I Heard That Movie Was...

I Heard That Movie Was...: April 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: Transcendence - 'Can You Prove You're Self-Aware?'

Director: Wally Pfister
Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany
Release Date: April 18, 2014

Johnny Depp is not sailing the oceans fighting pirates, assisting Alice on her journey through Wonderland or seeking vengeance in the wild west with the Lone Ranger. Basically, we don't get to see Depp's strange personality that we grew to love in his latest film Transcendence. But was Depp able to remove the jokes & weirdness and bring forth a dark and serious role? Or did we see another swing & miss from Depp?
Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, the leading researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). With his wife Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall), they hope to create a machine that is able to feel human emotions while also combining the collective intelligence of everything ever known. After years of researching and building without any government funding, the Caster's were able to create PINN (Physically Independent Neural Network), a machine designed to process history's combined knowledge and sync it with an uploaded sentient mind.

Dr. Caster's vexed experiments have made him famous but also made him the prime target of an anti-technology extremist group called RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology). RIFT's motto is Evolution without Technology and they go to any extent to stop humankind's dependence on technology and its influence on the world. Prior to their attempt at shooting Caster with a poisonous bullet, a RIFT member asks Dr. Caster a simple question, "You want to create a God?" and Caster replies, "Isn’t that what man has always wanted?" Little did RIFT know, they will aid in the creation of this "God" with Dr. Caster playing the role.

Evelyn refuses to allow death to take her husband and recruits Will's best friend, Dr. Max Waters (Paul Bettany) to help save her husband the only way they can, by uploading Will's consciousness into PINN in order to achieve transcendence. The question they ask themselves is not if they can do it but if they should do it. If they succeed, the possibilities are endless, as are the consequences.

Academy Award winner Wally Pfister makes his directorial debut with Transcendence after being Christopher Nolan's long-time cinematographer working with him on films such as Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy and The Prestige. So it is no surprise Pfister made his directorial debut with a big-budget thriller but he does not bring his prior photography work to the film. Pfister is no Nolan, and that is shown with his directorial debut despite having some similarities. Paired with a weak script with many holes, Pfister was fighting an uphill battle right from the start.

Johnny Depp doesn't give us the performance that people are accustomed to and it 's surely missed throughout the film. Depp only seems bored and lifeless without all the make up and gimmicks. On the other hand, he's naturally a very intelligent man, so he plays the role of Dr. Caster very comfortably which is essential. And Rebecca Hall does not fall short in portraying Evelyn Caster. But with Hall excelling as Evelyn and Depp giving us a lifeless Will, the chemistry between the two fail. Evelyn's emotions are heighten which leads her to give the green light to transcend her husband and go through the roller coaster ride that is this process. An emotional level in which Depp never duplicates or even comes close to meeting.

The concept of the film is intriguing and was paired with an amazing job done by Rebecca Hall, but this concept is nothing new to the film industry. The film does not have many highlights. To begin, Transcendence takes longer than it should to reach its climax. Perhaps the film should have started with Evelyn and Dr. Waters working on uploading Dr. Caster's consciousness to PINN. On top of that, throughout the film a lot of conflict and questions begin to rise but are never answered or addressed. For example, if the uploaded consciousness really was Dr. Caster or just a digital representation of him. Or how the FBI, who at one point was hunting down RIFT members, never addressed or were alerted about Dr. Waters being taken hostage.

There is also no sense of time throughout the film as the breakthroughs done that took mere days in the film should of taken years in reality causing a shattered sense of reality for the audience. And this broken reality continues to be a theme as the solution that Dr. Waters, Evelyn and company came up with was never addressed with high ranking government officials. Which it should have, seeing that the outcome had MAJOR effects on humanity.

The thing you can take away from film is its concept as it can be a great conversation topic. If Transcendence came out in the 90's like other sci-fi films of this concept it would of been harder to relate to, but we are apart of a generation that is relying more and more on technology. What role do we want technology to play in the bigger picture that is our future? Should we fear technology? How far should we go in the development of Artificial Intelligence? Transcendence might or might not be a realistic possibility of what could happen if we go too far in the development of AI but the film does definitely gives its viewer a spark in a conversation that will play a huge role in our civilization for years to come.

Overall, Transcendence is full of fascinating ideas but is equally filled with logical errors. You leave the theater asking yourself questions about some of the plot points and unfortunately some of these questions don't come with answers. Hopefully Pfister does give it a second go at the directorial seat because I do expect him to find his niche and give us greatness as a director as he has done as a cinematographer. I would not recommend going out to see this film in theaters but if you do, skip out on the IMAX experience and see it on a regular formatted screen. Perhaps adding Transcendence to your DVD collection is a good idea.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, April 10, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: The Railway Man - 'War Leaves a Mark'

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård
Release Date: April 11, 2014

No one knows trains like Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) does. He can tell you where a train is going, where it was made, the name of the route, the name of all the stations it will pass and what train to connect to even if you missed the train you needed. That last example is exactly how he ran into the beautiful Patti (Nicole Kidman) who would later become his wife - well not before shaving his mustache.
Patti later finds out that her husband is a broken man due to the time he served in World War II and is willing to pick up the pieces. But does she know the full extent of the damage done to Eric? The year is 1942 and young Eric (Jeremy Irvine), a signals officer, is ordered to surrender with the rest of his unit to the Japanese Imperial Army. They are sent to build what would later become the Burma Railway, a railway route between Thailand and Burma, with thousands of other prisoners of war. Making a railway is hard and tedious work to begin with, throughout the history of railways usually slaves are the ones who are left to do the construction, but not this time.The Burma Railway was once thought of being constructed by the British government of Burma in the past but they thought it would be too difficult to be built as they felt many men would die in the process and those who didn't would of wished they had, and that wasn't a risk they were willing to take.

Lomax and his unit are saved from the brutal physical work and used for their engineering skills instead. But Lomax will soon find out his life would not be any easier. He endures unimaginable torments at the hands of a young Nagase Takashi (Tanroh Ishida), a Japanese intelligence officer. Lomax is scarred from the events that happen during this time and it is Patti's duty to help Eric come to peace with his past and stop pushing his wife away.

The Railway Man had great potential with a great cast of Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård and Hiroyuki Sanada but director Jonathan Teplitzky fails to tap into this potential as there were many problems I came across in the film. The film starts off as a romance of sorts with Eric meeting Patti on the train and instantly wanting to see her again when he gets off the train. Eric even goes to the extent of train watching, hoping he will run into her again. Fortunately for Eric, he runs into her and they start dating from then on. Throughout this whole dating period all the way up to their wedding we never get a glimpse of Eric battling the dark memories from his war days. In fact we don't see much of how he is truly affected until AFTER his wedding. This brings up the question, did Patti suppress those dark memories? Possibly, but when the memories come back to haunt him, he pushes Patti away. What was different with Eric before and after the wedding? A question that was never answered.

The Railway Man is based on Eric Lomax's autobiography of the same name. Although I have yet to read the novel, you can grasp that the book goes into more detail than the film, but you don't get to feel the humidity or heat of the jungle. We SEE the prisoners of war look famish but we don't FEEL that unbearable heat they are living under. As for the Japanese soldiers, despite the scenes where they demonstrate their cruelty, fear is never instilled in you. Their were many scenes where Lomax did something against command or would interfere with other workers and the soldiers would leave them alone unpunished besides a quick yell in a foreign language.

One thing that made understanding the story challenging was the technique of using present day Eric as the story telling device, this made separating the flashbacks from the Burma Railway and the memories from a weathered and tortured Eric difficult to differentiate. When this method of story telling is used correctly, the building of tension and plot revealing points are done wonderfully, unfortunately this is not the case with The Railway Man. So much time is spent in bland, dull Britain at a dismally slow pace that any tension that is built up within the flashback dies out, killing any and all momentum. This also hurts the feelings drawn from the characters as well. When you begin to grow attachment to young Lomax and the abuse he is going through, the flashback ends and you're back to dull modern day Lomax in which you don't grow as strong of a connection with.

On the other hand, the acting done by Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine was the true highlight of the film. Both Firth and Irvine capture the emotional and mental damage done to Eric throughout his life. Especially in the scene where Firth is trembling on the bedroom floor, trapped again in a nightmare he can never shake. Irvine’s younger version of Eric portrays the full passion play of abuse: beaten, wasted and still filled with pride to tell them anything but the truth.

Overall, The Railway Man falls short of expectation. I recommend passing on this movie when it hits theaters but when given the opportunity to see the film via Netflix or on TV, you should sit down and give the film a shot. The performances done by Firth and Irvine are something you definitely should not miss.

Real life Eric Lomax and Nagase Takashi

Labels: , , , , , , ,