By TOH! | Thompson on Hollywood April 17, 2014 at 4:03PM
Though "Transcendence" is the box office hopeful this weekend, a number of offbeat indies and festival favorites also hit theaters, from director/star John Turturro's "Fading Gigolo" to the visually splendid Nepalese doc "Manakamana," and more.
Critics have not been too kind to cinematographer-turned-director Wally Pfister's "Transcendence," starring Johnny Depp as a scientist whose efforts to create the ultimate artificial intelligence machine land him square in the middle of an ideological war. But some of us at TOH! like the film, an auspicious directorial debut that's not only a smart sci-fi cautionary tale for our time, but also proof that Depp can effectively dial down the eccentricity with chilling restraint.
In his latest, “Fading Gigolo,” John Turturro exercises what amounts to the urban auteur’s droit de seigneur, casting himself as a member of New York's studliest, directing himself into a three-way with Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara, and satisfying a client list that looks like it walked out of the pages of Vogue Paris. His pimp? Woody Allen. And this utterly personal comedy certainly has Allen's distinctive touch.
Meanwhile, two unanimously praised documentaries off the festival circuit arrive: "Manakamana," a gorgeous film about a group of pilgrims schlepping to Nepal to worship at the titular temple, and "The Final Member" (also on VOD Friday), about the world's only penis museum and its quest for a human specimen. With the latter being set in the Arctic Circle, both are eye-popping looks at some far-flung human curiosities.
On the indie front, Louise Archambault's "Gabrielle," Canada's 2014 Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film, arrives along with auteur Patrice Leconte's also-French "A Promise." The lovely "Gabrielle" is about a talented female musician with a rare developmental disorder who faces prejudice from her peers when she takes up a romance with another choir member. Leconte directs an English-language cast in the universally panned period drama "A Promise," about the dalliances of a married woman played by Rebecca Hall (who's also in "Transcendence").
And finally, for smart horror fans wanting more after last week's "Oculus" comes "13 Sins," starring Mark Webber as a down-and-out salesman enmeshed in a most dangerous game with a mysterious cell phone caller. Trailers for all films below.
Transcendence Dir. Wally Pfister, USA | Warner Bros. | Cast: Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser | 12% Fresh | The Dissolve: "'Transcendence' wants to use this future panic to comment meaningfully on our current interconnectedness and inorganic lifestyle, but it's screaming too much to have that conversation." | Our review roundup and press conference coverage
Fading Gigolo Dir. John Turturro, USA | Millennium Entertainment | Cast: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sofia Vergara, Sharon Stone, Liev Schreiber | 56% Fresh | Film.com: "'Fading Gigolo' wants to be some sort of sunny tapestry about New York’s social groups, but it’s impossible to see past its absurd premise." | Our review
Manakamana Dirs. Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez, Nepal | Cinema Guild | 100% Fresh | Indiewire: "On the whole, 'Manakamana' succeeds by creating the ongoing anticipation of something, anything to happen next, a wholly unique sensation specific to its inventive design."
The Final Member Dirs. Jonah Bekhor & Zach Math, Canada | Drafthouse Films | 100% Fresh | AV Club: "Boasts a stranger-than-fiction subject so odd and funny it almost couldn't miss. But Bekhor and Math make the film much more than a limp gag."
Gabrielle Dir. Louise Archambault, Canada | Entertainment One | Cast: Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, Alexandre Landry, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin | 100% Fresh | Variety: "Archambault's handling of Gabrielle and Martin's sexuality is one of the pic's strong suits, presenting their desire with a refreshing, straightforward honesty."
A Promise Dir. Patrice Leconte, France | IFC Films | Cast: Rebecca Hall, Alan Rickman, Richard Madden, Maggie Steed | 0% Fresh | Slant: "Patrice Leconte struggles to find a coherent rhythm, a problem exacerbated by a hurried running time that compresses some of the novella's more interesting socio-political nuances."
13 Sins Dir. Daniel Stamm, USA | Dimension Films | Cast: Mark Webber, Devon Graye, Tom Bower, Ron Perlman | 63% Fresh | Village Voice: "Stamm brings such a deft touch to these tonal transitions that it's hard to believe he directed the dreadful 2010 hit 'The Last Exorcism.'"