Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama

Director: Wally Pfister

Writer: Jack Paglen

Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy

Running Length: 119 mins

Synopsis: Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed—to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can… but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.

Review: Transcendence is Wally Pfister’s first directorial outing after a good number of collaborations with Christopher Nolan as his DP, and it’s clear to see that Nolan has made more than an impression on Pfister’s directorial style – it’s almost as though Pfister had morphed into a Mini-Me version of Nolan, except without as much directorial flair. Pfister had set out to make a weighty, cerebral sci-fi movie in the mould of Inception, but the end result is more heavy-handed than weighty, more befuddling than thought-provoking. While it starts off intriguing and tries its best to captivate the audience, the movie sags under its own overplotting, eventually imploding in a most spectacular fashion into a hole-ridden, completely unbelievable denouement, after going nowhere with its plot for more than an hour.  

There are certainly things to like about Transcendence – the film is handsomely shot (on 35mm film no less), and both Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany do a good job of being the focal points for much of the movie. Paul Bettany in particular turns in a particularly heartfelt performance, and becomes the emotional centre of Transcendence, and though it is definitely not intentional, Bettany becomes the person to root for in the film, eclipsing Rebecca Hall despite her continual presence. The technobabble is at least interesting for the first few reels, and the film does try its best to make a point about the over-reliance on computers and technology that plagues all of us these days.

However, for every positive aspect, negative aspects abound. The leading name on the poster may have been Johnny Depp, but he disappears for most of the movie, and given that he is playing an AI version of himself, it perhaps can be forgiven that his performance is flat and uninspired. The same goes for the rest of the supporting cast apart from Hall and Bettany, who are given nothing much to do except be devices for exposition. Even the usually great Morgan Freeman fails to impress, and that’s when you know something has gone awry.

Transcendence also makes the fatal flaw of trying to be smarter than the audience, but then actually not following through on the attempt. It’s immediately apparent – the movie is told from a flashback perspective of Max Waters, which essentially gives the ending away in the first five minutes. Usually this would mean that the movie has another reveal up its sleeves, but that’s not really the case in Transcendence, which leads one to question why the narrative structure was picked.

And in the second half of the movie, where nanotechnology plays a huge role, the script time and again requires audiences to fully suspend their disbelief and to accept the proceedings at face value. The technology is absurd, and the logic is nonexistent – this may be acceptable in a typical Summer action blockbuster, but not in a movie that’s trying so hard to be an intellectual one. It’s ineffective and rather insulting to the audience to be quite honest, especially given how the plot eventually writes itself into a very tight corner, and then plods to a long-expected but illogical conclusion that the audience has already (literally) seen coming from the start. And true to the shared DNA with Christopher Nolan, Pfister chooses to end off the movie with one final shot that is open to interpretation, much like Inception – the only difference being that I was absolutely not vested to even attempt any interpretation. Transcended, this has not.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)


Cuban Fury


Genre: Comedy

Director: James Griffiths

Writer: Jon Brown, based on an original idea by Nick Frost

Cast: Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O’Dowd, Olivia Colman, Kayvan Novak, Ian McShane

Running Length: 98 mins

Synopsis: In 1987 a 13-year-old, natural-born dancer with fire in his heels and snakes in his hips is working himself up to explode all over the UK Junior Salsa Championships. But when a bullying incident on the mean streets of London robs him of his confidence, our young hero finds his life diverted down a very different path. 22 years later, an adult Bruce Garrett (Nick Frost) finds himself out of shape and unloved, trapped in a downward spiral of self-pity and repression. Only Julia (Rashida Jones), his smart, funny, gorgeous new American boss, gives him reason to live. But she’s out of his league. Luckily for him, she also has a secret passion. Thus, Bruce is once again brought face-to-face with the darkest and most powerful of his inner demons. Somehow, someway, Bruce must learn how to unshackle his dancing beast, regain his long lost fury and claim the love of his life…and he’s going to do it all on the dance floor.

Review: I’m a big fan of dancing movies – Strictly Ballroom remains one of my favourites, but even the cheesiest dancing franchises will get me shimmying to the nearest cinema. Cuban Fury seems at first glance to be a perfect marriage of two genres – dancing and comedy – that we haven’t seen in quite some time, but unfortunately it doesn’t exactly live up to its promise. While still a perfectly acceptable comedy, the film runs rather limp for much of its running time, livening up in all too brief bursts.

