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Young Frankenstein (1974)
A Hilarious Homage to the Old Universal Pictures
I'm a sucker for comedies. It's with no embarrassment that I admit that comedy is my favorite movie genre and most of my favorite movies are comedies. What's more, when evaluating how good a comedy is, I give more weight to how funny it really is, rather than how well-acted or well-directed or even (much of the time) original it is. If it makes you laugh, then I feel it's done its job, and that's what matters.
I'm simply saying all this because "Young Frankenstein" is not simply one of my favorite comedies ever; it is one of my favorite movies ever. I wrote a comment about "Blazing Saddles" where I mentioned the fact that it came out the same year as "Young Frankenstein", and both movies had the same director (the GREAT Mel Brooks) and the same star (the INCOMPARABLE Gene Wilder, also co-writer). They also happen to both be among the funniest movies of all time, which is an incredible achievement.
Between the two, I give the edge to "Young Frankenstein"; it's my favorite among Brooks's movies, and second only to "Airplane!" (by those other founding fathers of the spoof, Zucker Abrahams and Zucker) on my list of greatest comedies of all time. And this movie IS well-acted, well-directed, and (in its way) original. In fact, there's much to love about this movie besides how funny it is. But it also happens to be side-splittingly hilarious, and that's what gives it the edge over other comedies.
The cast is led by Gene Wilder, who plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced FRONK-en-steen, so as to differentiate himself from his infamous grandfather). Frankenstein is a serious scientist who never went for his grandfather's kooky theories about reanimating the dead and resents the connection people make upon hearing his name. But when he finds out that his grandfather's castle has been left to him in his will, he is forced to take a trip out to Transylvania. In Transylvania he is met by Igor (who prefers to go by the pronunciation "Eye-gor", but obviously only to mock his boss). Igor is the descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein's servant, and comes to serve Frederick while he's in Transylvania. Played by Marty Feldman, he's the only character who seems fully aware of the goofiness all around him; he is comic relief in a movie that is already a comedy. And with those unbelievable eyes, all he had to do was look at the camera and he could get a laugh. RIP, Marty Feldman.
Frederick also meets hot-blooded Inga (Teri Garr putting on a ridiculous German accent; hands down the best thing she's ever done PERIOD) upon his arrival, and they head to the castle where they meet Frau Blucher, the caretaker. Frau Blucher is played by Cloris Leachman, who of course is always funny. This sets up one of the best running gags in the movie; every time someone says her name, the horses whinny.
At first, Frederick resists his grandfather's research. But after Inga wakes him up from a nightmare, they hear violin music, and find a secret passageway that leads to the original Frankenstein's laboratory. On the way down they also run into Igor, but don't find out who was playing the violin (which they do find, unattended and still warm, along with a smoldering cigar). They do, however, find Frederick's grandfather's notes (including a book titled "How I Did It"). Reading these notes, Frederick decides that bringing life to the dead could work after all, and sets to work digging up corpses and sending Igor for a brain (he breaks the one he was supposed to get and picks up an abnormal one instead). And so Frederick, Igor, and Inga set to work on their grand experiment.
At first, it doesn't seem to work. But when the creature does finally come to life, it's a crazy monster. It escapes, the townspeople (led by Kenneth Mars as Inspector Kemp, and he is hilarious as usual) want to kill it, and they have to get it back.
As I'm writing this, it is three days past Peter Boyle's death, and this is a pity. The world will be a bit less funny without him. He was pitch-perfect as the monster, making it every bit as much his own as Boris Karloff did in the original. He commented once that this was his favorite part of his. His ability getting laughs with just some exaggerated movements, subtle facial expressions and groans was without peer, and the bit where he and Frederick are on stage singing "Puttin on the Ritz" is among the funniest scenes in movie history.
The cast is rounded out by Madeline Khan as Frederick's virginal fiancé Elizabeth. Madeline Khan was an extremely funny woman and although she doesn't have much screen time in this movie, she makes her time count. RIP, Madeline Khan.
