Friday, August 31, 2012

Nothing New: Lawless

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Musician and writer Nick Cave has once again teamed up with Australian writer and director John Hillcoat for a film about lawless brothers. Their previous effort, 2005's The Proposition, suffered from an inability to decide whose story it was supposed to tell. The script for Lawless is more focused, but also strangely uncompelling.

Set in 1920's Virginia, the film tells the somewhat true story of the three Bondurant brothers and their bootlegging business. It's based on the "historical novel" The Wettest County In the World, by Matt Bondurant, great-grandson of one of the brothers. That's "novel," not non-fiction, so take those advertising claims of "based on a true story" with a grain of salt.

Shia Leboef is Jack, the youngest Bondurant brother, and the narrator of the tale. He relays legends about the Bondurant clan, and how for generations they've been virtually indestructible; nothing can kill them. This proves a good talent to have when running a backwoods moonshine business. Oldest brother Forrest, (Tom Hardy), heads up the operation, while middle brother Howard, (Jason Clarke), is the muscle. But it's Jack who has ambition, hoping to take their small--albeit successful--business wide.

He finds the opportunity with Chicago gangster Floyd Banner, (Gary Oldman, woefully underused), and is able to widen distribution. But with big-city business comes big-city law, and corrupt officials, headed by special agent Charlie Rakes, (Guy Pearce).

Let's just talk about that Rakes character, and Guy Pearce's portrayal. For some reason, he's a complete dandy who doesn't like to get his clothes dirty, has a part in his hair so severe it looks shaved in, and eyebrows that must have met the same razor. He bears an uncanny resemblance to Bob Geldof in Pink Floyd's The Wall.

This character is also a sadist who enjoys raping prostitutes and kicking the shit out of the Bondurants boys. He's such an insane caricature compared to the rest of the film's cast, that he sticks out like a sore thumb, (albeit a well-dressed one).

There are other characters in the film that are problematic, but for different reasons. Two females hover around the edges, for no other reason than to have both a Madonna, (Bertha, an Amish-ish young woman, played by Mia Wasikowska), and a Whore, (Maggie, a waitress and former showgirl, played by the omnipresent Jessica Chastain), for the brothers to play with. And frankly, I'm a little tired of women being in movies just so their characters can get raped, thus firing up their male love interests to revenge.

I'll give the movie this: The time and setting are convincing; the costumes are impeccable; and the soundtrack--also by Nick Cave--is a catchy mix of modern bluesy songs recorded to sound like classic bluegrass.

And for a while, Lawless seems to be heading towards something new--a true-ish tale with bits of legend and magical realism thrown in--but it just ends up being a lesser version of a gangster story that's been told time and time again.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cat People (4) and Pretty Baby

Once again, playing catch-up with my blogging duties...

So, on August 26th--or thereabouts, because that was a Thursday, and I have doubts about me watching two movies on a school night, although I really don't know if school started before or after Labor Day back then, so maybe it is the right date--I watched two movies that feature naked girls in New Orleans.

This had to have been on VHS. And rentals. The first was, of course, Cat People, which I never actually bought on VHS, but I think I did illegally copy a VHS tape of it, so I could watch it another 25 times (or thereabouts) in the coming years.

The other film was Pretty Baby, which I had also seen a few times before.

I love Pretty Baby, but I understand it's...problematic. It's definitely not something that could be made today--at least not without very loud protest and boycott--and perhaps that's a good thing.

But it is a good movie, and that's kind of what makes it so problematic. If it were just an exploitation piece about child prostitution, that would be one thing. But it's a serious movie, directed by Louis Malle, and starring some pretty impressive actors, (Susan Sarandon and Keith Carradine, among others), and somehow that makes it even more problematic.

Of course it also stars a very young Brooke Shields, and she does play a child prostitute whose virginity is auctioned off, and who falls in love with a much older and slightly creepy man. Which...umm...

The movie itself is not really lascivious as far as scenes with Shields are concerned, although she does appear naked, though not full-frontally so, and she was underage at the time of filming...

But I think the real controversy is not so much with the movie, but with an unfortunate tie-in associated with Playboy magazine. They released a photo book entitled Sugar and Spice that included naked photos of the young Brooke Shields in scenes inspired by the movie. I'm not going to link to it, but a simple Google search will bring them up if you must see them. (The photos really do make me feel VERY uncomfortable.)

So. Yeah. I do love the movie, because I love New Orleans, and the era it's set in, and the music, and most of the acting, (Frances Faye as the aging madam is, frankly, awful, but she's so bad it's almost comedic).

But I'm also kind of glad nothing like it could get made today.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Better Than Its Set-Up: Robot and Frank

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

It's hard not to laugh at the idea of a movie about a robot who takes care of an aging Frank Langella. I had fears of something similar to the creepy and maudlin Robin Williams film Bicentennial Man, or a story about a curmudgeon who Learns How to Love Again Via His Robot Friend. But Robot and Frank is better than its set-up would lead one to believe.

Langella plays Frank, an aging, divorced father living alone in the "near future," in a house that has seen cleaner days. He's forgetful, but denies it when his adult kids, Madison (Liv Tyler) and Hunter (James Marsden) confront him about it. Hunter decides to get Frank a helper robot to clean, cook, and keep Frank in line. But Frank does not appreciate being cared for by an appliance.

Frank has his routines, and they involve walking to the library, flirting with the librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), and stealing soap from a local beauty store he can't always remember is no longer his favorite diner. You see, Frank used to be a "second-story man," a cat burglar who could find and avoid even the most "fool proof" of alarm systems, and stealing is the one thing Frank isn't forgetting about.

Some neighbors and the local sheriff (Jeremy Sisto) aren't forgetting it, either, especially since Frank spent some time in prison for robbery. When jewelry goes missing from a snobby neighbor's house, Frank is suspect number one.

And rightfully so. Frank's robot is a willing and able partner in crime for Frank, and when they start to plan robberies, the robot sees it as an excellent therapeutic opportunity for Frank, as it involves both mental tasks, and physical ones!

Robot (he never does get a name) and Frank's crime spree is the movie's highlight. At first I thought Frank Langella might be too erudite an actor for such an aging wise guy role, but he proves to be very good at playing a tough guy working hard at hiding his vulnerabilities.

The robot looks like a slightly less constipated version of Asimo. He's clearly played by a person in a robot suit (in this case a woman, Rachael Ma), and is voiced by Peter Sarsgaard. His robot voice will get comparisons to HAL in 2001, but to me, he sounded uncannily like Michael Emerson, so much so I just assumed throughout the whole movie that it actually was Emerson.

Robot and Frank is a small movie. It's science fiction, but not flashy; aside from the robot, clear cell phones, and video projected phone calls, it could be now. The setting is contained in an almost claustrophobic way; Frank's world has gotten smaller as his mind begins to fail him.

Memories, and the idea that we are our memories, is an obvious theme here. Frank is losing his, and his robot can have his "memory" erased with the touch of a button...

And this is an interesting, almost philosophical subject. But the movie falls short, and basically ends before it gets a chance to really explore it. It's like screenwriter Christopher D. Ford confused subtlety with just plain not writing enough.

There's are moments that are genuinely funny, and Langella is able to say lines like "he's my friend" without making you want to roll your eyes; it's certainly a very unique partners-in-crime movie. But ultimately, its smallness works against it, resulting in a movie that never gets a chance to take off, or be truly memorable.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Leopard Man and I Walked With a Zombie

First, let me just say I love how the title of this post is also a sentence.

My love of the 1982 Cat People resulted in a curiosity about the films of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur, the men behind the original version of the movie. By this point in 1982, I had already seen the original, 1942 version of Cat People, and liked it. So when two more Lewton films came to the York Theater, I was all over it.

Of the two, I Walked With a Zombie is definitely the better and more entertaining movie. It's loosely-based-on-Jane-Eyre-storyline gives it a nice gothic romantic punch, plus, zombies!

The second movie, despite having the title The Leopard Man, it's not a quasi Cat People sequel, and has nothing to do with any kind of were-people at all. Ultimately, there's nothing supernatural about its story.

