Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Totally Missed Opportunity

A decent cast and outstanding visual effects can't save this remake of a Sci-Fi classic from itself. 


ARTH VADER (AV): This movie was fun to watch, Pontificator. I say it that way because after I say that, this movie deviates so dramatically from the original short story it is based on I have to cry foul. It barely references the VERY good (and memorable) 1990 film starring action titan, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sad.

Originally published as a short story in 1966 in a science fiction magazine by author Philip K. Dick , under the original title; "We can remember it for you Wholesale", so even the title is a detraction. Since the original story (1966) was about a construction worker on Earth who wants to have a (false) memory of a trip to Mars implanted into his psyche. When we fast forward to 2012, this movie looses all sense of the story's original plot. It also looses it's way by losing the off-world direction by keeping the story on Earth. In fact, 'losing it's way' is a good way to summarize this latest movie.

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): You are treasure trove of information Vader! I had no knowledge of the original short story, so the only continuity discussion for me has to involve the first film of the same name. The only question that needs to be asked is if it retains the same story and/or elements of it’s predecessor. The short answer is yes, it contains many elements of the first film, but the story has been slightly altered. Well... by slightly I mean they’ve swapped out Mars in favor of staying on Earth and traveling through the core. On second thought... that’s a significant story change since that made the goal of the antagonist completely different in each film. Sigh... this review is going to get complicated.


The cast of Total Recall was impressive, Ponty. In as much, I gotta' give a nod of recognition to Sci-Fi movie maven, Kate Beckinsale. This of course makes this movie infinitely more watchable for me! Unfortunately, that is where the attraction stopped for me. Even the addition of villain extraordinaire, Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame, the always intelligent and lovely Jessica Beile and even hunky leading boy Colin Farrell couldn't really make this movie matter. Flat characterizations, shoddy dialogue and poor story progression made this movie one heck of a shoulder shrug.

TP: I think Colin Farrell has hit or miss performances depending on the subject and script, and this film was s definite miss... although I don’t think his performance was all that bad. Kate Beckinsale is always a pleasure to see and I found her performance to convey an aura of lethality and menace as she was relentless in her pursuit of Quaid. Jessica Biel wasn’t a stand out, but I think much of that has to do with the script. Bokeem Woodbine is always fun to watch for me, and although his role was cursory, he had the one scene that seems to stand out in the minds of fans (from reading many of the movie fan sites). The directing was at blistering speed, and I think this hurt the movie more than help it... and although the cast wasn’t bad, if you’re going to remake a Schwarzenegger classic, you’ve got to do better than this.

I couldn't recommend a better-looking Sci-Fi movie–from a visual effects standpoint–than this film. The stunning near-future cityscape is some of the best I think I have seen onscreen. The best robot-android effects seen since "I Robot" (2008) and some compelling near-future technology. Even the grossly unrealistic "Fall" ship was expertly rendered onscreen. I really felt I was viewing a futuristic London with hover ships and magnetic freeways. I wish the same could be said for the actual story and characters…although it did have Kate Beckinsale!

TP: This is the one area that the movie totally excelled in. The special effects were great. There was so much here from the look of the world to the phone embedded in the hand, that I scarcely know where to begin. The CGI was excellent also, and this film was a perfect example of taking all that has been done before, and doing it flawlessly. There need not be any new ground broken with effects if all the lessons have been learned, and the final product looks like a fantasy come-to-life. Almost every shot was laden with effects of one type or another... and try as I might, I can’t lodge a single complaint in this department.


This movie was ultimately doomed to failure, Pontificator. The original published short story unveiled a troubled and bored mind that wanted a memory of a Martian adventure. This movie completely ignored that original concept and instead shared some half-cocked story about a random, converted terrorist guy who gets his memories re-activated. Lame. Also, can we discuss this whole "Fall" business? I mean, really? A commuter rail that connects the English Isles to Australia…uh, I mean "The Colony"? So in 90 years after a CHEMICAL war devastates the Earth (because we apparently forgot about all the nukes) humans can only live in two places that are magically untouched by this 'chemical' devastation. And those two place are accessible to each other via a giant subterranean tube. Oh and don't worry, weather doesn't effect the contamination from these deadly toxic poisons. If the chemicals traveled with the wind, why… that would just be RUDE! Good thing we didn't go with the whole Martian storyline guys, I mean, it's not like NASA has sent working motorized robot probes and satellites there or anything. Good call, there!

TP: There seems to be a trend forming of remakes to Schwarzenegger films... with dismal results. Conan was a flop, and this film follows suit, despite the effects, for the same reason Conan failed. You just can’t do Arnold better than Arnold.

