“Transcendence” & “ Brick Mansions
A couple of interesting premises. Mixed execution.
The premise of “Transcendence” is that, in a not-too-distant future, we’re closer to figuring out artificial intelligence than anybody realizes. In fact, there are a bunch of super-scientists who have actually worked together to perfect the process, and are enthusiastic about how much this would benefit society as a whole.
But there are certain rogue elements ---violent hippies?----who fear and loathe the new technology, which they consider invasive. Not content with just protesting at scientific conferences, they have “taken it to the streets” by actually doing physical violence against the top researchers, including Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp). His wife and co-researcher, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), is understandably devastated when she learns that the bullet used to wound her husband was infected with radioactive poisoning. Though he survived the shooting itself, he still has a very short time to live.
Ah, but wait, we have the technology now. Convert Dr. Will Caster’s beautiful mind into a computer memory, and not only can his important work be continued, but she would have her beloved husband back, right?
Well, kinda sorta. While a virtual spouse might be appealing at certain moments of intractable conflict, a computer memory won’t keep you warm at night. Evelyn, at first, is overwhelmed with emotion that she might actually be interacting with the “eternal spirit” of her late husband, through a computer screen. But then it starts getting weird. The computer’s consciousness gets ambitious, and wants access to the Internet, and wants more memory. Much more memory. It manages to create a visual image of Dr. Caster that looks and sounds eerily like him. What’s next, a virtual reconstruction? And what happens when a control-freak powerful supercomputer goes out of control, in the interest of guarding its own security?
Yes, that idea has been around at least since the computer named “Hal” in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (released in 1968). But here, the notion of computer transcendence takes it to a new level. Almost deified. And therein lies an idolatry that we should all readily fear and loathe.
Fear and loathing is what we have in “Brick Mansions,” which is the derisive name of a Detroit ghetto in the not-too-distant future, where the city simply builds a wall around the super-slum and calls it a lost cause, and leaves it to the gangs and drug lords and casual brutality. Just gives up on it.
But the new mayor has a new idea: tear it all down and construct some new urban development. The problem is, there are people who are still living there. What to do with the inconvenience of their existence? You can probably guess where this is going. Underground anarchistic groups make such good scapegoats, because they can never successfully defend themselves from false allegations.
Damien (Paul Walker) is an undercover cop who teams with a local, Lino (David Belle) to try to bring order to this uber-urban Wild West, but sometimes the deputized posse can look like a bunch of tough hombres. This movie is actually a showcase for a form of martial arts that is both military and gymnastic, but of course after scores of hand combat scenes it begins to feel more like a video game. The real interest in this movie is that it was Paul Walker’s last film, before his unfortunate demise, ironically, in a car that was going too fast: a tragic malevolent twist on life imitating art.
But all the seemingly mindless violence actually grows a conscience at the end, like a populist uprising against those greedy industrialists who care nothing for the needs of ordinary citizens. Which makes “Brick Mansions” like Robin Hood doing rap.
A couple of interesting premises. Mixed execution.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas