Transcendence (2014)

transcendence2014a

Director: Wally Pfister

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

Screenplay: Jack Paglan

119 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality.

 

When longtime visual perfectionist Wally Pfister decided to make his directorial debut on a project produced by colleague and master filmmaker Christopher Nolan, I think I wet my pants in excitement. And why not? The film, Transcendence, seemed all too perfect to fail. The screenplay was part of a shortlist of amazing unproduced screenplays floating around Hollywood. The director had proven himself visually. It had an all-star cast at the front lines of major players in the business. It couldn’t fail, right? Then, reviews started coming in. The film immediately dropped down to “rotten” on the famous tomatometer, and I started to get concerned. Finally, my chance to see the film came, and I knew I had to form an opinion all my own.

transcendence2014b

I saw it. Oh, I saw it.

Transcendence is the story of the Casters, Will (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, Tusk) and Evelyn (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige, Iron Man 3). Will is dying, and Evelyn will do anything to save him. So when Will comes up with a controversial theory concerning crossing his living mind with a technological super-computer in order to leave his withering body of flesh to exist amongst cyberspace. Longtime friend Max (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind, The Avengers) helps the Casters achieve their goal only to second-guess his decision when Will’s mind wants more input. As Will’s consciousness continues to expand into new avenues of human psyche, a more horrifying truth comes to light for Evelyn: is this thing still her husband anymore, and if not, what has it become?

I want to like this movie so much. I really do. It has fine performances and the dialogue isn’t bad. The real issue of the movie is the pacing. After the first third of Transcendence, it slows the hell down. Seriously. There is a whole middle of this movie that has stuff going on but doesn’t feel important, which leads to an underwhelming ending trying to be deeper than it is. There are issues.

After Will’s consciousness begins learning and becoming something greater than itself, we see him experimenting with humans to progress both humans and itself, but I didn’t feel the stakes. I knew they were there, but I just didn’t find myself caring about them, which disappointed me. Maybe if the film pulled me in more, I would have found myself rooting for a solution, but Evelyn Caster doesn’t take up the lead as far as cathartic characters go. I wanted her to figure out what we had all figured out, but it took too long. On the other hand, Max has entrenched himself with known terrorists to try exposing this experiment to the public, so he wasn’t as likable either. Then you get Cillian Murphy (TV’s Peaky Blinders, Inception) and Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, Dolphin Tale 2), who play Agent Buchanan and Joseph Tagger. Seriously, who the hell are these guys and why do I care about them. They bare no weight whatsoever on the plot or anything going on. They merely observe. They just exist. Why? Exactly. These roles seemed more like a favor to Pfister than anything else. Yeah, I liked The Dark Knight trilogy too, but I wouldn’t take an easily worthless character to show my affection.

Then, there is the ending. It tries to be the ending to Inception or perhaps The Dark Knight Rises. It tries to compel its viewership into discussing exactly what happened. The problem here is that it feels so forced. It feels shoehorned when it could’ve been a simple explanation of what Max thinks happened without trying to imply anything. Just let us have the info that we have attained and let us use that for watercooler talk. Instead, the film leaves a dry taste on the tongue that leads to simply nothingness.

transcendence2014c

I want to love this movie. There are so many parts of it that I do love. Many of the actors turn in fine work, and I didn’t have any issues with the visual presentation of the film, but I think good ol’ Wally needs to learn about pacing.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Wally Pfister’s Transcendence? Did you login or shut down? Let me know!

 

[Happy 15th Birthday!] Sleepy Hollow (1999)

sleepyhollow1999a

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci

Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker

105 mins. Rated R for graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design

 

I remember reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a kid. I remember the way it made me feel. It was a very unhappy and dreary story, as was expected to be. I remember my excitement at hearing that there was a new film version coming along in 1999. It was a new film from director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Dark Shadows), with whom I was already familiar with at a young age. I remember finding the film to be very different than the original story, much more convoluted than it needed to be. I wasn’t a great big fan of the film, though I remembered that it had several some really great moments. I thought I would look back on the film for its 15th anniversary and see if I felt any different about it.

sleepyhollow1999c

As it turns out, I still find numerous flaws with the film, but I feel as though it has aged very nicely over the past fifteen years.

It’s the story of Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Transcendence) as he hunts down a murderer in Sleepy Hollow who lops his victim’s heads off. Along the way, he meets Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci, Monster, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax), a woman he develops an emotional connection to even though she may have more to her past than he knows. The townspeople believe that the murders are being committed by The Headless Horseman, a mythical being who has been birthed from Hell to avenge his death.

