Skip to main content

The past is a construct of the mind.


Total Recall
(2012)

I wanted to like this, partly because I don't think Paul Verhoeven's 1990 film is some kind of untouchable masterpiece (it's got Arnie in it for a start, and the whole thing feels like it was shot on sets) and partly because there's enough material in the premise that it could stand a few different takes on the Dickmeister. But director Len Wiseman and writers Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback do nothing interesting with this remake. What they do change is frequently so daffy you can only conclude that you're supposed to think that Quaid's dream at the beginning is real and[i] everything[/i] else is a dream. This, despite the ploddingly literal approach screaming (or dully echoing) otherwise.

So we have the Earth divided (chemical warfare miraculously resulted in two English-speaking land masses surviving!) into two territories, United Federation of Britain and the poor, blue-collar Colony (Australia...). Workers from the Colony travel daily to UFB through the centre of the Earth in a giant lift called the Fall. Terraforming Mars in minutes while Arnie's eyes pop out of his head seems utterly believable after this. It's almost as if the writers are daring you to take it seriously, but then the subsequent film is so po-faced you conclude there was little rhyme or reason involved. Despite the window-dressing of the setting, whole scenes slavishly follow the plot beats present in the original. At one point there's a visual reference to the woman Arnie disguised himself as. It's a nice gag that works as misdirection due to the lack of originality on display everywhere else, and one of the few in the mix (for example, revisiting the three breasted woman is indicative of how devoid of ideas the film is).

To be fair to Wiseman, his highly derivative (of Blade Runner, Minority Report, The Fifth Element) future world has a physicality and tangibility despite it's reliance on CGI effects. And he stages the action competently and clearly (something nothing short of miraculous in current cinema). But there's nothing to be involved with. 

The casting is utterly bland. Not just Colin Farrell (someone pointed out that he can only be relied on to give a good performance when he uses his native accent, and this is further evidence; he's not bad or anything remotely Arnie-esque but he's completely forgettable so there's no one to root for), but Biel, Beckinsale (she makes a convincing Terminator-bitch, but Sharon Stone was a far stronger presence with a third of the screen time), Nighy (who appears for all of two minutes) and Cranston. The latter is especially  pay-cheque grabbing. It's a fairly unnuanced villain role but it it needed someone to do something "big" with it. The only time Cranston breaks a sweat is the groan-inducing extended fight with Farrell at the climax. When we're asked to believe that Farrell's supposed super spy will take a beating from a furious politician. You can see the thinking in filling a future vision with actors rather than stars, but it required those actors to be invested in, or inject some charisma into, the proceedings. Everyone present is as going-through-the-motions as the script and director (actually, John Chu made an impression with his bleach blonde cameo as the Rekall guy).

The design is, as stated, derivative, but there are some nice touches here and there. A journey by train into the London wasteland (again, logic rears it's ugly head; how are people free of pollution a few miles away when anyone journeying to the wasteland has to wear a gas mask) suggest a far more interesting milieu than the wall-to-wall cityscapes, while the only chase sequence that provokes interest requires the pursued and pursuers to dodge a criss-cross of lifts as they hotfoot it down different shafts. But it's future world building where you have to be told how it is, rather than be shown. Why is there a working London with double-deckers at ground level below the flying cars and city in the air? Particularly with the aforementioned chemical nastiness not far away? Because visually it makes you pay attention, not narratively.  At least Wiseman makes sure his robot stormtrooper knock-offs are men in suits rather than Clonetrooper-CGI, and gets points for that.

The big climax, when it comes, relies on punches and explosions and lacks anything particularly intriguing (however, it occurred to me that the invasion force can't have been that large given the means of transporting them). Indeed, any cerebral element has long since been divested in a tiring display of non-stop action, lacking any hook to draw the audience in. 

I don't think the issue with the film was getting rid of Mars, it was not coming up with different-enough plotting or any philosophical backbone to base the remake on (its food for thought is all lip-service to the Arnie film). Ostensibly there's a stronger political edge to the script this time around (Cohaagen is waging a War on Terror which, for the most part, he has instigated, engineering proceedings in order to invade another continent and make use of its "natural resources"), but there's no bite or conviction to it. Maybe someone who hasn't seen the original would enjoy it more, but I suspect even then the lack of any real enthusiasm from its makers would leave them feeling short-changed.

**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …