REVIEW: Blackhat

7 03 2015

For a movie that features hackers who can access some scarily far reaches of the world’s computing system, in a time where cyberterrorists quite literally reached inside the American network and restricted our freedom of speech, the stakes in Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” feel remarkably low.  These unknown villains do not seem threatening so much as annoying, as if they were Clippy on Microsoft Word.

Some serialized dramas on basic cable networks possess more urgency in storytelling.  So the moral of the story is never send the year’s champion of World’s Sexiest Man to do Mariska Hargitay’s job, perhaps?

Hemsworth stars as Hathaway, the now-imprisoned programmer who served as the lead architect on the code that wreaks havoc on nuclear reactors and stock markets across the world.  (In spite of this brilliance, Hathaway still cannot manage to figure out how to button the top four buttons on his shirt.)  Since Mann sets the film on such a low simmer, it seems only fitting that their criminal adversary only seeks to hijack computers for the sake of making a quick buck off the manipulation of global trade.

To make matters worse, enduring “Blackhat” also involves tolerating Mann’s grimy, grainy digital aesthetic.  The movie looks like a crappy HDTV demo from a flat-screen at Sam’s Club, circa 2007.  It has no pretense of imitating the look of film stock (even if this sounds arcane and technical, this difference is obvious).  Not to mention, the camera feels about as loose as the buttons on Hemsworth’s wardrobe, and the entire thing looks cheaply re-lit in post-production.

Mann’s visuals are in service of a script from Morgan Davis Foehl, a writer getting his first screenplay credit.  His writing does not highlight relevant issues surrounding cybersecurity nor does it raise any intriguing ethical questions, a real bummer considering what just happened surrounding the release of “The Interview.”  In fact, the only question I left “Blackhat” asking was whether I found it tougher to follow the plot … or to care about what happened altogether?  C2stars

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 28, 2012)

28 12 2012

There has been a lot of talk about Russell Crowe’s singing abilities in “Les Misérables,” and most of it has been negative.  While I will defend (although not without a few reservations) his voice as appropriate for the role, he was an excellent choice to act the part of Javert.  And if you need any reminder as to why he was cast, look no further than the brilliant drama “The Insider,” a crowning jewel of the Michael Mann canon and my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

As Jeffrey Weigand, a major whistleblower for Big Tobacco in the 1990s, Crowe more than adequately portrays the internal storm of a man torn by doing what is ethical and what is easy.  Dr. Weigand’s research uncovered just how addictive nicotine is and how the cigarette companies can amplify the delivery of that kick – at the expense of his own job.  Bound by a confidentiality agreement, he must sacrifice the safety and security of himself and his family in order to do the right thing.

Thankfully, that’s where Al Pacino’s Lowell Bergman comes in.  A producer for “60 Minutes,” Bergman is an expert at coaxing sensitive information out of unwilling informants.  Convincing them to sit down with Mike Wallace, played here with a firm conviction by Christopher Plummer, and spill their guts on television is no easy task, yet Bergman pulls it off with finesse by offering the vast resources of CBS to shield and protect the interviewee.

Everything seems to be working out for “60 Minutes” to run a searing exposé of the tobacco industry’s vicious practices, but the network cowardly balks just before airing, putting Weigand and Bergman both in a lot of hot water.  The journey to make the truth known the American people is made compelling in an “All the President’s Men” kind of way thanks to the bravura performances of Crowe and Pacino, a team deserving of dual Oscar glory.

And beyond the work of Pacino and Crowe, “The Insider” also boasts some of the most precise directing I’ve ever seen from the brilliant Michael Mann.  When he’s on his A-game, there is no one better than him at creating tense, thrilling moments.  His editing rhythms are enthralling and perfectly calibrated to have your heart beating to the pace he wants it.  If watching the movie makes you think of “The Dark Knight,” that’s not really a coincidence; Nolan has clearly taken good notes from a master and expounded upon what Mann does so well in films like “The Insider.”