This film looks pretty damn good for its age. I still find the lighting to be too little during some of the more menacing action sequences. I think it could use a bit more light in its scenes. I like Johnny Depp, pre-overused by Tim Burton here. Christina Ricci returns to the genre that made her famous in The Addams Family. I find her inert sensuality and innocence brings chilling ambience to her performance here. Then there’s Christopher Walken, who gets a lot less screentime as The Headless Horseman, but all the seem, he gives one of the most iconic and terrifying performances I have ever seen here. He is almost monstrous and beastly even as a humanoid spirit.

I also enjoyed the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki here. He definitely deserved the nomination from making this film feel like a Hammer film and gives homage to even older films of the horror genre.

sleepyhollow1999a

Of all the films in the Burton canon, this one feels more like the Burton we know and doesn’t tread very much new territory, but overall, I enjoy the film much more now, and part of that has to do with the awesome soundtrack and the screenplay from Andrew Kevin Walker (even with an uncredited rewrite that messed with the pacing a bit). Tim Burton has done better, but he has also done worse, and Sleepy Hollow exists somewhere in the middle.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 19 – Dark Shadows (2012)

darkshadows2012a

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote

Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith

113 mins. Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.

 

For horror fans, the 1966 television series Dark Shadows is a pretty big deal. For soap opera fans, it is also a big deal. A dark brooding and eventually supernatural based soap opera, Dark Shadows was so far ahead of its time that it didn’t really take off during its initial run. It didn’t really take off during its revival either. In 2012, director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Frankenweenie) brought a reimagining to the big screen from a screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (TV’s The Hard Times of RJ Berger, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). It, too, did not take off. So how does a movie with this much going for it, a new and promising screenwriter, a talented director behind the camera, and explosive leading man Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Into the Woods) as a lead, fail so much? Truth be told, I rather enjoyed it for all the reasons you should.

darkshadows2012c

Depp portrays Barnabus Collins, a privileged man who took too much for granted. He loved and left women like the voluptuous Angelique (Eva Green, TV’s Penny Dreadful, Casino Royale), and he paid dearly for it, for unbeknownst to Collins, Angelique was a witch who cursed his beloved Josette (Bella Heathcote, In Time, Not Fade Away) to walk off a cliff and turned Barnabus himself into a vampire and had him buried for all eternity. Around 200 years later, Barnabus is awakened by random happenstance and returns to his beloved home of Collinwood Manor to find distant relative Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer, Scarface, The Family) and her family residing. Collins’ family name has been tarnished by the still living Angelique who has taken the town of Collinsport for herself. As Barnabus tries to put the pieces of his afterlife in order and bring his family back to their stance in the community, he is bewitched by the Collins’ new family tutor and caregiver Victoria, who bares a striking resemblance to Josette.

This movie succeeds at what it is trying to be. Much like the adaptation of Rock of Ages from a few years ago, this film is not rounding the bases to Oscar glory. All it wants is to remind you of cheese from which the original Dark Shadows bore and is what it is so beloved for today. Dark Shadows was not a great television series ever, but we love it. Why? Because it is so much fun. Exactly. Not because it was filled with nuanced performances, but because it was filled with such lovable (or unlovable) characters. I think people didn’t do their research for this film (surprise, surprise, those same people didn’t expect Sweeney Todd to be a musical) and they expected something dark and brooding, perhaps for akin to Edward Scissorhands or Sleepy Hollow, when really this is more attuned to Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, being dark comedies with dark undertones.

CA.0221.dark.shadows.

Now the film is far from perfect. Some of the performances are wooden, while others come off as over goofy. The cinematography is nothing particularly special. The music and visual effects are rather fun, but the film isn’t going to be remembered or rediscovered as perfect, but it is just a good time. This is a movie I should have expected to fail, but I had faith in moviegoers. If you saw this during its initial release, I advise you to give it another go, because it wasn’t all that bad. It is, ironically, rather lively.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror – Extra Bits: [Take 5] Horror Musicals!

Hey everyone, well, October is well upon us, and for my first entry in the 31 Days of Horror, I talked about a horror musical called The Devil’s Carnival. As you might recall, I didn’t love it, but it got me intrigued about horror musicals. I know they can be pulled off, I have seen some pretty fierce ones and they can ride that line of camp or darkness or sometimes both. So, today, I’m starting a new feature called Take 5, where I give you a list of five movies that are horror musicals. Now, this is not a list of the only five horror musicals ever. It is also not a countdown, but merely five movies that I’m trying to bring to public knowledge more. The idea came from a casual reader that asked me about marathoning movies for Halloween, and I thought back to a weekly movie night I hosted at my home, and one night we did a horror musical night, and all the horror musicals listed here were up for contention. So, I’m not going to drag that out much longer and just present you with this week’s Take 5!

