Thursday, 30 August 2012

Total Recall (2012) - Film Review

Total Recall (2012) film poster
Total Recall (2012)

It's hard to believe that Paul Verhoeven's 1990 original Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger was released 22 years ago; it really doesn't feel that long ago, although I would have been far to young to watch it back then. I had to wait until the VHS was being passed around the school playground before I got to see it.

The new guy at work was saying this week how he only watched the original for the first time himself recently - he was only about a year old when the original was released. I found it strange that the original could find a new audience of people in their twenties watching the film for the first time. It must be interesting to see it like that with fresh eyes. But it makes me feel old to know that there must be so many films from the 80's and 90's that he has never seen. I couldn't believe it when he said he has NEVER seen The Terminator or Terminator 2!!!

Colin Farrell in Total Recall (2012)

Like many, my mind was already made up before I watched this 2012 remake of Total Recall. What's the point in remaking the original when its still so good. Surely this is going to be pony! Yes, its a bit harsh to have a such a strong opinion of a film before you've even watched it, but there in lies the biggest problem that this film faces. It barely stands a chance of a fair and decent viewing from anyone who has seen the original. It's very difficult to watch the film on its own merits, you just can't help but compare it to the original. It's fair to say, I wasn't expecting to like the film. In fact I only ended up watching this because my first choice of the night was sold out.

Thankfully, in the end, I'm glad to say that I didn't hate Total Recall. In fact I didn't hate it at all.

Total Recall (2012) - futuristic cityscape skyline reminds me of The Fifth Element or Blade Runner
Total Recall (2012) - The futuristic cityscape skyline reminds me of The Fifth Element or Blade Runner

Visually, Total Recall is for the most part, both interesting and impressive. There are obviously similarities to other Sci-fi classics such as Blad Runner, The Fifth Element or Minority Report, but it's hard to criticise the film for this since any film set in the middle to distant future will likely have some unavoidable similarities with at least a couple of pre-existing Sci-fi movies. Besides, they do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

There is a lot of detail on screen, every frame is rammed with content, especially in the outdoor scenes with the strange floating cityscape, it must be an architect's nightmare! At times the fast camera movements and quick edits barely give you time to focus on all that rich detail. It's almost overwhelming, but I believe it serves a purpose to emphasise the crowded overpopulation of the world, all crammed into just two opposite corners of the globe in Western Europe and Australia. The rest of the planet has been left uninhabitable (yes even the USA) and apparently the only way to travel between Britain and Australia is via a sort of giant train that travels right through the centre of the Earth... Unlikely? YES... but an interesting and fun concept that I'm willing to overlook because I love science fiction so much. In fact, why hasn't anyone done this in a film before?

Colin Farrell clings to the front of a flying car in Total Recall
Colin Farrell clings to the front of a flying car Minority Report style in Total Recall

On the whole, the visual effects are great, but there are a few rare points that maybe could have used a bit more polish - namely the flying car chase sequence where sometimes the vehicles or characters do seem to be painted into the scene, but I'm really being picky here. It's not a big problem, but in 10 years time, these effects could begin to look a bit dated.

Watching the film, there's a few things you just can't help but notice. The first one is glaring - no pun intended - but it seems that director Len Wiseman must have just watched J.J. Abrams' Star Trek since Total Recall is absolutely full of lens flair. It's everywhere, like used up, crumpled wrapping paper on Christmas morning.

Kate Beckinsale hides from excessive lens flair in Total Recall
Kate Beckinsale hides from excessive lens flair in Total Recall

Kate Beckinsale's character seems to be everywhere at once in this film. Quaid makes an impressive escape and seconds later, there she is again, looking as stunning as ever and not even out of breath... Does she have some kind of portal gun?

And another thing... If this film is so far in the future, surely they would have better quality glass/windows by then? Not the stupid movie glass that you can just shatter as you walk through it to escape the bad guys. I mean they can build a mode of transport that tunnels right through the centre of the Earth to the other side of the world, but they can't make windows a tiny bit stronger?

Its the future, but you can still walk through glass windows like they are not even there in Total Recall.
Its the future, but you can still walk through glass windows like they are not even there in Total Recall.