And Gene Hackman must be mentioned as well. I've always been a huge fan of Hackman's, and although his cameo as the blind man isn't his best part ever, it is his funniest, and makes for some of the funniest bits in the movie ("Come back! I was going to make espresso!" he yells out as the monster runs screaming from his house).
What makes this movie work so well is that it almost seems to take itself seriously. It has an original plot that pays homage to the original Universal pictures with nearly every scene. It's shot in black-and-white, and everything, including the haunting score, Gothic cinematography, and set-pieces, many of which came from the original pictures, is meant to evoke Frankenstein movies of old. It's this hushed level of reverence to the originals juxtaposed with the hilariousness of the script and over-the-top performances of the actors that really sets this movie apart. It is a work of genius in every way.
RIP, Peter Boyle, Oct 18 1935 - Dec 12 2006.
Scary Movie 2 (2001)
Awesome opening, decent movie
The second movie in the "Scary Movie" series is, in my opinion, the weakest overall. That doesn't mean that it isn't without its merits, but the whole thing seems kind of like it was slapped together over a weekend. Many of the jokes just don't work, but there are enough side-splittingly funny bits to make it all worthwhile.
This movie opens with an absolutely brilliant parody of "The Exorcist". It starts with the singalong scene with Andy Richter as Father Harris behind the piano. "You guys know this one?" he asks, and then proceeds to play the opening bars of -- get ready -- "Shake Ya Ass". Megan Voorhees (played by Natasha Lyonne) comes down the stairs and starts peeing on the floor, interrupting the singalong. Her mother treats her like a dog! This segues into the more obvious parody of the movie with Father McFeeley (James Woods) coming in to perform the exorcism with Father Harris ("F--- this!" McFeeley says when he first encounters the possessed girl). It's classic.
Then the movie kind of dries up. The basic story is a parody of "The Haunting", a movie that was so bad that parody seems kind of unnecessary. It centers around a bunch of college kids going on an overnight trip to Hill House, ostensibly to study their sleep disorders but actually so the professor (Tim Curry) can summon the ghosts in the house. The only real connection with the first is found here, as some of the kids were picked because of their prior traumatic experiences (which they encountered in the first movie).
Honestly, I thought the whole thing kind of rambled when I first saw it, and there were some eye-rollingly dumb jokes. But there were also a lot of very funny jokes and the cast (including Anna Faris, Shawn and Marlon Wayans, and the incredible Regina Hall from the original, mixed with vets Chris Elliot, David Cross, and Curry, Woods, and Richter) was very good; it was the writing that suffered more than anything. That, and the sloppy production values, but I guess that's nitpicking with a movie like this. Also, I didn't think the ending was very satisfying. Still, Brenda (Hall) and Cindy (Faris) messing with the "scary" skeleton that tries to terrorize them ("This is a skeleton -- this is bones! Would you run from Calista Flockhart?" Brenda chides Cindy when they run into each other); Hanson (Elliot) and Dwight (Cross) arguing; and Cindy fighting a cat "Raging Bull"-style were just some of the few very funny moments found in this movie.
This may not seem like a glowing review, but I actually did like this movie and recommend it if you're into the spoof genre. Just don't expect "Airplane!" or even the first "Scary Movie" when you see it. On the bright side, it ain't "Spy Hard" either.
My Name Is Earl (2005)
Best Comedy on TV Now.
I watch very little network TV anymore; the sitcoms on now in particular don't really do anything for me. But "My Name Is Earl" has become appointment TV for me. Not since "Seinfeld" have I seen such a smartly written show about such ignorant people. The cast is terrific; I'm so glad Jason Lee, Jaime Pressley, and Ethan Supplee are finally a part of something so widely loved. It's about time they got the recognition they deserve. And Nadine Velazquez and Eddie Steeples as Catalina and Darnell are terrific too (one highlight of every show: Darnell saying "Hey Earl!" and Earl responding "Hey Crabman!").
