mysterious illness that pressures him to join forces with Bajie. They journey back into the Badlands, where The Widow and Baron Chau are entrenched in a drawn-out war that has destabilized the entire region.

The series stars Daniel Wu, Aramis Knight, Emily Beecham, Orla Brady, Sherman Augustus and Babou Ceesay.

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Warner’s ‘Tomb Raider’ Heading to Home Video

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Tomb Raider digitally May 29, and on Blu-ray, DVD, 3D Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray June 12.

The latest adaptation of the popular video game franchise stars Alicia Vikander as the famous adventure-seeking heroine, who sets out to forge her own path as she investigates her father’s disappearance. The cast also includes Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu and Kristin Scott Thomas.

The film, which was directed by Roar Uthaug, earned $56.9 million at the domestic box office and $271.7 million worldwide.

The Blu-ray and DVD releases will include the making-of featurette “Tomb Raider: Uncovered.”

The Blu-ray versions will also include three additional featurettes: “Croft Training,” about Vikander’s physical preparation for the role; “Breaking Down the Rapids,” a dissection of an action scene with the filmmakers; and “Lara Croft: Evolution of an Icon,” about the history of the character.

The 4K and 3D discs will feature a Dolby Atmos soundtrack remixed specifically for the home theater environment. The 4K Blu-ray will also feature Dolby Vision HDR.