Transcendence

Fascinating premise

What it’s about

After an assassination attempt Will’s desperate wife uploads his consciousness into a quantum computer to save him. He soon begins making groundbreaking discoveries but also displays signs of a dark and hidden motive.

My thoughts

Despite Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman starring in this film along with Paul Bettany, to say that this film got a poor response would be an understatement, it’s Rotten Tomatoes score is just 19%, the question is though does it deserve such a poor response?

​Well in all honesty yes and no, on one level it did deserve its response, and that is because it was and continues to be billed as a very different film to what it actually is. Basically this is an arty film which has a very deep but also interesting premise which is in reality an exploration of the human mind, so basically this film is about delving into the ethics and philosophies of science and technology.

I imagine a lot of people simply from reading that will think that this is not a film for them. And you could be right, but that does not mean that this is not a good film to which. This brings me back to the question of does it deserve its poor critical score. As a commercial film without a doubt, but if it is watched with what it actually is in mind, an exploration of the human mind and the ethics and philosophies of science, this is for what it is a decent film. Or at least I think it is.

To say the least I’m a fan of films which are not afraid to ask the tough questions and follow through with answers that are truthful and honest to the world they have created. And that’s what this film does, you can argue that the world they have created is rubbish but you cannot deny they stay true to it.

The story itself is at its heart quite simple, a woman is in love with a man, but that man has been poisoned and has only weeks to live and she is desperate to save him.

They are great scientists and one of their friends has been experimenting with uploading a person’s mind onto a computer. One of the big questions of the film is is this actually possible, can you upload a person’s consciousness into a computer. Or, will it simply be a digital copy.

In this film they attempt to find out the answer, illegally of course, because Johnny Depp’s character, Doctor Will Caster, gets uploaded onto the computer. His wife played by Rebecca Hall and his friend Max Waters played by Paul Bettany are the ones who secretly upload Will Caster’s mind to the computer. But there is a bit of caveat, Will Caster had been working on creating a self aware computer and they used that computer as a means to upload his mind.

And this is a big factor in this film, is the uploaded Will Caster actually still Will Caster, or is it simply a computer program which on some levels appears to be Will Caster but in actual fact is not. Evelyn Caster thinks that it’s Will, Max Waters does not.

What muddies the waters is the fact the uploaded Will Caster seems to be on a mission to create a means to save the planet, and through technology is able to pretty much heal people from any injury or disease.

So in away think of it like the self-aware computer from Terminator, Skynet, but in this case rather than wanting to kill people, the uploaded Will Caster has good intentions. But the question is are those good intentions ethical and actually to the benefit of mankind.

Step forward a terrorist group who are against technology, and are afraid of the very technology that Will Caster had been working on. In fact they are the group who attempted to kill Will Caster in the first place. They kidnap Max Waters and turn him to their cause, and eventually through him reach out to Morgan Freeman’s character in an effort to finally take down Depp’s character.

So like said this is very much a film that asks questions about the ethics and morality of technology while at the same time asking philosophical questions about what it means to be alive. Are we simply a body and a mind, nothing more than chemical reactions and brain synapses, or are we something more, a mind with the body.

All in all this film is one of those films that if you’re looking for something for purely entertainment purposes then you may find this a disappointment, you may not but there is a high chance that you will, but if you’re looking for something that will make you think, this will most certainly do that. Whether you will think that it’s a load of rubbish or not is an entirely different story, but it will make you think. That means from me this film gets a thumbs up as like said I love films that make you think.

Director: Wally Pfister

Writer: Jack Paglen

Genre: sci-fi, drama, thriller

Year: 2014

​Runtime: 119 minutes

Black Beauty (2020)

A nice story but nothing more

What it’s about

A wild horse, transported to Birtwick Stables, comes across Jo Green, a lively teenage girl. Over a period of time, the two develop a friendship that helps Jo overcome challenges.

My thoughts

This is not the type of film I would normally watch, it was more a film that I watched due to the fact that it was not my turn to pick a film. It is a remake, in fact it is a remake of a remake of a remake and in fact there has actually been eight versions of this film made over the years, there have also been a number of TV series.

