Box Office Preview: ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’

Total Recall

“Total Recall” is a remake of a 1990 film of the same name, which itself was an adaptation of the Phillip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Yeah, I know, Hollywood is really running out of ideas. As Bullz-Eye’s Jason Zingale put it, “[Director Len] Wiseman does his best to freshen things up, and in some cases, he actually improves upon the original, but you can never quite shake that feeling of déjà vu while watching the film, and that only begs the question, why bother remaking it at all?” Rave reviews I know, but I’ll give you a quick synopsis anyway.

Collin Farrell plays Donald Quaid, a factory worker disenchanted with life in the stereotypical sci-fi “future world” (think “Blade Runner” with better CGI). To cure his woes, Quaid seeks out Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories so realistic you can’t tell the difference between them and your true past. The procedure goes wrong (imagine that) and Quaid finds out his wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), is a government agent assigned to watch over him. It’s the opening scene of the second “Austin Powers” movie, only her guns are guns, not breasts. Along the way, Quaid finds out he too is a secret agent so undercover not even he knew about it (shit’s deep, bro), and teams up with rebel fighter Melina (Jessica Biel) against the United Federation of Britain and its evil chancellor, Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).

As the source material has gone through each step of the adaptation and remake process, its purpose—the major themes and feelings, indeed the story it was trying to tell—has become increasingly diluted. Dick posed philosophical questions about what makes reality “real” and memories “true,” while in the trailer for the latest version, Collin Farrell asks himself, “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” Yep, shit’s deep, bro.

Check out “Total Recall” if you’re in the mood for some heavy on the action, light on the depth sci-fi. The film currently sits at a 31 percent on the Tomatometer, so I’d rent the original or see “The Dark Knight Rises” (again, if need be) before plunking down my hard-earned cash on this one.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

I knew it was a book series, but the only reason I had any inkling this was a sequel, let alone the third film in a series, is the fact that there was a colon in the tile. It turns out there have in fact been two “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” films prior to this one. When a series is able to release its third film in as many years, it screams phoned-in counter programming playing for a built-in audience. Here’s what this one’s about, per the official synopsis:

During his summer vacation, “Wimpy Kid” Greg Heffley, the hero of the phenomenally successful book series, hatches a plan to pretend he has a job at a ritzy country club – which fails to keep him away from the season’s dog days, including embarrassing mishaps at a public pool and a camping trip that goes horribly wrong.

The newest “Wimpy Kid” movie is at a 44 percent on the Tomatometer, which notes that it “fails to improve upon previous installments and will likely appeal to few outside its target audience.” How much could there be to improve upon, given that the first two films are at 53 and 47 percent, respectively? Like I said, this is phoned-in counter programming. If you need to sit in the AC with the kids quiet for 90 minutes, this one might be for you. Otherwise, avoid it.

Follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

  

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A Chat with Joe Carnahan, director of “The A-Team”

Writer-director Joe Carnahan is proud of his latest film, a beyond tongue-in-cheek 2010 remounting of the 1980’s TV favorite, “The A-Team.” Available on a brand new, extras-laden DVD and Blu-Ray edition, the actioner stars Liam Neeson as A-Team leader Hannibal Smith, with backing by Bradley Cooper as the suave “Faceman” Peck, Sharlto Copley as the mildly insane H.M. Murdock and mixed martial artist Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as the Mohawk-wearing B.A. Baracus.

Jessica Biel is also along for the ride as DCIS Sosa, Faceman’s by-the-book military investigator ex-girlfriend. The story, such as it is, is fully eclipsed by a mix of preposterous stunts and CGI heavy effects and a jackhammer sensibility that is, like it or not, proudly over the top and unashamedly silly.

A former maker of promotional films and videos for a Sacramento TV station, Carnahan’s first feature was 1998’s “Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane,” a crime-suspense black comedy that co-starred Carnahan as a desperate used car dealer getting in way over his head with some extremely dangerous characters. The film, low on finesse but big on Mamet-esque macho verbal energy, was notable enough to break through the enormous Tarantino-Guy-Ritchie fatigue that made making almost any kind of independent crime film a questionable proposition throughout the 1990s.

Carnahan’s 2002 studio debut was the grimly serious “Narc,” starring Jason Patric and Ray Liotta. Big on style and terribly unsubtle, the dark procedural nevertheless earned lots of good reviews. That was followed in 2007 by the all-star action black comedy, “Smokin’ Aces.” The grosses were higher, but the Rotten Tomatoes rating was much lower.

Joe Carnahan’s bombastic ways as a filmmaker are matched at times by what reads as a rather pugilistic verbal style when it comes to critics who dislike his style and reporters who harp on less than enormous grosses. As someone who is yet to be won over by any of his films — though “Blood, Guts” has its share of low-fi charms — I was a little concerned about meeting him.

Watching Carnahan introduce a number of clips from the Blu-Ray special features for “The A-Team,” however, he came across as much more of more a teddy bear than a grizzly. In our interview, he won me over with news about some long incubating projects, a bit of sincere sounding film geekiness, his clear interest in branching out creatively and, most importantly, the fact that he’s my only interview subject so far to admit to visiting our sister site Bullz-Eye — which, I’m sure, he looks at only for our thoughtful prose.

“I’m on the Internet far too much,” he admitted, adding cheerfully, “just looking through academic articles!”

Never let it be said that Joe Carnahan is lacking in manly virtues and/or vices.

Premium Hollywood: Speaking of manliness, there’s a line in “The A-Team”: “Overkill is underrated.”

Joe Carnahan: Yes.

PH: This seems like a pretty good watchword for your career and your approach to making movies.

JC: Right. I think I’ve been perhaps unduly typecast as a guy who likes to hyper-edit and so on. I certainly have a style, but this kind of thing will always cancel out [other things]. There was a five minute tracking shot in “Narc” that was nothing but Ray Liotta talking, but nobody ever mentions that stuff. Listen, it was certainly the call to arms for this movie, “Overkill is underrated.” I did it as a thesis, as a joke. It’s the aside to the audience that says that we know it’s a lot, we know it’s overblown and overinflated, that’s the point of this little bon-mot here, this little movie.

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Does Megan Fox have what it takes to go from starlet to star?

I watched “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” this weekend, and one thing really struck me as I took in the initial (and totally gratuitous) shot of Megan Fox in cutoff jean shorts half-straddling a motorcycle: Wow, she’s hot. Throughout the course of the next 150 minutes – really, did a “Transformers” sequel need to be that long? – I found myself observing Ms. Fox’s work wondering if she had what it takes to transform – pun intended – from starlet to star.

By most standards, she’s already a movie star. She has played a lead in two “Transformers” installments, had a supporting role (as a vacant actress, no less) in the Simon Peg comedy “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” and she recently starred as the title character in the horror flick “Jennifer’s Body.” Moreover, she seems to have a stranglehold on the current #1 ranking as the Hollywood Girl That Guys Want to Bang. But does this really make her a star?

Not in my book. There was no point in the latest “Transformers” installment where Fox couldn’t have been replaced by Elisha Cuthbert, Jessica Biel or some other former (or future) #1 Hollywood Girl That Guys Want to Bang. When I started to type this up, I actually blanked on her name, and had to look it up on IMDB.com. (Ah, yes, Megan Fox.) If nothing else, that makes her a starlet.

Every year or two, there’s a new crop of young’ns vying for the title of “it” girl, and Fox owns it, for now. But it’s a dicey transition from being a hot young thing to developing a long-lasting, viable career in the movie business.

So, does she have what it takes to become a star?

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Easy Virtue

Easy Virtue

Today we associate multi-talented playwright Noël Coward with witty repartee, a forgiving view of sexual peccadilloes, twenties pop standards by Cole Porter and Coward himself, and the heavy use of cocktails. The play, “Easy Virtue,” about a country household thrown into chaos when the family’s only son impetuously marries an American woman with a shadowy past, however, was a melodrama and the 1928 silent film version was directed by the none other than a young Alfred Hitchcock. 81 years later, Australian director Stephen Elliott (“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) and co-writer Sheridan Jobbins have taken a very different tack, modified the plot, and turned the drama into a mostly comedic confection filled with witty repartee, a forgiving view of sexual peccadilloes, the music of Coward, Porter and, er, Tom Jones and Billy Ocean, and the heavy use of champagne and wine — but hardly any martinis.

Elliott does a good enough job finding the material’s comedic possibilities, but his style doesn’t quite fit and he gets into trouble when he indulges in some annoying Baz Luhrmann-esque musical/stylistic flourishes. Still, the main problem here is that, while Colin Firth as the family’s alienated patriarch and Kristin Scott Thomas as the repressed mother do first rate work, and Ben Barnes (a.k.a. “Prince Caspian”) is able as the young husband, Jessica Biel, in the crucial role of the extremely non-ugly American, barely registers. Her colorless performance tips the film over the edge of being an enjoyable diversion and into mediocrity.

Click to buy “Easy Virtue”

  

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Jessica Biel dresses down for GQ

Jessica Biel recently met up with GQ’s Adam Stein to discuss her new role alongside comic heavyweight Adam Sandler, the difficulties of landing a good role with a less-than-impressive resume, and her recent crowning as one of the sexiest women alive. Oh yeah, and they found some time to play a few carnival games along the way.

Of course, as Stein is quick to point out, most American males aren’t very familiar with Biel’s body of work, but rather the actress’ body itself, and as his friend Taj so brilliantly puts it, “I’m obsessed with a girl I’ve never seen move.” Then again, aren’t we all, which makes her most recent gig in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” all the more important. Sure, the sexy cover girl can be found in yet another drool-inducing photo shoot in this month’s issue of GQ (see below), but it takes a lot more than good looks to make it in Hollywood these days, and Biel hopes that her appearance in the summer comedy is just the thing she needs to help her rise to the top.

She’s certainly in good hands with co-stars like Sandler and Kevin James, but Biel wasn’t about to take her role lightly:

“It was a little bit intimidating,” she says. “I really admire Adam and Kevin, but then, I didn’t try to equal them or one-up them, and the character I created didn’t have to be that. She’s the straight woman, but very fun and very cool and just—attainable. That’s the kind of part that I’d like to play more. I mean, a vampire hunter? Is that really attainable? I’d just like to play something a little more quirky, interesting, outrageous. And uninhibited.”

Click here to read the full interview and check out the new photo shoot.

  

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