Transcendence

RADiUS-TWC

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Blue Ruin Dwight (Macon Blair) is a bit of a loner. He lives in his car, parked on the side of a road near a Delaware beach, and spends his days scrounging for food, collecting cans and reading. A gentle wake-up knock on his car window precedes a disturbing piece of news. The man who killed Dwight’s parents is being released from prison. Single-minded but far from focused, Dwight fills the gas tank, pops the car battery into place and makes a beeline straight into hell. The setup here is economical, and the rest of the film follows suit, but rather than be a negative that simplicity actually elevates the film above its bigger budgeted, higher profile cousins. A Hollywood version of this tale would complicate things with unnecessary subplots, excessive exposition and time spent highlighting just how bad the bad guy and his henchmen really are. Here we stick with Dwight throughout, and the result is one of the most intimate and affecting revenge films in years. My full review. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, deleted scenes, camera test]

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Scarlett Johansson Movies

Last year, Steven Spielberg postulated that sometime within the next few years, a series of subsequent major flops will, in effect, dismantle the blockbuster mentality that has dominated Hollywood since Spielberg himself became a well-known director. While this doesn’t look like it will occur anytime soon – certainly not in 2015 – it’s not hard to imagine that the culture industry of remakes, sequels, adaptations, umpteenth reboots and general unoriginality will one day go the way of the September 2008 stock market. It’s happened before. When Hollywood attempted to compete with the rise of television, studios produced an onslaught of lengthy widescreen Technicolor historical pictures, all with massive star power and even bigger budgets. But this model of putting so much money into fewer individual films proved unsustainable, and now even massive hits like Cleopatra are remembered as flops in part because the stakes were so high and their productions were so troubled. It’s hard to believe, but the series of epics that Hollywood produced during the 1950s and 1960s are a blip on the radar of Hollywood’s history compared to the exponential bloating of budgets and expanding of franchises now. We’ve been swimming in the Blockbuster Mentality since 1980 and it’s only intensified since. Hollywood has dug its heels in, only to continue reproducing the same existing properties – thus limiting both the imaginations of audiences and filmmakers – in a way that’s unstoppable unless a West coast economic catastrophe happens. Well, at least, that’s the conventional wisdom.

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Serial Experiments Lain

Championing anime, especially something as wondrously bizarre as Serial Experiments Lain, is a worthy cause, but I still can’t make heads or tails of The Daily Beast’s accusation that Hollywood sci-fi films are ripping off anime. Vague and accusatory headline in tow, author David Levesley points out cosmetic similarities between recent science fiction studio fare and well-regarded anime gems with the added (hand-drawn) cherry on top of claiming filmmakers won’t own up to the work they’re stealing from. It’s a bombastic statement (that probably feels gut-level correct for anyone who thinks “Hollywood is out of ideas” is both true and a response for everything), but the gruel here is so clear that it’s see-through. It’s an impotent, misplaced rant with an uncomfortable cultural angle. The quick and dirty comparisons from the piece include: Transcendence = Serial Experiments Lain (and unnamed multitudes) because they both include a person being uploaded to a computer upon death. The Hunger Games = Battle Royale (an old favorite) Inception = Paprika because they both involve a dream machine Pacific Rim = Neon Genesis Evangelion because of the mechs Her = Chobits because they both have a love story between man and compu-lady These similarities would be damning evidence of rip offs…if anime were the only storytelling well of the past two thousand years.

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TRANSCENDENCE

In a misleading article on CNN.com this week, Americans were said to be “excited” and “upbeat” about the way technology will improve our lives in the future. The headline of the piece, though, claims it’s about Americans being “wary of futuristic science, tech.” The article reports the findings of a telephone survey that surprisingly wasn’t tied to the release of the movie Transcendence, which seems at first meant as a promotion of the real possibilities of artificial intelligence, mind uploading and nanotechnology. Misleading in its own way, the movie begins with optimism about advances in A.I. research and then by the end has shown us the dangers of a self-aware omniscient computer that can create super soldiers, controlled via wifi and repaired via tiny, quick-acting robots. Audiences don’t seem to be walking away from the movie actually wary of this futuristic science and tech, though, because it plays out so far from believable that at many moments viewers are straight-up laughing at the way both the plot and science progress on screen. But should the science of Transcendence be believed? And if so, should the movie have been more clear and genuine regarding the plausibility of what all occurs? 

