Total Recall (2012)

This is the last film I’ll be seeing with my (now expired) Cineworld card. I picked up the preview ticket before my card ran out earlier this month but I was honest and did tell them it wouldn’t be valid by the time of the preview! Expect film reviews on the blog to be a little less frequent until Niamh is a little older and we can get out more. Or we cut down on gigs… It’s a shame as there are some great looking films coming out soon. The trailers before this showcased some stuff I’d really like to see. Ah well.

Total Recall (2012)

“If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Man wants to get memories implanted to cover up his drudgy life, but finds there are already a bunch in there.

See it if you like: big, effects-heavy sci-fi action films which attempt to have a plot

There are two ways to look at this film – something new, or a rehash of the 1990 original. Having seen the Arnie vehicle from back in the day (several times), it’s hard not to compare the two which is a little unfair as they’re different enough that they’re not overly comparable.

The basic plot (lifted from Philip K. Dick‘s “We Can Remember It From You Wholesale”) is the same. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), labourer and husband of very fit wife (Kate Beckinsale), is bored with his humdrum existence and decides to spice it up with a trip to Rekall. There, they’ll implant some sexy memories that he can pretend are his own. Something thrilling like… ooh, being a secret agent. Only, for some reason, these memories clash with ones that are already in there…

Cue pandemonium, chases, explosions, another fit woman and a plot involving a rich politician trying to get richer at the expense of an innocent populace while being hounded by a resistance movement. The single largest different between this version and the original is the setting – it’s all on Earth. Mars doesn’t get a look-in.

Instead, the world is divided in two: the rich United Federation of Britain and the poor Colony (Australia), a melting-pot of cultures aptly illustrated by the use of Chinese, Korean and English signs all over the grubby place. The Colony is wonderfully imagined, looking very Blade Runner-esque whereas the UFB has a similar technological look while being that bit cleaner and sleaker.

The two are joined by a huge “train” called The Fall that passes through the earth. Workers travel from Colony to UFB each day and back again.

The biggest star of the film is the setting and the effects associated with it. It’s a beautiful looking film and all credit should be given to the CGI masters who’ve brought it to life. Add in a good dollop of imagination as they’ve obviously strived not to remake the original and credit where it is due. Certainly the cast put in passable performances, but nothing outstanding. Farrell, for instance, was far better in Phone Booth which actually required a modicum of acting talent.

For an action romp, it’s very watchable though the plot does slow things down from time to time. As a thriller, there’s not enough story. The balance could be a little better. Having said that, I did like it. The action sequences are very well put together and, if you haven’t seen the original, the plot’s not bad either. There are plenty of references to the 1990 film, sometimes in passing, sometimes simply in the way that something happens which has the same outcome but is done differently than it was 22 years ago. I don’t want to list examples as that would be spoiler-icious!

On the whole, it’s worth seeing. The original was a classic, but it was also released in a very different era where a film like that came out once a year or so. Nowadays, big films with this level of effects technology pop out at the rate of a handful a month. The fact that the visuals and the overall scale of the scenery impressed so much is down to a huge team who’ve put in some excellent work and that, for me, was worth seeing the film for.

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Horrible Bosses / Captain America

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsWith the kids safely ensconced at Grandma’s, we took the opportunity to indulge in junk food and two very enjoyable movies.

Horrible Bosses

“I’d like to bend her over a barrel and show her the fifty states.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Three guys with three awful bosses decide to kill them. With hilarious consequences.

See it if you like… the concept of Throw Momma From The Train mixed with The Hangover.

This is one of those films with a storyline a lot of people could relate to. I’ve certainly had bosses in the past who’ve made my life miserable, though not as miserable as certain ex-neighbours, and in honesty if pushed hard enough the brain does start to wish evil things up on them. So what if a couple of your friends were in the same situation? How would you help each other?

Well, the three friends in this film (played by Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) find themselves up against an overbearing asshole (Kevin Spacey, in a role possibly out-evilling Lex Luthor), a drug-addled toss-pot (a brilliantly hateful Colin Farrell) and a sexually harassing vixen (Jennifer Aniston, who I have never, ever seen sexier. Wow. I mean… WOW). They are aided and abetted by dodgy man-in-a-pub Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx). So a superb supporting cast, then.

The story is nicely paced and the boss characters wonderfully portrayed as the evil individuals they are while our hapless heroes try their best to convince themselves to go through with this. Seth Gordon has done a great job with the pacing of the story and the little incidents throughout are both hilarious and – in many cases – feed back into the story as plot points.

OK, it’s a little predictable. As soon as you see the mobile phone being dropped (no, that’s not a huge spoiler) you just know where the story is going. But it’s not the end that’s important, it’s the journey getting there and this is a genuinely funny one. I wouldn’t say I laughed quite so much as with The Hangover, but it still got a large amount of giggles. We weren’t along, either, as it seemed the whole (fairly busy) cinema audience at our showing thoroughly enjoyed it.

