Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Draft Day and Transcendence

          Goals and Realizations
         
                       Review by Ken Burke           Draft Day

Time's running out for Cleveland Browns' GM to make picks and trades needed to improve the team and protect his job; great fun for all but hard-core football realists.

                                                                            Transcendence

Can human consciousness be successfully uploaded into a state-of-the-art supercomputer?  What happens next?  Science and politics collide in a fascinating combination.
            
[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews.  This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.

We also encourage you to check your tastes against ours with the summary of Two Guys reviews, which we update with each new posting (please note that Two Guys critic Ken Burke is a bit odd—in more ways than one—using a 5-star-rating-system but rarely going to the level of 4 ½ or 5 stars, reserving those rankings for films that have been or should be acknowledged as time-honored masterpieces so that a 4 is about the best you can hope for from star-stingy Ken).  But we ask you to be aware that the links we recommend within our many reviews may have been removed or modified without our knowledge.  Other overall notations for this blog may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage.  Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the brilliance.]
           
An aspect of commonality between this week’s cinematic subjects is the sense of inner conflict they both explore between what the supporting characters feel is possible to achieve, thereby setting them into situations of limit which causes confrontations with the lead characters who are striving more to find what seems to be beyond the mere levels of plausibility (a situation similar to what’s explored in the fascinating science-explanation-book I’m now reading, Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible [Anchor Books, 2009]), envisioning what they more singularly see as the desired outcome, even when everyone around them is losing faith in the decisions being made by these prime protagonists (and now that I have my alliterations out of the way I’ll move on to the review).  We’ll begin with Draft Day (Ivan Reitman—a director best known for such cerebral silliness [OK, the alliterations are still buzzing around; we may need to get a flyswatter soon] as Meatballs [1979], Stripes [1981], Kindergarten Cop [1990] and Ghostbusters, “1” [1984] and II [1989]—with a third one on the way in the near future produced by Reitman [as producer he does have a few heftier accomplishments, including Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009) and Hitchcock (Sacha Gervasi, 2012; review in our December 14, 2012 posting), although overall as a director I prefer son Jason’s work in such films as Thank You for Smoking (2005), Juno (2007), Up in the Air, and Young Adult (2011; review in our December 21, 2011 posting)]), a timely movie about the upcoming National Football League Draft to be held on May 8-10, 2014.  In Reitman’s fictional version of this annual enthralling event (not for me, but I realize that I’m in the forgotten minority of the USA where that’s concerned), the first pick in the First Round goes to the Seattle Seahawks, but our focus is on what strategy we’ll see from beleaguered Cleveland Browns General Manager, Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), who probably needs the top 10 picks to prop up his underachieving team.  (Although this draft is set up so that the team with the previous season’s worst record gets first choice among the coveted college players available, then second-worst gets second choice, etc., so Sonny—and Browns fans, both those depicted on screen and watching in the theaters—should take some consolation that there are supposedly 6 others with even less-enviable 2013 results; but putting Cleveland even closer to the bottom of the heap [therefore, top of the pickers] would upset the plot’s careful structure so the Browns come off as the ultimate losers here at the beginning of our story even though being 7th worst of 32 teams should make them look somewhat decent compared to Seattle—even though this is where the fictional aspects of Draft Day take a blindside hit, given that the Seahawks won the 2014 Super Bowl so they’ll actually be picking last in rounds 1 and 2 in a couple of weeks [and don’t have a much better position in 4 of the other 5 rounds], thus Draft Day needs some suspension of audience disbelief before the movie hits the 10-minute-mark [an odd situation, even given that this story began production about a year ago but Seattle didn’t do poorly in 2012 either so maybe the Seahawks’ management just accepted their lowly status in this script because they wanted a lot of on-screen time for their brand [reports are that the NFL fully cooperated with this movie] as Costner spends critical minutes of this narrative in tense negotiation with his fictional-Seattle-counterpart, Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit), backed by fictional owner Walt Gordon (Chi McBride.)

Now, this is about where I might remind you of the ongoing Spoiler Alerts that accompany this blogsite just in case you don’t want to know too much before seeing it all for yourself, but Draft Day’s now been out for awhile and is losing steam so you’ve likely already seen it, are waiting instead for the real thing, or don’t care much about football, so I’m not as worried about ruining the ending for you as I am about ruining any expectations you might have of me as an analyst of a sports-based-movie, especially football.  What I don’t know about this game and its history could easily fill the vast shelves of the New York City Public Library, possibly with the need to borrow a bit of digital storage space from the National Archives to hold the overflow (or maybe I should be the one to book Radio City Music Hall [in the photo above] rather than the NFL for the draft, allowing everyone who knows more than me about this event to just show up and set me straight), so please bear with me if you’re as fanatical a football fan as the average red-blooded-American-male (and many females as our society thankfully continues to evolve in some ways beyond gender bias, if not with paychecks) is supposed to be while I concentrate on what we see on-screen here, devoid of any meaningful context (such as all of the name-brand-sports-figures playing themselves in Draft Day), considering that ever since my very-long-ago-rabid-team-supporter-days in the stands for Galveston’s Ball High (or Knee Deep, as some of us reprobates clandestinely called it) Tornadoes ("never, no never, will we lose our fame") and Austin’s University of Texas (however, you can’t joke about this sacrosanct name or you’ll be shipped off to Texas A&M … or worse, Oklahoma) Longhorns (“all the livelong day”), I’ve fallen away from pigskin-involvement (too many years of proximity to those Longhorns, then the [at-one-time] all-powerful Dallas Cowboys can do that to you, especially when you were increasingly-ready to leave the Lone Star State anyway), except for my annual passing-interest in the Super Bowl (which faded quickly this year after it turned into such a rout of the surprisingly-overmatched Denver Broncos by the aforementioned Seahawks), so please don’t hold me too accountable for Draft Day commentary that should be more fact-filled with tidbits about what we’re soon to see live on ESPN and how that relates to Reitman and Costner’s version of the most anticipated off-field-football-days of the entire year (although comments in the feedback area far below to fill in such gaps are quite welcome).  If I’ve now plausibly covered my ass enough on something that probably ranks as the most important American tradition after getting drunk on patriotic holidays and blaming every governmental-ill in our system on some other party’s politicians, I’ll now proceed to the Draft Day review with the clock running out on Sonny.  (Although I’ll admit that my ass may still be exposed to rejection [not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your gender preferences] because my naïve understanding of what makes this sport tick has contributed to my giving this film a reasonably-high-rating [as did my even-more-enthusiastic-local-San-Francisco-colleagues, but they’re likely SF 49ers fans so make of that what you will, especially if you prefer the Oakland Raiders], which goes boldly against the national critical grain, where Draft Day scored only 62% positive ratings at Rotten Tomatoes, 54% at Metacritics [you can get general details at the links far below but if you want informed specifics from one of the most-negative-haters, look at former Sports Illustrated writer Jack McCallum's review for a thorough sacking of the movie]; so chastise me with those reply comments if you like, although that may be as meaningless as shooting footballs in a barrel.)

