Philip K. Dick

Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven)

Total Recall opens with some of the best music Jerry Goldsmith has ever scored. It then moves on to a sci-fi sequence, set on Mars, and Verhoeven soon gets in his first animatronic head. There are a lot of animatronic heads, which get exposed to atmosphere and explode or get turned into grenades and so on. Some of these sequences are entirely unnecessary and it’s just Verhoeven showing off.

Most of Recall is along those lines. It’s Verhoeven showing off. He mixes a rough, violent action picture with a high-minded sci-fi story and the result is rather successful. There are a handful of bad performances, but Schwarzenegger’s fine in the lead and the movie’s mostly him so it works out. There are also a bunch of good performances; while they can’t overcome the bad ones, they help.

Worst are Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside. Stone’s just plain bad, nothing special, but Ironside’s in a spot in Recall. He’s this big heavy (supposedly) but he’s opposite Ronny Cox, who knows how to play a big heavy. Ironside gets chewed up in their scenes together.

Mel Johnson Jr. is fairly awful, but Rachel Ticotin is all right. Marshall Bell and Ray Baker are great.

The film’s greatest asset is Verhoeven. He manages to make it a slyly absurdist comedy. With editors Frank J. Urioste and Carlos Puente, he constructs these wonderful tight scenes. His composition isn’t particularly thoughtful; he’s utilizing forceful action in the shots.

It’s pretty darned good.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Gary Goldman, based on a screen story by Shusett, O’Bannon and Jon Povill and a short story by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Frank J. Urioste and Carlos Puente; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Shusett and Buzz Feitshans; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Douglas Quaid), Rachel Ticotin (Melina), Sharon Stone (Lori), Ronny Cox (Vilos Cohaagen), Michael Ironside (Richter), Marshall Bell (George), Mel Johnson Jr. (Benny), Michael Champion (Helm), Roy Brocksmith (Dr. Edgemar) and Ray Baker (Bob McClane).


Screamers (1995, Christian Duguay)

Sometimes competency is a bad thing. Screamers is a fairly well-made–Duguay’s composition isn’t spectacular, mostly because the sets were all CG embellished so there was only so much he was actually shooting–but there are some excellent effects sequences. There’s some nice stop motion and then a great shuttlecraft liftoff. Duguay knows how to spend his limited budget to make the film look good. There really isn’t a genre of good lower budget 1990s science fiction because cheap CG ruined it, but Screamers could almost be a solid entry.

Except for the script. There are some really good ideas in Dan O’Bannon’s script–the stuff with Peter Weller and Jennifer Rubin being the last two people alive on a planet should have really been stretched out–but, for the most part, it’s pretty weak. It’s like O’Bannon (or maybe co-writer Tejada-Flores) had to keep taking out stuff to make it cheaper, less grandiose. They give Weller some really bad dialogue–just long and expository–and seeing Weller mull through it and pull it off is sensational. Almost the entire running time of Screamers could be spent wondering how no one ever got Weller a role for an actor of his ability.

The supporting cast is generally okay. Roy Dupuis and Andrew Lauer are both solid. Rubin’s got a rough character to essay and she runs a little too cold at times, but she’s mostly all right.

It’s not cheap enough to be chintzy. Should be better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Christian Duguay; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Miguel Tejada-Flores, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Rodney Gibbons; edited by Yves Langlois; music by Normand Corbeil; production designer, Perri Gorrara; produced by Franco Battista and Tom Berry; released by Triumph Films.

Starring Peter Weller (Joe Hendricksson), Roy Dupuis (Becker), Jennifer Rubin (Jessica Hanson), Andrew Lauer (Jefferson), Charles Edwin Powell (Ross), Ron White (Chuck Elbarak) and Bruce Boa (Secretary Green).


Screamers: The Hunting (2009, Sheldon Wilson)

If it weren’t for the painfully Canadian cast–I’m thinking mostly of Greg Byrk and Gina Holden, Holden because a recognizable, down on her luck American actress would be playing her character and Byrk because he’s so bland he’s got to be Canadian–Screamers: The Hunting would probably be a little better. There are some decent actors in it–Jana Pallaske is so good it’s strange to see her in this one, like she was paying off a swimming pool or something, and Stephen Amell is pretty good (even if he too looks bland enough to be Canadian). When Lance Henriksen shows up, the movie almost gets classy for a few minutes.

The Hunting does something really simple–it rips off Aliens (and Alien, but in a different way) as an approach to a direct-to-DVD sequel making. I can’t believe no one else has done it before and it kind of works. Being shot on DV and poorly lighted–John P. Tarver is a horrible cinematographer, I’ve seen better DV lighting on student films–it looks cheap, but it’s generally solid at the base. With a bigger budget, a better cast and a good rewrite, Screamers: The Hunting would probably be better than the first one.

It’s the first direct-to-DVD movie I’ve seen on the level of filmmaking competence of low budget genre pictures of yesteryear, which, I suppose, is a good sign. It’s taken a long time, since everyone relies so much on cheap CG.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sheldon Wilson; screenplay by Miguel Tejada-Flores, based on a story by Tom Berry and inspired by a short story by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, John P. Tarver; edited by Isabelle Levesque; music by Benoit Grey; production designer, James McAteer; produced by Stefan Wodoslawsky and Paul Pope; released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Starring Gina Holden (Bronte), Jana Pallaske (Schwartz), Lance Henriksen (Orsow), Greg Bryk (Sexton), Christopher Redman (Danielli), Tim Rozon (Madden), Dave Lapommeray (Romulo), Jody Richardson (Soderquist), Stephen Amell (Guy) and Holly O’Brien (Hannah).


Paycheck (2003, John Woo)

Didn’t John Woo used to have a style? I mean, I know he had birds and he had the guns pointed at each other, but didn’t he have some style? He’s got no style in Paycheck, which ends up being one of the best movies John Badham never made.

It’s a complete time waster, the kind of thing people used to grow up on seeing on TV, fueled by competent direction (without style, Woo’s inoffensive most of the time and only stupid–the birds–once or twice) and a fine leading man performance from Ben Affleck. While he’s never going to be believable as super genius (the idea of Uma Thurman as a PhD is as hilarious as Will Smith as one), he’s sturdy as an engineer.

Most of the supporting cast–Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore, Joe Morton–is solid. Aaron Eckhart’s not doing anything special here but he isn’t being terrible either. The script isn’t deep enough to let him. Michael C. Hall and Kathryn Morris are both pretty bad, but neither are in it too much. Peter Friedman appears to be wearing a lot of make-up. He’s not good, but the make-up distracts.

The script’s problematic–the concept isn’t cool as a near future movie and would have worked much better firmed up in reality–but serviceable. John Powell’s music is rather effective.

The whole movie hinges on Affleck being a movie star and Affleck is a movie star and it works.

It’s a fine diversion.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Woo; screenplay by Dean Georgaris, based on the short story by Philip K. Dick; directors of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball and Gregory Lundsgaard; edited by Christopher Rouse and Kevin Stitt; music by John Powell; production designer, William Sandell; produced by John Davis, Michael Hackett, Terence Chang and Woo; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Ben Affleck (Jennings), Aaron Eckhart (Rethrick), Uma Thurman (Rachel), Paul Giamatti (Shorty), Colm Feore (Wolfe), Joe Morton (Agent Dodge), Michael C. Hall (Agent Klein), Peter Friedman (Attorney General Brown) and Kathryn Morris (Rita Dunne).


A Scanner Darkly (2006, Richard Linklater)

For a while–during the film–A Scanner Darkly is a great film. It sets itself up as a significant examination of man’s identity and its relation to the people around him. It’s based on Philip K. Dick and that theme is one Dick used at least one other time (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). When adapting the novel, which I haven’t read, I get the feeling Richard Linklater kept it a little too close, keeping summary storytelling. The film races through its last act, which is around eleven minutes long, and never solidifies the many excellent elements. They don’t quite disappear, they just don’t get the attention they deserve. For example, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder have this wonderful relationship, which even endures a “surprise,” but Linklater doesn’t finish it up. It isn’t like he sacrifices it for anything. The problem with A Scanner Darkly is its length. It’s not long enough.

The film’s pseudo-animation style–Linklater filmed the actors, presumably together–then had computers draw over them, works perfectly for the film. Linklater doesn’t account for the style, however, which is probably a mistake. Besides certain special effects considerations, the style is appropriate because Darkly is about drug addiction and its effects. The style works as a visual representation of those effects. I imagine Linklater didn’t want to label the style, but it just seems another thing he withheld.

Where Linklater did good–wonderfully–was his casting and his directing of his actors. Keanu Reeves probably gives his best performance and there are these scenes between Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson… Linklater’s scenes about drug addicts are easily the best since Trainspotting, but he’s also got a great feel for the rest of the material, the alienation material. Throughout, the film’s scenes are, like I said, great. Winona Ryder is so good, I was wondering who was playing her role, as the animation made it possible it wasn’t her and she was so good, I couldn’t believe it was Ryder. The only acting problem is Linklater regular Rory Cochrane, who mugs for the camera. With one exception, an excellent scene, Cochrane’s bad when he’s alone. When he’s with other actors, he’s fine. Alone, he mugs the whole scene.

A Scanner Darkly ultimately fails. Actually, it ultimately achieves something more than mediocrity, but it does offer an excellent eighty-five minutes. Unfortunately, the film runs a hundred minutes (and should run around 135 minutes).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Linklater; screenplay by Linklater, based on the novel by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Shane F. Kelly; edited by Sandra Adair; music by Graham Reynolds; production designer, Bruce Curtis; produced by Anne Walker-McBay, Tommy Pallotta, Palmer West, Jonah Smith and Erwin Stoff; released by Warner Independent Pictures.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Bob Arctor), Robert Downey Jr. (Jim Barris), Woody Harrelson (Ernie Luckman), Winona Ryder (Donna Hawthorne) and Rory Cochrane (Charles Freck).


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