Latest Reviews

Entries in Rebecca Hall (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

Thursday
May022013

Iron Man 3

If you ask me “The Avengers” was one of the most overrated movies of last year. For those of you who haven’t already stopped reading, allow me to explain. Despite some good laughs and some high flying action, I found “The Avengers” to be narratively unfocused. Its tone was inconsistent, its drama fell flat and the character progression that had developed through each hero’s individual movies was brought to a screeching halt. With the exception of perhaps Thor, every character ended the movie exactly the same as they began. While not necessarily a bad thing to shoot for mindless popcorn entertainment, I wanted more, especially given that the majority of the other films had done such a good job getting those characters to that point. “Iron Man 3,” at least in this sense, is a return to form. Tony Stark is still the lovable goof we know him as, but we get to see a different side of him this time, a side that one might not expect from a world renowned superhero. Despite some terrific action, this is substance over style and that is its greatest strength.

The film takes place after the events of “The Avengers” and Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is even more of a celebrity than he was before. However, those events have caused some emotional trauma within him and he’s finding himself unable to sleep at night, despite his gorgeous girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), laying by his side. He instead spends most nights tinkering with his tools and building Iron Man suits. This may prove to be a good thing, however, because a terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has been blowing up landmarks all across the country and now has his sights set on the President. After one of these explosions puts his old bodyguard and friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in the hospital, he takes it upon himself to challenge the Mandarin and sets off to stop him before he harms more people.

Robert Downey Jr. did a marvelous thing when he first became Iron Man back in 2008. He took a comic book character that, at least when compared to the heavy hitters like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man, was considered third rate and instantly made him his own. The character he created out of Tony Stark instantly hooked viewers, catapulting Iron Man to A-list status, right alongside those aforementioned heroes. However, the success of the character and the movies themselves didn’t rest entirely on Downey Jr.’s performances, but rather his performances were complemented by clever stories and witty dialogue that fleshed out the character. In “Iron Man 3,” his character comes along even further.

After the events of “The Avengers,” Tony Stark is afraid. He’s suffering from what could only be classified as post-traumatic stress disorder and has become uncertain of his abilities. The pressure has become too much to bear and at multiple points in the movie, he has to battle panic attacks, knowing all too well that he is the only one that can stop the evil Mandarin and his terrorist lackeys from killing again. Watching a superhero try to cope with these conflicting thoughts and emotions—the desire to do what’s right with the fear of failing—is fascinating and though it’s not an entirely unexplored area in superhero movies, doing so with the otherwise cocky Stark gives it more weight. He’s not a character that openly wrestles with his emotions, but rather one that hides them under the veil of confidence. To see them finally surface makes this “Iron Man,” at least in regards to character exploration and progression, the best of them all.

This theme isn’t entirely consistent throughout the movie, however, particularly when he essentially becomes a stealth assassin and singlehandedly infiltrates the Mandarin’s hideout while taking out a number of armed bodyguards on the way (all outside of his suit, too). To follow up scenes of doubt and dread with some of the boldest actions he’s ever pulled off in the calmest demeanor he’s ever had shows an all too obvious conflict between the film’s desire to provide thrills while also telling a meaningful story. Yet one can’t help but be thankful that theme is at least implemented. This is a film that aims higher than popcorn action like “The Avengers,” which didn’t try to hit these emotional levels at all.

What some may find surprising—and the reason this character evaluation succeeds despite some stumbles—is that Tony Stark spends far more time outside of his suit than in. “Iron Man 3” is far more focused on character and plot than bangs and booms. This focus doesn’t only relate to Stark either, but the other characters as well. In particular, one terrific plot twist brings about some huge laughs and makes us reevaluate the antagonist in a way we rarely get to at the movies.

“Iron Man 3” has nearly everything one could want from a superhero movie and wraps up the trilogy in an exciting and satisfying way, and that’s in spite of its flaws. It’s tough to say if this will hold up alongside the plethora of other big name action movies being released in the coming weeks, but it’s a terrific way to start the summer and proves that superhero movies are far from running their course.

Iron Man 3 receives 4/5

Friday
Sep172010

The Town

A few short years ago, hating Ben Affleck was the cool thing to do. Gigli, Daredevil and an astoundingly bad performance in Pearl Harbor all provided enough ammunition for Affleck haters to spread their contempt for the man. But in 2007, he released his first directorial effort, Gone Baby Gone, an intense, dramatic and wonderful little gem that should have been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Although questions remained about his talent in front of the camera, he showed he was more than capable behind it. Now three years later he releases his sophomore effort, The Town, which, though flawed, should dispel any remaining doubt.

The film takes place in Boston, the bank robbery capital of America (at least according to the opening text). Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is one of the reasons why. Along with his partners James (Jeremy Renner), Desmond (Owen Burke) and Albert (played by rapper Slaine), Doug is a professional thief and he is on his way to rob a bank. Although he hopes to do it swiftly and safely, they run into a snag and are forced to take a hostage named Claire (Rebecca Hall). After they get away, they let her go thinking she saw nothing, but as Doug gets closer to her, eventually developing a romantic relationship, he learns that she has seen more than she lets on. To make matters worse, local FBI agent Adam (Jon Hamm) is on their trail and is doing everything he can to bring them down.

It is now evident. Ben Affleck is multi-talented. He can write, he can act and he can direct and he gives a terrific performance here while honing his craft behind the camera. Direction wise, The Town is a step up from Gone Baby Gone, but its effect is, unfortunately, a bit flat. Its story isn’t as interesting—coming off as a bit derivative of other heist movies—while the thought provoking, morally ambiguous ending of Gone Baby Gone is replaced with a silly, overly dramatic one. At over two hours, The Town runs out of steam and by the time the out-of-place ending arrives you’ll find yourself slightly disappointed.

That, however, is not an indication of its overall quality. It’s not one of the best movies of the year as many will hope, but it’s still solid, anchored by a stellar cast and fluid writing. While the pacing is a bit off, awkwardly transitioning from heavy laden scenes of dialogue to slam bang action scenes, it’s that dialogue that keeps it afloat. The authentic exchanges between the characters coupled with spot on Boston dialects from the actors makes for an engaging experience. The dialogue is well written and believable and is hampered only by a few too many long, overwrought speeches on the characters’ seemingly irrelevant histories.

In fact, only one of those history speeches ever plays a major part in the movie, and even then its inclusion can be argued. A scene partway through shows Doug as he goes to visit his father Stephen (Chris Cooper), who is serving a life sentence for executing two people. Some may relate this scene to the opening text that explains how the business of felons is passed down through generations, but it felt like filler to me. It’s an emotional scene where you sense that Doug is disappointed in his father, as if Doug is a perfect example of an upstanding citizen.

And that may be the film’s biggest problem. These are bad men. There have been movies that depict bad men while still giving the viewer something to latch onto, but The Town isn't among them. There’s no reason to care for them or fear for their plight. They are established almost as antiheroes, but they don’t do enough good to warrant that label. Still, even with all of that taken into consideration, The Town is a worthy movie, even if it does fail to realize its own potential.

The Town receives 3.5/5