A Fistful of Dollars REVIEW
Director – Sergio Leone
Cast – Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volontè, Sieghardt Rupp, José Calvo
– followed by A Few Dollars More
Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone revitalized the western genre back in the sixties with their “Spaghetti Westerns”. The director believed that westerns had become stagnant and preachy, and tried to create something. It’s a pity he stole the script from the Japanese film Yojimbo; its producers sued Leone and Co. and ended up getting 15% of all worldwide profits and exclusive distribution rights for Japan. Despite the plagiarism (apparently in both story and style) A Fistful of Dollars remains a unique movie, with a different take on the Western genre.
Much of the credit for this belongs to Clint Eastwood, who plays the lead character. (He is constantly referred to in popular culture as “The Man with No Name”, yet he does have a name here, Joe. He is called by a different name in the sequels however, so it is suggested he always uses aliases.) Clint here is tough, rugged, and a man of few words. We are never given a back story for him, and this works in favor of the movie. He is not a character, but a symbol; a symbol of everything we all wish we could be. His quick draw is lightning fast, and his mind is sharp. In fact, what drives the story (contrary to many of the western genre) is his plotting and politicking.
The plot is about his manipulation of two different families, playing on against the other to Eastwood’s profit, and these families are portrayed interestingly as well. In most movies where there is such a situation, one of the two families is portrayed as worse than the other. There is a overbearing group and a beaten down group. We would of course, cheer for the underdog. But here we are shown two families who are just as bad as one another. The only people we are really asked to sympathize with throughout the movie are a young boy, Jesus, who has been separated from his mother (who has been taken by Ramon Roho, one of the more villainous characters) and his mother herself. This plot line is not brought out as much as it could have been though.
The great Ennio Morricone composed the music, and it is nothing if not iconic. He composed the music for the whole trilogy, and his main theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is one of those great songs that everyone knows but rarely know where its from. However the music in A Fistful of Dollars (while definitely unique, iconic, and almost experimental) tends to play the same tune once or twice too many. It actually took me out of the movie a couple of times. However it is so distinctive that it is in the end, worth it.
This is a darker movie than most previous westerns, and it was this change in tone that was seen as so revolutionary. We are not given a hero who needs revenge, who is protecting a village from bandits, etc. He is motivated purely by desire for money. It is a violent movie as well, with several deaths, including one of an innocent women who runs out of her burning home only to be shot at point blank range by Ramon Rohos. It’s not pretty, and it doesn’t really even elicite a response from Clint Eastwood’s Joe, who is watching. He merely sighs and leaves the scene. There was nothing he could have done and he knew it. Jimmy Stewart or John Wayne would have jumped in there guns blazing and saved the day. But this is The Man With No Name, and he’s not stupid.
A Fistful of Dollars is the rare beast, a good western movie. It has smarts to go along with its violence. It’s got a memorable musical score and equally memorable characters, and was just the kick up the pants the genre needed. It invented a new definition of cool, and solidified Clint Eastwood as both a critical and commercial success. Definitely recommended.
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Director – Joe Dante
Cast – Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold
— followed by Gremlins 2
Steven Spielberg produces and Joe Dante directs Gremlins, a strange movie about little savage lizard/gnome/gremlin creatures who essentially destroy a town one winter holiday. The story focuses on a teenage boy, Billy, whose inventor father purchases a furry gremlin for him for Christmas. The boy tries to take care of them, but somehow each of the Three Rules for Gremlin Care are broken, to disastrous results.
The main problem with this movie is that it isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. It seems marketed as a family friendly Christmas flick, yet contains numerous frightening scenes and gory moments. The tone of the movie is just never decided on. The script, by Christopher Colombus, is also quite vague when it comes to certain characters, almost as if they aren’t fleshed out enough. One character in particular, Billy’s dad, is set up to be a main character of the movie but then vanishes essentially for the whole second half of the movie, only to reappear at the end.
The movie is a mess, yes, but it does have a few good moments. A very few. One scene has a girl talking about her fathers death, it is tragic and yet not without a certain dark humor. If the rest of the movie had stuck to that tone we would have had quite a different film, perhaps a good one. As it is though… meh.
This movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. The writer Chris Columbus (often criticized for his tendency to be tepid and “by-the-numbers”)) does nothing to give this film any splash. The plot may be slightly original, but the tone is pure Hollywood sap.
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A Christmas Story REVIEW
Director – Bob Clark
Cast – Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz
I’d always heard of A Christmas Story. My fiance grew up with movie, as did many others, and has been nagging me to watch it for ages. I gave in today, and I couldn’t be gladder that I did. This movie is touching and frikin hilarious; but most of all its so true! I think most people watching this movie will see some close to home moments here (played as humour of course). The voiceover by actor Darren McGiver (playing the older main character) is calming and reassuring, and again, hilarious. He portrays perfectly the sense of weight and importance which every kid sees his world.
The cast is all around great; Peter Billingsley as the lead, (Ralph Parker) is exceptionally good. Ralph is a young boy whose only wish for Christmas is a BB gun. He tries hinting every way he can think of to get his wish across to his parents. Will he get the gift of his dreams? Gee, I don’t know. You’ll just have to watch this absolute gem of a movie to find out.
The themes touched on in this movie are dead on, and as I said, will bring back memories of childhood to most viewers. We see bullying in the character of uber bully Scut Farkus; there is a great scene where Ralph beats up the bully and then fears punishment from his father; and another classic scene where Ralph meets Santa; and a scene where Ralph discovers the true meaning of Chritmas: Advertising Dollars. It is billed as a “family movie” to be sure (because, I suspect, it is about a family and they didn’t know how else to market it), but this is truly a movie to be seen as an adult, looking back on your younger days. A Christmas Story is set around 1940, yes, but it is about everybody’s Christmas. The years may change, but some things don’t. This movie is timeless.
Though for a movie billed as a family film, there sure is alot of swearing…
This movie is a timeless classic. Its crazy energy, touching humour, and nostalga make it irresistable. There is alot of swearing in it, so I personally wouldn’t let anyone too young watch it. But otherwise, this is a movie not to be missed.
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Keeping Mum REVIEW
Director – Niall Johnson
Cast – Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rowan Atkinson, Tamsin Egerton, Patrick Swayze
The cast of Keeping Mum, a British dark comedy, includes Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith and Patrick Swayze; and this sure offers much promise. Personally I’ll see anything with Rowan Atkinson, so I was looking forward to seeing this.
The premise of the movie is classic British dark humour; a pastor’s family with many problems finds them (and the people causing them) disappearing in the night after hiring an elderly nanny. The pastor is played by Rowan Atkinson, and the murderous granny is played, in a surprisingly delicous turn, by that goddess of British acting Maggie Smith. Kristin Scott Thomas is the sexually frustrated wife of the pastor, and Patrick Swayze is the golf instructor with whom she is having an affair. The little known Tamsin Egerton plays their daughter, and is one of the brigher spots in the movie.
The problem is the inconsistencies in the script. When the script is funny, it is hilarious in a darkly comedic way. Only the Brits can make murderous grannies this funny. However, surprisingly the movie veers off into sappy territory half way through. It stops wanting to make it funny, and instead of seeing the humour in the situation it pulls off an unnecessary plot twist and starts milking the dramatic (sappy) plot points for all it can. This negates any comedic potential, and yet the funny bits negate any dramatic content. The two tones essentially cancel each other out.
While the movie is conflicted, it is nice to see a comedy without the typical Hollywood plot. The sense of humour is nice while it lasts, and well… who the heck would have thought Maggie Smith would make such a wonderfully cruel murderess.
The first half of the movie, an excellent ending, and the great acting make the movie watchable. Watch it if you like British humour, or if you like any of the actors involved. They are all excellent, but the sappiness and the badly thought out second act detract from what we could have had here.
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Quantum of Solace REVIEW
Director – Marc Forster
Cast – Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Judi Dench, Mathieu Amalric, Giancarlo Giannini, Jesper Christensen
– follows Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum of Solace is the sequel to 2006’s acclaimed Bond film Casino Royale. It is also the first direct sequel to a Bond film, as the action picks up minutes after the ending of the former movie. The director is Marc Forster, the director of films such as Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner, and Monsters Ball. The decision to use a director known for character dramas was certainly an interesting one, and in certain ways it pays off well. And in others it definitely doesn’t.
