Monday, April 28, 2014

Transcendence

When I first heard about this film, I was excited. It was about the merging of AI with human consciousness, a technological singularity, it was directed by the visual director of Inception, and it was based on a screenplay on the Black List, a list of interesting but unproduced screenplays that used to include Slumdog Millionaire and American Hustle. Unfortunately, the final product falls  a little short of the target. Why?

The film tends to get lost in the milieu of great visuals, losing its storytelling  energy in the process. It's a fun ride, and a technically sound one, but in the end the film seems like a series of checkpoints that serves to drive the story forward, and we are not left to linger on any one moment. The ultimate product fThe romance is at least believable but could be tenuous for some, and that seems to be the problem, as it is the center of the movie.

The film asks us if consciousness in digital form can really replace the real thing. The ending is quite simple, but can be interpreted in different ways. I wish the film had centered more on the moral implications of heading towards a technological singularity. For the record, I was with Johnny Depp's character all the way and was against the 'neo-luddite' terror organization.

It's worth a watch, but it ends up being forgettable. Hopefully, however, we get to see more high concept sci fi in cinema this year (looking forward to that Nolan film around the end of the year.)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Suicide Room

If there is one thing that I can say after watching Suicide Room (Polish: Sala Samobójców), it's that if it's your type of film, you will like it. If it isn't, then it's better to stay away.

Dominik is a teen with wealthy parents. He has his share of friends, but after a series of events with a classmate at a party, he is bullied and accused of being gay. He takes this rather hard and sinks into depression. During his depression he comes across an online community whose members are into self harm and suicide. He manages to form a bond with one person in particular, Sylwia, the leader of the group.

It's easy to judge Dominik has having overacted to his predicament. It's easy to judge him as overly sensitive, bratty and foolish in his subsequent actions with himself and his parents. But we aren't in his shoes. Although I can empathize to a certain extent to his character, I can never know exactly how he feels. We all face our personal demons, and sometimes the weight is too much for any single one of us to bear. It is with the support of others that we overcome them.

The problem is, he found the wrong person. I find Sylwia to be hard to empathize with at all; to me she seems like a selfish person who thinks the world revolves around her. It affected my interpretation of the last few scenes, where I interpreted her reaction to the events that transpired to be because of her continued inability to kill herself. There is a romance attempted here, but I see it as one sided, and thus more tragic than what it intended to portray. If it were really mutual, it's horribly unhealthy. The parents are not much help either. Although overall they are well meaning, their other motivations stem from their own welfare than for their son's.

The plot also suffers from a tendency to meander. The whole thing about Dominik being persecuted as gay becomes irrelevant halfway into the picture and focuses on this "romantic" plot that I find hard to swallow. We never learn how he deals (or doesn't deal) with his sexual orientation; that would probably have made a better film. The film never touches on it again. The other members of the Suicide Room are nicely detailed in 3DCG, but these scenes are superfluous at best, and even then little is made of their development as a family. The whole romantic scene with the random Japanese song is a WTF moment.

The best one could hope at the end of the film is that some sort of positive change happened with all the characters involved, although depending on your interpretation, that may not be the case. In the end it's an OK film, but one that feels uneven and unpolished\.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hammer to the Face (Redux)


Oldboy, the 2003 South Korean film directed by Park Chan-wook, is one of my all time favorite films. It's this perfect combination of story, style and substance that is a rarity in films these days. When I learned that Hollywood was making a remake of this cult classic, I was a bit hesitant. A good remake of a foreign film is a rare thing.

Oldboy (2013) turns out to be even more violent and bloody than the original, cleaning up most of the plot holes from the first film. Josh Brolin's interpretation of the character as Joe Doucett is at first a loud, obnoxious asshole. When he gets locked up (for 20 years this time) we feel little sympathy for his character. The film then faithfully follows the manga and the Korean version of the film as far as his imprisonment is concerned. His release and later confrontation with the antagonist feels believable, and everything is more clearly explained, getting rid of certain aspects of the original film that are confusing.

What this new version of the film lacks, however, is heart. Everything feels so mechanical. Doucett comes across as a real asshole, and not because Josh Brolin is a bad actor (quite the opposite) but because the character was written that way. In that way we tend to invest in his quest for revenge a little less, and we lack the catharsis, or whatever you want to call it, during the film's climax. Technically the film is superb. Sound, cinematography, everything is solid. In some places the film is even more violent than the original. But even if taken alone, there's something intangible that the film lacks, a kind of organic, visceral feeling that one evokes with such images.

I'd recommend at least a watch from fans of the original, just to see how the source material can be played with in new ways. New fans might want to try this version, although I still stand with the Korean adaptation.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Bang Bang (she shot me down)


What makes men do evil things?

This seems to be the question posed by Bang Bang Alley, a movie from first time director/producer (?) Ely Buendia of the legendary rock band Eraserheads. It is composed of four separate stories tied together with a theme somewhat patterned on this question.

In the first story, Jimmy Santos is a troubled soul haunted by sins committed long past, and he takes justice in his own hands. Was he really right to do what he did in the first place? What if he was just delusional? I don't know either, but I'm hooked.

In the second story, dirty politics rears its ugly head as a journalist (Bela Padilla) tries to escape the hands of a corrupt politician played by Joel Torre by enrolling in the witness protection program. The second story is really good, and at turns is quite surprising. Joel Torre is as always an interesting and enigmatic figure. Bela Padilla has her own sense of righteousness and fights for it until the very end of the film. In this segment, people are no better than animals striving for survival in a dog eat dog world. (The four stories seem to be interconnected for some reason.)

In the third story, Gabe Mercado is a taxi driver with a dark secret. This is the best of the major segments as it tackles guilt and the capacity of man to do bad things, maybe by choice or maybe by circumstance. In a way it ties everything together. Mercado has a fantastic performance as this guy who in all honesty is a decent person turned sour by the world he lives in.

The last part of the film is arguably the most popular story and is the segment we see in trailers. Megan Young is a runaway from the law who took justice into her own hands. Faced with a life of solitude, she faces a new trial as people threaten her new way of life. It's my least favorite of all four segments, as it really ties weakly to the rest of the film and the premise is not as solid as the previous three. Megan Young could be used more effectively but she feels underutilized here. In some scenes I wished that someone would teach the lady how to use a gun as that is dangerous, (although that may actually be the point).

Overall Bang Bang Alley shines with classy production and three great stories. While the last segment isn't as good as the previous three, it does not manage to bring the whole thing down and remains an interesting experience.