TRANSCENDENCE (Wally Pfister, 2014)
Opens Friday, April 18
In 2005, futurist Ray Kurzweil wrote The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, forecasting the next stages of artificial intelligence and its effects on humanity. That idea is taken to a whole new level in Wally Pfister’s overblown and ultimately ridiculous Transcendence. Johnny Depp stars as Dr. Will Caster, an AI expert targeted by R.I.F.T. (Revolutionary Independence from Technology), a terrorist group led by Bree (Kate Mara) that is calling for “Evolution without Technology.” After a conference, Will is shot, and his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and best friend, Max (Paul Bettany), consider uploading Will’s brain into his supercomputer, PINN (Physically Independent Neural Network), before he dies. While Evelyn wants to keep her lover alive any way possible, Max considers the potential ramifications if they succeed. And succeed they do, beyond their wildest expectations — and far beyond any kind of plausibility, leaving the audience openmouthed in amazement.
Oscar-winning cinematographer Pfister has shot most of Christopher Nolan’s visually dynamic films, including Memento, Inception, and the Batman reboot, but his first directing foray is a major disappointment after a promising beginning. Written by debut screenwriter Jack Paglen and photographed by Jess Hall (The Spectacular Now, Hot Fuzz), Transcendence, of course, looks great, although its visual splendor becomes repetitive as the film reaches new levels of stupidity. Even the cast, which also includes Morgan Freeman as a sage research scientist, Cillian Murphy as an FBI agent, and Cole Hauser as a military officer, seems more and more disoriented as Pfister and Paglen deliver a frustrating mess that, for good and, mostly, bad, evokes such genre classics and cult favorites as The Demon Seed, Colossus: The Forbin Project, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Her, Donovan’s Brain, Night of the Living Dead, and, yes, They Saved Hitler’s Brain. Transcendence is an ever-more-absurd Orwellian nightmare headed by a power-mad twenty-first-century HAL 9000, another attempt at portraying man as God for the umpteenth time since the original Frankenstein, and a stupefying failure at that.
HALF THE ROAD: THE PASSION, PITFALLS AND POWER OF WOMEN’S PROFESSIONAL CYCLING (Kathryn Bertine, 2014)
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
In her 2010 book Good as Gold: 1 Woman, 9 Sports, 10 Countries, and a 2-Year Quest to Make the Summer Olympics, athlete and journalist Kathryn Bertine detailed her attempts to participate in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. A former figure skater who shared her experiences on ice in 2003’s All the Sundays Yet to Come, Bertine has now made her first documentary, Half the Road: The Passion, Pitfalls & Power of Women’s Professional Cycling. Filmed for less than $10,000 and then funded by an Indiegogo campaign to produce, distribute, and market the final product, the film is a call to action to finally put women’s cycling on equal footing with the men’s tour a full four decades after Title IX. A successful professional cyclist herself, Bertine speaks with gold medalists Kristin Armstrong and Marianne Vos, such other pro cyclers as Emma Pooley, Amber Pierce, Robin Farina, Connie Carpenter Phinney, and Nicky Wangsgard, four-time Ironman triathlon world champion Chrissie Wellington, gender-busting Boston Marathoner Kathrine Switzer, and former U.S. surgeon general Richard Cardona, who all argue for equality in women’s cycling, from base pay and winner’s shares to corporate sponsorship and media coverage. Narrated by former professional cyclist Bob “Bobke” Roll, Half the Road places a particular focus on establishing a women’s Tour de France held on the same course at the same time as the men’s competition. But one of the primary roadblocks standing in their way is the Union Cycliste Internationale, whose 2013 road commission president, Brian Cookson, explains that the women’s part of the sport lacks the necessary financial drivers to make that happen. It becomes a kind of chicken vs. egg battle that plays out more like an episode of HBO’s Real Sports than a theatrical film, a determinedly one-sided version of the situation that, though honest and heartfelt, grows repetitive over its too-long 106 minutes. Bertine sees the film as about not just cycling but equality and society in general, but she ends up taking too narrow a road.
FREE THIRD SATURDAYS
El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Ave. at 104th St.
Saturday, April 19, free, 12 noon – 5:30 pm
For the April edition of its free Super Sabado program, El Museo del Barrio celebrates the written word with “Mad About Libros.” From 12 noon to 3:00 on April 19, you can head over to the educational ArteXplorers Family Corner in the lobby or take part in a Manos a la Obra workshop where you can make your favorite book character. At noon and 2:00, in conjunction with Colorin Colorado, singer and actress Flor Bromley will be in the café, telling the stories of Librito and Juan Bobo and the Magic Book; composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón will share the participatory musical tale of Amigos at 1:00 and 3:00. From noon to 4:00, there will be a book fair outside the museum. And at 4:30, Roger Cabán of Poetas con Café will host poetry readings by Myrna Nieves, Jesus Papoleto Meléndez, and others. In addition, you can check out the special exhibition “Museum Starter Kit: Open with Care” as well as “Presencia: Works from El Museo’s Permanent Collection,” featuring pieces by Luis Mendez, Shaun El C. Leonardo, Oscar Muñoz, Benvenuto Chavajay, Christian Cravo, Roberto Juárez, Fernando Salicrup, Rafael Tufiño, and more.
