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Entries in kate mara (3)

Thursday
Apr172014

Transcendence

Wally Pfister is probably one of the most talented, yet unheralded, workers in Hollywood today. Many may not know that he’s actually the man behind the camera for every single one of director Christopher Nolan’s films (aside from his first, “Following,” and his upcoming sci-fi film, “Interstellar”). He even won an Oscar for his cinematography work on “Inception,” so it’s clear the man has talent. He knows how to shoot a movie and evoke emotions through visuals. Since film is a visual medium, that strength is arguably the most valuable to have in Hollywood. In this regard, his directorial debut, “Transcendence,” follows his tradition of excellence (despite being shot by “Hot Fuzz” and “The Spectacular Now” cinematographer, Jess Hall), but it’s lacking nearly everywhere else. Pfister certainly picked some things up from Nolan, but he lacks his penchant for storytelling. With an uneven pace and unexplored themes, “Transcendence” can be described as little more than a missed opportunity.

Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is an artificial intelligence expert. With many years of research and hard work behind him, he hopes to one day create a machine that will be able to reach singularity—or as he likes to put it, transcendence—that moment in time when a machine reaches superhuman intelligence. It’s a vision that doesn’t seem to be too far off in the future, which sparks a radical movement of extremists determined to stop it. After giving a speech about the future of artificial intelligence, a member of that extremist group shoots him. Although he survives the attack, the bullet is shown to have been laced with poison, which entered his bloodstream, giving him only a month to live. In light of this, his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) comes up with a crazy idea. She suggests planting a nanochip in his brain and uploading his consciousness to a supercomputer, thus ensuring he lives on. Her partner, Max (Paul Bettany), reluctantly agrees to give it a shot, though the odds of success are low. Much to their surprise, however, it works and Will is essentially alive, or as close as one can be to it, in a computer.

These early moments, along with the closing, are perhaps the best in the entire film. Though essentially a sped up tragedy—complete with dramatic music, emotional breakdowns and even a sad Morgan Freeman narration for good measure—it works. The capable actors bring their characters to life, upping the ante for what’s to come. However, anyone who has seen a film about technology achieving sentience will see all of it coming from a mile away, which is to say things don’t quite go according to plan.

This gives way to a plethora of wonderful ideas that, sadly, are haphazardly introduced and never intelligently expanded on. At one point, after Will reaches his sought after transcendence, the film seems to be heading in the right direction and finds its focus. Will begins to heal the sick, even those with long time illnesses that modern medicine hasn’t found cures for yet. He lets the blind see, the paralyzed walk and more. It asks, what if we could be better than God? What if we could fix the mistakes a supposed flawless creator burdened us with? What if we could see everything all at once, as any omnipotent being should? What if we could heal someone’s potentially life threating injuries in seconds, to the point where it’s like those injuries never even happened? These are compelling thoughts, ones that seem wonderful at first, but the complications of playing God slowly reveal themselves, showing that these vulnerabilities and afflictions are what make us human.

Granted, the effects of playing God are hardly breaking new cinematic ground, but they gave “Transcendence” the weight it so desperately needed. Unfortunately, it’s also around this point that it introduces its most absurd idea: the taking over of actual human bodies through the use of nanobots and “connecting” them to Will’s digital infrastructure. While I hesitate to say that such an event is completely out of the realm of scientific plausibility, it nevertheless gives the film that typical Hollywood feel and essentially strips it of the ideas it had just minutes before introduced.

Despite messy narrative and thematic arcs, “Transcendence” still manages to pack a ton of awe into its runtime, mostly thanks to Pfister’s understanding of cinematography. The shot composition is solid, the camera movements are fluid and its interesting focus on seemingly mundane objects ground the film. For those interested in the technical creation of filmmaking, “Transcendence” will be a thing of beauty, but it all goes back to those missed opportunities. Despite similar central ideas, it never quite reaches the bombastic action of something like “The Terminator” or the heartfelt wonders of last year’s “Her.” It tries to combine both into one cohesive whole, one that can tug at the heartstrings while also keeping things exciting, but, ultimately, it collapses under the weight of its own ambition.

Transcendence receives 2.5/5

Friday
Dec072012

Deadfall

With December finally here and the awards season right around the corner, one can’t help but wonder what the motivation was to release Deadfall right in the thick of it. It certainly doesn’t deserve a place among the more coveted films to be released this month, instead feeling more like a standard throwaway thriller that should have been released in January or February, when studios dump whatever garbage they have sitting around into theaters just to get it out of their hands. To be fair, Deadfall isn’t terrible. It’s just terribly boring. With movies like Skyfall behind us and The Hobbit in front, there’s no real reason to see this. Just wait the extra week until it inevitably vanishes from our collective memories.

Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) aren’t your typical siblings. They’re actually thieves who have just escaped from a casino heist gone wrong and are on their way to the Canadian border. However, when their driver crashes their car in an attempt to avoid a passing animal, they find themselves forced to make the trek on foot in a blizzard, splitting up and vowing to meet later. Eventually, Liza runs into Jay (Charlie Hunnam), a Silver medalist at the Beijing Olympics who has just been released from prison and is on his way to his parents (played by Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson) for Thanksgiving dinner. Liza and Jay start an innocent fling with each other, playing a game where they pretend to be together and go by different aliases, which puts a kink in Addison’s plan to reunite with his sister and cross the border, which Jay’s parents live very close to.

And, as expected, this leads to a final showdown at Jay’s household that plays out more like a whimper than a bang. Although it wouldn’t be right to spoil what happens, Deadfall is such a conventional thriller that all but those who are completely unfamiliar with the genre will be able to predict its sequence of events well before they actually happen. It plods along rather typically and banally; it’s not until that final sequence that the film manages to build up any excitement at all. When everyone converges on that house where Bana has taken the parents hostage and the game between Jay and Liza has blossomed into a full-fledged romance, everybody unaware of Liza’s true relationship to Addison, intrigue is built, but by then, it’s too little too late and it ends too abruptly, never allowing us to savor the feeling of watching certain characters get their comeuppance.

With such a boring, trite story, the least Deadfall could do was give us the pleasure of watching someone get what’s coming to them, but it instead favors wrapping up inconsequential side stories that were mostly uninteresting and laughable to begin with. The most egregious offender of this comes in the form of Hanna (Kate Mara), a police officer in this small, quiet town who has daddy issues revolving around sexism, blame and a lack of trust. Unfortunately for her, her dad is the Sheriff and she answers to him. It's a terrible an underdeveloped B-story and every exchange they have is forced to the point where I’m pretty sure the actors involved developed hemorrhoids. (When asked why she can’t go out and help in their investigation, he responds with a question about what she would do if something important came up. “What if you have to change your tampon?” he asks.)

Perhaps the only thing more bored than I was while watching Deadfall were the actors actually in it, most of whom seemed to be coasting by for a paycheck while they waited for their next big break, particularly Eric Bana, who has always been an underwhelming actor, even in critically lauded films like Munich. They all seem to put forth only the slightest bit of effort, as if they knew that pretty much nobody was going to watch their movie. If they somehow had that premonition, they’re likely to be right. Deadfall just doesn’t deserve our time. Put it out in the middle of February, when moviegoers have been numbed by at least a month of likely-to-be-bad films and perhaps it looks more appetizing, but now? We have plenty of better options.

Deadfall receives 2/5

Friday
Sep212012

10 Years

When you’re younger, ten years seems like an eternity. With so few years under your belt, the thought of ten years passing is unimaginable. It isn’t until you’ve lived through those years that you realize just how quickly they went. With my ten year high school reunion not too far off in the future, I’m finally beginning to understand this. I don’t really know what life holds for me or where I’ll be in the next 10 years and I’m longing to hold onto my childhood, but I know I have to grow up. It’s a sad, but inevitable revelation. The characters in writer/director Jamie Linden’s movie, 10 Years, are transitioning through the same time period I am and having the same thoughts. Perhaps this is why I connected with it so much, but by the end, I, strangely, didn’t feel sad about my now gone childhood. Instead, it gave me a newfound appreciation for those years and the good times I had while also giving me an excited optimism about the years to come.

The story follows a group of friends as they reunite for their 10 year high school reunion. Jake (Channing Tatum) is now dating Jess (Jenna Dewan-Tatum), but he still seems to hold some feelings for his high school flame, Mary (Rosario Dawson), and he needs to sort that out. His buddy, Cully (Chris Pratt), is using the event to make up for past mistakes, apologizing profusely to any “nerd” he may have bullied back in the day. Their mutual friend, Reeves (Oscar Isaac), has actually become a world famous musician and, despite the annoyance of his former classmates’ desires to take pictures with him, he begins to connect with his old science class buddy, Elise (Kate Mara). Meanwhile, their two reckless friends, Marty (Justin Long) and AJ (Max Minghella), are causing their own trouble and attempting to get close to the girl they considered the hottest in school, Anna (Lynn Collins).

Throughout each story, a lesson is learned; lessons about expectations, friendship, love and even waiting for love (they say love is patient, after all). Most of these stories involve characters who miss their high school days. Some are stuck in jobs they hate and long for the carefree days of high school while others, like Reeves, have done something interesting with their lives, but feel like they have unfinished business to take care of. What each story has in common, though, is that they’re all about growing up and moving on. They’re about holding onto the good old days while forging new memories in what will hopefully be better days to come. For someone who is relatively new to this whole “being an adult” thing, I understood what these characters were feeling, as will anyone who has made that bittersweet transition into adulthood.

As with any movie of this type, one that tells multiple stories with many different characters, it’s a bit uneven. Some are unpredictable while others you’ll see coming from a mile away. Some are genuinely emotional, while others are a tad too cheesy for their own good. Some feel incredibly real, while others seem like little more than manufactured melodrama. The surprise, one that deviates from your typical intertwining vignette picture, is that the better stories don’t completely overshadow the others. Most are so close in quality that the word “superior” becomes a relative term.

This is no doubt thanks to an incredible cast full of names and faces you’ll instantly recognize who craft characters that are charismatic, three-dimensional and likable. Even the ones who clearly had a shady past in regards to the way they treated others, like Cully, are genuinely redemptive, even if their attempts at that redemption are too forceful to reach full effect. In the end, 10 Years turns out to be an unexpected delight. It’s a happy and optimistic movie with a love for life, both for what is to come and what has already passed, and it will leave you with a smile on your face.

10 Years receives 4/5