Total Recall [2012 Film] (Review)

Contains spoilers.

 

This will be a basic review, as I watched Total Recall across splintered intervals throughout my rather stressful exam period in late May, and so I don’t have quite the coherent a set of notes I would like.  I had vaguely heard of Total Recall before I watched it but knew very little about it.  This film is a remake of the 1990 of the same name, based on Philip K Dick’s novel We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.  I hadn’t seen any of director Len Wiseman’s work before and know little of the starring actors.

The concept of living a fantasy life – the ‘Recall’ – is hardly a new one, and it isn’t really explored to that great a degree in this film.  In fact, very little of Total Recall is actually about memories.  There’s the beginning sequences in which we are familiarised with the life  Douglas Quid and introduced to the setting.  This is done rather well in a scene with his wife, Lori, in which we develop as much sympathy for the characters as we can in such a limited timescale, then we see bits of his monotonous work at a robotics factory.  The film does a better job developing these characters and setting in just 10 seconds than, uh certain other films with similar themes.  The Recall concept is first established when Douglas visits the ‘Rekall’ complex to experience false memories, then finds himself in a gunfight with Federation forces and discovers he has the abilities of a top-class agent.  Later, his Lori tries to kill him and is revealed to be an agent posing as his wife.  As the film progresses more of Douglas’ ‘real’ persona of Carl Hauser are revealed, but this plot thread seems to take a backseat, bizarrely.  There is that brilliant scene where his former friend Harry tries to convince him he is still living in Rekall’s fantasy world, and you genuinely wonder whether the events are actually happening or if it is all just a fantasy, but there’s not really much of a return after this.

The film’s setting is also quite strange.  It’s set in the year 2084 after the Earth has been rendered mostly uninhabitable by war, with only Britain (now the United Federation of Britain) and Australia (the Colony) inhabitable.  Not sure what kind of warfare would be so specific, and there’s never any indication that either of these settings are survivors of a brutal war (I can’t believe only the UK and Australia would alone be neutral in a world war).  It’s also jarring to hear so many American accents and scarcely any Australian.  These issues aside, the actual cities are well developed and realised.  From the kind of folding transport systems to the ‘hoverways’, it’s all rather impressed.  I was particularly taken by the attention to Physics in the film.  Most obviously, the freefall sequence as they travel in the gravity train was extremely well done, and perhaps one of the most original reasons for an escape I’ve seen in a film (though surely there’d be a warning as it entered freefall?).  As a Physics geek, I appreciated the attention to detail – it was also seen in other examples, such as a falling hovercar destroying another car as it lands through the force of it’s, uh, hover power thing, but the falling hovercar itself bounces off and is less damaged.

The film’s plot was rather basic and, as I’ve already mentioned, didn’t have all that much to do with the recall concept.  Basically, Douglas’ real persona, Carl, is a Federation agent but Douglas himself ends up becoming embroiled in the resistance seeking to free the Colony.  This all builds up into a rather predictable but well-directed action sequence in the end in which the villain, Chancellor Cohaagen, is killed (why would he personally have joined the invasion force?) and the link destroyed.  This is how you do a decent science fiction action sequence!  It should get to the point and develop and include real danger rather than the bizarre decisions taken by, uh, certain other films.  The ending is your kind of standard Hollywood ‘happy ending’ – although apparently in the Director’s Cut there is a sudden Blade Runner style moment of ambiguity intended to leave it uncertain whether he is still in the fantasy world.  That would be a far more satisfying conclusion.  I found Douglas’ searching for clues to his identity and mission fairly engaging, and the pieces did eventually slot together well.

None of the acting really left a memorable impact on me, meaning most was decent but little exceptional.  I recall (sorry…) Colin Farrell playing the part of an ‘average guy in a crazy situation’ very well, and Bill Nighy totally dominated the few scenes he appeared in.

Overall, this was a decent blockbuster.  Okay, it was a bit rushed, sometimes flimsy and generally quite superficial (I seem to say this a lot about films…) but, essentially, it worked and succeeded at its aims.  I think other critics have been harsher than I am towards the film, but I did ultimately enjoy it.  One of the better blockbusters I’ve seen, and it did help to take my mind off scary exams.

Final rating: 8/10

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Twilight Review

Contains spoilers.

 

I’m not sure why I was possessed by a sudden desire to read the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.  As its reputation demands, any books about such fantasy romance should be hideous to all males.  I guess that’s precisely why I decided to read them, so I could decide for myself what I think of the books.  And also, I feel compelled to read books which reach a certain level of popularity so I can see what the fuss is about.  (Fifty Shades of Grey is on the same pile.  At the bottom).  I’d seen the film before and wasn’t greatly impressed, but I know too well how little this says about the book.  So, after particular difficulty acquiring the book – I decided not to take this as a sign – I began reading with great interest.

