“Total Recall”

Richard’s Review:  3 stars

For years philosophers have contemplated the question, “Who am I?” “Total Recall,” a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie starring the less-muscled Colin Farrell, asks the same thing but does so with guns, three-breasted women and explosions galore.

Set in a dystopian world where most of the world is uninhabitable, Farrell plays a troubled factory worker desperate to escape a life of grinding drudgery. Without telling his wife (Kate Beckinsale), he goes to Rekall Corp. to have a virtual vacation. They sell implanted memories, like videogames for the mind. But something goes wrong and soon our hero is thrown into a deadly world of intrigue where he can’t be sure what is real and what is not.

The original “Total Recall” was simultaneously beaten up for its level of violence. It was also praised for its complex story. The same can’t be said for this remake.

The body count is still high, but the story plays more like a high-tech version of “The Fugitive” rather than a sci-fi mind-bender.

It’s a bit obvious in its set-up. Characters say things like, “Are you actually happy with the way your life turned out?” as Farrell grimaces and mulls over a memory implant. The plot is also very predictable.

Having said that, this film works well as a chase movie set against a “Blade Runner” backdrop. Farrell is much more of an everyman than the cartoony Arnold. He’s convincing as he runs, jumps, shoots and stabs -- which is good because that’s all that there is to see in this movie. The sci-fi falls flat, but the action attempts to keep the eye occupied even if the brain is not.

The film also lacks humour. Between scenes of carnage, the original movie had some funny moments to break the tension. The legendary three-breasted hooker raised a smile, for instance. But this remake takes itself a bit too seriously, intoning standard action movie lines like, “You really know how to pick ’em.”

You can also tell this is a big American action movie when the camera luxuriates over people getting blown up. This movie clearly values bullets over breasts.     

But this new film does treat women in a better way. The original reduced its female characters to set decoration, whereas Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are given meaty, action-packed parts. Beckinsale uses all the tricks she learned on the “Underworld” movies, kicking butt and taking names in every scene she’s in.

Biel won’t need to wake up early on Academy Award day. But she does deliver a physically energetic performance.

This reimagining of “Total Recall” lacks imagination. Still, it makes up for this in visceral thrills and action.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid Dog Days”

Richard’s Review:  3 stars

The "Diary of the Wimpy Kid" series are made for kids who have aged out of SpongeBob but aren't quite old enough for the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

The third in the series is set during summer vacation, a three-month break for wimpy kid Greg (Zachary Gordon). He plans on staying indoors and playing video games the whole time. Unfortunately his father (Steve Zahn) has different ideas.

To avoid taking an unpaid internship at his dad's office, Greg lies about having a job at a local country club. In reality his best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) is a member, as is Holly Hills (Peyton List), a cute girl from his home room class.

"Dog Days" is essentially "Leave it to Beaver" with video games and cell phones. The underlying messages are the same and so are many of the jokes. That's not an entirely bad thing.

The jokes might be a tad stale, but the messages about honesty, friendship and doing the right thing are effective and spring organically from the situations.  The movie is too episodic to be considered a real narrative -- it often feels like cartoon strips pasted together. It is meant for the shorter attention spans of its 12-year-old moviegoers.

"Diary of the Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" will likely appeal to preteens and some parents who grew up watching "Leave it to Beaver" reruns.  

 “Ruby Sparks”

Richard’s Review: 3 1/2 stars

“Ruby Sparks,” a new fantasy from indie darlings Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, uses an ancient story (the Greek myth of Pygmalion who fell in love with one of his creations, only to have her to come to life) as inspiration to explore how men and women relate to one another.

How would you react if you could create the perfect woman? That’s a question Calvin (Paul Dano) must debate in this gentle romantic comedy. He is a blocked writer who peaked with his first book, a novel he wrote at the age of nineteen. Socially awkward and uncomfortable with his fame he creates a relationship with one of his characters, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). He falls in love with his quirky character -- “It's almost like I'm writing to spend time with her,” he says -- spending days writing about her until slowly fiction becomes reality.

“You manifested a woman in your mind?” his brother (Chris Messina) says incredulously. “Mom’s gonna freak!”

Written by star Zoe Kazan and directed by “Little Miss Sunshine” directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, “Ruby Sparks” is a refreshing fantasy that grounds itself in reality as much as possible.

Dano and Kazan, a couple in real life, bring great chemistry to this movie. They elevate this story into a sweetly observed look at the nature of loneness and love.

“360”

Richard’s Review: 2 1/2 stars

Like the name suggest “360,” the new film from “City of God” and “The Constant Gardener” director Fernando Meirelles, is a well-rounded look at its subject. The film tells a complicated story that mixes-and-matches the lives of globe-trotting characters from all over the world into one intertwined narrative.

Familiar faces like Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Ben Foster and Anthony Hopkins headline the cast, which also includes international stars Jamel Debbouze and Moritz Bleibtreu working from a script by “The Queen” scribe Peter Morgan.

Based on themes of love, life, loss of life and infidelity, the plot casts a wide net to include the story of a young Slovakian woman who looks to prostitution as a way of escaping poverty, an older man searching for his missing daughter and a Muslin man struggling with feelings of love for a married co-worker.

The film is well acted and compelling.  Even so, a better movie could have been made if fewer stories were told here. Like so many of these attempts at multi-pronged storytelling, what could have been a rich experience becomes muddled by the sheer volume of stories and characters.

Meirelles’ latest work isn’t a bad movie, far from that. He’s too skilled of a director to let that happen. But Meirelles is also ambitious. He tried to bring many stories to the table here, but his storytelling ambitions in “360” got the best of him.