Transcendence Review

25 04 2014

Johnny Depp bomb poster

I really wanted to like this movie. Transcendence boasts an interesting sci-fi premise, a dream cast (for me at least), and was directed by Wally Pfister, who was the cinematographer for The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception. Fool-proof formula, right? Well, for most of the movie, everything seemed to work together decently. However, an awkward shift in tone and theme during the latter half of the film, coupled with some other (smaller) issues, proves to be a virus that this movie just can’t handle (badum-tss). First, let’s get this out of the way- Johnny Depp is a phenomenal actor, but he’s grossly misused in this role. “Robotic” should never describe a Depp character, but here he’s intentionally monotone and unfeelingly hollow the entire film. I don’t remember one time he ever broke his distant demeanor, which ultimately made him unrelatable as a character. Instead, his performance goes from detached to creepy to boring to creepy boring. It simply wasn’t a good fit (I kept wanting  him to start yelling, “I’ve got a jar of dirt!” or “Where’s the RAM gone?!”)

 

Cillian Murphy Morgan Freeman Johnny Depp

Mr. Fox and Scarecrow investigate Wayne Industries.

 

The rest of the cast is comprised of very capable actors who needed more meat in their character’s screenplay. I’m not sure if Cillian Murphy was supposed to be a hero or villain (more on that later), but it was the blandest 2D role I’ve seen him in. The kicker is he usually delivers a super creepy bad guy (Scarecrow in Batman Begins, also RedEye)  or at least a good everyman (Inception). In this film, he plays a very low key Federal agent who tries to shut down Depp’s machine. Morgan Freeman must love doing sci-fi movies, because his only role here is to walk around scenes looking worried. Rebecca Hall stands out, not only because I heart her acting, but because the writers thought at least one character should have a range of emotions. We sympathize her in her loss, and want her to escape the dangers even though they’re ultimately of her own making. However, ultimately we aren’t really shown if her sacrifice at the end was a good choice or bad, and that sort of cheapened her development for me. But hey, it was fun to see all these actors/actresses in the same shot together.

 

Rebecca Hall

Unfortunately all the star power combined won’t draw in crowds if the writing falls flat. Why would the movie build up just how eerie and menacing a human/computer AI hybrid could be, only to change tones at the end with a line like “People fear what they don’t understand’? What, were we supposed to decide that maybe changing all of humanity into robots with a hive mind would be the greatest thing since Wi-Fi? Yeah, people can be so close-minded. I guess I was just confused as to what the movie was trying to say, or maybe it was just trying to be too smart by being ambiguous. Anyway I would have also preferred more a of climax as well. Instead, it got all hyped up, and then…just sort of ended on a note of melancholy. That sentence could also describe the movie’s gross income so far.

So is it worth a watch? Yes, especially if you enjoy some science fiction and the listed actors, but this is easily a better RedBox rental than a $10 theater outing. And make sure to unplug your local network first.

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp’s face after hearing the box office results.





The Lone Ranger Review

4 07 2013

wallpaper lone ranger depp

Hi-ho, Johnny Depp, it’s Pirates of the Old West! Captain Jack Sparrow returns, this time pretending to be a Native American (which would probably be offensive if it was anyone else besides Depp). But seriously, this is more Pirates than The Lone Ranger as far as pacing, characters, historical accuracy, explosive sets, and background stories (absolutely everything has a background story, even a fake leg) are concerned.  In other words, it’s a Bruckheimer/Verbinski film. But does this movie strike gold or fire blanks? (Sorry).

There was a lot of build-up for this movie. There was an absurd amount of build-up for this movie. Look back at the last few months of my reviews- literally every single one of those movies had a Lone Ranger trailer before the showing, and there’s quite a bit of variety in these movie genres. I was already sick of some moments a month before seeing the actual film, which is unfortunate. Even more unfortunate is how spoiler-ish the trailers are, revealing key moments and plot points from every single chapter of the film, from opening to finale. So yeah, thanks for those stolen surprises, Disney.

Johnny Depp's original costume.

Johnny Depp’s original costume.

One actual surprise is how well the Lone Ranger John Reid (Armie Hammer) and Tonto (Johnny Depp) worked together. In anyone else’s hands, the characters could have come across as unlikeable and clueless (Reid) and loopy (Tonto). Also, William Fichtner as villain Butch Cavendish makes a legitimately creepy villain, but honestly he feels like he was written for a different movie.

lone ranger villain poster

The villain who steals your heart.

The reason I say that is most of the movie consists of Johnny Depp being weird, over-the-top action sequences, buddy humor between the leads, and Johnny Depp being funny. And then we have a scene (MILD SPOILERS) where all the good guys get gunned down by the villain, who then cuts the heart out of a screaming good guy, and then eats it, shown through reflections in the brother’s eye. Whoa, kiddos, why aren’t you laughing anymore? Talk about a mood swing. Another scene has Native Americans, in a new creative twist, getting gunned down dramatically by corrupt American Army soldiers. As they fall, we keep cutting back to Johnny Depp comically doing something comic- in other words, this movie has wildly inconsistent tones. Maybe the recurring line “nature is out of balance” was referring to the screenwriters.

Helena Bonham Carter plays Red, who in summary is one of the film’s throwaway characters. This would be fine, except they used Helena Bonham for the throwaway role- she gets barely any screen time here (unfortunately). The other underdeveloped character award goes to the Calvary officer (Barry Pepper), who basically is there because the editor forgot to cut out all his parts.

The Female Johnny Depp

The female Johnny Depp

Ultimately, the only standout, memorable part for most people will be the final train sequence, due in large part to Zimmerman’s thunderous rendition of the “William Tell Overture.” Here, we get all the slick action hijinks promised (and spoiled) in the trailers. Between dueling train tracks and Reid riding his horse Silver on top of and inside the train cars, things finally get fun- but then the sequence ends. Cue a random ending scene using the random Old Tonto framing gimmick, and you realize how much better this movie could have been.