And, you know, it’s really not that bad.  Sure, it is a romance novel which I appreciate isn’t everyone’s thing, but I don’t feel as if any shred of ‘manliness’ I possess has been compromised for having read it.  The concept is very simple: vampire and human fall in love, vampire fights desire to kill her and drink her blood; he must then protect her from less restrained vampires.  It’s a good concept but the execution, I think, is the main flaw with the story.

The book begins when Isabella, ‘Bella’ Swan moves to the dull, wet and green town of Forks to live with her father.  Her reasons for doing so are immediately unconvincing: she wanted her mother and her mother’s boyfriend to have space as they travel across the USA, although mildly in character, as it is revealed that Bella generally response to situations in the opposite way which would be expected.  It took me a while to warm to Bella.  She seemed very conceited to begin with but I began to realise it was all part of her awkward, but generally pleasant, manner.  However for someone so independently minded it’s disappointing that she becomes so submissive and thoughtless in Edward’s presence.  At the book’s end, as she pleads with Edward to let her become a vampire, it’s clear she really hasn’t thought it through.  Sure, she’s infatuated with Edward now, but is that really worth an eternity of putting humans in danger, having to seclude yourself from society?  Granted, I wouldn’t necessarily turn down the offer myself, but her knee-jerk reaction is rushed and for all the wrong reasons.

I also was less than impressed with the development of Edward and Bella’s relationship.  While that may be down to my distaste of the flimsy nature of relationships in general, I would expect such feelings of love to come with some appreciation of the other’s company.  Yet all Bella and Edward do for the first half of the book is endlessly debate the philosophical nature of their relationship, or prattle on about how they feel about one another.  Which is fine, I’m not criticising that, but there’s never any indication they actually like one another beyond their attraction towards each other.  Edward is in love with Bella’s scent and she is in love with his perfection.  I suppose that’s just how relationships work, but it never felt believable until their love for each other had been established.

Despite my criticisms of their relationships, I do like the characters in Twilight.  Bella is interesting and unique, particularly when contrasted to the ‘typical teens’ of Forks High School.  That said, everyone’s so innocent in Forks.  When Mike arranges a trip to the beach everyone’s content to build a bonfire and then go exploring.  From my experience this outing would not be complete without at least a dozen tins of various alcohols – but perhaps that’s more a reflection on the culture I live in; Forks is four and a half thousand miles from where I live, after all.  But I digress.  Although Bella was different, there are a lot of people like her in the world and I couldn’t see what made her so special in particular.  Edward is initially the most interesting character with one hundred years of experiences, though he does begin to get repetitive as the novel progresses.  And what’s with his dominance over Bella?  I get that his domination over her, more than once dragging her to do his will (she always stops complaining before long), is meant to be romantic, but I see it as verging on misogynistic.  Charlie is your stereotypical American police officer, unable to cook and hobbies consisting of fishing and watching football.  The teenagers at the school are just as stereotypical, though mostly realistic.

The Cullens are the most interesting and varied characters.  Some are not given much development yet: Esme is ‘kind’, Rosalie is ‘hostile’, Emmett is ‘funny’.  Jasper, Alice and Carlisle are the most developed characters, and are consequently the most likable.  Carlisle in particular garners the reader’s respect, and takes the role of a wise mentor for the others.  Jasper and his ability to mildly control people’s moods is an intriguing character.  Alice, with all her enthusiasm and intuition, feels the most human of the vampires.  Then there’s James, the sadistic hunter after Bella’s blood.  He was very well crafted, and responsible for the novel’s most suspenseful moments.  I knew Bella would survive – I practically know the plot of all four novels – yet I was gripped.  The plot leaps in pace after James’ introduction and feels as if it’s finally found its feet.

Overall, Twilight is a far better book than I expected.  Not perfect, certainly, and nor is it aimed towards my demographic, yet I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I intend to read the three remaining books in the series, though I fear my resolve may fail at the repetitive nature, particularly as the love triangle around Jacob is formed (side note: Jacob’s far younger, clumsier and awkward than all the promotional images for the films would have me expect.  Interesting marketing techniques).  But I’ll persevere.  It’s been years since I last abandoned a book and I don’t intend to start now.  Who knows – I might even enjoy them.

Final Rating: 7/10

(PS: How do I tell whether I’m ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob’ ?!)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012 Film) Review

(Contains spoilers)

I’ve fallen so behind with my posts!  In what became an added stress to a generally fantastic, if busy, week, I only arrived home from the screening of The Hobbit last Wednesday at midnight, so didn’t have time to write up a review.  This will be a very short review, summarising my thoughts, and probably reiterating what many better film reviewers have said.  It’s also from the perspective of someone who’s read the book before, albeit half their life ago.