The most memorable scene from the movie is near the beginning, when a young woman who is afraid of the dark heads home after a trip to the grocer's. It left an instant impression, and I've never forgotten it...

I found the rest of the movie to be a tad boring, at least in comparison to I Walked With a Zombie (because, duh, zombies), but was definitely glad I saw it. I can thank the 1982 Cat People for introducing me to the Lewton and Tourneur oeuvres, and as I got older, I would appreciate their moody and suggestive approach to horror all the more.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rock and Roll High School, Neighbors, Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip (2)

Renting movies at Captain Video, and spending the weekend watching them was pretty regular thing in my family. A lot of the time, we'd rent movies we'd seen before, and often more than once. Buying movies on VHS wasn't really feasible since they were priced insanely high back then. I think 80 bucks was often the average price, but maybe I'm exaggerating it in my memory. All I know is we rarely actually bought any movies. We'd just rent them over and over.

On this weekend we re-watched three movies. The first was an all-time fave: Rock N Roll High School.

I'm not sure when I first saw Rock N Roll High School, but I do know at some point I went to see it at the Roxie Theater. Whatever the case, this viewing was probably my fifth or so.

This movie introduced me to the Ramones, and a lifelong love was born. Here's how much I loved them: When I was 16, I had brain surgery, (not a lobotomy, I swear), and a week later I was front row at a Ramones concert at Wolgang's. I might not have loved them quite as much as Riff Randall did, but not much could keep me away from one of their concerts.

And one more personal anecdote about the movie: I took a film studies class taught by one of the movie's screenwriters, and it was one of the worst classes I've ever taken, mainly because that professor was the kind of teacher the kids at Vince Lombardi High would have bound, gagged, and pelted with apple brown betty.

The second movie was Neighbors, a bit of a flop that starred John Belushi and Dan Akroyd.

I know I didn't like it much the first time we saw it, which was in 1981 when it was released, but perhaps my parents liked it, and that's why we chose to watch it again. I'm actually a bit curious to re-watch it now, as I imagine its black humor might have been a tad lost of me at the time. It's not available on DVD from Netflix, but it can be viewed online, so I might give the movie another shot at some point...

Finally, we rewatched Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip, and you can read about my first viewing of that here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Fire took home the Oscar for 1981's Best Picture, beating out Raiders of the Lost Ark, Reds, Atlantic City, and On Golden Pond.

In other words, screw Chariots of Fire.

OK, fine. I understand it's probably an inspirational movie to many. I'm sure it's a fine piece of cinema. But it bored the hell out of me when I was twelve, and I suspect it still would since I'm not a runner, don't really care about the Olympics, and am not an Anglophile.

I have a memory of watching the movie at home, and falling asleep, but apparently that's wrong, because I actually saw it at the York Theater on a Friday. If school had already started at that point, then this was an evening showing. There's no way I didn't fall asleep in that theater.

Of course, there's one thing no one who sees the movie will ever forget, and that's the theme song by Vangelis. For better or worse, it's one of the most memorable--and overly-played--theme songs in the history of movies.

But I'm still not gonna watch the movie again just to hear it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

I think Fast Times At Ridgemont High was the first movie in 1982 that I saw with just my mother. I'm not sure why my dad wasn't there, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't, and it was just me and mom at the Royal Theater that Saturday in August, the day after the movie opened.

That was appropriate because I was with my mother when, about a year earlier, I bought the book the movie is based on. It was at a bookstore on Chestnut Street. Do NOT ask me why I remember that. I just do.

I LOVED the book. I read it many times before seeing the movie, and many times after seeing it, going so far as to underline bits of dialogue that are in both the book and the movie. For reals. Look.

Yes, I've still got my copy, and it's falling apart. But I'm keeping a firm grip on it because it's out of print, and copies go for beaucoup dinero.

In doing some perfunctory research in preparation for this post, I came across this assessment of the book, and have to say, I disagree with it almost completely. She seems to be criticizing it for not being more "journalistic," but then also seems to not like it when Crowe seems to be editorializing at times.