I’ll start with the good. The acting is top notch throughout. Judi Dench and Daniel Craig (whose relationship keep the plot going and forms the base for the whole movie) are both excellent. Daniel Craig is in my opinion the best Bond we have seen yet. Much of the reason for this is that the two recent Bond movies know what they want with Bond. Many of the older James Bond movies seem to alternate between serious and campy fun, while these movies go right for the jugular with their dramatic story lines and action scenes. Daniel Craig has the perfect amount of “craggy-ness” and revenge driven angst for this role, and yet still has a dash of the classy Bond we all know.
Judi Dench is totally believable as M, Bond’s strict no nonsense boss. As a major plot point she turns her back on Bond after he kills one lead too many. The move is quickly decided, ruthlessly yet dispassionately acted out, and utterly professional. She is both an inspiring and intimidating figure. This M is a boss no one would want; but then again this Bond is an employee no one would want either.
The villain is also wonderfully performed by Mathieu Amalric (mostly known for his role in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The goal of the villainous organization (Quantum) is remarkably prescient, and touches on some quite modern themes of oil and water control.
The story itself is interesting and involving, but it takes a couple viewings to fully grasp, as the pacing of the movie makes some smaller details go by too fast to get. There are some nice dramatic beats and the dialogue scenes are excellent, and the whole second act (where we see the build up of Bond’s anger)is great to watch; this is where Marc Forster shows off his dramatic roots. The character of Bond really works better as an angry killing machine. I personally like this Bond much better than Sean Connery’s incarnation.
And here we go to the bad stuff; and that would be the action scenes. The choreography itself is wonderful, and Craig is wonderful as the uber-fit tank of a man that this Bond has become. However the scenes are cut so fast that is is essentially IMPOSSIBLE to see a single flipping thing! Rarely is there a scene where we can tell where Bond is, where whichever particular henchman he is fighting is, or who is doing what to whom. The purpose of cutting in an action scene is to make the action seem fast, to give it momentum and “make it look cool”. However it would have had a much bigger impact on the audience if we could actually see the cool things that Bond and Co. is doing. To put it simply the atrocious editing almost ruins the whole movie. If the action had been better cut I think this would be the best Bond movie we have seen yet.
Another thing about the action; several times throughout a fight scene or chase Forster cuts it together with an opera performance, or a horse race. Forster is saying to us “Hey audience, a foot chase is like a horse race, and look! Bond taking revenge is like the third act of Tosca! Oooooooh I’m deep….”. Except he isn’t saying it. He is screaming it. Unintelligibly. And not only can we not see the action we can’t see the horse race or the opera well either. It would have been pretentious if it had worked, but is half way there anyway.
Although it doesn’t matter. Unless you have eyes that work intelligibly at 300 frames a second you’ll probably miss it anyway.
This movie is the best Bond movie I haven’t seen, as the ludicrously fast editing almost ruins the action scenes. With a better editing sense this would have been a great movie. But unfortunately because of such a small but vital mistake we get a watchable movie, yes, but also the realization of what a good movie this could have been. And it’s pretty darn depressing.
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Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith REVIEW
Director – Geroge Lucas
Cast – Ewan McGregor, Hadyn Christenson, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz
— followed by Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
George Lucas has toiled long and hard with his prequel trilogy, and has by and large recieved much derision from fans for his efforts. I personally believe that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones are fairly under-rated movies. Granted, the first is a bit “kiddish” and the second is too long and burdened down by a ridiculous love story, but there is plenty of good in both. In both we seemed to be getting glimpses of what he was going for, but they were always clouded over by the faults of the movies.