This is Nick Frost’s first solo outing, and while he remains a pretty charming actor with excellent comic timing (one of the opening scenes in which he digs into a four-pack of mini yoghurt tubs is a master class in precision comedy), and Rashida Jones turns up her charm to 11, the true stars of the movie are the supporting actors. Chris O’Dowd is impossibly slimy and abominable as the office lecher, and Olivia Colman shines as Bruce’s cocktail waitress sister, but the biggest scene stealer is Kayvan Novak. His portrayal of Bejan, a fellow dance student, is such a memorable take on what could have been a derivative, boring character, that he effortlessly steals Frost’s thunder every time they appear together.

A dance movie, even a comedy like this one, lives and dies by its dance routines. And this aspect is the biggest failing of Cuban Fury – not only is there a distinct lack of “proper” dance sequences (even the finale feels watered down), it’s quite easy to tell that even with (supposedly) months of training, Nick Frost is not a dancer and simply can’t convince as a lapsed salsa dancing prodigy. There’s a good office dance-off between O’Dowd and Frost, but it’s too little and arguably a little too late.

Thus, what should have been a cracking combination of dance and comedy ends up feeling a little short on both ends, and though it will still leave hardcore rom-com enthusiasts feeling satisfied, it would not do so well in the more critical eyes of a typical cinemagoer. 

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)


The Best Offer


Genre: Drama

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Writer: Giuseppe Tornatore

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Sylvia Hoeks, Donald Sutherland, Jim Sturges

Running Length: 131 minutes

Synopsis: The Best Offer is the tale of the solitary, cultured Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush), no longer young, whose reluctance to engage with others is matched only by the dogged obsessiveness with which he practices his profession of art expert and auctioneer. Asked to handle the valuation and sale of a mysterious woman, Claire Ibbeston’s (Sylvia Hoeks) priceless heirlooms, Virgil finds himself enveloped by a passion that will transform his grey existence forever.

Review: The Best Offer is an uneven offering from Giuseppe Tornatore, whose body of work can be best described with the same word – uneven – since the early career success of Cinema Paradiso. Directed and written by Tornatore, The Best Offer is an excellent showcase of Geoffrey Rush’s thespian skills, and is accompanied by great visuals and a lush score (by Ennio Morricone). However, the rest of the cast don’t fare as well as Rush, and the plot is an extremely convoluted one that eventually does itself in with a flurry of hamstrung, too-obvious twists and turns.

Geoffrey Rush once again proves to be a brilliant actor, especially since he has to portray two aspects of Virgil – the cold, calculative social misfit before he meets Claire, and the more human and vulnerable old man that he becomes after falling for the largely unseen Claire. His performance does veer into the over-dramatic at times, almost a caricature of a crotchety old eccentric, but overall it’s still a very assured and charismatic performance. Sylvia Hoeks unfortunately disappoints as Claire, and worked better as a disembodied voice in the first half of the movie, than the petulant and quite unlikeable (though still beautiful) woman in the second half. One cannot imagine her being attractive even to a social hermit like Virgil, no matter how much the script tries to force this union.

Tornatore also seemed to be unable to practice self-editing, the most evident being a completely baffling subplot with a mechanical automaton that has zero need to be present in the film, except to function as a tool for exposition. The end result is a movie that runs over 2 hours and yet doesn’t justify the running time at all. Over-exposition is the order of the day, and since the finale is so glaringly obvious, the film feels as though it takes forever to reach a foregone conclusion. And yet, so many plot lines are left unexplained that it’s almost frustrating, and the film simply assumes that no one would question the logic (or lack thereof) of the whole venture.

The Best Offer is an offer that’s marginally good, at its best – although highly technically proficient, checking all the requisite boxes for what makes a handsome movie, the film falters and stumbles along, despite an intriguing start. It is rescued solely by Rush’s presence, but the most of the goodwill runs out along the way, and the entire film virtually falls apart in its final, rather disappointing reel.

Rating: * *(out of four stars)