If there’s one thing that back-to-the-wall Sonny doesn’t need when Draft Day begins it’s more pressure because he’s got about all any human being can handle already:  even though he’s been on the job for only 2 years he’s facing Cleveland-fans-and-coaching-staff-anger that the Browns’ fortunes are so limited (the actual Browns are a hard-luck-expansion-team, retaining their name but little else since the first version of those guys were moved to Baltimore by the previous Cleveland owner; they’ll be picking 4th in the First Round of this year’s actual draft, then 3rd in the Second Round, no lower than 6th in the others, all of which actualizes many ongoing years of frustrations for the real northern-Ohio-franchise—not unlike the frustrating later-20th-century-days for their neighboring baseball colleagues, the problematically-named-Indians [maybe not as bad as Washington, D.C.’s football Redskins, but the Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo is about as bad as it gets], whose consistent problems inspired another triumph-of-the-underdog-movie, Major League [David S. Ward, 1989; 2 sequels followed, Major League II (Ward, 1994) and Major League: Back to the Minors (John Warren, 1998)]—I do know a bit more about baseball than football, but not to the level of these wacky RISP, WHIP, and WAR statistics [feel free to look ‘em up, if you’re really that interested]).  He’s further reviled by the fans for firing their beloved coach, Sonny’ own father (but that was secretly at his mother Barb’s [Ellen Burstyn] insistence so she could spend a little end-of-life-quality-time with her rapidly-declining husband); the new Head Coach Penn (Denis Leary—in the photo above with Costner) is an insufferable jerk, waving around his Super Bowl ring from his Cowboys days, with little respect for Sonny’s recruiting strategies; and the Browns' fictional owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), has all but assured Sonny that unless he “makes a splash” in the draft that he won’t be around in any company-stadium-boxes to see how the team does next fall—oh, and if that’s not enough, the women in Sonny's life are giving him as much trouble as the men because his secret lover, the team’s lawyer-in-charge-of-salary-cap-contracts, Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner), just told him on the movie’s beginning morning (a few hours before the draft starts being beamed live from the previously-noted-NYC-Radio City-site) that she’s pregnant, then Mom decides that it must be today that he join her in scattering Dad’s ashes on the field even though Sonny refuses to join the rest of his staff at the ceremony because he’s got deals and research cooking that he feels can’t wait for something that has no required time frame.  What else could make his day more stressful?  Well, how about pressure from that aforementioned Seahawks GM to agree to a trade before the draft even starts, so that Sonny can have the First Round #1 pick—whom everyone assumes must be U-of-Wisconsin-rising-star-quarterback-Heisman-Trophy-winner Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), taking constant advice from his agent, Chris Crawford (Sean Combs)—but only if the Browns give up their First Round picks for the next 3 years, a move that Coach Penn rejects as sheer idiocy in terms of future development of the team and his potential legacy.

Add to that the intrigue of existing Browns QB Brian Drew (Tom Welling) having had an injury-plagued 2013 yet still being pursued by the Kansas City Chiefs (if nothing else in this movie we get a great look at the stadiums and geographic locations of several NFL teams, making Draft Day an informative travelogue), so that the Callahan acquisition looks great for Sonny (who does agree to the trade with Seattle to keep both owners happy) even though his coach is ready to quit, while 2 other college stars—Ohio State defensive back Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), who sincerely wants to be with Cleveland, and Coach Penn’s preferred pick, running back Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), son of a former Browns star but problematic because he was involved in an assault charge—are also pressuring Sonny to take them.  Sonny then stuns everyone by taking Mack as that coveted first pick, then gets to work on trying to recoup some of what he lost in the process as the draft rushes on with each succeeding pick given only 10 minutes to make a move.  Sonny’s moving faster than anyone, though, first convincing the Jacksonville Jaguars’ GM (another real-life-troubled team who will be choosing ahead of Cleveland in the actual 2014 draft, at #3) to trade his First Round #6 slot for the Browns' next 3 years of Second Round picks, then putting pressure back on Seattle to return those 3 years worth of First Round Cleveland picks to allow Seattle to take the #6 position or else Sonny will finally claim Bo (even though he doesn’t want him because he’s learned that formerly-ailing QB Drew has recovered nicely so Bo’s not really needed by the Browns, especially after Sonny learns some questionable things about him including what seems to be a total rejection of the kid by his teammates at his 21st birthday party, leading Sonny to assume that eventually this golden boy will turn to rust).  Once Seattle settles for Bo (allowing GM Michaels to be re-embraced by his fan-base-in-full-revolt), Sonny’s free to claim Ray in what was his original #7 pick-position, everyone (in Cleveland at least) is in awe of Sonny’s brilliant maneuvers, the relationship with Ali is made public (after a few office-closet-intimacy-interruptions that seem stolen from those horny doctors on TV’s Grey’s Anatomy), and Mom Weaver is finally told that her grandson is on the way.  If you’re a football fan I’ll assume that there’s enough connections to the reality of the game (including all of the cameos of known-entities playing “Himself”) in Draft Day to make this movie feel like a fantasy league come to life; if you’re not then I assure you there’s enough drama in the rapid-fire-negotiations and victories for Sonny to keep you connected to the story (unless the sort of problems noted by “critic” McCallum just totally turn you off to the on-screen activities), but for me the experience depends on the presence of honorable Kevin Costner to make it work because without his established screen persona of a decent guy often facing seemingly-insurmountable-odds I’m not sure this concept would be so sellable except to sports fans already grasping for every scrap of 2014 NFL Draft news to keep their body chemistry levels in balance until the real event finally goes live in early May.

