Thoughts on Films #5 – Total Recall

Spoiler Alert – This Post May Give Things Away

The Set Up

It is the far future and Earth is a post-apolocalyptic landscape, apart from two remaining zones in Europe and Australia containing the rest of humanity crammed together in massive cities all living on top of one another. So far, so Dredd.

Our protaganist is bored with life so he decides to visit one the latest fad, a company called Rekall offering to implant fake memories and experiences of any life you choose, which you will remember as if it were your own. Alas something goes wrong, he finds himself with training a factory worker really shouldn’t have, and he’s on the run from the authorities. Is he living the implanted memory.. or is this for real?

Thoughts

I am sure most of you are familiar with the 1990 Total Recall film with Arnold Schwarzeneggar which set the action on Mars.

If you’ve never seen the Arnie film you’re probably thinking, “this sounds like Bourne meets Inception”. And you’d mostly be right, I have to imagine their popularity is why this was made. It isn’t a bad idea, I mean it sounds pretty cool right?

For those who have seen the Arnie film, be warned, much like the Dredd reboot this film is not like like the first go around in the 1990s except in this case there are barely any similarities! For starters it isn’t played for laughs at all. Arnie had all these one-liners and corny jokes and the whole thing was a bit of a silly, tongue-in-cheek romp around Mars.
This film is nothing like that, it very much plays it seriously. I can see what they were doing  – distance yourself from the other film and get closer to the original short story both were based upon. Laudable aim but they don’t quite pull it off. Like every action film it does need a bit of humour here and there and this doesn’t really have any. The original had video clips of news and commercials with biting satirical comment.. this one had video clips but they were just video clips of general news reports.

And one other thing – it isn’t on Mars.

This is fairly important because in the original film Mars was a crucial part of the story, here they’re on opposite sides of the Earth but with a transportation system which rendered the fact virtually irrelevant. To them, crossing the planet every day was just as mundane as taking the London Underground from Waterloo to Bank, even if it was a ludicrous tunnel through the centre of the Earth. Did they miss the film ‘The Core’ and how it was mocked mercilessly for being completely ridiculous? You can’t just tunnel through the core! Being on Mars was far more believable.

I suppose that was a laugh in itself but once it had established it was playing it straight it had to maintain that and not invent a crazy tunnel. Mind you, the crazy gravity inversion was done fairly well in the effects department. It just felt as if that whole tunnel thing was invented purely for the later scene where they have a fight on the tube. Anyone who’s seen any Bond film could tell you how that ends so it wasn’t really worth it.

Yes, it takes itself seriously but you can’t take the film seriously. Maybe that’s what was intended!

If you remove the link to the old film and concentrate on the actual film itself it is quite enjoyable. There wasn’t much that we haven’t seen before in Bourne films or Bond films or others in the action genre, and the memory twists we’ve also seen before. What we hadn’t seen was this combination and this excecution and it was done fairly well, with the modern filming style adding a lot to it.

It’s also half an hour longer than it needed to be, funnily enough it is about half an hour longer than Dredd. It seems to be a trend among films today to be longer than needed, maybe to justify increased ticket fees.

Cast

Much of the cast were like robots. I’m unsure if this was the fault of the actors as the film lacked character development for practically everybody but the main character. Of course with nobody worth talking to it meant Colin Farrell had nothing to work with either, which leads to the impression he wasn’t on song for this one. Now maybe that really is down to him as people have said that about his other films, but based on the other characters here I’ve got to blame the writing.

You cared about Kate Beckinsale’s character at the beginning, until the twist when she turned into a caricature of Victoria Beckham stalking around in a music video. We were supposed to root for Jessica Biel’s character as Farrell’s old friend, but there was no development at all apart from flashbacks we see right from the early scenes, which are repeated later, so we weren’t really given a reason to care.

It was just a waste of a cast really.

Effects etc

The hover-car chase was pretty cool even if was a bit ‘Fifth Element’. That and the gravity efffect in the weird tunnel thing. The cityscape was interesting especially in the Colony which was much more believable than supposed future-London.

London.. It felt half-assed, as if a late decision to decide it was London. (For starters almost everyone in both London and Australia had an American accent.) The old-fashioned abandoned subway train was a classic New York City subway train with a London Underground sticker on it, not a classic London train. Maybe that’s how things will be in a few hundred years, I don’t know.

The really annoying thing, knowing London geography, is Parliament and Big Ben being shown surrounded by new buildings reaching up to the sky for miles around. Later they cut to the gas-ridden part of the city, abandoned for miles around.. yet I am sure is set near the Bank of England barely 3-4 miles away. Maybe they built a replica Parliament somewhere else.

Recommendation?

I don’t do ratings as I prefer summing-up.