The show has one of the most unique premises in TV history, and one that should provide plenty of fodder for years to come. Earl (Lee) wins the lottery, decides to give in to the concept of karma, and writes up a list of all the bad things he's done in his life, so he can make up for it with the people's he's wronged. The ingenious thing about this show is that it's uplifting, but only so far... it's pretty snarky too. Jaime Pressley as Joy is one of the greatest bitches of all time, and on the whole, the characters (all of whom are criminals or former criminals) aren't too bright. In fact, it's amazing that the show exists, given the extent to which it makes fun of the South (think "Raising Arizona" type jokes).
Many of the best scenes take place in flashback, like when the core group thought the world had ended because of Y2K and took over a department store, or they all decided to rob a house they thought would be empty because the residents were at a party only to discover that the house they were robbing was where the party was.
And poor Earl just wants to do the right thing, but often ends up screwing things up further before making them better, or getting himself in trouble. One hilarious episode, for example, has him trying to pay taxes he owed, only to find out that the government has no record of his employment, so he can't pay them. He tries to volunteer to clean up the highway alongside a bunch of convicts, and ends up being taken to jail and thrown in the hole! The comedy is clever and sharp, and despite the often sarcastic tone, it usually ends on a positive note, and it definitely has heart. I think "My Name Is Earl" has the best sitcom ensemble at least since "Newsradio", and several guest stars (Jon Favreau, Juliette Lewis, and Giovanni Ribisi, to name a few) have put in memorable appearances. Watch it once and you'll probably be hooked.
Grandma's Boy (2006)
Movie most likely to become a cult hit this year.
The reviews for this movie were so awful (and the buzz so dead) that I really didn't want to see it. I think there was a real bias toward it to begin with because its brainchild is Allen Covert, a frequent collaborator of Adam Sandler's who's rarely attached to anything else, and it was made by Happy Madison, Sandler's production company. And it probably didn't help that the director, Nicholaus Goossen, had only ever directed one movie (and it shows, but so what?).
The thing is, an intelligent critic, no matter how fair he thinks he is, is going to be thinking about these kinds of things when he goes to review a movie. And it is probably also true that most of them would have given it a bad review anyway, since most critics are not the fans of Adam Sandler that I am.
But now that the movie has been released on DVD it is showing signs of life. I had heard from several people before I actually saw it how funny this movie is and how worth watching it is. And as it turns out, they were right. I was surprised by how funny I thought it was. Covert is no genius but he knows how to milk a situation for laughs; as it happens, he makes a terrific straight man to all of the silliness going on around him (not that his character Alex is particularly normal; an incident happens early on that's so out-there and humiliating that you can't help but laugh).
It's a threadbare plot, like many of the best genuine comedies. Alex is thrown out of his house because his loser roommate hasn't paid the rent in 6 months. So after bouncing around here and there he settles into his grandmother's house. Grandma is played by Doris Roberts, and she is very funny in this. She lives with two roommates: Grace, a sex addict going back to the silent film era who repeatedly makes cracks about Alex being gay and ends up sleeping with one of the younger characters, and Bea, played by Shirley Knight, whose mind is pretty absent and who takes way too many drugs (of the legal, pharmaceutical variety).
Alex is also a video game tester, and when a woman comes in as his boss (Linda Cardellini), he falls for her. Many of the funniest scenes involve his loser friends and co-workers, most of whom are virgins and/or hopeless drug addicts (of the illegal, THC-based variety). Best of the bunch: Nick Swardson, who is poised to become a real star. I love him as Terry on Reno 911. His character Jeff still lives with his parents (whom he hilariously refers to as his "roommates") and sleeps in a car-shaped bed. And he's a killer at Dance Dance Revolution. Swardson also co-wrote the movie, which may go a bit of the way toward explaining why he steals so many scenes. But he's the funniest part of the movie.
Of course, the veterans who play the old ladies are great too. Best is Shirley Jones, who has many of the best lines. But seeing Doris Roberts become an immediate video game zombie, or Shirley Knight arrange her pills like a happy face on her dinner plate, are priceless. If it hadn't been for these women, the movie just wouldn't have been nearly as good, period.
Joel Moore (also in "Dodgeball") is actually kind of frightening as JP. Frightening, because as weird as JP is, he may also be the least exaggerated of the video game freaks that populate this movie; I've actually known people very much like him. Believe it or not. It's pretty funny on the whole, but the schtick does start to wear a bit thin by the end.
There's much to criticize about this movie. A lot of jokes fall flat, and the direction is stiff. But so was the direction in "Clerks", and that's looked on as a comedy classic now. And so much of the humor centers around crude sex and drug references (one of the funniest scenes has the old ladies unwittingly drinking pot tea) that you really should steer clear if you don't like risqué humor. But I really think that this has the potential to become another "Office Space" (as in, a movie that finds huge success on DVD even though it bombed in theaters) because people seem to love it that much. Yes, it's far from a CINEMA classic. But it has great potential as a cult classic. And on the whole it's a very funny movie, and that's what really matters, in my opinion.
The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
You have our gratitude.
This movie was like the Holy Grail of DVDs for me; I couldn't find it for the longest time. Finally I just picked it up off E-Bay (which I should have done from the start, of course) and watched it for the first time in years last night.
In terms of laughs per minute, this one is a strong contender for funniest movie of all time. Written by Zucker Abraham and Zucker, directed by John Landis, and produced by Samuel L Bronkowitz (just kidding), "The Kentucky Fried Movie" is really nothing more than a collection of skits, barely connected by the convention that they're all things you might see on TV (or at the movies). But, oh, the skits. Let's just say that no single episode of "Saturday Night Live" was ever this funny.
Best of the bunch is the movie's centerpiece, "A Fistful of Yen", a dead-on parody of kung fu action movies a la "Enter The Dragon". In this bit, the longest in the film, a Bruce Lee type named Loo has to infiltrate a mountain fortress run by the villainous Dr. Klahn, who is building an army of extraordinary magnitude. The martial arts scenes are hilarious; it may be the most staged-looking fighting of all time. Beginning with Loo training other fighters ("What was that? This is not a chawade. We need total concen-TWAY-tion," he yells at one student) and ending with Loo finally going home (in a completely out-of-left-field ending having nothing to do with the previous action but seeming somehow fitting anyway), the slapstick jokes come fast and furious, even parodying "The Dating Game" at one point. This is a direct precursor to ZAZ's later movies like "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun".
Then there's the incredible "Catholic High School Girls in Trouble", which aims to parody 70s porno flicks ("More shocking than 'Behind the Green Door'... Never before has the beauty of the sexual act been so crassly exploited!" the announcer screams.) To get an idea of the kind of humor seen here, picture a hot chick approaching a loser and saying in a breathy voice "Show me your nuts!" and the guy proceeding to start acting like a total loon. In "United Appeal for the Dead" Henry Gibson speaks at great length about death, the number one killer in the United States, and what his group can do to help a loved one who has died lead a normal life. "That's Armageddon" features George Lazenby and parodies every Irwin Allen disaster flick made. A young man and woman discover the pleasures of sex through an instructional record in "Sex Record", and "Courtroom" is a hilarious parody of courtroom melodramas featuring Wally (the real Tony Dow) and the Beav (Jerry Zucker mugging it up in place of Jerry Mathers) as observers. The movie begins and ends with two news-themed skits, "AM Today" and the racy "Eyewitness News", in which the newscasters watch a couple with the TV on having sex. And there's much more.
"The Kentucky Fried Movie" is not for all tastes; I've known people who have watched it and just said "This is stupid." It is, indeed, stupid, but within the confines of the genre, it's one of the best. You'll laugh at the stupid jokes and stupid puns and stupid lines and stupid stunts all the way through if you like this sort of thing. The movie is very clever in how it packs the laughs.
Scary Movie 4 (2006)
Plot? Who needs a plot?
No this movie isn't art, but then again, neither are any of the others. Nor are most movies in this genre (the spoof), for that matter. But you could always count on the "Scary Movie"s for laughs, and the same can be said about many of the people involved in this movie.