By now it's no secret that this version is based on the original, but it's not the same. Unlike the original, this is not based on Mars, but there are familiar references and nods to the original for the fans who want them. Mars is mentioned in conversation, a (PG13 friendly) arm is severed in a lift, and there is a familiar looking woman at the port security gate when Quaid is in disguise, but sadly there's no exploding head. Also the tracking device that Arnie pulls from his nose is now buried elsewhere, but again, it's pretty PG13 friendly when it comes to removing the device. Oh, and lets not forget the woman with three boobies :)

Kate Beckinsale in Total Recall

In Conclusion

In it's own right, Total Recall is a perfectly adequate Sci-fi popcorn cinema experience... "adequate" being the key word. It's not that bad, its a fun enough way to spend a Wednesday night... It's okay!

But it's always going to be a victim of being its father's son.

My Rating: 5/10

Colin Farrell grapples with Kate Beckinsale in Total Recall (It would be rude not to)

About the Author: Chris Russell has a passion for movies, films and cool TV shows and loves to share that passion here on Movie Retrospect where readers can join the discussion in the comments below or directly to Chris though his profile. If you enjoyed this post, please follow @MovieRetrospect on Twitter.

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Monday, 27 August 2012

The Last House on the Left (2009) - Film Review

The Last House on the Left (2009) Movie Poster
The Last House on the Left (2009)

I never did see the original video nasty version of The Last House on the Left from 1972, but I did see some of the others from back in the day, and generally I wasn't really impressed by them, so I never went out of my way to watch the rest. Similarly, I'm not really a big supporter of the idea of all these re-makes of 70's-80's horrors - although the re-make craze seems to have expanded lately to include sci-fi/action films like Total Recall and Robocop etc. This makes me very nervous as I loved Robocop back in the day, even if I was only a child when I watched it (you won't tell anyone will you?) I hope they don't mess it up.

Anyway, so I found that I had the 2009 re-make of The Last House on the Left recorded on my Sky+ HD box, so I thought I'd give it a go.

Two girls get themselves mixed up with an escaped convict and his nasty family/gang. The leader, played by Garret Dillahunt is better known by myself for his role in The Sarah Connor Chronicles or more recently as the incredibly likeable Burt in Raising Hope. There is not much to like about his character in Last House on the Left however. He savagely attacks the girls in the woods while his gang sit and watch. The attacks are brutal and graphic with a gritty sense of realism.

A rape scene in any film is an uncomfortable experience for the viewer and this film does a great job not to make light of the situation; the scene is awkward and feels much longer than it probably really is. It is difficult to watch and you are glad when it's over, but this is one of the film's strengths - that it can have that kind of effect on the viewer.

The girls are left for dead after the attacks and having wrecked their escape vehicle and taking injuries themselves, the gang are forced to seek shelter in a nearby home when a storm rolls in. Unknown to them, it is the home of one of the girl's parents. The couple take the gang in and fix them up, allowing them to sleep in the guest house.

Sara Paxton is attacked, raped and left for dead in the 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left
Sara Paxton is attacked, raped and left for dead in the 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left

During the night, one of the girls manages to crawl back to the house and the parents learn that their attackers are just next door, but they don't have a vehicle to escape in since the gang already managed to wrap it around a tree. They have no choice but to bunker down and fend for themselves.

I won't go into too much detail, but the film is essentially a horror/thriller revenge style movie as the parents take matters into their own hands to defend themselves and their daughter. Cue more graphic violence and at least one or two more quality deaths involving a garbage disposal unit, a hammer and a microwave. The film asks the question on the poster "If bad people hurt someone you loved, how far would you go to hurt them back?" In the case of this family, it seems they would go pretty far, especially with the last member of the gang... but can you really blame them?

I didn't have particularly high hopes going into The Last House on the Left, but I was pleasantly surprised. Despite its graphic violence and the uncomfortable rape scene, I enjoyed the film overall and was rooting for the family the whole time. I would now be quite interested to go back and watch the original, although it sounds like it hasn't got the best reviews. Let me know in the comments below on your thoughts for both the original and the re-make, I'd be interested to know.

Oh, and I don't think I'll ever be able to look at Burt in Raising Hope the same way again!

My Rating: 6/10

About the Author: Chris Russell has a passion for movies, and loves to share it here on Movie Retrospect where readers can join the discussion in the comments below or directly to Chris though his profile. If you enjoyed this post, please follow @MovieRetrospect on Twitter.

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Sunday, 26 August 2012

Carnage - Film Review

Carnage - film poster - Smiles will fade
 Carnage - Smiles will fade

I'm not going to pretend to be the snobby, elitist type who regularly goes to the theatre to see the latest West End or Broadway plays and then complains that the film version is a pile of soiled underpants in comparison.  As much as I enjoy the theatre, I just don't get to go as much as I would like.  As a result, its fair to say that when I sat down to watch my rental copy of Carnage this week I wasn't too familiar with the foreign language play - God of Carnage - of which this Roman Polanski film is based.

Except for the bookend title sequences, the film takes place entirely in one apartment and even if you had no idea the film was based on a play, it becomes pretty obvious very early on since it doesn't fit the normal conventions of a Hollywood movie, either in its writing, editing or the way the film is shot - not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact it makes a pleasant change to see a film that is a bit different - and this is one of the films biggest strengths (beside it's stellar cast of course).

The film focuses on a meeting between two couples expertly played by Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly (the Longstreets) and Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz (the Cowans).  Considering the circumstances, it all starts so well between the two couples, who have come together to discuss the matter of a playground dispute between their two 11-year old boys which resulted in one of the boys hitting the other with a stick and knocking out two teeth.

It's all very civilised and frightfully polite in the opening scene, which initially appears to be the end of the discussion between the two couples. In fact, the Cowans are on their way out of the Longstreet's apartment when the topic of discussion is changed at the door and before they know it, they have been invited back in for a cup of tea.  Oh dear... they probably should have just left when they had the chance, but thankfully for the audience, they didn't and it's about to get a whole lot more entertaining for us - at the expense of the characters of course.

Kate Winslet hits the deck in Carnage
Kate Winslet hits the deck in Carnage

It doesn't go completely off the rails right away thankfully; its more of a downward curve of behaviour between the couples during the course of the next 70 minutes or so.  Its great to see the gradual decline in relations between the two pairs and once it really starts kicking off, things just go from bad, to worse, to excruciating.

There's even internal domestic disputes between the married pairs and sometimes bonding between the two men, or between the two women, and eventually alcohol is introduced to the mix as if things weren't bad enough already. All the characters seem to hit their lowest point at different times meaning there's always someone who is completely losing it in their own way.

The behaviour of the adults in the film is no doubt worse than that of their own children, and in fact it seems that the two boys apparently make-up of their own accord in the end credits anyway. Its funny because it's true.

The trailer for the film didn't really sell it to me, but thankfully I don't base my viewing habits on movie trailers alone. It's pretty clear when you watch the film that the actors must have had a right good old time making it and I had a good time watching it too. Its a great way to spend 80 minutes if your looking to rent something a bit different.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 7/10

About the Author: Chris Russell has a passion for movies, films and cool TV shows and loves to share that passion here on Movie Retrospect where readers can join the discussion in the comments below or directly to Chris though his profile. If you enjoyed this post, please follow @MovieRetrospect on Twitter.

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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Toy Story 3 - Film Review

Disney Pixar's Toy Story 3 - Movie Poster
Disney Pixar's Toy Story 3

OK, I won't lie, I love Pixar. They are geniuses and never cease to amaze me. They have never yet made a bad film or scored lower than 8/10 from me for anything (yes even Cars... Although I must admit, I still need to see Cars 2).  The year 2010 got off to a bit of a poor start with the quality of films released, but it soon picked up once Inception and Toy Story 3 in 3D hit our cinema screens.  Here is my review for Toy Story 3 written just after viewing the film in the cinema in 2010.

If you haven't seen the first two Toy Story films, why not? Its hard to believe that the first Pixar feature film - Toy Story was way back in 1995 and it's still amazing even today. The hugely successful Toy Story 2 has the ability to reduce a grown man to tears with Jessie's Scene and a beautiful song by Randy Newman, sung by Sarah McLachlan called 'When She Loved Me'. Somehow Pixar have the ability to bring a lump to the throat of even the most hardened movie go-er at will. And they do it again with Toy Story 3.

As far as I know, everyone in the whole world has seen the first two Toy Story films and everyone is a massive fan (this is a fact by the way), Toy Story 3 is made for those fans (so everyone in the world then). It takes place years after the first two movies, Andy is now grown up and about to head off for college. He hasn't played with his toys in years so this third instalment in the franchise follows the fate of Andy's toys in this depressing time for them. What happens to toys when they are no longer needed?  This is a theme that Jessie had already experienced in Toy Story 2, and now the rest of Andy's toys would move on for their next adventure (or Great Escape if you will ;)

Ken of Ken and Barbie in Toy Story 3
Ken of Ken and Barbie may actually steal the show in Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 introduces many new characters, the highlight being Ken (of Ken and Barbie). He is so funny, and worth the price of entry alone. Mr. Potato Head had the cinema in tears of laughter with his antics, so, so good. And Buzz Lightyear getting reset to Spanish is just diamond, oh and Chuckles the Clown is comedy gold. Pixar have outdone themselves in the comedy department with Toy Story 3. This is the funniest and most fun film released in 2010 - End Of. It's also the most touching.

There are links back to the first two films, for hardcore fans of the series; the Pizza Planet Aliens are back and that's always good. And Sid (the kid who blows up toys in the first film) is back - now as a dustbin man.

I saw Toy Story 3 in 3D, but in all honesty the film is so engrossing, you completely forget you're even watching it in 3D. In reality, I think this film doesn't really need to be seen in 3D, but it does add a little something in a couple of scenes, but there's nothing in particular where things fly out of the screen at you.

In my view Pixar are the finest movie producers around right now with such a high standard they get an Oscar almost every time they make a film (deservedly so). Don't overlook Pixar's films just because you think they are for kids, they are not - there is plenty here for adults too.

Toy Story 3 was one of my most highly rated films not just of 2010, but of recent years and well deserved to be Oscar nominated for 'Best Picture'. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing their next film this year - Brave.

My Rating: 9/10

About the Author: Chris Russell has a passion for movies, and Pixar films in particular. He loves to share that passion here on Movie Retrospect where readers can join the discussion in the comments below or directly to Chris though his profile. If you enjoyed this post, please follow @MovieRetrospect on Twitter.

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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Mike's Micro Movie Reviews - Episode 2

We Bought a Zoo - Movie PosterWe Bought A Zoo

Been looking forward to this for a while. I’m a big fan of director Cameron Crowe (and friend of Pearl Jam) for his documentary on them and the grungey movie Singles from the 90s… Matt Damon was decent as usual (he doesn’t make many turkeys, Hearafter aside!) and the remaining actors well cast. In fact the downside was probably deviating the real story from Dartmoor a little too much for Hollywood… but I was prepared for it to be more sentimental that it turned out. Special mention to Jonsi’s soundtrack which I had to buy as it is so moving and integral to the films themes of nature, life and death.

Mike's Rating: 7/10 

The Dark Knight Rises - Movie Poster

The Dark Knight Rises

And after all the hype…. Awesome! The sheer scale of this could only be achieved by the vision of Christopher Nolan… For me it just fell short of The Dark Knight as I thought Heath Ledger was flawless as the Joker. Loved the scene this time, + 8 years, so dark and despairing, Bruce Wayne a broken man, and Bane more than an equal match for him physically. Tom Hardy’s voice modulated like a posh Darth Vader! Stunning cast yet again, loved Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman who provided some light relief and gentle humorous one-liners. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to impress me as well… Superb conclusion, nicely set up to give everything closure and maybe revive the franchise one day? And even miserable cynics like me surely can’t fail to be moved by Michael Cain’s final speech!

Mike's Rating: 9/10

Contraband - Movie Poster


Rented last weekend, I felt this was a solid enough gangster thriller – interesting difference in that it was money laundering as well as drugs involved. Would like to see the Icelandic original now from which Hollywood pinched the idea! The cargo shipping journey from New Orleans to Panama was an unusual background to shoot in, and the cast and characters engaging enough, although Mark Wahlberg didn’t really have to break sweat in a typical role for him.