And now, in Revenge of the Sith, most of those faults dry up and float away, and we see what he really wanted. The action here is crisp and easily discernible, and the love story is (while still prominent) not as talky or cliched. A perfect example would be this: in Attack of the Clones the romance comes to a head between the characters and is so obvious they must address it. They do, by sitting down and talking about it. And talking… and talking…. In Revenge of the Sith they’re romance is falling apart. They both know it, but they don’t talk about it. Instead they are seperated, miles apart in different buildings, and they both turn and look out the window and stare pensively in each others direction. It is a short scene, but it tells us all we needed to know without all of George Lucas’ ludicrous dialogue. The music in this scene is a departure for composer John Williams as well; it is tuneless, mainly a female voice wailing hauntingly. It sounds straight out of Gladiator. However it works perfectly here.
While this movie is without doubt an action film, the real driving force of the movie is Anakin’s betrayal of the Jedi and his turn to the Dark Side of the Force. Essentially he turns from good to bad, all the while believing himself to be right. The one who turns him is Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, played wonderfully by Ian McDiarmid. This performance is wonderful, without a doubt the best performance in a Star Wars film. (That may not be saying much, but still…) In one scene, set in a theater, Palpatine tells of a story of a Sith who learned to save loved ones from death. He knows that Anakin wishes this power for himself, yet says it so nonchalantely that we almost wonder if he does know. Which is, of course, exactly how he wants Anakin to hear him. It is a wonderfully played scene, and dare I say it, a very well written scene from George Lucas.
The romantic aspect of the movie, unfortunately, still plays as flat and cliched. Alot of the dialogue in fact is clunky, but that has always been a weakness of this series. As said before, Ian McDiarmid really makes the most of his, but the rest of the cast seem stilted, and its not even truly their fault.
The political manouverings of the movie are also intriguing, and in the end are what gives the movie most of its weight. We do already know that Anakin will become Darth Vader, and you would think that would ruin some of the “suspense”. However it really adds more punch to scenes where we can see what is going through Anakin’s mind. We feel compassion for him because we know what will happen to him, and we know he doesn’t want it to.
Revenge of the Sith is the best of the Star Wars prequels. We actually feel for the characters, even though the stilted dialogue does interfere slightly. We see political manipulations, chase scenes, and space battles as we never have before, opening up whole new areas for the audience to see. This is Star Wars as Lucas envisioned it, and it is good, very very good. There are some small minor quibbles, but after you’ve watched this you won’t be thinking of those. Instead you’ll come out the theatre or living room humming the brilliant music by John Williams and light saber-fighting with your little brother. Or at least resisting the impulse.
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Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones REVIEW
Director – George Lucas
Cast – Ewan McGregor, Hadyn Christenson, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz
— follows Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
— followed by Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
The second in Lucas’ prequel series, Attack of the Clones, features some excellent scenes and some iconic sequences. We see the rise of Anakin, soon to become Darth Vader, and begin to understand the choices and events which shaped him into one of cinemas greatest villians.
The visual sense of the movie is awe-inspiring. During the first half we see many sweeping views of the city-planet Coruscant. We have heard this plant reffered to before, but now we see it in all its glory. It truly is amazing. However there is so much of it that after a while we become numb to it. The key to great and inspiring images is usually simplicity. What is one of the best images in Star Wars IV: A New Hope, and an iconic image in general? A single Star Destroyer in space emerging slowly from the top of the screen. It’s iconic becuase it is simple and has great visual impact. In Attack of the Clones everything is so cluttered that it’s hard to grasp onto.
The storyline is cluttered as well, and goes on far too long. One of the driving forces of the story is the blossoming relationship between Padme and Anakin. This whole aspect is what cripples the story. Not only does Anakin come off as extremely creepy, but the romantic dialogue is awful, trite, and full of cliche. And there’s so much of it! Hadyn Christenson is half-decent (see Shattered Glass) when he is given good material, but here that is rare to say the least. The action scenes are spectacular, but they really can not make up for a good story.
However I must admit that the fighting/battle sequences are good. There is a space battle between Boba Fetts father and Obi Wan Kenobi (in an asteroid field) that is wonderful. The last bit of the movie is a huge battle between the Jedi’s Clones and battle droids, and is of huge scope and grandeur. Yoda also has his first fight scene that we have seen, and it is spectacular. Having Yoda fight Chrisopher Lee (as Count Dooku) was a great choice. It could have been quite a ridiculous thing, watching a little frog hopping around in a lightsaber fight, but it works quite well. Watching him zipp around was one of my favorite things I could remember from the first time I saw it in theatres.