I never lost my interest in the developing story of Draft Day as it unfolded, but I have to say that was greatly enhanced by my previous connections to the legacy of Costner stories over the years about decent men overcoming situations that would seem beyond reason to conquer, whether as Eliot Ness and his small crew taking on the gangland empire of Al Capone in The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1987); as Ray Kinsella trying to accept that dead baseball greats were coming out of the cornfield at his Iowa farm in Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson, 1989); as New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison trying desperately to prove that President Kennedy was killed through a conspiracy rather than by a lone gunman in JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991); as aging sports stars trying to overcome personal demons behind home plate in Bull Durham (Ron Shelton, 1988), on the golf links in Tin Cup (Shelton, 1996), or on the pitcher’s mound in For Love of the Game (Sam Raimi, 1999); most recently as Jonathan Kent trying to steer adopted son Clark in directions that won’t have society reject him as an unfathomable alien in Man of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013; review in our June 19, 2013 posting), Costner is a reliable go-to-guy (even when that requires him to execute almost everyone in sight, as in 3 Days to Kill [McG; review in our February 24, 2014 posting]) to portray a person of dignity trying his best to stand firm for what he believes in, even when he’s rejected, ridiculed, or reviled by those who refuse to appreciate his vision of the circumstances.  By the time we get deep into Draft Day it’s clear that his Browns colleagues think he’s crazy as do the players who want to be drafted by him (nicely visualized by a scene where QB Drew totally trashes Sonny’s office or shots such as Vontae spewing disgust on his cell phone which has a brass-knuckles-grip on one side); his immediate superior, Molina, is ready to issue an “off with his head” order; his mother has written him off as an uncaring businessman-robot; and even Ali has come to see him from the perspective of those who’ve lost faith in him as being incapable of seeing the obvious “truths” that the others around him adhere to.  Yet, his ruthless finesse under pressure pays off for all of their benefits, as we’re treated to an appropriately-constructed-drama of well-resolved-tension (even though the stakes are relatively minor in the vast scheme of the world’s real problems such as financial corruption of governmental processes, escalating international tensions that threaten to explode into even more warfare, and steadily-deteriorating climate change that may leave our world as desolate as we find it at the beginning of Transcendence; compared to all that, who gets drafted by which sports team takes on a value of about .01 on a 10-point-scale) where the rendering of that process in Draft Day keeps you connected and concerned with the outcome.  

 In conclusion, this tale of the almost-implausible overcoming the limits of the assumed-possible works very well (for me at least; true-blue-footballers may be appalled by it), although in retrospect you can see how formulaic it all is, how typically-familiar (when not fully stereotypical) the characters are, and how easily we’ve been manipulated to once again root vigorously for the underdog involving a subject that has little relevance in global perspective (except for Browns fans and gamblers with large sums invested in draft results), but as long as the fabricated-ride has enough thrills delivered in a heart-pounding-pace (helped nicely by the marvelous technical device of showing images of both parties in a conversation, either with split-screen-shots, active wipes that don’t just push one image off-screen to replace it with another but maneuver back-and-forth between those shots as the dialogue continues, or a 21st-century-style-wipe where a shot will push in from, say, screen-right then the character in it will move across the screen space of the other character [even though they’re in different locations] to then take up residence in another shot on screen-left; this adds a great sense of dynamic visual fluidity that corresponds well with the escalating tension contained in these dialogues), why should we undermine an effective diversion that culminates with a sense of hope, especially for perennial underdog sports franchises that give their supporters some relief from those disturbing larger concerns of life?

However, if you want larger concerns, look no further than the plot of Transcendence (Wally Pfister) because the fate of the planet is truly on the line here, just not as the plot might lead you to assume until we get a resolution that might help us rethink another of those conflicts between the conventional-wisdom-possible—I’d even say “probable” is the more likely term here—and the consensus-declared-impossible—or at best, “implausible”—that occurs when true artificial intelligence occurs, not through making a machine smarter than a human (as with the HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)—until the machine makes a critical error in judgment—nor by a Planet of the Apes (original version: Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968)-style battle between “species” where the machines conquer their organic foes as in the Terminator and Matrix-type movie franchises but by a human consciousness being uploaded into a super-sophisticated-computer that produces a man-machine-hybrid of awesome intellect that doesn’t disappear into hyperspace like the superior-tribe-OS-departees in Her (Spike Jonze, 2013; review in our January 9, 2014 posting) but instead becomes an Internet-enabled-planetary-presence that offers what some see as near-divine-salvation while others see it as a demon-incarnate.  However, if you think I had to justify my position (with some of you, I’d wager—I wonder what the Las Vegas odds are on that?) in praising Draft Day, then I’ve really got a task cut out for me with odd, eerie Transcendence because this one has been viciously attacked by critics at large, with a pitiful 19% positive score at Rotten Tomatoes and a not-much-better 44% average from the Metacritic numbers (although some cinema analysts of renown, such as Richard Roeper, do have positive thoughts to offer, as shown in the third link suggested below to accompany this film, so at least I have some company in my willingness to flow with Transcendence’s premise).  That premise is simple enough at first here as well-respected-computer-scientist, Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), attends a big fund-raising-event organized by his financially-savvy-wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), to help further his research into creating artificial intelligence, only to suddenly be shot by an anti-A.I. terrorist from the Revolutionary Independence From Technology group, RIFT (some might dispute my use of “terrorist” to refer to someone who takes an extreme stand against policies and actions of the government-military-industrial-technological-complex [it’s all gotten a lot more widespread and complicated since departing President Dwight Eisenhower first warned us against the activities of the middle terms of that dangerous conglomerate back on January 17, 1961], but I don’t support violence against anyone for any reason short of personal self-defense, although I understand that some might argue that the sort of actions promoted by Big Pharma-Agri-Business are producing results that need some sort of drastic self-defense but I still don’t think that shooting anyone is a reasonable action), on the same night that others from the RIFT group destroyed A.I. research facilities nationwide in their quest to bring these experiments to an end.

 Will survives, as does his lab at U.C. Berkeley where his PINN (Physically Independent Neural Network) supercomputer already shows signs of sentient self-awareness, but he’s dying fast because the bullet that struck him was laced with radioactive isotopes.  In an effort to retain Will’s consciousness Evelyn and close-friend-research-associate, Max Waters (Paul Bettany), steal the primary guts from PINN, set up a Frankenstein-ish lab in an abandoned building, and succeed in transferring Will’s cerebral essence into the high-end-computer just before his body expires.  The anti-A.I. group gets wind of this, but before they can trash the clandestine lab Evelyn is able to further upload Will (if you accept that it’s him sending messages to Evelyn, “seeing” the world around him through a camera, just as “Samantha” [voice of Scarlett Johansson] did in Her; Max is fiercely-concerned that it’s not really Will but rather some remnant of the PINN program) to the Internet, where “he” connects with every other computer in the world, massively increasing his intelligence and ability to use advanced technology to alter the biological world around him.

