July 18, 2013

Total Recall

Colin Farrell, fresh off of his towering performance in the completely unnecessary remake of Fright Night, decided to take his career in a new direction by starring in the completely unnecessary remake of Total Recall.

The 2012 version of Total Recall is the answer to the question on nobody’s lips: What would it be like if a bunch of hacks shot Minority Report on the set of Blade Runner?

The makers of Another Damn Remake hope you haven’t seen the original film, since their film has the exact same plot. I kept waiting for the twists not to follow lockstep with the original, but such a moment never came. This is doubly mystifying since one of the strengths of the original was its mysterious plot. Who is Hauser? Can Quaid trust him? How and why did Hauser get replaced by Quaid? If I’m not me, then who the hell am I? What if your entire life was just an implanted memory? The answers to all these questions in the Total Recall remake are...exactly the same as they are in the original Total Recall. There's only one real plot change, and it renders the entire film pointless.

If you haven’t seen the original Total Recall, then you’re a bad person and also stupid and wrong. Go watch it four times before you come back to this review, because by giving away the plot of the remake, I’m giving away the plot of the original. The remake can go to Hell, but nobody hath committed so great a sin that she should be denied the spectacle of California's hulking Austrian bodybuilding former governor shouting “YOU BLEW MY COVAAAAHHH!” and “Gif dis peepal aiya!” Watch Total Recall, go on, do eet nao!

From this point forward, you’ve either seen the original Total Recall or you’re not reading this because you’re currently watching the original Total Recall, so I’m assuming you know the plot and characters already. So in the original, Hauser agreed to take on a false identity in order to find the leader of the Mars resistance, Kuato. This is necessary because Kuato is a mutant with the power to see through any deception. Thus, in order to reach Kuato and lead the bad guys to him, Hauser must “become” someone who is genuinely seeking him and doesn’t know he’s actually a secret agent for the other side. In the remake, there is no psychic. Hauser (Farrell) successfully penetrates the resistance as himself, but he betrays Cohaagen and goes over to the resistance. He is then captured by Cohaagen’s forces and implanted with the false identity of Douglas Quaid, and in the course of trying to get his original memories back, finds the resistance leader, only to be ambushed by Cohaagen’s forces who have been tracking him.

Um, why was Hauser given a new identity? The original Hauser got a new identity because he was actually working for Cohaagen and needed to hide this from Kuato’s powers. But remake Hauser isn’t working for Cohaagen because he genuinely changes sides, and there’s no psychic to ferret out his true motives anyway! So there’s no reason for him to be Quaid! Cohaagen could've tracked Hauser to the resistance leader exactly as he did without the false identity. Of course, if they’d done that, Quaid wouldn't have a wife to betray him and so the director couldn't put his own wife (Kate Beckinsale) in the movie like he always does.

Now I know who both Kate “Underworld” Beckinsale and Jessica “Next” Biel are, yet I didn’t realize either of them was in this movie until I saw the end credits because the movie's colors are so washed out that both actresses are unrecognizable. Beckinsale got the Evil Girl role so she could switch to her English accent upon being revealed as evil to satisfy the "the English are Evil" trope, and also to make herself instantly sexier. The original Total Recall was hardly revolutionary in terms of its plot or tropes, but still, it was nice that it had the blonde Sharon Stone (pre-Basic Instinct, natch) turn out to be evil and the brunette Rachel Ticotin be the good one. Ah, the 21st century, firmly rooted in the stereotypes of the 1930s; both female leads are safely white, and the American is good while the Englishwoman is evil. Now if they'd just made Cohaagen German....

Speaking of tropes and stereotypes, Bokeem Woodbine is on hand as Token Black Guy. He doesn’t Die First, but he does die, because really, you expected the black man to survive in a picture with a body count in the low hundreds? He turns out to be a bad guy because, well, the black guy in the original film turned out to be a bad guy, and this film is nothing if not a rote clone of its predecessor. Except, given that the remake is a 21st century film, the black guy is demoted to a meaningless part instead of playing a key role in the story as he did in the original.