As a future-sci-fi action movie with some cool effects with future tech and memory tricks and a crazy tunnel, it should’ve been better than a run-of-the-mill action movie, but it isn’t. To be fair the 1990 film was a run-of-the-mill action movie of its day, it is Arnie’s corny lines and the weird humour which makes it a classic for people of my generation. This new film lacks anything like that.

Sometimes all you want is a generic future action movie and like the ’90 film it does work well on that level, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. However if you’re looking for a fun reboot of the original film, this isn’t it.

Tough one. Let me know what you think.

Thoughts on Films #4 – Dredd (3D)

Spoiler Alert – This Post May Give Things Away

The Set Up

Judge Dredd is one of the more famous comic books under the 2000 A.D. banner, I’m not a reader but I grew up knowing it was fairly dark. I never felt the 1995 Sylvester Stallone film hit the right tone so I was intrigued about this one.

Some time in the next 100 years civilisation is forced to gather together into Mega Cities. Mega City One sprawls across much of North Eastern USA. Huge tower blocks 100 stories tall containing entire communities dot the landscape. Crime is rife, law and order having broken down in the chaos. Justice is now exclusively dispensed by ‘Judges’, super-cops acting as on-the-spot judge, jury and if necessary, executioner.

Among the most fearsome is Judge Dredd. He’s been tasked with assessing a rookie candidate to see if she is worth training up. They respond to a murder report at one of these blocks tmo discover a gang has completely taken over the block and they’re dealing a new narcotic.

All of this you learn in the opening 15-20 minutes.

Thoughts

Okay, this is different to the 1995 Stallone film!

There’s a realism to the main city which is similar to District 9. It’s like a modern city but bigger, more run-down and crime-ridden and with these huge structures dotted all over it. Obviously the action then switches entirely to the block, which is one way to cut down the massive special effects demands of a future city!

(This is where the spoilers begin).

Yes I was a little cynical of the move to keep it within the block but it does actually work. Dredd and Andersen have to fight their way up the building which lends it an almost claustrophobic feel despite the size of the place.

Cast

I thought Karl Urban played a much better Dredd than did Stallone, I’ve not read the comics but I’ve seen enough excerpts over the years to be able to figure out that Urban’s Dredd is much closer to the original than Stallone’s. For one thing he never removed his helmet, just as Dredd has never done in the comics. You just get this gruff, stubble-chinned grimace. He’s not supposed to reveal a lot of personality, that’s the whole idea, the masked man of justice by whatever means necessary.

Olivia Thirlby was good as Anderson on the journey from raw rookie. I’ve no idea if this was a character from the books. Having her as a psychic was an interesting touch, made it a little bit X-Men perhaps, but at least most had rarely encountered the like before. Her interaction with the prisoner in the interrogation was classic! Good to see Wood Harris again too, he was Avon Barksdale in The Wire which I watched a lot of last year.

One of the minus-marks was when they did the little routine of the kid wandering into the corridor, Judges wave him back, the Bad Guys shoot the place to pieces, kid wanders out unharmed. I mean really? It would’ve worked as a joke or in a kid-friendly film, but it just didn’t fit here.

Effects

I thought the 3D effects were really well done, it was more immersive and ‘normal’ than other films I’ve seen recently where they play 3D tricks and fly things at the screen, even including whole scenes of it purely because they were able to. In this it was more that they blended into the action and it was the action your focus was on, which is exactly how it should be.

The real effects were in the Slo-Mo sections, the drug makes you experience time 10x more slowly than real time and they showed us what that would be like – fantastic in 3D! Also a great way to torture or murder somebody, say by dosing them up on this stuff and throwing them off a 100-storey building, which is what prompted the Judges to arrive in the first place. Nasty.

I don’t know if it was the film or the cinema (Cineworld Yeovil) but the sound and music were very loud, too loud at times. It got uncomfortable in places.

Recommendation

If you like gangster vs cop movies, darker (non-Superman) comic-book movies, or anything with an underdog vs bad guys theme, this film is for you.

Thoughts on Films #3 – Cowboys & Aliens

Spoiler Alert – This Post May Give Things Away

The Set Up

It is the Wild West of America in the mid 1870s, a small remote town with all the usual clichés of the classic cowboy films of the 1940s, 50s and 60s – it wouldn’t be a true homage to the classic Westerns without these familiar characters – the straight-laced bartender, the egotistical land-owner turning the screw on the population (Harrison Ford), the weak lawmen.. and a lone gunslinger with no memory of how he got there (Daniel Craig). And he’s got a strange device wrapped around his arm.

Then suddenly a mysterious flying object appears and snatches people away. Not with some fancy tractor beam.. but with a grappling arm like a big one of those things you get at the amusement arcades which can never pick up anything, except these actually worked. And Craig’s arm device turns out to be very cool indeed.

