Total Recall – Double Review

Here we go again. The question of ‘is this remake necessary?‘ is ubiquitous once again. For some, Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is regarded a classic. So naturally, people are crying foul when director Len Wiseman announced he’s doing a remake 22 years after the original’s release in 1990. So today, Ted and I are looking into this from two different perspectives: He loves the original and has read the Philip K. Dick novel, while I can barely recall the original and hasn’t read the book.

Ted’s Review:

First off I would like to state that I love the original version of Total Recall and I also read the short story by Phillip K. Dick which both films were loosely based on. For this review of the new film, I’m going to try my hardest not to compare this new film to the 1990 version or Dick’s short story.

The film opens in the future, they didn’t specify what year but according to the Sony’s official plotline, it’s set in the year 2084 and earth has suffered some sort of catastrophic chemical warfare and most of the planet are inhabitable except for two areas: a federation on the British isles and a colony which used to be Australia. You see the world has split into two societies, the rich lives in the federation and the poor lives in the slum looking colony.

Just like the original version, it begins with Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) having a bad dream and when he wakes up, he’s comforted by his gorgeous wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale). We learned that Quaid is not satisfied with his life, again he’s married to a woman who looks like Kate Beckinsale or in the original version, Sharon Stone, yet he’s still not happy? Seriously, come on now! Oh sorry I didn’t mean to go off track there. Anyways, we also learn that Quaid is a factory worker who dreams of moving up the ladder at his company. But because he’s from the colony, the company refuses to promote him. So one day a new co-worker of his heard him complained about his mundane life and told him about a place called Rekall, there he can make his dreams come true. After a couple of beers at a bar with his best friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), Quaid decided to drop by Rekall and get an exciting memory implant.

Once he’s at Rekall, he was given a few life style choices and he chose to get a memory as a secret agent. Before he gets the implants though, cops stormed into Rekall’s office and killed everyone except Quaid who we found out could handle himself. Then the rest of the film became a chase, first Quaid didn’t understand why his wife is now trying to kill him and then later he ran into another beautiful woman named Melina (Jessica Biel) who told him he’s not who he is.

First let’s get the good stuff out of the way, the film was beautifully shot and composed. The special effects were top notch and some of the action sequences were pretty great; I really enjoyed the car chase on the highway of the future (looks way too similar to the highway in Minority Report) and also the fight scene in an elevator. I would like to thank Wiseman for shooting action scenes that we can actually see instead of the usual handheld shaky style that’s been popular lately in action films.

Unfortunately those are the only good things I can say about this remake. The film lacks originality, wit and humor. The futuristic world looks so much like other (much better) sci-fi films that came before it. I imagine Wiseman goes into a meeting with his production designer and visual effect guys and said “Look I want to copy every other sci-fi films, so make the cities look like they’re from Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Minority Report or i, Robot. Then make the robots, cars and jets looks like something out of Star Wars prequel.” Now I don’t mind people copying other films, so long as their story and characters are interesting. Well Wiseman failed on those areas too. Since I’ve seen the original so many times, I found the plot in this version to be boring and uninteresting.

I also didn’t care for any of the characters, I felt Ferrell’s Quaid was just running around trying to save his own ass and then Biel’s Melina was just the typical damsel in distress, yes she can handle herself but in the end, Quaid still has to come to her rescue. As for Beckinsale, well she’s way too hot for me to take her seriously as a killing machine. It was a mistake for the filmmakers to combined the characters of Lori and Richter from the original into one. You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mention the main villain of the film yet, well to be honest he’s not worth mentioning. You don’t really know much about Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) except that he’s the guy in charge of the federation and he’s evil, plain and simple. I don’t blame the actors for not being interesting, the writers didn’t give them much to work with.

To me another mistake the filmmakers made was to do direct remake of Verhoeven’s film instead of reinvent the story. I mean they could’ve followed the original short story and maybe it could’ve been a much better film. Even though this remake has bigger budget and ten times better special effects, the film felt small in scope compare to Verhoeven’s version. Again I think it’s the filmmakers’ fault for not trying something new. Also, they took the material way too seriously, for a summer action film, I couldn’t find one single humorous scene in it.
I really wanted to enjoy this film but in the end I found it to be joyless, repetitive and not creative at all. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, I was just bored with it.

If you’ve never seen the original version, then you might enjoy it. But if you ask me, I’d tell you to skip this one and see the original instead.

2 out of 5 reels

Ruth’s Review

I always love a good sci-fi and truthfully, I think having seen the filmmaker and cast at last year’s Comic-con might’ve elevated my enthusiasm for this movie. So when my hubby got a 2-for-in deal from VISA, we though, eh what the heck.

Since Ted already covered the plot, I’m only going to talk about how I feel about the film. Well, there’s really not much praise I can say about this movie. It’s too bad as the premise from the great mind of Philip K. Dick offers soooo much potential. The whole notion that the earth is now barren except Great Britain (The United Federation of Britain or UFB for short) and Australia (The Colony) is quite intriguing. And visually it’s quite a feast for the eyes, the ‘downtown’ area of UFB looks convincingly gritty, yet the aerial view shows a sleek, futuristic city of the year 2084. It reminds me of Blade Runner, but much, much sleeker, obviously CGI technology has come a long way since 1982.

The transportation system called ‘The Fall’ that goes through the planet’s core to travel from the two main regions are pretty cool looking and so are those super awesome hovercrafts! I LOVE the hovercraft chase scenes, especially that part when Farrell’s character disengage the vehicle from the hanging track, causing it to plummet thousands of feet below. It doesn’t quite match the truck vs. batpod in The Dark Knight of course, but still it was fun to watch. But aside from a few fun action sequences, this movie is pretty darn boring.

Acting-wise it’s lackluster as well, and I blame that on the flimsy script as Colin Farrell is actually a pretty decent actor. Somehow he’s just devoid of charisma here, in fact, he’s much more memorable in his brief scenes chasing Tom Cruise in another Philip K. Dick’s adaptation Minority Report than the he is running around for 2 whole hours here. Practically the entire time I was watching this, I was plagued with this de-ja-vu-ish feelings that I’ve seen all this before in different sci-fi movies, but done in much more compelling way. Kate Beckinsale, Wiseman’s ultra-gorgeous wife, is only there for mere eye candy. I mean her character — a kick-ass cop who NEVER has a bad hair day in her life despite having to wake up in the middle of the night to report to work — is so absurd that it’s borderline comical. She can practically leap from building to building in 10-inch heels as if she’s some bio-engineered robots and even with my suspension-of-disbelief cap screwed on tight, it’s still hard to imagine she had been playing Quaid’s loving wife for seven years.

Believe it or not, the only person who provides a little bit of emotional resonance is Jessica Biel’s character Melina, who claims to be Quaid’s girlfriend before his memory implant. At least I sympathize a bit with Melina in her struggle to get her boyfriend to figure out his real identity again, though at times she does appears more like a damsel-in-distress like Ted pointed out. Cranston was pretty much wasted as a one-dimensional villain, and Bill Nighy fares even worse! I mean, he’s actually more memorable getting his vampiric face slashed in Underworld, I mean come on!!

Overall it’s just a bland and vapid adaptation that offers no redemptive value whatsoever. Even those seemingly frivolous Summer superhero flicks have more purpose than the protagonist in this movie. Quaid seems only interested to save his own behind while at the same time trying to prevent the evil bad dude Cohageen from invading the entire planet with his robot army.

So in the end, though I don’t have fond memories of the original, I still agree with Ted’s rating on this one. Good thing we’ve got a pair of cheap tickets to see this, as it’s only worth a rental at best. Now I can see why Ted lists Len Wiseman in his list of hack directors in Hollywood!

2 out of 5 reels


Do you agree/disagree with our assessment of this movie? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Weekend Viewing Roundup: Starter for Ten & A Scanner Darkly

There’s nothing interesting at the cinema this weekend, but it’s always nice to catch up on older movies I’ve been meaning to see.

This past Friday was our first Girls Movie Nite since its summer hiatus and my girlfriends and I had initially settled on Water for Elephants. The trailer looks pretty good and the combination of Christoph Waltz and Robert Pattinson in a circus setting seemed intriguing. Unfortunately it’s not available on Netflix yet (another reason I’m canceling my subscription) so we ended up seeing Starter for 10 since one of my friends owns the DVD. The other one I saw was A Scanner Darkly, a sci-fi done in interpolated rotoscoping animation style in which animators trace over live-action film movement, frame by frame.

Starter For 10

 

Set in 1985, working-class student Brian Jackson navigates his first year at Bristol University.

