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Do We Really Need a “Total Recall” Remake?

Do We Really Need a “Total Recall” Remake? (photo)

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NOTE: I am about to spoil “Inception.” And “Total Recall,” for that matter. If you don’t like it, tough noogies.

Just yesterday I was thinking some more about “Inception” and the continuing debate about its ultimate meaning. Is Cobb dreaming at the end of the film? Is the whole film a dream? Though I had my own theory while watching the film, the strength of the arguments on all sides suggests Nolan crafted the film in such a way so that more than one reading of it is valid. Which started my mind working on a comparison with another sci-fi film that’s also open to conflicting interpretations: 1990’s “Total Recall.” Like “Inception,” it’s about a man chased around the world (or worlds) by vague but deadly forces that include his formerly loving and now vindictive wife. Like “Inception,” “Total Recall”‘s hero is a morally ambiguous man on a mission that involves layers of deception. Like “Inception,” its protagonist is forced to contemplate whether the world around him is real or a projection of his damaged psyche. And like “Inception,” “Total Recall” was designed to work equally well on a variety of levels. At first glance, it’s a straightforward adventure about a reluctant secret agent. On repeat viewings, it becomes clear that the entire film could also be taking place inside the mind of a man who orders a memory implant for an adventure about a reluctant secret agent.

“Recall” director Paul Verhoeven conceptualized the film so two viewers could have two totally different but equally accurate experiences. When Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Douglas Quaid prepares to receive his memory implant, a television screen flashes an image of the alien machine he’ll be called upon to start at the end of the film. That could be a coincidence, or some very accurate memory implants, or we’re being tipped off that the narrative we’re about to enter into is not to be trusted. To me, that’s what makes “Total Recall” such a satisfying film: every new viewing invites the audience to continually ponder the reality of the story, and it rewards close reading with loads of clues and easter eggs.

Given the similarities between the two films and “Inception”‘s strong box office showing so far ($246 million worldwide and counting), it shouldn’t be a surprise that studios looking for properties that can hit the same smart-but-not-too-smart vibe would come upon the idea of a “Total Recall” remake. The Los Angeles Times’ Steven Zeitchik (in a post that spots the same similarities between the films that I’d been mulling over) announces that Sony has acquired the rights to remake the film and hired “Underworld” and “Live Free or Die Hard” filmmaker Len Wiseman to direct.

07292010_recall2.jpgZeitchik’s piece calls the project a “reboot” but that seems like an incorrect use of terminology to me. A “reboot” implies you’re taking a well-established and heavily utilized property and restarting it back at square one. The upcoming Marc Webb “Spider-Man” movie is a reboot; J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” was a reboot. The idea is you’re erasing and negating a large amount of narrative continuity. And since there was only one “Total Recall” film (the short-lived “Recall” TV series was largely unrelated), it’s got to be a remake, which is a reboot on a much smaller scale.

Whatever you want to call it, do we really need it? Obviously, no; we don’t technically “need” any movie. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be some value in a remake, just as there can be value in a new Shakespeare production (and by all means, let’s compare the work of Paul Verhoeven to that of Shakespeare. “Basic Instinct” is his “Romeo and Juliet”).

With any older science-fiction film, there’s always the possibility that its future technology can star to show its age. At 20 years old, “Total Recall” definitely does at times — the robotic “Johnny Cab” that chauffeurs Schwarzenegger around Earth is a dubious animatronic and some of the Martian vistas are definitely hokey. On the other hand, plenty of other stuff holds up: the prescient wall-mounted flatscreen in the Quaid kitchen; the X-Ray security scanner, Cuato and the mutants, and even the elaborate puppets that stand-in for Arnold during the depressurization sequences on the airless surface of Mars. For a movie that’s almost old enough to buy a drink at a bar, it looks pretty good.

I happen to like Wiseman. “Underworld” proved he was a decent world-builder (he was also way ahead of the curve on the whole werewolves vs. vampires thing) and “Live Free or Die Hard” made my list of the best guilty pleasures of the 2000s. He can make a technically competent, extremely stylish, action set-piece laden “Total Recall” in his sleep.

07292010_recall3.jpgWhat he’ll find harder to replicate are “Recall”‘s intangibles: the way Verhoeven’s wicked sense of humor dovetailed with Schwarzenegger’s love of one-liners (Quaid to his wife after he kills her for her deception: “Consider this a divorce”); the fact that Schwarzeneggger’s career to that point made him the perfect choice to play a super-hero uncomfortable with the role of a family man in an action movie about doubles and duplicity. He’s also going to be hard-pressed to find as good a cast: Sharon Stone right on the verge of superstardom, “RoboCop”‘s Ronny Cox as another slimy bureaucrat, and Michael Ironside at his most testicular. Plus he’ll have to contend with the fact that in remaking a great mindfuck a hefty percentage of his audience will walk into the theater ready to be messed with.

That’s going to make things an uphill battle. Hence the reason Nolan and Warner Brothers were so uptight about spoilers leading up to “Inception.” The secrets aren’t the whole movie, but uncovering them is definitely part of the fun. But whether Wiseman’s film is a masterpiece or a disaster, no amount of memory implants will take the original away from us.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.