Long-winded and neither as smart, surprising, or sassy as it thinks, Bad Times at the El Royale is a stylish snow-globe of sixties subcultures clown-car piled into an overdrawn neo-noir. Bursting at the seams with metaphorical material and cultural commentary but featherlight on plot and deep-dive character development, this strangers-at-a-hotel mystery has a lot of guff and bluster but little actual punch. It’s not exactly bad times but the times decidedly aren’t so grand either. Read More
Over the course of 18 films and 10 years, Kevin Feige and his army of Marvel men and women have laid a pretty nifty foundation upon which the Marvel Cinematic Universe rests. What started with humble beginnings with 2008’s Iron Man has since blown up into a cultural and financial supernova with no less than 30 recognizable characters and all that comes to a head with the Russo Brother’s astonishingly ambitious though perfunctorily flawed Avengers: Infinity War. Read More
12 Strong calls in the cavalry on Al-Qaeda in Nicolai Fuglsig’s “declassified true story of the horse soldiers”. Spurred by the 9/11 terror attacks, Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) leaves behind a safe, cushy military desk job to lead a team of special forces to the sandy front lines of the War on Terror. There, he must earn the trust of an Afghan warlord to take down a critical Taliban position. We’re told repeatedly that the fate of the War rests on this mission’s success and, well, we all know how that one turned out. Generic on most accounts, 12 Strong is an inoffensive American war movie relying on offensive war-mongering tactics. The semi-sturdy if mostly unremarkable acting and blasé set pieces lack the praise-worthy or memorable accents to set 12 Strong aside from the harras. Read More
Candy-colored Thor: Ragnarok is a retro, dimension-hopping hoot. Rambunctious, joyous and just plain fun to watch, Ragnarok is shellacked with vintage Taika Waititi style, the critical darling director behind such rollicking Rotten Tomatoes-adored comedy-adventures as Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows and Boy retaining his idiomatic filmmaking tactics even under the watchful eye of notoriously handsy Marvel producers. The best of the Thor films (and this coming from someone who actually admits to enjoying the previous two), Ragnarok employs Taika’s signature witty, irreverent approach to comedy and his knack for building genuine camaraderie among squirelly outcasts to craft the funniest blockbuster of the year, one that doubles as a hell of an odd-couple intergalactic road trip, even if it still barely breaks the lather-rinse-repeat nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe mold. Read More
It’s been a long road to the theater for Paul Feig and the girls of Ghostbusters. Beset by accusations of vagina-washing from a very vocal (and rather pathetic) corner of the internet, a less-than-reassuring first trailer and a borderline insufferable Fall Out Boy/Missy Elliot rendition of the iconic “Who You Gonna Call?” theme song, the remake of Harold Ramis’ much-adored 1984 supernatural-comedy had many hurdles to summit. But rather than scale the obstacles in its path, Ghostbusters dispenses a powerful proton pack of carefully constructed charisma, nostalgia-fueled callbacks and no-holds-barred performances, blasting the besmirching naysayers to smithereens like cardboard cutouts of Slimer in a Chinatown back alley. Read More
The Huntsman: Winter’s War suffers from colon-movie spina bifida. Its curvy backbone veers near and far to collect the disparate parts necessary in making this part of a larger cinematic universe. In this case, that universe is Universal Picture’s Snow White, a bleak fairy tale retold with undeniable visual style and largely charmless aplomb in 2012 with an aggressively apathetic Kristen Stewart at the forefront and a scenery-smacking, mean-mugging Chris Hemsworth as her side piece. Putting his considerable beef to good use as the movie’s romantic tine/battle-weary whetting stone to slide K-Stew’s frosty edge against, Hemsworth proved a fleeting flash of joy in an otherwise grim and grimly serious saga. His burly Eric however hardly seemed an intriguing (or popular) enough character to stage a spin-off upon but if The Huntsman is proof of anything, it’s that adding a hefty scoop of Jessica Chastain, a dollop of dwarves and a much more tongue-in-cheek approach to this whole fairy tale thing may be just the spoonful of medicine the script doctor called for. Read More
Chris Hemsworth was a rare find for Thor because he seems like a man beamed out of another dimension. The lacy lexicon of Marvel’s quasi-Shakespearean tragedy boasts Hemsworth’s Australian-cum-Nobleman accent, one with an ethereally hard-to-place, far, far away quality to it. When Hemsworth is smashed down to Earth and asked to perform New England for Ron Howard’s not-quite-Moby-Dick Moby Dick story he musters a punishing take on a Nantucket accent that turns the r’s in ah’s (that is when he remembers he’s supposed to be mussing up his voice at all.) Read More
Harold Ramis took the family vacation movie off cruise-control in 1983, proffering a deliciously crass road trip film lead by an insolent (and borderline sociopathic) father figure in Chevy Chase and penned by none other than the mighty John Hughes. A sickly twist on nuclear morals and unadulterated, thoroughly punitive obsession, National Lampoon’s Vacation etched a dark twist on small town American dreams, couching the woes of extended family, the thirst for adventure and the troubles of enclosed spaces in with themes of adultery, abuse, abandonment and totally warped family values; with a corporate theme park ironically standing in as a last bastion of joy. Ramis’ was no small feat – he had crafted a thing of jet black social commentary that sang out with sharp barbs of comedy. Read More
What to say about The Avengers: Age of Ultron? It’s certainly a Marvel movie; a spectacle-heavy rationing of motormouthed zingers, busy with whip-pan, slo-mo action montages and done up like a prom queen with CG glitz. It’s the insatiable younger brother to Joss Whedon’s initial compulsory corporate softball tournament; a large and in charge super-conglomeration that rarely stops to make time to make sense, and though darker (emotionally), bigger (logistically) and meaner (spiritually), it’s not nearly as much fun as when space worms were involved. The Marvel brand has been defined by its sense of “fun” and Age of Ultron certainly houses the brand of larger-than-life, escapist entertainment that Marvel fans have emptied out their pockets for in the past but it misses the shock-and-awe boat that installment numero uno rode in on, instead serving up a welting reminder of the inconsequential, aggressively episodic nature of this whole shared universe business. By the end of Ultron’s short-lived age, tables have been set but little has actually changed. This is Lather, Rinse, Repeat: Age of Redundancy. Read More
The only way to make sense of Blackhat is to imagine Hansel (of the Zoolander variety, not he of the breadcrumbs) taking an online computer science class, changing his name to Michael Mann and setting out to wow the world by going “inside the computer.” The result is 135 minutes of excruciating, unequivocal gobbledegook led by the most frigid onscreen couple since Joel Schumacher‘s Mr. Freeze squabbled with Poison Ivy. To call it bad is a lie by degree; it’s impossibly poor. For over two simply unbearable hours, join Mann as he sullies his good name with a film so awesomely abhorrent you’ll be doubting that he (he of international critical acclaim and assorted Oscar nominations) ever stepped foot on set.