It's pretty obvious the book is not exactly in-depth journalism. It's a series of stories about one very fictionalized high school. (For the record, the real "Ridgemont" is Clairemont High School in San Diego.) And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It's a young adult book, not a shocking expose on teenagers in the early 1980s.

She also gives short shrift to one of my favorite parts of the book: When the class goes to Grad Nite at Disneyland. Reading that part of the book is what ultimately convinced me to fork over the dough when my own Grad Nite came around. It wasn't as memorable an experience as they have in the book, (there was no hunt for hidden booze on Tom Sawyer Island, for example), and, in fact, I have almost no memory of the night at all. But I do know that a pre-super-famous-Michael Bolton was one of the musical guests. Check it.

OK, I realize I'm talking more about the book (and me) than the movie here, but that's mainly because I think, in the end, the book had way more influence on me than the movie did.

Which isn't to say I didn't love the movie. Of course I did! But since I was such a big fan of the book I couldn't help but be a little dissapointed by what wasn't included in the movie.

Also, some of the casting left a little to be desire. I think at the time, I kind of thought the actor who played Damone, Robert Romanus, was cute. But looking back, he's just all wrong. For one thing, he looks way too old. (Of course, they all kind of were; Phoebe Cates was the only lead who was still a teenager, but just barely, at nineteen.) And for another, he's got an East Coast accent that doesn't really make sense for a movie set in Southern California. In the book, he's from Philadelphia, but there's no mention of him not being a California boy in the movie. (Also, a bit of trivia: Romanus played a high schooler two years earlier in the movie Foxes, which featured Cherie Currie of The Runaways in her first movie role. Many years later, he would play Joan Jett's guitar teacher in the movie The Runaways.)

The actor (Brian Backer) who plays Mark Ratner is also kind of boring, and also seemed way too East Coast. This all may have a lot to do with director Amy Heckerling being from New York, though,

And speaking of Heckerling, bless her, because one of the other things about the movie that bugs is the soundtrack. If you listen to the commentary on the DVD release, she talks about how she was basically forced by producer Irving Azoff to include a bunch of music she hated, like Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Jackson Brown. She wanted more punk, new wave, and rock and roll, but only succeeded in getting The Go-Go's, Oingo Boingo, and Led Zeppelin in the movie. (The commentary is worth a listen, as it features both Heckerling and Cameron Crowe, and includes some interesting stories about casting, edits, and why "Kashmir" is played on that first date instead of a song from side one of Led Zeppelin IV.)

All that said, I still love it. I rewatched it a few days ago, and had forgotten how short it is. It barely clocks in at 90 minutes. Since some stuff has to be cut out, (nudity, etc.), when it airs on network television, making it even shorter, it's usually aired with some deleted scenes included. You can find all of them if you search "Fast Times at Ridgemont High deleted scenes" on YouTube, but I'm going to include my faves below.

Spicoli talks about partying with Mick Jagger:

Brad gives the guidance counselor a piece of his mind:

And what is probably the most controversial cut: Stacy in the abortion clinic. I wonder if this is something they'd still include in TV airings?

Finally, do you remember the really awful TV spin-off that lasted just a few episodes? You can watch that trainwreck here.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Road Warrior

I saw The Road Warrior for the second time at the York Theater, apparently on a Thursday. I guess school hadn't started yet, because it seems like I was going to a lot of movies this week.

You can read my first post about Warrior here. And you can enjoy the movie's first big car sequence below.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

E.T. ²

As I said in my first post about E.T., I'm not entirely sure if I saw the movie at the Grand Lake on my first or second viewing, though I'm pretty sure it was the first. Which would mean this second viewing took place at the Regency I.

I haven't gotten around to re-watching it yet because I don't actually own a copy of it, it isn't available to watch instantly, and I'm afraid the version I'll get from Netflix will be the version that Spielberg fussed with, removing guns etc. But I'll get around to it, if only to see Drew Barrymore, who is one of my favorite things about the movie. "I taught him how to talk now, he can talk now.":

Here are a few more items from my Genre Book:

Rex Reed's write-up, as it ran in the Chronicle:

And a couple of newspaper ads:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mastering The Measured Tones: Hope Springs

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Hope Springs is being sold as a comedy along the lines of Something's Got to Give or It's Complicated: a romantic comedy for the olds.

But I can tell you almost every funny moment in the movie can be seen in the two-and-half-minute trailer. The rest of the film is a surprisingly serious and quiet look at a troubled marriage, and the therapy sessions that will either save it, or help end it.

The screenplay, by Vanessa Taylor, was listed on the "Black List"--a list of supposedly brilliant but unproduced screenplays--back in 2008, and the inclusion makes sense. The film, for the most part, avoids the obvious, and concentrates instead on the surprises introspection can bring.

Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are Kay and Arnold Soames, a midwestern couple who have been married for 31 years. Their adult kids have moved out, their day-to-day life follows a predictable routine--breakfast, work, dinner, retirement to separate bedrooms, sleep--and Kay is visibly frustrated by their life together.

Arnold, on other hand, is content to continue living a life that doesn't include any unnecessary drama, while also providing him a lot of time to watch shows about golf on TV.

Seeking advice in the self-help section of their local Barnes & Noble, Kay comes across a book by a Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell), and soon uses some of her own money to pay for a week of intensive couples counseling with the doctor, in Maine. And after much grouching from Arnold, ("That could have been a new roof!"), he agrees to come along.

It's in the counseling session scenes that the movie really avoids comedic cliches. I kept expecting the wacky reveal that Dr. Feld is an obvious quack, or that he goes home to a haranguing wife, or a lonely bachelor pad. But those scenes never come. Instead, Carrell plays Dr. Feld completely straight, mastering the measured tones of a counselor who's seen marriages like this before, and knows how to deal with them.

Of course, it goes without saying that Meryl Streep is terrific, and in this role she's able to demonstrate, once again, that she's as good at comedy as she is at drama. She can garner a laugh by just looking at herself bewilderingly in a mirror, and tears when reacting to the possibility that her husband might not be attracted to her any more.

Tommy Lee Jones's Arnold is a bit less developed, and for most of the movie he's pure grump. But eventually when Arnold starts to realize what's really at stake, Jones is able to break out of the grump mold a bit, and show some convincing vulnerability.

And I have to commend director David Frankel for not shying away from the more...intimate aspects of the story. This is a movie about intimacy, so sex plays a big part in that. Arnold and Kay are an aging couple who haven't had sex in years, so obviously, many of their post-therapy session "exercises" involve their sexuality.

Sure, some of their sexual moments are played for laughs. But the majority of the time, the sex is serious, because it's serious to the characters involved.

So, yeah, if the idea of watching people in their 60's in bed together fills you with squeamish dread, you might want to stay away.

But I have to say that, ultimately, Hope Springs really surprised me. I'd never have thought I'd actually get enjoyment from--let alone respect--a movie that features Meryl Streep giving Tommy Lee Jones a blow-job.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid ²

I don't have much to say about Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid that I didn't say in my first entry about the movie. This second viewing took place at the York Theater, and I'd end up watching the movie many more times on cable. In fact, I'm pretty sure the TV version had a few scenes that weren't in the original theatrical release, although those don't seem to be viewable online anywhere.

Here's what the newspaper ads looked like, with the tag line "The people who brought you The Jerk try to make it up to you!"

And here's a compilation of funny moments from the movie.

Monday, August 6, 2012

An Officer and a Gentleman

An Officer and a Gentleman is definitely an R-rated movie. There's not a lot of nudity, but there's sex, and some emotionally realistic sex at that.

I've already talked about my youthful love for Richard Gere, so there was no way I wasn't going to be seeing this one. And we only waited about a week after it opened to go see it on a weekend at the Regency II.

And by "we," I mean me and my parents. But that's not the interesting story. The interesting story is when some neighborhood friends and I attempted to go see it again about a week later.