The filmmakers seem to have taken “remake” a bit too literally. All they did was combine Michael Ironside’s Richter character with Quaid's double-agent wife character. (This is the movie’s sole right choice. Far be it for me to begrudge giving Ironside work, but the inclusion of Richter always struck me as the filmmakers’ chickening out of making Schwarzenegger's main opponent a dumb ol’ girl.) But the rest is beat for beat the same. Well, except the movie has nothing to do with Mars!

“Now wait just a damn minute, Carl Eusebius!” you ineffectually shout from your mother’s basement. “You just complained the remake was too slavish, and now you’re complaining it’s not slavish enough!” Well first of all, be glad I changed your gibberish into something comprehensible, since we both know you’re incapable of using grade 9 words like “slavish”. But, my drooling neanderthal friend, there are two things that make a Total Recall movie: one, it involves discovering that your entire life was merely an implanted identity and you're actually a secret agent, and two, it has to do with Mars. All you needed to do was have these two things in your Total Recall movie, and the rest was up to you. The jokers who shat out this turd kept all the same plot points (and I do mean all, including the “guy tells Quaid he’s still strapped into his chair at Rekall and this is all in his head” scene and the "gross removal of a tracking device from inside his body" scene) but jettisoned one of the two essential elements. It would be like rebooting Star Wars with the exact same characters and plot, only there's no mention of Jedi or the Force.

Take Battlestar Galactica, just about the best case for a re-make you can make. First, the original sucked donkey balls despite having a great concept, so there’s both a solid core to build on and plenty of improvements to make. Second, the original BSG screamed ‘70s, its futuristic setting notwithstanding, and so is laughably dated. Third, the original BSG was created by a complete hack and re-imagined by a genuine talent. Total Recall fails on all counts, since the original is pretty good and doesn’t come across as notably dated. And its worst failure is on the third count: The original was written by the writers of Alien and directed by the man who gave us Robocop, while the re-make was written by the writer of Ultraviolet and directed by the man who unleashed the horrors of the Underworld franchise upon us, and I don’t just mean Kate Beckinsale’s acting.

But leave that aside and look at what was actually done. Battlestar Galactica took the basic premise (humanity is destroyed but for a hodgepodge group of fleeing ships, protected by the last surviving warship on a journey to reach Earth and escape the pursuing enemy) and developed it in a completely different way. Many character names are the same, but the characters themselves are radically improved. Instead of the original's parade of whiteflesh (barring, of course, its Token Black Guy), there’s a little more racial diversity in the new version. In a similar vein, in the rebooted version, women exist, and they even do things. The near-extinction of humanity is treated with respect and gravity instead of the tossed off “Dude, these devastated human population centers drag, let’s make space tracks” of the original. The enemy, while also keeping the same name, is totally different, because really, the identity of the enemy was never integral to the concept of the show. The new show kept the father-son relationship of the warship’s commander but made it antagonistic. Anybody with half a brain could look at both shows and see that the 2003 version is a true re-make of the 1978 horrible version, yet it doesn’t follow lockstep with the original. At best, events from the original provide starting points for the re-make, but the re-make doesn't steal entire plotlines.

This Total Recall re-make jettisons a key part of the premise but keeps just about everything else, including character motivations and actions, dialogue, and let me just say this again because it’s so amazingly stupid, the exact same plot, twists and all. If all the same people are going to do all the same things for all the same reasons, why not just watch the original? And if you are going to change a key part of the premise, shouldn’t that, I don’t know, affect something? What’s the point of changing it if it’s not going to have any impact on the story or characters in any way? And because we're all stupid in the 21st century, the original's not-exactly-subtle critique of European colonialism has become infinitely more hamfisted. Instead of "the metropole doesn't care how the colony is run, so long as it gets what it wants from the colony", we get "the metropole invades the colony and murders everyone in it because...um, evil." That's right, this remake was made by people less subtle than Paul fucking Verhoeven.