THE FRATERNAL ORDER OF SOCIETY BLUES
622 DeGraw St. between Third & Fourth Aves.
Saturday, April 19, $10, 8:00
Brooklyn musician Jeremiah Lockwood has kept his feet wet with a steadily evolving cortege of musical projects over the past decade. Besides leading his acclaimed band the Sway Machinery, he’s embarked on adventures exploring musical forms from Mali and other parts of North Africa while integrating his upbringing, which was steeped in the nigunim of Jewish cantorial music. Lockwood got his start, though, playing in the New York City subways alongside his mentor, the Piedmont blues guitarist Carolina Slim. After meeting the musician as a fourteen-year-old, Lockwood took lessons from him, and what began as an apprenticeship seemingly dreamed up by a jaded screenwriter — the young white teen learning the ropes from the older African American traditionalist — evolved into a vital musical partnership. As Lockwood grew as a musician, the two accompanied each other for more than a decade, playing house parties, street fairs, and throughout the city’s transit system.
Born Elijah Staley, Slim hailed from South Carolina and made his home in New York for decades, teaching, composing, and performing in the venerable Piedmont style of blues that stretches back to the early twentieth century and counts such artists as Blind Willie McTell and the Rev. Gary Davis among its progenitors. Carolina Slim passed away this February at the age of eighty-seven, and, along with several other local musicians whom the older guitarist befriended and mentored, Lockwood has arranged a concert celebrating his career and life to be held at Brooklyn’s Littlefield venue. Under the banner of the Fraternal Order of Society Blues, the performers, including jazz percussionist Ricky Gordon, Brotherhood of the Jug’s Ernesto Gomez, and Slim friend Chris Cook, will be gathering for “A Tribute to the Late Great Carolina Slim” on April 19. Lockwood is calling the memorial a “séance of the spirits of American music”; the night should be filled with plentiful memories and great music paying respect to a true character in the long blues tradition.
Saturday, April 19
On April 19, music on vinyl will be celebrated at the eighth annual Record Store Day, when purveyors of music around the world will be selling seven-, ten-, and twelve-inch discs that have either been created exclusively for RSD, are special limited runs of previously available material, or are releasing that day. Participating stores in New York City include Rock and Soul Records, Permanent Records, Academy Records, Second Hand Rose Music, Captured Tracks, Rockit Scientist Records, Kim’s Video & Music, Disc-O-Rama, Turntable Lab, A-1, Good Records, Other Music, Record Runner, In Living Stereo, Downtown Music Gallery, Rebel Rebel, Generation Records, Rough Trade, Bleecker Street Records, and Village Music World. Not all releases are available at all locations, so you might want to call ahead to find out if a particular store has just what you’re looking for. The full list includes hundreds of singles, EPs, and LPs from multiple genres; below are some of our favorites.
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin: Songs from Common Ground
The Animals: The Animals EP
Sam Cooke: Ain’t That Good News
Cut Copy: “In These Arms of Love” / “Like Any Other Day”
Deerhoof & Ceramic Dog: Deerhoof / Ceramic Dog split
Jerry Garcia: Garcia
Green Day: Demolicious
Gil Scott-Heron: Nothing New
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth
Joy Division: An Ideal for Living
The Julie Ruin: “Brightside” / “In the Picture”
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard: “Days and Nights” / “Here’s What We Have”
The Last Internationale: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Indian Blood
Man Man: The Man in Turban with Blue Face
Nirvana: “Pennyroyal Tea” / “I Hate Myself and Want to Die”
The Pogues: Live with Joe Strummer
Public Enemy: Evil Empire of Everything
The Ramones: Meltdown with the Ramones
R.E.M.: Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions
School of Seven Bells: Put Your Sad Down
Ronnie Spector and the E Street Band: “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” / “Baby Please Don’t Go”
Bruce Springsteen: American Beauty
Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction
Tame Impala: Live Versions
Xiu Xiu: Unclouded Sky
Frank Zappa: “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” / “Down in De Dew