I have not seen any of them nor have I read the book, which initially spawned the Black Beauty world. It was penned by British author Anna Sewell back in 1877, mainly as a way to to expose the bad treatment of horses and other animals and call for people to give them better treatment.

Anyhow, one thing that all versions of Black Beauty have in common is that the story is told from the perspective of the horse. This film follows that pattern and uses a voice-over so that we can hear what Black Beauty is thinking.

Kate Winslet voices Black Beauty and tells us exactly what Black beauty is thinking, and tells us exactly what Black Beauty is thinking is the problem with this film. Warhorse was a brilliant film which followed a horse throughout the course of its life without the need for a narrator telling us what he was thinking.

The fact that in this film they decided that they needed to tell us what Black Beauty was thinking highlights the problem that showing us was not enough, meaning the visuals didn’t do a good enough job of telling the story which is why they had to have been a writer tells the story, and what the narrator constantly and repeatedly tells us it is that Black Beauty is thinking is that she is desperate to see Jo.

Which is fine, but if you having to tell us this then clearly you have not done a good enough job of showing us this which is the problem.

Now don’t get me wrong there is a nice story being told, and the acting is decent, the pacing is acceptable, even the fact that they have changed the gender of the horse from a male to a female is not a problem. Even the fact that the message of the entire series that animals should be treated better is ominously missing is not a problem.

Even the fact that at the film’s beginning, the opening scenes especially, the footage looks more like a Lloyds bank advert than something from a feature film is not a problem. Even the fact that the most important message of the entire novel, that people should be nicer to both animals and each other is missing, is not a problem.

The problem is that Black Beauty is supposed to be all of the latter and yet this none of the latter which begs the question of how is this film Black Beauty. It feels like in reality the heart and soul of Black Beauty is missing from this version of Black Beauty, and the fact that I, a person who is not a fan of the series and am able to easily pick up on this fact is really telling fact about how good of a Black Beauty film this is.

Though perhaps that is inevitable, horses these days are treated better in many ways than a lot of humans so perhaps in the revamp Disney felt it best to simply focus on a story of a young girl bonding with a horse.

Maybe they made the right call, who knows. But that’s what this film is, a story about a young girl who was torn from her family through great loss, befriending a young horse who was also torn from her family, and together forming an unbreakable bond.

That means this is not a story of a horse, this is a story of a young girl and her horse, which is told verbally through the perspective of the horse but which is told visually through the perspective of the girl. Meaning it is more the girl’s story than the Black Beauty’s.

In terms of whether it is any good, it tells a nice story and I’m always a fan of nice stories, with that in mind this gets a thumbs up from me but only as typical Disney film with a nice story. And it has to be said Black Beauty fans may be disappointed with this film.

​​Director: Ashley Avis

Writer: Ashley Avis

Genre: family, drama

Year: 2020

​Runtime: 110 minutes

The One and Only Ivan

A simple story told very well

What it’s about

The story for this film is derived from the true story of Ivan, a gorilla who for twenty-seven years lived in an American mall and never saw the light of day. It is of course a fictionalised account, the fact that you can talk probably gave that away. And that fictionalised account goes along the lines of Ivan, a gorilla, who lives in the Big Top Mall with his fellow animal acts, and a dog who as his best friend, sees his life change when a baby elephant named Ruby joins their act, and he makes a promise to her that she will see freedom.

My thoughts

This is one of those films where if you read the tagline it sounds like it is going to be one of those films which uses a real story to create a fictionalised typical Disney style straight to TV film.

Nothing wrong with that as Disney are very good at making such films, films which inevitably have that great feelgood factor to them. That is to say you know what you are getting, a grumpy person is set in their way, someone young comes in and changes everything, and they set off on a wondrous journey which after a few bumps along the way leads to a happy ending.

This film follows that MO to the T, but again that is not a bad thing and when the film starts you get the feeling that it is going to be a typical straight to TV style Disney film. Especially when the gorilla starts talking at the beginning, as good as the gorilla is it just reeks of low-budget.