 

Take 5 Horror Musicals:

 

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

the-nightmare-before-christmas-movie-poster-1993

(Dir: Henry Selick)

Nominated for Best Visual Effects (1994 Academy Awards)

Now, I want to exclaim this right now. I haven’t seen this movie in a number of years. To be honest, I have always respected it, but it just never got me like it got so many.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is the story of Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) who lives in “Halloween Town” and ends up finding his way out through a doorway leading to a mystical forest of sorts. Spotting another doorway and entering through it, Jack finds himself in “Christmas Town” and decides to celebrate this newly discovered world. It features some absolutely powerful music (this is music that gets stuck in your head, even when you don’t know any of the lyrics, and you just can’t stop singing them) as well as some wholly terrifying voice work from the stop-motion characters. I want to point out that Tim Burton did not primarily direct this picture, but it has his look all around it.

 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

(Dir: Tim Burton)

Awarded Best Achievement in Art Direction (2008 Academy Awards)

Nominated for Best Actor (Johnny Depp) and Best Costume Design (2008 Academy Awards)

Now, Tim Burton did direct this feature, based on the musical theater production from Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. It tells the tale Sweeney Todd (Depp) and his slow descent into madness following the loss of his wife and child. He decides to hone his skills as a barber in order to lure men into his home and murder them before sending the bodies to Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) to make into meat pies. His main target is Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), the man behind the inciting treachery. This movie was released right at the time where Tim Burton wasn’t really holding my love, but I was in a musical renaissance where musicals were big for me. Maybe it was the emotional pain of youth, but I had to see this movie. I loved it, and it was one of my favorite movies from 2007, which was a pretty great year for movies already.

 

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Little_shop_of_horrors

(Dir: Frank Oz)

Nominated for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song (“Mean Green Mother from Outer Space) (1987 Academy Awards)

Another fan and critical favorite is this 80s classic, which has an interesting backstory. I actually studied this movie in college and it holds a special spot in my heart. So, it is based on a stage musical which in turn is based on a Roger Corman anti-classic B-movie from 1960. It stars Rick Moranis as Seymour Krelborn, an unlucky slumper who comes across a very unusual plant while walking the back streets of New York City during a “Total Eclipse of the Sun!” and decides to name it Audrey II after the woman he loves (played by Ellen Greene). Things get complicated when he finds that Audrey II talks and only enjoys blood and flesh. Morbid, campy and all things terrific, this is a movie that I have to watch regularly and I dare you to watch it and try not to sing.

 

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

MV5BMTc5NjA0MjM3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTIwOTkwNQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_

(Dir: Darren Lynn Bousman)

I highly recommend this one to anyone who is curious about The Devil’s Carnival or someone who has already seen it and needs to wash the taste out. Repo! is set in the future where the one thing on everyone’s mind is surgery: make yourself better, look hotter, and live longer. Shilo (Alexa Vega) is stuck with a blood disease which is slowly killing her, and her relationship with her father (Anthony Stewart Head) is dying from his wanting to protect her from further harm. But father has secrets of his own and Shilo won’t follow his directions any longer, as she gets more and more into the mystery surrounding the death of her mother Marni. A gruesome and violent rock opera, Repo! is an addiction all its own, and features Anthony Stewart Head belting out the music in some his most powerful work to date.

 

The Rocky Horror Picture Shown (1975)

the_rocky_horror_picture_show_poster

(Dir: Jim Sharman)

Celebrating its 40th Anniversary next year, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a film that everyone needs to see, though most picture will not like or understand it. The film is a send-up to the horror films of back in the day, a campy but lovable triumph of fun and music, and also a satire of many heavy themes about politics and gender and sex and, well, the movie is about so many things that it’s hard not to take something new away every time you see it. My advice, watch this movie once in your home, then head to a midnight shadow cast (you’ll learn more when you go), preferably on Halloween. I have seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show Live for the past seven years in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and if able, this year will be number eight.

 

Take-aways:

All five films here are winners, and I suggest them to you for your Halloween pleasure. Little Shop goes together well with Rocky Horror, as do Sweeney Todd and Repo!, and will make for a grand marathoning. Happy singing!

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

 

June 2014 Preview

Just putting this out there again, I have not seen the following films. I have prided myself on being pretty good at guessing a movie’s place on the awesome-meter (shut up, it’s a thing!), so I have compiled a list of the film releases in June of this year for you to make the best possible choice when heading to the theater this month.

