Wally Pfister is one of Hollywood's most renowned cinematographers of complex visual screenplays.

He won an Oscar for his work on the groundbreaking sci-fi twister "Inception." He was nominated for "The Prestige" and two Batman movies. He was director of photography on "Memento" and "The Italian Job."

With those credentials, he looks like the perfect fit to direct the mind-bending science fantasy "Transcendence." Technology runs wild as artificial intelligence is taken to astronomical levels through digital connections of the Internet. All aspects of human life are affected when one man's magnified mind is uploaded to the World Wide Web.

Johnny Depp plays the mad scientist consumed by the power of his new invention. Morgan Freeman and Rebecca Hall are excellent in their supporting roles. This is a clever premise produced with fine actors and great special effects. But as a first-time director, Pfister fails to duplicate his previous success behind the camera.

The promising start turns into a disjointed jumble of wild movie themes. Plot elements include alien takeovers, man versus machine, government intrigue, miracle cures and even zombie crusaders. The thought-provoking beginning turns into a silly end game that can't be taken seriously.

—John Depko

*

Hey, Jude, make him bad

The usually dapper Jude Law goes against type as "Dom Hemingway," a Cockney thug sporting a few extra pounds, bad muttonchops and a volatile temper.

Dom's opening scene, a scorching soliloquy about his favorite body part, is a wonder not just for its outrageousness but for its breathless turn of phrase, a river of profane poetry. In a career-changing performance, Law snarls and spits his words with supreme bravado.

The crime drama sports a self-assured cast, among them Richard E. Grant as Dom's only friend and Demian Bichir as a wealthy Russian gangster, the "most murderous man in Europe," a man Dom believes should repay him for his 12 years of loyal silence while in prison.

Violently excessive yet darkly funny, "Dom Hemingway" is worth watching for Law's career-changing performance.

*

Horror, romance in 'Railway'

Oscar-winner Colin Firth turns in a moving performance in "The Railway Man," a true story of a British Army officer who endured a Japanese POW camp (working on the real bridge on the River Kwai).

Firth is Eric Lomax, a stodgy man fascinated by trains and timetables. It is on a train where he meets his future wife (Nicole Kidman), and their shy courtship is a charmer. Once married, however, Lomax's mental stresses come to light, not helped by the news that his tormentor (Hiroyuki Sanada) is alive and working the same camp site, now a museum.

Through vivid flashbacks, we learn what led young Lomax (played by Jeremy Irvine) to his current state. Be warned, there are graphic scenes of torture to make even the most stoic avert their eyes.

"The Railway Man" is a bit muddled at times, but overall it's an earnestly made tale of love and war. What gives it power is the portrayal of moral courage under the most wrenching circumstances. Makes you wonder — could you have found it in your heart to do what Lomax did?

—Susanne Perez

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.