Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Total Recall

Directed by Len Wiseman. Written by Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback, Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon and Jon Povill. Starring Colin Farrell (Douglas Quaid/Hauser), Bokeem Woodbine (Lori Quaid) and Bryan Cranston (Cohaagen), Jessica Biel (Melina).

Bottom line: It’s as if it tried to eclipse the massive plot holes, stupid dialogue with fancy special effects but, by failing to do so, Total Recall misses the potential for the great concept of questioning the significance of memory and reality.

Watching a bad movie can be fun. You or you and your friend/s can laugh with/at the ridiculous scenes with all the bad dialogue and the clichés and what-not. I wish Total Recall was that type of movie.

It is the near-future; the world only has two groups of people, the British Empire and the Colony (Australia). The colony is filled with the working class who do construction for the upper class empire. There is some animosity in the class disparity which is illustrated by a group of rebels. We meet Douglas Quaid (Farrell), a factory worker who has a recurring nightmare of robots, a brunette and lens-flare. He is dreaming, as he explains, of doing something that is important instead doing the “same shitty job to come home to the same shitty bar and drink the same shitty beer”. To escape reality for a little while, Quaid goes to the red light district to find Rekall, a place where memories are implanted into a person. The advertisement asks, what do you get when you go on a trip? Memories. With a memory implant, you could remember a trip without actually having to go anywhere. This is a really groovy idea when you think about it. But, before I get into talking about it too much, let me give my impressions of this movie.

Instead of being a fun, cheesy, action movie, Total Recall was a film that just made me angry. It makes me angry when people take a beautiful, powerful medium and use to make a cheap flashy buck. I don’t use the word ‘hate’ very often but I hated this movie. The first red flag is the obscene use of lens flare; at a few points, the visuals were nigh incomprehensible. You know that feeling where you are watching a lame movie and you can tell where the money went? Usually, the money goes to CGI at the expense of dialog *cough* Transformers *cough*. Here, I’d bet a large chunk went to the artist director, Patrick Tatopoulos. He directed of Underworld: Rise of the Likens and you can see the resemblance but the movie seems fixated with the style. It’s like Wiseman said, “We got Patrick and, darn it, we are going to feature him!” There is such an emphasis on props and sets. I’m fine with elaborate sets but I’d prefer it if the immersion factor didn’t depend on them. Why, for example, do we have to have a lengthy scene of Quaid unwrapping things in an apartment (where the emphasis is one unwrapping)?

With all this money spent on props, style and (of course) CGI, what is shortchanged to compensate? You guessed it, everything else. Plot? It is a painfully, watered down shell of the original. Dialogue? I wish couldn’t recall any of it.
Now, the fun part about Total Recall (both the original and remake) is the significance of memories. There are books and academic articles which feature the Total Recall, which I find sort of funny: who would have thought a Schwarzenegger would be a focal point for academic discussion? In this remake, the philosophical implications of memories are, for the most part, dismissed. That’s the most tragic things about the movie. By the way, mind yourself for spoilers (just skip to the next paragraph). The idea behind the technology is, again, to give the user the perception that they have done something. So an individual’s sense of reality can be fabricated. What happens to an individual if his or her entire memory is constructed? The original was more successful in going to a deeper level. At first, we know that Quaid is not a construction worker nor is he married but he is working for the rebels. We learn of his role in the rebellion from a recording he left of himself, to himself. Fast forward, Quaid was actually working for the Empire. He voluntarily replaced his memories to infiltrate the rebellion. What could be a better spy than one who genuinely doesn’t know he is a spy? Who, then, is the real Quaid? Is he this ruthless spy or a sympathetic rebel? His perception of himself is based on his memories which can no longer be trusted.

You might argue, ‘this is a remake of a groundbreaking movie. What could I expect?’ I would like some variation though, not at the expense of story. I think it would have been really interesting if they moved to a direction of control and memories. Let’s say the Rekall facility is a relatively legitimate business. The evil government comes in and constructs memories which are then distributed to the working class. The memories could be geared towards establishing the legitimacy of the government. The rebels would be individuals who somehow resisted the memory transplant. The conspiracy would have to go up far in the bureaucracy so the government officials would themselves have their memories reformatted so they couldn’t be held accountable: they honestly couldn’t ever remember committing some sort of crime. This is all just a quick thought about a new direction the movie could’ve taken. Here, variation means fancy robots.

If you have seen neither this nor the original Arnold Schwarzenegger Total Recall: watch the original. If you have seen this one but not the original, watch the original and think of the remake as a painful fabricated memory.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan and Ian Fleming. Starring Daniel Craig (James Bond), Javier Bardem (Silva) and Naomie Harris (Eve).

Bottom line: Skyfall is a pretty good Bond installment. It's worth seeing if you are a 00 fan or if you are in the mood for an action movie. The story is rather lacking but it has great action and visuals.

I don't think I really have to spend much time setting up the story of a James Bond movie. It's James Bond after all! There is a bad guy who wants to hijack/destroy the world and Bond has to save the day.

Now, I know a James Bond movie isn't a haven for feminism but I'd like to see an attempt at an active female character. I thought Halle Barry was a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, there are really only two potentially solid female characters in this movie, Eve (Harris) and Sévérine (Marlohe) and they both fall flat. Judi Dench plays M well, but she is more like a mother figure so she’s out of this discussion.

Eve starts out promising; she is on a mission with Bond. As he is fighting a villain on a train, she is ordered to shoot the guy. She misses and shoots Bond instead, who, after falling a hundred or so feet head first into the raging rapids, is considered dead. Ok, so she missed. Halle Berry wasn't perfect either. She sort of redeems herself saving Bond in a fight but ultimately, she realizes her place: a secretarial position. As Bond says, "Field work isn't for everyone." Before she realizes the truth in his statement, she meets up with Bond in Shanghai while he is shaving (shirtless, in his underwear). As you might expect, she volunteers to shave him. Eve has the gem of a line saying, 'Same old Bond, but with new tricks.' The scene fades to fireworks over the casino. Soon we are introduced to the other female presence Sévérine, the cliché and beautiful prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold. This kind of subplot ticks me off: 'Yeah, don't worry, pretty little lady, the strong white male will come and save you'. I mean, what if she wasn't gorgeous? Well, for one thing, she wouldn't be talking to James Bond. The movie makes sure to tell us she was abducted and forced into prostitution as a child to hit all sympathy notes....then I guess she decided to make it a career.

I suppose a more subtle example of this irritating sexism comes in the last half of the movie. M is on defending her actions as the head of MI6 and the female prime minister is berating her actions. Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) interjects 'for the sake of variety, perhaps let the defendant speak,' then nods to M so she has the floor. The male character has the power to silence even the most senior women.

James Bond was/is the best spy in the world, but in this day of advanced technology is he still relevant? We hear a number of references to 'traditional' methods or 'the old fashioned way'. When shaving, for example, he uses a straight razor. I wouldn't consider this antiquated but the characters do. When preparing for the final assault, the caretaker refers 'the old ways are sometimes the best' as he pulls out a knife to complete the arsenal. When Bond meets the substantially younger Q (Ben Whishaw), they are looking at a painting of, in Q's words, a "...grand old war ship being ignominiously haunted away to scrap... the inevitability of time." Have you seen Live Free or Die Hard? If you have, you can expect to see the same theme played out here and it doesn't just stop with Bond. M must prove that the entire MI6 department is still relevant. When asked to defend herself and the department, she says that the enemy no longer has a flag or even a face. The world is more opaque and the enemy hides in the shadows and 'that is where we must do battle'. That's a pretty conservative position, in my eyes. (Tell that to the wife of the dead US ambassador to Libya) That when confronted with terrorists we still need traditional resources, be it spies or soldiers, to defend our home front. (How would you defend our home front?) It also helps explain why the only gay character, Silva (Javier Bardem), is the villain.

Speaking of Silva, he was the top MI6 agent before Bond. I won't spoil his back story, little as it may be. He is, in essence, the bastard child of the traditional methods and the modern methods. He is evil, gay and has a lot of advanced technology. Thinking about it now, that is how he fits into the conservative stance of the film; if we aren't, as a society, careful about how we progress, then our recklessness may come back to haunt us. This isn’t to say technology is bad; Q has all sorts of benevolent systems. One of his gadgets, for example, is a preventative measure (instead of a destructive one).

Although Skyfall feels like a thematic missed opportunity, it is a solid action movie. It has a lot of action packed sequences. It has the polish of a really expensive movie and the momentum is consistent throughout.

I am always intrigued by how a movie represents computer technology. Will they show big long lists of numbers? Will they use technical keywords like “download” or “file”? Fortunately, Skyfall doesn’t assault you with jargon nor does the movie dwell on anything in particular. Q mentions something fancy-sounding, translates it and moves on.

It is interesting to see the thematic relationship between modernity and tradition manifest itself in the movie itself. One could say that unless it addressed current issues (like cyber-attacks) then it would be a somewhat dated film. Oppositely, if it embraced the pop-culture representation of cyber-threats, it would become a stupid movie. Skyfall attains a balance and benefits, as a result.

In terms of a complete movie, I recommend going to see it in the theaters and maybe even spending the extra bucks to see it in Imax.