Archive for Total Recall

Holiday Affray

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2021 by dcairns

Also over Easter we rewatched the original and one true TOTAL RECALL, quite a messianic film if you think about it. True, Arnold Schwarzenegger rides to Mars not on a donkey, but wearing a robotic fat lady costume, and he kills a lot of people, but he also saves the mutants and terraforms the planet, which I’m sure Jesus would have done had he thought of it.

Paul Verhoeven threatened for years to make a Jesus film, which would at least have been interesting. I imagine his Christ would have been more human than most, but maybe I’m wrong. The closest he got was ROBOCOP, where Peter Weller rises from the dead, walks on water (seriously — check out his final confrontation with Ronny Cox), and stabs a guy in the throat. At least two of those things get done by Christ in The New Testament.

Verhoeven, Mel Gibson and John Woo are the unholy trinity of Christian mayhem merchants.

This oxygen volcano has a certain Maria Montez nostalgia value, but feels like something the leads should be dancing around in SHOWGIRLS.

Saint Paul’s other big unmade film also had a Middle East setting, his crusades film, planned in the wake of the Gulf War — Schwarzenegger as Schwarzkopf.

But back to Mars. Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shussett, ALIEN’s originators, adapt a Philip K. Dick story. The project passed from David Cronenberg to Fred Schepisi and back to Cronenberg and then somehow to Verhoeven, changing company in from De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (which folded) to Carolco in the process. Verhoeven, discussing the extreme violence, said that gore in movies meant nothing to him since he grew up in WWII and so bodies blown to pieces in the streets. O’Bannon, responding in another interview, said that was all well and good, Verhoeven was “psychotically desensitized,” but he should remember that he was making films for audiences who are not.

We kind of are, though. But Cronenberg himself said that movie violence desensitizes us to more movie violence, but no amount of fake punch-ups will lessen the impact of a real punch, given, received or witnessed. Which is true. Though I think movies can get us into trouble by creating the impression that certain activities will be fun if we try them. The reality is often disappointing.

Anyway, apart from the graphic and OTT carnage, there’s also Rob Bottin’s spectacular asphyxiation effects, achieved with fake heads, bulging eyes, protruding tongues… I find these repellent but hilarious. While the faux Arnie head which emerges from the fat lady is unconvincing (they hold on it too long in a static medium close-up), the gagging stars would be totally compelling if they weren’t so extreme.

A difference of reaction: Fiona is really freaked out by them, which she puts down to her panic disorder, a condition which gives you the feeling you can’t breathe. Whereas I find them amusing — though the horrific/absurd confusion OUGHT to be disturbing. And I have asthma, which means I periodically really CAN’T breathe.

I’m always struck by how the film, despite the talents involved, the money lavished, and the nasty fun provided, isn’t very good-looking. Mars looks kinda awful, right from the get-go. There’s so much wrong with the very first effects shot…

Firstly, it fails to establish the domed cities, which we need to know about. The sets consequently always seem really small, I think because there’s little to tie the buildings in with the domes. We need wide shots of miniatures that show lots tiny buildings inside domes, and these little buildings would then be seen full-sized with the actors moving about them, and THEN we’d feel a sense of scale.

It’s crazy the way everything is tucked underneath the horizon line. Feels like an attempt to make things easy to matte together.

And the yellow construction cranes are popping too much. The fact that there’s work going on is something we don’t need to know about yet, the domed cities should be the priority.

Verhoeven’s skill with blocking is something only intermittently present in his work, flashing up unexpectedly in scenes that don’t always deserve it. Though the staging of the fights is pretty good, making the slow-moving AS seem like an effective scrapper, it’s only with the first long dialogue scene with Rachel Ticotin that we get a nice lesson in old-school staging:

As a prospective Cronenberg picture, it’s intriguing to see how the layered plot twists or “mind fucks” would connect with his first person films — VIDEODROME, NAKED LUNCH, XISTENZ, SPIDER — where we’re led up a subjective garden path away from consensus reality. Rather than going deeper into delusion, TOTAL RECALL progressively strips away the false scenarios our lunk hero is ensnared within.