Definitely worth watching for the laughs. And for putting Jennifer Aniston into the spank bank. Did I say “WOW”?

Captain America: The First Avenger

“And Hitler looks for trinkets in the desert.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Origin story of the superhero used by the US as a morale-booster during WWII

See it if you like: well, superhero films. Dur. Oh, yes, and mom. And apple pie. And kicking nazi ass.

The final “prequel” to next summer’s The Avengers hits the screens and it’s not bad. It’s certainly better than Thor which I thought was incredibly weak, but also not as good as the two Iron Man films, which lead the pack predominantly due to the excellent script and banter.

Most of the story is told back during WWII when the US is recruiting as it finally gets off it’s arse and realises it’s part of the “world”. Young men are queueing up to become cannon fodder, including one young Steve Rogers (Chris Evans – not the ginger **** who ruined Virgin Radio). Thing is, little Stevie is a wimp. Up for the fight, but physically a wreck.

Special effects are used to reduce the somewhat buff Evans to a 9 stone weakling, and they work surprisingly well. Except for one close-up sequence in a car with leading lady Hayley Atwell (who plays Agent Peggy Carter) where Rogers appears to be taller, shorter, nearer and further away from her all depending on the camera angle.

A fleeing Nazi scientist (aided by Tony Stark Sr., father of the modern-era Iron Man) imbues him with muscles, power and the likes and off he goes to start kicking nazis around (via a music hall tour to raise war bond sales). Of course, Hitler’s not good enough as a super villain, so we’re introduced to Johann Schmidt (a.k.a. The Red Skull, played by an as-usual excellent Hugo Weaving) who was the first human to be given the power serum and who didn’t come out of it quite so well.

Visually the film is stunning, although the animation of Cap jumping is reminiscent of the recent Spiderman films and a little jerky. The sets are fantastic and very much the kind of thing you’d expect from a film of the era in places. That is, not exactly an accurate depiction of the times, but a slightly comic-book version. Perfect.

There’s the usual moral message that you get from the Marvel comics (this one – “bullies are mean”), but mainly it’s a good spy/action/superhero film which introduces the character well.

To nitpick – I’m prepared to forgive the fact that Cap has a shield made from something called “Vibranium” that absorbs all vibrations. But if that’s the case, why does it make a ringing sound when it’s shot by a bullet?

Stay past the end credits and you’ll see a trailer for next summer’s picture as well.

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Love & Other Drugs / The Next Three Days / The Way Back

Ah, been a while since I did three films in a day. In a bid to avoid take a break from working hard, I headed over to the Cineworld in Edinburgh for one romcom, a thriller and a historical drama. I like a nice mix.

Love and Other Drugs

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Boy meets girl. Shags her. Meets another girl. Shags her. Meets another girl. Shags her. Meets another girl. Shags her, but likes her. Sells some pills along the way (legally).

LaOD is definitely more “romantic” than “comedy”. There are some genuinely funny moments in it, but it focusses far more on the story than it does on laughs. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. It is. Hugely so.

This is largely due to Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. And this is partly due to the amount of flesh they show. One thing that’s always annoyed me about films is the way a couple can be all over each other, then the scene cuts and they insist on keeping themselves covered with sheets. Not so in this film! That’s not to say it’s remotely pornographic – unless you’re from the Bible Belt, in which case curved table legs are fairly hard core.

The performances are fantastic, especially Hathaway who plays a character with onsetting Parkinsons Disease. The writers have managed to make this a major point (as it should be) without turning things schmaltzy.

Jamie (Gyllenhaal) grows up as the film progresses, and he portrays this with some strength. Moving from the easy-going playboy to a dedicated partner in stages as the film progresses, he matures over the course of the two hours or so.

Josh Gad is also excellent as the comedy relief, Jamie’s brother. He pops up in just the right places to give some laughs and does manage to steal some of the scenes he’s in. Basically, he’s there for the guys who are taking their partners to see this film on a date.

A great story with passionate performances from the leads.

The Next Three Days

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A woman is jailed for a crime she didn’t commit (or did she?) and her husband starts to plot a way of getting her out. Only he’s not that great at it.

This isn’t the first “damsel in distress and amateur husband/partner comes to the rescue” film by any stretch. It is, however, ever so slightly more realistically portrayed than most others. Hubby (John – played by Russell Crowe) is a school teacher. He isn’t ex-military and doesn’t have a keen interest in survivalism.

His wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), is jailed for murdering her boss which she denies. However, there’s a lot of doubt as to the truth of this. This simple fact does make the film a bit more interesting. Will the actually get away with John’s plan? Should they? After all, there’s every chance she did it.

Indeed, John keeps screwing up. As ever, I’ll avoid spoilers, but his methods don’t always work out too well. Of course, where’s the fun in a film where everything is easy? You’ll end up with something like Law Abiding Citizen which has been done.

Despite a 2-hour running time, The Next Three Days doesn’t overstay its welcome and maintains interest right the way through. It does use some classic cinema tricks to maintain tension which are woefully predictable, but they only detract slightly from the film.

