Blog Archives

Transcendence

Transcendence

Directed by Wally Pfister

Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany and Morgan Freeman

 

transcendence-johnny-depp-posterIn case you missed the news or the trailers were so generic that you just don’t care, there is a new Johnny Depp movie currently in theatres. What is it? You may be asking. Well think of a generic 90s techno-thriller-horror minus the thrills and the horror. The film is called Transcendence. What is it about? It’s apparently about The Singularity as predicted by Ray Kurzwell and discussed in the brilliant 2009 documentary Transcendental Man. If you are unfamiliar with Ray Kurzwell his theory in the simplest context is that in the near future technology will be advancing so quickly that the only way we will be able to keep up will be to adapt to machines with nanoprobe technology implanted in us.

In the film version however, Johnny Depp plays a scientist who creates an AI machine, not unlike what Kurzwell is currently working on with Google to develop a computer that can mimic the human brain. It is a fascinating concept and there is a lot that can be done within a science fiction film. Unfortunately, they do nothing more than update those generic thrillers from the 90s when people were afraid of the Internet stealing their information. The new techno-fear is that we will become machines. So, in many ways Transcendence is exploiting a common societal fear. If it were less obvious and even remotely suspenseful, this might be something that could be looked over.

bored-deppOne thing that cannot be looked over is the boredom seeping through Johnny Depp’s performance. While, I think Johnny Depp is generally limited as an actor who can only play two characters, that are either manic or melancholic, at least he is entertaining when he is manic or good when being melancholic in the right film such as Dead Man, Donnie Brasco or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Transcendence on the other is Johnny Depp playing melancholic in a generic thriller, as he has done many times, from The Astronauts Wife, Nick of Time or Secret Window. While these are not necessarily bad films they are middle of the road thrillers and best suited to home video.

Paul Bettany is perhaps the only reason to see Transcendence

Paul Bettany is the only reason to see Transcendence

The only worthwhile part of the film was time dedicated to Paul Bettany, who is always worth paying attention to, even though casual movie goers don’t know his name Bettany brings some life to every film he is in, whether it be A Knight’s Tale, Master and Commander or The DaVinci Code. Paul Bettany works well with whatever he has to work with. Unfortunately, Bettany is not on screen enough to save Transcendence from mediocrity and Johnny Depp is just famous enough to save the Transcendence from obscurity and to keep the film going direct to DVD or VOD.

This is not a film that I want to tell people to avoid, as its one of the few Hollywood films out this year that is not a franchise property or a brand name, unfortunately the film is so generic, that you will most likely forget it within days of seeing it. Therefore, Transcendence is a rental at best.

 

Advertisements

The Lone Ranger

 

lone-ranger-1

150 minutes, 2013

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson and Barry Pepper

Despite the negative reviews, The Lone Ranger is a lot of fun. It looks beautiful, it was shot on film to emanate the look of a classic western, and the homages to Buster Keaton’s The General (1927) and classic westerns demonstrate the filmmakers love for the content they were working with. Like most, I was reluctant to see this based on negative reviews. I don’t care for the work of Johnny Depp. I think he’s been mining the same characters for 20 years. I was expecting more of the same old Johnny Depp shtick, especially after the last couple of Pirates films and a few too many trips to Tim Burtonville. In all honesty, Johnny Depp does pull off the same character that he made his career out of. However, there are more interesting things in the film than Johnny Depp.

So what did I think of The Lone Ranger.. Well, I actually loved it. To me this film encapsulated everything great about classic westerns and adventure films from a time before Batman. This was back when a hero was allowed to have fun and didn’t have to be brooding and dark to distract audiences from how silly it all is. Unfortunately, modern audiences don’t take to heroes without some kind of parental tragedy. This is perhaps why they killed Kirk’s dad in the new Star Trek series and turned James Bond into an orphan in Skyfall. They do throw in a tragic back story for Tonto, this serves the film quite well and pushes the character beyond a one-dimensional sidekick. There is also a tragic element to The Lone Ranger, but never dwell on this. There were no grand standing speeches and no emotional breakdowns. This was simply a plot device to cue the spectacular and over the top adventure that worked quite well and never felt excessive. Some have complained about the run time. I barely noticed.

This was a throwback to 1930s serial adventure films with a splash of John Ford thrown in for stylistic purposes. The John Ford influences were especially present in the desert scenes filmed in Monument Valley or, what is now known as John Ford country. There was also a heavy dose of Buster Keaton in the final act. To me, this was one of the most loving homages to the era of silent film comedies and afternoon serials since Indiana Jones.

Depp has greater chemistry with Hammer than with Orlando Bloom in the Pirates films. Also the support cast of Barry Pepper, Tom Wilkinson and especially William Fichtner as the villains were fantastic. Comparatively, I think I enjoyed this more on a first viewing than I did the first Pirates film or pretty much anything Depp has done this century. The real standout of the film is Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger. To begin with, I thought he was going to give us a Brendan Fraser style goofball hero. For a large portion of the film he does, but when he steps up in the second half, he knocks it out of the park.

What set this film apart from other summer films of the last few years, is that it was actually fun to watch. For example, the final act was so ludicrously brilliant, that when the classic Lone Ranger theme music kicks in, the film flows like an old silent film and becomes one of the greatest action set-pieces since the rollicking adventures of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Despite my love for what they did with this film, I will admit there was a lack of emotional depth, also, thematically it is pretty shallow. However, they were not trying to be deep and meaningful, nor was it posing as a dark and gritty take on a classic like most modern films do. Gritty and dark does not necessarily equate to a better film. If anything, the dark and gritty hero is becoming a cliché.

This film was all about the fun of playing cowboys and Indians. If this was all they gave us I’d be disappointed. This is a studio film, make no mistake about that. It is Disney after all. However, the scope of this film, the scenery, the set pieces and the simple fact that they went to the extra effort to shoot on film suggests that despite the criticisms that this film has received Verbinski, Depp and co really do love the western genre. There were no pretensions about this film. Watch it for the honest and fun ride that it is. Is it perfect? No it’s not but not every film needs to be a classic. It’s fun and its kind of goofy, I don’t think I would want a Lone Ranger film any other way.

%d bloggers like this: