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.
Chinese Zodiac (十二生肖, CZ12): professional relic hunters scour the planet for 12 lost Chinese artifacts of the zodiac calendar. This most reminded me of The Extra Ordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec – in that it’s a kids film with a big story, historical fantasy, and some PG-rated action. Speaking of which, no matter how many Jackie Chan action set-pieces you see, they never get tired or boring, and always have a jaw-dropping, unbelievable quality about them. It’s also a testament to his skills that even when he writes and choreographs the scenes – the ones where he’s not on-screen lack that special touch. Outside of the action, the film’s OK: a pretty standard globe-trotting, multi-lingual, universal-rating, big-name, big-budget, ‘big-appeal’ movie that’s been killed by committee. If this was only made of the JC action scenes you’d have to give this film a 10/10, however, the overly complicated story, continual flipping between languages, and some clunky CGI haul the overall product into the average zone.
Frankenweenie: when a young boy loses his dog, he brings it back to life using a Frankenstein-esque experiment. The story is a fairly trite by-the-numbers tale of re-animation; when you name-check stories like Frankenstein, Van Helsing, Dracula, and include a barrage of iconic monster-movie references, you’re immediately setting the bar pretty high. It looks great, but the decision to have it entirely black and white is a strange one, particularly as it’s fairly dark/gloomy, and the 3D version would lose even more light. An even stranger aspect is that it’s difficult to figure out who this film is for: several scenes would freak the shit out of young kids; it’s not grown-up enough for Twilight/Hunger Games fans; there’s not much in it for adults (a couple of smiles at best),- who’s watching it? Frankenweenie is Über-Gothic and Über-Burton, who’s visuals haven’t changed much in the past 20 years – style over substance can be passable, but this is starting to feel very old.
Only time I laughed was at the stupid cat’s face.