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Ray-Kurzweil-in-Transcendent-Man

I have not seen Transcendence, but the critical buzz is not good at all. Cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, headlined by Johnny Depp playing a scientist specializing in AI, follows that scientist as he gets his brain uploaded into a computer and begins to leave his humanity behind. While it’s a thoroughly sci-fi concept, there are some who believe that such scenarios will in fact be possible one day — and that that day may be sooner than you think. The chief proselytizer of such ideas is Ray Kurzweil, one of the most famous futurists in the world. He’s made a fortune off of multiple patents, and he doesn’t like the idea that he’ll die someday. Which is fair enough, as most people harbor the same feeling. But unlike most people, he’s serious about beating death. He consumes over 200 pills a day to regulate his body, claiming to have beaten diabetes through this regimen. But that’s just a stalling tactic until science brings us to “the singularity.” Kurzweil has proposed “The Law of Accelerating Returns.” The rate of change in evolutionary systems, he argues, increases exponentially as time goes on. It took a billion years for single-celled organisms to develop from the elements, but “only” 10 million for more complex life forms to come about. In the past century, humankind has seen more technological progress than in most of our previous history. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Metropolis Movie

Transcendence casts Johnny Depp as a brilliant scientist who plots out grand plans for The Singularity, only to become that omnipotent, sentient technological himself when an assassination attempt goes awry. While the new film is a look at what happens when technology becomes humanoid, it’s certainly not the first movie to ever do so. In fact, cinema has been toying with the idea of The Singularity — the point at which A.I. acquires beyond-genius-level intelligence — since the 1920s, even if it was never called that back then. The Singularity has been showing up in films for decades, ranging from talking, all-knowing computers who refuse to do what we say to robots who serve along humans without explicit direction or order. As such, there are some amazing examples of Retro Singularity, a primitive, Tomorrowland-esque version of the future that writers of the past may have not even known they were predicting. Think all the way back to Metropolis, the 1927 film that brought us Maria, the robot who was so lifelike she threw an entire city into flux with their insatiable lust. When Maria is built, she resembles her inspiration so closely that it tricks the citizens of Metropolis into believing she’s the original. She’s burned as a “witch” because of their confusion – she walks, talks and persuades just as well as any woman.

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Nicole Kidman in Birth

It’s a little too early to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Birth, a movie where “10 years later” has significance, but I’d like to get started on paying commemorative tribute to Jonathan Glazer‘s 2004 masterpiece for a few reasons. Each of these reasons is actually a new movie with some relevance to Birth, and while that makes it sound like the earlier movie is something so ahead of its time that it fits better among the output of 2014, the pertinence is mostly a coincidence. The first reason/movie, however, is rather obvious. Glazer’s first feature since Birth is currently in theaters, and it couldn’t be any more worth the wait. Outside of both movies beginning with a kind of natal moment for a main character and the way they could be aesthetically connected, reverse-sequentially, through snow-filled settings, there’s little similarity between the movies. The new one, Under the Skin, is about an alien disguised as a human woman (Scarlett Johansson) who predatorily lures men into a trap. Birth is about a little boy (Cameron Bright) who claims to be the reincarnation of the husband of a wealthy widow (Nicole Kidman). Her family thinks it’s all a ruse, maybe to predatorily lure the woman into some sort of financial trap.

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Warner Bros.