Oh, and I’m just going to say this up front: Colin Farrell is not lead material, at least not in action films. Yep, I went there. He was fine in Minority Report as the smarmy douchebag bureaucrat (presumably not a stretch for a man of Colin’s arrogance and overestimation of his own talent), but he consistently fails in lead action roles. Alexander, Daredevil, the remake that shall not be named even though I named it in the first line of this review, this film right here...he doesn’t have the charisma to pull these roles off. Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be much of an actor, but he had charisma in spades. You want his Quaid to succeed just because Schwarzenegger is such a likeable presence on screen. I never cared if Farrell lived or died, especially once it turned out that Hauser was a good guy after all. Well then what’s the big deal? The climatic conflict of the original Total Recall was Quaid’s refusal to go back to being Hauser because “Guy’s a fucking asshole!” (Remember to say that line aloud in your best Schwarzenegger.) But re-make Hauser went over to the resistance to make amends, so he's kind of a good guy already, meaning there’s no real conflict there. Re-make Quaid’s not wanting to go back to being Hauser just makes him seem petty and selfish. Maybe that’s realistic (hell, you wouldn’t see Carl Eusebius giving up his body for Martin Luther King, Jr.), but it’s not very heroic. And for a bloated, goofy action film, we’re looking for heroism, not realism.

People, The Dark Knight is a good movie. Hell, it’s a great movie. But there are other movies out there to ape. Can we have a moratorium on angsty, conflicted, morally torn anti-heroes? Are we so cynical and ironic now that we can't have genuine heroes? Aren’t there any straight-up unabashed and unashamed good guys anymore, even in fiction?

Wait, what's that?

Oh no. 

N-no. No.

July 11, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

A Good Day to Die Hard is the story of an immortal CIA agent (Jai Courtney) who murders Russians for highly top secret CIA reasons that I’m sure make sense to someone somewhere. He has to protect this one Russian guy from this other Russian guy, and in order to do that he has to murder yet another Russian guy so that he can be in the courthouse alongside the one Russian guy when the other Russian guy launches over 9000 more Russian guys and a badass Russian gal to assassinate him. (In the 21st century, you've got to cast a spindly white woman to kick people for gender equality!) Courtney helps the one Russian guy, whose safety is apparently vital (though the movie neglects to tell us why until approximately four hours in), to escape the courthouse, but then a confused old man (Bruce Willis) wanders into the movie and cocks up the CIA’s attempt to extract them. It turns out the doddering old codger is Courtney’s father, who came to see him one last time before he was to be executed for killing that other Russian guy in order to get into the courthouse to protect the one Russian guy, so it’s a good thing the one other Russian guy decided to launch his assassination attempt before Courtney went to the gas chamber for murder. Anywho, Courtney is forced to chaperone his senile father all over Russia even as he’s racing to save the Russian guy with a beard from the Russian guy without a beard. Many explosions and shootings ensue.

This movie is damn cheap. I don’t know who cast the film, but she must’ve had no budget to work with. Apart from Bruce Willis as the senile father, I’ve never heard of a soul in this movie except for Cole Hauser, and that’s only because he has a titanically stupid name. Also, one can’t help but suspect the movie is set in Russia in order make cheap-to-film-in Eastern Europe look more authentic.

Under-written and over-directed, there isn’t much to say about Die Hard Another Day. Because the main character and his father are immortal (leaving aside for the moment that immortals can’t have children), there isn’t much suspense. How many movies have not one but two scenes of the hero running through a building while being shot at by a helicopter gunship? (Different buildings, different helicopters, same hero.) The second pilot gets so frustrated at being unable to kill or even slightly injure her target that she crashes the helicopter into the building, destroying the helicopter in a fiery explosion and collapsing the building. If you just leaped off your couch and pointed at the screen shouting, “Ah ha, but there’s a scene of him running and jumping out of the building in slow motion just ahead of the fireball!”, then you need to watch fewer shitty action movies, and also relax and sit back down. It’s a bit of a letdown that there’s no evil immortal at the end to challenge our heroes, because it's no fun watching mere mortals—who apparently haven’t heard that it’s only over for immortals when their heads come away from their necks—take on two immortals who aren’t even in the middle of fighting each other for the Prize. It’s like watching an in-his-prime Mike Tyson fight, well, anybody.

Apparently Russia is more of a lawless wasteland of failed dreams than even I thought, since law enforcement never once makes an appearance in this picture, apart from CIA sp00k Courtney and New York City cop Willis. The only law in Russia is Imperial law, baby! Actually there isn’t even Imperial law, as countless people are maimed and killed as collateral damage throughout the extended car chase, and Courtney straight up murders the helpless, unarmed villain at the end because he makes a crack about Courtney’s old man. I think even the Empire frowns on wanton destruction and cold-blooded murder by its law enforcement, at least on so grand and public a scale.

The comic relief is painful, the worst example being that the doddering old man keeps saying he’s on vacation, only he’s so senile he doesn’t realize he’s not on vacation because he came to Russia to see Courtney before his trial. The action, on the other hand, is hilarious, with cars crashing through concrete and the old codger dodging an RPG with the cunning use of his commandeered vehicle’s handbrake. The goofy action was about all that kept me awake, what with a confusing, uninvolving plot and characters that lack even the first dimension. And not even once does somebody shout “There can be only one!” and chop off a guy’s head. At least there’s a plot twist that even your average paramecium would roll its eyes at. Well, would rapidly undulate any number of its cilia at in a derisory manner.

You know, this review’s just going to have to come in under length. It’s not because I’m lazy (though I certainly am). There’s just nothing more to say about this movie. It’s not any good, but it’s nowhere near bad enough to get worked up about. In fact, this was the second of the three movies I saw on the flight, and I forgot what it was when I sat down to write these reviews. I'm so not joking. I Googled the airline's inflight entertainment since I couldn't remember the second movie I saw. When that didn't work, I had to look up the list of 2013 movies on Wikipedia and read down the list until I got to this title, and then I remembered, “Oh yeah, it was that new Die Hard movie.”

Wait...this is a Die Hard movie? Well, all I can say is that this movie needed more William Sadler doing naked tai chi and Samuel L. Jackson shouting racial epithets. Without that, it’s just another shitty action movie, and all its moments will be lost in time, like...tears in rain....

July 4, 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man

In my capacity as a random asshole on the Internet, it’s my job to deliver to you, the gibbering lunatics who read this blog, the taglined hatred and bile. Sadly, I couldn’t muster up any hate for The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s kind of crappy and a little pathetic, but unfortunately for the 99% of me that hates humanity, somebody cared enough about this misbegotten project to inject a couple of things I actually liked into it.

A lot of people have bagged on Andrew Garfield’s performance of Peter Parker. Now I don’t know who Andrew Garfield is and I don’t care, but the faults of this movie can’t really be laid at his feet. Peter as written is virtually unplayable--a “nerd” who’s handsome and ripped, dresses well, has a cool-by-high-school-standards hairstyle, does skateboarding tricks--and Garfield made the most he probably could out of the role. Likewise, he can’t be blamed for not having any chemistry at all with female lead Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). This is the fault of director Marc Webb (Get it? Webb? Spiders? Oh bite me, it’s fun!), a detail confirmed by Webb’s claim that he cast Stone based on her chemistry with Garfield. Both Garfield and Stone were believable as high school students despite looking far too old, and Stone was fine considering her nonsensical character: a high school student who, despite looking like the beauty queen, interns with a cutting-edge geneticist, has apparently never been asked on a “date” before, and is attracted to the clumsy stuttering of the (not actually very) nerdy Peter Parker.

Really, most of the stuff that doesn’t involve Spider-Man at all was alright. Great? Hardly, and Garfield is no Tobey Maguire (I can't believe I just had to write those words), but alright. Plus, since I maintain my sanity by blocking out the very existence of Martin Sheen, he wasn’t able to cock up the rest of the movie. There was even some decent Spider-Man stuff mixed in. His costume is okay (apparently replacing spandex tights with “webby latex-type bodysuit” is movie shorthand for “dark and brooding Dark Knight wannabe”), and the filmmakers mostly played straight with the audience, like having Spidey’s web-shooters believably short-out when he gets immersed in water. I liked that Peter at first breaks stuff with his newfound strength, since suddenly being ten times stronger would require adjustment of even such simple tasks as closing doors. Spider-Man’s quips are moderately amusing, and his fights with the Lizard (the Lizard, really?) show him using some innovative ways to get around the giant reptile’s superior strength and toughness. The best scene has Spidey locating the Lizard through vibrations of lines of webbing he has placed throughout the sewer. The shot of Spider-Man sitting in the center of his web detecting vibrations like, well, a spider was a pretty nifty moment. (Which they immediately ruin, but it was fun while it lasted.)

The movie’s biggest problem—apart from its being utterly unnecessary and deeply unoriginal—is that the serious, heady family (melo)drama and high school romance stuff doesn’t mesh at all with the goofy Spider-Man-fighting-a-giant-lizard-monster stuff. This is epitomized by the scene that has Peter going to Gwen’s dad (Denis Leary)—who just so happens to be chief of police in New York City—with a warning that Dr. Curt Connors is actually a giant lizard monster rampaging around the city. Leary reacts as anyone in the real world would, which is completely believable in the My So-Called Life part of the movie, but Peter's reaction is out of the superhero part of the movie, namely utter disbelief that Leary would doubt his giant-lizard-monster story, despite his lack of any evidence to back up that story. (I'm ignoring the fact that earlier the Lizard attacked dozens of people in front of probably a hundred witnesses on a crowded bridge, because the movie does, too.)

In fact, everything with the Lizard doesn’t work. The CGI animating him is cheesy and his look is ridiculous. The actor playing him (some guy I don’t know) is unremarkable, his mad-science dialogue is generic and uninvolving, and his bad guy plot is pedestrian and routine. (Think the Joker’s plot in Batman or, if you have no taste, the villains’ plot in Batman Begins. Or if you have my taste, the man-fish's plot in Zaat!.) Every time the movie might develop a modicum of dramatic momentum, the fake CGI Lizard appears to smash things, or worse, Connors appears to pontificate about how all people ought to become lizardmen before transforming himself into a hammy actor overselling a monster transformation sequence. They also play the oh-so-tired "hero involved in the creation of the villain so that it's personal" card. Actually, Peter says he's responsible for creating the Lizard, but he really isn't. All Peter did was give Connors a bogus equation to finish his turn-people-into-lizardmen ersatz-Predator-blood-serum. It was Connors who chose to then create the serum and inject it into himself in order to turn himself into a man-lizard. Bizarrely, the movie seems to know this, and Peter's reason for fighting the Lizard ends up being more along the lines of "He's the villain, and I'm the hero of the picture, so like, I gotta fight 'im."

Because this movie inexcusably lacks J. Jonah Jameson, Denis Leary's police chief has to fill the role of "authority figure who doggedly hates and opposes Spider-Man no matter how many times Spidey proves himself the good guy". Thus, even after the Lizard begins the movie’s climax by smashing buildings and murdering people, Leary continues to hunt Spider-Man, even as the Lizard is engaged in his rampage. It’s not as if the police are somehow unaware of this, since the Lizard slaughters an entire squad of cops sent to stop him. But instead of making, I don’t know, a second attempt to stop the Lizard from murdering not only police officers but real people as well, Leary orders any number of police helicopters and SWAT officers to capture Spider-Man, currently engaged in the heinous crime of “swinging from buildings by his webbing”. Only when Leary successfully captures and unmasks Spider-Man (oh please) does he finally trust him because, well, he’s Peter Parker, a man Leary met exactly once, when they got into an argument in which Peter, in defense of Spider-Man, accused the police of gross incompetence. If that doesn’t make the chief of police trust Peter/Spidey, what the hell would?

Not content to be merely an unnecessary retread of Sam Raimi’s infinitely-superior-even-at-their-worst Spider-Man films, The Amazing Spider-Man rips off the ending of the execrable Spider-Man 3 by having the villain save the hero from death. Then Leary gets a death scene because, well, somebody’s got to die for some pathos and it sure as hell ain’t going to be the villain a 21st century superhero movie, so they might as well give the death scene to the movie’s only actual actor. Now I’m a big Denis Leary fan—not the least because he’s a staunch supporter and proponent of the one true sport—but any decent actor can do what Leary does here. Like Christopher Walken, he can be effective in a straight role, but what’s the point? Why hire a man of his particular talents for a role anybody can play? You hire Walken so that his Walkenizing can provide at least a few moments of audience entertainment in your piece of shit cash-grab without your having to do anything that takes actual effort, like doing a thorough script re-write or directing the film with a modicum of flair and style. And you hire Denis Leary for his signature rants. Well, unless you’re the makers of The Amazing Spider-Man, in which case you’re soulless artistic whores of corporate America and I'd like you to leave a comment describing what it’s like to live without a soul.

