Perhaps it was the particular batch of films I saw this Summer but seldom have I needed as much suspension of disbelief. As I've said before, I have a knack of quickly getting into a good movie and tend to go with the flow however far- fetched, but occasionally something stupid or badly done jolts me back to reality. Of course, the films varied but on far too many occasions I found myself groaning and saying 'Oh No!' in disbelief at the film's cheek.
The worst in this respect was Total Recall, a film that was simply too violent, too noisy and too OTT to permit any involvement beyond laughter at Big Arnie's now familiar excesses. More than anything else it represents a two hour sensory assault and you should certainly not go with anyone of a nervous disposition. As every reviewer under the sun has noted, the film is based on a Phil Dick short story. Frankly, this is almost irrelevant as the film has distinct trouble holding any sort of plot together; Dick simply provides the basic idea of a man who remembers being on Mars even though he's never been there. After that, it doesn't really matter - there is already enough potential for grimy science fiction sets and weird characters for the designers and screenwriters to have a field day.
Totall Recall is a strange mix that combines some pretty standard special effects (considering the production costs), lots of unsubtle product placement and more inspired violence than you would think possible. Both pacing and plot are big problems with constant flashbacks, reality checks, major twists and consciousness shifts. It is quite clear at times that even the director had no idea what was meant to be happening. In the early stages there are some scenes blatantly shoe-horned into place, apparently to keep the viewer confused and by the middle of the film I was beyond caring. This was mainly prompted by a previously unseen character walking in to try and convince Arnie that the whole plot so far had been an hallucination and would he please take a pill to cure it! At least this piece of lunacy was true to the Dick tradition.
I suggest you just watch it, enjoy the cameos and neat ideas and see Arnie blast a few more suckers. When a film can deliver a sequence featuring a female dwarf in suspenders firing a submachinegun from a barstool, you know you've had your money's worth. Elsewhere, the violence is pretty grim and there are at least three scenes guaranteed to gross out even the toughest cinemagoer. Although the story is disjointed and occasionally predictable, the sense of paranoia created around the main character and the well handled environment of a run-down Martian colony make it a winner. The spectacular and implausible end of the film stretches even SF to its limits, but that would be telling. Totall Recall was undoubtedly daft and downright ridiculous in parts, but was great fun nevertheless.
I wish I could say the same for Memphis Belle. This had all the makings of a good film. The air sequences were highly rated, the characters looked suitably cool and Cruise-like and they had assembled enough real B17s to make things exciting. But, if you imagine all the war movies ever made about bombers, extract all the cliches and then put them into one film then you have the essence of this one. The first part of the film gives us a shallow introduction to each crew member which leaves us with the Irish Kid, the Virgin, the deeply sensitive Poet, the Ladies Man, the Superstitious Gunner, the Fake Doctor, the despised officer, the Crooner (surprisingly, and badly, played by Harry Connick Jr) and the Nutcase. Hard to believe that these guys completed twenty four missions, but there you go. Pre-flight romance and humour dispensed with, they're ready for the off.
The next bit is The Raid. Will it be an easy one to the U-Boat pens on the French Coast? Will it heck. They're off to Germany to bomb a factory surrounded by civilians with big targets on their heads. I think they forgot to write the nearby orphanage and convent into the script. As the raid progresses, they are gradually beset with more and more disasters, not least being the standard of the models used in the combat sequences. First one engine goes, then another, then they knock down a fellow plane, another engine goes for good measure, they can't get the wheels down and all the while the Captain's dog waits on the runway looking droopy. One almost expected an intercom announcement, 'We're coming in with one engine, one wheel and a crew full of stereotypes. God help us.' I think the only thing that didn't happen was that they managed to drop the bombs rather than have them stuck inside. Thank heaven for small mercies. Unbelievably, there is one very obvious section which proclaims 'War is Hell' almost as an afterthought. I'm sure we all know that by now and it hardly justifies the rest of the schmaltz. I am still staggered that this one got made at all and I really do expect better from Mr Puttnam in the future.
Next up was Die Hard II which has to be one of the best action films I've ever seen. Yes, it is horribly far fetched and the suspension of disbelief required was immense, but it was tense, it was exciting and we all cheered at the end. In reaching this restrained conclusion, I am not uninfluenced by Bruce Willis in the starring role. Since Moonlighting, he has been one of my favourite actors but the real draw is the plot and the suspense as Willis, single handed, takes on about forty mercenary types who have captured and disabled an international airport. If you can imagine the implications of this for a hostage situation, you will have some idea of the unlikely plot which follows. Suffice to say, Brucey's wife is on one of the planes running out of fuel and he has a race against time to save the universe. This is brilliant, breakneck stuff and we all felt quite exhausted when it finished. Willis is superb as the hero who never quite gets completely blown up and there is a savage plot twist toward the end that makes it even better. It may be worth waiting for the video, but see it in some form.
I'm afraid Days of Thunder gets short shrift here. If you've seen Top Gun, you've seen Days of Thunder. Tom Cruise is forced to play the handsome chappie, his rather delicious girlfriend gets to kiss him a lot, he races big fast cars to a highly passable soundtrack and the plot is all but non-existent. If you are a fan of Nascar racing then this will have some merit as the action sequences are spectacular (the amazing THX sound helps here) but like so many other films about motor racing, the gaps between races are rather boring. Light and halfway enjoyable it may be, but Days of Thunder was the biggest disappointment of the summer.
Whatever you might think about Ghost and its low-key hype, it is certainly a film worth seeing. I saw it only on the offchance as Nikita had yet to open in London, but the film is a good one. The small drawback is that it stars Patrick Swayze as a yuppie who is murdered and hangs around in see-through form to sort out the mysterious circumstances. Sadly, Swayze is an actor of the Roger Moore school. He has just the three expressions; normal, earnest and another multi-purpose, contorted fizzog that covers sadness, joy, fear and presumably orgasms. Balancing him nicely for acting talent is the natural Demi Moore who is also considerably more watchable than the ugly mug of Mr Swayze. (Why does he attract so many women and film roles?) The foil for this pair, who of course cannot converse, is Whoopi Goldberg who plays a scatty medium. She is the dominant character and gets all the good lines.
The plot unfolds nicely and at no time are we left with confusing action or boring padding. It is nicely crafted and the length is almost spot on, building to the inevitable happy ending. The film rides on its script which is both witty, clever and original. But for one completely unwarranted F-word, it is entirely suitable for all ages and like ET and Short Circuit it leaves you with a warm feeling and occasionally a mysterious something in your eye.
Ghost has fairly basic views of religion and the after life. When they die, the good people are collected up by swirling white lights and have big smug grins, presumably looking forward to an eternity of sunny baseball games and vintage port. The nasties, however, get grabbed by little black sheet things and are hauled screaming into the abyss via the nearest manhole. Not pleasant, and enough to give the willies to a wimp like me. Watch out for a big increase in Siggins' charitable donations.
Ghost is a film with a few small faults (mainly Swayze, but there is a major racial and sexual cop-out at the end), but it still manages to work and work well. None of the individual elements are outstanding and it is sometimes hard to sympathise with the characters when required, but the whole film comes together and fairly races along. It clearly sets out to be a 'nice' film about love but is also funny, touching and not a little thought provoking. Recommended.
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