Afterwards we see that Count Dooku has employed some of his allies to build a certain large moon-like space station, the Death Star. Realizing you have just seen the birth of just an iconic image was wonderful.
However as I said, without a well done storyline the movie starts to fail. Without the epic fights, sweeping battles, and the sheer power of the mythology, the movie would have fallen flat. Even with all those, it still isn’t great. Just “mediocre”, with awesome moments sprinkled in randomly.
Star Wars fans will be the ones to get the most out of Attack of the Clones. It’s worth a watch, but mainly because of what it is a part of, not on its own merits. It’s a bit too long, and George Lucas still can’t write dialogue to save his life.
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Match Point REVIEW
Director – Woody Allen
Cast – Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Brian Cox
Woody Allen’s Match Point is an introspective and slightly drawn out film. The length shouldn’t affect too many people hopefully, as the result is quite interesting. Jonathan Rhys Meyers (always a bit over-rated in my opinion) plays a hard to read tennis instructor who is a bit of a douche. He falls for his friend’s fiance, which sets in motion a stream of progressively worse series of events, leading to a death. The movie deals quite heavily with luck, and its importance in life. One plot point in particular at the end deals with this, and creates a scene that I didn’t think would have worked, but nonetheless works quite well here.
Scarlett Johansson is very good here in the role of an insecure and volotile actress, and she sets many of the plot points in motion. Her character is sexy, yet unsure of herself. This makes it easy for Rhys Meyers character take advatage of her. She certainly goes along however, and becomes extremely attached to Meyers. The movie never seems to asign blame, and if I could find a fault with the movie that’d be it. People in this movie do some pretty dastardly things, but Woody Allen not only didn’t assign blame, but even seems to applaud him for getting away with the deed. It isn’t as blatant as that… but it’s still there.
A word about the supporting cast… Brian Cox is good as always. Emily Mortimer is great as Meyer’s wife. She plays naive and innocent, but not in an annoying way, and Matthew Goode as Meyer’s friend is outgoing and easygoing in a nice friendly way.
Match Point isn’t a thriller in the Hollywood sense, but takes it’s tonal cues from English “who-dunnit’s”. This is not a bad thing, and the movie keeps us interested more or less the whole way through. The performances are good, and Woody Allen’s direction is subtle but effective. Woody Allen himself claims this as his best work. I am not familiar with most of his work, but you can see why he likes this one. Definitely recommended if you don’t mind a slightly slow “pot boiler”.
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Director – Guy Hamilton
Cast – Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Frobe, Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee
— follows From Russia With Love
— followed by Thunderball
James Bond returns in the third of the series. Goldfinger features the villianous Auric Goldfinger, a gold collector, who plans to rob Fort Knox itself. (Or does he?) He is a large British man who speaks with a German accent and wears yellow clothes. And has a yellow gun. And car. You get the picture, he’s obsessed with gold. He is brouht to Bond’s attention by the CIA, who suspect him of smuggling gold from country to country in an effort to raise its value. (Or something. It’s not very clear.) Bond follows him around many exotic locales and beds a couple women (all in a days work; not bloody likely) and logically discovers that Auric Goldfinger is up to his gold tipped collar in treasonous and diabolical plots. You’d think the name would have given him a clue that something was up….
There are 2 thinks I liked about this movie.
1) The famous scene where Auric Goldfinger straps Bond to a table and points a laser at his crotch. This scene is remarkably tense and riveting(despite the innumerable parodies that have come in between) and the effects work is top notch. Keep in mind they actually had to physically accomplish the effect of a laser cutting through metal. There was a documentary included on the DVD which explained it and it’s quite fascinating. Sean Connery’s face throughout is priceless. We see a suave spy, yes; but a suave spy who will soon be childless at the very least.