I was very excited about this film.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy would easily rank among my favourite book/films, and I expected The Hobbit to be just the same.  I had heard that it is nothing like LOTR, which is to be expected.  You don’t even have to read the books to see the vast differences in tone, simply noting the difference in font size gives a clear idea!  The Hobbit is much lighter than LOTR with far more comedy.  So how did it do?

Not bad.  The Hobbit is far from perfect, but it is an admirable addition to the franchise.  Visually, it is possible to see the development of computer generated imagery in the last decade, which is prevalent throughout almost the entirety of the film.  This gives it a very fantastical, sometimes almost ‘cartoony’ feel, which matches The Hobbit’s tone.  However, I feel this sometimes goes too far.  While the landscapes are absolutely stunning, I agree with many critics that the film gains no favours from having computer-generated orcs and goblins.  Particularly in the case of major characters, such as Azog and the Goblin King, who would have benefited by the physical presence of an actor.  One reviewer stated it was watching a video game, and I quite agree.

The acting was, on the whole, brilliant.  I was interested in seeing Martin Freeman as Bilbo, having previously seen him as John Watson in the BBC’s Sherlock, and he did not disappoint.  He will forever be Bilbo to me, and carries on well the character which Ian Holm first developed in LOTR, bringing his own attributes to the part but clearly playing the same character.  Returning characters were excellent as ever, if sometimes clearly 10 years older – there did not seem to be much attempt to hide Ian McKellan’s ageing.  Christopher Lee played Saruman well and had the same presence he always brings to roles, which is admirable considering he turned ninety earlier this year.  The dwarves were much as I imagined them, though few were developed to any significant degree and were mostly used for comic effect.  I’m not a great fan of unnecessary comedy so most of this passed me by, but it was good for what it was.

But the clear standout of both the effects and acting was Gollum.  Andy Serkis gives an astounding performance once again as the deranged, deadly yet pitiful character.  Gollum looks ever so subtly younger, though it is difficult to state how – a tribute to both the acting and animation.  The difference between ‘Sméagol’ and ‘Gollum’ is immediately noticeable; the eyes flash from cute and innocent to calculating and dangerous in an instant.  I expect more awards to come Gollum’s way in the near future.  Gollum also has the honour of providing some of the few genuine laughs I had during the film – particularly, during the game of riddles, his schizophrenic exchange: “Oh, I know, I know!” “Shut up!”  And, put simply, he was so cute!  I felt his despair upon losing the Ring, however wrong I knew it to be.  Easily the most sympathetic and pitiful character in the whole film.

One major problem the film had was pace.  I appreciated the cinematic display of backstory to open the film, giving it the same grandeur feel which LOTR had.  However I felt it was unnecessary to include ‘modern-day’ Bilbo and Frodo.  This assumes the audience has seen the LOTR trilogy and makes it appear to be a spin-off rather than a film of its own right.  The Hobbit was published before LOTR and it feels wrong for the film to be cast along as a ‘younger sibling’ in this way, as it often is.  The film takes far too long to leave Hobbiton and truly get started – about an hour, compared to around 10% through the book.  And once it does leave Hobbiton, despite following the book closely, is simply a series of dangerous situations followed by a fight and victory – particularly once the party enter the Misty Mountains.  I found myself bored by fight scene after fight scene, each one similar to the last, so that the final climactic battle between Thorin, Azog and Bilbo had little effect on me.  I was merely glad once it had ended.

Finally, the film is less realistic than LOTR.  Perhaps this was intentional, but it leads to more potential criticisms of an overly fantastical nature and being like a video game.  The two main examples occur during the fight scenes to escape from the Goblin Kingdom.  Firstly, and this is also a criticism I have of LOTR, the Dwarves must be astonishingly accomplished fighters to take on the entire Goblin army and escape unscathed.  Their invincibility continues as they plummet into the depths of the mines, bouncing from the walls, and again land unscathed.  Are we to assume that dwarves in fact contain several layers of blubber?  There are various other fantasy elements which feel out of place, such as the fight between the giants, which although not unrealistic in themselves – clearly, as this is a fantasy film – the lack of explanation leaves me wondering how it is possible.  Though there are no limits to the imagination in fantasy worlds, they must have rules and explanations, otherwise the story has no boundaries and feels unconvincing.  This is something Tolkein usually achieved to great success within his work, causing this to jar even more.  And most confusingly, why couldn’t the eagles fly them all the way to Erebor rather than planting them in front of a deep, dangerous forest?

I’ve heaped much criticism onto The Hobbit, but I do need to reiterate that I heavily enjoyed the film.  It was never going to live up to the legacy of LOTR, and that aside it didn’t, in my opinion, quite reach its potential.  Despite that, it’s still an excellent film that will long be remembered, if doomed to be eternally shadowed by its older sibling – much like the book itself.

Final rating: 8/10