By Emma Bernstein | The Playlist August 3, 2012 at 9:56AM
Hey hey hey! The dog days of August are upon us, which means summer is both at its peak (temperature-wise) and nigh complete (vacation time-wise). There are just a few more weeks to squeeze in those action-packed, costume-rife, voice-modulator-studded blockbusters – at least until Christmas – so let’s make the most of our time, shall we? This week, the limited releases include a riff on the classic rom-com “When Harry Met Sally” and a movie about getting pregnant that isn’t directed by Judd Apatow. Until next week, enjoy your local theater’s air conditioning!
Len Wiseman takes us to a brave new world of corporate mind melding and virtual vacations in his new film “Total Recall,” a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 iconic thriller starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) has a recurring dream about kicking serious ass with a dazzling stranger named Malena (Jessica Biel), then wakes up each morning next to his beautiful wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale). Isn’t it always the way? Hoping for a temporary escape from his gloomy life (Really? Even married to Kate freaking Beckinsale?), Quaid ventures into Rekall, a company that implants memories to create simulated getaways for those who can’t afford to travel. Thing is, he already has implanted memories because – dum dum dum! – he’s an undercover agent! Chase scenes and massive gunfights ensure, and Bryan Cranston, John Cho, and Bokeem Woodbine co-star. Our review touts “a standout performance from the never-better Jessica Biel” but concedes, “Wiseman’s film promises much more than it delivers – and worse yet, abandons provocative and genuinely unique ideas in order to follow through on much less interesting, conventional ones.” Metacritic: 44 Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
A couple gets a divorce, but remains the closesest of friends in “Celeste and Jesse Forever” (or not) from director Lee Toland Krieger and writing duo Rashida Jones and Will McCormack. When they split up, Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) can’t really imagine being with anyone else, so they continue to live together (well, he’s in the guest house) and play together, a situation that proves rankling to their friends (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen) but the best of both the romantic and platonic relationship worlds for the divorcees themselves. We see just a few issues potentially cropping up here. The supporting cast includes McCormack, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts, and Chris Messina. Our review commends the performances, particularly the chemistry between Jones and Samberg, and says the film “rarely opts for hysterics or contrivance to push our leads along, so long as you can swallow the amicability with which they initially divorce. Better yet, the formula finds itself served surprisingly well by both its cast and script, even if a balance isn’t easily struck between the two leads.” MC: 55 RT: 78%
“The Babymakers,” directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, follows the misadventures of a husband and wife trying to make a baby. When the usual way doesn’t work out so well, and a doctor concludes that his sperm is “confused,” Tommy Macklin (Paul Schneider) refuses a series of medical procedures in favor of recalling a few little guys he donated five years earlier. Unfortunately, the last sample has already been assigned, so Tommy decides– with the assistance of his perpetually foolhardy, bungling best friend, Wade (Kevin Heffernan) – to steal back his semen and ensure a pregnancy for his wife, Audrey (Olivia Munn). Our review says, “ultimately, ‘Babymakers’ starts off promisingly, but pays off prematurely, which is why the sterner stuff of deeper feeling should be nurtured, and the sophomoric hijinks strangled in the crib – or at the very least, thoroughly disciplined.” MC: 31 RT: 7%
Director Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”) and writer Peter Morgan (“The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon”) assemble a tapestry of globally interwoven lives and loves in “360.” Michael (Jude Law) arranges to meet a Slovakian prostitute, Mirkha (Lucia Siposová), while he’s on a business trip in Vienna, but chickens out at the last minute. Back home in London, his wife, Rose (Rachel Weisz) is sleeping with a hot young photographer, whose girlfriend (Maria Flor), tired of his cheatin’ ways, leaves him to return home to Brazil. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Separate storyline subjects include a newly paroled sex offender (Ben Foster), a father (Anthony Hopkins) searching for his long-missing daughter, a dentist (Jamel Debbouze) who yearns for his assistant (Dinara Drukarova), and… you get the picture. Our review admires the cinematography and the cast, but admits the script is problematic: “because of the limited time devoted to each character, they tend to come off a bit simplistic and clichéd…we get snapshots of distant people at divergent points in their lives that can only skim the surface of what makes them tick.” MC: 45 RT: 28%
The Carol Morley-directed documentary, “Dreams of a Life,” centers on the much-tabloided demise of Joyce Carol Vincent, a woman whose remains were left undiscovered in her London apartment until three years after she died there. Though the story was initially a sensation, both it and Vincent were forgotten just as quickly, and Morley attempts to rectify that here, shedding light on the life of a veritable Jane Doe. Interviews and character portraits are punctuated by dramatic reenactments of particular events from Vincent’s past (the subject portrayed by Zawe Ashton), fleshing out what is otherwise a largely undocumented life. Our review says, “minor niggles aside, for the most part the gambit at the heart of ‘Dreams of a Life’ pays off. It is clearly an impassioned work, but one that would be bigger – and better – if it had the confidence to focus exclusively on its smaller moments. But its ambition cannot be faulted.” MC: 62 RT: 74%
A world-weary FBI agent is sent to Bulgaria to identify a vigilante who targets high-priority terrorists in Isaac Florentine’s “Assassin’s Bullet.” With the G-men at dead ends, U.S. Ambassador Ashdown (Donald Sutherland) opts to send the tragically depressed Robert (Christian Slater), who is mourning his murdered wife, into the field to investigate further. Because of revenge motives. Once there, Robert befriends psychoanalyst Dr. Kahn (Timothy Spall), who treats the wife of a Bulgarian political bigwig. Because of dramatic irony. Oh, and he works the case. Because of original plot thrust. Our review says the film “seems to have been created at some kind of magical nexus where sluggish plotting, technical ineptitude, and iffy performances meet,” and concludes, “as the movie limps along, ‘Assassin's Bullet’ becomes both more predictable and more ludicrous, with WTF-worthy plot twists that you could have predicted a few minutes into the movie piling on top of one another in a bloody car crash of a narrative.” MC: 22 RT: 0%