Which brings me to # 2. There is a shot (a single shot) which shows Bond’s car whipping through a factory. It was shot ( I believe) from a camera car directly in front of Bond’s car. I think they may have sped the frame rate up; but if they did it is practically the only time I have ever seen that effect used without looking ghastly. It is a great shot, reminiscent of the car chases in Ronin or The Bourne Identity. It is years ahead of its time and it quite shocked me when I saw it.
The rest is… well, awful. Sean Connery looks just plain bored, and the film is slow, ridiculous, and horribly edited. How can we expect to be thrilled when Bond spends half the movie sitting and amicably chatting with the villian? That might have worked in another movie, but not here. This movie has almost no drive whatsoever.
The amateur mistakes are shocking. There is one scene, for example, when Bond is in his car and a baddie has a gun to his head. He speeds up rapidly, does a quick turn to face in the other direction, and then fires off the ejector seat that Mr. Baddie is sitting in. This takes literally 3 or 4 seconds of screen time, yet the bad guy not only does nothing the whole time, but we are specifically shown him sitting there and do nothing!
The special effects are awful; and while I know we’re supposed to just “go along for the ride”, and while I know that they didn’t have the special or physical effects available to us now, there is a point where a bad movie is just a bad movie. If they couldn’t do a shot well with their limited special effects work, they should have written something else to happen. For example From Russia With Love (the previous movie in the series) gave us plenty of tension and action without resorting to ridiculously cheap-looking rear projection and effects. Why couldn’t they have done that here?
Goldfinger is a bored and tired affair, with a tired and bored villian to match. There are a couple iconic moments scattered throughout, but they are not worth the long wait and awful special effects to get to them. Only Bond completists would want to re-watch this, goodness knows I won’t.
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Total Recall REVIEW
Director – Paul Verhoeven
Cast – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Racheal Ticotin, Ronny Cox
The director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop) returns to pseudo-sci-fi with the “camp” action film Total Recall. Star Arnold Schwarzenegger brings his usual tough yet strangely sympathetic every-man character to the table, and is actually one of the highlights of the movie, which concerns an everyday working man in the near future, who recieves memory implants of a vacation to Mars, but immediately after goes beserk. Was it a memory or the real thing? Is the whole movie a dream? We’re never really told and, depite what most people think, I found that it hurt the movie.
The script is based on a story by Phillip K. Dick, the author of the stories which are the basis of movies such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, Next, and A Scanner Darkly. His writing tends to bring up social issues, and features everyman characters who arer unsure of their identity. And while this movie addresses these, it does it in an action/adventure style that frankly detracts from those topics. How can we be pondering the issues of identity, fantasy fulfillment, and oppresive corporations when Arnold is beating up thugs and playing around with fancy gadgets?
That being said, the action and more “campy” sci-fi aspects are still fairly imaginative. There is rarely a boring moment in the movie. The plot does become a little hard to follow around one hour in, but it all straightens out in the end.
The cinematography in parts (mainly the sequences on Mars) is awful, featuring mainly a red washout, blurring the actors, the sets, and the visual effects. It almost gave me a headache to watch it. (There is a possibility that this may have been the DVD, and theatregoers would have ehad a different experience.) The visual effects are fairly good (when we can see them well) and still hold up reasonably well today. This vision of the future is interesting; while it still has elements of the typical dystopian future, several scenes (showing Arnie working at his construction job, etc.) show bright sunlight and a bustling city. This gives a slightly more rounded experience.
The main problem with the movie is the relationship between the story and the tone it uses to tell it. The story delves into issues of dual identity, memory implants, and civil revolutions; yet the tone is campy and light. Verhoeven never tries to go deeper, where the story really should be going. At times it seems it wants to go almost film noir, but we get none of that. Instead we get Arnie running around kickin’ ass, which is essentially a perfect way to describe most of his movies. This one just blends in with the rest.
Total Recall has a nice pace to it, and is fairly inventive. However the movie as a whole doesn’t fufill the possibilities of the story, and feels too campy for its own good. Arnold is decent, but for the most part the rest of the cast feels tired. The movie would have benefited if Verhoeven had tried some new things or gone a bit darker with the story.
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