Oh, and I’d just like to point out, Uncle Ben in this movie is a moron, and not just because he’s played by Martin Sheen. Now, legally, since he had a pistol, the bearded guy who stole money from the convenience store committed armed robbery, even though he didn't use or even reveal said weapon during the theft. (I liked that the robber tosses Peter the milk the clerk rudely refused to sell him when he was exactly 3 cents short. Even better, Peter in turn refuses to help the clerk stop the thief.) Again, he didn’t actually produce said weapon or even claim to have it; he merely tricked the punishingly stupid clerk into looking away from the open register so he could reach over and grab the cash. So at this point, all he’s done is sleight-of-hand some money away from somebody who frankly deserved to get robbed. The fat tub of shit who got robbed chases the thief out of the store, shouting for someone to stop him. Then the thief falls down and the gun tumbles onto the pavement. At this point, Uncle Ben, observing all this unfold, decides to intervene, engaging with the thief in a struggle over the gun. That’s right, a decrepit old man with one foot in the grave thinks he’s going to wrestle a gun away from a man forty years his junior. A gun the man hasn’t used or even shown to anybody. The gun goes off during the struggle, and Ben is kacked. The movie doesn’t even have the thief gain control of the gun and shoot Ben so he can escape. No, it clearly goes off accidentally.

Now as I said, I understand that the Empire's inhumanly harsh "justice" system employs something called the felony-murder doctrine which dictates that, legally speaking, the perp murdered Uncle Ben because once someone has embarked on the commission of a felony, any death that occurs as a result is adjudged murder. But I’m talking about reality here, not the fiction of the legal world. Ben wasn’t protecting any person, or even any property (since the money was already stolen), and the stolen property isn’t even his. No, he was using physical force to stop an alleged petty thief of an entirely unrelated party's property from leaving the scene, which so far as I know is illegal in any jurisdiction of the Empire. The entire chain of events is Ben's fault. He chose to go for the thief’s gun, which the thief hadn’t used or even threatened to use on anyone. Once he failed to reach the gun before the perp, he chose to struggle with him for control of the gun. At this point, Ben is assaulting this guy and attempting to steal his property. The fact that the guy stole at most a couple hundred bucks from the register doesn’t give Ben the right to steal his gun or get into a fight with him. Ben shouldn’t have been involved at all. This isn’t a matter of not having the Courage to Get Involved and Help or not being Cold and Uncaring and Indifferent to the Plight of Your Fellow Man or won't somebody please help the children! This is about not being a fucking idiot and going for somebody’s gun based solely on the word of a fat tub of shit you've never met who didn't even see the guy take the money. Hey Ben, I’ve got an idea: Why don’t you take that cell phone you've been established as having out of your pocket, call the police, and give them the guy’s location and physical description? I mean, nobody is in any danger. The guy isn’t firing the gun or waving it around or yelling that people had better move or he’s gonna blow ‘em away. Frankly, I wouldn’t have cared if the guy had just shot Ben, but the movie doesn’t even go that far because, as noted, the shooting is accidental. Ben shouldn’t have been there, and he got shot due to a situation that he brought entirely upon himself, because he's the one who engaged in violence. There’s a reason the police say things like “Don’t try to wrest a gun away from a petty thief who is currently a threat to exactly no one, because you might end up getting shot in the struggle and dying, you stupid fuck.” Okay, they might leave off that last part. 

And this, this is what inspires Peter Parker to don the mantle of Spider-Man and get repeatedly punched in the face by a lizardman?

Fuck Uncle Ben, and fuck The Amazing Spider-Man. I hate this movie.