Johnny Depp

At first glance, “Transcendence” seems like an obvious choice for Wally Pfister, making his directorial debut after a long stint as Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer. Much like Nolan’s “Inception,” it grapples with massive sci-fi ideas and has visual-effects-driven action scenes. Unfortunately, the film’s ham-fisted script wastes an overqualified cast, and while Pfister does a serviceable job behind the camera, “Transcendence” is a misfire.

Johnny Depp stars as Will Caster, a charismatic scientist on the verge of a breakthrough in the field of artificial intelligence. After an assassination attempt leaves him poisoned, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) teams up with fellow programmer Max (Paul Bettany) to import his consciousness into a computer. As Will is drawn further into the limitless powers of his character, Evelyn begins to wonder how much of her husband is left in the increasingly powerful machine.

“Transcendence” starts strong, framing the implications of an all-powerful artificial intelligence as a chilling cautionary tale. But as Will becomes near-omniscient, the film’s science grows sillier, and some of the elements the film introduces in the later half are so improbable that the characters don’t even attempt to explain them. A few of the more outlandish ideas would be a little easier to swallow with a cast genuinely committed to selling them, but that’s not the
case here.

Among the film’s impressive ensemble, Rebecca Hall is the only one who emerges unscathed, making Evelyn’s passion and conflicts palpable and moving. Unfortunately, her character is hugely passive throughout the film, existing mostly as a tool to enable Will. Depp, meanwhile, is completely unengaged, turning in a performance that sheds his oddball charm in exchange for monotone disinterest.

Bettany is perhaps the biggest victim of Jack Paglen’s script, which frames Bettany’s character as a driving force for the narrative but keeps the decisive moment in his arc offscreen. Co-stars Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, and Cillian Murphy are also underused, and the biggest mistake Pfister makes is the egregious waste of this excellent cast.

Though he has yet to master the intricacies of story and character, Pfister establishes himself as a capable visual filmmaker. The massive underground data center Will designs is a suitably unsettling, sterile location for the film’s second half, and Pfister displays a strong affinity for mesmerizing shots of nanoparticles in scientifically improbable action. But he flubs a few moments, particularly in a climactic action beat where he cuts away from a pivotal moment at the exact moment the audience needs to see what’s happening.

No one could blame Pfister for wanting to step into the director’s chair after his exemplary work on the “Batman” films, but “Transcendence” feels like the product of a long list of called-in favors. While Pfister shows promise, the film’s script is a black hole that sucks the talent out of everyone in its gravitational pull, and “Transcendence” never manages to transcend beyond the shortcomings of its story.

Johnny Depp and writer/director Bruce Robinson speak a screening of their new film The Rum Diary in the Student Activities Center Saturday evening. Based off the original book of the same name, The Rum Diary follows a young Hunter S. Thompson through his adventures as a journalist in Puerto Rico.

Photo Credit: Allen Otto | Daily Texan Staff

Renowned actor Johnny Depp said journalism has become a big business based on selling a product instead of telling the truth at an exclusive screening of his new film, “The Rum Diary.”

Moderated by radio-television-film professor John Pierson, the Saturday screening took place at the Student Activity Center and included a discussion with Depp, who produced and starred in the film, and director Bruce Robinson. Depp has been working on the film, based on a book of the same name by the novelist and journalist Hunter S. Thompson, for more than 10 years. He said he hopes students will understand the struggle Thompson went through to find his own voice against big corporations.

“The voice he found was one of rage,” Depp said. “[Here] was a guy that cared so much that he had to rail against the authority that pushed the world into its corner.”

Thompson’s legacy includes the creation of a new style of writing called gonzo journalism in the 1960s, a subjective style of reporting often told in first-person narrative. He wrote “The Rum Diary” in 1959 based on his own experiences with American capitalism in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and published it in 1998.

