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Total Recall (1990) – Review

31 Jul

Wether you know the name or not, Phillip K. Dick is responsible for many of the science fiction stories that you all know and love, especially the ones that have been turned into blockbuster movies. Do titles like A Scanner DarklyMinority Report, and Blade Runner ring a bell? Those are just a few examples. One of Dick’s most popular stories was published in 1966 and was titled We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, which was later adapted to the 1990 sci-fi/action classic Total Recall. Now, Phillip K. Dick’s stories have a penchant for being smart and highly conspiratorial, so it would be nice if the movies adapted from his stories had that same style. Luckily, Total Recall is one of those movies.

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Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) lives an average life with his average job as a construction worker and shares a home with his above average wife, Lori (Sharon Stone). As life on Earth continues as normal, life on Mars is filled with violence and revolution as a so called terrorist named Kuato fights for the rights of the lower class colonists. All of the reports about Mars makes Quaid want to take a vacation there and escape his everyday life but his wife is not into that idea at all. This prompts Quaid to take a ride down to “Rekall,” a company where memories can be implanted into your brain and make you think you had the vacation of your life. Unfortunately for Quaid, the entire procedure goes terribly wrong and a massive manhunt for him, led by the ruthless Richter (Michael Ironside), begins and leads him to the very surface of Mars where he learns of his real identity and begins fighting for the survival of every colonist living on the planet’s surface…or is he?

This movie had the chance to just be a regular, run of the mill Schwarzenegger movie filled with lots of action, but no real ideas and no intelligence to speak of. What made matters worse was the idea for this movie was being tossed around Hollywood for years before it actually got picked up. To give a point of reference, the writers for this movie got Alien made in 1979 before the got Total Recall made in 1990, even though they began working on the latter first. In a way though, this actually worked out better because the right director and actors all became attached during the process, and an excellent movie was eventually created.

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One thing that not only struck me but also struck audiences at its release 24 years ago was the amount of insane violence in this movie, although I’d like to just call it action since it’s so abundantly ridiculous. Believe it or not, Total Recall was actually slapped with an X rating for Verhoeven’s first cut of the movie, but he negotiated it down to an R rating and edited some of the scenes in the movie and changed some shots around. There’s still plenty of gunplay, bone crunching, and gore to be had here so it isn’t a total loss. Then again, people who saw Verhoeven’s 1987 film Robocop will know all about that. Also like RobocopTotal Recall takes place in the distant future so some work had to be done to make it look appropriate. Close to 70 different stages were built which to a really long time, and a lot of this movie was actually shot in more modern parts of Mexico. This worked very well since Total Recall does have a good sense of space and design.

Probably one of the main draws for anyone to see Total Recall is the amazing special effects, which I could say ranks in the top 5 best of film history. Sure, today they look dated, but at the time the effects were really a marvel. I still do find them incredible because this was one of the last movies to do everything with practical effects and no digital composites. There are some exceptional scenes on the Martian surface that was all built by hand over periods of time. Another great use of practical effects are the animatronics that are used for people exposed the the vacuum of Mars, and also the prosthetic make up used for the mutants. This is a really great looking movie that won an Academy Award for visual effects while all of the other movies in the category were runner ups and not nominees. Pretty much, Total Recall was in a category all its own.

To put it simply, Total Recall is one of those movies that perfectly blends all of its various pieces together to make one hell of a fun movie. The action is outrageous, the humor made me laugh, and the psychology was well worthy of a Phillip K. Dick science fiction story. Sure there are many differences between this and the original short story, but I gotta hand it to Paul Verhoeven. He definitely knows how to makes top notch action films.

 

 

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Casino – Review

30 Jan

Martin Scorsese is the king of crime films. There have been others who made excellent contributions to the genre like Michael Mann, Brian DePalma, and Francis Ford Coppola, but Scorsese is the master. With films like Goodfellas and Mean Streets, it’s quite clear he knows how to craft this kind of film. Unfortunately for Casino, it is normally compared to and overshadowed by Goodfellas. I’m not going to compare the two, but speak about Casino on its own.

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Sam Rothstein (Robert de Niro) is a sports handicapper for the mafia who is chosen by the bosses to run the Tangiers casino in Las Vegas. Everything appears to be going smoothly with both business and his personal like, especially after meeting a hustler named Ginger (Sharon Stone), but then his friend from back home comes to town. This friend is Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), an enforcer with a hot temper and dangerously violent outbursts. Nicky is soon banned from all of the casinos and goes into business for himself. What follows are the next decade of these three characters’ lives and how they go from the height of power and respect to sinking below where they ever were.

Casino is one of the most interesting films that I have ever seen, being in love with the whole Las Vegas scene. It’s great watching Ocean’s 11, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Smokin’ Aces, but I never felt I got as much of an inside look as I did with Casino. There are times where I really felt like I was getting behind the scenes access, especially when they take the viewer to the back room in one awesome continuous take. Another excellent scene is when the camera jumps back and forth between the different casino floor workers and showing who was watching who. It makes me fully begin to comprehend all the work that goes into providing tourists with their dangerous vices.

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I’d like to dedicate an entire paragraph solely to Sharon Stone, but I’ll try to be fair to the other actors. De Niro and Pesci were great, especially Pesci’s fast talking smart ass persona that everyone loves so much. He does some pretty terrible things to people in this movie, but strangely enough we are laughing right along with him through most of the ordeals. Maybe not during the “head in the vise” bit, but most times I found myself laughing. Sharon Stone, though. This is the performance of her career. Forget Basic Instinct. Her portrayal of a coked up  hustler sleaze bag is absolutely incredible. She had to convince Scorsese she was right for the role, and thank goodness she did because her acting is impeccable. There was one point in the movie where I thought to myself, “This is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.” I stand by that. I hated the character as a person, but loved Stone’s acting.

Scorsese was greatly inspired by classic film noir, like the under rated crime gem Force of Evil. Despite the bright colors of Vegas, this film is indeed a noir film, just a different sort of one. Casino is what you would call a “soleil noir”, which means it’s a bright noir as opposed to the high contrast shadowing of traditional noirs. All the pieces are in place for the genre. There’s a tragically flawed “hero”, a femme fatale, crime and mystery, and an interesting use of classic narration techniques. That’s one of the coolest parts of this film, the way Scorsese has the narration affected by what’s happening in the film. In one particular part, Pesci is narrating and in the actual scene he gets punched. When he gets punched, the narration abruptly cuts off. It’s awesome.

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I feel like you shouldn’t compare Goodfellas to Casino, but it’s pretty hard not to. Both movies deal with the same sort of criminals getting into shady dealings that normally end in violence, but it’s pretty fair to say Goodfellas is Scorsese’s masterpiece. That being said, Casino is a fantastic crime epic that goes a lot further, both in content and execution, then a lot of other crime films. It’s deep story about friendship, betrayal, and the dangers of power, themes Scorsese has explored fully before. The movie may not break new ground thematically, but it is a great gangster  flick that is well worth three hours of your time.