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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 3 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 31
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Total Recall: just forget it
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

TOTAL RECALL
Opens August 3


Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) doesn't feel like himself. He's having strange dreams of an escapade involving gunfire, explosions, and a mysterious lithe and sexy woman named Melina (Jessica Biel) who is nothing at all like his sweet and sensitive wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale). Against the advice of his best friend, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), to put some of these demons to rest the bedraggled factory worker takes a trip to the fake memory implantation clinic Rekall to live out his fantasies. Seems as harmless an idea as any, and for the life of him he can't come up with a reason not to at least check the place out.

Big mistake. Next thing Doug knows he's being hunted by the very wife he thought adored him; saved by the mystery woman who, he was certain, was a figment of his imagination; and discovers he might be the central cog in a planet-wide battle for control between the iron-fisted Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) and the enigmatic rebel messiah Matthias (Bill Nighy). But is it real? Or is this all just a fantasy buried within his subconscious by the folks at Rekall? After all, the fate of the entire Earth can't rest in the hands of a single man.

Or can it?

Len Wiseman's adrenaline-fueled remake of the Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger favorite Total Recall plays more like a souped-up futuristic version of The Bourne Identity or The Long Kiss Goodnight more than it does anything else. Only the barest bones of Philip K. Dick's original story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale remain, and while there are plenty of gentle nods in the direction of the 1990 flick, the only allusions to Mars here are made in sarcastic jest. No, the man behind the Underworld adventures and Live Free or Die Hard isn't particularly interested in breaking rules, treading new ground, or delivering anything we haven't seen before. He wants to blow stuff up, break a ton of glass, and shoot a whole heck of a lot of guns, and by and large on that front he gleefully succeeds.

But where is the story? Where is the mystery? Where is the common sense or anything even approaching a decent - let alone good - idea? The film runs almost on autopilot, the plot mechanics beholden to all the heavy artillery and wildly ambitious stunts. Nothing about this movie feels, sounds, or looks organic, and as beautifully realized (from a visual standpoint) as all of it might be, it's all in service to a story not even slightly worthy of the effort.

There are moments, of course, and both Farrell and Beckinsale throw themselves into the chaos with laudable abandon. But the script, by Kurt Wimmer (Salt) and Mark Bomback (Unstoppable), is a total mess, reveling in clichés that were passé back when Schwarzenegger was making Raw Deal and Commando. There is a freeze-dried silliness to everything that's stupefying in its blandness, and not even Cranston or Nighy can help pull this film out of the abyss.

What's truly weird is just how boring all of this is. Wiseman can stage an action sequence as good as anyone, and unlike many of his contemporaries he doesn't over-edit to the point of headache-inducing confusion, but there is something so rudimentary about all of the running, jumping, falling, kicking, and punching - something so tired about all the crashes, booms, and bangs - that the resulting two-hour enterprise has an oddly antiseptic quality, making Total Recall instantly, and ironically, forgettable.


Ai Weiwei documentary nothing to be sorry about
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY
Opens August 3


Director Alison Klayman was working as a journalist in Beijing when she met Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei. Over a period of time, she managed to gain something close to his trust, and the charismatic, if reclusive, artist allowed her to film him and his endeavors over a handful of years.

That's the basic story behind her documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, but as it concerns a figure as internationally lauded as this one, there's far more to it than that. At the same time, as big as this story is, as massive as the themes are, I can't say I know any more about him now than I did beforehand. I can't help but be impressed - what Weiwei is fighting for stirred me to my core, and his fight is one I wholeheartedly endorse - but as a human being he remains an enigma, and on that front I can't help but feel a tiny bit frustrated.

Still, a lot of what Klayman was able to document is stunning. Weiwei, the man behind the magnificent Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium that was the focal point for the 2008 Summer Games, is a fascinating figure, and the lengths he goes to in order to speak his mind and make his opinions known is staggering. His work crafting a memorial for the more than 5,000 children who were lost in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake is mind-blowing, while his aggressively passive attempts to document police intimidation and corruption are something else indeed.

Klayman shows all of this with ease and restraint, allowing all of the footage to speak for itself, whether captured by her own camera or by Weiwei (or one of his devoted pupils). She does not comment - each moment speaks so clearly there really isn't any need for her to do so. As an activist, what this man does, how devoted he is to getting truth out into the world (his Twitter following is second to none) - all of it borders on unfathomable, and the filmmaker showcases this fact with unhurried ease.

But the man himself? His human failings? What drives him? What makes him such an extraordinary, world-renowned artist? I'm not sure I know the answers to those questions. Klayman shows some of his flaws, at least as a husband, but she does so in a way that makes them seem like passing asides not worthy of interest - speed bumps that only hinder the portrait of the artist as a lofty figure worthy of adulation.

This is a problem, of that there is no denying. Most of the great human beings we have celebrated over the centuries had personal failings of one sort of another, and it was in those faults that we are able to grasp a greater understanding of the person as a whole and what it was exactly that made them great in the first place. No one is perfect, and while Klayman's film doesn't remotely suggest Weiwei is, it doesn't spend much time looking for shades of grey.

Still, this documentary is compulsively addicting. Once it starts rolling, once the artist starts digging in his heels and makes his opinions known, it's hard not to come away from the film monumentally impressed. Klayman's portrait could have been more fully developed and definitely could have dug a bit deeper, but it comes close to being essential viewing almost in spite of itself. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry isn't perfect, but I'm not sure it needed to be. A man as complicated and as intriguing as this one is deserving of numerous snapshots, even if the full picture might not ever be developed.






Moving on up
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Cheyenne Jackson does it all
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Matrix director comes out as Transgender
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Michael Feinstein, Jim Riggs impress with classic pop
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A Dyke About Town: Ramsey Lewis electrifies Jazz Alley
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Celebrating Harold Pinter
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Orion youth playwrights' festival speaks loudly
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Rent, controlled
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Huge Support for Chick-fil-A Day
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Grammy contenders: just four months to go
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Total Recall: just forget it
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Ai Weiwei documentary nothing to be sorry about
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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Frank Ocean lands 3 VMA nominations
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Northwest News
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Letters
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