Thursday, August 2, 2012

Total Recall (2012) movie review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: exciting from start to finish, many references to the original, sympathetic protagonist, delves into questions of identity and perception of reality, creative and original production design of the future cityscapes and sets, dripping with intensity and energy.

The Bad: choppy action thanks to over reliance on shakey camera and lens flare, lack of suspenseful plot twists, missing the dark humor of the original film, generic plot without the visuals.

What makes up who we are? Are we the result of our past experiences and memories or does our identity stem from something much deeper? These are questions that the 2012 remake of the classic action film "Total Recall" could have delved into. What we have instead is a showcase of the best and worst of modern science fiction film making. It is Definitely a product of 2012 as much as the original was a product of the early 90s.

The aforementioned themes are only teased but never developed in this intense tale of on man's quest to uncover the truth of his identity and past. In a vastly overcrowded, class segregated future, everyman Douglas Quaid is haunted by dreams of being a secret agent on the run. Convinced that these are repressed fantasies brought on by his monotonous life assembling security automatons (which are like Cyber Stormtroopers) Quaid visists this place called "Rekall"; Rekall claims to implant fake but realistic fantasies into one's mind. So he gets a fantasy of being a double agent implanted. Suddenly, its discovered that he already has memories of being an agent: meaning he actually is an agent with his memory erased. A swat team busts in for some reason and he dispatches them to some beautiful camera camera pans. What follows is "Kurt Wimmer's 'Salt: dystopian future edition - minus Angelina Jolie" (surprise surprise, this movie is also written by Wimmer) with Quaid's wife turning out to be a psychopathic killer, his past a complete sham and his grip on that fine line between reality and fantasy slowly slipping. In the background lies a dastardly plot by a rich chancellor involving the poor dissidents of the overcrowded Colony and the leader of an underground resistance.

The most striking feature of Total Recall would be the stunning vision of this overcrowded future. Floating buildings to make up for scarce land, a country confused by its melting pot of cultures, cyborg police, hover cars, it is amazing. This is a future that seems very real judging from our current world: Strict class segregation taken to the extreme. The dichotomy in the design between the rich and elite United Federation of Britain and The ramshackle Colony is beautifully rendered thanks to the amazing production design headed by Patrick Tatopoulos (the guy who worked on Independence Day, Starship Troopers and Dark city).

A pity that the rest of the movie is fairly typical of modern day chase thrillers. Compared to the original Total Recall film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, this remake has Less twists, a less ambiguous ending and lacks the cynical dark humor that made the original so memorable. Instead of keeping it ambiguous as to whether the events unfolding are real or part of Quaid's implanted fantasy, this remake spoils its own mystery for the audience.

Director Len Wiseman brings in all that is good and bad in modern day film making into this movie. He shoots Total Recall with an over reliance on shakey cam and lens flare, almost like a "Paul Greengrass meets J.J Abrams". Think Bourne Supremacy with the visual style of the 2009 Star Trek film. The future is epilepsy inducing, we get it; and sometimes this really distracts from the tip top designs.

The cast is basically a reunion of mist actors that were in Len Wiseman's Underworld franchise. They do an excellent job with the acting and chemistry but the good actors like Bill Nighly felt under utilised. Only Kate Beckinsale was able to truly shine playing Quaid's wife-turned-assassin. Quaid himself is played by Colin Ferrel and is perhaps the only improvement this remake boasts over the original. Schwarzenegger's Quaid was the quintessential action hero but Ferrel's portrayal of the character had a greater sense of peril: he looks nothing like an action hero and this makes his transformation from everyman to savior of the downtrodden all the more powerful.

Whether one finds this a good movie or not depends on whether one can accept the modern trends of science fiction film making. It is the same plot as the original with all the "1990s" elements taken out and replaced with "2012" elements. Art Aficionados will be impressed by the overall look, style and camerawork showcased here. Those looking for a deep meaningful dive into the nature of human identity or even those looking for clever twists or smart dialogue will be let down. Take away the visuals and it's a rather generic, straight forward modern chase thriller.

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Go For it: if you love impressive visuals, stunning camerawork and a bleak but awesome vision of a dystopian future and can accept modern filmamking trends like shakey cam all set to an "easy to follow" thiller.
Avoid it: if you prefer the deeper themes of identity inherant in the original prose story by Phillip K Dick, the dark humor, clever twists and testosterone laden nature of the 1990 original movie.

