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REMEMORY (2017) review

September 6, 2017

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written by: Mark Pakansky and Michael Vukadinovich
produced by: Daniel Bekerman and Lee Clay
directed by: Mark Palansky
rated: PG-13 (for bloody accident images, some violence, thematic material and brief strong language)
runtime: 111 min.
U.S. release date: August 24, 2017 (Google Play), September 9, 2017 (limited & VOD)

 

There’s something about the sci-fi mystery “Rememory” that makes it a little better than it actually is for me. Maybe it’s the intention to get us to think about our own memories, how much or what we remember, as well as what we choose to forget, that stands out. Or it could be the unique ideas regarding memory it presents that almost makes up for some of the film’s egregious flaws. At its core, “Rememory” is about guilt and grief – two perennial responses that can be found in most (if not all) stories, yet there’s something quite intriguing about the titular device the film revolves around that kind of makes up for the cliches director Mark Palansky tends to lean on. The overall package may be lacking, but a compelling lead performance and some particular stand-out elements prevent me from completely disregarding the film altogether.

While this is a mystery, it gradually becomes clear that the main mystery is who exactly the lead character, Samuel Bloom (Peter Dinklage), is – and what he’s about. He’s apparently an architectural-model builder who tinkers alone in a cool-looking work shed along a dock (the film was shot in and around Vancouver, but it’s never quite clear where the story is based), someone who’s often lost in the memories of the motor vehicle accident that took the life of this brother, Dash (Matt Ellis), while Bloom was behind the wheel. One of the main reasons he replays his Dash’s final moments is because he could never make out brother’s indecipherable last words were important. If only there was a way for the guilt-ridden Bloom to go back into his memories and augment or clarify what his brother said.

 

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Maybe tech inventor Gordon Dunn (Martin Donovan) can be of assistance, specifically the newly-announced prototype machine he created called Rememory, which allows one to replay memories, in essence rewinding and replaying what took place in the past. Such a device could prove groundbreaking for amnesia victims, early on-set Alzheimer’s or other memory-affecting illnesses. Bloom had developed an appreciation for Dunn, having met him not long after the death of his brother and when Dunn suddenly dies, Bloom takes it upon himself to investigate the mystery surrounding the inventor’s cause of death.

“Rememory” takes on the tone of a procedural as the observant Bloom learns more about Dunn’s work and those who participated in the product tests of his device. Does he have experience as a detective? Are the police investigating as well and, if so, are they aware that this mysterious character who has no known ties to Dunn is obsessed with knowing the details leading to Dunn’s demise? Well, the police in this story, co-written by Palansky (who hasn’t helmed a feature since 2006’s “Penelope”) and Michael Vukadinovich, are absent nor is there any other apparent interest in how Dunn died. Could it be homicide or a cover up? Was Dunn killed due to something he knew or was about to do?

There are a handful of characters that Bloom inevitably encounters as he pieces together the puzzle that shapes Dunn’s death. During a pre-launch event for Rememory, Bloom witnesses one test participant, Wendy Polk (Évelyne Brochu) engage in a dispute with Dunn. He’ll eventually track down and question her, as well as a frightened mechanic named Todd (Anton Yelchin, in one of his last roles) – who’s understandably frightened by his experience with Dunn’s device – as he pursues the truth surrounding Dunn’s final moments.

 

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His pursuit will also introduce Bloom to two individuals close to Dunn, his widow Carolyn and his public relations partner, Robert Lawton (Henry Ian Cusick), the latter of whom may or may not have ulterior motives – or at least that’s what Palansky and Vukadinovich would have us believe. When Bloom first encounters Carolyn (an always great Julia Ormond), he states he once met her husband in a hotel bar, where they connected. Is that true or does Bloom himself have ulterior motives. He may or may not, surely sneaking his way into Dunn’s office and stealing the sole existing Rememory machine, along with a collection of memory slides, doesn’t necessarily bode well for Bloom’s innocence. Using the device to unpeel the complicated layers covering the death of Dunn, Bloom finds himself getting closer and closer to dealing with the memories of his own past which has haunted him for years.

What “Rememory” has going for it is a good deal of interesting build-up, a solid cast (although Dinklage and Ormond provide the best performances) and, surprisingly, some very attractive design work. The design of the Rememory machine, with its retro rectangular glass memory slides that one inserts to what looks like a cross-between a first generation portable DVD player and a Fisher Price laptop, is unexpectedly cool. It’s almost not as tech-fancy as you’d think it would be and I liked that. I also didn’t expect the interior designs of Bloom’s home and Dunn’s office to be so charming and, well, like someplace I’d like to live or work, maybe I just have a thing for cool shelving.

Where “Rememory” fails is in the characterization department – not the acting, mind you – but the way in which their characters are written. Right away, the screenplay introduces us to Bloom’s brother, a characterization and portrayal of Dash as this rocker (of questionable notability) that’s really quite stereotypical. The fact that he was a rocker really plays no significance to the memories Bloom has of him. They could’ve just had a close relationship (which it seems they do) and that would be enough. Dash is definitely an integral character, yet a certain lackluster revelation related to him as the film closes is a letdown that for some reason I kind of expected.

 

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Another thing about the characters portrayed in “Rememory” – again, apart from the Dinklage and Ormond characters – is that I found myself wanting to know more about certain characters, specifically Donovan’s Dunn and Yelchin’s Todd. The character of Dunn is something akin to a Steve Jobs figure with the sensibilities of a therapist about him. He could’ve easily been a scumbag or a huckster, but Donovan portrayed him like a man who truly wanted to help others. I guess that’s why I wanted to know more about him. Then there’s the damaged character Yelchin plays. Of course, watching the late actor made me sad that we’ll never see more of his work, but it also made me sad that his character was kind of one-note. Sure, it’s a small supporting role, but it would’ve been nice to see the actor work with material that allowed him to stretch a bit more.

My favorite scenes are the ones with Dinklage and Ormond, both of whom are more than capable of delivering soulful performances that convey grief and guilt with a seemingly natural ease. The two actors work off each other well, portraying characters who go from hesitantly inviting the other into their lives to individuals who have been touched by the other’s presence. It helps that such character development never feels forced or heavy-handed thanks to these actors.

The other character of interest is the titular device of “Rememory”, which surprisingly provokes some very intriguing ideas and concepts, along with expected moral quandaries. It almost reminded me of the SQUID, from 1995’s “Strange Days”, the illegal electronic device that recorded events directly from the wearer’s cerebral cortex, allowing users to experience the recorder’s memories and physical sensations. The machine in this film is almost as intense to use as a SQUID, yet there’s almost a healing or cathartic quality to it as well. Imagine a machine that allows you to access your memory, but actually shows you the truth of those memories, rather than how you view them. It sounds too tempting. Since I already have such a random memory – at times I call it a bad memory, since I can’t remember what I’d like to remember – perhaps I’d like to take advantage of such technology. But, to what end? There would possibly be a temptation to live in those memories, to be as “plugged in” as so many are to their tablets or smartphones.

I was surprised to learn that “Rememory” premiered at Sundance this year, because I heard absolutely nothing about it. Ultimately, it’s not a bad film nor is it one I would immediately forget about. It certainly got me thinking about my own faulty memory and how I manage to blissfully get by without remembering what was said or done during every minute of my past. It reminded me to embrace living in the here and now.

 

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RATING: **1/2

 

 

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