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Total Recall: Loud, Trigger Happy & Bland
Hollywood’s latest remake finds the Arnold Schwarzenegger original updated to modern day sensibilities. Where the former was about providing a colonised Mars with a breathable atmosphere and saving it’s people from the tyranny of the capitalist air trade, the latter is very firmly set on a post nuclear war ravaged, almost uninhabitable, Earth and deals with the prevention of an invasion of the Colony (Australia) by the United Federation of Britain – who want more liveable land and cheap labour. Despite the thematic differences, the overall arc is cribbed straight from the original along with a bunch of the lines and the three-boobed hooker. The remake, however, manages to be more overwhelming and less satisfying.
The opening scene alone should come with an epilepsy warning and the rest of the film is basically back to back explosions, gun fire and head-splitting noise. As for the acting, Biel is practically the only person who makes an impression on screen and she’s actually pretty good. Farrell on the other hand seems lost; he’s really not action hero material no matter how much he may look the part, while Beckinsale is overshadowed by the amount of hair constantly obscuring her face. As for Nighy, who plays the leader of the resistance, well he pops up, blandly intones some philosophical gibberish, then disappears. Yoda showed more personality than him.
This film, like many other sci-fi productions provokes a question: what’s with the Asian fetish? In Total Recall, it’s apparent in the number of Asian extras, the parasols they carry and the interior design, though notably the obsession doesn’t stretch to the three main leads, all of whom are lily white. Some multilingual signs exist to make the Colony look like the melting pot it should be (we definitely spotted some Arabic in there) but for what it’s worth, it looks far more like Japan than Australia. The film’s overall aesthetic is, like practically every sci-fi film out there, is heavy on the grimy concrete, rain and neon lights, i.e. it knocks off Blade Runner, but still looks inferior to the now thirty-year-old classic.
It’s astounding how a film with a pretty decent, thought provoking concept turned out to be so bland. So if there’s one Total Recall you have to see, make it the original.
Don’t be fooled by Shut In’s relatively intense and spooky trailer; the final product is unfortunately, everything that its trailer is not. Directed by Farren Blackburn – see Hammer of Gods - this haunted house thriller of the wearisome is-she-crazy-or-is-she-not variety finds itself completely devoid of any suspense or story, resulting in one of the most painful and unexciting movie going experiences of the year thus far.
The story is set in rural Maine and revolves around child psychologist, Mary Portman (Watts wondering how the heck she managed to get roped into this mess), who is struggling to get over the loss of her husband who was killed in a horrific car accident some time ago. Left alone to take care of their teenage son, Stephen (Charlie Heaton from Stranger Things ), who was also in the accident and was left paralyzed from the neck down and unable to talk, Mary tries to do the best she can and to go about her duties as compliantly and passively as possible.
However, the pressure of taking care of him alone is slowly getting to Mary who tries to find some sort of comfort and solace from her regular Skype sessions with fellow shrink, Wilson (Platt). Her life is soon turned upside down when one of her troubled patients, a young deaf foster kid named Tom (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), shows up at her doorstep late one night before quickly disappearing into the cold without a trace. Wrecked with guilt, Mary soon begins to see evidence of Tom in the house; unable to differentiate between reality and her nightmares, her mind soon begins to play dangerous tricks on her, forcing Mary to believe that there is something else entirely at play here.
Told with an unintentional sense of preposterousness and accompanied by an obscenely sluggish tempo, instead of concentrating on building its own story and generating genuine tension, wastes time borrowing ideas from other, better-executed films. Attempting to ignite chills and creeps through a series of predictable and terribly clichéd jump scares, the story fails to excite, offering very little suspense, energy or reason for the viewer to get invested in its characters. Even the talented Naomi Watts can’t make up for its laundry-list of problems, while Room sensation Jacob Tremblay is disappointingly wasted in his role of Tom.
While the idea may have read well on paper, Shut In’s execution is dreadfully ineffective; uneventful, boring and a total of waste of both time and talent, watching Shut In is just as exciting as watching paint dry. No fun at all.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.