First, Will makes a massive killing in the stock market, the profits of which are transferred to Evelyn’s company (for such high-rollers they live in a very downscale place in Berkeley, but that’s just indicative of their desire to use their scientific abilities to fix the problems of society and the planet rather than accumulate any material gain for themselves), then led by Will’s direction (given everything he’s been able to gather about himself from the Net to go along with that uploaded consciousness he’s able to animate life-like images as he talks with Evelyn on screen) a research and development facility, the Brightwood Data Center, powered by a field of solar panels, soon springs up in a remote desert environment (looks like some of the vast emptiness of Nevada to me but was filmed in New Mexico) where Will’s machines start performing biological healing miracles on people who’re finding their way to the site but in the process they also have connections to Will implanted so that he commands them to act in unison in a “will”-ingly-acceptable manner.  However, this development isn’t acceptable to the few remaining RIFT gunslingers (Will disposed of most of them by revealing their locations to the FBI who rounded them up in swift, coordinated raids) or Max (who begins as a RIFT captive, then throws his lot in with them), Will’s former mentor, Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), or the FBI, with Agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) working closely with all of these Will Caster-opponents, if for no other reason than to blame the terrorists for the likely results of their retaliation, which is to disable the entire Internet in an attempt to eliminate the digital Will whom they all have determined is not really who he says he is but instead is a rogue PINN program setting out to alter the Earth’s structure by replacing organic substances with nanotechnologies controlled by this corrupted PINN mastermind.  As events escalate and the various anti-Will-forces finally launch a physical attack on the desert facility even Evelyn has come to believe that Will’s not really in cyberspace after all, so she volunteers to be injected with a virus (I’m not clear yet how a computer virus can be put into the bloodstream of a human, but there are aspects of this film where you either have to go with it or just tune out) designed by Max that will terminate Will (and destroy the Internet) when he agrees to upload her consciousness in order to be with him in eternity—the religious allusions here about creating a seemingly-divine-overseer in the image of human beings, of supernatural medical and environment healings being offered by this enhanced entity, and the concept of becoming eternal in a non-material-form are all quite intentional, providing me with fascinating considerations on what the “prophesized” conjunction of organic and digital intelligence into a “singularity” (predicted by some to occur by about 2050 or sooner) might mean for life as we currently know it.  However, this level of physics-into-metaphysics has proven to be a massive turnoff for a lot of my fellow reviewers, although I hope they might remember that similar negative dismissals accompanied 2001 many decades ago, as Doubting Thomases (such as Pauline Kael and other notable NYC-based critics; see http://www.palantir.net/2001/meanings/essay05.html) assailed Kubrick (and co-screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke) for attempting similar flights of fantasy that seemed to drift too far from our society's increasingly rational, non-metaphysical worldviews.

The portrayed-Neo-Luddites of RIFT who go to violent extremes to prevent humanity from taking the step too far into merging carbon-based-consciousness with silicon-empowered self-awareness aren’t just scared vigilantes, though; the one that we get to know the best, Bree (Kate Mara, on the left in this photo), worked in Tagger’s lab when he was able to transfer the consciousness of a monkey into a computer where it now had a new sense of existence; however, what Tagger and his associates hailed as a technological breakthrough was, in her observation, nothing but terror for the enhanced primate.  Suddenly this new form of animal-digital-consciousness no longer had access to the biological processes of eating and sleeping but, instead, was in a constant state of awareness that seemed to overwhelm the creature so that it screamed (her words; I don’t know if it actually emitted aurally-perceived-signals as Will did) to be terminated.  Thus, she and her comrades are actively working to destroy such A.I. work to prevent humanity from being lost into the hell of uncontrollable cyberspace where “artificial” overwhelms “intelligence,” leading to a world of super-sophisticated-machines that will soon eliminate all traces of us.  Max and company fear this is what’s happened with Will as well, that he’s simply building an army of cyborgs to protect the computer-driven-hardware that will propel us into the next stage of biologically-replaced-evolution, which in fact Will is showing signs of during the desert battle when he commands vast streams of that nanotechnology of his to rise up from the ground into the sky, forming rain clouds that potentially could spread this new substance throughout the planet (the hybrid humans who’ve been cured by Will’s medical machines are also infused with this stuff so that when they’re harmed by the attackers’ bullets their spilled blood quickly turns to this material that resembles metal shavings, reversing direction into their bodies so that their physical forms seem unstoppable unless somehow destroyed so thoroughly that they can’t reconstitute themselves—like the almost-indestructable-T-1000-killer-android in Terminator 2: Judgment Day [James Cameron, 1991]) because anyone who drinks this rainwater (which, of course, will soon find its way into lakes and rivers) will also become part of Will’s hive-consciousness, acting together as directed by the central prime-mover.  The twist, though (Please note, if you haven’t been chased away already from seeing Transcendence by the many negative reviews swirling around it, you might want to heed a final Spoiler Alert from me), is that the commanding-consciousness was Will all along, who wasn’t trying to make over the world into his reconverted image but was instead working to evolve both his intelligence and the devices he was building to bring growth and relief to the Earth by cleaning up polluted air and water, re-vegetating ruined forest land, and performing other science-based-miracles to make life more livable for all, rather than just the elite who are increasingly cordoning themselves off from the devastation that they’ve so willingly caused in their quest for comfort while the rest of us fight for the desperately-needed resources of food, clean air and water, and livable spaces for the planet’s constantly-growing population.