Let's start with David Zucker, director, and Leslie Neilson, actor (he plays the president), both of whom were involved in a few of the greatest comedies of all time (Airplane!, The Naked Gun, Top Secret, Kentucky Fried Movie...). Let's face it, Zucker is a master of this genre, and he did better with both this and the previous movie than the Wayans Bros did. Neilson definitely can be funny, especially when directed by Zucker, and he has a few laughs here. Then there's Anna Faris and Regina Hall, the only two people to star in all four movies. They are both a hoot, and Hall (as Brenda) has some of the funniest lines, although it's a relatively small part (my favorite is a nod to ZAZ comedies of old: showing Cindy (Faris) video of the devastation caused by the alien invasion a la "War of the Worlds", she says "This is Detroit"... followed by "This is Detroit after the invasion" with the only two differences between the shots being the presence of the tripods). A few others from the previous movies return for cameos or small parts, including Anthony Anderson, Chris Elliot, Carmen Electra, Charlie Sheen, and Simon Rex. And there are other comedy vets, including Bill Pullman (Spaceballs), Cloris Leachman (about half of Mel Brooks's movies), Dave Atell (Insomniac), and Molly Shannon (SNL). It's all good fun.
Forget about a plot, because there is none; "Scary Movie 4" is even less plot-driven than most spoofs, including the previous three movies in the series. What it does, essentially, is zig-zag through the plots of "Saw", "The Grudge", "War of the Worlds", and "The Village", with other pop-culture points of reference thrown in. This might even be its greatest strength, because really, who cares about plot in a spoof? Some may disagree, but you shouldn't expect great drama with deep characterization in a movie like this, and if that's what you want, steer clear of this one just as you probably did all the others. Go see this if you want to laugh. As in most movies of this nature, many jokes fall flat, but the ones that hit the bulls-eye do so in such a painfully funny way that you'll split your sides. I think this was definitely the funniest in the series yet.
Bottom line: "Scary Movie 4" is hilarious. Probably the best spoof to be made in a decade.
The Western as Myth
"Unforgiven" is the ultimate Clint Eastwood movie and the ultimate western. Eastwood's character William Munny is a man legendary for both his killing ability, and his lack of remorse about his handiwork. There are imprints of his other characters here, including those from "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and "The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly". But this one goes much deeper than those early spaghetti westerns. In a sense William Munny is based on the myth of Eastwood's own characters from those old movies. The movie is peppered with stories about his legendary, grisly "accomplishments". It seems to revel in the cold-bloodedness of his prior actions luridly, until you realize that there's a point to all of this. Munny is tired, and he does have remorse for what he's done in the past. Further, he doesn't consider himself that kind of person anymore.
Setting the movie off is the disfiguring of a beautiful, naive young prostitute named Delilah. When Little Bill (Gene Hackman, and he's as good as ever), the pompous sheriff of the town, refuses to so much as whip the men responsible (these aren't people, they are property), the ladies at the whorehouse (led by Strawberry Alice, the tough, decisive madame, played by Frances Fisher) decide to take matters into their own hands. They put a price on the heads of the people who did this.
This is where Munny comes in. A young cowboy who calls himself the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) approaches him about teaming up to collect the bounty. So after some thought, Munny decides to pursue the bounty, enlisting his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman).
A huge amount of the movie is spent on build-up to the climax. Little Bill finds out about the bounty and prevents the anyone from entering his town with firearms, while the three cowboys ride to town, and the prostitutes wait for their vengeance. We also meet English Bob, a gentleman whose killing abilities are known far and wide thanks to his biographer WW Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). He has some of the funniest scenes in the movie until his clash with Little Bill, who beats him, locks him up, deflates the overblown stories written about him, casts him off, and even steals his biographer.
A lot of this is to set the mood. It looks on the surface like a traditional western, but it's not. It is the traditional western on acid, elevated to true myth, with gut-wrenching drama thrown in. Everything from the cinematography to the acting to the directing is vivid, striking, and beautiful, and meant to evoke a simpler style of movie-making while at the same time being completely state-of-the-art. The movie won several Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director (it was directed by Eastwood). I'm not going to say anything about the climax as it would give too much away, but suffice it to say, it's pretty powerful. "Unforgiven", more than just the greatest western of all time, is also hands-down one of the greatest movies of all time.
