Blackhat: when a Chinese powerplant is hacked (and blown up) using parts of his old code a l33t h4x0r (‘elite hacker’ to you and I) is released from prison to help the FBI hunt down the threat. Q: how do you sex up a computer attack at the hardware level? A: lots of flashy and swooshy CGI of bits, bytes, circuits, electricity, keyboards, transistors – obviously. Unfortunately, none of the actors really shine, because none of the characters feel developed beyond their required contribution to the story line. Even parts of the plot don’t really work, like the weird romance angle, which feels like it’s just in there to broaden the film’s appeal: strangers becoming sacrificial lovers in a couple of days, just because the film required it. Pushing that stuff aside, you still get a solid Michael Mann film with two big shootouts (a decent one at an airport, and a fucking great one in a shipyard) and a very realistic crime scenario: from the IT Security stuff and hackers evading surveillance, through to the inter-departmental squabbling and larger China-US relations – it all feels authentic. You can see how this film could flop – it’s about hacking / security / information, non of which are popular movie subjects – but I fail to understand the hate/backlash for Mann: he’s one of the few directors that could shoot a dumpster and make it look fantastic; he is pure cinema – abusing colours, locations, and an always-moving camera. Blackhat uses a somewhat wooden story to ask bigger questions about technology and global security – and with all of the slick visuals you’d expect from a world-class director.
The Avengers (AKA Avengers Assemble): ensemble super-cast of characters (and actors) have to save the world from Loki and his army of robo-alien minions. Everything about this flick aims to please: it does a good job of linking Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and a few other superheroes together; we get to see superheroes take on bad guys, superheroes brakin’ up monsters, and superheroes fighting each other; Black window is even thrown in as the gratuitous hottie – no complaints. There’s a solid streak of humour, with a bunch of surprisingly funny lines that had the entire cinema laughing. Also, why do people still live in Manhattan when it gets attacked this often? After years of buildup, drip-fed snippets, extended trailers and bags o’ hype, the final product is better than the cynic in me was dreading. The Avengers is a summer blockbuster in every sense of the word: big cast, big budget, big story, big spectacle, big runtime, big characters, big laughs, big noises… BIG FUN! Directed by Joss Whedon, this is a well made, lovingly crafted, humourous mega-buster.
The Cabin in the Woods: 5 friends go to an isolated cabin for a party, and although a bunch of zombified rednecks lurk in the woods, this is far from your average slasher/horror flick. My only real complaint is that the film puts all of the cards on the table a little too early – although it’s understandable, because such an ending would be too much to nonchalantly tag on during a finale. There’s plenty decent acting, even better SFX, good suspense / tension / scares, brilliant streak of tongue-in-cheek genre humour (The whiteboard with entries like “Angry Molestation Tree”, and ‘trowel’ quip are golden). The film works its way towards the revelatory ending, and the final reel is one of the best pieces of horror in decades – it’s an insane roller coaster paying both tribute and homage to the last 100 years of horror cinema. This is clearly made by horror fans, for horror fans. Don’t watch the trailer, or even read any more reviews, just get your arse to the cinema and check this beast out for yourself. Cabin in the Woods is creepy, entertaining, smart, fresh, funny, original and goes far beyond (and behind) the standard horror movie formula. Easily one of the best modern horrors in a long, long time.
Bonus: here’s a screenshot of the whiteboard – Click to Enlarge
Thor: after putting the galaxy’s’ peace at risk Thor is cast out to Earth until he learns to tone down the arrogance, and ramp up the leadership. This is one of the most eclectic mixes of a film I can remember seeing; there’s oodles of tongue-in-cheek camp, so much so that everybody seems to think they’re in an amateur stage play; there’s about 30 characters all turning it up to eleven and vying for attention – not to mention robots, goblins, gods, scientists and feds. Most annoyingly, the SFX are insanely overused – reminiscent of the first wave of GCI laden 90s films. The action scenes are also poorly done – resulting in a series of blurry smashes and explosions until there’s a body is lying on the ground / frozen in ice. The bottom line is that the tone, style and elements of Thor are so erratic, that it ends up feeling like a film that exists just to be the next comic book film. Big, bright, loud and stupid, Michael Bay would be so proud