Philip K. Dick was born 1928 and died 1982, just months before the first movie based on a novel he wrote, Blade Runner, would be released, changing the film landscape forever.

In his 52 years, Dick wrote 44 novels and over 100 short stories, mainly within his adopted literary realm of science fiction. At a time when sci-fi was disrespected and stereotyped with martian invaders and zap guns, Dick turned the genre inward, obsessing over themes of identity, humanity, the nature of reality, religion, and drug abuse.

Since 1982, and especially after the release of 1990’s Total Recall, Hollywood has trawled the Dick library for movie ideas. Television has also been getting into the game, with Fox premiering Minority Report in September (Rotten at 29%), and Amazon releasing all 10 episodes today of The Man in the High Castle (Certified Fresh at 97%), an alternate history series that explores life in America if the Axis powers had won World War II.

Now, Rotten Tomatoes explores the history of Philip K. Dick stories on the big screen and how they compare to their literary sources.


Blade Runner (1982) 89%, based on the 1966 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

In a world… ravaged and emptied after World War III, people are lured into outer space where human cyborgs perform all manual labor. Physically superior to their creators, these replicants are banned from Earth. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a blade runner, a detective/bounty hunter whose latest assignment is to track down and “retire” four replicants.

What went right: Blade Runner eschews the book’s nuttier elements (the world is obsessed with religions and owning animals as status symbols) and transforms itself into hard-boiled neo-noir, full of high-contrast lighting and architectural wonder. The movie is a slow burn for sure, and it doesn’t draw you in so much as smother you with world-building and detail. The 2007 Final Cut is when the film finally came together after existing for decades in various forms of refinement; this version cleans up effects and clarifies dialogue, turning Blade Runner at last into an immaculate timeless nightmare.


Total Recall (1990) 82%, based on the 1966 short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”

In a world… of implanted memories that feel just like the real thing, Douglas Quaid dreams of shedding his humdrum life and becoming a superspy. Quaid goes to Rekall to sidestep reality but when the procedure goes awry, he realizes he was a spy — his identity had been erased and life as he knows it is a forgery.

What went right: A hyper-violent classic! If Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero was a parody of meathead action movies of the ’80s and ’90s, Total Recall delivers the same goods with a straight face. It’s got everything: guns, sex, plot twists, foot and car chases, and Arnie getting hit in the junk half a dozen times. The short story Total Recall is based on plays it straight: the main character goes to Rekall and realizes he was a spy in a previous life and his dreams of Mars were repressed memories coming to surface. The power of Total Recall is that it finds an extra layer that Dick didn’t conceive: What if everything that happens to Quaid is a dream? The movie plays out so conveniently to Quaid’s fantasies that it’s impossible to tell whether it’s actually happening or if he’s still strapped to a chair at Rekall having a psychotic episode. Such existential ruminations represent Dick’s themes at its most fun.


Confessions d'un Barjo (Confessions of a Crap Artist) (1992) , based on the 1959 novel Confessions of a Crap Artist

In a world… where people are horrible to each other. Yeah, not a stretch of the imagination with this one. The crap artist in question is Jack (Hippolyte Girardot), a collector of useless junk and absurd ideas who is invited by his sister to live on her estate with her abusive husband.

What went right: Dick wrote a series of non-science fiction novels before the 1960s, all of which were rejected by book houses. The only one to be eventually published during his lifetime was Confessions, written in 1959 and released in 1975, during a dry spell as Dick dealt with personal issues and labored over A Scanner Darkly. Ostensibly, Crap is a comedic look at the social mores and increasing wealth of California life during the 1950s, though its film adaptation transports this setting to modern France. The movie version of Jack is softer and more accessible as an anti-hero than in the novel, and his observations on the hypocritical nature of family and community translate well, despite this upheaval in setting. Human nature, it seems, transcends time and space.


Screamers (1995) 29%, based on the 1953 short story “Second Variety”

In a world… where man has colonized the planets, war is being waged by two factions (the New Economic Block and the Alliance insurgents) over a precious radioactive mineral. The Alliance has developed “screamers” — autonomous robots that burrow through the ground to fight for them. But the screamers have evolved, developing new varieties that look and act like humans.

What went wrong: The opposing forces in the short story are Americans against Russians with the fate of mankind at stake. In the movie, it’s essentially a war over commercial interests, which drastically reduces the scope and weight of the action. The screamers themselves are not particularly menacing, especially in the wake of Edge of Tomorrow, which nailed the look of fluid cybernetic monsters. Screamers‘ dialogue can be effective and there are some scary moments, but the last 20 minutes are laughable and stupid.


Impostor (2001) 24%, based on the 1953 short story “Impostor”

In a world… where a hostile civilization from Alpha Centauri is waging relentless war on Earth, the aliens have introduced a new weapon: replicants. These replicants arrive, kill their target human and assume its identity — all the while equipped with an internal nuclear device that can blow at any second. Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise) is a government scientist developing humanity’s own secret weapon when he’s arrested with a serious charge: the real Spencer is dead and he is, in fact, a ticking timebomb replicant.

What went wrong: Toss this one onto the pile of Dick adaptations that doesn’t do anything particularly wrong, but also nothing exemplary. Impostor seems to have been something of a passion project for Sinise (who gets a rare producer credit), selling himself as a credible action star with plenty of moments running around shirtless and sneaking in a shower butt shot. But the visuals lack creative spark and the sets are drab and monotone, while the movie’s middle section is essentially a single chase sequence with a few jumps to other locations and not much plot development. Impostor was originally shot as a 40-minute film to be packaged with Mimic (which also became a feature film) and Danny Boyle’s Alien Love Triangle. It works better as a short. Kudos, though, for Impostor retaining the short story’s challenging ending.


Minority Report (2002) 90%, based on the 1956 short story “The Minority Report”

In a world… that has zero murders, thanks to PreCrime wielding mutant predictions to accuse and arrest individuals before their bad deeds get committed, Captain John Anderton goes on the run as the “precogs” accuse him murdering a stranger in 36 hours.

What went right: Some of Dick’s stories lack much action (like this, or “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”), existing more as existential inquiries. That’s a boon for filmmakers as it provides a great groundwork which visionary directors can build upon and overload with imagination.  Along with Blade Runner, Minority Report presents the most “complete” worlds: these movies feel lived-in and the technology is logical. In Minority’s case, it predicted total societal integration with electronics before it happened to us in real life. The action is some of Steven Spielberg‘s best, frequently fused with black humor, though I still take umbrage with the movie’s improbably upbeat ending.


Paycheck (2003) 27%, based on the 1952 short story “Paycheck”

In a world… where your memory is erased after finishing a job, engineer Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) has just completed a majorly lucrative two-year contract. When emerging with his employment memories wiped, Jennings discovers his past self has inexplicably forfeited the paycheck in favor of an envelope of useless everyday trinkets. Soon afterwards, he’s targeted for assassination and goes on the run.

What went wrong: “Paycheck” was one of Dick’s earliest published stories and, as such, pure 1950s pulp. The screenwriters update the setting and remove the lame original ending, though its replacement isn’t much improvement. The plot hook (that the envelope’s contents rescue Jennings at seemingly random life-threatening moments) is pretty weak. Being aware Jennings will escape every hairy situation with a paper clip or some lederhosen drains all tension from the action as we wait for the envelope to deplete itself, and in the movie that doesn’t happen until there’s 20 minutes before credits. Until then, our hero runs sweatily around clutching a bag of convenient dei ex machina. Uma Thurman plays the love interest, Aaron Eckhart is the evil talking chin, and there’s a motorcycle chase that recalls director John Woo‘s early career but, otherwise, this is forgettable stuff. No need for a memory wipe after watching Paycheck: you won’t remember it the next day.


A Scanner Darkly (2006) 68%, based on the 1977 novel A Scanner Darkly

In a world… of widespread drug addiction, Americans are hooked on mind-altering Substance D. The government responds with heavy policing and ubiquitous surveillance, creating a black job market of narcs who spy and report anonymously on their friends and neighbors. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is one such narc, a Sub D addict keeping tabs on his chums for local police. Things are hunky dory until Arctor receives his next surveillance assignment: himself.

What went right: Dick’s masterpiece in the hands of a master filmmaker (Richard Linklater). The book is a howlingly funny, anguished eulogy to tripped-out hedonists whose major crime is hoping the Summer of Love would last forever, based on Dick’s own experiences as his friends succumbed to hard drugs during the 1970s. Linklater rotoscoped this adaptation, slathering a layer of animation over his live actors which emphasizes the story’s theme of disconnection — mentally and physically — as Arctor loses track of his multiple personas. The casting is perfect, especially Robert Downey Jr. as one of Arctor’s asshole pals. This is also the most faithful of the PKD movies, and in a way reminds me of No Country For Old Men: both strive for such fidelity to the book they develop an un-movielike pace and rhythm, to the point of being unsettling. Though Linklater’s film ups the paranoia and loses a chunk of the book’s humor, this is as good an adaptation it’ll ever get.


Next (2007) 28%, based on the 1954 short story “The Golden Man”

In a world… where one man can see two minutes into the future and its myriad of possibilities, Nicolas Cage is Cris Johnson, a clairvoyant relentlessly pursued by an FBI agent (Julianne Moore) who wants to use his ability to track down a nuke.

What went wrong: In the short story, mutants are common and they’re rounded up to be studied then euthanized, while the Cris Johnson character can see 30 minutes into the future as opposed to two. Also, Cris is a sex object, covered gold head to toe. So yeah, the movie strays far from the source, though that’s no crime if the filmmakers come up with something better. They don’t. Next‘s plot has the depth of a weekly CBS procedural as it pushes Cage around, who wears an ugly jacket with a bad haircut during the runtime. Then there’s loads of CGI, none of which looks convincing. And the ending — wow, a total copout. Place it somewhere between “It was all a dream!” and “Turns out you were crazy the whole time!”


The Adjustment Bureau (2011) 71%, based on the 1954 short story “Adjustment Team”

In a world… where your fate is controlled by angelic bureaucratic agents, Matt Damon dares to defy the odds. Damon plays David Norris, a Senate hopeful who meets Elise, the woman of his dreams (Emily Blunt), on the campaign trail. After accidentally seeing the Adjustment Bureau at work behind the scenes, they warn David he risks everything (including death) in pursuing her.

What went right: The short story is a fairly low-stakes affair, so the movie does right by putting David’s possible candidacy for POTUS on the line. Dick wrote about women a lot but he was not particularly sensuous about it, so it’s refreshing to see a sweeping romance effectively seared into a story of his. And Bureau simply looks great: the colors are lush, deep, and the lines and angles that make up a majority of the backgrounds are wonderful (they’re subtly used to guide the eye around the frame, in the same way these characters are guided by the agents). The movie sets up a lot of rules about this universe and threatens to collapse under their weight; sagely, the story concludes before this occurs.


