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Friday, August 20, 2021




You're going on a journey...

Remember Chinatown? Remember Casablanca? Remember Wolverine? Remember Westworld? Well, that last one was co-created by Lisa Joy, the writer and director of Reminiscence, so she definitely remembers it. In the stunningly photographed Reminiscence, Joy paints a visually sumptuous post-apocalyptic Miami in the not-too-distant future and plunges Hugh Jackman into a boilerplate detective plot with a couple of intriguing time-tossed twists that don't quite land with a SNIKT. Reminiscence is about memory, and love, and lust, and Hugh Jackman's search for the truth about his lost romance with Rebecca Ferguson, but Reminiscence's wrapping paper ends up being more interesting to look at and think about than the actual gift inside.

Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine Nick Bannister, a mutant "detective of the mind." His business with his partner Maeve Watts (Thandiwe Newton) allows his clients to pay by the hour to use his Reminiscence machine to relive their favorite memories. This involves stripping down and sliding into a sensory deprivation tank as if you're Logan submitting to the Weapon X program replacing your bones with Adamantium. When you're deep in Reminiscence, your memories are projected into 3D holograms Nick and Watts can watch. Considering how intimate many people's memories are, they sure put a lot of trust into Nick and Watts' discretion. Like Wolverine, Hugh Jackman once again falls for the wrong redhead, Jean Grey Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a slinky nightclub singer who's obviously hiding quite a lot, but the detective doesn't care about that (at first). Nick is hot for Mae and they begin a torrid romance they mostly conduct on rooftops looking over the flooded streets of Miami. Then one day, Mae vanishes and Reminiscence drops its first time-loopy twist that the whole first act of the film was Nick's memories of Mae after spending months in the Reminiscence machine.

For Wolverine Nick Bannister, love means never having to let go of your girlfriend you didn't know anything about. Driven by his desire to find out "Who is she when she's not with me?", Nick plunges into the watery underworld of both Miami and New Orleans, meeting skeevy criminals like Saint Joe (Daniel Wu), a dirty ex-cop named Cyrus Booth (Cliff Curtis), and Walter Sylvan (Brett Cullen), the most powerful land baron in Miami. Nick gets into fistfights, nearly drowns, and throws away his partnership with Watts in order to find out who Mae is and how she came to be. The revelations about Mae aren't exactly Earth-shattering (she's an ex-junkie running from bad guys she stole drugs from) and, beautiful as Ferguson is, Mae doesn't seem like the type of dame a private dick should toss his whole life (such as it is) away for, but the heart wants what the heart wants. More interesting than Mae is the sordid conspiracy she was caught up in as a pawn, involving Sylan's mistress Elsa (Angela Sarafyan), their bastard son, and Sylvan's firstborn son who doesn't want anyone to mess with his inheritance of owning all of the dry land that's left in Miami. Reminiscence's final twist that the entire film is merely the memories of Nick Bannister, who is now an old man cared for by Grandma Watts after spending decades in the Reminiscence machine reliving his romance with Mae and investigation into her disappearance, is intended as a Christopher Nolan-esque bombshell but, unfortunately, it goes off with a sputter.

Every character who meets another character in Reminiscence starts reminiscing about things that happened in the past that sound way more interesting than what's going on in the present. Reminiscence's backstory and post-apocalyptic setting are simply far more intriguing than Nick's Adamantium-like hard-on for Mae. Joy sprinkles in tasty dollops about Reminiscence's future universe, where climate change not only sank Miami but sparked a bloody war with climate change deniers. Nick was a Navy seaman who was 'drafted' to border patrol, which involved Bannister using the Reminiscence machine to interrogate enemy soldiers and poor people fleeing the tides. When the war ended, Nick somehow finagled the Reminiscence machine to start his sinking business. The way society and culture evolved because of the war and climate change, like Miami becoming a nocturnal city of boats and canals, aren't just a grim forecasting of our probable future in the real world, but it's a backdrop that begs Joy to delve further into. Compared to the impressive future world Joy envisioned, unfortunately, the problems of Nick Bannister and Mae don't amount to a hill of beans in Reminiscence's evocative, sci-fi noir world. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

The Suicide Squad



Writer-director James Gunn's The Suicide Squad understands the old adage that if you introduce a javelin in Act 1, you must have Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) plunge that javelin into the eye of a giant, telepathic alien starfish in Act 3. That's Chekhov's javelin. Look, I grew up reading 1980s DC Comics and poring over Who's Who character encyclopedias and DC Heroes role-playing game sourcebooks, and apparently, so did James Gunn. The Suicide Squad was made for me. Well, not me, exactly, but 14-year-old me, who probably appreciated the obscure DC references even more than adult me dug the overall film. The Suicide Squad is a far better and more enjoyable movie than the 2016 Suicide Squad. It's unapologetically bloody and ruthless as a movie about a cruel bureaucrat, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), sending superpowered convicts to their deaths ought to be. The bottom line is Gunn understands that it sucks to be in the Suicide Squad but, unlike with the prior film, he also made sure it doesn't suck watching The Suicide Squad.

