‘Reminiscence’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

Reminiscence” is one of the most underrated and overlooked films of 2021.  From start to finish, I was riveted by the acting, the action, and the many twists and turns throughout.  It is a film which keeps its audience on its toes and keeps them guessing.  There is a lot to like here.  It’s a bit baffling to me to read how the film did poorly at the box office and with critics.  I do have a strong feeling this is the type of film which is going to gain a cult audience with time and now that it’s out on Blu-Ray.  I really think people underestimated it.  That is the beauty of home video: A film can live on and grow with time.

Hugh Jackman stars as Nick Bannister, a lonely and troubled man after the war. He runs a business which allows people to relive some of their favorite memories and moments from their lives.  If they were happier in the past, they can go in this water tank and relive that memory.  It is very comforting for a lot of people, especially if they have lost someone close to them. His partner in business is named Watts, and she’s played by the talented actress Thandiwe Newton. She was with Nick in the war, and they have remained close friends. She has a drinking problem that has ruined her relationship with her daughter and her ex-husband. She is still very loyal to Nick and credits him with giving her a purpose.

One day, a young woman by the name of Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) comes to relive a memory of how she lost her keys.  Watts thinks something is fishy about this, but Nick is quite taken with her.  As a matter of fact, they strike up a relationship which turns out to be quite passionate.  It makes it that much harder for Nick when she disappears out of his life for seemingly no rhyme or reason.  He really thought she was the one, and he had strong feelings for her.  With his memory tank and resources, he goes on a mission to find out what happened to Mae and where she might be in an attempt to save her.

“Reminiscence” has been described as part science fiction and part film noir. Film noir has always been one of my favorite genres in Hollywood.  It’s not used as often these days, but it was quite popular back in the golden days of Hollywood with actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Orson Welles and Burt Lancaster.  The fact writer and director Lisa Joy blended this genre with science fiction is a really bold move. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember too many times this has been done recently in Hollywood.  It works perfectly here, especially with Jackman’s narration. It really adds to the film’s mysterious underbelly. As far as the science fiction, they did it just enough to make it believable without going too over-the-top with the concept.

To quote the legendary wrestler Roddy Piper, “Just when you think you know the answers, I change the questions.” That is exactly what is happening with “Reminiscence.”  I thought I had this film figured out two or three times, and the filmmakers kept surprising me with where they went with the story. Jackman is great in everything he does, but his friendship in the film with Newton is what really gives the film its heart and soul.  Ferguson is also pitch-perfect as the femme fatale, as you really don’t know what’s going on with her and if you should trust her.  Is she the woman she claims to be? Is she a seedy film noir character with bad intentions? I thought the casting in this film was spot-on in all avenues.

I really loved “Reminiscence.” It’s creative, fun, heartfelt, surprising, and different.  Hollywood is known for doing a lot of the same movies over and over again.  I haven’t seen a film even close to this one in quite some time.  It really captivated me, and most of all, I cared about the characters and their individual fates. This is a film I’m proud to champion and encourage people to see now that it’s out on Blu-Ray and DVD.  I have a strong feeling you will be surprised by it.  I know I was, and I’m a tough critic because I see so many movies.  This is a special film. I also really enjoyed the atmospheric world created by the director as well. All of the pieces were lining up with this flick.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “Reminiscence” is rated PG-13 for strong violence, drug material throughout, sexual content and some strong language.  It comes on a single-disc Blu-ray from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  It also has a digital copy of the film as well.

Video/Audio Info: The film is released on 1080p high definition with audio in Dolby Atmos-True HD: English, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, and English, Spanish and French. Subtitles are included in English, French and Spanish as well.

Special Features:

You’re Going on a Journey

The Sunken Coast

Crafting a Memory

Reminiscence: A Family Reunion

“Save My Love” Music Video

Should You Buy It?

One of my favorite filmmakers is Richard Linklater, and while I’m not comparing Lisa Joy to him, I did enjoy the way she used time and memory as such a pivotal part of the story.  Much like in Linklater’s films, time and memory plays such a big part in what is happening here. It’s a character in the film.  As someone who often thinks about the past and is big on nostalgia, this film really struck a chord with me.  How much is thinking about the past a good thing? When does it become a bad thing? Are we stuck in the past? Did we learn from the past? There is a lot to chew on with this film. The performances are committed and powerful, especially Jackman’s.  He always brings such an intensity to all of his roles. If you are still a hardcore physical media collector like myself, you will be very pleased to add “Reminiscence” to your collection.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s one of the great surprises of 2021.