Gone are the one liners, gone are the colorful and bigger than life characters (anyone remember Benny...he had five kids to feed?), gone is the careful care taken to make a decent script, and therefore a good movie. The original has plenty of action and comedy to keep the audience dazzled and laughing. This film had special effects at every turn, and not much else. A devastated Earth where the upper class take advantage of the less fortunate...hmmm, I’ve seen this one before, recently (Hunger Games). At least the first film had the intrigue of going to another planet, and the curiosity of the alien machinations to build technology that would make Mars livable. If I were discussing this film in the context of just it’s presentation, I could be kinder, but my hand has been forced since they chose to follow in the footsteps of one of the sci-fi greats... and their feet just don’t measure up.

I’m still on the fence about if the original is a dream or real... and that was great writing. In this film I’m convinced it was real since Farrell had been dreaming of Biel in a specific way, long before he ever set foot in ReKall... whereas Arnold picked his fantasy on the spot at Recall, and then events unfolded per those specifications. The argument made through the film was much more convincing in 1990 than in 2012.


This movie isn't bad but ultimately it's quite forgettable, even though it stars Kate Beckinsale. What would be cool is for someone to use a ReKall machine and extract the memory of having ever watched this train wreck. Then when someone wants to make a serious re-make of this story, I will be able to say "Oh, nice idea, maybe it could even rival the Arnold version from 1990. Sweet idea!

TP: No need to make one...and very little desire to see one from the general public I’d suspect. In truth, this film should have went in another direction with the elements they had in place than a remake of the original. To mess with a classic was their first mistake, and I see no reason to compound that with another go at it. Here is a hint to all that would seek to remake anything Arnold Schwarzenegger has done: Don’t.


Arth Vader rates Total Recall (2012):
This movie is nowhere near as bad as my critique indicates. It is certainly worth a viewing, but you certainly don't need to see it on the big screen and by no means do you need to bring an analytical–or functioning–brain. The movie looks good and is certainly jam-packed with terrific action scenes. Just don't search for cohesive thoughts that make sense or a sense of meaning to a meaningless story. Total recall is a total disappointment that is not a total loss (Kate Beckinsale). After all is said and done, I still feel compelled to offer this film five busted blocks, though for the life of me, I can't seem to recall why.

THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Total Recall (2012): Apart from the special effects, there is very little about this movie I’d like to recall... and think it totally missed the mark for a great movie or even a good remake. Special effects does not a movie make, and this one only busted five blocks... totally.

Total Recall (2012): 5/10 Busted Blocks

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Complicated Rise

Christopher Nolan's Epic Batman-Trilogy Tie-up is a Stunningly Complex–and Confusing–Take on The Hero's Journey.

SPECIAL NOTE: We here at The Boxed Office are saddened and dismayed at the sheer brutality and stunning loss of life and innocence in the wake of the tragic and deadly mass murder in Aurora, Colorado on the opening night of this movie. Our prayers, thoughts and condolences go to everyone affected by this tragic and unnecessary loss of life. As fellow fans, Americans and human beings, we bow our heads and say God-speed to those poor souls taken from us all too soon.


This movie was destined for greatness from the moment the lights got dim. I saw this movie twice, once in IMAX–a necessary effort if you are to absorb this entire movie. Director Christopher Nolan's tragic trilogy comes to a climatic conclusion with one of the most ambitious super hero tales ever told on the big screen. Tying up a powerfully dark and gripping story arc, this movie–while not without some significant flaws–borrows from some the greatest Batman stories ever told. With the rise of Bane and the unveiling of the Talia al Ghul as well as the elusively flat characterization of Catwoman, this movie's rich and complex story line is a fitting conclusion to what has got to be one of the greatest trilogies in this genre–EVER. Pontificator, how say you?

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): They only continuity to speak of is within the trilogy itself since they abandoned coherently following the stories presented in the comic books a long time ago. Now, speaking from that perspective, this film picked right up where the last one left off...making the continuity superb for the story presented, even as there were elements of Knightfall, the Dark Knight Returns...and No Man’s Land story arcs.


All the usual suspects return to reprise their roles and while all do a commendable job I will jump right to my thoughts on the newer characters. Flat out, Bane is terrific. Terrifying, single-focused and intimidating, my only reservation here is that I all but just don't get his motivations. Anne Hathaway's Catwoman? Meh, not a fan. For certain, the beautiful Hathaway's portrayal of the notorious Selina Kyle was decent but given the depth of the villain's schemes, the character was forced, flat and was laughably morose. Miranda tate/Talia al Ghul–good but kind of a shoulder shrug for me as well. What's more, Nolan's story is so huge, it doesn't fit into the 2 hour and 45 minute run-time. Also, Nolan's shooting in three different primary location; Pittsburgh, New York and Chicago, makes this movie hard to identify with. It comes off as an almost completely different Gotham than the first two films.

TP: I can sum this section up in one word... excellent! The casting was great as Christian Bale reprises his role and brings some depth to his character. Tom Hardy was a great choice for Bane and he really delivered a ruthless and lethal presence. Anne Hathaway was the best Catwoman to date, capturing all the qualities of the character without overdoing the “cat” aspect. Michael Caine was the one actor that took his role to another level...and delivered a passionate performance that made Alfred relevant to everything that was Batman. The direction was superb, making 165 minutes simply fly by as if in half the time.