If nothing else, Wally Pfister‘s directorial debut deserves points for trying to be big science fiction that’s utterly uninterested in robots, laser beams or future dystopian societies populated with spunky teenage girls. Instead, Transcendence wants to tackle ideas as grand as what it means to be human, the destructive (and redemptive) power of love and the ethical limits of technology. But wanting to do something and actually following through on those intentions are two very different things. Will Caster’s (Johnny Depp) research into artificial intelligence is on the cusp of a major breakthrough, but while his wife (Rebecca Hall), his best friend (Paul Bettany) and the subscribers of Wired magazine are excited by the possibilities, not everyone is as happy. The anti-technology movement acts with a decisive, multi-target attack leaving dozens of scientists and keyboard jockeys dead and Will barely clinging to life. The decision is made to “save” his life by uploading his brain to their quantum processor-powered super computer, but once there his unchecked power becomes a threat to all of mankind. Or something.

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A24

We’re not even halfway into 2014 and already this is proving to be a terrific year for movies. In March alone we had a slew of quality films: Enemy, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Raid 2, and Bad Words. This month is even better. What’s nice about this March and April is that they’ve given us some quality blockbusters that we’d expect from the summer without having to wait for the heat. While Noah had its flaws — a lot of them, to be exact — it was a grand and ambitious drama with the scope of a summer movie. A more consistent summer film is opening this week, and if you pay any attention to the world, you know which. A hint: it’s the one about a super soldier who was frozen for over 60 years and is now fighting a man with a metal arm that’ll make a gazillion dollars. The movie, not the guy with the metal arm. Not sure what his day rate is. The Marvel juggernaut isn’t the only movie you need to see this month, though. There are two movies in particular that will surely stand the test of time: Under the Skin and Only Lovers Left Alive. Those are experiences, not just movies. Before the busy summer movie season begins, make sure to make the time for them, in addition to these other eight Must See Movies:

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trailer transcendence

You may not recognize Wally Pfister‘s name, but you’ve most definitely seen his work. As cinematographer on all of Christopher Nolan’s films he’s been responsible for some of the most striking images to hit multiplexes and IMAX theaters over the past several years, but now he’s stepping out from behind the camera… so he can step behind it again in the role of director. His directorial debut, Transcendence, is a cautionary tale about scientists reaching for technological extremes and radical reactionaries who fear the eventual obsolescence of mankind. His film was already guaranteed to look incredible, but Pfister has gone ahead and stocked it with fantastic actors too including Rebecca Hall, Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Clifton Collins Jr, and others. Check out the first trailer for Transcendence below.

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news pfister nolan

Apparently, being Christopher Nolan is contagious. The director’s 2010 film Inception was a twisty-turny science fiction epic shrouded in secrecy, and now Nolan is hard at work on the similarly twisty-turny Interstellar that’s similarly shrouded in secrecy. Wally Pfister, Nolan’s longtime cinematographer, has apparently caught the Nolan bug. He too has a science fiction film coming out in 2014- Transcendence- and up until now there’s been very little word on what the film’s actually about. All we’ve had to go on was a brief summary that mentioned how Johnny Depp‘s character will be assassinated, then turned into some kind of artificial intelligence. Now, ScreenCrush has the official synopsis. Unfortunately, it doesn’t add a whole lot. Ready? Here it is:

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depp

Watching The Lone Ranger crash and burn last month may really haven taken its toll on Johnny Depp. Or maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever the case, we may soon live in a world where Depp no longer plays quirky characters with even quirkier headgear. We may actually live in a world where Depp no longer plays any characters at all. In an interview with BBC Breakfast, that he may soon depart the world of acting. Depp had this to say: “At a certain point you start thinking and when you add up the amount of dialogue you say per year, for example, you realize you’ve said written words more than you’ve had a chance to say your own words. You start thinking of that as an insane option for a human being. Are there quieter things I wouldn’t mind doing? Yeah. I wouldn’t say I’m dropping out any second, but I would say it’s probably not too far away.” This might seem a little early, but bear in mind that the actor has just turned 50 this past June. His characters may have the same eccentricities that Edward Scissorhands did, but Edward Scissorhands is already 23 years old.

