Skip to main content

Is your phone an Android?

Blackhat
(2015)

(SPOILERS) I’m a Michael Mann apologist. I rate Public Enemies, and I’ll even say good things about his big screen Miami Vice. With Blackhat, though, it’s as if he’s distilled all the familiar obsessions of his oeuvre (cops and criminals, men doing what men do in an unflinchingly masculine manner) and, bereft of coherent structure to support this, be it through sheer bravura style or winning performances, has been left floundering foolishly for all to see, in the most unflattering light possible. Blackhat is a ridiculous movie, one that could even be used to retrospectively mock those running themes and obsessions as they appear in his classics.


Because it isn’t as if Mann’s self-spun scripts are dazzlingly complex when it comes down to it. Heat could easily end up a forgettable L.A. Takedown TV movie without its director’s visual and aural majesty and the riveting performances. Mann plays cops and robbers in the most captivating and immersive style. In Blackhat he’s also playing cops and robbers, but he’s out of his comfort zone in applying them to the milieu of cybercrime and warfare. Worse, he ends up looking like and out-of-touch old man struggling to grasp hold of some kind of relevance in a world that increasingly mystifies him. If you add to that some bafflingly ugly and aggressively aesthetically displeasing choices in digital photography, you have a picture that has no problem in resting at the bottom of his cinematic pile.


It isn’t a complete stinker. There are a couple of decent shootouts, even if there’s no plausible good reason that they should be even there; the climax, as utterly ludicrous as it is, is at least dynamic, and there’s still something of the Mann ambient veneer to keep one occupied, courtesy of Harry Gregson-Williams and Atticus Ross’ score (with Ryan Amon pieces from Elysium used too). Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography is mostly poop, though, presumably intentionally so when you compare it to his gorgeous work on the (otherwise redundant) The Secret Life of Walter Mitty remake.


But you expect a liberal dose of the meticulous from Mann amid his hyperrealism. Here, it’s as if he’s stumbled upon a plotline (the screenplay is courtesy of Mann and Morgan Davis Foehl) by way of a desire to insert a host of topics that have been weighing heavily on his mind. So we get nuclear catastrophes (caused by a hacker), cybercrime, with a Chinese angle by having the FBI work with their authorities (meaning China can’t be accused of perpetrating anything on this occasion) and the all-seeing eyes of the NSA (but here our hero hacks into the NSA, not the other way round; take that Big Brother!)


The mechanism by which he inflicts this upon us is to have Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth, all blond locks and immaculately shiny chest; Thor, basically), a convicted computer hacker, released from the clink in order to help his old MIT buddy and Chinese Cyber Crime officer Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) track down the perpetrator of the an attack on a Hong Kong nuclear facility. You see, Hathaway and Chen designed the original code of the RAT (Remote Access Tool) employed to accomplish the hack. Hathaway’s no fat, greasy cyber nerd, though (it would have been fantastic if Mann had gone that route, but he deals with worlds of real men doing really manly things; I doubt emptying one’s keyboard of crisps and spilling a litre of Coke over the portable hard drive would have appealed to him).


No, he’s super-buff, the kind of guy who can more than take care of himself, and who treats prison time like going to college. He’s better than the cops, basically. And he’s got principals too. Like Robin Hood. He only steals from the banks, since the average Joe won’t get hurt that way (the last seven years tell a different story, unfortunately, since you can’t transpose all your principles from the Old West).


So super-buff Hathaway gets investigating, and along the way falls for Chen’s sister Lien (Tang Wei, cute but forgettable; she serves the same arm candy function as Gong Li in Miami Vice, except that relationship at least had a semblance of passion; this is strictly perfunctory, and there’s zero chemistry between the leads). This leads to laborious lulls in which Hathaway says manly things, and even a moment on a helicopter, en route for some nuclear action, when Hathaway and Chen discuss sis, asking what kind of life nine more years of prison would be (as if she’d wait that long, what does he thinks she’s stupid, waiting for fat grease ball Nick all that time?)


There are also a FBI agent Viola Davis (whose character is able to engineer a 9/11 reference in the clumsiest of fashions, but that’s how relevant Mann is in this movie) and Deputy US Marshall Holt McCallany, who inevitably surf a route from despising Hathaway to respecting his skilled ways.


For a picture ostensibly concerning cybercrime, there’s precious little talk or action of that nature in the mix. Just as well, since Mann’s idea of visualising the throes technology is flying around microcircuits and putting the camera under virtual keyboards like he’s a dysfunctional David Fincher. At several points Hathaway proves his savvy in scenes that have already been roundly (and justifiably) ridiculed; he resets the timer on the marshal’s phone so he can’t trace Hathaway’s ankle bracelet. He also knows what an Android is and can use it to track Wi-Fi cos he’s a ruddy genius.


Apart from that, Nick’s deductions are of the sort that a cop should be making, and his heroics are too (Mann contrives that Nick has to go into the highly radioactive nuclear facility in order to remove a data drive; Nick’s so manly that, while others succumb to the fumes, he emerges with ne’er any radiation sickness and only a case of cancer brewing in another 10 years or so; if nothing else, Mann’s incredibly flippant and irresponsible in his treatment of the cons of nuclear industry; this might as well be last year’s Godzilla for all the realism on display).