And the chicken, there is a chicken, and that chicken to say the least the CGI is just terrible. They don’t even try to make it look real. But again that is just expected for what this film appears that it is going to be.

But this film is not what it appears it is going to be, it is in fact a lot more than it appears it is going to be, because to say the least if you can look past the poor CGI this film tells a simple and age-old story but it does so in a brilliant way.

Mike White derived the screenplay from a children’s book written by Katherine Applegate telling a fictionalised version of Ivan’s story and Thea Sharrock has done a great job at bringing that screenplay to life because it has to be said this is just one of those films that really pulls on the heartstrings. It will not blow your mind but that because it doesn’t want to, what this film wants to do is to leave you by the end with the feelgood factor, and it sure as heck will leave you by the end with that feelgood factor along with the feeling that it has been worth your while watching.

What that means is if you can look past the poor CGI and the fact that this is a heavily fictionalised account of Ivan’s true story (which is an amazing thing in itself), then this film is most definitely worth watching and fits the bill of an amazing story.

But like said it will only come across this way if you are willing to look beyond what it is not and see it for what it is. A very simple story told in a brilliant way.

All in all for that reason it gets a solid thumbs up from me.

​​Director: Thea Sharrock

Writer: Mike White

Genre: family, adventure, fantasy

Year: 2020

​Runtime: 95 minutes

Don’t Let Go

A Film That Will Pleasantly Surprise You

What it’s about

Detective Jack Radcliff gets a shocking phone call from his recently murdered niece Ashley. Working together across time, they race to solve the crime before it can happen.

My thoughts

The time travel genre has been done to death over the years which makes finding a new angle from which to use time travel difficult, but this film manages to do just that, the story feeling both fresh and unique.

However, it should be noted this film is a slow starter and many could miss out as a result by switching off too soon. That would be a mistake, because once this film gets going it doesn’t hold back, David Oyelowo and Storm Reid respectively putting in solid performances as detective Jack Radcliff and his niece Ashley.

It’s not a film that’s going to change your life, but it is a film that will pleasantly surprise you. The idea of getting a phone call from your dead niece who is alive and well in the past after all is a mind-boggling notion in its own right, and writer/director Jacob Estes does not miss a beat in using this to build a substantial amount of suspense.

It is perhaps let down a little by the ending where the bad guy played by Mykelti Williamson so freely chases after the young Storm Reid’s character with a shotgun seeming not to care about being seen.

But this should not be held against it as it is after all not a big budget film. Also unlike the majority of time travel films these days it completely avoids any forms of explanation about how the time travel works. This means there is zero technical jargon to be afraid of nor much exposition to worry about.

All in all this is a decent story with a great premise which makes for an entertaining evening watch, which means it gets a solid thumbs up from me.

​​Director: Jacob Estes

Writer: Jacob Estes and Drew Daywalt

Genre: drama, horror, mystery

Year: 2019

​Runtime: 107 minutes

Message Man

Solid Action Flick with a Terrible Name

What it’s about

When his dark past threatens to catch up with him, an assassin comes out of retirement to go on a final killing spree to make things right.

My thoughts

First thing’s first it has to be said this film arguably has the lamest name in the history of films, the fact that any person thought that Message Man was a brilliant name for a ruthless assassin is beyond belief.

However, ignoring the terrible name this is actually quite an enjoyable film, and if you like action flicks along the lines of John Wick and the Rambo films, so ruthless killers killing bad people ruthlessly, then it is highly probable that will enjoy this.​

Is it as good as said films, no but it is indisputably a decent action flick, with ex-Home and Away man Paul O’Brien putting in a solid performance as the lead actor.

There is not much in the form of story, but there never is in films like this. What matters in films like this is whether there is enough story to justify all the killing, and this film ticks that box.

Basically Message Man hires a young boy to help him and goes on to befriend his mother. That young boy then gets kidnapped by someone from Message Man’s past, forcing Message Man to come out of retirement to get him back. Much ruthless killing then ensues.

