Shelf Life: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Total Recall”

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall

Posted by on

“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.


Pox Kegger

This Is How the Benders Throw a Chickenpox Party

It's a Pox Kegger on tonight's all-new Benders.

Posted by on

On this week’s Benders, Paul and Karen take their relationship to the next level when they both get the chickenpox. What do you bring to a chickenpox party? Chicken wings? A bucket of pox?

video player loading . . .

For us, a sick day is best spent on the day on the couch, watching episodes of Portlandia on Netflix (guessing!) eating bowls of chicken soup, and sipping weak tea. But Karen didn’t count on the team spirit that binds Paul’s amateur hockey team together. So when the Chubbys find out that one of their teammates is in need, they have no choice but to be there for him–whether his wife likes it or not. Find out what happens when Benders airs tonight at 10P on IFC.

That 70s Hyde

Higher Learning

Stoner Wisdom From That ’70s Show’s Circle

Catch That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-11P on IFC.

Posted by on

The gang from That ’70s Show had some of their deepest conversations in “The Circle.” They also never failed to crack themselves (and us) up. Get high on knowledge with some deep thoughts from “The Circle.”

video player loading . . .
Zoolander 2

Blue Steel Is Back

Watch the Ridiculously Funny Zoolander 2 Trailer

Portlandia returns January 21st at 10P ET/PT.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Red Hour Productions/YouTube

The Zoolander 2 trailer is finally here, and it appears that someone is trying to kill the world’s most beautiful people. (Even Justin Bieber isn’t safe!)

The film has a lot of familiar, hilarious faces like Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Will Ferrell, but the trailer also features a ton of new additions including a nearly unrecognizable Kristen Wiig, Kyle Mooney, Penelope Cruz, Fred Armisen, and Benedict Cumberbatch (but not his eyebrows).

While the Portlandia and Documentary Now! star isn’t in the new trailer, Fred has the Instagram shots to prove that he was on the set. When he was heading to Rome, where the highly anticipated (and very good looking) sequel was filmed, Fred also proved that he is very good at packing a bag. The how-to video was so impressive that Ben Stiller had no choice but to repost the announcement with the caption: “Excited @sordociego (Fred Armisen!!) is joining the #zoolander2 cast!”

Excited @sordociego (Fred Armisen!!) is joining the #zoolander2 cast!

A video posted by Derek Zoolander (@zoolander) on

As Fred told Conan O’Brien, he had a lot of fun working on the film and touring the sites of Rome with his selfie stick. Be sure to check back for more updates about Fred’s role in Zoolander 2 and the sixth season of Portlandia, which premieres January 21st at 10P ET/PT on IFC


Don't Act Your Age

10 Actors Who Went Old

Catch David Krumholtz on Gigi Does It tonight at 10:30P on IFC.

Posted by on

You always hear about older actors clinching to their youth by taking on vastly younger, age-inappropriate roles. (The collective age of the 90210 cast, especially in later seasons, was definitely in the hundreds.) But those thespians who choose to age up — through the use of prosthetics, makeup, or otherwise — often deliver astounding performances.

Take David Krumholtz. On the new IFC series Gigi Does It, the actor plays Gigi, a 76-year-old yenta who’s determined to live life to the fullest after her late husband leaves her with a crap ton of moolah.

In honor of his achievements — and those who’ve paved the way for Gigi — here are some celebrities who have successfully infiltrated the senior citizens club.

1. David Krumholtz, Gigi’s Bucket List



Krumholtz is pulling a Mrs. Doubtfire — who we’ll get to in a moment — with Gigi. Whether bossing around her male nurse or talking about flashing her boob to her grandson, Krumholtz seems to be having a blast as his raunchy alter ego.

2. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


You can’t talk about actors portraying the elderly without acknowledging that infamously fictional affliction, Benjamin Button’s Disease. Brad Pitt portrays the title role of a man who ages backwards after being physically born as an old person. It’s everyone’s dream, right — the older you get, the younger you look? A mixture of computer-generated effects and makeup went into this transformation, and it’s still difficult to look away.

3. Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel


Swinton is the true mistress of disguise. She has made a living by completely losing herself in her characters, whether its playing the traditionally male archangel Gabriel in Constantine, the evil witch in The Chronicles of Narnia, or the toothy one-percenter of Snowpiercer. With Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, she once again became unrecognizable as one of the elderly lovers of the hotel’s concierge. She’s got the senile look and feel down pat.

4. Johnny Knoxville, Bad Grandpa


For his latest Jackass movie, Knoxville took his shenanigans to a new level in portraying Irving Zisman, the elderly bad influence in his grandson’s life. In the same vein as his previous stunts, he pranked real-life people with his prosthetically enhanced persona, crashing a wedding by knocking over an entire display, ruining a child pageant, and “making it rain” on a stripper.

5. Robin Williams, Mrs. Doubtfire


Remember that famous story about the late Robin Williams strolling into a sex shop in NYC as Mrs. Doubtfire? That’s how committed he was and how unrecognizable he was as the lovable nanny. Just like David Krumholtz, Williams underwent a hefty makeup and prosthetic process, and it will always go down as one of his most memorable roles.

6. Dustin Hoffman, Little Big Man


Paramount Films

While Krumholtz is 37 going on 76, Dustin Hoffman was 33 going on 121 for this acclaimed role. The 1970 Arthur Penn film Little Big Man told of an oral historian who comes across an elderly man (Hoffman) who has one crazy story to tell. It’s a tale of gunslinging, selling snake oil and the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn. But most astonishing of all is the sight of Hoffman in character.

7. Meryl Streep, Angels in America


Meryl Streep played several roles in the HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner’s acclaimed play. You might have missed her the first time around because she looks like just one of the rabbis, especially when she sits next to a line of them. Yes, that’s the Oscar winner as Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz, and if you listen carefully, you can pick out her voice under the heavy white beard.

8. Helena Bonham Carter, Big Fish


Much like Tilda Swinton, Helena Bonham Carter comes alive when you bury her in layers of makeup, prosthetics and elaborate costumes. Before debuting as Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the actress portrayed another kind of enchantress in Tim Burton’s Big Fish. She looks just as home with a wrinkled face and glass eye as she does flaunting a bubbly, sparkling ball gown as the Fairy Godmother in the Disney remake of Cinderella.

9. Guy Pearce, Prometheus


20th Century Fox

In Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, Guy Pearce aged himself way up to play the financial backer of an interstellar expedition who hopes to find some means of extending his life. What’s more shocking: the existence of the Engineers or how Guy resides underneath all that old-man makeup?

10. James D’Arcy, Cloud Atlas


Warner Bros.

The Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas may not have been the most well-received film, critically speaking, but it did feature incredible transformations from its actors, most of which portrayed more than one role. James D’Arcy took on four roles, two of which were the young and old versions of Rufus Sixsmith.

Powered by ZergNet