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Shelf Life: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Total Recall”

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall

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“At that age” movies are not just a phenomenon that I’ve mentioned (or coined, perhaps) before in Shelf Life columns, they’re almost literally the reason for it at all. There’s a whole universe of films we see when we’re kids, adolescents, or during other formative moments in our lives that stick with us or mean something. Needless to say that doesn’t mean they’re good, no matter how much we love them. But one part of being an adult is distinguishing between the things we embrace emotionally, and the things we process intellectually.

All of which brings us to “Total Recall.” In 1990, I was 14 years old, and by then I’d been introduced to the world of R-rated entertainment, and in particular the oeuvre of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was in so many ways – including literally – larger than life, and his films kind of exploded in my brain as a kind of adult escapism that I’d never encountered before. Nevertheless, my mom had to buy my ticket for “Recall,” but it became yet another watershed moment in my evolution as a moviegoer. With the release of a remake and a spanking-new Blu-ray this week, it seemed like high time to revisit the film and see whether my halcyon memories held up.


The Facts:

After opening on June 1, 1990, “Total Recall” was a massive hit upon its release, earning more than $260 million during its theatrical run. Its development was a labyrinth of false starts and revisions: David Cronenberg and Dino DeLaurentis were both attached at different times in the 1980s, before screenwriters Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon finally found a game collaborator in Paul Verhoeven. Verhoeven recruited several of his former collaborators, including actor Ronny Cox to play Cohaagen, cinematographer Jost Vacano and special effects designer Rob Bottin, who effectively used this film as a showcase for some of the last miniature and practical effects the industry would use before the advent of CGI permanently changed special effects.

Bottin, Eric Brevig, Tim McGovern and Alex Funke received Oscars – an Academy Special Achievement Award for visual effects. The film was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Sound.Meanwhile, the film maintains an 81 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


What Still Works:

Viscerally, “Total Recall” is still a blast. Verhoeven, coming off of “Robocop,” was working on all cylinders as a purveyor of gritty, gruesome action that actually possessed a thoughtful undercurrent, and like its predecessor, “Recall” satirizes consumerism, totalitarian control as well as examines man’s control of his own body. The action is spectacularly violent – so much so that I literally remember reading local reviews talking about its violent content – but the glib and almost fun way that it indulges this not only resembles the tone of the action in “Robocop,” but enhances the audience’s embrace of such exaggerated and fantastical scenarios.

By 1990, Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest stars in the world, and he’d eased into a screen persona that didn’t seem altogether far from his real personality – or at the very least, didn’t require him to do a lot of heavy lifting, at least acting-wise. But as Roger Ebert observes in his review of the remake, Schwarzenegger’s lumbering presence really complements this film’s underlying concepts in an odd way, because he seems disoriented in a world (cinematically speaking) that functions so cerebrally. That’s not to say that Schwarzenegger gives a bad performance, or he’s unconvincing in the role, but that as Douglas Quaid, the actor is at once comfortable commanding the screen and out of his element working with material that’s intellectually more complex than most of what he’d done before.

Finally, the greatest thing about “Total Recall” is that it’s entirely possible that everything that happens in the film is in fact straightforward fulfillment of the “ego trip” Quaid pays for when he visit Rekall. As Malena, Rachel Ticotin appears on the viewscreen when he’s choosing a companion for his vacation. He asks to go to Mars as a secret agent deep undercover who finds himself on the run from killers. And in the end, he saves the planet and gets the girl. Even the backgrounds and landscapes of Mars are viewed in the Rekall sequence, giving further credence to the possibility that he’s simply acting out his fantasy and the story is not as multi-layered as it otherwise seems.


What Doesn’t Work:

Although the special effects are slightly outdated – especially in an era of CGI – the practical make-up and other prosthetics are all top-notch, so I suppose that isn’t necessarily a complaint. The film is oddly bright in its photography which seems to undermine the rest of its detail and style, but it’s also a film which seems eager to hold nothing back and almost create a cartoonish, exaggerated depiction of this fantastical world.


What’s the Verdict:

“Total Recall” may or may not be a movie that newcomers to it embrace, at least if they’re more conventionally familiar with current special effects techniques and/or the more gritty and humanized approach of modern action movies. But everything that worked in 1990 continues to work now, and it retains all of the entertainment value it ever held, thanks in no small part to the collaboration between Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven. Ultimately, the film is a smart, fun, exciting and engaging sci-fi adventure that examines some deeper ideas – from biological to philosophical – without becoming either simplistic or didactic. In short, “Total Recall” is a great film, which is the only reason why it should even be considered for a remake – to get to recall all of those great qualities all over again.

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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