Transcendence (2014)

TranscendenceReleased: April 18, 2014. Directed by: Wally Pfister. Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany. Runtime: 119 min.

Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, Transcendence, uses the character of Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) to introduce an interesting concept. Transcendence is the idea of an artificial intelligence that would be smarter than any person to ever live, transcending the ability of the human mind. It starts out with an artificial intelligence called PINN, and eventually leads to Caster’s consciousness being uploaded to the motherboard after an attempted assassination by a radical luddite. He doesn’t die at the scene, but the bullet, laced with a poison that causes radiation in the bloodstream, slowly kills him. When A.I. Will wants to expand his network and gain more power, it becomes threatening to humanity.

I think artificial intelligence is a fascinating subject in the realm of cinema. Of course, I wouldn’t want it to happen in real-life – at least something to this extent, that could turn into a real-life, high-tech horror story. Artificial intelligence does seem like a distinct possibility. The film proposes an idea that technology should assist us, not control us. It’s a true fact that we knew prior to this film. Everyone’s seen enough technology-is-evil movies to know that this should never happen, or probably ever will. The film’s idea of transcendence is a cool way to live past your physical body. Of course, in order for you not to gain too much power – you should be limited to one or two computers, certainly not entire networks. Otherwise, you’re just being selfish. If computers do rise up I hope those power-hungry f!#ks make sure Paglen doesn’t write another movie because he is way too vague with his ideas; more on that later. (Or at least his next screenplay gets analyzed for logic.)

In this film, the created A.I. can advance medical technology, and make any water safe to drink. I’d personally drink from a pond first before something like the Ganges River before taking the computer’s word for it. The A.I. can make the other world a better place in other ways, too. Ways it explains this and how it might happen is highly illogical and doesn’t make much sense – that’s mostly for how it makes water safer to drink. Some ways it advances medical technology goes against God’s will, which is thought-provoking. Other things that Caster proceeds to do once he’s getting power is something that I won’t spoil – but I’ll say that it borders on silly.

Jack Paglen’s writing ability is lacking. He decides to merely lay a bunch of ideas up so viewers can personally decide where they stand on it all. The themes of the film are largely at their most basic stages of development, where Paglen offers ideas that he doesn’t flesh out. This is what prevents the film from being engaging or compelling. Instead, it’s a true bore that will make you have heavy eyelids early on. The only excitement that comes in this so-called sci-fi thriller come in the last twenty-five minutes, but by that time you simply won’t give a shit.

The characters and performances are forgettable, and they each feel like villains at some point. Depp portrays his anti-hero/villain with subtlety. It’s a good thing he looks like his normal self as the computer, and not the bald and sunken version. Hall’s Evelyn Caster is caught between her love and faith for her husband, and the human side. The film does have a cool premise where the human mind mashes with technology and turns out to be a story where they’re both monsters. It seems like it could be a different technology-is-evil film, but soon goes back into a humans vs. technology comfort zone. Paul Bettany portrays friend of the Casters, who sports the idea that the artificial intelligence really isn’t Will. Bettany on the human side is a funny contrast to him playing an actual technological invention, Jarvis in the Iron Man films.

Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy’s roles aren’t compelling. Murphy’s character is too generic to even pass the name test. He’s known as Agent Buchanan. There’s a creative choice with Freeman that’s strange. Freeman is in voice-over mode randomly because his character is reading a letter that he read to Evelyn, but not to Evelyn, to the audience. Even though he’s actually with Evelyn during the short scene. It saves time… I guess? But both Murphy and Freeman, who are usually phenomenal presences, are just kinda there – popping up for short periods throughout.

Against Caster’s wishes is a neo-Luddite terrorist group called RIFT, led by bleach-blonde Bree (Kate Mara). She’s not very intimidating as the antagonist to Will’s wishes, but she’s never really called to be. Mara’s pretty okay as the character. I think the hypocrisy of luddites (those against the advancement of technology) in this film is absolutely hilarious. When some are getting busted, one of them is using a laptop. They also set a bomb at one point — that requires all sorts of technology, especially the timer and the detonator. These guys really make don’t make much sense.