New Museum of Contemporary Art
235 Bowery at Prince St.
Second & fourth floors: Wednesday - Sunday through April 20, $16
Thursday, April 17, 11:00 am - 9:00 pm: one-day exhibition of new sculptures, 231 Bowery, free
April 23-27, “Draftsmen’s Congress” disassembled and distributed to public for free
The work of Polish artist Paweł Althamer is very much about collaboration, cooperation, and community, fostering a positive sense of togetherness and sharing without getting treacly. As his first U.S. museum retrospective, “Paweł Althamer: The Neighbors,” winds down at the New Museum, Althamer still has a few surprises in store, as he says in the exhibition catalog, “to share the experience of what we are doing — to see people doing one thing together. . . . The idea is to switch the rules of the game a little so that everybody is included.” Since the show opened back in February, museum visitors and local organizations have been contributing in its evolution, painting on the walls and floors in the participatory, palimpsestual “Draftsmen’s Congress.” The painting will come to a stop on Easter Sunday, but that’s not the end of the piece; from April 23 to 27, the work will be disassembled, cut into pieces, and handed out to visitors free of charge, furthering Althamer’s democratization not only of the creation of art but of its ownership. On April 17, Althamer, whom Joanna Mytkowska’s catalog essay calls “The People’s Artist,” has collaborated with Dogon sculptor Youssouf Dara, the Bowery Mission, and other neighbors for a free one-day exhibition that will be held in the New Museum’s next-door space at 231 Bowery. (Dara’s work can also be seen in the museum’s window display.)
In addition, the second floor of “The Neighbors” will remain on view through April 20, where museumgoers can walk among dozens of Althamer’s “Venetians,” gray, life-size steel-and-plastic skeletal sculptures of strangers he encountered in the Italian city and made face casts of, with a specific focus on those who often find themselves excluded or marginalized in one way or another. “It’s about being with them and identifying with them,” Althamer tells cocurator Massimiliano Gioni in the catalog. “People are generally scared of outsiders, but if we can confront and then lose our fear, it’s fantastic.” It’s no accident that the figures, which have gathered around eight video screens showing Althamer’s “So-Called Waves and Other Phenomena of the Mind,” in which he films himself in various altered mental states, have an alienlike quality. (The third floor, which closed April 13, featured many sculptural portraits, which he refers to as “totems,” of the artist himself and members of his family, as well as the miniature landscape “Mezalia” and an accompanying film.) Social collaboration is at the heart of Althamer’s practice, and that extends even to museum admission, as visitors can get in free if they bring a new or gently used men’s coat, which will be donated to the Bowery Mission.
POINT BLANK (John Boorman, 1967)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
April 16-18, 1:30
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
John Boorman’s Point Blank is an oxymoronic psychedelic film noir, a violent psychological thriller about a determined man dead set on vengeance. Lee Marvin — on quite a hot streak following Cat Ballou, Ship of Fools, The Professionals, and The Dirty Dozen — stars as the one-named Walker, a sincere, old-fashioned man who is double-crossed by his wife, Lynne (Sharon Acker), and friend, Mal Reese (John Vernon, in his film debut), when a deal goes bad on Alcatraz. Searching for Reese, Walker hooks up with Lynne’s sister, Chris (Angie Dickinson), a sexy femme fatale who owns a hot club in the Bay Area. As Walker makes his way up the criminal organization ladder in his quest to get the $93,000 he’s owed, he leaves behind a bloody trail that keeps getting messier and messier. Adapted by Alexander Jacobs and David and Rafe Newhouse from Donald Westlake’s first Parker novel, The Hunter, Boorman’s film is like the antihero Walker himself, purposefully out of time and place. Walker is essentially an anachronism as he makes his way through Point Blank, evoking John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards in John Ford’s classic Western The Searchers. The Summer of Love seems to have had no effect on Walker, who still primarily dresses in dull colors — until Chris brings out the color in him, particularly in one memorable scene in which they both are wearing bright yellow and spy on Reese’s hideaway through a yellow telescope. Film noir is by definition set in a black-and-white world, but Walker can’t hide from the old ways anymore, as he shows when groovy colored lights flash on him in Chris’s club.
Although it was only Boorman’s (Deliverance, Hope and Glory) second film, Marvin gave him final cut, resulting in a wild, unusual ride further enhanced by Henry Berman’s machine-gun editing. The solid supporting cast includes Keenan Wynn, Carroll O’Connor, Lloyd Bochner, and James B. Sikking, with music by Johnny Mandel. The first film to be partially filmed on Alcatraz, Point Blank is a gritty crime procedural that has long been underrated and is more than worthy of another visit. Westlake’s book has also been the basis of Ringo Lam’s Full Contact with Chow Yun-fat, Brian Helgeland’s Payback with Mel Gibson, and Taylor Hackford’s Parker with Jason Statham. Point Blank is screening April 16-18 at 1:30 as part of MoMA’s ongoing series “An Auteurist History of Film,” which continues April 23-25 with Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour and April 30 - May 2 with Milos Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball.