CinemaDope: Action Figures

There are times a film writer learns to dread. The big one, of course, is when someone asks “The Question”: “Have you seen anything good lately?”

People want a recommendation, but the truth is that even if I have seen something good lately—and I probably have—that doesn’t mean you’ll like it. There are plenty of good movies I don’t like, after all. I’m indifferent to almost anything with Jimmy Stewart in it, for instance, and would go so far as to say I actively dislike It’s a Wonderful Life. So I usually try to name something available for free on a streaming service so that, in the event that my choice is a bomb, people don’t blame me for wasted ticket money.

That situation is fraught enough, but what’s worse is when your guilty pleasures are uncovered. Whenever my wife returns from a solo trip, I’m always a bit sheepish when she first fires up Netflix again. Because there, waiting for judgment, is a waterfall of poorly dubbed kung fu films, crappy television serials, and the occasional howler of an action film revisited for nostalgia’s sake. These last entries can be summed up in one magnificent and shameful word: Schwarzenegger.

My defense is always that I save the good stuff to watch with her, but we both know that’s not entirely true. The truth is that, for your average American male of a certain age, the Austrian action hero is a genre unto himself, one who manages in some irresistible way to recall more carefree days spent biking around town to set up a summer evening: video store, candy shop, home; repeat at will. And it didn’t matter that his own filmography was quickly exhausted—the Schwarzenegger brand of wisecracking action star (with apologies to the Bond franchise) proved to be a durable one, spawning a wide array of acolytes, imitators and wannabes both foreign and domestic. And in fact those were always the better—a term I use lightly—movies. Summer was never long enough to get through it all.

This week, one of the Governator’s old hits gets the remake treatment when Total Recall hits area screens. Based on the short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick (whose Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? became Blade Runner), the sci-fi tale is about a future where the lines between reality and fantasy are increasingly blurred, a future where you don’t go on vacation—your vacation comes to you in the form of memory implants. In the original, Schwarzenegger’s Quaid was out to save Mars, even if he didn’t know it. The new version, with Colin Farrell in Arnold’s role, drops the Mars plot but keeps the rest: a man on the run and over his head, a comely resistance fighter (Jessica Biel), and one of science fiction’s strangest characters in Kuato, the secretive underground leader played here by Bill Nighy.

Will it stand the test of time, or will this new Recall become just another action movie? Will the puns and one-liners be groan-worthy enough to remember years later? It’s too early to tell. Either way, it’s not too likely I’ll mention it if you ask me for a recommendation. But should you find yourself home alone sometime, there’s always the original, now on Netflix.


Also this week: As Hadley’s Cinemark theater gears up for the next installment of its ongoing Classics Series (more on that in the coming weeks), it winds down its Summer Movie Clubhouse series of kids’ movies. The Hadley location is the only Massachusetts Cinemark running the special shows, and at just a dollar a movie, it’s a great escape from our hazy days of late. On Aug. 15, they bring in Charlotte’s Web for a 10 a.m. show before wrapping things up one week later with a screening of “big red dog” movie Clifford.

And finally this week, Popcorn Noir’s Tom Doherty checked in with a reminder about the Easthampton venue’s ongoing monthly Public Domain series, hosted by Paul Fish. This month’s screening is The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. Filmgoers heading to the spot should be on the lookout for the August unveiling of The Lobby, the cafe and cocktail bar Doherty and wife Kristen Davis are opening in the space next to their theater.

Jack Brown can be reached at

Author: Jack Brown

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