The Suicide Squad has a massive cast that the marketing correctly urges you not to get too attached to. Waller assembles a group to go to a South American country named Corto Maltese, which is the same country Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) took war photos of that got on the cover of Time in Batman 1989, for some sort of black op. Back leading the group is Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) while Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), old pals who survived the first Suicide Squad, are also volunteered for the mission. But this version of the Squad has weirdos like Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Savant (Michael Rooker), Javelin (Flula Borg), and a guy named T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion), whose superpower is he can detach his arms. Great. There's also some kind of weasel-like man-thing named Weasel (Sean Gunn). This Squad is useless and they're supposed to be; Blackguard sold them out to the Corto Maltese army (and maybe Waller arranged it so he would, it's not clear), and they get massacred on the beach. But that was the point because there was a second Suicide Squad sent by Waller who is really supposed to accomplish the mission.

The other Suicide Squad is led by Bloodsport (Idris Elba), a mercenary and expert marksman with any weapon. Bloodsport also has a teenage daughter and he's a reluctant leader who doesn't believe he's a good person. If that sounds exactly like Deadshot (Will Smith) in the first movie it's because it's the same character, only Bloodsport's kid is also a criminal. There's also Peacemaker (John Cena), an extremist soldier who loves peace so much he'll murder anyone to keep it, and he wears a toilet bowl-looking helmet on his head. The other oddballs are Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), a sweet narcoleptic who controls rats and has her own Ratatoullie and, naturally, is the daughter of Ratcatcher 1 (Taika Waititi), Nanaue aka King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), an innocent shark monster man, and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who was infested with an alien virus and sees his abusive mother in everyone he kills. Waller sends this Squad into Corto Maltese to stop a supervillain named The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), who has spent 30 years experimenting on the aforementioned alien starfish, Starro the Conqueror, who can control people's minds with little starfish face huggers like in Alien. Most of the movie is spent following these numbnuts traipsing through the jungle and bumbling throughout their mission.

And then there's Harley Quinn, who survived the massacre at the beach and finds herself courted by Corto Maltese's new President, Sylvio Luna (Julio Diego Botto). In her third outing as Harley, Robbie has perfected the endearingly hot psychopath, who's basically a female Bugs Bunny with a murderous streak. In a movie filled with unexpected twists, Harley has the best one when she turns the tables on Luna, who she did consider marrying, and she has the best fight sequence in the film that tops the ones she had in Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. Perhaps not so strangely, Harley also introduces The Suicide Squad's moral center: she may be a homicidal girl clown but Harley draws the line at killing kids. Apparently, so does Bloodsport, which we learn when Harley joins up with his Squad. It's interesting to see where supervillains draw the line but letting Amanda Waller get away with allowing an alien starfish to take over Corto Maltese was a bridge too far, and the Suicide Squad turn into heroes by necessity,

As a movie about supervillains abused by the system, The Suicide Squad squarely points the finger at the real bad guys: Waller and by extension, the United States that she 'defends'. The Suicide Squad is an indictment of U.S. foreign policy, the way immigrants like Ratcatcher 2 are persecuted, and it was the United States that brought Starro to Corto Maltese, cutting a secret deal to experiment on the alien far from American soil and without the knowledge of the American people. Even Waller's own staff turn on her, which is pretty ballsy considering Waller shot and killed her prior staff point-blank in the first Suicide Squad. Gunn peppers in a lot of character development for the Suicide Squad members he cares about and he makes the audience care for them too. 

However, The Suicide Squad sacrifices forward momentum and a clear throughline for blood-splattered set pieces, narrative time-twisting, and a bunch of strange asides, though getting to know Ratcatcher 2, Peacemaker, Bloodsport, and Nanaue is worth the time spent. Gunn also sets up Peacemaker's solo series on HBO Max even though the guy is a gigantic jerk, but Cena still makes Peacemaker a jerk we want to see more of. The Suicide Squad is infused with pop music like the prior film and Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy but weirdly, the tunes aren't quite as memorable this time around. Overall, The Suicide Squad is a joyously indulgent auteur superhero movie where James Gunn lets us into his very specific comic book mindset as if Gunn himself slapped a Starro on our faces and whispered "have a good time". And you know what? We do.