Entertainment: A
Story: B-
Acting: A
Characters: A-
Music: B-
Replay value: B+
"Brains": C-

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Superman Vs the Elite (2012) direct-to-video animated movie review

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: tackles deep socially relevant themes, clever deconstruction of modern day superheroes, superb voice acting, well developed main characters and antagonists, gets you thinking.

The Bad: sub par animation, inconsistent artwork, goofy character designs

Current Availability Status:

Contrary to what the title implies, "SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE" is not some brainless action brawl (like Hulk Vs Thor or Freddy Vs Jason). It is a relevant piece of fiction and metafiction, possibly the darkest animated Superman tale ever. The story itself is adapted loosely from a story in Superman #775 "What's so Funny about Truth Justice and the American Way".
SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE tackles the long lingering question of whether Superman's non-violent policy is still relevant in this day and age. How relevant is superman as a hero and a crimfighter? Criminals like the Atomic Skull are sent to prison, they escape, and Superman just sends them to prison again. It's a vicious cycle. That is, until one day these four new super powered beings show up calling themselves "The Elite"
They fight crime just like Superman, they take down bad guys like Superman. But unlike Superman, they are willing to kill to ensure the bad guys do not return. It is obvious that the world is sick of the revolving door of supervillian imprisonment. Atomic Skull's latest rampage was the clincher. If Superman had finished him off instead of sending him back to prison, it would have saved lives and millions in property. Support for The Elite builds and Superman's ethics are called into question as the world demands more direct action to deal with it's escalating problems. Superman objects to their violence of course. But to the Elite, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. And problems must be dealt with, permanently.
The original comic served as a deconstruction of the man of Steel by pitting his non-violent moral stance against characters representing the growing trend of morally ambiguous anti-heroes in comics. It was metafiction that tackled story fads, and very clever metafiction at that. This animated movie ends up delving deep into moral philosophy, politics, the definition of a hero and ultimately a heartfelt reaffirmation of the goodness Superman represents. It is socially relevant too, calling into question the death penalty, America's foreign intervention policy, and much more. Here is material that would put even live action comic book movies to shame.

The story is dark. Almost "Dark Knight trilogy" level of Dark. It would leave you questioning human nature, human morality and ultimately you will ask yourself "If i was in that situation, with supervillians running amok because they escaped incarceration time after time, would i also support the actions of the Elite?". The characters are written very well and given enough development to keep them interesting. Though the Elite themselves are meant to be parodies of modern anti-heroes, their actors do a wonderful job of fleshing them out and even having the audience on their side for a time. The voice acting is pitch perfect and the accents are clear, not exaggerated.
George Newbern from the Justice League animated series reprises his role as Superman and almost makes one reconsider him as the "definitive" superman voice over Tim Daley. He masterfully pitches the contrast between Superman and Clark Kent, delivering the occasional humorous quip and the heartfelt "for the greater good" lecture with equal passion. Perhaps of particular note is that he is the first to portray superman as genuinely scary. Without spoilers, let's just say that Superman "goes Batman" at one point and it's a performance that can wet one's pants.
Sadly though this clever, deep and socially relevant tale is marred by what could be the worst animation and art in DC's animated movie history. The designs themselves call to mind saturday morning anime like One Piece or pokemon with their exaggerated anatomy
inconsistent character models

and weird facial expressions

The casual viewer can immediately point out the numerous animation goofs in the footage such as the way Superman's chin size never stays the same.

The designs are also quite silly looking. Palms and fists look like balloons for example and Superman himself looks more like Bananaman.
Such goofy designs might have fit in better with a comedy or a light hearted cartoon aimed at kids. But SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE is definitely aiming a lot more mature with it's story and themes. The simplistic shadows and flat coloring on the characters clash with the intricately designed backgrounds of the city scapes, especially during action scenes.
Telecom Animation Film Co (who worked on Inuyasha and Akira) have done wonders with the previous "Justice League: Doom" animated movie. Yet for reasons unknown, all of these technical issues convey the impression of a rushed production or a low budget. It is no better than Tv series standard , Which is a huge pity because this is a story to be taken seriously. How do you expect us to take a serious story when the characters look so silly?

SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE could have been the best Superman animated movie; or even the best Superman movie EVER. Yet shoddy production and questionable artistic direction taints an otherwise perfect story.
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Go For it: if you like a socially relevant piece of animation that gets you thinking about deeper issues that many cartoons tend to avoid talking about.
Avoid it: if the goofy artwork turns you off

Entertainment: A-
Story: A
Characters: A
Animation: C+
Art: C-
Music: B+
Voice work (english): A
Replay Value:A-
"Brains": A-