Monday, August 20, 2012

memory hole

Saturday was movie night.

That should not be a big deal for me.  After all, there is a multiplex theater in Manzanillo -- just an hour drive away from Melaque.

Here in San Miguel, the movie complex is a mere mile or two away.  And it always has blockbuster films on offer.  At a reasonable price. 

For a prime time Saturday night showing of Total Recall (or Vensador del Fururo, in Spanish), I paid $58 (Mx).  About $4.40 (US).  In a modern stadium seating auditorium.

Watching a movie in Mexico is like boarding a time machine to the era when the full family would go to the movies on Saturday night.  Mom.  Dad.  And children of various ages. 

And when the stray breast -- or three -- appear on the movie screen, there is no rush by parents to cover the eyes of the children.  Probably on the theory that they have already seen their fair share of bare breasts on saintly icons at church.

Ironically, I noticed that most of the swearing in English was markedly toned  down in the Spanish subtitles.  And therein lies a lesson for writers.  It is possible to communicate emotion without slogging through the four-letter dictionary.

The movie, of course, is a remake and thus comes with its own steamer trunks of irony.  I suspect the producers were counting on the audience not recalling that this film about failing or altered memory was already told once very well.

But even the first Total Recall was not original.  Both are loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story: We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.  Dick was a master on telling tales that mixed psychology and philosophy into a challenging construct.  Especially, the question of how we know who we are.

I will follow the advice of the wise man in the current film: it is important not to know who we were in the past, but who we are in the present.   Thus there is no reason to compare the Arnold Schwarzenegger film with this remake.   It should rise or fall of its own gravity.

The plot centers around a working stiff (Colin Farrell) who suffers from disconcerting nightmares.  His world is not the world we know.  It is set at the end of the century in a world devastated not by an environmental meltdown, but by a massive chemical war.

Most of the world has been destroyed and is neither habitable or traversable.  With the exception of Western Europe and The Colony (Australia).  Western Europe is filled with the wealthy elite who live in luxury.  The Colony is populated by workers who live in Third World squalor.

Of course, there is a revolution brewing to gain independence for The Colony.  But the terrorist violence attributed to the independence movement is actually government-sponsored to give the elite an opportunity to invade The Colony, exterminate the inhabitants, take the land, and populate it with docile robots.

Colin Farrell’s character provides the canvas to display Dick’s theory on the fragility of our personalities.  It turns out he may or may not be a secret agent.  May or may not be a double or triple agent.  And we never do get the answer.  Just as Dick intended.

That tension arises out of Firth’s trip to a company that promises to replace his nightmares with more pleasant memories.  From the moment he sits in the memory chair, we are subjected to almost nonstop mayhem and violence.

As a result, the “Who am I?” and “How do we know who we are?” questions get lost in the special effects and violence.  Both of those tools can propel a story.  Unfortunately, they are in this film to keep the audience from having to think too hard.

And to help the audience deal with all this activity, the film has been turned into a veritable visual scrap book of clips from other films.

The Colony is merely a tidier and wide-angle set of the street scenes from Blade Runner.  The robotic police that chase our hero and heroine are right of Terminator.  The weightless wrestling and shooting match has its cousin in Inception

And the Star Wars  references are legion.  The android army that is both effective and fragile.  The flying cars and their crowded skyways.  And, of course, the Darth Vaderish black clad protector who guards the emperor -- oops!  I mean chancellor.  But then I guess it is the same thing.

There is nothing wrong with derivative film making.  Geniuses build off of the work of others.  But none of the references are improved.  In fact, this film starts to look pale by comparison.  Plagiarism often bears the seeds of its own punishment.

It is a bit sad that this film was not a better vehicle for its stars.  Kate Beckinsale has been one of my favorites actresses since her ensemble days in Whit Stillman’s films. 

Unfortunately, her role here is that of the uber-bad Bond villainess.  Not much range required.  But she makes her character live as the very essence of evil.

Poor Colin Farrell and Jessica Beal do their best to make some sense of their parts.  Whenever they are actually getting into true character, it is time once again to go shoot up the town. 

It is a shame.  Because Farrell, Beal, and Beckinsdale show enough chops to be in a film that truly presents Dick’s more interesting ideas.  Maybe something written by Tom Stoppard.

But that is not this film.  And if that does not convince you, please remember two facts from the synopsis. 

First, the entire world has been destroyed except Western Europe and Australia.  Second, the workers live in Australia.

How on earth do the workers get to Europe?  They cannot cross the chemical-poisoned wasteland that makes up most of the world.

Well, not “on earth,” but through it.  The workers daily commute through the center of the earth to and from their jobs in Western Europe using what looks like a giant elevator called The Fall.

Even Jules Verne would have  blanched at that literary device.

I suspect that the actors wished they could have boarded a similar contraption to get out of this film.

Fortunately, I can escape on Sunday to my usual theater seat for another serving of the Atlanta Chamber Players. 


Kjhoffmann said...

Are you sure it is Colin Firth, I think it may be Colin Farrell I don't think this genre would be something Colin Firth would do.

Marykchaffee said...

Don't you mean Colin Farrell? Although I would probably pay big money to see Colin Firth in this type of movie.

Irene said...

It's Colin Farrell not Colin Firth.  In case you want to edit your post.

Felipe Zapata said...

It is possible to communicate emotion without slogging through the four-letter dictionary.


Cineguy said...

If you were paid as much as those actors, you probably wouldn't care what kind of film you were in!  Yeah, I thought I had a hard time seeing Colin Firth in a film like this... 

Steve Cotton said...

You, of course,are correct.  I got my colins in a twist.

Steve Cotton said...

 Yup.  These days I am glad to get my own name straight.

Steve Cotton said...

I was trying to imagine Firth in the role.  I suspect he would be dead in the first scene.  And that would have been an entirely different movie.

Steve Cotton said...

A line placed there just for you.  And one I thoroughly believe.  The profanity in this film was beyond gratuitous.

Steve Cotton said...

Farrell has long been looking for an appropriate vehicle for his talents.  This can be added to the long list of recent artistic crashes he has suffered.  The underlying tale is a fascinating one.  But it did died in the first shootout.

Denkura said...

And here I thought you were retired.. You certainly may have a possible career as a film critic. That was one of the longest critiques I have ever read for a third rate movie no matter which Colin you were talking about.

Francisco said...

Enjoyed the review.  If you can, see  " Frozen River"  with Melissa Leo.  She is excellent.  Sad news, Tony Scott passed away Sunday.  Check out his movie "Modern Romance" the opening scenes ( while the credits roll) is where I grew up. (the Southend of Dearborn) Yes, that's really what it is called, mainly, for geographic reasons.

Steve Cotton said...

I suspect my concert attendance has revived my critic juices.

Steve Cotton said...

I have often thought I lived in the southend of Melaque.

I will check our listings.  There are plenty of films -- especially, the small audience films -- that never make their way south.  But I have been surprised now and then.

Cineguy said...

I even got my own Colins mixed up.  I meant Firth. 

Felipe Zapata said...

Saw a news story today about a high school valedictorian in the U.S. who was refused her diploma (for a spell, I imagine) due to saying "hell" during her graduation address. I cheered. What a refreshing return to the old days, and rare.