If only Wally Pfister’s film was as nimble as its futuristic software, rather than as frustrating as trying to watch Netflix on a dial-up internet connection. This is even more disappointing since the first half hour of Transcendence is pretty promising, full of intriguing foreshadowing imagery plus Johnny Depp as computer genius Will Caster, whose smarts are underlined by a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and regular gobs of Dr Who-style science speak. His current obsession is building a powerful autonomous artificial intelligence. What could possibly go wrong with that?
The answer arrives when a gang of Luddite activists invade Caster’s lab and shoot him with a polonium-laced bullet. He survives the bullet, but the radiation poisoning is a death sentence. Handily, however, it gives his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and their computer-whizz best friend Max (Paul Bettany) sufficient time to upload his mind into a digital cloud and then reboot his consciousness in the form of algorithms and pixels.
Evelyn is so desperate for a reunion that she barely blinks when her cyber-husband asks to be uploaded onto the internet, where he spreads like a Trojan virus, crashes the world wide web, and plunges the world into an electricity-deprived dystopia where people have to bike to get around, mobile phones are landfill and laptops are used as doorstops. Nor does she seem to wonder, as I did, why Will 2.0 is capable of curing all disease yet cannot generate a realistic screen image of himself.
Pfister previously worked as Christopher Nolan’s director of photography – Transcendence is his directorial debut – and Nolan’s influence dominates the film like a recently uploaded digitised dead husband. Transcendence has Nolan repertory actors including Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Hall. It centres on someone reinventing reality, and the production design is painstakingly grandiose. Even calling a movie Transcendence carries the same enigmatic intellectual come hither as, say, naming a movie Inception.
Like every Nolan film, there is also a big existential question, namely: does this Will retain the human version’s essence, or is he now a manipulative batch of code that can replicate his memories and responses, whilst appearing to be a studly, rather bored-looking guy on Skype?
Fundamentally, the film’s operating system is The Monkey’s Paw, the Victorian chiller about a man brought back from the dead by grieving relatives, who later discover they have resurrected a simulacrum without a soul. The difference is that The Monkey’s Paw is a genuinely creepy story, while Transcendence finally plays out like Tron or The Lawnmower Man: a CGI fest, with its excitement modules pulled.
Rating: * *
The Other Woman (12A)
LIKE vestigial tails, crummy chick flicks are a nod to prehistoric times, yet still crop up today. But at least the tails are partly evolved, unlike the silliness of The Other Woman, where Cameron Diaz plays a New York lawyer who finally lets down her guard for a smart and handsome financier (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), only to discover that he is already married to the tightly wound Kate (Leslie Mann).
Once it emerges that he’s also cheating on both girlfriend and wife with the younger, more pneumatic Amber (Kate Upton, right), all three women join forces for revenge, but also boozy confession sessions, slapstick stuff involving bikini trimming, and affirming hugs at sunrise.
Nick Cassavetes helms a game but dispiriting picture that clearly has its sights set on the Bridesmaids pot of gold, but in reality resembles an unalluring revamp of the First Wives Club – plus the finale from Home Alone where Macaulay Culkin sets booby traps for the wannabee burglars.
There’s also something rather sad about Diaz and Mann nattering on about blokes as if they are just out of high school. Cassavetes, a self-serious filmmaker despite making soppy soaps like The Notebook, may even think this movie empowers its female characters. Instead it chains them to a notion of female friendship that claims to value minds but never shuts up about the aerobicised attractiveness of the participants’ bodies. Not that Coster-Waldau fares any better, with a character who isn’t so much flawed as an easy-to-hate, irredeemable sleaze.
On general release from Wednesday
* * * *
Spanish animator Ignacio Ferreras combines the retro visual style of Sylvain Chomet with a care home commentary worthy of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. In the English re-dub, Emilio (voiced by Martin Sheen) is a retired bank manager with a faltering memory put into a home by his exasperated son (Matthew Modine) where he strikes up a friendship with a craftier, more cynical roommate (George Coe). An unsentimental, benevolent portrait of ageing, affection and spirit, which contains an excellent dog joke.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh, 30 April until 1 May
The King And The Mockingbird (U)
* * * *
A beautiful, ambitious animated political fable based on a Hans Christian Andersen tale, this French classic took 30 years to complete – and even longer to get to the UK. It’s a real treat.
GFT, 26 April, Eden Court, Inverness next month
Super Duper Alice Cooper (15)
* * *
A self-described “doc-opera” featuring archive, animation and lascivious moments with snakes, as the glam rock artist also known as Vincent Furnier takes us through his life. Cooper proves a genial, voluble rock idol, even if he does admit to swapping sex and drugs for golf.
Vue Edinburgh (Omni), Vue Hamilton and Showcase Paisley, Tuesday.
* * *
There are murky goings on in the North Sea in Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s convoluted conspiracy thriller, when a Norwegian diver (Headhunters’ Aksel Hennie) tries to find out how his brother died. But the plotting is so tortuous that following who has done what may give you the bends.
GFT and the Mareel Cinema, Shetland, from 25 April
Mia Wasikowska stars as Robyn Davidson, who trekked 1,700 miles across the Australian desert in 1977 with four camels and a dog. With nothing at stake, John Curran’s earnestly dull biopic hasn’t much to offer except parched voiceovers, painfully slow child/parent flashbacks, sunburn and humps.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Friday until 7 May