Total Recall (2012) 31%

What went wrong: Sometimes when Hollywood remakes a classic, producers will claim that their version is going to be closer to the book (see:True Grit). Not so in this case. The remake, directed by Underworld‘s Len Wiseman, doesn’t mine any additional story elements from “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” and instead works completely off the template laid by Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 version. Wiseman is a better director of action scenes than Verhoeven, who’s always been enchanted with gore and sleaze (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and his camera work here is fluid and kinetic. Likewise, the city landscapes and gadget designs are out of this world. But the main characters (this time played by Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel) undergo zero development and all the story beats were done better the first time around. For lightweight spectacle, you could do worse, but this overall is a redundant and bloodless trip down memory lane.


Radio Free Albemuth (2010) 33%, based on the 1976 novel Radio Free Albemuth

In a world… where a fascist president has ruled over America for 15 years, record store clerk Nicolas Brady (Jonathan Scarfe) begins receiving messages in his dreams from a far away galactic supreme being called VALIS. Under its direction, Brady moves his family to Los Angeles, takes up a position at a music label, and awaits the appearance of a songwriter named Silvia (Alanis Morissette) who will help him overthrow the president.

What went wrong: Albemuth is clearly a labor of love but not of particular talent, resulting in a poorly lit film with crap framing, hokey CG, and scenes jammed together without grace. If I hadn’t read the novel beforehand, I would’ve had a tough time following the plot or even understanding what the title meant. The 1970s were a tumultuous decade for Dick: he was questioned by the FBI, his house was burgled (with Dick believing it was the government trying to spook him), and he had a deep religious awakening, all of which are described in this work, where the author himself is a major character. Written as a sci-fi confessional and introduction to his new gnostic viewpoint, Dick’s book is something of a noble failure, beautiful but flat, and it’s crazy somebody thought a movie could be made out of it on such a low budget.

With Christmas just a week away, it’s not surprising that so many films found their way into home video release this week. As such, there’s a pretty wide variety available, ranging from sci-fi blockbusters to indie comedies, from dramas to action thrillers, and even a little something for the kids. On top of that, we’ve got a pretty solid number of Certified Fresh films in the mix, so have a look below for the full list!



Total Recall

31%

Paul Verhoeven’s original 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger-powered actioner is considered by many to be a classic, an iconic landmark in sci-fi cinema that deftly mixed humor, explosive action, and inventive storytelling to great success. Naturally, many balked at the notion of remaking it, and according to critics, those people were right to be wary. Len Wiseman’s update stars Colin Farrell as unsuspecting everyman Douglas Quaid, a factory worker of the future who undergoes a procedure to live out a fantasy vacation in his mind. When the procedure triggers a violent and unexpected reaction, Quaid finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy, searching for his true identity. Critics felt the action was handled competently enough, but also that so much of what made the original great — including the wry humor and intricate plotting — was curiously absent here, leading to a mediocre 30% on the Tomatometer.



Pitch Perfect

81%

Anna Kendrick has proven her worth as a purveyor of dry wit in various supporting roles, and she’s even already notched an Oscar nod for her work alongside the likes of Vera Farmiga and George Clooney, but could she carry a film on her own? In Pitch Perfect, Kendrick, who got her start on Broadway, took advantage of an opportunity not only to exercise her comic timing, but also to showcase her impressive voice. Kendrick plays rebellious college freshman Beca, who reluctantly joins her school’s all-female a cappella group with other misfits and outcasts; though personalities clash at first, the girls band together in pursuit of a national championship. Critics conceded that Pitch Perfect‘s plot isn’t dissimilar from other underdog stories, but the film’s supporting characters are played enthusiastically by a talented cast, and the musical numbers are sure to get many a toe tapping. Certified Fresh at 80%, it’s a feelgood movie with some laugh out loud moments and catchy tunes.



Premium Rush

74%

Speaking of up-and-coming stars, Joseph Gordon-Levitt followed up his winning turn in sci-fi thriller Looper with another action-packed role in Premium Rush, a paranoia-filled chase film by accomplished screenwriter (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man) and sometimes director (Ghost Town) David Koepp. JGL is NYC bike messenger Wilee, who’s hired by his ex-girlfriend’s roommate to make a special delivery. When a corrupt police officer (Michael Shannon) attempts to intercept the delivery, Wilee rebuffs him, leading to a citywide chase with dire consequences. Though the story’s twists and turns aren’t particularly original, critics found the fast-paced action exhilarating, and some solid acting by its cast helped to elevate it beyond run of the mill fare. Certified Fresh at 76%, Premium Rush might just surprise you.



Trouble with the Curve

51%

Here’s a film that would make a pretty good double-header with last year’s Moneyball. Clint Eastwood plays aging baseball scout Gus Lobel, a man whose experienced intuition is called into question by his employers, the Atlanta Braves. In hopes of helping him retain his job, his ambitious daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) potentially jeopardizes her own law career to accompany Gus on his latest scouting trip, bringing them closer together and opening up new opportunities. Eastwood is as grizzly as ever here, acting under longtime producing partner and first time director Robert Lorenz, and he exhibits an easy chemistry with Adams, but critics found the film largely predictable and dramatically unsatisfying. At 52%, Trouble with the Curve won’t rock your world, but it might satisfy those looking for a quiet sports drama.



Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

52%

The previous two installments of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise, adapted from the children’s book series of the same name by Jeff Kinney, were relatively middling affairs, according to critics, so it’s rather fitting that the third film, Dog Days, has split critics perfectly at 50%. The entire gang is back, including titular wimpy kid Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), in a story culled from the third and fourth books: while Greg spends his summer pretending to work at the local country club and trying to win the affections of his crush Holly Hills (Peyton List), his father Frank (Steve Zahn) buys a dog and enrolls Greg in a scouting organization. Critics say the material here feels rather familiar, but with more slapstick, and it’s not likely to appeal to many who aren’t already familiar with either the books or the previous two films.



Resident Evil: Retribution

28%

Now, onto a sequel of a very different sort. Retribution marks the fifth chapter in the surprisingly popular Resident Evil series, which took on a life of its own, entirely separate from the video game franchise that inspired it. Milla Jovovich returns as Alice, who is captured by the nefarious Umbrella corporation and awakes inside its massive headquarters, forced to fight her way out. As she escapes through the bowels of the base, Alice discovers bits of her past and some new secrets, as well as a fresh new horde of undead foes. None of the Resident Evil films has been a hit with the critics, and Retribution didn’t quite blow their socks off, either. That said, if you’ve seen all the previous entries, you know what you’re in store for here, and for what it’s worth, even at 31%, this is still the second-highest rated film of the franchise, so there’s that.



Sleepwalk with Me

84%

Stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk with Me began as a critically acclaimed one-man stage show back in 2008, which then turned into a New York Times bestseller and later an equally acclaimed comedy album. Autobiographical in nature, Sleepwalk with Me tells the story of a comedian (Birbiglia) coming to grips with his stressful life, characterized by his struggling career, problems with his girlfriend, and an abnormal tendency to, yes, sleepwalk. At once painfully honest and surprisingly funny, the film garnered widespread praise for its honest, amiable outlook on life, even despite a few tonal inconsistencies. Certified Fresh at 86%, Sleepwalk with Me is probably the indie pick of the week for anyone looking for a thoughtful little comedy.



Arbitrage

87%

There was a time when Richard Gere was the hottest leading man in town, thanks to his smoldering good looks and effortless charisma, and while those years are long behind us, he continues to remind us he’s still got what it takes. In Arbitrage, Gere stars as fraudulent billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Miller, who’s on the verge of selling his company to a bank when a tragic accident forces him to play cover-up. As a detective (Tim Roth) closes in on Miller, Miller’s daughter (Brit Marling) discovers evidence of his illegal scheming and confronts him. While the cast — rounded out by Susan Sarandon, Laetetia Casta, and Nate Parker — all turn in solid performances, Gere shines the brightest, further impressing critics who largely felt the film was both an effectively tense thriller and a penetrating character portrait. Topical and well-acted, Arbitrage is yet another Certified Fresh film on this week’s list.



Killer Joe

80%

William Friedkin may never reach the heights of The French Connection or The Exorcist again, but there’s something comforting in knowing he’s still out there doing his thing, and by the looks of Killer Joe, doing it rather well. Killer Joe stars Emile Hirsch as a young drug dealer named Chris whose insufferable mother steals $6000 worth of product from him, leaving him in considerable debt. Chris and his father (Thomas Haden Church) decide the best solution is to have his mother offed for the insurance money, but when they can’t pay he hitman, “Killer” Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Joe takes Chris’s sister (Juno Temple) as sexual collateral. Rated NC-17, the major gripe with the film was that the material was perhaps too lurid for some viewers, but Certified Fresh at 77%, Killer Joe was considered by most to be a violent, darkly comic success propelled by strong performances.



Liberal Arts

71%

Josh Radnor seems to be stepping out quite a bit from his role on TV’s How I Met Your Mother, and thankfully, Liberal Arts, his second directorial effort, seems to be a proper step forward from his first film. An introverted college admissions officer named Jesse (Radnor) prefers the company of books and pines for the familiarity of his college heyday. When an old professor (Richard Jenkins) invites him to speak at his retirement dinner, Chris gladly obliges and ends up meeting a sophomore (Elizabeth Olsen) who sparks new life into him. The plot isn’t groundbreaking, but Radnor has done well to surround himself with very capable actors (the supporting cast also includes Allison Janney and Zac Efron), and the film’s good nature and clever, personal touch won the critics over enough to earn it a 69% on the Tomatometer.



The Words

24%

The second film in as many years to feature Bradley Cooper as an aspiring writer, The Words failed to meet even a third of the critical approval the earlier film (Limitless) earned, which is unfortunate when one considers the level of talent involved here. The film opens with the framing device of an author (Dennis Quaid) at a reading of his own book, which is, in turn, about a writer (Cooper) who publishes a novel that he didn’t write. As the film cuts back and forth between the framing device and the book’s narrative, which itself contains its own flashback story, the audience is treated to an ever widening story and its implications for the author at the reading. Despite a cast that includes Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, Olivia Wilde, J.K. Simmons, John Hannah, and more, critics found The Words to be unnecessarily complex and, surprisingly, short on dramatic intrigue. Many felt the film was nevertheless overly pleased with how clever and interesting it seemed to think it was, but at 22% on the Tomatometer, it’s probably best to pick up and actual book instead.



10 Years

60%

An ensemble dramedy centered around the interactions of various friends coming together for a ten-year high school reunion is an idea with the potential to go either very well or very badly, and while 10 Year isn’t the generation-defining film it probably wants to be, most critics thought it was just fine. There are several narrative threads that are woven into the film, which stars Channing Tatum and his wife Jenna Dewan-Tatum as a couple whose relationship is tested by an old flame (Rosario Dawson), Chris Pratt as the former school bully who married his cheerleader girlfriend (Ari Graynor), Justin Long and Max Minghella as old rivals and Lynn Collins as the girl they both try to impress, and more. For the most part, critics felt the performances were solid, while some even felt the film effectively evoked a certain nostalgia; others found 10 Years too disjointed to give proper attention to any of its stories. At 60%, this isn’t a surefire bet, but it’s an interesting take on some familiar themes.

