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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.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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