Depp said the core of the film was what enraged Thompson after the U.S. embargoed Cuban goods and began commercializing Puerto Rico. When asked about what Thompson would think about the current Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Austin protests, Depp said Thompson would probably be supportive and doing “Snoopy dances.”

In relation to the film, which exposes the influence of American corporations in Puerto Rico and on the news media, Depp said Thompson would say journalism is in a bad place today.

“[Journalism] is on par with the [corporations] on Wall Street,” Depp said. “It’s about selling the truth but really selling something people want to buy.”

Depp first came to Austin in 1993 for his lead role in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” He came into town for the Austin Film Festival and won the festival’s first award for extraordinary contribution to film in acting.

“I don’t really recognize the place anymore,” Depp said. “When you go around Sixth Street you go, ‘Okay, this looks familiar.’ I had great experiences here, and I love this joint.”

Robinson, who came out of retirement to make the film, said he believed journalism had become a business of people shouting fear and horror in his ears. Robinson said when he was a child in the United Kingdom there were two competing newspapers in Russia. When he asked his schoolteacher who was telling the truth, his teacher said neither told the truth.

Robinson said that all the media covers nowadays is fear and that the first time he read Thompson’s book, he felt enraged at the relationship corporations have with the media.

“The only time you ever feel comfortable [in media] is in the [advertising universe], where you see people cuddling with their kids in the living room,” Robinson said. “It worries me — the ads are the one great thing, and everything else is terrible.”

More than 400 students and faculty attended the screening. The film was also shown at universities in Kansas, Washington, Arizona, Indiana and Illinois, where students were allowed to text in questions for Depp and Robinson.

Bob Berney, UT alumnus and president of the film’s distributor FilmDistrict, said Depp pushed to show the film at UT because he felt students would be able to identify with Thompson and his work. He also said it was very important for Depp to make the film after Thompson’s suicide in 2005. Berney graduated from UT with a radio-television-film degree in 1977.

Berney said the screening was FilmDistrict’s first satellite tour, and the company will continue to partner with UT in the future.

Radio-television-film junior Alexandra Prather was the first in line to see Depp at the screening. Prather showed up at the SAC at 8 a.m. for the 6:30 p.m. program because she was afraid she wouldn’t get a seat. Prather said that the first time she saw Depp was in “Edward Scissorhands” and that she loved seeing him portray a character that was a little darker but was normal at the core.

“He’s been one of my idols since I was little, and I never thought a person like Johnny Depp would come to Austin,” Prather said. “I’ve never met a celebrity before, but I’d like to be respectful because he’s a human being just like everybody else.”

Printed on Monday, October 24m 2011 as: Depp screens 'Rum Diary' for students

Actor Johnny Depp will be in Austin this weekend for the premiere of “The Rum Diary” at the Austin Film Festival.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Yesterday marked the beginning of this year’s Austin Film Festival. The festival will run through Oct. 27 and seeks to balance local flavor with Hollywood flair. Among the many events that The Daily Texan will be on hand to cover are several red carpet premieres at the Paramount Theatre that are being billed as the highlights of this year’s festival.

“The Rum Diary”

Premieres: Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.
Writer/director Bruce Robinson and actor Johnny Depp will screen their adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s 1998 novel of the same name. The film stars Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp, a freelance journalist who moves from New York to San Juan in the late-1950s to write for a newspaper. Kemp soon becomes obsessed with Chenault (Amber Heard), the fiancé of ruthless property developer Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). When Sanderson recruits Kemp to write spin for his scrupulous enterprise, Kemp has to decide to either oblige him or bury the man engaged to the object of his desires.

It has all the hallmarks of a Hunter S. Thompson narrative with the main characters being mostly crazed, alcoholic maniacs — but don’t expect another “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Best known for British cult classic “Withnail and I,” Bruce Robinson has a wholly different approach to filmmaking than “Fear and Loathing” director Terry Gilliam. Look for a more layered offering that focuses on the relationship between comedy
and tragedy.

An encore screening of “The Rum Diary” will be led by Depp, Robinson and UT radio-television-film faculty on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in the SAC Auditorium. The Q&A session that follows the screening will be broadcast via satellite.

“Jeff, Who Lives at Home”

Premieres: Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m.
Writers/directors Jay and Mark Duplass will present the regional premiere of their emotional comedy “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” The film stars Jason Segel as a borderline agoraphobic man living in his parent’s basement whose journey begins when he interprets a strange coincidence as a sign that he might have discovered his fate. The movie also stars Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer. As filmmakers, the Duplass brothers are best known for their films “The Puffy Chair,” “Baghead,” and “Cyrus,” but Mark Duplass is probably most recognizable from his starring role as Pete Eckhart on the FX comedy series “The League.” Jay Duplass, a UT alum, is known primarily as a director, though the two share writing, directing and producing credits on nearly every one of their films — including “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” You can expect more of the same deadpan humor and pitiably endearing characters that are mainstays of the Duplass’ films.

“Sal”

Premieres: Oct. 23 at 12 p.m.
Writer/director/actor/producer/professor/painter/pilot/model/musician James Franco will screen his unconventional biopic of actor Sal Mineo, the teen star of “Rebel Without a Cause.” The film chronicles Mineo’s final hours on February 12, 1976, the day his life was tragically cut short by a senseless act of violence. During the Q&A session scheduled to immediately follow the film, Franco will probably write, direct, act in and produce the sequel.

“Beavis & Butt-Head”

Premieres: Oct. 23 at 7 p.m.
Series creator Mike Judge will preview about an hour’s worth of new episodes of his iconic animated series about two presumably orphaned teenagers whose lives comprise mainly of watching music videos, broken up with bouts of delinquency. The new episodes, however, will see Beavis and Butt-Head’s viewing preferences shift away from music videos and toward the cultural black holes of “Jersey Shore,” Ultimate Fighting and YouTube. MTV will begin airing fresh episodes of the revived series on Oct. 27 at 9 p.m.

Printed on Friday 21, 2011 as: Austin Film Fest gathers basket of cinematic talent

Iconic men with trendsetting mustaches have shaped the way we have shaved our faces since the dawn of the razor, and from Salvador Dalí to Johnny Depp, it is clear that with a great mustache comes great responsibility.

How do we find the perfect mustache to express our personality and intrinsic qualities without looking like Albert Einstein’s and Friedrich Nietzsche’s mustaches joined forces and grew on our upper lip? The answer is simple: Visit a good barber. If you’re simply playing with the idea of joining the ranks of legendary mustachioed men, then reviewing styles that have come and gone is a good way to start your journey to the mustache hall of fame.

The most popular style in modern mustache trends is the simple “Don Corleone,” which has been resurrected by A-lister Brad Pitt. He started to wear this mustache in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” and has kept the same ‘stache for everyday wear and red carpet events. The “Don Corleone” is a classic, and those who wear it will surely make you an offer you can’t refuse.

One of the most celebrated and distinctive mustaches known to man belonged to the disturbed yet brilliant Spanish surrealist artist Dalí. Although his slim, long, pointy mustache can hardly be replicated by men today, Dalí’s mustache inspired former Major League Baseball player Rollie Fingers, who holds the unofficial honor for having the best mustache of modern times.

Since the Dalí ‘stache can only be pulled off by a small demographic, another iconic mustache we can adopt is that of 1920s actor Warner Baxter.

Baxtor’s Great Gatsby-esque mustache is prevalent in Dolce & Gabbana’s 2011 Spring Summer ads and suits a suave, debonair man quite nicely. This clean-cut, thin and groomed mustache is perfect for the bold and fashionable graduating senior who demands respect when walking into an interview yet has an unwavering charm that transcends barriers.

The American Mustache Institute claims that men with mustaches are often discriminated against, so even if you do walk into an interview with a perfect in-vogue ‘stache, you may turn heads, but not in a good way.

Chairman Aaron Perlut said the institute is working to replace negative stigmas attached to American men wearing facial hair. A recent increase of men wearing mustaches has helped dilute these problems, he said.

“In the 1980s, only 19 percent of men wore a mustache or beard, whereas now nearly 36 percent of men sport one or both,” Perlut said.
The growing percentage of men with facial hair can partly be attributed to modern celebrities bringing the ‘stache back in style.

The idiosyncratic mustache style sported by Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis for his role in “There Will Be Blood” has spawned a trend of individuals looking to make a bolder statement in modern times. His thick handlebar fits the vintage Americana mold, and since the movie was released, Robert Downey Jr., Mel Gibson and John Travolta have also sported similar styles while walking the red carpet.

Mister Hamilton, sideshow performer at Austin’s Museum of the Weird, has received numerous accolades for his Day-Lewis-inspired mustache. He said this particular style took root years ago when he realized that the mustache didn’t wear him; he wore the mustache. Hamilton’s Facebook fan page shows a striking black and white picture of him showing off his full handlebar with ends curled to a fine, perfect point.

“There are people that rent their mustaches and people who own them, and in order to pull off your mustache well, you have to own it,” Hamilton said.

Whether you can grow a full wise man’s beard or just a few whiskers, reflecting on the celebrities that best fit your personality is a terrific way to decide how to shape your new ‘stache.
 

Director Gore Verbinski turned a lot of heads when he abandoned his “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise to make “Rango,” an animated Nickelodeon Western populated entirely with talking animals. However, “Rango” is the perfect fit for Verbinski, a genre-based hilarious film that’s just as much for adults as it is for kids.

Johnny Depp voices Rango, a chameleon who loses his owners after his aquarium is launched out of the backseat of a car. He sets off into the desert trying to find water, and eventually, he arrives at the dried-up town of Dirt. His theatrical nature earns him the title of best gunfighter in the Old West. The town buys his schtick, half from luck and half from Rango’s pure charisma, and Rango is made sheriff just in time to deal with an impending water shortage.

The cast is great all around, with each voice actor completely disappearing into his or her roles. With the likes of Depp, Alfred Molina, Timothy Olyphant and Ray Winstone, a lesser director might be inclined to capitalize on his or her actors, but with “Rango,” the characters and the voice actors are more or less indistinguishable, making the audience wait until the end credits to match the voice to the character. Depp, in particular, is phenomenal, creating a character just as fascinating as anyone he’s played before, without the added bonus of actually being on screen.

Much of what makes “Rango” memorable is the sheer amount of creativity infused into every frame and character. From the titular chameleon that only wants to stand out to the villainous rattlesnake with a machine gun for a tail to the bats that double as attack planes, there isn’t a moment in “Rango” when there’s nothing to marvel at or be entertained by.

Verbinski guarantees this by also packing the film with hilarious references for adults and bombastic, frantic action scenes for the kids. A sequence halfway through the film in which Rango outruns of a posse of bats is a magnificent sequence of barely controlled chaos and proves to be the best action scene of the year so far.

Perhaps what’s most surprising about “Rango” is that, while it’s kid-friendly, it’s very much a Western at heart. The film has all the tropes of a classic Western in the vein of “High Noon,” but what could be predictable is revitalized by the sheer amount of energy on screen and the director and cast’s obvious commitment to the material.

On the other hand, “Rango” does have a handful of flaws. The story stalls a bit too often, and most of the background characters are undefined, blending together to form a shapeless mass of one-liners and exposition. However, these are minor quibbles with a gorgeously animated film.

“Rango” stands as 2011’s first truly great movie. It’s a vividly animated, wonderful film that will entertain kids and adults on equal levels thanks to Verbinski’s confident direction and Depp’s top-of-his-game vocal performance.