Also available this week:

  • French actor/director Daniel Auteuil’s remake of the 1940 film The Well Digger’s Daughter (90%) is available on home video.
  • The indie thriller The Good Doctor (62%), starring Orlando Bloom, is also out this week.

This week at the movies, we’ve got artificial memories (Total Recall, starring Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale) and summertime blues (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, starring Zachary Gordon and Steve Zahn). What do the critics have to say?



Total Recall

31%

If you’re going to remake a modern classic, you’d better bring something new to the table. Unfortunately, critics say this new Total Recall is visually impressive, but it swaps out the existential anxiety and eccentric panache of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 film for an overabundance of action set-pieces. Suffering from disturbing dreams, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) decides to visit Rekall, a company that implants memories of an exciting vacation. When the procedure goes awry, however, Quaid becomes the target of a manhunt, and teams up with a beautiful rebel agent (Jessica Biel) on a mission to destroy the Rekall Corporation. The pundits say Total Recall, while technically sound, could use some of the wit and vulnerability that Arnold Schwarzenegger brought to the original. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we run down noteworthy films about memory loss.)



Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

52%

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise has been nothing if not consistent; each movie chronicles the terrors of middle school with moderate wit and little elegance. Critics say the latest entry, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, offers more of the same: a few decent laughs and an awful lot of predictability. Zachary Gordon stars yet again as Greg Heffley, who finds himself bereft of summer plans. To stave off boredom, our hero pretends to have a job at a country club and embarks on an ill-fated camping trip. The pundits say Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is warm and reasonably amusing, but it feels more like a sitcom than a feature film.

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Mosquita Y Mari, a coming-of-age drama about the close friendship between two Los Angeles teens, is at 88 percent.
  • Girlfriend Boyfriend, a romantic comedy about the love lives of three classmates during an era of political upheaval in Taiwan, is at 83 percent.
  • You’ve Been Trumped, a documentary about a group of Scottish homeowners protesting a plan by the Donald to build a golf course on an environmentally sensitive area, is at 79 percent.
  • Celeste and Jesse Forever, starring Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg in a dramedy about a divorced couple that attempts to maintain a close friendship, is at 77 percent.
  • Dreams of a Life, a docudrama about a woman who died in her apartment and wasn’t discovered for three years, is at 74 percent.
  • Sushi: The Global Catch, a doc about the environmental impact of the popular Japanese dish, is at 67 percent.
  • 360, starring Jude Law and Rachel Weisz in a drama about disparate characters whose lives intersect through a series of affairs, is at 32 percent.
  • The Babymakers, starring Olivia Munn and Paul Schneider in a comedy about a couple that conspires to rob a sperm bank in a desperate attempt to conceive a child, is at four percent.
  • Assassin’s Bullet, starring Christian Slater and Donald Sutherland in a thriller about an FBI agent on the trail of a terrorist-killing vigilante, is at zero percent.
  •  

    Total Recall

    After many months of examining cinematic history under the Total Recall banner, our column meets its destiny this week with the release of Len Wiseman’s Total Recall remake. Of course, we knew we needed to dedicate this week’s list to recall — specifically, movies featuring protagonists who have lost their memory. Amnesia is a popular topic for filmmakers, leaving us with enough material to make this a special super-sized edition that features examples from pretty much every genre — and we’re still sure we managed to (ahem) “forget” at least one of your favorites. It’s the total partial recall you’ve been waiting for!

    Amateur

    78%

    Amnesia can be a heartbreaking ordeal for the afflicted — or, in the case of Amateur‘s Thomas (Martin Donovan), a nifty way of having the reset button pushed on a life that’s gotten bogged down in bad decisions. Of course, as Thomas quickly discovers, the past has a way of catching up to you, even if you’re hiding from it in the arms of a nun-turned-pornographic writer (Isabelle Huppert). A surprising break from writer/director Hal Hartley’s early quirky romances, Amateur still found an appreciative audience with Hartley fans like ReelViews’ James Berardinelli, who wrote, “Certainly, the script fails to do much with the issue of confused identities, its ostensible theme, but Hartley’s style is such a pleasure to watch that it isn’t a major disadvantage for the substance to be weak.”

    Anastasia

    93%

    When you don’t even know who you are, it can be awfully dangerous to fall in with the wrong crowd — which is possibly what’s befallen the young amnesiac (played by Ingrid Bergman) at the center of of Anatole Litvak’s Anastasia. Loosely based on a true story, it puts its young heroine at the center of a mystery: Is she really the lost Tsarina Anastasia, or just a patsy being manipulated by a Russian expat (Yul Brynner) with his own shadowy motives? The answer to the real-life question proved far less romantic than the film’s, but for Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, viewers got all the truth they needed on the screen: “Miss Bergman’s performance as the heroine is nothing short of superb,” he wrote, “as she traces the progress of a woman from the depths of derangement and despair through a struggle with doubt and delusion to the accomplishment of courage, pride and love.”

    The Bourne Identity

    83%

    It seems laughable now, but before The Bourne Identity reached theaters, there were a lot of people who didn’t think Matt Damon had what it took to be a convincing action hero. Those doubts were quickly erased with director Doug Liman’s sleek, powerful adaptation of the Robert Ludlum novel — a huge box office hit that was powered with equal parts explosive set pieces and a solid central performance by its star. As it turned out, Damon had not only the dramatic chops to realistically portray the fear and confusion of an amnesiac who slowly begins to realize he’s a lethal assassin, but the physical presence to make audiences believe he could kill a man with a pen. The beginning of a trilogy so successful that it’s continuing without Damon, Bourne provided smart popcorn entertainment for critics like Peter Keough of the Boston Phoenix, who quipped, “Who needs an identity when you’re having this much fun?”

    Clean Slate

    19%

    With The Bodyguard director Mick Jackson at the helm and SNL legend Dana Carvey in the lead, 1994’s Clean Slate should have been a smash hit. Alas, this putative comedy about a private investigator afflicted with a rare form of amnesia suffered from humiliating reviews and poisonous word of mouth, dooming its theatrical run. Starring as Maurice Pogue, a P.I. who survives an attempted murder but loses the ability to retain his memories of the previous day after going to sleep at night, Carvey was faced with the arduous task of wringing laughs from the screenplay by Robert King (Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge). Most critics found it forgettable in all the wrong ways, but for Clint Morris of Moviehole, who argued “Carvey’s great,” it was “A comedic Memento.”

    Curse of the Jade Scorpion

    45%

    Woody Allen’s most expensive movie — and, perhaps not coincidentally, his least favorite of his own films — 2001’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion takes your standard Allen starting point (stammering nebbish finds love with improbably attractive woman) and wraps it in a complicated plot involving a crooked magician, hypnosis-induced amnesia, and Dan Aykroyd. It all added up to a pretty lumpy blend, at least as far as most critics were concerned, and audiences couldn’t be bothered to find out whether or not they’d agree. Still, for a handful of scribes, Scorpion‘s sting was sweet: “This isn’t vintage Woody — we haven’t seen that since, oh, Hannah and Her Sisters — but it’s good enough,” argued Jean Lowerison of the San Diego Metropolitan.

    Desperately Seeking Susan

    84%

    Incontrovertible proof that amnesia comedies and bustiers go together, Desperately Seeking Susan kicked off Madonna’s once-promising film career with the tale of a bored suburban housewife (Rosanna Arquette) who develops an obsession with a bleach-blonde free spirit named Susan (Madonna) and, through a series of unlikely events, ends up thinking she is Susan. Also, Egyptian jewelry is involved. It’s vintage ’80s cinema, from the shoulder pads in the wardrobes to the storyline’s reliance on madcap humor — but unlike most movies of its ilk, Susan resonated with most critics; as Dave Kehr admitted for the Chicago Reader, “The film acquires a pleasant, syncopated rhythm as it bounces from one unlikely event to another.”

    Dark City

    76%

    The protagonist who has no memory of his past, but must find a way to evade capture for crimes he’s sure he didn’t commit: It’s a tale as old as noir, but Alex Proyas’ Dark City tells it with singularly stylish élan, starring Rufus Sewell as an unfortunate soul who wakes up in a bathtub, takes a phone call warning him that men are on their way to capture him, and stumbles across a dead woman on his way out the door. Toss in a city where the sun never shines, a human race prone to random comas, and a telekinetic battle between our hero and a shadowy cabal known as the Strangers, and Dark City is unlike any mindbending love story/trippy action thriller you’ve ever seen; as Stephen Holden argued in his review for the New York Times, it’s “so relentlessly trippy in a fun-house sort of way that it could very easily inspire a daredevil cult of moviegoers who go back again and again to experience its mind-bending twists and turns.”

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    92%

    While he spent the early 1990s mugging it up for fans of perfectly obvious comedy, few people could have guessed that Jim Carrey would wind up sharing top billing with one of the premier actresses of her generation in a mindbending, critically beloved drama about the nature of love and memory — but that’s exactly what he did in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, going toe to toe with Kate Winslet in one of the most unusual and eye-catching films of the early aughts. Armed with a script co-written by Charlie Kaufman, director Michel Gondry riddles the film with stunning visual effects that, depending on what you want out of the movie, either deepen its metaphorical layers of meaning or are simply really cool to look at. It’s admittedly too strange and/or chilly to appeal to everyone, but at its heart, the movie lives up to Mariko McDonald of Film Threat’s assessment of it as “fresh, heartfelt and ultimately heartbreaking in its honest portrayal of a modern relationship.”

    The Long Kiss Goodnight

    70%

    Renny Harlin movies aren’t exactly known for their character development, and 1996’s Shane Black-scripted The Long Kiss Goodnight is no different — in a movie this obsessed with rapid-fire quips, explosions, and piled-up corpses, you root for the good guys and cheer for the disposal of cartoon villains. Case in point: David Morse’s Luke, a.k.a. Daedalus, an arms-dealing heavy who makes things difficult for the amnesiac CIA assassin played by Geena Davis — first he’s nasty, then he’s dead. But if Goodnight isn’t exactly thoughtful, or even particularly memorable, plenty of critics thought it was good, dumb fun — like Michael Dequina of The Movie Report, who asked, “Who can resist the sight of Davis tossing her daughter from a hole in her house into the nearby treehouse or chasing after a car… while ice skating?”

     

    The Majestic

    42%

    A sentimental ode to the films of Frank Capra — and to the magic of the cinema in general — Frank Darabont’s The Majestic was supposed to wrap audiences up in the heartwarming tale of a rising screenwriter (Jim Carrey) whose promising career is threatened by the HUAC hearings of the 1950s — and then derailed completely when he drunkenly careens off a bridge, loses his memory, and washes up on the shore of a small town where he’s mistaken for a long-lost World War II hero whose family just happens to own a dilapidated movie theater. Alas, most critics found The Majestic overlong and overly sentimental, but it found an appreciative audience with the New York Observer’s Rex Reed, who wrote, “Carrey gets the best role of his own career — and plays it with tenderness, valor, bravery and deeply moving conviction. I find him positively captivating.”

