Total Recall (2012)

Total Recall did not need to be remade. That said, the new film is pretty good, despite the fact that it doesn’t really add anything new.

Here’s a preview:

The deets:

Released August 3, 2012

Written by Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback, Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, and John Povill. Based on the short story by Phillip K. Dick

Directed by Len Wiseman

Starring Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Colin Farrell, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho, and Bill Nighy (for perhaps 4 minutes).

Rated PG-13 

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Story

Total Recall is a reboot of the original Arnold Schwarzzenegar film. The story is similar. Doug Quaid (Farrell) is a regular guy who feels unfulfilled in life, despite having a good job and Kate Beckinsale as a wife. Seriously. Cast Chelsea Handler or some other horrible person as his wife, and I’ll believe it.

In any case, Quaid has been having vivid dreams that involve a beautiful woman and him escaping from bad guys.

Quaid decides to try out Rekall, a procedure that embeds you with memories of some kind of fun event, like going to a beach, being a famous celebrity, or even being a spy. His friend,  Harry (Woodbine), tries to convince Quaid to not do the Rekall thing, but Quaid goes ahead and on a lonely night (Seriously? Kate Beckinsale, guys..) he goes to get the procedure. Mcclane (Cho) runs Rekall and he gets Quaid started with a memory package of being a spy.

But all is not well. Apparently the science of implanting memories into a person’s brain has found that if you try to implant memories of something that actually happened to a person, there will be some kind of mental break and bad things can happen. Just as the memory package is being downloaded into Quaid, all hell breaks loose and it appears that Quaid might actually be a spy, or that he might have some kind of dark history.

Quaid unleashes some deadly skills he didn’t know he had and heads home, whereupon his wife tries to kill him. This begins the action of the movie, with the entire thing essentially being a chase film. It turns out that the world this movie is set in is run by a guy named Cohagen (Cranston), who wants Quaid dead, and that Quaid’s wife is one of Cohagen’s minions.

On the run, Quaid connects with Melina, the woman from his dreams and he begins to uncover the truth of his past.

And that’s where we stop so we don’t give spoilers. But let’s take a moment to look at the world. This is an Earth that has been decimated by biological warfare. All that remains of human society are a federation based in England and the Colony, where Australia is now. Travel between these two places is accomplished by The Fall, which is where a huge ship uses gravity to move through the Earth, somehow going through the core and showing up on the other side of the planet in 18 minutes.

Physics and geology don’t exist in this film. Gravity obeys the laws of the screenwriter.

Critique

The physics of The Fall were so bad, so incredibly stretched, that it actually detracted from the film. Despite this and the fact that Total Recall really doesn’t offer anything new from the original, this 2012 Total Recall is still a fairly entertaining film.

Colin Farrell is a fine actor and he carries the film well. Kate Beckinsale is brutal and wears tight black clothes, rather a lot like what she does in Wiseman’s Underworld films. Jessica Biel is surprisingly engaging and adds a nice heart to the film. Bryan Cranston is sufficiently over the top as the villain Cohagen. Bill Nighy is totally wasted in his few minutes of screen time. John Cho’s character is interesting and goes away too early. Bokeem Woodbine’s character of Harry is a plot device and is not allowed to fill the space of a real person.

Again, the movie is entertaining and engaging. The action sequences aren’t much new, but the filming is well done and the production design did a convincingly gritty devastated humanity.

It’s the script. Sure, this is an action movie, but action movies are allowed to be smart and challenging. The direction is also a problem, in that scenes are cut short, not allowing characters to grow and fill the spaces with authenticity.

Back to the script. The central idea of this movie is the question of what is real and what is recall. This question is so sparely treated, so lightly explored, that it’s irritating. In the moment when Quaid has to decide if he is living reality or existing in a mental creation, I wanted the movie to really explore the implications of the two options and try to do something challenging. But no, it doesn’t. With some deft writing and a bit of creativity, audiences could spend this entire movie wondering “Is this all real or a fabrication? Is he in Rekall?”

Disappointing. Add to that the simply awful physics of The Fall and the characters not really doing much more than what the plot wants them to do, and Total Recall is not something I care to recall for any real length of time.

Content warnings: A three-breasted woman bears her chest briefly, plenty of violence and gun battles, some harsh language.

