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Entries in Paul Bettany (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
Dec102010

The Tourist

It almost seems like a no brainer to pair Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, two of the hottest celebrities around right now, in terms of star power and good looks, together. Jolie is one of the most gorgeous women on the face of the planet and has the talent to back it up and the ladies all swoon over Depp, who also turns in a good performance each and every outing. That is why it’s such a shame they are stuck together in The Tourist, a movie that should have been so much more. It’s still stupid fun, but the first half of that description is what disappoints the most.

As the movie begins, we watch as a British agency led by Inspector Acheson (Paul Bettany) tails Elise (Jolie), who is linked to a mysterious man named Alexander Pearce, a fugitive criminal that they are trying to track down. However, nobody knows what he looks or sounds like, so they are hoping she will lead them to him. As she sits down for a coffee one morning, she receives a letter from Pearce that tells her to board a soon-to-be-leaving train. When she is on, she is to find a man with his shape and size and make the British police force believe he is Pearce. She finds that man in Frank Tupelo (Depp), an American tourist.

With that beginning, one might assume that the movie is on a fast track to absurd action and ridiculous scenarios, almost like Knight and Day only with the gender roles reversed, but that isn’t the case. There is some action, but it isn’t the main attraction. The reason to see The Tourist is to watch Jolie and Depp play opposite each other. They both are magnificent and produce some of the best chemistry we’ve seen all year.

Being an espionage thriller, The Tourist is a tad confusing. At one point, Elise apologizes to Frank for bringing him into all this, but I wasn’t quite sure what “this” was exactly. It’s all explained by the end, but there’s a serious lack of context throughout the majority of the movie. It’s like the filmmakers were so happy to have Depp and Jolie onboard that they forgot to make sense of what they were doing.

At the same time, however, it’s believable. Aside from one early usage of a technology that I’m not sure exists, this is more realistic than Salt, the aforementioned Knight and Day or any other similar espionage thriller to be released this year. Of course, it’s all still preposterous and requires your suspension of disbelief, but I was willing to grant it that and it worked for me. At least until the end rolled around and packed a final twist that was so outlandish it took that suspension of disbelief and vaporized it.

But that isn’t enough to destroy The Tourist. Sure, the screenplay is all over the place and the action scenes leave a lot to be desired—director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (who I mention only because his name is awesome) stages them poorly and doesn’t have the finesse to make them exciting—but the performances are great and there are some hearty laughs, particularly from Depp who has some fun with tourist stereotypes and speaks Spanish despite being in Italian locales.

This is a movie that knows what it wants to be. As the British agency follows Jolie in the very first scene, one of the camera operators zooms in on her butt. His boss, not amused, tells him to “be professional.” As soon as this line is said, Donnersmarck cuts to his own close-up of Jolie’s curvaceous backside. Right here, he’s telling us to sit back, relax and not think too hard. He’s not trying to impress us with flash. He’s just trying to give us some silly fun. And I found myself entertained, so I guess he achieved his goal.

The Tourist receives 3/5

Sunday
Jan242010

Legion

Ok, now it's getting a bit ridiculous. Being an avid film lover, I watch a lot of movies and let's face it, very little separates each one from the next. Leap Year is no different than the countless other romantic comedies I've seen just as The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day mimics innumerable other action flicks. Still, the apocalypse sub-genre is fairly new, or at least has seen an explosion in recent years. Each film tries to differentiate itself from the last, with modest success. We've seen a hard hitting drama in The Road, a tongue-in-cheek B-movie in 2012, the zombie apocalypse in Zombieland and the vampire apocalypse in Daybreakers. But we're pushing it a bit far now with Legion, a ridiculous movie where God sends his angels to demonically possess humans and kill everyone alive.

Huh?

That's the sentiment I had rolling around in my head as this film wrapped up. The story, as foolish as it may be, revolves around an angel who has fallen down to Earth, cut off his wings and made himself human. His name is Michael (Paul Bettany) and he has rebelled against God's wishes to wipe out the human race. You see, God is pissed off. Just as we have lost faith in Him, He has lost faith in humanity. We kill each other over race and greed and we start wars unjustly and He's sick of it. As the movie points out, the first time he lost faith in us, he sent a flood, now he is sending angels. Yep.

Well, for some reason, there's a baby that is the last hope for humanity. It's in the stomach of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), who works at a small diner in the middle of no man's land where the next service station doesn't come around for 50 miles. She works there with a group of disposable fodder played by Lucas Black, Charles Dutton, Jon Tenney, Willa Holland, Kate Walsh, Tyrese Gibson, and Dennis Quaid. Michael's job is to protect Charlie and the baby, the main target of the angels.

This is getting out of control. While not all of the recent apocalypse movies have been particularly good (2012, The Book of Eli), at least they made sense. Legion makes as much sense as using a sterilized needle at a lethal injection. There's so much in this movie that needed to be answered, yet so little is. For example, why the baby is so important is never explained. Who is it? Is it the second coming of Christ? If it is, why would God send his angels to kill it? What the hell was going on in this thing?

The weird thing is that there's plenty of downtime for explanation. For a movie about an angel takeover and the human extermination, this thing moves slow and the copious amount of dialogue does little more than waste time in between action scenes. There were a handful of moments where two characters would have a dialogue, but it was usually about trivial matters, like why Gibson's character carried around a handgun. Well, because he grew up in the streets yo. Great, but who cares? It's irrelevant to the story, existing as nothing more than a sad sack attempt at putting a personality to the character.

Complaining about scenes that flesh out the personalities of the characters feels weird because if we want to care about them, we need to know about them, but Legion takes itself far too seriously and would have worked better as a humorous, balls to the wall action film. Surely the filmmakers knew their movie was absurd. Why not play it for laughs?

Taking the serious route did little to help them anyway. The action scenes, which are meant to be epic battles between heaven and earth, are shot so darkly that not much can be seen. The little bit that can is unimpressive and, more often than not, anti-climactic. In the trailer, a man rides up in an ice cream truck. His mouth opens wide, his arms stretch out and he runs toward the camera. In the movie, he is shot immediately after he starts to run. What could have been a tense battle ended up being a major disappointment.

I've seen lots of apocalypse movies recently, but this could be among the worst. Paul Bettany does a good job and a few moments of what looked to be a good movie were hidden in it, but everything else is a misfire. Even the wanton stupidity of 2012 was more entertaining than Legion.

Legion receives 1.5/5