Mike's Rating: 7/10 

Rampart with Woody Harrelson - Movie Poster
Rampart with Woody Harrelson


Extremely disappointed with this – bit of a random choice in Blockbuster. Woody Harrelson stars as an immensely dislikeable bent cop in Los Angeles who is finally caught out viciously beating a suspect. But then not much happens…! Way too conversational and drifty style too focused on Harrelson’s movements and only limited bursts of action, with no proper closure or conclusion whatsoever. Surprising cameos from Steve Buscemi and Sigourney Weaver… they must have been very bored!

Mike's Rating: 4/10

By Michael Court.

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Monday, 6 August 2012

Mike's Micro Movie Reviews - Episode 1

Mikes Micro Movie Reviews Title Image

This is the first instalment of Mike's Micro Movie Reviews, brought to you by my good friend Michael Court. Like me, Michael likes to watch as many movies as his busy life will allow. He loves to write up brief and easy to digest 'micro' reviews and pass them on to his friends. He has kindly allowed me to post his micro reviews to this site for the benefit of my readers.

Just like me, Michael enjoys many genres but it's no secret that he is a massive horror fan. Michael enjoys watching the latest movies at the cinema or catching up with films on rental or from an ever growing DVD collection of interesting previously released films. As a result, his Micro Reviews featured on this site will vary from very recent to very old releases. Variety is the spice of life :)

Boy A - Movie Poster
Boy A

Boy A

More a feature length drama than a proper film as such, this was screened on Channel 4 in 2008. I bought it on Amazon as I was intrigued to see Andrew Garfield’s performance for which he won a Bafta and became destined for bigger things, and it did not disappoint… One of the most thought provoking, poignant and tragic stories I have ever seen, based on a fictional book by Jonathan Trigell which I also read ages ago. There are clear parallels with the James Bulger case of the 90s (in the UK), but it manages to keep a respectful distance and admirable absence of bias towards any aspect it…. I would highly recommend this.

Mike's Rating: 9/10

Paranormal Activity 3 - Movie Poster
Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity 3

The Hollywood money executives wasted no time in knocking together this third instalment as another ‘prequel’ following the young girls growing up in 1988. More of the same suspense wise, this was watchable but hardly s**t your pants scary stuff, and could have done with far more plot being explained. All we discover is that dear old Grandma is a witch, and some old covenant is being threatened… (That’s not really a spoiler if you haven’t seen it!)

Mike's Rating: 6/10

Bronson with Tom Hardy - Movie Poster
Bronson with Tom Hardy


Pre Dark Night Rises I was intrigued to see more of Tom Hardy’s work. To be frank this was violently psychotic and brutally uncomfortable to watch! The fact it was based on a true story of one the UKs most notorious prisoners, and played with such ferocious intensity by Hardy really makes an impact… Didn’t particularly like the over theatrical and stylised direction of Danish oddball Nicholas Winding Refn – I am convinced he will never be able to better ‘Drive’ – although having said that he is working with Ryan Gosling on a new project….

Mike's Rating: 6/10

The Darkest Hour - Movie Poster
The Darkest Hour

The Darkest Hour

This was really panned by critics online at Rotten Tomatoes and in the papers I read, but I quite liked it! A rare Moscow snazzy setting for what becomes a sci-fi action borderline apocalyptic horror! Emile Hirsch (who has made some diverse choices since Into the Wild) stars as the sensible one who leads a group of survivors against an alien invasion of virtually invisible electrical impulses… Also with Joel Kinnaman (The Killing US version and future Robocop) as a sleazy Swedish dot com merchant. Predictable but tense moments and good chases. Check it out…

Mike's Rating: 7/10

Look out for Episode 2 of Mike's Micro Movie Reviews coming soon.

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About the Author: Chris Russell has a passion for movies, films and cool TV shows and loves to share that passion here on Movie Retrospect where readers can join the discussion in the comments below or directly to Chris though his profile. If you enjoyed this post, please follow @MovieRetrospect on Twitter.