Of course, it’s all happening in Rekall, Inc, and Arnie’s dream should end with a big reveal showing him “a drooling vegetable,” as Verhoeven vividly put it (and with relish) in the chair, his memory implant having malfunctioned and fried his brain (the term “schizoid embolism,” a conflation of the psychological and neurological, is a trashy bit of ersatz science Cronenberg would probably have improved upon). But, in a big action picture starring the number-one box-office star, this was unthinkable. So Verhoeven says he ended the picture on a fade to white to give the audience a subtle feeling that something was up…

Bourne After Reading

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2018 by dcairns

Jason Bourne isn’t really like near-namesake James Bond because he’s a rogue agent, which Daniel Craig only ever pretends to be (but he pretends it A LOT) — Bourne is in the category of amnesiac bad-ass, like Schwartzenegger and his replacement in TOTAL RECALL (whoever played the part in the remake has fallen into my own memory well and I can’t be bothered retrieving him) or Wolverine. Arnie can certainly personate an ambitiously sculpted hard man, and Hugh Jactor certainly looks the part with his adamantium skeleton and Alvin Stardust hair, but Matt Damon is the only one who projects a trace of suitable angst at his brainwashed condition. He has the perfect face for it — the face of an angry toddler lost in thought. He seems perpetually about to push a playschool friend into a puddle.

So, I decided to watch THE BOURNE IDENTITY at last — I gave up after five minutes on a plane once, preferring high anxiety to motion sickness — since the discs were all available for 25p in Leith. But what rotten discs — they don’t reflect the cinematic experience at all, since the subtitles for the foreign-speak bleed out of the widescreen masking. That wouldn’t be allowed in the cinema, the people in the front row would get subtitle all over their shoes.

Joining angry little man in the cast are Franka Potente — very good and natural, even when acting from under a terrible wig — Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Clive Owen, Julia Styles.Aaaaah — this is the most painful thing ever to happen in a spy film. Worse than the comedy relief sheriff in the Roger Moores.

I once saw Chris Cooper talk about this film, which he did NOT enjoy much. They were rewriting it on the hoof, so he never knew what he was playing. In the finished product, he’s a pretty plain baddie, but it evidently took multiple drafts to achieve that one dimension. Tony Gilroy, one of two credited scribes, wrote the following two entries so I guess he won the fight, perhaps by jabbing a biro into competitor W. Blake Herron’s hand, as Bourne does to an opponent here.

In Doug Liman’s opening film in the series, before he was replaced by Paul Greengrass, Bourne is hunted by his own side and has to square off against three deadly enemies.First is THE DEFENESTRATOR, who attacks Bourne through a frosted glass door, not by shooting him with his assault rifle, which would be too easy, but by crashing through the door and bashing into him at close range so that Bourne can get the rifle off him. This guy must really like crashing through glass. The good news is, he’s in the right film. If he turned up in THE INTERN or DOUBT or PATERSON, he might get to be distracting. Having been bested by Bourne, who stabs a biro into his hand but does not push him into a puddle, he calmly jumps through a closed window, walks into the balcony railing, flops over it, and falls several storeys into the street.Bourne’s second enemy is CRINGEING CLIVE OWEN MAN, who wears glasses and uses a rifle. When he’s fatally wounded, there are no windows handy, so he just starts delivering exposition, almost as if he hadn’t been brainwashed at all, except that all his exposition is about how he was brainwashed.

Fiona walked in right at the end of the film. I started guiltily. Then she started laughing scornfully at Chris Cooper’s dialogue — “You’re a U.S. government property! You’re a malfunctioning thirty million dollar weapon! You’re a total goddamn catastrophe!” — and I realised what a welcome addition she would have been to the whole experience. She was just in time, though, for the final boss of this movie —BANISTER MAN is despatched in a variety of ways, mostly by having his head shoved through one of those fragile movie banisters. Not The Unfeasibly Low Banister of Jeremy Irons, which proves such a hazard in DAMAGE (you MUST see it! it is to laugh!), just a breakaway one. Then, indignity of indignities, Bourne uses him as a kind of cushion, smashing him altogether through the banister, off into the void of the stairwell, Bourne clinging to the guys back and RIDING HIM DOWN, shooting another bad guy as he passes, then landing several storeys down — the impact doesn’t kill Bourne as it did The Defenestrator because he’s got Banister Man to use as a human crash mat. Chris Cooper is furious at himself for hiring such a heavily padded assassin. Basically a space hopper crammed into jeans and a jacket. All this action is terribly cutty. It’s not totally confusing, but it’s not very satisfying. Virtually all the other stuff is shot with a roving steadicam, which is also not very satisfying. Nothing seems thought through. To suggest anything of real importance, all Liman can do is cut even faster, which does work when Bourne’s spidey-sense warns him that The Defenestrator is coming. It gets a bit avant-garde there — I’m sort of hoping for more eccentric choices in the follow-ups. One shot of a car speeding through the night goes wonky at the end. That’s the kind of thing I like to see in my stupid action films.

Moby sings us out. THE BOURNE IDENTITY is not a good film, but now I have to watch at least one Greengrass episode to judge whether he’s a better filmmaker than Doug Liman. Both those guys started out seeming sort of promising.

Vlad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2018 by dcairns

Here’s part two of my commentary on Francis Ford Coppola’s commentary on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. Slip into your loud pink shirts and join me on this adventure! This time, we’ll also get Fiona’s commentary on my commentary. Maybe by the end of the two-hour running time we can include the whole world.

Take it away, Franny!

Tom Waits played Renfield, who was the former real estate guy who had gone off to Transylvania to attempt to do a real estate deal with this mysterious Count Dracula.

When you say it like that, it seems so natural. Waits’ casting might seem, on paper, the barmiest thing in this very eccentric film, but I contest it’s one of the things that incontestably WORKS. But then Renfield, like Goebbels, always seems to work. I defy you to name a bad Renfield. Although Jack Shepherd in the BBC teleplay is so amazing that he can make everyone else look like a flop. But Waits is great, and it must have been nice for Coppola to have a familiar face in the cast, an ally who evidently gets what he’s on about, as so many of the others did not. (But I’m not entirely blaming them.)

This is the only film I know of where Tom Waits plays an estate agent. That should change, man.

Waits’ first bit shows him standing from a crouch, filmed from above with a wide-angle lens, so he seems to sprout impossibly. A great trompe l’oiel moment, worth stealing. If you like stealing things — if you’re Paul Schrader or Lynn Ramsay — you should check this film out.

OK, Francis has started explaining the plot now. You have a choice whether to listen to actors speaking James V. Hart’s dialogue to explain the plot, or Uncle Francis, who might be doing a better job of it. Disappointingly, our favourite funny uncle generally adheres to the Sidney Pollack dictum of “Let the boring crap be boring crap,” so that apart from the pleasingly theatrical establishing shot above, this kind of scene plays out in dull, televisual close-ups. Since there’s always a world of wonder happening in the sets and costumes, this is a shame, and Coppola’s nervous tendency to jump in close — brilliantly apposite for Mafia politicking, fatal for tap-dancing — is in play throughout.

SUBTEXT — Coppola has already told us how Winona Ryder “didn’t feel well” and had to drop out of GODFATHER III. So in my reading, Renfield/Waits = Winona/GODFATHER III, the first attempt at doing whatever this is, who had a nervous breakdown and had to be replaced by one Coppola with another, and Keanu/Harker = Winona/BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, the current movie/mission. Harker’s trip to darkest Transylvania on behalf of his real estate firm is a metaphor for Coppola’s second attempt to work with Winona. Let’s see if this theory holds up, whatever the hell it is. Really, this is not a subtext I’m reading from the film, but from the film’s audio commentary.

This was a great big sound stage that had a pool, and this is the pool where Esther Williams made all of her films in the MGM era.

I’m thrilled to hear this and it seems totally appropriate. The same pool was renovated for HAIL, CAESAR! I believe.

I love the peacock feathers folding across the scene like a curtain, I hate the mix to a tunnel mouth. A lot of the overlaid images in this movie are very nice, and very silent-movie in style, but so many of the transitions are horrible — not in execution but in CONCEPTION. I will mercilessly flag them up as they appear.

Everything is live, it’s not done in post-production as it would be done in modern times.

Coppola then compares this approach to Pabst, curiously enough, before mentioning the more appropriate Murnau. Keanu on the train, deliberately stylised and unreal, still manages to be just as convincing as Arnie on the train in TOTAL RECALL. And Transylvania looks just as alien as Mars.

It’s interesting, I see the letter and he says, “Your friend, D.” For a while I was suggesting that we call the movie D. with a period just to try to designate it as being different from the more familiar Dracula movies, but I guess that wasn’t such a good idea, at any rates it wasn’t an idea that was used.

You’re right, it’s a terrible idea (commercially) but thanks for confessing to it. Coppola has already said that he put Bram Stoker’s name up front in the same way as he did with Mario Puzo’s, a much happier notion.

As Francie is describing how faithful James V Hart’s script is to the book, the film rushes ahead to Castle Drac, skipping out lots of atmospheric build-up. As a result of cramming back in all the usually deleted characters, the movie tends to be in an awful hurry, rather like Keanu’s coachman. Coppola tells us that he had the entire cast sit around for three days and read the novel aloud ~

something that really frustrated Antony Hopkins, who didn’t see for the life of him why I wanted to have them read the entire book, and of course I did because I wanted to be sure they read the whole book, and also I was hoping we’d discover something in the book that had been left out.

Strictly speaking, the latter task could have been accomplished just by FFC reading the book alone, but who’d pass up the opportunity to get the cast of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA to read you Bram Stoker’s Dracula? I like to think this happened at Coppola’s house while he lay in bed drinking his fine Californian wines.

We did work with wolves, they were real wolves, and they’re tricky to work with, you have to be very respectful of their territory.

Wait, they filmed on the wolves’ territory? Or certain areas of the studio were designated wolves’ territory for the purposes of filming? Did Tom Waits also have territory?

We’re told that lots of thought went into the moment when the coachmen reaches out with an overextending arm, plucks Keanu from the soil, and sets him within the carriage. I love that they did it live on set. I don’t love how it looks. I think wirework might be a better solution. Also, poor Keanu has the impossible task of reacting to this occurrence with mild surprise.

Ishioka did various designs for the coachman, all beautiful and eerie, but the fellow never really gets an effective “hero shot.” The stuff involving actors doing and saying things tends to be the least effective in this movie. Fortunately, a huge amount of the movie has nothing to do with acting and dialogue and blocking; unfortunately, it’s not a totally abstract/special effects film.

you know that you’re in a realm of supernatural because things don’t happen correctly.

Or maybe you know you’re in a late Coppola movie.

“He’s got bum hair! His hair is shaped like a bum!” says Fiona, of Gary Oldman’s Dracula.

Coppola is pontificating, interestingly, about the similarity between vampires and mafiosi (you have to invite them both in) and Keanu is enjoying his supper when Dracula suddenly crosses a room, swinging a dirty great sword. This is pretty funny in the movie, but hilarious in the Watch BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA with Francis Ford Coppola version because FCC takes no notice of it whatsoever.

I think it would work better if Keanu choked on his goulash in surprise. The film is really devoid of any actual human behaviour, isn’t it? I mean, so is the Universal version, but I think that’s a bit of a problem there too.

Of course this, um, performance of… Gary Oldman

The hesitations are funny and possibly revealing.

attempted to blaze a new trail, making use of the historical Vlad Tepes, the picture of which is on the portrait

I’m pretty sure that’s a picture of Gary Oldman.

as well as, a character, the eccentric count living in an old castle that had been made so famous by Bela Lugosi. And we felt very much that we were going to go in another direction, for better or worse, and try to find a new kind of imagery…

And I think we’re all happy Gary isn’t wearing an opera cape, which Christopher Lee always said was a silly costume for lounging around at home in the Carpathians. I don’t know what WOULD be most suitable. Maybe furs? Maybe NOT a giant red kimono with a ten foot train. But, it’s another bold choice.

“You know what he looks like?” asks Fiona. I mention Glenn Close.

“No, the bum-face guy in SOCIETY [Ed Begley Jr.]” she declares.

“Well, he has a similar sort of neck wattle…”

“And he has a bum on his head! I’m lowering the tone, aren’t I?”

Oh, I expect you’ll want to see Gary Oldman singing West Side Story in his Dracula voice now, won’t you?