Transcendence feels too much like a love story at times, as it explores a woman’s need to have her husband around in computer form. Hall is convincing as Evelyn. The love story aspect might not be that appealing to those simply expecting a good, high-concept suspense drama. There’s little suspense in this however; perhaps because we’ve seen this sort-of film too many times, and Paglen’s story doesn’t allow Pfister to be good at tension building. Due to the film’s familiarity, this film is void of worthwhile surprises. The film’s stunning, at least. It has the scope and usual cast members of Christopher Nolan’s films, as Pfister is his usual cinematographer. Pfister’s film just lacks all the greatness of a Nolan film, mostly because of the story that packs no energetic punch. More of the blame for this disappointing film should be on the writer, in this situation. 

Score: 50/100

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Man of Steel (2013)

Man of SteelRelease Date: June 14, 2013

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

Runtime: 143 min

Man of Steel is my first film experience with the Clark Kent/Superman character. So, I cannot compare this to earlier Superman films. As an origins story, it does introduce this character in a unique way, but not a way that is particularly good.

A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.

As a highly anticipated film, this leaves a lot to be desired. I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, just not a great or even a good one.

The narrative is fairly unique, I’ll give it that. It just feels random and disorganized. At one minute, the movie is in the present – and the next, Clark is remembering something from his past. I do like flashbacks every now and then to fill in a puzzle of a movie, but this one just hops around like an Energizer bunny. The main story follows General Zod (Michael Shannon) who invades earth with some seriously sinister plans. Initially, this story is intriguing – but it takes long to get into, and the action sequences are big and stupid. This time around, I don’t know if I’d call the destruction of New York City particularly fun – or even entertaining, for that matter. I don’t think David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan write the most impressive tale of hope and superhuman abilities.

When Clark looks back on his past, it is mostly his father (Kevin Costner) repeatedly telling him that the world is not ready for Clark’s powers just yet. They might never be ready. Clark is struggling with his superhuman abilities. This coming-of-age aspect is something that could hit close to home, in the way that people have to adjust to their surroundings and find a place for them, not in the way that everyone has to learn to deal with their superpowers. This part of the story is powerful, poignant and thought out, and I appreciate it. I just do not appreciate the constant, and sudden changes in tone throughout the feature. It goes from big, stupid action to character-driven drama that feels real. It becomes bothersome quickly, and it does not make for effective storytelling.

Since Superman’s worried about what the world would think of him… Spider-Man and Batman are fairly well-received; it might change the world, but if he just wears a mask, he, Clark Kent, wouldn’t face any backlash or criticism. Masks are good for disguising. Putting glasses on as Clark Kent, and taking them off when the guy feels like putting on his cape and saving the world, is not much of a foolproof disguise. He should also lose the cape, because villains could grab it and throw him around easier. Edna E. Mode of The Incredibles would be sorely disappointed. (“No capes!”)

“NO CAPES!”

Visually speaking, this movie is a marvel. The imagined world of Krypton, and the shots of Krypton exploding, are magnificent, and have gone unmatched so far this year. The cinematography is also impressive, it looks very pure and I love the look of the movie. It’s unfortunate that nothing is really going on under the surface, story-wise. These big-budget blockbusters should really focus more on story, and less on visuals. Of course, that’s wishing for something that won’t happen. I don’t like the story at play here, and the film has an exhausting runtime. Only great movies should be allowed to be this long. There’s just very little here that is impressive. Most of it is underwhelming.

I like the cast. I love Amy Adams as an actress, and she’s great as Lois Lane, a character that doesn’t do a lot here. When she isn’t on-screen, I’m okay with it; because I mostly forget about Lane, not because Amy Adams is not a good screen presence. She is a great one. The chemistry shared between she and Henry Cavill is only okay. Henry Cavill is great as The ‘S’ Man, even if he isn’t funny; he’s stone-cold serious. But he isn’t asked to be funny, and he does bring some power to the role. This is a superhero movie that doesn’t have much humour. It has a few jokes near the end, but they feel out of place, and you’ll only catch them if you’re still awake. I’m not saying that the movie is particularly boring, but it’s very long for such an average movie… Diane Lane is sincere as Clark’s mother, and Kevin Costner is a great, scene-stealing movie Dad. His heartfelt performance will speak to you. Some of the best scenes include him.