Writing: 2          Acting: 4           Overall: 3

It’s unbelievable to me that Total Recall has a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes that is twenty points lower than the rating for John Carter, but that Total Recall isn’t being slammed as a flop. John Carter is a vastly superior film which made a lot more than Total Recall is going to make. Go to Rotten Tomatoes and complain.

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Contraband

Contraband is not Mark Wahlberg’s best work, but it is still a really good ride. It pulls out some smart moves, even while challenging the suspension of disbelief a little much, and does it all with a lot of heart and fun.

The people who say it’s just a simple and run-of-the-mill action movie overlook a surprisingly good plot and a terrific performance from Ben Foster.

Here’s a preview:


And now some deets:

Released January 13, 2012

Written by Aaron Guzikowski,  Arnaldur Indriðason (original Icelandic screenplay), and Óskar Jónasson (original Icelandic screenplay)

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas, and Ben Foster

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Contraband is an American version of an Icelandic film. In fact, the American version is directed by the star of the Icelandic film.

Story

The film follows Chris Farraday (Wahlberg), a legendary smuggler who has gone straight. He has a wife (Beckinsale) and two boys now and runs his own security business. The problem is that Kate, his wife, has a lame brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) who was roped into doing a smuggling job and screwed it up. So now we have Tim Briggs (Ribisi) going after Andy and threatening to kill him if Andy doesn’t make it up somehow.

So of course, Chris steps in and has to save the day. Add to this conflict the fact that Briggs starts threatening Chris’ family, and we have some pretty good tension. Then we add Sebastian Abney (Ben Foster), a friend so close to Chris that they’re practically brothers. They worked together and now each has gone legit. Sebastian is left behind to watch over Kate and the kids while Chris does a smuggling job wherein a bunch of counterfeit bills will be hidden on a ship coming up from Panama.

Now we have the operation, which is conducted by a group of men who have obviously worked together previously. These men know each other, have a history that is very nicely shown in their chemistry and interactions, and are real people. The group dynamics are one of the best part of the film.

Twists and turns come along as they ought to for a heist film, but sharing them here would be mean.

That said, there are a couple of plot blotches that bother me. One is that I don’t see how Farraday had the time to do what he does to fool everybody at the end. Two is that I don’t understand how a professional thief could NOT guess what that painting was.

Critique

Contraband unfolds as you would expect it to, with the plan going awry and Chris having to think fast and be resourceful. What’s nice is that the plan doesn’t go awry simply because a story like this demands tension and conflict and writers artificially stuck some twists in. The twists come because of characters’ choices. And these are choices that are all very nicely motivated.

In fact, the more I reflect on this film, the more I appreciate the arcs that the characters go through, as well as how well motivated the action of the story is. Andy screws things up first out of fear for himself, then out of fear for his sister and nephews. Sebastian causes problems for a multitude of reasons. This is good stuff.

Ribisi does a very fine job as a menacing, pretty much white trash drug dealer who is successful because he is as mean as a starving alligator. His accent and mannerisms are well done. He seems a little small, so the stakes of the film seem a little small, but his insanity makes up for a lot.

Kate Beckinsale is wasted. She does a lot of worrying, makes an idiotic choice, and winds up in very big trouble. I wanted her to be more intelligent and proactive, indeed, it wouldn’t have been that hard to write this character better.

Lukas Haas is building a nice career as a character actor, and he turns in a sensitive and interesting performance here. Yes, some of the tropes he plays out are very predictable, but he convinces.

Ben Foster is the highlight. His character is in a lot of trouble, and Foster plays Sebastian very well as right on the brink of total catastrophe.

I really liked Mark Wahlberg in this. He showed some range and I think his character was quite real. I particularly liked his character’s interactions with Briggs, in that Farraday is just as tough and mean as Briggs and is not inclined to take any crap from him.

Other than the two plot issues and Beckinsale’s character being wasted, Contraband is a great way to start the year’s action movies. I highly recommend this film as a solid, well-written and acted actioner that ends with everyone getting exactly what they deserve.

Content warnings: Plenty of salty language and some ugly violence. No sexuality or nudity.

Writing: 4         Acting: 4          Overall: 4

Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.

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