The Way Back

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A small group escape from a Russian gulag in Siberia then travel 4000 miles – on foot – to freedom.

There’s some debate as to the truthfulness of the book on which this film is based, but there’s enough fact in there to make it a wonderfully emotional work. Starting in the work camps of frozen Sibera (all 5 million square miles of it), the group head south in search of freedom. This takes a lot longer than they expect.

The group is made up of Russians, Poles, an American… quite a mix and indicative of the fact that Communism didn’t care who it trampled as long as it got its own way.

Not all the actors are from Eastern Europe, despite paying characters from there. Ed Harris does play the lone American, but Colin Farrell puts on a pretty acceptable accent as the mad knife-wielding lowlife who forces his way into the escape party.

The majority of the film depicts the group’s journey through harsh snow, mountains, plains, lakes, and desert as they make their way south to India and freedom from the reaches of Communism.

It does seem to rush a little as the time goes by. The early stages of the trek take up the most time, and each lengthier stage takes less and less screen time as the story progresses. Still, I suppose there’s only so much you can show of people walking with the sun beating down on them, or snow blinding them.

There’s a great story here with some compelling performances. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it’s quite classic material. Far better than some of the brain-numbing crap being thrust on us these days, though.

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Unstoppable London Boulevard

Two more films to make up for last week’s drought, courtesy of some kids’ film taking up all the new screens.

Unstoppable

“In training they just give you an F. Out here you get killed.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Runaway train!

“Based on real events” apparently, but who cares. Unstoppable is ninety minutes of being sat on the edge of your seat despite knowing perfectly well how it’s going to end. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine play two train drivers (yes, I know there are technical terms – I don’t care) who get caught up in a potential disaster. A huge train laden with dangerous chemicals is belting along the tracks towards a township, and *dramatic drum roll* only they can stop it.

The film has all the stereotypes. There’s a guy with marital problems. Another pushing retirement. A tough female who’s belittled by the powers that be. A **** of a company director.

Tony Scott‘s done a great job with what’s a very simple story. We don’t spend too much time messing around with character development when all we’re really interested in is the BIG SODDING TRAIN. There’s actually very little destruction in the film (it’s Scott, not Michael Bay after all), so it’s more in the thriller camp than an action film.

If you’ve had a tough week at work, then this is an ideal movie to go and see. Switch your brain into neutral and shovel the popcorn into your gob while Unstoppable washes over you.

London Boulevard

“Fahk awf. Cahnt.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Don’t make me angry. You’d not like me when I’m angry. I turn into a gangster.

A hell of a cast, this one, led by Colin Farrell as a released convict who’s expected by his peers to get back “on the game”. However, he really doesn’t want to. The local kingpin, however, has other ideas and it rather insistent.

Farrell manages to almost drop his Irish accent for this one, whereas Keira Knightley hams up her posh one playing a strung-out ex-actress. Who really needs to eat more. And wear a padded bra. Just saying, sorry. Ray Winstone is cast as the big, bad gangland lord which means he gets to swear a lot and be violent. So no typecasting so far.

My choice for best performance of the film goes to David Thewlis, who plays a wonderfully scatty friend to Knightley’s recluse. His character ranges from stoner to thug without ever seeming as if he’s acting unnaturally. Genuinely wonderful to watch.

London Boulevard flips from violence to humour to emotional and touching from scene to scene, often meaning that it seems a little jumpy. However, the story is good enough that it really doesn’t matter.

At risk of giving a spoiler (do stop reading if it worries you, just in case), the film’s similarity to Layer Cake is emphasised by the ending which is just too samey.

I enjoyed it, though. A very good story (even if it’s unoriginal), great performances and some genuine laugh out loud moments.

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In Bruges

Film poster for In Bruges - Copyright 2007, Fo...
In Bruges

Just to warm you up for Film Thursday tomorrow (or whenever I post the related blog article), here’s a quickie about In Bruges. This is a dark comedy. Think inky black. With quite a bit of bloodshed. And some weird bits. Including a dwarf in school uniform.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Two Irish hitmen hide in the Belgian city of Bruges after an assassination goes a bit wrong.

Don’t watch if you’re offended by bad language, brutal shootings or people critical of beautiful Belgian cities. This is a very dark film as well as being very funny. Strangely, the last time I saw a film remotely like this, it was the Belgian movie Man Bites Dog – itself about a murderer.

The cast are superb. Colin Farrell deservedly won a Golden Globe for his part as the guilt-racked younger gunsmith. He’s also remarkably funny in his rants about how much he hates Bruges. For the record, I’ve been there – though I was about 12 – and I seem to recall it being pretty nice. Mind you, I didn’t have a psychotic Ralph Fiennes looming over my shoulder.

It’s unusual for a film to encompass to many emotions. Giggling till your sides hurt, revulsion at a gruesome scene, sadness at a poignant event. In Bruges manages it wonderfully.

Most definitely worth 107 minutes of your time.

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