    The Manchurian Candidate

    97%

    A pitch-black manifestation of Cold War political paranoia, John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate tapped into the lethal turmoil of the post-WWII global landscape to frame the story of a soldier (Laurence Harvey) who’s captured during the Korean War and, along with his men (including Frank Sinatra), subjected to brainwashing by Communist agents. Back home, Harvey’s a war hero, but his programming — and the machinations of his politically ambitious mother (Angela Lansbury) — threaten to unleash dire consequences. The 2004 remake earned positive reviews, but there’s no substitute for the unbearably tense original; wrote Roger Ebert, “Not a moment of The Manchurian Candidate lacks edge and tension and a cynical spin.”

    Memento

    93%

    The grim noir puzzle that reaffirmed Pearce’s leading-man talent and served as Christopher Nolan’s full-fledged Hollywood coming-out party, Memento offered an early glimpse of Nolan’s fondness for narrative games — as well as his ability to get the most out of his actors. Playing a man who spends most of the film as not only a mystery to the viewer, but to himself, Pearce won a pile of honors from various film critics’ circles, and was a major part of what led the Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan to call Memento “provocatively structured and thrillingly executed film noir, an intricate, inventive use of cinema’s possibilities that pushes what can be done on screen in an unusual direction.”

    Mulholland Drive

    84%

    It resists synopsis and analysis in characteristically Lynchian fashion, but whatever it may or may not actually be about, Mulholland Drive definitely includes scenes depicting a character who appears to be suffering from amnesia, so it would have been uncharitable to leave it off this list. As for the film itself, well, critics have been puzzling over its surreal imagery, nonlinear plot, and jumbled narrative since Mulholland arrived in theaters — but whether or not you can figure out what it all means, argued the New York Observer’s Andrew Sarris, it’s “One of the very few movies in which the pieces not only add up to much more than the whole, but also supersede it with a series of (for the most part) fascinating fragments.”

    Overboard

    44%

    The hit 1980s comedy that argued that true happiness lies in leaving behind a life of luxury to do housework for a stranger and his four children, Overboard united real-life sweethearts Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell for a comedy about a haughty heiress who tries to cheat her carpenter out of payment for a job — then promptly falls off her yacht, loses her memory, and ends up becoming the unwitting pawn in his scheme to pass her off as his wife in order to exact revenge. It sounds like it could be the outline for a brutal psychological thriller — and a major portion of critics just thought it was generally no good — but for Time Out’s Nigel Floyd, Overboard was a “hilarious and touching romantic comedy” that triggered memories of “the integrated plotting and sophisticated dialogue of ’30s Hollywood.”

    Paris, Texas

    94%

    Using the windswept desolation of rural Texas as a sort of visual representation of the loss felt by a man with no memory, Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas follows the ambling trail of Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) after he emerges from the desert, collapses in a saloon, and is reconnected with his brother (Dean Stockwell) and estranged son (Hunter Carson). While far from the most mainstream offering on this week’s list, it might be one of the most emotionally affecting; as Luke Y. Thompson argued for New Times, “Wenders’ slow, moody style isn’t for everyone, but this is the epitome of it.”

    Spellbound

    85%

    At Vermont’s Green Manors mental hospital, it’s hard to tell who’s more in need of therapy — the patients, or the new director (Gregory Peck), an eccentric fellow whose quickly multiplying quirks turn out to mask a case of amnesia that might have something to do with murder. This mid-period Hitchcock thriller rests on a series of coincidences — and seems to exhibit a rather hostile view of the psychology profession — but critics were mostly, well, spellbound by Spellbound; as John J. Puccio wrote for Movie Metropolis, “It may not be first-rank Hitchcock, but even second-tier Hitchcock is better than what most other directors produce.”

    Total Recall

    82%

    Loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” Total Recall placed peak-era Arnold Schwarzenegger square in the middle of a ruthlessly high-concept plot about a construction worker on a distant future version of Earth (or is he?) who pays for an exotic memory implant, changes his mind at the last minute, and suddenly finds himself at the center of a long-brewing political revolution on Mars (or does he?). Part thought-provoking sci-fi flick, part mindless FX extravaganza, Recall was a huge box office hit, spinning off a TV series, a scrapped sequel (which eventually morphed into Minority Report), and, of course, this week’s main feature. “Total Recall is too much,” admitted Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, “but it’s too much of a good thing.”

    Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Total Recall.

     