The mark of a great effects-based movie is that the effects are seamlessly part of the experience. Such is the case here. From the wide-angle cityscape shots to the highly stylized dungeon scenes, this just movies looks great. While there a number of notable effects shots throughout the film, the one that stands out the most for me is the gaping maw that swallows up the playing field in the football game as Bane reveals his plan to take over the city. The shots of the hovering flying bat (or bat-copter) are noteworthy as well. Ponty?

TP: Well Vader, this movie not being delivered in 3D will probably effect sales, but I don’t think it diminished from the film at all. I never found myself missing it.... or wishing for it. I was too enthralled with the simplicity and smoothness of the action, which is a testament to the excellent special effects work. There was no new ground broken, but when the film makes everything you’re watching real... then all the old lessons have been perfected.


It is because I am such a fan–of Chris Nolan's vision, the Batman and the super-hero genre–that I am going to appear to be harsh here but it is what I saw. This movies has so many holes, we could rename it, Rename it "The Dark Knight Rises–Through Swiss Cheese".

Again, great movie, but I will give you a handful of what is a list of dozens of questions I have; How can Blake, Miranda and Bane figure out Bruce Wayne was Batman when Gordon couldn't do it in eight years? What city puts 90% of it's police department into the sewers for a "training exercise"? And how are these cops able to survive more than five months with no light, sanitation or proper accommodations? Why doesn't Batman ever go after Selina Kyle? She stole his Mother's Pearls, stole his car, sold him out to Bane who breaks his back and sends to some middle-eastern hell-hole. The audience is expected to piece together the incredible lapses of time in this movie, something audiences have proven consistently unable to do. How is it the reactor could be weaponized in few moments by someone who had NEVER seen it before? After escaping the prison, how did Wayne get back to Gotham from the Middle East when he was flat broke?

Lastly, I loathed the ending. I wanted Bruce's death to be a mystery. A passing, half glance in the crowd. Not Bruce and Selina holding up glasses of wine to an Alfred who just gave Bruce a tearful eulogy just a few days earlier. Christopher Nolan is a far better director than this. Okay, both barrels are now empty, you're up old friend.

TP: So... tell me how you really feel Vader. I will address my take on your questions in the comments section.

This film was a lot more serious than I thought it would be. The best films have elements of comedy, drama and action... usually in equal parts, but that’s just a general model as this film was very heavy on drama and action...taking many opportunities to explore the human condition of love, passion, fear, desperation, hope, tenacity... all intertwined between the clear philosophies of good and evil. There were improvements since the last film...most notably the “Batman” voice of Christian Bale wasn’t nearly as raspy as the last film. The fight sequences were taken more seriously, showing plausible fighting techniques. There really weren’t many detractions for me... except I would have liked to see Batman use more stuff from his utility belt, especially when tasked with facing a wrecking machine such as Bane. Speaking of Bane... simply awesome how he was utilized, and the obvious change to his character made to the film version kept him serious and sinister.


Probably one of the greatest cheese-ball endings ever, though I couldn't help but crack a knowing smile as "Robin" Blake discovers the Bat-cave under Wayne manner (I fully expect he won't be the last since the house is now populated by hundreds of mischievous boys). This vain but likable story development leave the audience to assume an ex-cop will now become the prodigy of the traveling/retired Batman. Okay. I applaud the vain Hollywood flair but no points for originality. I hope that future Batman efforts will embrace many of Nolan's efforts and keep future Batman films (and yes there will be many more!) grounded in mystery, dark purposes and divisive plots. This film certainly still held on to that. 
TP: This was a trilogy... so there will be no direct sequel, but there doesn’t have to be. The film left us with closure for Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle... and Alfred, and left us to wonder about the next chapter... but not enough to leave us yearning to see it. As you said Vader, the ex-cop prodigy angle holds no interest for me. I was content that this was the last film.


ARTH VADER rates The Dark Knight Rises:
Alright, so I probably come off as a hater in this post but I did like this movie–a lot! Plenty of action and loaded with star-power with an over-ambitious story you probably are best NOT to think through too deeply, The Dark Knight Rises is a Batman movie that doesn't disappoint. While not his best, Nolan's trilogy tie-up is fun and undeniably cool. If you are one of the 86 people in North America who has not seen this movie (even after reading all these spoilers!), then go. Now. It's not to be missed in theaters, and in IMAX if you can. With one-eye left open and a whole lot of lingering questions, this true believer shines 8.5 busted blocs into the night sky over Gotham.

THE PONTIFICATOR Rates The Dark Knight Rises: I try not to go into film with great expectations... but with a film like this, it’s hard not to. I was elated that it didn’t disappoint and actually surprised me in many areas. It paced itself well and made me take it seriously by really exploring the human condition. It is one of the best Batman films to hit the silver screen... exploding 8 1/2 busted blocks.

The Dark Knight Rises: 8.5 Busted Blocks

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