It was still playing at the Regency II, and as I've said before, the Regency II was always nicer than the Regency I, both in terms of the theater itself, and the staff. And I suppose I shouldn't fault a theater for sticking to the law, and making sure no minors were allowed in the theater without a guardian. But I had been going to R-rated movies alone for so long, I just wasn't used to getting carded. In fact, I was insulted!

And, indeed, the ticket seller wouldn't sell me and my friends tickets, and we weren't exactly gracious in the face of that. But we also weren't going to give up on our chance to see some age-inappropriate cinema that day!

So, we waited outside the theater until we saw a woman who was going in alone, and we asked her if she would pretend to be our aunt, and go in with us and get tickets. It was the cinematic equivalent of asking someone to buy us beer.

OK. I guess we weren't very bright, or we were just blinded by Richard Gere lust, because why we thought the ticket agent would just suddenly forget the belligerent girls who tried to get in five minutes ago, and buy the whole "aunt" thing, I don't know. And, indeed they didn't buy it, and made us leave. Again. But not before I indignantly yelled, "Oh yeah?! Well, I'VE ALREADY SEEN IT!"

Yeah. I showed them!

As for the movie itself, well, aside from its sexual frankness, it really is, at heart, an old-fashioned love story. It's so old-fashioned that my grandfather went to see it, and loved it. In fact, a lot of people went to see it, and it was the third highest grossing picture of 1982, which, when you consider all the other now-classic movies that came out that year, is pretty remarkable.

Below is a clip of the film's ending but, if you haven't seen the movie, you probably shouldn't watch the clip. (Although even if you haven't seen the movie, you probably already know how it ends, after years of movie and TV references and parodies.)

I'm including it because for years I was convinced that when Debra Winger kisses Richard Gere, she takes the ear plugs out of her ears, and sticks them in his mouth.

Now, I am assuming she drops them before she sticks her fingers in his mouth, but it's the whole sticking-her-fingers-in-his-mouth thing that makes it suspect to begin with. What's that about?

Or have I been kissing wrong all this time?!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Raiders of the Lost Ark ² and The Thing ²

I originally saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, at the Century Cinema in Corte Madera. (I'm not sure if it was called something else back then or not, but it was and still remains a large single-screen theater. I haven't been back in years, but at the time they had an annoying tendency to use projector bulbs that were too dim, and the theater didn't have any middle aisles, which was always a little disconcerting.)

I waited a long time to see Raiders, because for some reason I was of the belief that it was about archeology and was therefore just some dumb movie about old stuff. What a difference a year can make, right? In 1981, I was definitely a movie fan, but I wasn't someone who knew a lot about movies. Eventually, I'd be buying Fangoria, and Cinefantastique, and reading my dad's Film Comments. But I guess in 1981, I was still judging movies by their posters and subject matter, and Raiders just didn't seem that interesting to me.

I think it was a friend's fanaticism for the movie that finally convinced me it was something to see. And see it again I did on August 5th, 1982,  at the Alhambra Theater on a double-bill with The Thing. Two movies, two second viewings.

I wish I could remember if I went with my friends, or alone, (probably the latter), but I'm pretty much drawing a blank on the whole experience!

I've written about the Indiana Jones movies on my other blog, so please go and check that out. And I'll leave you with an interesting video that shows the opening of Raiders side-by-side with scenes from 30 earlier adventure films.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Relentlessly Adequate: Total Recall

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I'm of the opinion that the original Total Recall is an awful movie, and by "awful" I mean "amazing." It's so amazing in its awfulness, that it goes full circle and becomes great. It's not something you forget, and I know that because I've only ever seen in once, (sneak preview; night before it opened; at the Galaxy Theater on Van Ness), but I can still quote dialogue and conjure up images of Arnold Schwarzenegger's eyes bulging out of his head like I'd seen it yesterday.

Or is that merely the effect of so many pop cultural references throughout the years, acting as a virtual "Rekall" of memories that are actually quite dim?

I'll never know for sure.

The remake, (and it is a remake, sticking a little closer to the 1990 film than the Phillip K. Dick story that inspired it), is pretty unnecessary because it's relentlessly adequate. The effects are good. The acting is fine. There are some pretty thrilling action sequences.

