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Posts Tagged ‘Thandiwe Newton’

Thandiwe Newton, Chris Pine

“ALL THE OLD KNIVES” My rating: C+ (Amazon Prime)

101 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Give the makers of “All the Old Knives” props for delivering a cerebral spy yarn, one free of gunfire, car chases, explosions and the usual trappings of the post-Bond espionage thriller.

There’s more John LeCarre than Michael Bay on display in director Janus Metz’s yarn. Nice change of pace.

Still, it’s a bit underwhelming.

Unfolding simultaneously in several time frames, Olen Steinhauer’s screenplay (based on his novel) begins with the highjacking of a commercial jet liner in Europe.  The terrorists are holding hostage a hundred or so passengers and crew on a runway of Vienna’s international airport.

Spooks at Vienna’s CIA station monitor the situation. They include station chief Vick Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne),  second-in-command Bill Compton (Jonathan Pryce) and agents Henry Pelham and Celia Harrison(Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton), who are not only co-workers but lovers.

Eight years after that incident ended tragically, Henry finds himself pulled back into the ugly past with an unwelcome assignment.  It now appears that someone at the Vienna station was in cahoots with the highjackers; boss Vick thinks it was either Bill or Celia, both now retired from the game.

Henry’s first stop is in London to grill Bill; then it’s on to Big Sur country where Celia has married and started a family.  

Much of the story is told in flashback as Henry and Celia share a dinner at a picturesque seaside restaurant.  It’s a curious dance of nerves and insinuation. Ostensibly it’s just a meeting of old friends, but they (and we) know better …for one thing we discover that a fellow diner is in fact an agency hit man waiting for Henry’s nod to move in on Celia.

So it’s kinda tense. Henry and Celia both recognize that despite the friendly small talk with which the meal begins, the episode could end with arrest and imprisonment…if not termination with extreme prejudice.

And then there’s the issue of unrequited love…these two were never so alive as when in each other’s arms and working together on a mission.

Essentially this is a two-handed drama with brief digressions into the past. It’s a chance for Pine and Newton to flex their acting muscles without a lot of cinematic razzle dazzle.

And the plot delivers a satisfying last-minute “gotcha.”

Still, there’s something missing.  We’re told that Henry and Celia were a hot item, but we don’t necessarily feel it. As a result “All the Old Knives” is more a knotty puzzle than a gripping cinema experience.

| Robert W. Butler

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Hugh Jackman

“REMINISENCE” My rating: D (HBO Max)

116 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Reminisence” has one hell of a pedigree.

It is the feature writing/directing debut of Lisa Joy, the co-creator of HBO’s “Westworld.” A while back her “Reminiscence” screenplay was included on the Black List, an annual survey of the Hollywood’s most promising unproduced scripts.

The cast includes heavy hitters like Hugh Jackman and Thandiwe Newton, with assists from the likes of Rebecca Ferguson and Cliff Curtis.

And yet the film is borderline unwatchable, a clumsily assembled pastiche of sci-fi and film noir cliches that fails to generate excitement or emotional involvement. After devoting two hours to watching this project I can see what Joy was going for, but she didn’t come close to getting me there.

Jackman stars as cynical, world-weary Nick Bannister, who in the not-too-distant future lives and works in Miami…or what the filmmakers imagine Miami will be like after a few decades of global warming and rising ocean levels.

Now the city resembles Venice with high rises. Streets are flooded. Dams keep out some, but hardly all, of the encroaching waves. The rich reside in “dry” areas, while everyone else must resign themselves to perpetual sogginess.

Nick and former Army buddy Watts (Newton) run a service that employs futuristic tech to recover the dreams and memories of their clients. Folks in this watery future are so bummed out that many prefer to live in the past; while in Nick’s immersion tank they can be guided back to the happiest moments of their lives and, for a few minutes and a few dollars, dwell there.

Their memories are projected via hologram, allowing Nick and Watts to eavesdrop on what is usually a very private experience.

Enter super hot Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a nightclub chanteuse (of course) who wants to use Nick’s machine to discover where she misplaced her house keys. Uh huh.

Anyway, he falls. Hard.

Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson

We know because he tells us. And tells us. And tells us.

“Reminiscence” relies heavily on Nick’s angsty, tough-guy voiceover narration. It’s so clumsily overwritten that after a while I started to wince every time Jackman’s disembodied voice flooded the soundtrack. Perhaps it’s meant to be a playful parody of pulp fiction first-person navel gazing; whatever…doesn’t work.

Anyway, one day Mae vanishes. To Watts’ dismay, Nick starts spending countless hours in his own machine, mining his reminiscences of their affair. Eventually he decides to get off his ass in an attempt to track Mae down.

Along the way he runs afoul of a New Orleans gangster (Daniel Wu) from Mae’s past, a crooked cop (Curtis) and a family of wealthy creeps who are rapidly taking over what’s left of society.

And he discovers that his beloved may have been playing him all along.

Joy’s plot is so full of twists that I cannot begin to explain what actually happens in the film’s second half. It may have something to do with the fact that I felt nothing for any of the characters, was totally uninvested in their fates.

“Reminiscence” does a fair amount of cinematic name dropping. Mae is the mysterious femme fatale of countless potboilers; Nick is an updated Bogie. The script Nick employs to guide his clients through their memories sounds uncannily like Rod Serling’s spoken introduction to the old “Twilight Zone” episodes.

The film’s version of Miami is right out of “Waterworld” and countless other movies about a dystopian future. The whole memory machine gimmick seems to have been inspired by “Total Recall” and there’s a slugfest with hammers that Joy has stated is her homage to the hallway brawl in “Old Boy.”

None of it worked, at least not for me. In the end I felt as numbed and bummed as Jackman’s character, but for all the wrong reasons.

| Robert W. Butler

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