 Evelyn becomes aware of this right at the end of our story when she finds Will again in human form—in a replica of his biological body that he’s constructed in his vast underground labs—but she’s injured by the shelling from the forces attacking his compound; with many of the solar panels damaged he has enough power only to save her through his medical-miracle-machines (but, the implication is, then his computing structures would collapse so that he’d never be with her again) or perform the upload of her consciousness into his mainframes so that they can be united, even though he’s aware that her virus will destroy the A.I. state intended for their preservation.  He chooses to merge with her even briefly, allowing the virus to annihilate them, all of the hybrids and related machinery of his lab compound, and—ultimately—all of the computer-controlled-aspects of our planet, thereby terminating the operations of our energy sources, financial assets, interstate/international commerce, etc., plunging our planet back into another form of the Dark Ages where we'll have to slowly rebuild without access to the contemporary conveniences that have propelled our species to such great heights (and precipitous teetering on the abyss of destruction) in just a few centuries, beyond what we may have been destined for in natural evolution.

Just as Sonny had to battle all of those in his orbit—including Ali, the love of his aging-life—in order to bring his vision to reality in Draft Day, so does Will ultimately stand alone against everyone whom he once held near and dear (especially Max and Evelyn, but he also faces alienation from his once-close-but-now-terrified-guiding-light, Dr. Tagger) as he enters a higher plane of awareness, cognitive ability, visionary desires (although he’s ultimately trying to bring about the healing of the planet that was so important for Evelyn’s dreams).  Will—and Sonny—refuse to acknowledge the proposed limits of the merely possible in hopes that they can find the next plateau of the commonly-accepted impossible by pushing beyond the boundaries that define the borders of acceptable actions in the this-is-all-there-is-to-the-world-as-we-know-it-environment that’s the comfortably-restricted-domain of even those who work closely with them, respect them for their ambitions, even love them at a deep level that’s difficult to challenge but can happen when the circumstances get too different, too strange, too potentially-dangerous for anyone who accepts the existing paradigms to allow an embrace of the unlikely, the untrustworthy, the unknown.  When Transcendence begins Max is telling us in voiceover how this now-devastated state of existence came to be; when the film ends 5 years later he’s still in the overgrown back-yard-garden of the Casters' abandoned house looking at some blooming sunflowers which ought to be dead by now.  Suddenly, a drop of liquid from one of them falls into a small pool of oily-water which miraculously clears up, leaving us with a lot of unanswered possibilities as to where this story turns next.  The implication is that Will’s marvelous nanomolecules are now in this small receptacle; can they be multiplied to heal the infected environment as Will was hoping to do back when he and Evelyn were seemingly erased from existence?  (Their consciousness, that is; their defunct bodies simply lay dead in the underground habitat that Will had constructed in an semi-successful-attempt to recoup the home surroundings that they had shared in their Berkeley dwelling.)  How did whatever was left of their consciousness-energies after that final upload manage to redirect itself back into that long-neglected garden, if that’s even what’s happening?  (I’m reminded of the “Highwayman” song [written by Jimmy Webb in 1977] sung by The Highwaymen [Willie Nelson, Chris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash] from their 1985 album of the same name at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uw1bHaUk1CM [sorry that it's in an ugly squeezed video format] where they sing of constantly coming back from the dead, maybe as “a simple drop of rain.”)  Is this minor reappearance of the nanomolecules the strategy for Earth to rebuild itself in a more harmonious fashion or is this simply a final “message” to Max, now that all of our main protagonists have reached a state of acceptance and forgiveness with each other?  These are more considerations for the film’s implications than anything that’s tangible for closure, but with a story such as this it’s better in my opinion to be left thinking and discussing than simply walking out of the movie house while your popcorn and soda go through the digestive cycle.