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ Invites You to Peel Back its Many Layers

Bad Times at the El Royale poster

Bad Times at the El Royale” is one of those movies I have really come to deeply admire as it is like an onion you keep peeling at continually to see what’s underneath. Just when I thought I knew where things were heading, the story heads in another direction to where what we were initially introduced to is not all what it seems. As Bo Diddley once sang, you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover, and while this movie’s poster tells us what we need to know before going into the theater, there is more to discover than we could ever anticipate.

The El Royale of the movie’s title is a hotel which, at one time, was one a glorious place to visit, but it has since fallen into disrepute. The first sequence shows a man entering a room there, digging beneath its surface to play a bag of money beneath it. He is later greeted by another man who he kindly welcomes in, but who quickly shoots him dead with a shotgun. It’s a wonderfully elaborate sequence which brings us into a motion picture which promises not to be the usual mainstream fare.

We then move to 10 years later when a number of visitors arrive at the El Royale to stay for a night or two. They include the kindly priest Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), aspiring singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), vacuum cleaner salesman Dwight Broadbeck (Jon Hamm), and a young hippie named Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). All of them are greeted by the hotel’s concierge and apparently its only employee, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), who gleefully illustrates the location’s history and amenities for all of those willing to hear him out.

Revealing more from here would spoil one too many surprises as we discover not everyone is who they appear to be, but I can tell you the characters soon find themselves on a road to hell as their sins rise to the surface for everyone around them to see. In one way or another, everyone is either trying to escape their past or reclaim it in a way which offers no promises, and not everyone is going to make it out of their predicament in one piece.

“Bad Times at the El Royale” was written and directed by Drew Goddard who wrote the screenplays for the highly-entertaining “Cloverfield,” “World War Z” and “The Martian,” the one Ridley Scott movie in recent years which we can all agree on (in that it was great). Goddard also wrote and directed the horror comedy “The Cabin in the Woods,” a movie I should have seen already, but anyway. He composes this movie in vignettes just as Quentin Tarantino composes his with chapters out of a novel. Each one allows us to learn more about the characters and what brought them to this once glorious resort. The question is, do they all know about the valuables buried beneath one of the rooms?

I enjoyed how Goddard kept peeling away at each of these characters’ identities as we learn more about them in ways which are both illuminating and shocking, and it kept me guessing as to where things were going to go next. There’s even a scene of shocking violence involving a wine bottle which just comes out of nowhere, and it slammed me back into my seat in a way such a scene has not in recent years.

The movie, however, does suffer as it goes on. You should have heard the collective gasp from the audience at the press screening I attended when they were told the running time would be two hours and 21 minutes. Most Hollywood studios these days would never dare to let one of their releases last more than 90 or 100 minutes, so the amount of freedom Goddard got here seems astonishing in retrospect.

I have nothing against movies which last over two hours as long as they are able to justify their length. It is far too easy for a filmmaker to become self-indulgent. In retrospect, “Bad Times at the El Royale” could have used some tightening in the editing room as the story slowly drags towards its conclusion which involves a charismatic cult leader named Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth, taking a much-needed break from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and his much-too devoted follower, Rose (the wonderfully possessed Cailee Spaeny). By the time we finally arrive at the ending, it feels like everything is concluding on the wrong note. This could have been an even more frustrating ending than the one in “The Matrix Revolutions,” but saying so is a little too punishing.

Still, there is much to admire here such as the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, the terrific set and art direction and, of course, the great cast that tears into their roles with great gusto. Jeff Bridges continues to remain one of our finest actors as he inhabits his role of Father Daniel Flynn in a way few others could. Cynthia Erivo proves to have quite the vocal chops here as her singing left the audience I saw this movie with in almost total silence. Dakota Johnson, finally freed from those god-awful “Fifty Shades of Grey” movies, gets to show an enigmatic side of her acting that makes it clear how we have no business dismissing her as just another pretty face. As for Jon Hamm, he is as charming as ever, and watching him hustle the other characters almost effortlessly makes me believe he will be the next Batman.

“Bad Times at the El Royale” is a flawed movie, but for me, its strengths more than outweigh its weaknesses. I am curious to see how audiences end up reacting to this as it is coming out in a cinematic time dominated by superheroes. Goddard’s film definitely stands outside the norm, but my hope is audiences will take the time to discover something a little different from what they are used to.

Whatever you think of “Bad Times at the El Royale,” you have to admit it allows Jeff Bridges to utter one of the best lines of dialogue in recent years:

“Shit happens… Get the whiskey.”

* * * out of * * * *