Paul Greenwood's movie reviews - Transendence, Tracks, The Other Woman

Transcendence (12A, 119 mins)

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Johnny Depp stars in Transendence
Johnny Depp stars in Transendence

Transcendence (12A, 119 mins)

Director: Wally Pfister

2 stars

Transcendence is a science fiction drama of ideas, dressed up as an action thriller that utterly fails to thrill. Unfortunately its ideas simply aren't very well thought through and it's all just a bit Star Trek-daft in its concepts and lethargic in its execution.

In voiceover Paul Bettany tells us of a world without power and without the internet, following a war with technology. We're then taken back to five years earlier, when Bettany was a friend and colleague to Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall's husband and wife scientist team, Will and Evelyn Caster.

They've been working on using artificial intelligence for the good of mankind and are presenting their research at a conference.

But not everyone is on board with their work, and Will is shot by a group of anti-technology anarchists who are out to destroy the A.I. labs.

He survives the shooting but there's poison on the bullet, resulting in him only having a month to live. As his final days draw near, Evelyn decides to put his thoughts into the A.I. machine to save his consciousness, and she believes she has her husband back.

But as Will's requirement for energy increases, his connection to the worldwide network results in him growing ever more powerful and eventually dangerous.

Following the Frankenstein template, Transcendence is standard mad scientist fare, throwing up the question of how technology is imposing on our lives and whether man should be playing god, but offering nothing new and never exploring it to any degree beyond characters just telling each other they shouldn't be doing it.

Like its anarchists, the film takes an anti-technology stance and runs with it, without ever really considering what's so bad about it.

Worst of all though, it's desperately tedious. Lots of flashy computer screens whiz by to make us think something is actually happening, but there's a stifling inertia at the centre of it.

The first half hour consists of the actors talking at each other about the plot in ways that make it feel like the air is being sucked out the room.

It's thoroughly uninvolving and the blame has to lie with Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan's long-time cinematographer who makes his directing debut here.

It's an incredibly static film, populated by actors standing around waiting for something to happen and looking like they're not being allowed to express themselves or even move half the time.

It's almost unheard of these days to see Depp playing a contemporary American character, and he doesn't look at all comfortable doing it. Not that he gets much of a chance to prove otherwise, as he spends most of the film as a disembodied voice or a face on a computer screen.

Morgan Freeman is completely wasted in a supporting role as a colleague of the Casters, limited to loitering at the back of a scene looking concerned, and his character adds nothing to proceedings.

A gloomy visual palette and sombre tone don't help much either. It just gets drearier and drearier, though one or two developments in the second half almost threaten to offer something interesting. But they come much too late to save the day and slip away among the plot holes and slackness that litter the confused narrative.

There are hints of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, yet Transcendence never comes close to committing to being a horror movie, and never comes close to being entertaining as a result.

See it if you liked: Source Code, Virtuosity, Inception

Tracks (12A, 113 mins)

Director: John Curran

4 stars

Australian movie Tracks is an engrossing dramatisation of the experiences of real life adventurer Robyn Davidson, who in the mid 70s embarked on an epic walk from Alice Springs to the west coast over 1700 miles away, with only her dog and a couple of camels for company.

Though admittedly there isn't really a great deal to the drama and it's perhaps a touch overlong for such a limited story, this remains consistently watchable stuff.

Her interactions with indigenous people and occasional encounters with Adam Driver's National Geographic photographer offer glimpses into a strong and engagingly real character and Mia Wasikowska is splendid as Robyn.

It looks absolutely glorious and much of what's good just comes from watching her walking, which is best enjoyed as an experience that you allow to wash over you while you're relaxing in a nice comfy seat.

See it if you liked: The Way, Into the Wild, Walkabout

The Other Woman (12A, 109 mins)

Director: Nick Cassavetes

3 stars

The state of the romantic comedy recently has been a perilous one, but this surprisingly decent effort goes some way to halting the slide. Cameron Diaz is a lawyer who's been seeing Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) for a couple of months when she learns he's already married to Leslie Mann, who doesn't know he's having an affair.

The Other Woman actually manages to serve up a fresh situation as each they discover the truth and become friends, though it loses a little credibility and tests patience as it progresses with the addition of a third woman (Kate Upton) as they seek their revenge.

Though it can be daft, it stays tolerable thanks to people worth spending time with and likeable performances, with Mann especially bringing a certain kooky energy to her role.

Physical pratfalls are quite well done and there are a handful of solid laughs, while even the odd gross-out moment provides legitimate chuckles.

See it if you liked: 9 to 5, This Is 40, The Sweetest Thing

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