I’ve been really bloody ill much of this week, so that means movies when I’m up in the middle of the night coughing up buckets of phlegm.

First off: Did this movie need to be remade? No. I remember seeing the original Total Recall in the theaters and enjoying it immensely, save for the idiotic SFX when people were exposed to low pressure. It was the perfect vehicle for Schwarzenegger, and for the director Verhoven, who had given us the witty and ultraviolent Robocop.

That said, I wasn’t such an aficionado of the original I didn’t think it could be done better. So did Len Wiseman pull that off? There’s a lot of critics and fan reviews that say no. My response is no, if you were looking to get your ass to Mars; yes, if you were looking for something riffing on the movie and its very short story source material.

The good: It looks great and is very atmospheric. I was going to say if was very Blade Runner in look, but I’d suggest it owes more to Ghost in the Shell and other good anime universes than that august film. The performances: Farrell is good in most of his roles (truly great in TigerlandPhone Booth, and Ondine) and he is much more believable as the everyman who finds out he’s a superspy. Kate Beckinsale is fantastic as the femme fatale and seems to be really enjoying herself through the movie. Jessica Biel is Jessica Biel. Bryan Cranston is solid as the bad guy. Some of the tech has the same “I want that!” impact that Minority Report had.

The adequate: the set up for the film — that most of the world has been ravaged by a chemical war that’s left just bits of Europe (the United Federation of Britain) and Australia (the Colony) habitable. The colony provides labor for the people topside and with living space at a premium, Chancellor Cohagen (Cranston) is looking to engineer a fight with the Colony, in which he will use robotic police/soldiers against the unarmed population. There’s a resistance, of course, that is of middling use.

The bad: The main conceit is that the workers get from the Colony to the topside using “the Fall” — a massive, skyscraper sized elevator through the planet. It’s a staple of golden age science fiction, and if you are willing to just roll with it, you’ll probably like the movie. If you can’t get past it…well, have a look at Looper. For my part, the rest of the movie was pretty enough and fun enough to look past it. The other bad: the Resistance. They’re awful, ineffective, and when we do find them toward the end of the movie, they have basically been holding out for an ephemeral “kill switch” for the robotic forces that the hero supposedly has recovered. Bill Knighty doesn’t even get enough screen time to have an impact on the movie…and that’s a shame.

Is it as bad as it was made out to be by the old fans of the original movie? No. Is it a terrible movie? No. A lot of the critics seemed to like doing the “it’s a Bourne movie in the future” complaint — a quick quip from the bard, “There is nothing new under the sun…” But I think he was paraphrasing. The amnesiac running from shadowy forces while trying to save the girl/nation/world is a pretty old theme.

Style: 4 out of 5 — a lot of the look is derivative of Blade Runner and various anime. I rather liked it. Substance 3 out of 5: It’s the usual amnesiac running from shadowy forces while trying the save the girl/nation/world movie. Just because you’ve seen it before doesn’t mean you might not like it.

A definite rent.

The other movie was Looper and I hadn’t expected too much from the usual “time travel” schtick film. Time travel and psychic powers are two of my least favorite tropes of science fiction — even when done right, they usually are a cheat, plot-wise. (Need to get rid of nasty ancient aliens? Telepaths! Need to question that rock monster eating miners? Telepath!) Looper has both time travel and telekinetics. And it works pretty well, because the characters are engaging and the acting is generally pretty good.

The good: Willis does action. Willis is the bad guy. Jeff Daniels is a fantastic gang lord. No, really. The set-up: time travel gets invented and is outlawed, so only outlaws have time machines…which they use for various nefarious purposes, one being to send folks back in time to be eliminated without issue — law enforcement techniques are so good and surveillance is so ubiquitous, it’s nearly impossible to disappear someone in the future. Joe, the main character is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (young Joe) and Willis (old Joe), the latter of whom gets sent back to “close his loop.” Gordon-Levitt is a decent enough actor and proves it by acting through a bunch of either prosthetics or CGI to make him look more like Bruce Willis.

All of the characters are flawed and ignoble, but they all have excellent motivations that are well realized by the writing and acting.

The setting is 2044 Midwestern America and there’s a lot of stuff going on in the background that they don’t explain that makes the movie more than the sum of it’s parts. There’s a lot of homelessness and vagrancy. Joe is an abandoned child, Sid — a kid who becomes a major piece of the plot was abandoned by his mother (Emily Blunt) who later has to clean up her life to take care of him. Daniels’ character seems to make it his mission to rescue waifs and turn them into gunmen. It’s interesting commentary that we see no men who aren’t vagrants or killers; women — they farm, whore, work at diners, etc…but there’s almost no men who aren’t indigent or criminal. Even the cops work for the bad guys.

The average: They don’t go into the time travel thing other than to stay focused on the conceit of the film (loopers). You would think organized crime would be using the technology for much bigger return.

The bad: the prosthetics for Gordon-Levitt don’t quite cut it.

Style: 4 out of 5 — It doesn’t need the flashy CGI settings of Total Recall to look futuristic and interesting. Substance: 5 out of 5 — there’s a lot packed into the movie, including a couple of elements that would have been fine as a main hinge for a movie (telekinetics, for instance.)

Buy it…it’s surprisingly good.

The big disappointment was The Dark Knight Rises. Is it a good movie..? No, not really. It’s made worse how damned good the Dark Knight was. Here we start with the bad to show why this movie was a gigantic cluster#$%^.

The Bad: The movie is a rehash of the same themes as The Dark Knight…but completely undoes the points made by that movie: A psycho holds the city hostage through terror. The people do not cave…they don’t destroy each other on the ferries; hell, the one prisoner even makes a show of his decency! The Joker was wrong. But along comes Bane, who does the same schtick, except he’s working with Gotham’s equivalent of molemen to do massive scale badness, including holding the city hostage with a neutron bomb. No one fights back. They cave. Hell, even the nation decides not to call the baddies’ bluff and, say, hit the neutron bomb’s truck with a missile from a drone (which, judging from the tech level of the Batman movie world should also have the ability to look for a radiation signature. After all…we can do that now.)

The whole Wayne must let go of his blahdablahda and jump to the ledge to escape Talia al-Ghul’s prison in India. Awful. And one of the reasons the movie is also about 40 minutes too long.

The average: Tom Hardy is adequate as Bane, which is disappointing, since he usually steals the show in most stuff he’s in.

The good: I like that Wayne isn’t holding up to the Batman lifestyle too well. His body is beat to shit and he can’t hang without prosthetics and painkillers. You simply can’t play that hard, that long. Ask any pro athlete. Michael Caine is superb, as usual, and Anne Hathaway manages to be sexy and believably so as Catwoman.

Style: 4 out 5 — It looks good, has the same dark brooding mood of the other films. Substance: 2 out of 5 — it’s not awful, but it is a pale shade of The Dark Knight. It’s a rental, in my opinion. Or rewatch The Dark Knight and marvel at Ledger’s performance.

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