Seems like James McAvoy hasn’t made a bad film. At least out of the eight films where he had a prominent role, none of them has disappointed me. Ok so I didn’t love Becoming Jane (despite my love for period dramas) but it’s more because of Anne Hathaway performance than James’.

McAvoy truly carried this film with his earnest performance as the brainy kid Brian who finds out that life education is definitely as important as being book smart. Despite being in his mid 20s when he did this film, he was quite believable as a college freshman. His transformation from the naive geek with bad hair to a slightly older & wiser university student is fun to watch. Scottish director Tom Vaughan peppered the film with witty dialog and whimsical college scenes without relying on silly or inappropriate gags like college films like say, Old School. Even the more sexually-charged scenes are a hoot, especially the one involving Brian and the parents of the girl of his dreams on a Christmas holiday, are funny but not cringe-worthy.

The romance is sweet and engaging. It’s almost unanimous that everyone in my group sympathize with Rebecca Hall’s character. I feel that it’s not only because her character (also named Rebecca) is written that way but also because Hall seems to always come across very affable on screen. The film truly belongs to the über talented McAvoy but Benedict Cumberbatch managed to steal some scenes with his hilarious performance as the ambitious group ‘leader’ competing for the University Challenge quiz show. His character may be one-dimensional but still he made it entertaining. The ending is quite predictable but I don’t really mind it in a movie like this where a lack of ‘plot twist’ is not a detriment.

Starter For 10 is quite a poignant yet funny coming-of-age comedy drama starring the hottest young British talents working today. Many of the cast have now become quite famous: McAvoy himself, Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, The Town, Everything Must Go), Benedict Cumberbatch (Amazing Grace, BBC’s Sherlock, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Dominic Cooper (The Duchess, An Education, The Devil’s Double). Alice Eve is perhaps the least known but she’s starring in The Raven next year.

The music is quite memorable as well with songs mostly by The Cure and other British bands such as Tears for Fears, The Smiths and Wham!.

4 out of 5 reels

A Scanner Darkly

 

An undercover cop in a not-too-distant future becomes involved with a dangerous new drug called Substance-D and begins to lose his own identity as a result.

I’ve been curious about this film for some time, mostly because of the rotoscoping animation style I’ve mentioned about, as well as the fact that it’s a Philip K. Dick adaptation. He’s perhaps one of the greatest sci-fi authors whose work have been a popular subject for films such as Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report and most recently The Adjustment Bureau.

The cast for this film, especially Keanu Reeves and Robert Downey Jr., is also a big selling point. Combine that with an intriguing subject matter and a distinct visual style, this one surely can’t be a misfire, right? Well, I wouldn’t call it a misfire, but I can’t exactly call this one enjoyable. People have said that this movie is not for everyone, but really, one can say that for just about every title, right? Even the most beloved movie would have its detractor. The thing is, I was prepared to really like this one, but I actually found this one to be tedious in parts that I actually dozed off about three-quarters the way through. I did wake up about 10 minutes before the end and found that the story is quite profound, but yet I’m just not interested enough to rewind which parts I had missed.

I think the main strength of the film is the story itself, which made me think that I might appreciate the novel more. The acting is also good overall — both Keanu and Robert are perfectly cast, and Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson are quite memorable in their supporting roles. But the pacing is a bit too slow as the novelty of the animation style wears off. I really think the visual technique is really imaginative and I appreciate that the filmmaker went with this route. Yet I’m not really sure how much that style improve the story-telling. Yes I do believe director Richard Linklater is able to capture the paranoia and perceptual contortion caused by Substance-D, but because of the animation style, I feel that the subtle expressions that we would otherwise be able to perceive from each actor is somewhat lost. I almost feel guilty that I didn’t enjoy this as much as I learn in the Special Features about the dedication of the filmmaker and how personal this project is to him.

Perhaps if I give this film another chance I might enjoy it more, though I highly doubt I’d see this again. The thing about this whole film is how unsettling it is. I hate insects so the opening scene alone of a guy suffering from intense hallucination is disturbing and down right repugnant. But with that said, I’d still recommend this for a rental for people who enjoy sci-fi movies and Philip K. Dick’s stories. Though I didn’t end up loving it, I definitely don’t regret finally seeing this.

3 out of 5 reels

Well, what did you see this weekend? If you’ve seen either one of these films, please share your thoughts in the comments.