All in all it is one of those films that you don’t expect much of but goes on to pleasantly surprise you. Best of all the name Message Man is barely mentioned in the entire film, which means it gets a thumbs up from me.

​​Director: Corey Pearson

Writer: Corey Pearson

Genre: action, crime, thriller

Year: 2018

​Runtime: 86 minutes

Need for Speed

A Videogame with a Supercharger Attached

What it’s about

A street racer is framed by a rival who is also a wealthy business associate in a murder case. Upon his release, the street racer devises a plan with revenge in mind.

My thoughts

Tyre burning in this film is taken to an entirely different level. In fact it is probable that during filming, they will have burnt through so many tyres that they could have filled a tyre graveyard. But if you like films in which high-powered cars are taken to their limits, then you will like this film.

But only if you are able to watch it for what it is, and that is a video game turned into a film, which means if you are person that likes films to have a semblance of realism to them you’re gonna think this film ridiculous.

That means to say the least poetic licence is used in this film, and the way the title characters are willing to just pop in and out of jail so freely and willingly, and to risk jail so freely and willingly is definitely more videogame than feature film.

In fact the entire film is more videogame than feature film. But video games are fun and this film is fun, and if you’re willing to watch it with that in mind then you will find it a fun and easy to watch film which pays solid homage to the video game it is based upon.​

For these reasons it gets a solid thumbs up from me.

​Director: Scott Waugh

Writer: George Gatins and John Gatins

Genre: action, crime, thriller

Year: 2014

​Runtime: 132 minutes

Sonic The Hedgehog

Boisterous Family Fun

What it’s about

An extraterrestrial hedgehog named Sonic is discovered by a scientist who concocts evil plans to use his superpowers for his own selfish needs, but a local police officer helps Sonic fightback.

My thoughts

Is this an amazing film, no. But if you like Sonic The Hedgehog then there is a high probability you will like this film. Even if you don’t then there is still a high chance that you will like this film.

Some argue that Jim Carrey puts in a wooden performance, and it perhaps is a bit, but James Marsden’s performance as a local town cop who Sonic befriends makes up for any shortcomings as he has yet again proven that family films are what he does best.

All in all it is a fun film, has some great laughs in it, and has a nice touching story at its heart, the sort which everyone will be able to relate to. Basically Sonic is hiding from the world and inevitably is suffering the effects of loneliness, the question is will he be able to find a friend or will he have to leave Earth forever and spend his life alone on a lifeless planet.

Any person can guess what the answer will be, but that is the norm for films like this, what matters is the journey. And the journey is a good one, and has in it some great sequences, the best perhaps being the scene where Sonic finds himself caught in the middle of a bar brawl, in this scene to hilarious consequences he moves so fast everyone else is frozen in time.

But that means yes, at times this film does go a little over the top, perhaps expected from a film which has Jim Carrey as one of its stars, but in its defence it never stretches too far over so as to detract from the story. Meaning this film strikes that great balance between not taking itself too serious, but taking itself just serious enough to be taken seriously.

All in all a fun family film that both old and young can enjoy which means it gets a solid thumbs up from me.

Director: Jeff Fowler

Writer: Pat Casey and Josh Miller

Genre: action, adventure, family

Year: 2020

Runtime: 99 minutes

Twelve Years a Slave

Riveting Tale about the Human Cost of Slavery

What it’s about

Based on a true story. Solomon Northup, a free African-American, is promised a fortnightly job by Brown and Hamilton. However, after arriving in Washington DC, he realises that he has been sold into slavery.

My thoughts

This film provides an excellent insight into the human cost of slavery and does very well at avoiding telling people what to think by focusing simply on telling a story and allowing the viewer to form an opinion.

It also does well at avoiding making this a story solely about skin colour, there are just people and some are bad, some are good and some are slaves, it is just in the story the slaves are black and that’s why they are slaves. 

A worthy winner of the best picture Oscar and most definitely worth watching as no person who watches this can watch it without by the end coming to the conclusion that if the world was a certain way, they could have been Solomon.

For those reasons along with the fact is a highly entertaining film it most definitely gets a thumbs up from me.

