Video Verdict: ‘Total Recall,’ ‘Trouble With the Curve,’ ‘Pitch Perfect’

In “Total Recall,” Colin Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, a seemingly average guy who finds himself in a secret agent adventure.

In “Total Recall,” Colin Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, a seemingly average guy who finds himself in a secret agent adventure.

This week’s home video releases include a baseball drama starring Clint Eastwood, a musical about college show choirs and a remake of a popular science-fiction film.

Total Recall

3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Director Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 film “Total Recall” is a science-fiction classic, but it feels dated by today’s standards. Realizing that, Columbia Pictures has trotted out a new version that should play to modern audiences.

This new “Total Recall” features Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid, a character originally made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Quaid is an average factory worker who visits Rekall, a business that helps people escape the doldrums of day-to-day life by implanting false memories in their brains. Quaid chooses to have a secret agent adventure uploaded, but gunmen storm the Rekall facility just seconds after he is prepared for treatment. The men claim that Quaid is a spy and kill everyone on site, except for him.

Quaid escapes the attack using amazing combat skills he didn’t realize he possessed, and he is forced to accept that he may be an actual secret agent whose mind was previously tampered with. Confused, he goes on the run.

Director Len Wiseman adds nice touches to this new version of “Recall,” including a darker tone, improved special effects and a superior cast. Whether you like Arnold Schwarzenegger or not, Colin Farrell is a better actor, and he is joined by Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel and Bill Nighy, all of whom are terrific.

Wiseman and his team of screenwriters allow their movie to stray from the original “Recall,” particularly in terms of setting. Although major portions of the Schwarzenegger film take place on Mars, all the action in Wiseman’s film is set on a post-apocalyptic version of Earth. Despite the change in setting, the plotting remains similar to that of the original film, and there’s an emphasis on action-adventure sequences.

A smarter version of the movie would have slowed down, placing a greater focus on Quaid’s internal struggles and his inability to trust his memory. Instead, Wiseman made a full-tilt adventure film, which feels a lot like the original 1990 version, only dressed up in spiffy, new clothes.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include making-of features and a gag reel.

Trouble With the Curve

3½ stars
Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Robert Lorenz worked as an assistant director to Clint Eastwood on numerous hits, including “Million Dollar Baby,” “Mystic River” and “The Bridges of Madison County.” For “Trouble With the Curve,” he stepped out of Eastwood’s shadow to handle primary directing duties, and the resulting film is a fine meditation on sports and familial relationships.

The movie relates the story of Gus Lobel (Eastwood), an Atlanta Braves scout charged with analyzing a hot, young minor league player on the eve of the Major League draft. Although Gus has friends in the front office, some executives believe the game has passed him by. These doubts are compounded by the fact that Gus’ eyesight is failing.

Realizing that Gus could be fired from the job he loves, his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), decides to accompany him on a scouting venture, helping wherever possible. Despite the generosity of her gesture, the trip is difficult because Gus is a gruff, old codger and Mickey resents the fact that he abandoned her as a child.

The Randy Brown script is overly sentimental, particularly toward the end, but Lorenz was able to mold it into a thoroughly engaging drama. As with all the best sports movies, the world of athletics hovers in the background, but it isn’t the most important feature of the project. The real emphasis is on the relationship between Gus and Mickey, and Eastwood and Adams light up the screen when they’re playing across from one another.

Lorenz also draws fine performances from his supporting cast, including Justin Timberlake as a younger scout and John Goodman and Matthew Lillard as Braves executives. Collectively this group powers past the mushy and somewhat-predictable ending to make “Trouble With the Curve” one of the better dramas released in 2012.

DVD extras are limited to a single making-of feature in which Adams and Timberlake talk about their characters. The Blu-ray release has that, plus a short where Lorenz and Eastwood talk about their work together.

Pitch Perfect

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

“Pitch Perfect” borrowed more than a few pages from the popular television show “Glee,” which follows the lives of aspiring singers and dancers in a standout high school show choir. Screenwriter Kay Cannon and director Jason Moore moved the action from high school to college, but the most important parts of “Pitch Perfect” were taken directly from the “Glee” playbook. There’s a cast of quirky, misunderstood characters, including a diva that makes everyone’s life hell. There’s a romantic subplot that demands ample screen time. And, there is plenty of music.

The fact that “Pitch Perfect” is little more than a variation on “Glee” isn’t a huge problem, especially since the movie does some things even better than its TV counterpart. To start, the film knows how to approach the music. When “Glee” started, each episode included at least one clever choral arrangement of a popular song. Since the show was about a choir, the producers seemed to realize the importance of presenting music that demanded harmonic lines that could only be delivered by multiple voices. Today, “Glee” musical numbers are little more than lazy re-workings of radio hits. Often, harmonies and backup vocals don’t even matter.

“Pitch Perfect,” on the other hand, features a host of terrific songs, all arranged specifically for choir and most of them purely a cappella. This is refreshing because it’s representative of what actual choirs do… and it makes the soundtrack a pleasure. Unfortunately, the plotting is less dynamic than the music.

The focus is on Beca (Anna Kendrick), a cynical freshmen who is attending college only because her father is forcing her. Beca’s real dream is to move to Los Angeles and become a record producer, but she ends up joining the Bellas, her school’s all-women’s show choir. Beca also spends a good deal of time flirting with Jesse (Skylar Astin), a member of the school’s outstanding men’s choir.

As with “Glee,” there are plenty of other characters to contend with, the most important being members of Beca’s group. These include Aubrey (Anna Camp), the controlling leader; Chloe (Brittany Snow), Aubrey’s best friend; and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), a heavy-but-spirited performer.

“Pitch Perfect” follows the Bellas’ attempt to win a show choir championship, while also examining their personal lives, most importantly Beca’s relationship with Jesse. This is all soap opera stuff, and it would be painful to watch if Moore wasn’t so good at injecting the music. Just when the overly trite story is getting annoying, he cuts away to an impressive vocal piece that freshens everything up. Add in the fact that the cast (particularly Kendrick) is extremely talented, and you have a show choir movie that is more entertaining than any recent episode of “Glee.”

DVD and Blu-ray extras include behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes and two audio commentaries by the filmmakers.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid  Dog Days”: Third installment of the movie franchise based on writer Jeff Kinney’s books. This time, Greg (Zachary Gordon) and his best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) are trying to make the best of summer vacation. Alas, Greg’s father (Steve Zahn) and brother (Devon Bostick) find ways to disrupt their plans. Directed by David Bowers.

“House of Lies” – The First Season: First 12 episodes of the Showtime dramedy about corporate management consultants who will go to any length to close a deal. Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell star.

“The Good Doctor”: Drama about a young doctor (Orlando Bloom) whose relationship with a patient (Riley Keough) causes him to engage in unethical behavior. Directed by Lance Daly.

“Liberal Arts”: Romantic comedy about a 35-year-old college admissions advisor (Josh Radnor) whose relationship with a 19-year-old woman (Elizabeth Olsen) forces him to rethink his life. Radnor not only stars in the film, he wrote and directed it.

“Sleepwalk With Me”: Story of a comedian (Mike Birbiglia) whose personal problems are reflected in increasingly bizarre (and dangerous) bouts of sleepwalking.

“Funny or Die Presents” – The Complete Second Season: Fresh episodes of the 30-minute sketch comedy program executive produced by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Chris Henchy and Andrew Steele.

“Californication” – The Fifth Season: Most recent season of the Showtime drama starring David Duchovny as a writer balancing a thriving career with a troubled personal life. Natascha McElhone, Madeleine Martin and Evan Handler also star.

“Shameless” – The Complete Second Season: Twelve episodes of the Showtime series about the dysfunctional dealings of a large Chicago family. William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum star.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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