Sunday, 16 September 2012

Film round-up: Dredd, Total Recall, The Possession, Anna Karenina

Let's do this in reverse order, eh? Anna Karenina is beautifully filmed, stylistically and visually gorgeous. Usually I say "But despite this, Prometheus isn't that good." Contrarily, the whole thing is very well done. It's impossible to say that it's a delight, as the central tale is tragic. Shockingly, I have not read the book, so I can only say that the screenplay (by Tom Stoppard) is well-crafted, and filled with skill. The Possession is perfectly fine, although I have to say that horror films aren't really my thing. While watching it I broke off from chuckling at moths flying down throats to remark to myself that it's unseemly and unwise to make a film extolling the virtues of exorcism when mentally ill people and epileptics are still dying from attempted exorcisms by the ignorant. I really don't think I entered fully into the, ah, spirit of things. There are some intentionally comic juxtapositions, such as the Hasidic Jew who's listening to his iPod, his earbuds' wires concealed by his dangling hair. Worth a look, if you have a spot of free time.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Total Recall remake. When I heard that they were remaking this story, I quite got the wrong end of the stick. I hoped that they would take Dick's original short-story and rework it into a quite different film from the Arnie flick. Don't get me wrong! I love Arnie's Total Recall: it's preposterous and self-aware of that very ridiculousness. I just assumed that they were going to do something different this time around. Sadly, they couldn't be bothered to rewrite the script quite that much. The most fun you can derive from this is "Spot the Actor": hey, Sulu! Woah, the dad from Malcolm in the Middle is the evil American ruler of the Federation of Britain! The Federation of Britain appears to include France and Germany. Incidentally, our Britannic thanks to our EU partners, especially the financially superior and more populated Teutonic one, for letting us be nominally in charge of this future EU, even if we have an American running us. Is that piece of casting a none-too-subtle criticism of Mr Blair in his persona as lapdog or total coincidence? God alone knows.

Back to the film, sadly. Rather than take Dick's story and do something novel with it, the chaps behind this remake decided to remake Arnie's film. We had fair warning of this in the adverts prior to the film's release, so I cannot blame anyone except my own optimism for going to see this turkey. Every scene seemed to be recreated: where Arnie had a prosthetic woman's head, Farrell has a hologram, where Arnie met a three-breasted lady of negotiable affection, so too did Farrell, where the baddie did this, the baddie did that. They've shuffled some characters and altered some minor points, but that's about it. They have stripped all the comedy out of the film, though, and that is an unspeakable mistake. A couple of tips for film-makers: if you strip all the jokes from a comedy film, then do not add in a skyscraper-cum-lift that takes people to work in London from their homes in Australia. That goes double when the lift goes through the core of Earth.

Furthermore, if you establish that the air of almost every part of Earth is toxic, it is a good idea to establish first how the poisons are kept out of London, and second . . . second, well, here we go. The Secret Rebel Base is in an abandoned church or cathedral. OK. That almost certainly isn't air-tight, but let's say Princess Leia or Han Solo covered it with sealant. If you make a big thing of sending the hero through a decontamination chamber, you have established in the viewer's mind that the air outside is dangerous. If baddies then break the windows and storm the building, the viewer realises that the bad air is now inside. So don't get people to ignore gas masks at this point. It would be fine in an Arnie film: this is the man who breaks into a gun store and steals a billion machine guns so as to rescue Alyssa Milano. He makes silly films. You have decided (foolishly) to make a serious film. Rein yourself in. Those M&M ads they run before films feature the three leads advertising the film, and poor Farrell seems to realise how piss-poor this remake is. He is reduced to saying that the vision of the future is very pretty. It is very pretty, just as Prometheus was very pretty. Unfortunately, it's rather worse than Scott's mess.

Don't despair, folks. If you want a good action flick, look no further than Dredd. It is pretty, and it combines this arresting visual quality with a tight storyline. If you have seen Watchmen, you may remember a defenestration early in the film. The assassinated character pauses in mid-air, evoking the comic source. Just so in this adaptation does the drug Slo-Mo permit the film-maker two opportunities. First, the original comic-book panel style can be copied, allowing those of us who have seen 2000 A.D. a spot of nostalgia. Second, if you use slow-motion photography to have someone thrown off the top of a 200-storey tower block, with them experiencing everything at one hundred times normal speed, you do get some use out of this current craze for 3D. As a grouchy old man of 31, I am still hoping it trundles off shortly, as it simply serves to slightly increase the price of my cinema ticket for no real gain most of the time. This time, though, I was content to pay the extra pound, Scrooge though I am.

Anyway, there is no wandering off or wondering for these characters. There is an ungodly amount of shooting, and a fair amount of blood for a modern film. Though if you compare the original Total Recall to Dredd, then you will say there is comparatively little gore and nastiness these days. The plot is simple and effective: Dredd and the rookie Anderson must vanquish some naughty drug-dealers. A friend has asked me to compare it to The Raid, an Indonesian flick about SWAT troopers fighting their way up a criminal-occupied tower-block. I will when I acquire a copy of The Raid. If you hated the tediously heartfelt and dull remake of Total Recall, you will enjoy the gravelly sincere violence and acting of Dredd.

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