Transcendence -2014-

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Directed by Wally Pfister. 119 mins.

Worth my time? No. (Seen at Arclight Hollywood)

This film pissed me off both because of its poor quality and because its poor box-office performance is gonna scare off filmmakers from exploring the Singularity. That’s a real bummer since the wildly divergent opinions of the Singularity’s likelihood, consequences, and morality would lend themselves to a dozen great films were the right people behind them. I was rooting for Wally Pfister to deliver the first great major motion picture on the subject, but his lack of directorial experience and Jack Paglen’s lazy screenplay keep Transcendence from ever coming close to meeting its potential.

Pfister has done great work as Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer for the last decade and a half, but much like early Coens DP Barry Sonnenfeld, he should probably stick to his day job. Transcendance is shot and directed like a bland summer action movie when the science fiction elements are its most interesting aspects. Duncan Jones, James Cameron, or even the Wachowskis would have spiced up this movie. Somebody has to tell directors that no one thinks that endless white lab corridors are sleek. They just look like offices – you know, the shit we wanna forget when we’re in a movie theater.

The plot holes are intolerable for a film that purportedly has something real and significant to say about societal and technological progression. The United States government, without a moment’s pause, joins forces with the same domestic terrorist group that kicks off the film with a mass-murder. Johnny Depp (who, as a man-turned-AI demigod, plays his most believable character in recent memory), has infinite omnipotent nanomachines at his disposal, but they can’t remotely upload hostile humans into his network.

Or can they? If Depp’s character refrains from assimilating people against their will, what’s the problem? The dude is fucking bringing people back to life for free. He’s healing the rainforests and removing excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere for free. Must Uncle Sam fuck up every private venture of world-changing proportions?

The morals of this film are abhorrent. I believe in the virtues of personal liberty more than the average person, but come the fuck on. Aside from the invasion of personal privacy (not that much remains in this pre-Singularity world), there are no apparent downsides to Depp’s plot. Even is there are, how can they be worse than the downsides of permanently disabling the planets’ electrical and telecom systems?

The film’s heroes cut off Earth’s nose to spite Depp’s face. It makes no fucking sense. Though Pfister only shows a bit of the Collapse’s aftermath (people in Berkeley are bartering for used goods on the street, so apparently nothing has changed), I thought of these catastrophic effects after fifteen seconds of consideration:

– The instantaneous disappearance of all electronic financial markets would plunge the planet into a depression worse than a thousand Weimars.

– The inability to buy goods and the general lack of communication between agribusiness and vendors would cause a worldwide famine.

– Anyone who requires an electronic device to survive would die real bad-like.

– Modern medicine would be an impossibility.

Fuck you, Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany.

(Seen and written on 2014-04-18)

Iron Man 3 -2013-

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Directed by Shane Black. 130 mins.

Worth my time? No, but it was better than Iron Man 2. (Seen at AMC Promenade 16)

Welp… there goes Iron Man, a tragically mishandled trilogy (in the cinematic sense – there’s no questioning its box-office dominance). Jon Favreau’s 2008 original was an exceptionally good superhero movie – exciting and inventive, with a great main character. Better yet, the film’s ending left me wanting sequels. That’s a goddamn miracle. I couldn’t wait to see Team Marvel explore all of the elements of Tony Stark’s world that the original introduced – militarism, corporate malfeasance, government corruption, intellectual property, wealth, addiction, celebrity, and a bunch of other juicy issues.

And then came Iron Man 2 which basically told the world, “Yeah, we’re just gonna go the bigger/louder/more route.”

So we got Whiplash, Mickey Rourke’s breadknife-dull villain. We got Sam Rockwell as some other boring guy, but I can’t recall what his character even did.

We got a “funny” scene of Stark drunkenly dancing in his armor at a party, complete with a poorly timed cameo from DJ A.M.

 We got “Congratulations, you have created a new element.” Because you can do that shit in an afternoon.

 I was relieved to hear that Favreau was going to be behind neither camera nor typewriter (you can’t prove he doesn’t use one) for the allegedly final installment of the series. To its credit, Iron Man 3 is a solid step up from its predecessor. The film features some great scenes of the always-good Robert Downey, Jr. as a mentally scarred Stark – unstable to begin with, and now close to a total breakdown after the Earth-shattering events of The Avengers. Several clever sequences revolve around Stark facing mortal danger without the luxury of his armor, and his creative and quick-witted solutions are a nice reminder that the protagonist can be a superhero sans bells and whistles.

 It’s a bummer that all these good parts are sprinkled amongst a ton of filler. The franchise could have rescued itself if only director / co-writer Shane Black remembered that Stark – plain old, suitless Stark – was the best part of the films. I guess it was unreasonable to hope that Black would favor subtlety over pyrotechnics. This is the dude who wrote Lethal Weapon, after all, and Iron Man 3 has the vacation-brochure locales and massive explosions to prove it.

 At least those two things are sorta fun to watch. Other Black tropes are more played-out. Guy Pearce’s slimy, evil monologue-delivering mogul with slicked-back, just-shorter-than-shoulder-length hair is a lift straight from 1987. The snarky, snappy chatter between Stark and James “War Machine” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) is so stale that they may as well have spliced in footage of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.

 And for fuck’s sake, enough with the plucky, underprivileged sidekick kids who are both brilliant and possess flawless skin, teeth, and hair!

 In spite of all this hokey action-by-numbers, I found Ben Kingsley’s character to be exquisitely paradoxical. He’s the most annoying character in the movie (and pretty blatantly rips off a plot device from Batman Begins), but Kingsley’s performance demonstrates more talent than the rest of the cast combined. He should be ashamed of this movie but proud of his acting.

 – Aside: The second-best acting I saw in the theater came from Philip Seymour Hoffman in the Catching Fire trailer. It’s as if he’s in a completely different movie.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-05-13)