I have noticed that DC Comics adaptations are much less funny than Marvel Comics adaptations; so maybe Goyer (and Nolan) need to learn how to write a bit more fun into their screenplay. I like a little joking around in my superhero movies; and if the story were more enjoyable and entertaining, the dark tone would be easier to swallow. I do love Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but those are brilliant and aren’t stupid. This one is big and dumb. Don’t misunderstand me, the story isn’t stupid, the action is. There’s punching and heat rays and more punching. It does not feel like a lot of thought has gone into it. This action also feels incredibly repetitive. And the storytelling is ineffective. I know that Nolan and Goyer are capable of so much more. It shows that it can be smart with its aspect of Clark learning to deal with his powers. So its change in narrative makes it go from stupid to smart, and back to stupid.

I enjoy most villains, as long as they are interesting, either menacing if they are meant to be, or funny if they are meant to be. And they have to be memorable. I love this villain. Michael Shannon is my favourite part of the movie. He is a true actor. His portrayal of General Zod is menacing, chilling, and compelling. Not to mention crazy, because he’s either yelling or flaring his nostrils, but I don’t really mind. I think it’s effective and menacing. Zod thinks his actions are noble, because he’d do anything to preserve the future of Krypton. He does not have morals. I do appreciate the writers’ decision to use Zod as the villain for this origins story, rather than Superman’s best known foe, Lex Luthor. The Mandarin of Iron Man 3 and John Harrison of Star Trek Into Darkness would bow down to GZod. I am ecstatic that Michael Shannon will now be a certified household name. However, in the movie, I do not appreciate the fact Superman’s duels with GZod’s henchmen feel longer than his duel with the actual, primary villain!

I anticipated this not as a fan of Superman, not as a die-hard fan of the superhero sub-genre, but as a die-hard fan of Christopher Nolan. Anything with his name on it, I get excited for – mostly because I trust his judgement. If he wants to spend a lot of money producing a movie, and co-writing one, I’ll pay to see it. I don’t love this. And after thinking about it a lot, I don’t like it much, either. The few worthwhile aspects to this movie is the cinematography, the stunning visuals and Michael Shannon. Overall, it’s an incredibly underwhelming and dis-a-pointing endeavour.

50/100

Oblivion (2013)

OblivionOblivion

Release Date: April 19, 2013

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko

Runtime: 126 min

Tagline: Earth Is a Memory Worth Fighting For

Jack (Tom Cruise) is one of the last drone repairmen remaining on Earth. All other survivors have evacuated, after a decades-long war with an alien race, where now the only threat are the Scavs remaining on Earth. After a disturbing find, Jack begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.

At the end of it all, it remains a moderate disappointment and there’s much to be desired, especially in the story department.

The movie has a lot of good going for it. The characters are intriguing, where they make us ask who some of them really are. The characters of Julia and also Beech, portrayed by Olga Kurylenko and Morgan Freeman, respectively, are the charcters wrapped in the most mystery. Sally (Melissa Leo) is the head honcho up in space at the station, the Tet, who basically delivers and authenticates orders. Victoria (Andrea Risenborough) is on the mission with Jack, and she monitors him while he’s on missions to fix drones. Her philosophy is strictly business during the day, and fun in the evening. Jack often maintains that business mindset while on missions, even though he tends to go off monitor and do his own thing because he is very curious and is searching for meaning. He still believes Earth is his home, while Victoria cannot wait to go to the Tet and join the others. Jack’s search for meaning gives the film a solid narrative and makes it an effective character sci-fi drama, where all the dots are connected in the end. He has to find his way through basic man vs. man conflicts, man vs. technology conflicts, and most of all, man vs. self conflicts, as he is haunted by his own memories. The cast that portrays these characters is also top-notch.

The other highlight of the movie are the solid action sequences, the breathtaking landscapes and fantastic cinematography. This will be one of the most beautiful science fiction films to hit theatres this year, and is the nicest sci-fi to look at since last year’s Prometheus. It’s stunning when the camera is sailing over Iceland or when Cruise is just flying about; and that magnificent cinematography is the film’s strongest aspect. It’s one of the most gorgeous post-apocalyptic films you might ever see. The film also has a great score, and the technological gadgets are sh-weet.