SAVE YOURSELF from “Ali”

8 08 2010

And you thought I had forgotten about this series.

I’m back again with another movie in the “Save Yourself!” series, which is designed to steer you clear of movies that will serve no purpose other than to waste your time.  I see plenty of movies, and better me than you, right?  I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I do.

This pick might shock you a little bit because it certainly shocks me.  Will Smith is the man who can do no wrong; he basically walks on water at the box office.  And director Michael Mann almost always delivers – I’ll forgive “Public Enemies” because “The Insider” and “Collateral” were both great.  And when you throw in a cast that includes Jon Voight, Jamie Foxx, and Jeffrey Wright, that’s another good sign.  Heck, they even got LeVar Burton, who is known to my generation as the guy from “Reading Rainbow,” to play MLK!

Don’t let the signs fool you.  “Ali” is a bore from beginning to end.  Rather than float like a butterfly, the movie drags like a bag of bricks.  And instead of stinging like a bee, the movie lands with so little impact that you could mistake it for having no ambitions at all.

But surely you have your doubts.  How can it be boring when it has Will Smith?  And in an Oscar-nominated performance, no less!  It’s simple: there’s too much Will Smith in the movie and not enough Muhammad Ali.  It’s as if he found the pride of the famous boxer buried deep inside of him and then decided to play only that emotion.

And don’t even get me started on Jon Voight, whose Academy Award nomination for this role is an absolute travesty.  He appears in the movie for literally no more than five minutes, and when he does, there’s no emotion.  There is nothing that moves you, no moment where you step back and say, “Wow, this is a great performance.”  From what I can tell, it’s a very good impersonation of Howard Cossell.  But if he can get that close to Oscar gold for just that, so can any decent celebrity impersonator on the streets of Vegas.

Honestly, I wonder if Michael Mann actually directed this.  He’s made longer movies than this, yet he has always managed to keep them moving at a brisk clip.  “Ali” is like a exercise in hubris, with ridiculously long drawn-out sequences in which very little happens.  In these ten minute stretches, we see more of a nightclub singer than we do of Muhammad Ali, which is who we watched this movie to see.  Mann, with the help of a good editor, could have cut at least 45 minutes from this bloated biopic, although I’m not sure if I would even want to see the movie then.  I can watch Will Smith be himself in plenty of other entertaining movies; I don’t need to see him pretend to be someone he’s not, all the while still being himself.





REVIEW: Public Enemies

9 08 2009

Everything was in place for “Public Enemies” to become a sensational achievement in film.  It had great actors such as Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard (Oscar winner for “La Vie en Rose”), and Johnny Depp.  It had a highly respected director, Michael Mann, who directed such memorable flicks as “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Heat,” and “The Insider.”  It had unbelievable source material from Bryan Burrough’s fascinating volume of the 1933-34 War on Crime “Public Enemies.”  However, even with all these things in place, the movie manages to underwhelm.  My main quarrel with it was the script, which is less historically accurate than “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.”  It takes everything that made Burroughs’ book so engrossing and discards it completely.  Even captivating performances by Depp and Cotillard cannot save the muddled mess of a movie.

John Dillinger (Depp) is the FBI’s Public Enemy #1.  He was a bank robber, but he was also a celebrity.  In the most difficult of times in America, Dillinger became a legend for stealing from the bankers who caused the crisis.  He became popular for only stealing from the vaults, saying that he didn’t want to steal money from the hard-working American people.  While avoiding his captors and holding up numerous banks, Dillinger falls in love with Billie Frechette (Cotillard).  She knows the risk of being with Dillinger, but she is attracted to something about him and becomes part of the gang anyways.  The movie also shows the story of Melvin Purvis (Bale), the man that FBI head honcho J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup, “Watchmen”) has chosen to hunt Dillinger down.  But in the 1930’s, the FBI didn’t have the power that it has today.  Purvis and his inexperienced agents are bumbling idiots, messing up even the most simple of tasks. Read the rest of this entry »