Tag Cloud

Country hispanic heritage month Fantasy Tokyo Olympics President zombies cops sequel live action new star wars movies Marathons Winter TV FXX Black Mirror screen actors guild cults Year in Review DGA rt archives spanish cancelled blockbusters rotten movies we love Disney Channel Summer Pride Month Universal Rock aliens Esquire Turner SXSW CBS sequels DirecTV Oscars Creative Arts Emmys game show Rom-Com Peacock Pet Sematary 72 Emmy Awards Reality versus Awards Tour Drama Television Critics Association scene in color Syfy james bond breaking bad cancelled TV shows CW Seed italian kong all-time book adaptation Disney Plus Neflix police drama mockumentary PlayStation medical drama Schedule worst movies cartoon live event TCA Awards disaster Best and Worst Comedy Central E3 emmy awards National Geographic San Diego Comic-Con social media TBS Set visit Showtime Disney NBC Rocky Sundance TV harry potter Amazon Prime Video Crunchyroll Mindy Kaling leaderboard gangster heist movie christmas movies jamie lee curtis Tomatazos Netflix MTV king kong superman BBC America award winner Tarantino Mary poppins Trailer movie kaiju blockbuster Turner Classic Movies El Rey comics Anna Paquin dreamworks TV Land olympics serial killer AMC Plus scary Holiday Alien IFC Films Fargo USA Network Universal Pictures Calendar TCM werewolf golden globes 2018 GIFs Elton John HBO Go tv talk television NYCC Film Fox News Extras concert renewed TV shows Mary Tyler Moore period drama Disney+ Disney Plus Animation Binge Guide foreign VICE 1990s TLC chucky Chernobyl Premiere Dates Valentine's Day Interview fast and furious sopranos MCU wonder woman free movies best remakes comedies richard e. Grant HFPA Trivia 4/20 stoner prank cooking debate Mudbound ghosts festival Sundance Now justice league Family Television Academy Brie Larson stand-up comedy french PBS 2015 Britbox DC Universe Teen mutant screenings Kids & Family video on demand X-Men crime drama The Walt Disney Company mob USA The Witch sitcom ESPN dark Character Guide superhero 79th Golden Globes Awards psychological thriller spinoff marvel comics Quiz based on movie Amazon Studios Watching Series CMT green book 2016 Starz TNT Christmas HBO Max true crime transformers Red Carpet thriller The Purge dc rotten Toys BAFTA ViacomCBS 93rd Oscars YA politics Arrowverse Sony Pictures Superheroe spain game of thrones docuseries basketball laika Photos Music Dark Horse Comics crossover BBC Crackle travel discovery know your critic Cosplay doctor who Warner Bros. Star Trek Nickelodeon crime suspense dceu dramedy worst die hard YouTube Walt Disney Pictures Instagram Live kids Awards Avengers TCA Winter 2020 BET Shudder south america romance Nat Geo MSNBC Winners Food Network Marvel Studios reviews Bravo Discovery Channel hollywood witnail hispanic nature high school binge DC Comics 2019 Cannes archives Sci-Fi Paramount Network children's TV Apple TV Plus CBS All Access 21st Century Fox Nominations festivals Travel Channel rom-coms canceled Podcast name the review godzilla WGN Musical streaming E! scorecard Exclusive Video Election Netflix Christmas movies LGBT SundanceTV romantic comedy SDCC Ellie Kemper criterion popular TruTV blaxploitation black comedy monster movies Ghostbusters Thanksgiving japan comic books HBO directors Opinion lord of the rings mission: impossible TV science fiction IMDb TV ratings ITV ABC Signature TV One Tumblr robots Freeform TCA 2017 TV movies The Walking Dead Hear Us Out Superheroes batman zombie Masterpiece OWN Emmy Nominations Apple TV+ Holidays ABC Lucasfilm casting GLAAD First Reviews Prime Video Acorn TV news deadpool biography A&E cars critics cancelled television women Biopics nfl nbcuniversal FX documentary strong female leads Comic Book what to watch Polls and Games Comic-Con@Home 2021 Epix FOX BET Awards spy thriller toy story football feel good Countdown Amazon Hallmark Sneak Peek Film Festival black Infographic scary movies A24 venice Academy Awards halloween tv canceled TV shows miniseries adventure Adult Swim zero dark thirty Pop legend Columbia Pictures Hollywood Foreign Press Association sag awards a nightmare on elm street Tubi Marvel Television adenture marvel cinematic universe TV renewals franchise latino hist comic Rocketman 20th Century Fox unscripted dexter 2017 teaser CNN child's play pirates of the caribbean 90s OneApp theme song Certified Fresh golden globe awards YouTube Red royal family Paramount Plus Classic Film Vudu Sundance spanish language Lifetime Christmas movies Lionsgate telelvision LGBTQ reboot ID natural history hidden camera new york indiana jones RT History aapi cats saw APB art house spider-man comiccon Hallmark Christmas movies new zealand Captain marvel elevated horror Logo VH1 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Wes Anderson japanese dragons Pirates ABC Family 71st Emmy Awards Marvel action-comedy political drama films See It Skip It Trophy Talk posters vs. Comics on TV Tags: Comedy slasher Pacific Islander Heroines composers diversity Hulu docudrama critic resources Endgame space supernatural Pop TV Cartoon Network boxing Disney streaming service TCA joker dogs Song of Ice and Fire obituary Stephen King 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards target Lifetime streaming movies Shondaland vampires toronto Musicals indie AMC First Look Spring TV DC streaming service young adult Ovation asian-american historical drama Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Black History Month Grammys American Society of Cinematographers Star Wars documentaries Image Comics spider-verse Video Games Mystery The CW Legendary revenge Funimation 45 jurassic park satire razzies History comic book movie Spike The Arrangement Action VOD GoT Fox Searchlight universal monsters facebook adaptation Comedy Women's History Month technology cinemax Western singing competition book Amazon Prime WarnerMedia genre BBC One Baby Yoda 73rd Emmy Awards boxoffice quibi video halloween international Broadway Fall TV mcc fresh Martial Arts anthology anime 99% The Academy king arthur comic book movies Writers Guild of America Spectrum Originals sports trailers twilight Box Office psycho YouTube Premium australia Horror finale Reality Competition Paramount Apple 007 rt labs critics edition parents RT21 rt labs talk show crime thriller animated trophy NBA Emmys IFC slashers cancelled TV series Mary Poppins Returns 2020 New York Comic Con stop motion Pixar TIFF war PaleyFest independent FX on Hulu series Super Bowl movies biopic 24 frames classics 2021