Most bizarrely, or perhaps not as its that kind of internally batty movie, the nuclear attack serves no grand plan. It’s just a means to test out the RAT for the hacker’s big score, making money from trading tin futures (see, Mann can even get the financial crisis in there, just about). Fortunately, Hathaway knows how to hack away and foils the villain’s scheme, leading to some stabbings and shootings involving the hacker (Yorick van Wageningen; as soon as he appears – alas, right near the end – the picture musters some semblance of interest, he’s that kind of performer, but it’s too little too late) and his henchman (Ritchie Coster, playing a completely different kind of bad guy in season two of True Detective).


The climax is entirely serviceable; in another movie, with other actors, it would be suitably rousing. But Hathaway’s such an incorrigible badass geek, the result is rather silly, and the gunfire in a crowded place goes one step beyond the Collateral nightclub shootout into pure WTF? territory.


In the hands of someone from whom we expect this kind of brain-dead plotting and indifferent performing (Hemsworth is entirely bland, although I’m not blaming him necessarily), say a Michael Bay, Blackhat would be to be of expectedly bargain basement quality. Hell, take it down a notch. This is the kind of consummate daftness whereby you could see Van Damme in his prime playing Hathaway, such is the non-existent grip on anything approaching realism or believability. That feeling is added to by the cheap and nasty texture elicited by Mann, undermining the tranche of locations visited (US, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia).


Blackhat was originally called the even more underwhelming Cyber, a fair indication of just how rote and inessential this is. But has there been a decent hacker movie since War Games? I doubt that there’ll be another vying for attention in the aftermath of Blackhat, or any time soon, since it was a box office disaster (Legendary took a $90m write-down, so it’s just as well Jurassic World was round the corner).



Comments

  1. A general purpose of FlexiSpy is popular among spouses. Everyone wants to be sure about relationship. FlexiSpy is one of the easiest ways to determine who your partner is and who you can trust, have a glance at link to see more.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

What do you want to be? Rich or dead?

Blake's 7 1.3: Cygnus Alpha

Well, the quality couldn’t last. Vere Lorrimer does a solid job directing this one, and the night shooting adds atmosphere in spades. Unfortunately the religious cult on a prison planet just isn’t that interesting (notably, big Brian Blessed was about the only well-known British thesp who wasn’t cast in the similarly themed Alien 3).

It’s Who-central from the off with lovely lovely lovely Kara (Pamela Salem – The Robots of Death and Remembrance of the Daleks) and the Caber, I mean Laran (Robert Russell, Terror of the Zygons) noting the incoming London. Which reuses a shot from Space Fall (the spinning object is a planet, clearly one with an unhealthy speed of rotation).
The length of journey issues in this story don’t bear much analysis. It’s now four months since the events of Space Fall, and poor old Leylan has clearly been affected badly by what went down. But he’s only now sending his report? Useful for the wayward viewer, but a bit slack otherwise.

So.…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

She's killed my piano.

Rocketman (2019)
(SPOILERS) Early on in Rocketman, there’s a scene where publisher Dick James (Stephen Graham) listens to a selection of his prospective talent’s songs and proceeds to label them utter shite (but signs him up anyway). It’s a view I have a degree of sympathy with. I like maybe a handful of Elton John’s tunes, so in theory, I should be something of a lost cause with regard to this musical biopic. But Rocketman isn’t reliant on the audience sitting back and gorging on naturalistic performances of the hits in the way Bohemian Rhapsody is; Dexter Fletcher fully embraces the musical theatre aspect of the form, delivering a so-so familiar story with choreographic gusto and entirely appropriate flamboyance in a manner that largely compensates. Largely.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

Isn’t Johnnie simply too fantastic for words?

Suspicion (1941)
(SPOILERS) Suspicion found Alfred Hitchcock basking in the warm glow of Rebecca’s Best Picture Oscar victory the previous year (for which he received his first of five Best Director nominations, famously winning none of them). Not only that, another of his films, Foreign Correspondent, had jostled with Rebecca for attention. Suspicion was duly nominated itself, something that seems less unlikely now we’ve returned to as many as ten award nominees annually (numbers wouldn’t be reduced to five until 1945). And still more plausible, in and of itself, than his later and final Best Picture nod, Spellbound. Suspicion has a number of claims to eminent status, not least the casting of Cary Grant, if not quite against type, then playing on his charm as a duplicitous quality, but it ultimately falls at the hurdle of studio-mandated compromise.

Looks as though vaudeville may have just decided to fight back.

The Avengers 6.7: Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers…
Well, it took a while, but The Avengers finally rediscovers the sparkle of the best Rigg era episodes thanks to a Dennis Spooner teleplay (his first credit since the first season), one that spreads itself just about as broadly as it’s possible for the show to go – Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers… was purportedly rejected for the Rigg run for just that reason – but which is also nigh on perfect in pace, structure and characterisation. And guest spots.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

No one is very happy. Which means it's a good compromise, I suppose.

Game of Thrones  Season 8
(SPOILERS) How many TV series that rely on ongoing plotlines – which is most of them these days – have actually arrived at a wholly satisfying conclusion? As in, one that not only surprises but pays off the investment viewers have made over (maybe) seven or eight years? I can think of a few that shocked or dazzled (Angel, The Leftovers) and some that disappointed profoundly (Lost) but most often, they end on an “okay” (reasonably satisfying, if you like) rather than on a spectacular or, conversely, enormously disappointing note. Game of Thrones may not have paid off for many vocal fans who’d accept nothing less than note-perfect rendering of certain key desired developments, but much of the season unfolded in a manner that seemed just the kind of thing I would have expected; not, on the whole, shocking, blind-siding, or (give-or-take) spectacular, but okay, or reasonably satisfying.