Blackhat – a review

Guys, I think you're takign the Blackhat thing way too seriously...

Guys, the Blackhat thing was supposed to be metaphorical…

A big dollop of form over function, Blackhat exhibits the usual lovely digital visuals we’ve come to expect from Michael Mann of late and some decent suspense and tension for what is essentially a computer-hacker thriller with the odd bit of action.

Despite glimpses of some nice technical innovations, different format cameras being used in different scenarios, there is sadly nothing groundbreaking or original enough to offset the lethargic and dated storytelling.

And it is that word that defines Blackhat: dated. Whether because Mann is a director from another era and his films simply feel outmoded in 2015 or whether this one is just a dud, it doesn’t really matter – the result is the same. When you’ve got films, over the past year alone, such as Boyhood and Birdman pushing the envelope of what’s possible with cinema then a beige political thriller with trademark touches from the 90s just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Mann can do a shout-out and final showdown better than anyone, just watch Heat if you need reminding, but is that alone enough to keep afloat a heavily sagging script and dead-weight cast? The answer for Blackhat is, sadly, no. In no small part because of the sub-standard acting from both leads Chris Hemsworth and Wei Tang; their chemistry is purely physical, cemented by a painfully unnecessary and formulaic sex scene, with the dramatic and emotional scenes being left distinctly hollow as a result.

Even the gimmicky special effects employed to give some energy and dynamism to the inherently dull technological aspects of the plot (he’s a hacker, they need him to use his hacker skills to hack some computer hackery stuff) is tired and unimpressive. Oh, and it’s about four hours long, which doesn’t help.

All in all, a flat flop; Hemsworth showing his limited range in struggling to step up to the level required to open a serious film. Probably stick to the hammer guy, Chris, you’re good at that. Mann definitely still has something to offer but maybe we’ll need to wait for his second coming, a la Mr Scorcese.

Blackhat is a film that could have been made ten years ago but probably shouldn’t have been made at all. Never mind, eh.

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Inherent Vice – a review

You tell me...

You tell me…

Drenched in a deep marauding plot is Joaquin Phoenix’s Doc, his stoned lackadaisical malaise somehow being the only thing to cut through the almost impossibly intertwined character lines and it’s his bizarre performance that carries you through the smoky fog of Inherent Vice.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson has constructed everything around Doc so the audience experiences the narrative through his eyes, his thoughts and ultimately his confused brilliance. It doesn’t quite make sense to Doc, so it doesn’t quite make sense to us.

The scenes between Phoenix and Josh Brolin’s aptly named Bigfoot are so obviously the highlight that you’re almost too busy enjoying them before you realise you’re already looking forward to the next one. Luckily they don’t disappoint and you’re never far away; the chemistry is effervescent, at times completely comical at others darkly sincere and intimate.

It’s rare that a film wraps you up so completely, the visceral engagement with our hero beguiling convention, that you forget you’re watching a film. Inherent Vice goes a long way towards achieving that end, delivering a full-on gamut of emotion: love, romance, loneliness, camaraderie, shocking humanity and genuine comedy.

In a film constructed around him, it’s hard to look beyond Phoenix let alone for individual turns to stand out, but Katherine Waterston sparkles as Shasta Fey. Her stark naked scene with Doc is just that, silencing the theatre and with it any initial involuntary titters at her female form, as with the rest of the film, forcing the audience beyond their expectations and comfort zones and in so doing delivering the most powerful moment of the whole thing.

Let’s not beat around the bushy sideburns mounting Joaquin Phoenix’s face, you feel you could watch him all day, chewing up the screen at his absolute idiosyncratic best; snarling, gurning and ticking his way through every encounter.

This is 40s noir on acid; a kaleidoscope of kinetic chaos focused through a wonderful cast of ensemble players and powered by the quite brilliant PTA.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service – a review

The name's Kingsman, Colin Kingsman

The name’s Kingsman, Colin Kingsman

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a big loud action romp, which is just what you’d expect from Matthew Vaughn, the man behind Kick Ass. This time, however, Vaughan has stepped it up a gear. Or two. The same hyper-real ultra-violence still shocks and startles but, perhaps with the advances in camera and SFX technology, now even more so than back in 2010.

Colin Firth is pitch perfect as the most gentlemanly English gentleman of them all, Harry Hart (aka secret super-spy Galahad). A hybrid somewhere between a stereotyped old Etonian and a wonderful pastiche of Roger Moore‘s Bond, if slightly more stiff-upper-lip than camp sophistication.

The film opens with a flashback of Hart losing one of his agents on a mission gone wrong which sets up the plot premise of his hunt for a worthy replacement. Enter the wisecracking street-talking free-running Eggsy, played with no less than a debutant explosion by Taron Egerton.

Eggsy must endure a gruelling and perilous training regime before becoming a Kingsman, on the way meeting his fellow hopefuls; a gaggle of public school elites, including the surprising Roxy (Sophie Cookson), who serve to further polarise his ‘from the streets’ background. The movie’s message is one of privilege versus ability,  Kingsman representing the ultimate meritocracy: if you’ve got talent and work hard then you can achieve anything. A solid message for a big budget blockbuster.

First and foremost, this is an action movie and the way it’s captured is quite incredible; either Firth trained to become a bonafide martial artist or the stunt doubles and camera trickery are that seamless that it just looks that way. In either case, watching the fight sequences you simply can’t tell and that’s impressive. Maybe the high octane camera moves, choreographed in harmony with the action, go some way to hiding the editing magic but however they achieved it the stunts are innovative, shocking and brutally brilliant all at the same time.

Samuel L. Jackson‘s affected characterisation of the evil megalomaniac super-villain, Valentine, is well weighted, intentionally getting laughs and being suitably ‘comic book’ but, as it is Samuel L. Jackson, there are glimpses of that irrepressible cool just bursting out at the seams. The casting, ever so slightly, detracts from his total conviction as the baddie. But then he has his devilish sidekick Gazelle, played with beautifully eponymous athletic, but deadly, grace by Sophia Boutella, and you wouldn’t want to mess with her.

The ever-reliable Michael Caine and Mark Strong complete the roster (along with a brief but stunning cameo from Jack Davenport) with assured performances as Firth’s peers and fellow senior statesmen of The Secret Service. Prepare yourself for some unoriginal if entertaining plot twisting and turning…

It’s Men In Black for 2015. But set in London. With spies not aliens. And instead of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith we have Firth and Egerton. So not really anything like Men In Black. “It’s not that kind of movie”, as Valentine relishes. Don’t compare it to anything else, Kingsman is fresh in its realisation, shockingly violent in its delivery and just a great big fun romper-stomper of a ride. Strap in and enjoy.

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