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Will Smith

What is Casting Couch? It’s the casting news column that’s returning after a small vacation. There’s lots of stuff to catch up with, involving many of the most exciting actors working today, so let’s get started. There’s just no time to waste. There’s some good news and some bad news regarding the casting of that movie about con artists Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have been putting together, called Focus. The good news is that they may have finally found a leading man to replace Ben Affleck, who dropped out of the film to focus on other things. Variety is reporting that, of all people, mega-celebrity Will Smith is currently in negotiations to star in the film. The bad news is, given his advanced age, Smith’s potential casting has led to Kristen Stewart seeing the writing on the wall and dropping out as the film’s female lead. When Will Smith becomes involved in a project, it tends to become the Will Smith Show, so we’ll have to wait and see what he has in mind as far as leading ladies goes.

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Caine

What is Casting Couch? Today it’s Associate Editor Kate Erbland, filling in for the intrepid Nathan Adams as he enjoys vacation. Also, it’s about casting. Also, there’s not much going on today in Casting Land. Also, it’s Friday. Let’s all relax together. Looks like Brad Anderson‘s Eliza Graves is getting increasingly more British-y. The film, based on an Edgar Allan Poe short story, already has Kate Beckinsale attached to star, and now Deadline reports that Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, and Jim Sturgess have also joined the cast. This one centers on a mental hospital that gives new meaning to the saying “the inmates are running the asylum.” Spooky and such. No word on who is playing who, but we’re willing to bet the pivotal role of the handsome new doctor in town belongs to Sturgess. 

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Garrett Hedlund

What is Casting Couch? It’s the casting news roundup that was compiled today with the help of Daft Punk musical accompaniment. You may not remember much about TRON: Legacy’s story, because other than its glowing lights and its pumping soundtrack, that 2010 sequel to Disney’s cult classic TRON was pretty dull. So, let’s refresh your memory. The movie starred Garrett Hedlund as the son of Jeff Bridges’ character from the first film. He went into the computer world, found his dad, and then there was a big battle. Remember all this? Good, because Next Movie just confirmed that Hedlund will be back for whatever TRON 3 ends up being called. Disney apparently started getting a script together for a third film just last week. This, of course, means that we’ll all now be keeping our eyes open for the real news regarding this new sequel: whether or not Daft Punk is coming back to do another soundtrack.

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Bradley Cooper and American Sniper

What is Casting Couch? It’s a daily movie news column that that wants to make you a star, baby. Filmmaker Cameron Crowe hasn’t said much about his next project. We don’t yet have a title or a plot synopsis for it. But what we do know is that it’s said to be similar in tone to things like Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire, and it’s got Emma Stone playing a lead role (and it might just be a rewrite of his Deep Tiki script from years ago). So basically, expect something that lines up with Crowe’s best work and stars one of your favorite actresses. Sounds great. The new news regarding the project is that Crowe is reportedly close to finding his male lead. Deadline Hollywood says that he has his eye on Bradley Cooper, and he’s close to making a deal happen. Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone in a Cameron Crowe movie? Yeah, that should be enough to get the attention of every person of every gender and sexuality ever. Remember how we reported that Christopher Nolan’s regular DP, Wally Pfister, is going to be directing his first movie, it’s going to be called Transcendence, and it’s going to star Johnny Depp? Well, all of that stuff is still true, but the L.A. Times has dug up even more information. Turns out the film is actually going to have three leads, and Pfister is very game to get Christian Bale to sign on as number two of the three. Anyone out there want to see Johnny Depp […]

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Johnny Depp to Start in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wally Pfister is a name that might not be known by everyone, but he’s certainly an artist whose work everyone has seen. Pfister has been working as a camera operator since the late ’80s, and has regularly been getting gigs as a Director of Photography since the early 2000s. He is, however, primarily known as the DP that Christopher Nolan uses on all his features. This is the guy who shot Memento, who got nominated for cinematography Oscars for Batman Begins, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight, and who finally won one for Inception. To say that he knows how to shoot a scene would be a bit of an understatement. But now he’s ready to take a more hands on approach to all of the other aspects of filmmaking, by taking his first crack at directing a feature. His first project, Transcendence, comes from a script by newcomer Jack Paglen and has been developed by Straight Up Films. Any details as to what the film is about are being kept tightly under wraps, but what isn’t being treated like a secret is the big name actor who they’ve snagged to star.

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