 

MV5BMjA4NzkxNzc5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzQ3OTMxMTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars premiered last week at the Seattle International Film Festival, and will have its wide release on June 6th. Based on the popular novel by John Green, Fault tells the story of Hazel (Shailene Woodley, TV’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Divergent), a terminally-ill girl who meets Augustus Waters at a support group meeting. Their relationship changes everything for Hazel. Now, this film irked me a little with its bad marketing earlier this year. I trust Shailene Woodley, who has proven herself in the past. I feel like this will be the teen release of the year, so if you read the book, I’m feeling good about this release.

 

MV5BMTcwNzAxMDU1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDE2NTU1MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_

22 Jump Street

I was actually surprised and happy to discover that 21 Jump Street, the 2012 action-comedy based on 1987’s television star vehicle for actor Johnny Depp, was pretty damn funny. It looked to me like the kind of film with all the best moments in the trailer. I admit I was wrong. As far as a sequel goes, under any other directors I would be nervous, but returning director team Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, this year’s hit The Lego Movie) alongside writer-star Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum flexing his funny bone again, I have to say I am excited. Here’s hoping it won’t be another Hangover sequel fiasco.

 

MV5BMzMwMTAwODczN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDk2NDA4MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_

How to Train Your Dragon 2

This was another film with a quality that shocked me. I initially thought How to Train Your Dragon was going to be likable but not loveable with either two much focus on cuteness or too much focus on goofiness. Again, happily surprised.  I’m going to say go for this sequel, which sees Hiccup and Toothless as they find themselves in the middle of a bigger conflict between humans and dragons. As much as I would’ve liked to see the film take the direction of the book series a little more (the second book was entitled How to Be a Pirate and, understandably so, would’ve caused a pretty sizeable risk for the filmmakers in terms of its overall plot), I like the idea of turning this into a film trilogy and being so adult while still being a family film. Kudos.

 

MV5BMjIyMjA2OTM0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzY2MTI2MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_

Jersey Boys

Clint Eastwood is back! It has been three years since J. Edgar’s release, a film that labeled Eastwood as tamer than hoped, but I have always been impressed with the actor-turned-director’s time behind the camera. There hasn’t been a film of his that I was disappointed in. This is a new risk for Clint as well, a musical. I love seeing musicals from directors not usually tapped for such projects. I am stoked to see his take on the four men who grouped together to become The Four Seasons.

 

MV5BMjE2NjMxNjU1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTI1OTgxMTE@._V1_SX214_AL_

Think Like a Man Too

Wow, another sequel to a 2012 film, and I have to say, the first film didn’t interest me enough to actually sit through it. I will say this, if you truly liked the first film, you may enjoy this installment, but it seems like a gimmick sequel (a film that takes implausible measures to bring the characters into wacky situations) and I don’t think it has the chops to seem less stupid. A Vegas bachelor/bachelorette party? I think it will sink, and I wouldn’t want to be in the theater watching it sink.

 

MV5BMjEwNTg1MTA5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTg2OTM4MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_

Transformers: Age of Extinction

If you had asked me back in early 2007 if I would be here in 2014 discussing a fourth Transformers film, I would have responded with awe at the specifics of your question. After I got over it, however, I would be shocked to say yes. Don’t get me wrong; the first Transformers was a long-shot hit and I personally had fun with the sequels, though I accept their collective non-greatness. Transformers: Age of Extinction picks up a few years after the finale of Dark of the Moon, following Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, 2 Guns) and his daughter (Nicola Peltz, The Last Airbender, Deck the Halls) who come across Optimus Prime and get involved in a plot involving, shockingly, Dinobots. Never thought we would see them, but I guess it is time. This will be the first Transformers film without the involvement of Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). I’m personally excited about a possible new direction for the series. I was getting a little tired of LaBeouf’s constant freaking out and screaming. Wahlberg has the potential to carry this franchise to success.

 

flm001955

Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie

I seriously had to look this movie up. I have no freaking clue what this is. I guess it is based on a sitcom. I’ll make this pretty simple. If you have heard of the show and liked it, you may want to see. Otherwise, stay the hell away because it sounds like a turd. There, I said it. A turd.

 

 

 

There you have it, June 2014 in Preview. Final tally:

Best Bets: 22 Jump Street, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Jersey Boys

On the Bubble: The Fault in Our Stars, Transformers: Age of Extinction

Likely Misses: Think Like a Man Too, Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie

 

As before, I gave you the tools. It all depends on you to use them. What do you think? How do you feel about this month’s upcoming releases? What are you most looking forward to? Comment below.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