Director: Steve McQueen

Writer: John Ridley

Genre: biography, drama, historical

Year: 2013

Runtime: 134 minutes

Twelve Years a Slave

Riveting Tale about the Human Cost of Slavery

What it’s about

Based on a true story. Solomon Northup, a free African-American, is promised a fortnightly job by Brown and Hamilton. However, after arriving in Washington DC, he realises that he has been sold into slavery.

What you will learn from watching it

This film provides an excellent insight into the human cost of slavery and does very well at avoiding telling people what to think by focusing simply on telling a story and allowing the viewer to form an opinion.

It also does well at avoiding making this a story solely about skin colour, there are just people and some are bad, some are good and some are slaves, it is just in this story the slaves are black and that’s why they are slaves.

A worthy winner of the best picture Oscar as no person who watches this can watch it without by the end coming to the conclusion that if the world was a certain way, they could have been Solomon.

Is the story any good

The story from this film is derived from the real-life memoirs of Solomon Northup, which was a bestseller back in its day in the 1850s. Despite this the book fell into relative obscurity until Louisiana University in the 1960s released a historically annotated version which thrust it back into public knowledge.

The memoirs provided an extensive account of just what it was like working as a slave in the deep South, as well as detailing Solomons experiences working on plantations. Considering this it is easy to see how this film could quite easily have turned into a history lesson that brilliantly presented what it was like for slaves in the deep South, but was boring as hell to watch.

Thankfully that does not happen as screenwriter John Ridley and director Steve McQueen have managed to find that perfect balance between focusing on the story while at the same time presenting an accurate image of the past.

What that means is this is very much a human story, and it is a human story that is told very well, so much so Solomon could have existed in any time and have been any person. And in that is the power of this story, and why it is such a brilliant one.

Final words

If you like historical dramas and are interested in learning about the slave trade, specifically what it was like for those trapped in it, then you will definitely like this film. But as this is very much a human story if you like dramas of the human kind then you will in all probability like this film, meaning this is a film which transcends its genre.

That means, all in all this film gets a solid thumbs up from me.

Director: Steve McQueen

Writer: John Ridley

Genre: biography, drama, historical

Year: 2013

Runtime: 134 minutes

Looper

Time travel thriller like no other

What it’s about

In the near future, the mob sends their victims back in time to get them executed by the loopers. Joe, one such looper, finds himself to be the victim of his own actions.

What you will learn from watching it

The concept is one moment has the power to define a person’s life, and in that moment a person may turn out to be good or bad. This is a fact that everyone knows to be true but the way it is shown in this film really drives home just how true it is.

Also the way this film shows the contrast between who you are today and who you may be tomorrow, and how you may react to each other should you meet is really quite brilliant.

Whether you will learn anything from watching this film though is debatable, one thing is clear it will most definitely make you think and as we always say here at Story Maniacs that is only ever a good thing.

Is the story any good

This is a very clever film which does its very best not to be confusingly clever, some may argue that it has succeeded in doing just that others may argue otherwise. But one thing is indisputable, and that is that the premise of this film is brilliant and is delivered in a smooth digestible fashion, a fact that writer/director Rian Johnson deserves much credit for.

That means the story is allowed to flow without hindrance meaning whether you understand what is going on in regards to the time travel is not important in regards to the entirely human story at the heart of this film.

And the story at the heart of this film, which is a grim but poignant story about the power of a mother’s love for her son and just how much that love can define a life, is one that will touch the heart strings of even the toughest of souls.

Final words

If you like time travel thrillers you will definitely like this film, but though this film has time travel in it, it is not a film about time travel, it simply uses time travel to push home its narrative and that narrative is an entirely human story about the power of love to define a life. If that’s something that appeals to you then you will like this film.

But be warned, this is not a happy film and in fact throughout makes for grim watching. So powerful and poignant it may be, but happy it is not. But poignant stories rarely are, at least in the world of film therefore that should not be held against it.

That means, all in all this film gets a thumbs up from me.

Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson

Genre: action, drama, sci-fi

Year: 2012

Runtime: 119 minutes