Unfortunately, Mann’s fingerprints are undeniably all over Blackhat. His signature wide-lens nocturnal cityscapes are too crisp to be the work of even a dedicated understudy. If we’re digging deep to give Mann points (something we really shouldn’t be doing for a movie this embarrassingly bad), at least those fleeting heli-shots of x or y city at night provides temporary respite from the narrative implosion happening all around it. With force, Mann throws down the gauntlet for a movie where the establishing shots are incontestably better than the actual goings on of the film.
The plot (if you’re generous enough to refer to this “RAT after cheese” hunt as a plot) consists of a rogue hacker con (Chris Hemsworth) furloughed by the FBI in an attempt to hunt down those responsible for bringing a Chinese nuclear reactor to the brink of a meltdown, old MIT buddies reunited under the most improbable of circumstances, a kid sister sidekick with eyes for the hunky Hemsworth and one ESL-lesson shy of a TOEFL-degree and evil hackers who lounge around with their pale bellies protruding. Blackhat pivots on the oh-so-exciting prospects of coding, stock manipulation and the DOW value of soy. And eventually tin. If only 1995 Michael Mann could hear how tinny it sounds.
Hemsworth isn’t to blame for the bed-shitting puddle of yuck that is Blackhat (though he could have tried a touch less humorlessness), nor is seasoned compatriot Viola Davis (though I’d like to have a word with her heavy-handed makeup artist). The other leads though – those of the Asian persuasion – seem culled from the international recycling bin. As the female lead, Wei Tang has less restraint than a local weatherman and her consistent jumbling of volume and cadence leads to some wonky audio issues that a finished, wide-release film should never encounter. The conversations are loud, then inexplicably quiet and then overbearingly tremble-y. Like someone sat on the audio control board and no one cared enough to fix it.
But Blackhat is filled with those brush-it-off-the-shoulder moments, as it succumbs steadily to a tide of directionless, thoughtless bunk. The perceived mounting suspense-by-laptop is as exciting as waiting two hours to discover a broken roller coaster at the end of the queue. Or watching a friend play a video game. As in watching only them, without being privy to what’s happening on the screen. For two hours.
The second time that Mann dips into the computer circuits to spider around for an improbable amount of time, you know you’re in trouble. When the leads lunge at each other like caged rabbits, holding back hearty howls is as impossible as enjoying the film. It’s all the worst habits of bad filmmaking puked onto the screen and shown over and over again. If The Fifth Estate is a golden boy for laughable hacker drama gone wrong, Blackhat dares to one-up it.
When affairs get gun-fighty, you breathe a sigh of relief. “Well at least Mann knows how to shoot the hell out of a gun fight. We’re all set here guys. Right?” Wrong. One couldn’t predict how horribly clunky and straight-to-video the transpiring blaze of gunfire is if they had a crystal ball. It’s almost unreasonable to be expected to come to terms with the fact that the same Michael Mann who directed the infamously taut bank shootout of Heat filmed what is quite reasonably the worst wide-release gunfight of the 21st century. Hang your head heavy Mr. Mann, feel the shame waft over you. Either that or your captors should feel rather guilty (“Where is the real Michael Mann and what have you done with him?!”)
The hacker thriller is a tough cookie to crack and has led to more certifiably misfires than any other action subgenre I can summon (yes, even more so than the geri-action sort). The closest anyone’s ever gotten to a great hacker thriller is The Matrix, and I use the comparison softly because calling it a hacker thriller is me admittedly bending the lines. Michael Mann’s film doesn’t come close to great. It’s not even within the realm of good. It couldn’t see the periphery of good with 400x binoculars. To have his name attached to it is to bear a Scarlet Letter from this point hence. Insufferable and tacitly overlong, his shameful film is an early contender for being crowned worst film of the year. Play at being Neo for a day: dodge a bullet and skip Blackhat.