TOTAL RECALL

August 16, 2012

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

Directed by Len Wiesman

The Review

Total Recall, which I will simply refer to as TR, is a remake of the 1990 Schwarzenegger action flick. This is another attempt to bring Phillip K. Dick‘s classic 1966 short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale to the big screen. Sci-Fi fandom owes a lot to Phillip K. Dick. In addition to this story he also gave us Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which became Blade Runner) and Minority Report. This version is closer to the Dick story (at least this time it’s set entirely on Earth) than the 1990 version, but its still not very close.

TR is set in a standard dystopian sci-fi world. In the near future, the earth has been virtually destroyed by a chemical war. The only habitable places left are The United Federation (England) and the Colony (Australia.) The two places are connected by a gigantic underground train that travels straight through the Earth’s core. I laughed out loud when I read that bit of exposition, since I’m pretty sure that the pressure and temperature at the Earth’s core would be a little bit too extreme for train travel. But it was a movie, so I went with it. There’s a rebellion of sorts going on, with a small group of terrorists blowing up stuff to strike at the heartless United Federation and its evil President Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).

The story concerns Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell,) a man who lives a fairly mundane life. He works at an android assembly plant in the Colony all day and at night goes home to his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale)in a shoebox of an apartment.  Doug is a troubled guy. He keeps having recurring dreams of escaping from some sort of prison with a hottie resistance fighter named Melina (Jessica Biel.) I must confess that I too have recurring dreams of Jessica Biel, so it’s entirely possible that I might also be some sort of super spy.

Doug feels that his life is missing something, so he visits Rekal Incorporated, a company that offers implanted memories.  After perusing the menu, he decides to have a secret agent memory implanted. As the procedure is starting, McClane (John Cho) detects some other planted memories already in Doug’s head. Convinced that he is a Government agent, McClane halts the procedure and wants him thrown out. Suddenly the building is filled with Soldiers. The Rekal staff is gunned down, leaving just Quaid. In a blink of an eye, he kills every soldier in the room and escapes. Returning home he finds that his entire life is actually a fake memory that has been implanted in his head. Even his wife Lori is not what she seems. She is actually another government agent that has been assigned to be his wife. Following her orders, she then tries to kill him and forces him to flee.

The rest of the film shows Quaid on the run desperately trying to discover exactly who he is. Along the way he meets up with the real Melina and finds out that he has a cell phone implanted in his hand. There’s a really cool Hover car chase, lots of gun play and explosions aplenty as the plot begins to unfold. I particularly love bits where Quaid gets a message from his old self. The idea of watching yourself say and act like a complete stranger is compelling and a little bit creepy. The age old question of “am I a good person deep down, or am I rotten” is one we can all relate to. And of course, you have to be prepared for the answer, no matter how ugly it may be. I always go back to a line form Minority Report (another Dick story, as mentioned earlier) when Gideon tells Anderton “Careful Chief, you go digging up the past, all you get is dirty.”

One of the ideas from the original story that I really love is the question of what’s real and what isn’t.  Dick had fun playing with the reader on whether Quail (the name of his main character) is really a spy or it’s just the implanted memories. TR tries to explore that concept, but it’s very overhanded and clumsy. I also love the idea of Quaid trying to discover who he really is. That journey of discovery has plenty of ore to mine. Farrell is a good enough actor to handle it, but the script pretty much pushes all of the “Who am I, and am I gonna like me when I find out” stuff aside and concentrates on the large CGI booms.

Overall TR was pretty good. The film makers didn’t really do any cinematic trailblazing. But they cover the old familiar sci-fi ground well. The gem of this film for me is Kate Beckinsale. Most people know her from the awesomely bad Underworld franchise. I think she’s actually a pretty good actor, and she shows it here. She takes a standard villain part and makes it fun. The screen lights up every time she’s on it and she’s physical enough that you believe that she could kill you in multiple ways.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Shadow Run seems to be a perfect fit for this setting, although a modern day Call of Cthulhu would work just as well. You could have two character sheets for each character that has had their memories altered. Then you can spring the new sheet with the ‘real’ character at just the right moment. If your players are up for it, they can have a lot of fun playing a different version of themselves. When you add in just the right amount of swat teams, firefights, and huge government conspiracies, you’ve got yourself an enjoyable evening of gaming!

There were a couple of nods to the original Schwartz version. The traveling women at the security check-in “Two Weeks!” makes a fun appearance and Quaid has a quick throw away line “I always wanted to go to Mars” when he is at Rekall. But that one could also be a nod to the actual Dick story as well. All of the crowd shots of the Colony brought to mind the scenes of LA 2019 from Blade Runner.