Maybe I’ve just lived in Northern California myself too long to see the inherent failures that so many of my critical brethren have identified in this film, but, for me, while it may be a bit scattered in its scientific foundations and melodramatic in its conflict/resolution structure I’m very glad it exists because it offers hope—even in fictional form—that our continued advancing discoveries in the realm of science and technology will offer us the possibility of secular salvation, not just quantum leaps in methods of destruction.  Of course, I’m writing these optimistic thoughts as 2014 Earth Day comes to a close so maybe I’m just being influenced by those widespread good vibes as well, but given that my only hope for true collective salvation for those of us who inhabit this “big blue marble” (to steal the title of a 1974-1983 PBS children’s show about the energizing-interconnectedness of our planet) hurtling through the universe comes from science rather than religion, superheroes, or even good Tennessee whiskey I’ll just have to hope that Will was on the right track, even though the journey to such Earthly Nirvana may be fraught with dangers like those that Max, Tagger, the RIFT fanatics, and others were trying so frantically to avoid.  To bring my thoughts on both of these cinematic stories to closure with my standard musical metaphor, I’ll offer this video clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbxsmcT7GOk, a potentially-disturbing-presentation of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” (from the 1963 album of the same name) that meshes footage of Roy performing this haunting, almost-operatic song with distorted images from the cruel surrealism of Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986) where the tune is used for the pleasure of extremely-grotesque-villain Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), lip-synched in chilling fashion in one scene by his equally-creepy-colleague, Ben (Dean Stockwell).  Sonny and Will saw great possibilities in their dreams, of a winning football team on a very local level and a regenerated Earth on a much grander scale, even as their close colleagues found potential horror in their strategies, trying desperate to “wake” them to the realities bounded by the restrictions of the known rather than the elusive grandeur of the highly-improbable.  Much of the time we have to settle for the collective limitations of the commonly-accepted possible, but hopefully that won’t dissuade us from dreaming of transcending into the supposed-realm of the impossible, even if it’s just in fiction where storytellers attempt to inspire us to find those heights in our available arenas of the possible as well.  (Finally, we've reached the end of the alliterations!)  I may be out in the deeper parts of Ray Kinsella's Iowa (not Heaven!) cornfield, far beyond left field with my positive takes on these 2 bits of movie-house-madness, but, as with every umpire I've ever momentarily hated I just call 'em as I see 'em, then—no matter what anyone else thinks—just like the Highwaymen I'll return to keep doing it, again and again and ... (but, be careful; I might be in that drop of rain that just fell on you).
            
If you’d like to know more about Draft Day here are some suggested links;



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-H8UD-hZoE (7:00 interview with Kevin Costner from ESPN’s First Take, April 9, 2014)



If you’d like to know more about Transcendence here are some suggested links:



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akq9pFva5fA (positive review by Richard Roeper, former film critic colleague of the late Roger Ebert on the At the Movies TV series, 2000-2008)


              
As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control.

Please note that to Post a Comment you need to either have a Google account (which you can easily get at https://accounts.google.com/NewAccount if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at kenburke409@gmail.com.  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

4 comments:

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  2. Hi Luky, Thanks for your positive comments.

    Two Guys readers, please note that the link in the above comment seems to be for fantasy sports and online poker, if any of you are interested in exploring such. I take no responsibility for anything that may happen if you participate in these activities, I have no association with them, nor do I receive benefits of any kind for your participation. If any problems should result from use of this link please let me know so that I can delete it from this blog. Ken Burke

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  4. Hi Ricky, Thanks for your comment and for your sharing opportunities. As with all non-film review links offered by readers, I have no stake in the one above nor do I know anything about it. I'll leave the link for now unless anyone reports any problems with it. Ken

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