Thoughts

Yes, Cowboys & Aliens is completely ridiculous. I absolutely loved it. It could easily have been a terrible, terrible film yet it carries itself well. It takes itself seriously in a deadpan style, shot and acted like a serious film but with a plot so crazy the tongue was clearly firmly in cheek. You could tell they were all having fun with it. And they managed to do it without the corny, cheesey approach or the wink or knowing look to camera – this just made it even better.

It’s shot like a traditional Western yet with the modern realism effects of something like District 9. This is part of what makes it so watchable.

Okay so the plot isn’t much to shout about, if you’ve seen any good guys vs bad guys sci fi or Western film you can guess the result. I’ve seen a lot of people pan the film based on the plot. They’re missing the point. A film like this, the point is to go along with it and have a good time, enjoy the journey, watch cowboys being invaded by aliens and the resulting dialogue and shoot-em-ups, because there’s not much better in cinema than cowboys delivering one-liners and nonchalantly shooting things. That’s why Firefly worked so well.

I mean look! Cowboys! And aliens!

Daniel Craig was basically doing an 1870s version of his James Bond. It sort of worked though so perhaps that says more about his version of Bond being like a cowboy rather than the reverse? Harrison Ford seemed to be enjoying himself most of all. Paul Dano was basically playing the same character he played in There Will Be Blood. Let’s be clear – nobody was really stretching themselves here. Fair to say that Ford and Craig have the most-developed characters, all the bit part players are just that and you don’t really what happens with them. And then there’s the love interest angle.. except he has flashbacks to another woman. All fairly predictable. The journey is fun though.

Again, none of this is really the point. It’s just a fun film that you shouldn’t spent a lot of time thinking about. Watch, enjoy, move on.

Thoughts on Films #2 – Prometheus

Contains Multiple Spoilers – Only read if you’ve seen Prometheus or don’t intend to!

I had steadfastly ignored all of the Prometheus previews, trailers and so forth because sometimes they just give too much away.

I initially left the cinema a little underwhelmed that it didn’t have the suspense or action of the original Alien. A good film but it wasn’t of the same calibre. There’s no doubt that the director and the connection to the previous films rightfully left me with high expectations. As I left the Plaza in Dorchester I felt they weren’t met.

Initial reactions can be deceiving. Lesson learned: the enjoyment of a film isn’t confined to the end credits. This is a film that leaves you thinking and asking questions. I was thinking throughout the 25 minute drive home, more when I got home, and again when I was sent a link of further discussion points. You might say then that Prometheus is a slow-burner, the reaction is delayed.

That in itself is a major achievement especially in an era of largely brain-free blockbusters (clearly I’ve not seen every film released in the last few years but the only other example readily coming to mind is Inception). It gets you thinking about the plans of the Engineers – What were they doing? Why create us? (Presumably ‘because they could’ in the words of David). Why come back again? And just what did David say to piss off the guy? As this plan was scuppered because of an outbreak, why not try again from somewhere else? Does this mean these were the last of their kind? If not, where are they now? And surely when Shaw gets there, if they aren’t dead they will kill her as the other guy tried to.

So many questions!

It gets you thinking of the connections to the other films too – there will surely be a sequel, Scott said as much, so how does it link together? Will it link together or will the story diverge from here? The ship found by the Nostromo, will we see the lead up to it or is that unnecessary since we can guess there was an leak of the ‘black stuff’ which infected the crew? Was the communication she left the one the Nostromo detected (and if so was the planet renamed?).

You get as much enjoyment pondering these questions as you do watching the film itself. Had it been a standalone not connected to Alien I’m not sure I’d have thought about it so much. You might’ve wondered for a bit about the Engineers but that’s it. The connections are what makes it. How does it all fit in?

There were some great scenes in it. The scary surgery machine made the nerves twitch, imagine putting yourself in that thing! And I enjoyed the fast evolution of the creatures, seeing it gradually become the thing we all know.

There was a refreshing lack of use of CGI, or I should say, the use of a big effect just to show off. The only time I thought it devolved into a CGI artist pissing contest was the map room scene. It felt out of place compared to the rest of it. The rest of the time you could’t discern the difference between it or a well done model or live shots. Effects should not exist for the sake of having effects, the map room / bridge filling with swirling images was the only time I thought that happened.

Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender put in excellent performances. Fassbender was quite creepy – and clearly reminiscent of Ian Holm’s Ash. I am sure Charlize Theron’s character was a robot too, not that I can see how we’d ever find out. The rest of the cast suffered a bit, their characters could’ve been developed a little more.

Mixed feelings then. I do wonder about this: if and when we see the sequel, this film may be seen in a whole new light. If that’s the case then it really will be a lot better than it appears at first. I hope so. Ridley Scott is clearly working to a plan.

Name: Prometheus
Year: 2012
Runtime: 124 minutes
IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446714/
Actors: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba
Director: Ridley Scott