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

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MOVIE REVIEW – FRIGHT NIGHT

September 29, 2011

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and Five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Fright Night (hereafter referred to as FN) is the latest entry in the unending stream of remakes coming from Hollywood these days. This time around FN is set in a Los Vegas suburb and concerns teenager Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his attempts to destroy his new neighbor, and blood sucking vampire, Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell). Charlie becomes suspicious of Jerry’s thirst for plasma after his ex-best friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) tells him about the many disappearances in town lately. Among the missing is Adam (Will Dentor), the third member of their childhood trio. Charlie dismisses Ed’s vampire theory and tries to go back to his new life. Charlie, it seems, has moved on from all the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stuff that he, Ed and Adam used to to do when they were younger. In fact, he has moved on from Ed and Adam. Now, he hangs with the cool kids Mark (Dave Franco) and Ben (Reid Ewing) and has even found himself a hottie girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots) to boot!

But when Ed joins the ranks of the missing (dispatched by Jerry), Charlie reluctantly begins his own investigation. In a great scene involving a six-pack of beer, Charlie confirms Ed’s theory, Jerry is indeed a vampire. What’s worse, Jerry knows that Charlie knows. And the way that Farrell plays this scene (as well as the whole film) lets the audience know that Charlie, his mom (Toni Collette) and Amy are all in big trouble.

Later, when Charlie sees that Doris (Emily Montague), the stripper who lives next door (Why can’t I ever live in that neighborhood?) is going to be Jerry’s next victim, he quickly attempts a rescue. He breaks into the house and soon discovers secret passageways, locked cells, and finally the bitten and drained Doris. After watching Jerry take another big drink from Doris, Charlie attempts to sneak her past Jerry and out of the house. It’s a great sequence, and Gillesipe and his actors nail it, mixing in equal parts of suspense and horror.

Charlie, now desperate for help, goes and sees the great magician and vampire expert Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Vincent is currently headlining at a casino in Vegas, and Charlie hopes he has the answers. Vincent reveals himself to be more of a performer than a vampire hunter, and quickly sends Charlie on his way.

The final reel has several battles, pitting Jerry and his growing army of vampire followers against Charlie and his friends. With casualties mounting in both camps, Charlie and Peter Vincent (Who has had his own little moment of redemption, and is now willing to fight) gear up and head off to a final showdown in Jerry’s underground lair. There, in a nod to the original film, Jerry menacingly tells them “Welcome to Fright Night…for Real!”

This movie was actually a lot of fun. Great performances by the entire cast (especially Farrell and Tennant) help to raise this movie beyond its standard script. It’s 106 minutes of roller coaster action, and I enjoyed the ride. The design was excellent and CGI was used in appropriate amounts. My biggest nitpick with the movie actually was the pacing. As fun as it was, I felt it made the movie more of an action genre than a horror flick. A slower pace could definitely have made for a scarier movie. From just about the opening scene the human characters (as well as the audience) are clued in that Jerry is a supernatural creature. The film makers could easily have made that journey of discovery longer, and much more horrifying. I feel that the film makers missed an opportunity to use a great horror concept: ‘Evil is lurking right next door.’ It’s something that all of us can identify with, and suburbia is a wonderful setting for it. We’ve all heard a strange noise coming from our neighbor’s house or apartment and wondered “what are they doing in there?” But since the plot is in overdrive, and Jerry pretty much flashes his fangs to anyone watching, this concept is quickly run over and left far in the distance.

One theme that did come through is “Things are seldom what they seem.” Jerry, at first introduction, is a night contractor, and at worst, a ladies’ man.  We quickly learn that he is much, much worse (he’s a vampire contractor – imagine him re-doing your kitchen!). Even Charlie is pretending to be something that he is not, having ditched his childhood friends and re-inventing himself to be accepted by the ‘cool’ clique.

The biggest example is Peter Vincent. We actually get to see him strip off all of his external character traits (hair, beard, sideburns, eyebrow ring) and go from mystical vampire killer to drunk B-actor. It’s a great scene, and Tennant plays it just right, comfortably and believably showing us exactly what the man behind the curtain is like. And at the same time, he confirms our fears that nobody is who they say they are.

Combine these two themes and you could have a really powerful, scary film. A different film than what Gillesipe and crew turned out, but a good one, I think. As is, the film they did was an exciting joyride, and I highly recommend it.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

The set up is perfect for horror gaming, and Call of Cthulhu comes to mind instantly! Vampire stories are perfect for Cthulhu, since you can craft each encounter with Jerry exactly as you want. That being said, when you look at the set-piece encounters in the film, there are a lot of opportunities for good gaming.


Look for Chris Sarandon (The original Jerry Dandridge) to pop up in a cool little cameo. In the credits, his character is listed as “Jay Dee” – get it?

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.