John Waters' best movie
"Cry-Baby" has most of the subversive charm of Waters's early movies with very few of the gag-worthy scenes (like, for example, drag queen Divine eating dogpoo, and that's only the tip of the iceberg). Don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching his early movies, largely because of the audacity with which he tried to gross you out. But since he joined the studio system I do think his movies got better, as they should have because he could afford a much larger budget and better actors. Johnny Depp, of course, didn't become a marquee name until some time after this came out -- he was previously best known for his role on the TV show "21 Jump Street" and had also played Nancy's boyfriend in "A Nightmare on Elm Street" -- but afterwards he exploded, and I wonder if it's partly because of his role in this movie. On the other hand, John Waters is so far from mainstream, that's hard to imagine, but you have to give Depp credit for his performance in this; he's always taken quirky, far-from-mainstream parts, and this is where it all began. He's so successful here I wish he'd do a reunion movie with Waters as the two go together so well.
"Cry-Baby" takes place in Baltimore during the 50s and concerns itself with two opposing segments of society: the squares, who are the clean-cut types, and the drapes, who are juvenile delinquent types. Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker (Depp) is the latter, and Allison, played by Amy Locane is a square, but she's kind of a square peg in her community; she's smitten on sight with Cry-Baby, and is tired of being good (she's a "scrape", as a character later says). And so we have the set-up for the story -- Allison runs off from the squares to join Cry-Baby at a music show he's putting on, which ignites a war between the squares and the drapes. One of the clever things about this set-up is that we rarely see Cry-Baby and his gang doing anything illegal -- at one point, he bumps into Mrs. Vernon-Williams' car (she's Allison's grandmother and a leader of the square community, played by Polly Bergen), and there's a definite air of obnoxiousness about them, but that's really about it. The squares, by contrast, seem like the bad kids; Allison's boyfriend punches Cry-Baby unprovoked when he goes to pick her up, they destroy property when they get to Cry-Baby's show to teach him a lesson, etc. It's one of those "Who's really the bad guy?" situations. All of this leads to a great courtroom scene that helps set up the central conflict of the third act, with Allison not sure which path she wants to go down, and Cry-Baby locked up in reform school.
The cast is hilarious. You have Johnny Depp and Amy Locane in the lead roles, and they're both great. And you also have Ricki Lake who is very entertaining as Pepper, Cry-Baby's pregnant sister; she has one of the funniest lines in "The first thing a Cry-Baby girl learns is, our bazooms are our weapons." Then there's former under-age porn star Traci Lords, who plays Wanda. She puts in a genuinely funny performance here that belies her less-than-stellar past, and has many of the best scenes (she was also good in Waters's "Serial Mom"). Rounding out the Cry-Baby gang are Kim Maguire as Hatchet-Face, who's aptly named (every facial expression she puts on is worth a laugh, and she manages to be both hard-edged and sympathetic), and Darren Burrows (who would later star in "Northern Exposure") as Milton. Susan Tyrrell and Iggy Pop play Cry-Baby's aunt and uncle. Also watch out for Patricia Hearst and David Nelson (Ozzie's son) as Wanda's straight-laced, square-like parents (the courtroom scene involving Wanda and her parents is the funniest scene in the movie), Troy Donahue and Mink Stole(who, like Hearst, is a Waters regular) as Hatchet-Face's parents, Joey Heatherton and Joe Dallesandro as Milton's bible-thumping parents, and Willem Dafoe as a guard at the reform school.
What will happen to Cry-Baby and his gang? Will Allison go back to her square ways, or become a permanent member of Cry-Baby's gang? I can only recommend you watch the movie if you haven't yet to find out. All in all, "Cry-Baby" is good, only slightly dirty fun, obviously inspired by both 50s teenage delinquent movies like "Rebel Without a Cause" as well as any number of 50s rock and roll musical movies, with a lot of slapstick and a lot of funny dialogue and a lot of good music. And despite its less subversive leanings, it is a John Waters movie through and through. This is one of my favorite movies, and I've really only scratched the surface of why.
Cabin Boy (1994)
an epic in the grand tradition of "Captain's Courageous"...
"Cabin Boy" is one of those movies that makes you glad to be alive. Chris Elliot shines in the role of Nathaniel Mayweather, a wealthy young man fresh out of finishing school, forced into a life at sea on a fishing boat with men not of his stature. Fine performances abound in this grand seafaring epic, including Brian Doyle-Murray as Skunk, Andy Richter as Kenny, Melora Walters as Trina, the swimmer who catches Nathaniel's heart, and Ann Magnuson as Calli, who cleans his pipes. Best of all is Ricki Lake with an astoundingly nuanced performance as The Filthy Whore's head. With rich cinematography, amazing special effects, and masterful direction by Adam Resnick (who also co-wrote the suspenseful and heartwarming screenplay with Elliot), this is one movie that you shouldn't miss if you're a fan of great seagoing adventure stories like "The Odyssey" and "Captain's Courageous". It's easily one of the greatest movies of this or any other generation; if I could rate higher than 10/10, I would do so with this one. The ending would make even the most hardened death row convict cry.
Total Recall (1990)
Who am I?
Before this movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger had shown his impressive acting abilities by playing a killer cyborg, a barbarian, a commando, a marine, and Hercules. In "Total Recall", he actually plays a character that goes against type: he's a regular guy, albeit one with the physique of a Mr. Universe, who is thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
Or is he? That's the central question of "Total Recall", and we're left wondering throughout the movie what Ah-nold's real identity is (I won't spoil any surprises here). It's a fantastic sci-fi set-up, especially when you throw the main setting of Mars into the mix.
The plot: Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Douglas Quaid, a construction worker in the year 2084 who's been having weird dreams about living on Mars. There's a mystery woman in his dreams, a brunette, who sparks jealousy in his wife (played by Sharon Stone, who's also pretty good in this; it's one of the earliest things I remember seeing her in). Quaid sees an ad for a place called Rekall, which implants vacations in people's memories that are as good as the real thing. So he goes to Rekall, gets a memory-vacation package for Mars where he plays the part of a spy and that includes the woman in his dreams, and that's when things go haywire.
This is where the central mystery of who Schwarzenegger really is starts. All of a sudden, he's thrust into a complex story of some rebels on Mars trying to overcome their ruthless dictator Cohaagen, and he's a central part of the story. Here's where it gets twisty: it comes into question whether he's actually Douglas Quaid or this spy named Hauser who's involved in the whole thing! All of a sudden, his wife and friends turn against him, he's on the run from Cohaagen's lieutenant Richter (played by Michael Ironside) and (on the advice of himself, as Hauser) he must make his way to Mars, where he gets embroiled in a plot to help the rebels, mostly a bunch of mutants. They are led by Kuato, a psychic mutant coming out of the abdomen of a fellow named George (Marshall Bell). And his dream girl also comes into the picture in the person of Melina (Rachel Ticotin, who's fabulous), who's also trying to help the rebels. Always on your mind as you're watching this movie is the question: What's real, and what's merely a mind-implant? Is the whole movie from the point he visited Rekall a dream, or was the life he knew the dream? And also coming into the play is the question of whose side Hauser is actually supposed to be on, and what this reactor built by the original Martians a million years ago is supposed to do, exactly...
Based on the story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" by the great Philip K. Dick (who also wrote the story "Blade Runner" was based on), and directed by Paul Verhoeven ("Robocop"), "Total Recall" is consistently thrilling and amazing, with some incredible visuals, including the barren surface of the planet Mars, and the station where the residents of Mars are housed. Of course, it's a great action movie. There's also a lot of great humor (including a mutant hooker with three breasts), terrific special effects, and constant plot twists throughout (unlike many other Schwarzenneger films, this one makes you think). This movie is easily one of the best Schwarzenegger has ever done (he actually puts in a decent acting job, probably his best ever), and also one of the best sci-fi thrillers ever made. The ending, though it stretches credibility, is a brilliant, old-time sci-fi ending.