But there's no Mars. There's no Kuato! There's never a touching plea to "give this people air!" And there's definitely no exploding eyeballs.

But there is a woman with three boobs; better than nothing?

This Total Recall is completely Earthbound, set near the end of the 21st century. The planet has become virtually uninhabitable, with only two areas giving home to the population. The powerful sector is what used to be England and parts of Europe. The poor sector, dubbed the Colony, is on the other side of the planet, in what was once Australia. The two areas are connected by a giant chunnel called the Fall that serves as the daily commute train for the workers who live in the Colony, but work in the United Federation of Britain.

Colin Farrell is Doug Quaid, one of those workers. During the day he commutes from the Colony and welds parts onto an ever-growing army of robotic peacekeepers. At night he comes home to his hot wife, Lori, (Kate Beckinsale), and has nightmares about being shot at while fighting robots with a mystery woman named Melina (Jessica Biel).

Because life on Earth is so miserable, a technology company called "Rekall" will, for a price, implant false memories into one's brain, so that even if you'll never be able to visit the lush islands of Hawaii while bedding babes and fighting ninjas, you can at least think you once did.

Despite warnings about the dangers of Rekall from his his wife and his best friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), Quaid finds this an impossible lure to resist, and decides to get himself some fake memories involving exciting espionage and super agents. But before Harold can complete the memory transfer, it's revealed that Quaid might really be a super agent, and all hell breaks lose.

But is Quaid really a super agent? Or did the memory implantation actually happen? An intriguing thought, yes, but one the movie never really follows up on. And that's a shame.

Quaid soon learns his loving wife is actually a skilled assassin, the woman from his dreams is real, and Kohaagen, (Bryan Cranston and his wig), the leader of the UFB, wants him captured alive.

What follows is a lot of scenes of Farrell duking it out with Beckingsale, (she's done this thing a lot before in the Underworld movies, which are also directed by Recall's director Len Wiseman, who is also her husband; don't get me started on the fetishistic implications surrounding THAT relationship), running away from robocops with Jessica Biel, and speedy chases in hover cars.

And all of that stuff looks great. The hover car chase is particularly fun, and sticks to some plausible science (magnets!) that provides a good pay-off. Wiseman has a good handle on action sequences, even if he is more in love with lens flare than J.J. Abrams. (Seriously. If you played a drinking game centered around each time a lens flare appears on screen, you'd die of liquor poisoning within the film's first 30 minutes.)

The cities, especially the Colony, borrow a lot from the look of Blade Runner, with constant rain, a general Asian influence, and skyscrapers that push the term to its limit. And being that the movies are both based on Phillip K. Dick works, this adds a nice sense of symmetry to the universes.

I also like that there's not one, but two very competent, kick ass women in the story, even if they aren't developed much past their ability to look pissed off and kick guys in the chest

And yet, none of this is enough of a reason to see it. There's hardly any humor in it, but it also doesn't take itself seriously enough to be a thoughtful story about the nature of reality, memories, and identity. It's like the creators saw the first movie, and then had every memorable moment from that movie erased from their minds, and replaced them with scenes from other capable but ultimately forgettable science fiction movies

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Union City

While I was a good girl and got a bunch of posts ready for automated publication while I was on vacation, I didn't really take into account post-vacation catch-up on other things, and as such, some posts here are showing up a little late. (I think we'll all survive.)

Apparently, on August 1st, I saw Union City, a 1980 movie based on a Cornell Woolrich story, starring Debbie Harry. I am assuming this was a video rental, and not a theater viewing, as I can't find it listed as playing anywhere at that time.

And I am assuming it was chosen because my dad liked film noir-esque movies, and I liked Debbie Harry. I can definitely tell you I don't remember anything about it. It isn't currently available on DVD, and aside from the following screen test, I can't find any videos related to it.

I'm venturing to guess Debbie Harry wasn't that great in it, as it was an early role. But now I'm dying to see it again since it sounds like something I would appreciate a lot more now than I did then...

And since there's not much more I can say about it, here's a video by Blondie for a song called "Union City Blue," which doesn't actually have anything to do with the movie.