Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Total Recall and Star Wars

We watched the remake of Total Recall a couple of nights ago. Colin Farrell does an excellent job, not just as an action hero, but as a man with  depth to his personality. I think I've seen the Arnold Schwarzenegger version, but can't remember anything about it. My gut feeling is that Farrell presents a much more interesting character than Schwarzenegger would have. The two women in the story, Kate Beckingsale, who plays Farrell's seemingly indestructible and villainous 'wife,' and Jessica Biel as his true love, are both equally good. Apart from the excellent acting and the tense action scenes, it's the design of the movie that stands out most: the hemmed-in feeling of an overcrowded city, the washed-out colours, the extraordinary structures and much more. 

In the end they whole thing is far-fetched to the max, but surprisingly survives its innumerable plot holes. By all accounts fans of the original movie were highly offended by this one; be that as it may, I think it stands up well as a decent action movie on its own. 

Last night we went and saw the latest Star Wars. Don't ask me what it's subtitle is: I long ago gave up trying to remember these, since they all seem similar. Wait, it's The Force Awakens. Okay. Spoilers follow...

Well, the first thing that can be said is that it's back to the original, almost faultless style. Gone is the super seriousness of the middle three prequels; the humour, action and storytelling are all on a par with the first episode. (Number IV, I think that actually means. Good grief.) Many of the original characters turn up (not until the very last scene in Hamill's case) but there are plenty of newcomers, not least a wonderful new droid, BB8. His name doesn't have quite the catchiness of R2D2, or CP3O, but he's full of charm, and beautifully presented, both vocally and in terms of his movement. Harrison Ford gets into his stride within a few moments of appearing, and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca actually gets some decent moments for a change. Carrie Fisher plays a much matured Leia; she has a warmth that wasn't quite so evident in the early movies. 

But these actors are supporting artists really, in this movie, in spite of the fact that three of them get top billing. Bit odd, when you think that Mark Hamill has one scene, one in which he doesn't even speak. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega play the leads and swing through all kinds of emotions in the process. Whether they'll survive into the next episode is anyone's guess, but they deserve to: by the time the movie ends they're fully-fledged characters. 

Adam Driver plays Kilo Ren, the main baddie. (Kylo Ren? Many of Lucas' characters have oddball names that don't work for me: this is one of them, along with Poe Dameron, Maz Kanata, Unkar Plutt (Simon Pegg gets landed with this monstrosity), and Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke? Is that really a name for a villain, apart from the difficulty of pronouncing it. Max von Sydow plays Lor San Tekka. Come on, George, give people names that sound like names, as you did with Han Solo, Luke Skywalker (a brilliant name) and Princess Leia. 

Maz Kanata, incidentally, is one of the more interesting characters amongst the smaller roles: played by a normal-sized human being - the Kenyan actress y - she appears on screen as a pint-sized woman with enormous glasses almost set into her head, and a couple of slits for nostrils. Andy Serkis is in the cast too, though as usual he's unrecognisable. He plays the Supreme Leader who only appears as an immense hologram, his face beginning to disintegrate and his longevity obviously telling on his body. I don't know how he fits into the scheme of things, though no doubt there are hundreds of fans out there who could tell me. And presumably, being broadcast from somewhere else in the galaxy, he survives the holocaust near the end. 

The visual effects are endless, but remain within the realm of plausibility. The John Williams score is hugely varied, as always, with familiar themes appearing at appropriate times, and plenty of new ones. 

I went expecting to be underwhelmed, after the last three mostly awful pieces, but it's great to see the series back on form. 










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