Blackhat (2015)

US / 133 minutes / color / Legendary, Forward Pass, Universal Dir: Michael Mann Pr: Thomas Tull, Michael Mann, Jon Jashni Scr: Morgan Davis Foehl Cine: Stuart Dryburgh Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tang Wei, Viola Davis, Ritchie Coster, Holt McCallany, John Ortiz, Yorick van Wageningen, Wang Leehom, Christian Borle, Jason Butler Harner, Spencer Garrett, Andy On, Danny Burstein, Archie Kao, Abhi Sinha, Manny Montana, Liang Shi, Kan Mok, Kirt Kishita.

Michael Mann’s movies can sometimes suffer from impenetrable plotting, and indeed the plot of Blackhat is supremely complex, with a large cast of integral characters, yet I found it refreshingly lucid. It’s a technothriller in something approaching the William Gibson mode, although—as arguably befits a screen presentation—with the accent more on the thrill than (except perhaps visually) the techno. I gather this emphasis was even more exaggerated in the trailers, which portrayed Blackhat as essentially a hackneyed action movie; that marketing misstep has been blamed for the offering’s dire performance at the box office. For me, although I have some deep reservations about Blackhat (see below), I also found it compulsively watchable, as much because of its conceptual cleverness as anything else, shootemups and chases included.

Tang Wei as Lien

A hacker uses a type of code known as a remote access tool (RAT) to sabotage a nuclear power station in Hong Kong. Soon afterward, in the US, a variant of that same code is used to manipulate soy prices such that the hacker makes a hefty profit. The Chinese authorities, investigating the power-plant incident, put the matter in the hands of Captain Chen Dawai (Wang), a military cyberneticist who studied at MIT.

Dawai recognizes the basis of the code. He and his MIT roomie and best friend, Nick Hathaway (Hemsworth), devised it for fun many years ago. The hacker—the “blackhat”—must have found it online somewhere and downloaded it before adapting it for their own nefarious use.

Wang Leehom as Dawai

Dawai and Nick are thus the two ideally qualified individuals to spearhead the hunt for the malefactor. Trouble is, Nick’s serving a lengthy sentence for cybercrime . . .

You can guess the next bit. Dawai negotiates with the FBI’s Continue reading

Crush (2013)

US / 95 minutes / color / Intrepid Pictures, FilmNation Dir: Malik Bader Pr: Trevor Macy, Marc D. Evans Scr: Sonny Mallhi Cine: Scott Kevan Cast: Lucas Till, Crystal Reed, Sarah Bolger, Caitriona Balfe, Reid Ewing, Holt McCallany, DJ Kemp, Camille Guaty, Michael Landes, Isaiah Mustafa, Leigh Whannell, Ashleigh Craig, Cody Hamilton, Dan Metcalfe, Preston Davis, Mariah Buzolin, Melissa Young, Nikki SooHoo, Meredith Salenger.

A surprisingly neat little movie that hovers somewhere between dark comedy and twisty psychological thriller, with a bit of coming-of-age drama thrown in. The performances are uniformly very good to excellent; almost all of them manage to be convincing while at the same time retaining something of the tongue-in-cheek. I was expecting a ripoff of—sorry, homage to—The FAN (the 1996 piece, not the 1981 one), but what I saw was a far more original and certainly far more entertaining movie than that.

By way of prologue, we see a little girl (Craig) and a little boy (Hamilton) sitting on a high roof. When the little boy admits with a chuckle that “I kissed Emily,” his companion hisses, “You kissed the wrong girl” . . . and shoves him off the roof to his death. And she does this so sweetly you just know no one will ever believe it was anything other than a tragic accident.

Ashleigh Craig as the junior psycho.

Cut forward a decade or more, and Continue reading

Stolen (2009)

vt Stolen Lives
US / 91 minutes / color / A2, Code, Arclight, IFC Dir: Anders Anderson Pr: Al Corley, Bart Rosenblatt, Eugene Musso, Anders Anderson, Andy Steinman Scr: Glenn Taranto Cine: Andy Steinman Cast: Jon Hamm, Josh Lucas, Rhona Mitra, James Van Der Beek, Jessica Chastain, Joanna Cassidy, Jimmy Bennett, Morena Baccarin, Michael Cudlitz, Andy Milder, Holt McCallany, Marcus Thomas, Ty Panitz, Kali Rocha, Beth Grant.

Stolen 2009 6 - aged childkiller Bert Rogianni

Eight years ago, while cop Tom Adkins (Hamm) briefly visited the restroom, his 10-year-old son Tommy Jr (Panitz) disappeared from the diner where they’d been eating, never to be seen again; he’s convinced Tommy Jr was murdered by a man called Bert Rogianni, who has recently been sentenced for two other child abductions/murders but staunchly denies having killed Tom’s son.

Stolen 2009 1 - Tommy Jr's room, kept as he left it

Tommy Jr’s room is kept just as he left it.

When a call comes that the skeleton of a child has been discovered buried in a box at a construction site, Tom and his wife Barbara (Mitra) assume that at last Tommy Jr has been found. But Continue reading

Gangster Squad (2013)

US / 113 minutes / color / Village Roadshow, Lin, Kevin McCormick, Warner Dir: Ruben Fleischer Pr: Dan Lin, Kevin McCormick, Michael Tadross Scr: Will Beall Story: Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles (2012) by Paul Lieberman Cine: Dion Beebe Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña, Mireille Enos, Troy Garity, Holt McCallany, Sullivan Stapleton, James Carpinello, James Hèbert, Evan Jones, Josh Pence, John Aylward, Jack Conley, Jack McGee, Jon Polito, Yvette Tucker, Ambyr Childers.

Gangster Squad - 4 shock headlines

The opening credits announce that this is based on a true story but, despite the occasional character being based with extraordinary looseness on a genuine historical personage and the LAPD indeed once having had a Gangster Squad (though founded in 1946 rather than 1949 and structurally nothing like this one), the movie is essentially an attempt to adapt the gangster movie into the style of sci-fi shootemups like The Terminator (1984) and its legion of successors. There are also thematic resemblances to pieces like Shichinin no Samurai (1954; vt Seven Samurai), The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Dirty Dozen (1967), in that a small, off-the-books group of (effectively) guerrillas topples a mighty criminal enterprise.

Gangster Squad - 1 Cohen's moll Grace (Emma Stone)

Cohen’s moll Grace (Emma Stone) is open to persuasion to seek comfort elsewhere.

Gangster Mickey Cohen (Penn) has effectively taken over LA and its environs, with half the cops in his pocket, including some high-ranking officers as well as at least one judge, Judge Carter (Aylward). WWII veteran John O’Mara (Brolin), now an LAPD sergeant, spots one of Cohen’s men, Mitch Racine (Hèbert), inveigling a pretty newcomer to Hollywood (Childers) back to a hotel for a gang rape; O’Mara very violently busts the joint open and Continue reading