A new review from The Movie Snob.

Looper (B+).  I don’t know whether sci-fi author Philip K. Dick (Ubik) ever wrote a story about time travel, but if he did, it’s probably a lot like Looper (but without so much graphic violence).  It’s been out for a couple of months, so you’ve probably already heard the premise.  A few decades in the future, America is a more grim and worn-out-looking place.  Among the criminal elite are a gang of assassins called loopers.  A criminal syndicate operating 30 years further in the future has discovered how to time travel, and they use it to make people “disappear” into the past, where the loopers blow them away as soon as they materialize.  A looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Dark Knight Rises) botches a job when the 30-years-older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom), comes back in time and manages to escape.  Both Joes become marked men; they separate, and young Joe hides out at the farm of the fetching Sara (played by the ubiquitous Emily Blunt, The Five-Year Engagement) while old Joe embarks on a mission to put the whole criminal syndicate out of business.  The film has its flaws—gratuitous nudity, the aforementioned graphic violence, and the logical holes that always seem to dog time-travel stories.  But as a twisty action-suspense flick, it is definitely above average.  Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia), Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks), and Dallas-born Piper Perabo (Cheaper by the Dozen) have small roles.

Total Recall (2012)

A new hatchet job from The Movie Snob.

Total Recall  (D).  The 1990 Schwarzenegger-starring original was no work of art, but it was head and shoulders above this thuddingly dull remake.  According to the credits, this film is “inspired by” a short story by sci-fi master Philip K. Dick, whose paranoia-laced work has inspired many other (better) movies such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.  Anyhoo, this movie is not too different from its 1990 predecessor, although I remember the original as being more outlandish and striving for a few moments of humor.  This version is much darker and grimier.  Colin Farrell (Crazy Heart) stars as Doug Quaid, a superspy who has been brainwashed into thinking he’s an ordinary schmoe with an extraordinarily attractive wife (Kate Beckinsale, The Last Days of Disco).  He finds out about the brainwashing about 15 or 20 minutes into the movie, and the rest of the 2-hour run time is pretty much an extended sequence of chases and fights.  Yawn.  Jessica Biel (Easy Virtue) plays a member of the rebel resistance that Quaid teams up with, and Bill Nighy (I Capture the Castle) has little more than a cameo as the rebel leader.  None of it makes much sense, but Beckinsale does get to strut around and look annoyed a lot as her fake husband constantly stays one step ahead of her and her team of goons.  Skip this turkey.

A Scanner Darkly (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick. This is the last selection in the Library of America volume Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s. This particular novel was first published in 1977, and it was made into a movie by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused) in 2006. The sci-fi elements are really fairly limited. Basically, it’s about an undercover narcotics police officer who is himself an addict. Sometimes he goes to HQ to report, in a high-tech disguise called a “scramble suit,” so that even his superiors don’t know which of the addicts he is reporting on he actually is. The book’s strength is its depiction of drug addiction and the psychoses and paranoia experienced by the addicts. Apparently it is based on some of Dick’s own personal experiences (an “author’s note” at the end of the novel says so), which I suppose is why the novel comes across as so believable. Definitely worth a read.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Book review from The Movie Snob

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, by Philip K. Dick. This is the fourth novel in the Library of America collection Five Novels of the 1960s and 70s. And I remember reading it and liking it back in high school. In some alternative reality, the student protests of the 1960s became a full-fledged civil war, and now the students have gone underground while those living in society are subject to an oppressive police state of multiple I.D.’s and random checkpoints. Anybody without proper I.D. is nabbed and packed off to a forced-labor camp. Our protagonist is Jason Taverner, a world-famous vocalist with a globally popular TV show. He’s also one of a small number of genetically enhanced human beings known as “sixes.” After Taverner is attacked by a deranged woman, he wakes up alone in a seedy hotel room with no I.D. and a wad of money in his pocket. Things quickly get even more bizarre: no one in the world knows who he is, and the central databank has no record he ever existed. He’ll need all of his genetically enhanced smarts to avoid arrest and figure out how he has been erased from reality. Nice premise for a paranoid sci-fi tale, and it’s a pretty enjoyable ride, but I think the ending is a let-down.

Now Wait for Last Year (Book Review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

Now Wait for Last Year, by Philip K. Dick. This is the third story in the Library of America collection Five Novels of the 1960s and 70s. This is one of Dick’s trippier stories. In the mid-21st century, humanity is caught in a war between two alien species–the humanoid aliens from Lilistar and the insectoid reegs. Humanity allied with the Lilistarmen, and unfortunately the Lilistarmen are slowly losing the war. A doctor is caught up in the intrigue of the way when he is tapped to join the entourage of humanity’s supreme leader, UN Secretary Molinari. Meanwhile the doctor’s estranged wife gets hooked on an insidious new psychedelic drug called JJ-180 that seems to cause the user to time travel, and the sinister Lilistarmen use her addiction to force her to try to infiltrate the Secretary’s compound. Once the drug enters the scene, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not anymore. A good story.

Dr. Bloodmoney (Book Review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb, by Philip K. Dick. This is the second story in the Library of America collection Five Novels of the 1960s and 70s. I got a kick out of it. At first we meet some characters in the San Francisco Bay area. We come to realize that some time earlier, there was some sort of serious nuclear accident. Then there is an actual nuclear war, and the rest of the story is about, well, how the characters get along after the bomb. The story is somewhat realistic about how survivors band together in towns outside the old cities–kind of like Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank–but of course there’s lots of weird stuff too, as people develop ESP and other weird powers in the wake of the atomic disaster. And there’s an astronaut stuck in high Earth orbit, unable to get down after the war, who kind of brings everyone together with his radio transmissions as he passes overhead. A good story.

Martian Time-Slip (book review)

Book review from the desk of The Movie Snob

Martian Time-Slip, by Philip K. Dick. This is just the first of five novels included in the new collection of Dick’s work by the Library of America, entitled Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s (2008). As with the previous volume, I’ll review each novel as I finish it, or else I’ll forget the first ones before I finish the volume. Martian Time-Slip (1964) is a good and, by Dick’s standards, fairly straightforward yarn. It is the near future, and Earth has gotten hugely overcrowded. Nervous breakdowns from the stress of life are commonplace. Some colonies have been established on Mars (where all the action takes place), and one of the main characters is a gifted mechanic/electrician who emigrated after suffering a breakdown on Earth. He is drawn into the orbit of the leader of the powerful Martian trade unions, who is de facto one of the most powerful men on the planet. Somehow (I forget how, exactly), the union guy comes to believe that a particular autistic child has psychic powers akin to time-travel, and he persuades the electrician to help him try to communicate with the boy (for purely venal motives, of course). Things unfold unexpectedly and satisfactorily. A good story, and not as suffocatingly paranoid as many of Dick’s stories.