Friday, 2 May 2014
119 Minutes. Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser & Morgan Freeman. Director: Wally Pfister.
Facetime with Johnny Depp...that's what you get here as the movie icon and former high-school heartbreaker becomes lost in 'Transcendence' for his latest picture. 'Former' almost being the apt word in this app generation that still sees Depp as one of Hollywood's most sought after and desirable leading men in both the hearts and minds of fans and directors alike, but in a time that see's his star stock wane despite those still plugged in. People want the old Depp back-minus the Jack Sparrow face-changing, versatile bag of tricks. But do people know what they really want when it comes to this man and all his mad styles? They didn't really show up for the gangster great 'Public Enemies' or the triumphant toast to Hunter S. Thompson in 'The Rum Diary', both better movies than critically advertised. They also failed to make the trip for the deported 'Tourist', although they failed to arrive at the destination of a classic crime caper that would be fit to the decades past stylings of Cary Grant. I guess George Clooney missed a trick too. Even another 'Pirates' swashbuckle on 'Stranger Tides' and some more 'Dark Shadows' with Tim Burton failed to rouse the same roar of redemption that cutting peoples heads off with Burton like 'Edward Scissorhands' with the madness musical that was the weird and wonderful 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street' did. As for 'The Lone Ranger'...forget about it as most people did until they realized in retrospect it was a lot funner and fonder than plugged by critics for one of last years best Summer blockbusters in a sweaty and crowded season. The one, recent movie moment that came with a fan and critical arms unfolding, smile of approval was his cameo in the movie version of the T.V. show that launched his career '21 Jump Street'...but I'm afraid-and you'll know this for sure if you watched the film-that he won't be making another appearance in the '22' sequel alongside another huge Hollywood heartthrob that made his bread and butter in these high school halls in Brad Pitt.
While Pitt's post 50, Plan B is still on top of his game like Tom Cruise, from 'Inglorious Basterds' to 'World War Z' and 'Moneyball' strikes to the Oscar winning '12 Years A Slave', Depp is having some dark, dog days when it comes to the Hollywood high-wire, billboard blockbuster trick with his trade of depths not reaching the same appreciative exchange. Although he's maintained true to type form, people are wanting more and their flagging interest continues with his latest 'Transcendence' into science-fiction territory. Still like the Tonto's, Thompson's and 'Tourists' that proceeded this, this is in fact again better than put in end quotes by writers. OK, so this movies not terrific but it's a far territory from terrible too. Many claim that Depp is internet-phoning his performance in...but here he technically speaking is. Playing a scientist who believes technology truly is the first and foremost future and that it will be able to help, heal, build and begin a new world of change, Depp is down before the opening credits finish rolling...and this is no spoiler. We all know from the trailer of breadcrumbs that Depp's character is killed but kept alive via his thoughts and memories through the web components of a computer much like (and here's a spoiler alert) the Swiss doctor in 'Captain America-The Winter Solider' (poor timing?), giving the SIRI serious, self-aware app of 'Avengers' co-star Scarlett Johansson's 'Her' a run for her mega-bytes. 'Can you prove it' you ask? The ever weird and wonderful Depp shows his skill-set (maybe curiously critically now accepted and therefore underrated) is a modern science as he plays-off his human character and his digital one with diverse dead-pan and serious strategic cyber-realism. Going 'Johnny Mnemonic', this data trafficing android is dreaming of eclectic success with an electric performance. In all its source code one that-even if it doesn't engage fully-shows it's character engineering in a matrix of madness.
Don't click erase on this former black-listed screenplay that shows some colour from new director Wally Pfister of 'Moneyball' and Christopher Nolan fame. The viral infection of this directors 'Inception' is more than just something that reminds us of the Y2K Milleniuum bug. It's something that has a great B-movie feel amongst all the A-list talent, without the big-budget explosions and gratuitous gore of action that usually overshadows inspired and influential ideas in this science fiction digital age. From the 'Elysium' of 'District 9' director Neill Blomkamp's success to Tom Cruise going from 'Oblivion' to the 'Edge Of Tomorrow', we are in a time and tide of a sci-fi, inbetween all the comic books and superheroes when it comes to the present and future of movies and this one film is one that transcends the genre with something delightfully different. Sure the cautionary tale almost looks like something lifted off the pages of the late, great iconic forefather and creator of all this, Phillip K. Dick, but it's one we should heed even if some are treating it like an insignificant 'Minority Report'. With a hybrid of 'War Of The Worlds' themes and a geeks laundry list of big bang theories of technological futures and 'Judgement Day' fanfares, the argument can be made that this after Depp death picture is just a carbon copy. There's even those iron filings from the day Keanu Reeves plot stood still. Still, then again in this 'no ideas original, there's nothing new under the sun' age what isn't? Even Tom Cruise hit big in 'Oblivion' that borrowed off everything and most people would exchange this scientist for the scientologist. Still between all the white noise of technological advancements and a small-town set borrowed off the first 'Thor' movie there's something missing here. Perhaps its the God Of Thunder, Chris Hemsworth landing down in the films final face-off himself to make it a little bit more exciting. This film that builds and broods over layers of code needs a little injection of lightening to make it truly great but has to settle for a plug-in from an USB.
Superheroes aside Pfister's brings plenty of his mutual Nolan friends along. From the ever-great and in need of more screen-time Cillian Murphy to the legend that is the voice of Morgan Freeman, alongside other credits like Cole Hauser and Kate Mara whos about to get truly fantastic for the 'Four' of the same name. Even fellow 'Iron Man' star JARVIS is here as Paul Bettany goes beyond the digital voice to make a welcome return to screens and with his genuine performance is thankfully not even asked to join Depp in his new digital dimension. It's Rebecca Hall-another 'Iron Man' bolt(someone should tell this director he works for D.C)-who carries this picture however with all her Nolan 'Prestige'. Rebecca has been a hallmark favourite since her trip to 'Town' with new Batman, Ben Affleck and she gives her best performance since then, which sadly a lot of people seem to be missing. Morgan Freeman being here will almost remind you of his smaller but significant role in last years magic trick of the trade 'Now You See Me'. Another all-star, A-List affair that was sort of pushed back and overlooked and a lot better than first seen. Albeit a 'Lone Ranger' of a movie that is lost in the summer season of blockbusters much bigger and hotter than what this great deal could handle. This film itself could have shown a lot more cards but seems to have been to busy folding to stay safe than hitting us with a full-house of cinema chip stealing success plays. Nothing is wrong here, but remarkably nothing is this phrase either in a film of it's type with talent behind it that should be defining the word. If only some one like Phillip K. Dick could get his consulting words on this one, because when it comes to omens and prophecies from the fiction of science there's no one better to fable our future and maybe that is a cautionary tale in itself. This film becomes the singularity it focussed around rather than the epic entity it could and should have been. Although as you sit there reading this review on your phone or a computer in an internet cafe much like where I wrote this we are in it's web whether we like it or not. 'Transcendence' is a great look and methaphor to how the advancements of technology are taking us away from who we are, but ironically it is missing just that little bit of humanity to it's heartfelt beat itself that would translate to audiences of everyone everywhere. More grand design to this technology would truly give this digital Depp more conscience. Perhaps one day 'Transcendence' will be given another chance and in this recycle bin age maybe a reboot refresh. TIM DAVID HARVEY.