Reminiscing About the Time I Saw ‘Reminiscence’

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Reminiscence (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/Screenshot)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, Angela Sarafyan

Director: Lisa Joy

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: August 20, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

I went to see Reminiscence at the Regal Essex Crossing on opening night (or opening night of opening day, as it were, i.e., not a Thursday night preview showing). I had a relatively small dinner of leftover pizza beforehand, so I decided to buy some foodThe concession stand didn’t have any pretzels in stock, so I opted for mozzarella sticks instead. I paired them with a margarita since this theater is licensed to serve alcohol. Spoiler alert: they didn’t pair very well. It also didn’t help that I’d really already had my fill of cheese just a couple hours earlier.

Anyway, as for the movie itself, it was hard not to think about Inception, what with Reminiscence also having a mind-bending premise, a beachside overrun-by-waves urban setting, and characters waking up from a dream state in water. Not to mention that it’s the directorial debut of Lisa Joy, who’s married to Chris Nolan’s brother Jonathan and is probably most famous for her work alongside her husband on Westworld. Also, Reminiscence star Hugh Jackman played a similarly obsessive protagonist in the Nolan-directed The Prestige.

But ultimately my biggest takeaway is that I wish that Angela Sarafyan had played the femme fatale lead instead of Rebecca Ferguson. That’s nothing against Ferguson (whom I generally enjoy!), it’s just praise for Sarafyan. She’s ready to be a star, so I say this to the people who are in a position to give her a starring role: let’s make it happen!

Grade: Could’ve Been Wetter

This Is a Movie Review: The Promise

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This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale

Director: Terry George

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Acknowledging Crimes of Humanity Against Humanity

Release Date: April 21, 2017

This February’s Bitter Harvest strove for epic love against the real-life backdrop of the Soviet Ukrainian famine of the 1930’s. The effort to shine a light on an oft-ignored chapter in history was admirable, but the tame dramatization resulted in a less-than-memorable story. The Promise operates by much the same principles of historical examination but ends up with something more compelling, thanks to a more complicated romantic scenario. The setting in this case is especially relevant: the World War I-era systematic extermination of Armenians within the Ottoman Empire, which the Turkey (Ottoman’s successor) to this day refuses to refer to as “genocide.” If shots of fleeing Armenians can stir up empathy for today’s refugees, then The Promise will prove its worth in at least one way.

Furthering the Bitter Harvest comparison, The Promise is the latest in a long line of American-produced historical epics with questionable casting. There are some Armenians and Turks among the supporting cast, but the main players consist of a mix of Guatemalan (Oscar Isaac), Iranian (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and French Canadian (Charlotte Le Bon, although at least in her case she is playing an Armenian raised in Paris). Even the main American is played by a Welsh-Englishman!

I am not systematically opposed to an actor’s ethnicity not matching up with the character, but when a movie is about the attempted destruction of an entire people, and only one of the principal roles is played by a member of that people (Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan), the optics do not look great. Isaac’s accent work is solid, and he brings so much decency to his performance such that his lack of Middle Eastern heritage does not detract from the film’s overall quality. Still, it is worth considering this issue from a business and humanistic standpoint.

The Promise illuminates how emotional and familial well-being are insignificant but also essential in the face of widespread disaster. The synopses I have encountered have billed this as a love triangle, but it is really more of a quadrangle. Armenian villager Mikael (Isaac) moves to Constantinople for medical school, which he can afford thanks to the dowry he receives after agreeing to marry fellow villager Maral (Sarafyan). While in school, he meets and falls in love with Ana (Le Bon). She quite passionately reciprocates his feelings, though she is married to American journalist Chris (Bale).

As war breaks out, the story takes a turn toward labor camps, escapes under cover of night, and attempts to flee the country. The romantic rivals are allies in the greater struggle of exposing the truth and rescuing their loved ones. Isaac conveys the burden and resolve of a man bound by duty that is at odds with his once-in-a-lifetime romance. When he and Bale share the screen, the tension is riveting – you are never sure if they will punch or hug each other. This is the struggle of an existence driven by both emotions and morals. When humanity – both the principle and the population – is threatened with extinction, living right and living passionately still must find a way.

The Promise is Recommended If You Like: Atonement, Titanic, Saving Private Ryan

Grade: 3 out of 5 Sacrifices