The concept of Jack not really knowing his true self is portrayed well because sometimes we all lose our real sense of identity. It’s very frustrating when we really don’t know, so it’s realistic because he really has no idea of it, and it’s made even harder as he’s trying to hang onto any of his own humanity that remains.

The movie’s main problem is the storyline. The narrative all makes an admirable U-turn by the end of it all, but its road there can be hard to follow. Especially if you over-think it during. (You’d be thinking about the previous scene when a new, sometimes more complex scene is going on.) It’s also one of those sci-fi flicks that’ll be easier to understand on second or third viewing. The story also makes us question who the true villains are: Those on Earth (the Scavs, who look a bit too much like the antagonists from Predator), or whoever else is keeping secrets?

The story is intriguing but it loses its pacing and its initial great spark in the middle act. It aspires to be something grandiose in scale with its complex storyline, but comes out to be not as original as it could be and quite familiar because of all of its homages. The writers’ ambitions get in the film’s own way. The thing is, with all of its plot twists and turns, it feels like it’s striving to be something out of an M. Night Shyamalan or Christopher Nolan handbook. The twists aren’t as magnificent as something Nolan or Shyamalan could think of, because it feels like it’s striving to find the next new masterful twist that will never be forgotten. You might not be able to see them coming from the beginning of the movie, but many times during, you might be able to predict the basics of what will happen next a minute in advance.

This disappointing sci-fi feature will only receive a half-hearted recommendation; there’s just too much to be desired. There are effectively thrilling action sequences, breathtakingly beautiful cinematography, intriguing characters; but because of the highly ambitious storyline, the end product is an entertaining action movie, an intriguing sci-fi character drama, but a thinly-written mystery.

67/100

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man

Release Date: July 3, 2012

Director: Marc Webb

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans

Runtime: 136 min

Tagline: His past was kept from him. His search for answers has just begun.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) finds a clue that might help him understand why his parents disappeared when he was young. His path puts him on a collision course with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father’s former partner.

While inferior to Spider-Man 2 of the Sam Raimi trilogy, it’s vastly superior to Spider-Man 3, but it’s a little better than the first Spider-Man. It doesn’t have too many villains, and Marc Webb is a worthy enough director to reboot the great super hero. It doesn’t really ever reach amazing, as Raimi set the bar pretty high, but it is pretty awesome. Granted, The Pretty Awesome Spider-Man doesn’t have a good ring to it.

Peter has to deal with a few situations throughout the feature: some relationship problems, deaths within the family, a police captain, and of course, the Lizard.

Peter is having a few relationship problems with his new girlfriend Gwen Stacy, because he wants to keep her safe. Of course, super heroes are going to have villains. Also, one other relationship problem could arise because he’s never vibrantly exciting. He tells a few jokes, and he has that charming smile he’s always flashing, but that’s about it. Nothing else is virtually off about him, but there aren’t any other notable things about him. No one can forget the great Tobey Maguire, and comparisons between the two are inevitable. Garfield is pretty bland compared to Maguire. Gwen Stacy is a great love choice for Spider-Man. Garfield may be bland when he’s without Stacy (portrayed by Emma Stone), but when the two are together, they’re a pretty fine team. I really like Gwen Stacy, maybe even more than Mary Jane Watson.

Any of you who have seen the original Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, or are generally familiar with the story of Peter Parker, will know which family member of his gets killed off fairly early in the story.  The death of this character brings on solid character development to Peter, as it fills him with a need for vengeance, a trait one would not think of when they hear the word: super hero; but that is one of the primary traits of Parker after this time. Parker’s search for this character’s killer is actually realistic. He goes through a countless number of thugs in search of a man with a star tattoo on his left wrist. This ultimately puts him in the path of a New York police Captain, and that said Police Captain thinks Parker is a vigilant menace, mirroring the character of J. Jonah Jameson.

Compared to Raimi’s first Spider-Man, there are some things this does better, and things it does worse. The introduction to Peter’s new found powers is better, and funnier. Sometimes, the things he does are cooler. Although, no one can forget those “Go go spider web!” or “Up, up and away! ” lines that Maguire uttered in the original Spider-Man. The search for his relative’s killer is more realistic in this, because he just doesn’t find the killer off the bat. Though, if he did find the killer off the bat, it would bring closure much earlier in the story, and Spidey wouldn’t be haunted by that unholy ghost called vengeance.

That whole sub-plot goes on in the first bit of the film, and the actual super villain (in the full Lizard state) doesn’t get fully introduced until after the one-hour mark. Dr. Curt Connors has motivations that are quite easy to understand. He only has one arm, so he has a raging jealousy of lizards because they can regrow limbs. His motivations are easy to understand, but his master plan… not so much. He wants to turn everyone into lizards. Sure, we’ll be stronger and faster, but everyone’s more content being human… We’ll have scaly skin, and even a year supply of hand and skin lotions can’t cure that.

While it probably won’t enter the reboot series status of something like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it still makes the sequels look promising. There are some great action sequences, dramatic scenes and plot development, and it’s a great introduction to a new Spider-Man series. Garfield may make for an often unfunny Spider-Man, as all the jokes are given to Police Captain Stacy, Gwen, Uncle Ben and Aunt May; but maybe the writers will give him a little more flare and heart in the sequels.

75/100

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises

Release Date: July 20, 2012

Director: Christopher Nolan

Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway

Runtime: 165 min

Tagline: A fire will rise.

This one was quite impressive.

   Eight years after Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes, a new terrorist leader has come to the surface in Gotham. There hasn’t been a spotting of Batman for eight years, and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse around the same time. Wayne must overcome his own personal turmoil and once again protect the city that has branded him an enemy.

It’s a great summer blockbuster that offers many incredible thrills great plot execution, some great twists and turns, and great direction and writing from Christopher Nolan.

The character of Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) wasn’t all that great. She offered a nice presence, but she wasn’t developed well enough as the other characters. The other new characters, like Bane or Officer John Blake or Miranda, are really good, and got solid character development. Although, other new characters like Daggett or Stryver, weren’t very interesting at all and weren’t extremely well-developed. The old characters are, as expected, as great as always.

The usual great Nolan atmosphere is offered, and it is one heck of a super-hero film. Its only possessive flaw is the sometimes slow build-up, and the plot feels a little too overused. Of course, what can you expect from a super-hero film? It will obviously have the whole hero vs. villain play-out, and this one has an extremely memorable climax. Its length may also feel like a flaw to some, but really and truly it doesn’t feel nearly as long as it actually is. Also, some of the realism of the whole thing feels off in areas.

This was obviously highly anticipated, and it really does live up to its hype. The cast is stellar, and Tom Hardy delivers a great performance – considering all he must act with are his eyes, voice, and gestures. His British drone and sometimes barely-audible dialogue make his character cringe-worthy, but the majority of his dialogue was understandable – if you listen very well. The subtitles should be helpful to those who will watch it on home media.

Now, here come the inevitable comparisons to the first two films, and the villains before Bane. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t nearly as great as The Dark Knight, but it is much better than Batman Begins. The atmospheric action was greater in D.K., and it had more memorable scenes. Though, this was still amazing. In this Nolan trilogy, Bane is better than Ra’s Al Ghul (as Ken Watanabe), but not Cillian Murphy’s The Scarecrow, Two-Face or especially not The Joker. All Bane has really is a frightening stature, strength, and the whole mystery of why he’s wearing that freaking eerie inhaler thingy-ma-bobber. That isn’t very scary, right…? He’s probably not the best villain because he doesn’t use a whole lot of psychological warfare. Heath Ledger’s The Joker used that all-too-well, and he was downright terrifying with his extreme psychopathic nature. The Scarecrow was just really cool, and he obviously used psychology as a weapon as he poisoned his victims with that gas to make them hallucinate like crazy.

This flick stars Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, with Liam Neeson and Juno Temple.

The Dark Knight Rises is an extremely impressive piece of cinema that may be flawed, but still awesome. The length may threaten some, but it is an experience that should be had, and even people who don’t like super-heroes can enjoy this. It isn’t as great as The Dark Knight, as [it was] expected, but this is still quite must-see. This is a summer blockbuster at its finest which should snatch up an extremely respectable amount of awards.

90/100