Tag Archives: hacking

Movie Review: Blackhat (2015)

blackhat

I’ve been waiting for a cyber-terrorism movie to hit our cinemas, and Michael Mann answered the call with Blackhat, a brooding mystery-thriller film that forces Chinese and American authorities to join forces following an attack on a nuclear power plant in Hong Kong.

The film polarised viewers for different reasons, and I’m afraid I fall in the less complimentary camp. Michael Mann is no doubt a great director, having made the likes of classics such as Manhunter and Heat as well as strong films like Collateral and The Insider. But even his stylish, atmospheric approach, a considerable US$70 million budget, and the sexy power of Chris Hemsworth and Asian stars Wang Leehom and Tang Wei, can’t save Blackhat from being a failure.

The thing is, Blackhat is not poorly made. Based on the trailer and some word-of-mouth criticism, I had expected a hackneyed effort; a pedestrian plot, poor performances and an overall B-grade feel. That wasn’t the case; the film actually had solid production value, a sophisticated plot, and perfectly fine performances all around. The problem, sadly, is that Blackhat is just plain boring.

With the exception of the action scenes, the pace is decidedly slow, though the bigger issue is that it’s largely flat and plodding until the final act. For a 132-minute film, that’s a lot of typing on computers and chatting about hacking to sit through.

Like many others before him, Mann hasn’t quite figured out how to make typing on computers exciting. He uses special effects to show us how all the little circuits inside operate at microscopic levels, but that’s more aesthetics as opposed to something that genuinely elevates the tension. It also doesn’t help that the storyline is made to be a lot more convoluted than it had to be, sometimes making me forget what the heck the protagonists were trying to achieve.

Speaking of the protagonists, Chris Hemsworth’s character is designed against the hacker stereotype. He’s built like a brick house, can beat up three or four guys in close combat, and he’s even pretty handy with knives and guns. Not to say world class hackers like that can’t possibly exist, but it does stretch the believability factor, especially when we know very little about his background other than that he went to MIT and was put in prison for computer crimes.

wangtang

The Chinese characters, on the other hand, were fleshed out better than expected. Apart from the 1980s hairdo, Wang Leehom’s US-educated People’s Liberation Army cybercrime hotshot is well-rounded and backed by a solid performance. Tang Wei, whom I have seen in anything since Lust, Caution, plays his sister, and she impresses with a fluency in English I had not expected. It’s unfortunate that her character is more or less an obligatory and arbitrary love interest for Hemsworth (you can tell this about two seconds after their eyes meet). The only other female character, an FBI agent played by Viola Davis, gets almost nothing to do except move the plot along.

The culmination of all these factors makes Blackhat a film that’s difficult to get excited about. Apparently, audiences thought the same, as Blackhat ended up having one of the worst debuts if all time, earning less than US$4 million in its opening weekend in the States despite playing on more than 2,500 screens.

There’s not enough action — at least not action that feels fresh — to appeal to people looking for a thrill ride. The grounded approach to cybercrime is not cool enough for the tech crowd. And neither the drama nor the characters are executed well enough for those looking for a more sophisticated experience. It deserves more than its appalling box office numbers, but it’s not shocking that Blackhat has underperformed for both audiences and critics alike.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Interview (2014)

interview

Let’s face it, the Sony hacking incident was the biggest blessing for The Interview, the most talked-about movie of 2014. Without all the furore, it would have been just another shitty Seth Rogan comedy, albeit one about two entertainment industry morons hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-in.

I too watched it out of curiosity more than anything else, with the hope that the low expectations created from the bad reviews would improve my overall impression of the film.

And for the first half or so, The Interview was exceeding my expectations. As anticipated, Seth Rogan and James “freak” Franco basically played versions of themselves, which is irritating but not the worst thing in the world. The introduction to Franco’s gossip entertainment show, Skylark Tonight, was a brilliant segment featuring Eminem where we learned that Rogen, the show’s producer, is the straight face of the comedy duo. They followed this up with a few more interesting set pieces such as the Rob Lowe sketch, the setting up of the interview itself and the subsequent CIA training with Lizzy Caplan.

Even the first few scenes after their arrival in Pyongyang contained some solid laughs, and by this stage I was wondering why people appeared to hate this movie more than any of Seth Rogen’s other efforts. I grew optimistic that The Interview could best arguably Rogen’s two best films, This is the End (which I didn’t even like that much) and Pineapple Express.

Ironically, it was when the subject of the interview, Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) appeared on screen that the film began  accelerating downhill. After about half a dozen of laugh-out-loud moments in the film’s first hour — the rule of thumb for a good comedy — I didn’t laugh again. Not once.

Part of the blame has to go to the directors, Seth Rogan and his buddy Evan Goldberg, and another part has to go to the screenwriter, Dan Sterling. It was as though they did not know how to handle Kim’s character. They had the right idea with the daddy issues, the deceit, and the secret love of American culture, but the execution was flat and the punchlines lacked, well, punch.

The main culprit, however, was probably Randall Park, or at least whoever cast him in the role. Park’s version of Kim was simply not comical enough. I know he put on weight for the role, but the added girth simply gave him the heavy look, not the tubby, pudgy cuteness Kim has going for him. Kim looks and feels like a petulant chubby kid, whereas Park comes across as a full-grown man with a mean streak in him. Whether it was the look, the voice, the accent or the expressions, Park’s performance felt off the mark. It’s strange, but the Kim Jong-in I have in my mind just from seeing his photos and reading about him in papers is much more hilarious than the version portrayed in this movie.

Having said all that, half a decent comedy is better than a completely shit comedy all the way through. Accordingly, I have to admit that The Interview is better than I expected. There are moments of satirical brilliance scattered throughout in the first half, but the second half, perhaps constrained by the need to live up to the premise, was a dud filled with obvious gags and witless humour. So I guess you could ultimately look at The Interview in two mutually inclusive ways — a fundamentally shit film with a handful of funny-to-very-funny moments, or just another mediocre Seth Rogen movie that will make no absolutely difference to your life whether you watch it or not.

2.75 stars out of 5