Blackhat – The Review

Contains possible spoilers

Cyber thrillers can fall flat if they slip into the realms of cliche, but thankfully Blackhat gets the cardinal sin out the way early: assorted close up tracking shots of data transfer through chips and microscopic tech landscapes.

Chris Hemsworth is terrific as Nicholas Hathaway, the ace hacker released from prison to help the US government find the villain responsible for a nuclear power plant meltdown in Hong Kong.
Chicago’s Mercantile Trade Exchange is also hacked, causing soy futures to soar. Okay, less urgent but relevant to the plot, which was reminiscent of 007 epic A View To A Kill.

With the aid of Nicholas’s old mate, Captain Chen Dawai, a military officer in China’s cyber warfare unit, and his sister Lien, they set off with Hathaway to find their man.

Hathaway is the world’s least likely hacker seeing as he looks like a Norse god, but it scarcely matters; viewers will be just itching for the moment he beats up a bunch of assailants in a restaurant.

The first act is nothing special as director Michael Mann sets out his stall and lets his tale unfold.

Viola Davis is terrific as FBI Agent Carol Barrett, the figure of authority keeping an eye on Hathaway and slowly developing respect for him. (There’s a back story about 9/11 shoehorned in to give her a little depth, but she does rather well in a generic role).

Tang Wei, who plays our hero’s love interest, is good not great. I’d have preferred Maggie Q or Gong Li in the role, but she looks nice, while the action scenes are okay.
A shootout at a dockside dragged on a bit, but thankfully not as long as the one in Michael Mann’s Heat.

That’s the last time I sat through a Mann movie at the cinema, 20 years ago, and given his hit-and-miss output, I’ve not been desperate to soak up his big screen output.
(For me he peaked with 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans, but this is possibly his best work since then).

It’s not perfect. There was some confusion over a character’s death in the second act, possibly intentional, and an incendiary scene was framed like many exploding car shots: long shot, characters on the left, vehicle on the right. Boom. Textbook.

Just once I’d like to see a car explode behind characters, instead of it being framed to capture the hard work of the pyro experts.
There’s also a scene when Hathaway makes his way through a procession with gun drawn, and nobody bats an eyelid. Personally I’d have run a mile.

Blackhat is not the best thriller of the past 12 months, but it ticks over nicely and sustains the interest. However, without Hemsworth dominating every scene, it would have been a weak rejig of Swordfish.

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20 Thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey

The Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation was bound to generate a lot of controversy. If you’ve seen the film or don’t want to read any potential spoilers, then perhaps best go somewhere else. For those that have seen the movie, or just don’t care, here are some of my observations on the most talked about film of the year.

  • One: The amazing Rita Ora is sadly barely in it. She has about two lines, and the second one was unintelligible.
  • Two: Jamie Dornan (Grey) looks a lot like Andrew Garfield. Take note casting agents looking for a new Spidey.
  • Three: It reminded me of The Thomas Crown Affair remake, a game of sexual cat and mouse complete with dreamy glider sequence.
  • Four: I wished Anastasia had become more prepared for that interview in the first few minutes. Yes, she might have been filling in for a friend, but her lack of preparation really bugged me. Imagine Mark Addy commenting on Jennifer (Flashdance) Beals’ welding in The Full Monty and you get the idea of how I felt.
  • Five: Part of the interview reminded me of Superman: The Movie. If Christian had picked Anastasia up and flown off into the sky it would not have surprised me.
  • Six: This is probably the raunchiest A list movie to be seen on the big screen since Basic Instinct in 1992. It also has the same effect of scoffing a chilli.
  • Seven: That soundtrack is fabulous. The OST is bound to shift millions of units in the coming weeks, though if someone has an idea how to get Ellie Goulding’s track out of my head I’m all ears.
  • Eight: The NHS had better be ready for a baby boom in November. It’s that sort of a movie.
  • Nine: There’s no end of visual double entendres. Such as Christian Grey has got an amazing chopper. The fact he can fly himself is an added bonus.
  • 10: I guarantee millions will a) like the wallpaper (with a caged bird) in Anastasia’s ‘Recovery’ room; b) wonder if they sell it in Next and c) if it’s cheaper online.
  • 11) Why does Christian get rid of Anastasia’s Volkswagen Beetle and replace it with a really dull generic car? Is it because he is such a controlling freak, or does he have no sense for quirky cars that reflect a woman’s individuality?
  • 12) It’s based on Twilight fan fiction, which you probably already knew, but did you know that when Christian taps Anastasia on her derriere, it seems she has an internal buttock speaker that activates Beyonce? Technology these days!
  • 13) That ending will leave a lot of cinemagoers tutting into their popcorn as they realise they have to wait an age for the inevitable sequel. And no doubt the final book will be split into two so that filmmakers can generate even more cash.
  • 14) That ending also might have been better with the EastEnders drumbeats.
  • 15) The scene where Anastasia goes through Grey’s complicated contract would have been a lot less interesting if it was the iTunes agreement for her new Mac.
  • 16) The film is surprisingly funny. However, it might have been a lot funnier with the Benny Hill theme played over the top.
  • 17) The row of girls in front of me who thought it was fine to spend half the movie on Facebook really bugged me.
  • 18) QR codes are really handy for getting into a screen without having to mention the film’s name to the attendant.
  • 19) Callum Keith Rennie (Anastasia’s dad) wouldn’t tell me a thing about the movie when I interviewed him last year. Fair enough. He has one scene at a party in case you’re interested. Never has such a dull aspect about an actor’s role in a film been so closely guarded.
  • 20) Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but Anastasia almost being knocked down by a literally vicious cycle marks the beginning of another personal one.
    This is also one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes in the film. It’s up there with Anakin’s seduction of Amidala in Attack of the Clones, but thankfully there is no cheesy dialogue about how Christian doesn’t like sand because it’s coarse. Though given his predilections he probably loves sandpaper, and luckily for him Anastasia works in a hardware store. I wonder if he bothers with a Nectar card?

50 Shades of Grey: The review

So that was the most talked about adult film of the year then, a long awaited version of the EL James best seller – S&M for the M&S market. (I imagine a few of their brass curtain rings and drape ties will fly off the shelves in the coming weeks.)

Of course Marks’s has nothing to do with the most designer dodgy movie since Mickey Rourke spent Nine-and-a-half weeks with Kim Basinger in the mid-1980s.

Instead we have assorted nice cars, aircraft and interesting hardware used in Christian Grey’s seduction game.
Back in the 1970s, this sort of movie was reserved for the dirty mac brigade. Now it’s more for Apple Mac aficionados.

50 Shades could have been one long designer advert with kinky bits, but like Fatal Attraction, this has more substance.
I’ve read a chapter of the book (couldn’t cope with any more of that awful dialogue), but thought the movie was solidly made and well cast (though Michael Fassbender would have been a better Grey).

However, newcomer Dakota Johnson is terrific as Anastasia Steele; her character’s journey from virginal English literature student to experimental submissive is a curious one spiked with lashings of humour; her giggles lighten the mood in all the right places, and when she does get her kit off she thankfully doesn’t look like a supermodel or a gym-obsessed narcissist with rock hard abs.

Admittedly after the third time she was sans kit I did get the urge to yell: “Put some clothes on love, you’ll catch your death”; I’m of that age when protecting your kidneys from chills takes precedence over eroticism.
Of course purists are bound to pick apart differences between the book and movie. As an outsider, 50 Shades was great entertainment which ticked the most important box for any movie: it had the courage of its own convictions.

It was also good to see an innocent female protagonist who thankfully wasn’t exploited in such a ’twilight’* world; she turned out to be Grey’s sexual equal.
Steele may have spent part of the movie tied up, but Anastasia was far more in control than her emotionally scarred tycoon boyfriend.
(He might be a kinky fetishist but he’s also gallant enough to hold a girl’s hair back when she’s throwing up on his designer shoes).

We’ve seen plenty of Young Adult franchises started in recent years, so good to see an adult literary saga make the successful transfer to the big screen and leave the viewer wanting more.
Hopefully the inevitable follow ups will be as edgy and entertaining.

20 Thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey
One: the amazing Rita Ora is sadly barely in it. She has about two lines, and the second one was indistinguishable.

Two: Jamie Dornan (Grey) looks a lot like Andrew Garfield. Take note casting agents looking for a new Spidey.

Three: It reminded me of The Thomas Crown Affair remake, a game of sexual cat and mouse complete with dreamy glider sequence.

Four: I wished Anastasia had become more prepared for that interview in the first few minutes. Yes, she might have been filling in for a friend, but her lack of preparation really bugged me.

Five: Part of the interview reminded me of Superman: The Movie. If Christian had picked Anastasia up and flown off into the sky it would not have surprised me.

Six: This is probably the raunchiest A list movie to be seen on the big screen since Basic Instinct in 1992. It also has the same effect of scoffing a chilli.
Seven: The soundtrack is fabulous. The OST is bound to shift millions of units in the coming weeks.

Eight: The NHS had better be ready for a baby boom in November. It’s that sort of a movie.

Nine: There is no end of double entendres. Such as Christian Grey has got an amazing chopper. The fact he can fly himself is an added bonus.

10: I guarantee millions will a) like the wallpaper (with a caged bird) in Anastasia’s room; b) wonder if they sell it in Next and c) if it’s cheaper online.

11) Why does Christian Grey get rid of Anastasia’s Volkswagen Beetle and replace it with a really dull generic car?

12) *It’s based on Twilight fan fiction.

13) That ending will leave a lots of cinemagoers tutting into their popcorn as they realise they have to wait an age for the inevitable sequel.

14) That ending also might have been better with the EastEnders drumbeats.

15) The scene where Anastasia goes through Grey’s complicated contract would have been a lot less interesting if it was the iTunes agreement for her new Mac.

16) The film is surprisingly funny. However, it might have been a a lot funnier with the Benny Hill theme played over the top.

17) The row of girls in front of me who thought it was fine to spend half the movie on Facebook really bugged me.

18) QR codes are really handy for getting into a screen without having to mention the film’s name to the attendant.

19) Callum Keith Rennie (Anastasia’s dad) wouldn’t tell me a thing about the movie when I interviewed him last year. Fair enough. He has one scene at a party in case you’re interested.

20) Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but Anastasia almost being knocked down by a literally vicious cycle marks the beginning of another personal one.

Jupiter Ascending – The Review

Popular culture has taught us many things about right and wrong over the years. We have learned that Bucks Fizz’s camera never lies, and neither do Shakira’s hips. Now, thanks to the glorious bonkersness that is Jupiter Ascending and Sean Bean, we discover that bees never lie either.

The latest movie from the Wachowski siblings is full of amazing lines such as that. Sadly, it is also full of absolute clunkers. If the talented double act need anything it’s a good script editor, but it seems they are the only two people in this multi million dollar production who had any idea of what was going on.

This in a nutshell is the plot: Mila Kunis is a drop dead gorgeous half Russian/Chicago cleaner. One day, her friend with rock hard abs who likes to parade around in her underwear is assaulted by diaphanous aliens.
Mila, a.k.a. the brilliantly named Jupiter Jones, takes a photo, but the split second she has she completely forgets all about it. We the audience are left wondering why she’s not reacted at all.

Her scumbag relative wants her eggs harvested so he can make money, and is gracious enough that she gets a lesser cut.
Jupiter wants to buy a telescope that her dad had once owned, before he is shot dead by muggers.

So she agrees to her relative’s idea and goes in to have the operation.
However, the doctors carrying out the procedure are actually aliens in disguise. But before they can execute their nefarious plans, half dog man Channing Tatum flies in on jet boots and defeats them. I am not making this up.

Then, in a scene reminiscent of the first Terminator movie, Tatum explains the bulk of the plot to an understandably bemused Jupiter.

Mila spends a lot of this movie in that state. Many people would probably be gobsmacked, screaming at the top of their lungs, or just in denial about the whole extraordinary enterprise. However, Kunis looks like she’s watching a magician who has just pulled a rabbit out of a hat, something she has probably seen 100 times before.

They go off to see Stinger (Sean Bean adding necessary gravitas to the movie).
Because bees never lie, we realise that Mila/Jupiter is a queen destined for great things.
In the hour or so that follows, Eddie Redmayne pops up as a posh intergalactic member of some royal dynasty… or something.

As this is a Wachowski siblings movie, it turns out that a malevolent race are obsessed once more with harvesting humans for their own ends. Talk about The Matrix… Reloaded.

The last time I saw Redmayne on screen was a few weeks earlier in The Theory of Everything, a movie that upset and affected me so much I could barely speak for the first 10 minutes afterwards. I really couldn’t believe this is the same actor.
His performance as Stephen Hawking was one of the most stunning turns I’ve ever seen. Here he delivers a massive ham and cheese sandwich of a performance with extra filling, while egg drips from his face.

For the most part, Jupiter Ascending is a lot of fun and a feast for the eyes; Michael Giacchino’s bombastic score accentuates the action, and the special effects are often superb.
I could have done with out the obvious homage to Terry Gilliam‘s Brazil. It’s no coincidence that he appears in a cameo; the filmmakers also reference Central Services – the company at the heart of his movie, as well as the integral 27B/6 form.

I could have also done with out the animal human hybrids such as the space pilot with the head of an elephant and lizard men who look like refugees from the Super Mario Bros movie.

I’d be amazed if this didn’t feature heavily in the next Razzie awards. The scene in the finale where a key character’s wings unfurl is one of the most laughable I’ve witnessed in a major film over the past 12 months.
However, the filmmakers deserve full marks for effort, even though the result was flawed.

I would have also changed that title to Jupiter Descending (and Asking Lots of Questions) as Mila spends most of the time screaming in freefall.

Kingsman: The Secret Service – The review

A few months ago I was on the set of a low budget British movie called Slapper and Me. Wandering around the soundstages was a young actor with the air of someone who was destined for great things. He looked like the sort of bloke breathing rarefied air.
After looking at his CV on IMDb, I saw he was set to appear in the new film from Mathew Vaughn and was intrigued.
Fast forward to now, and we have one of the most audacious British movies seen in many a year.
Thrilling fight scenes, dapper secret agents, gadgets galore and some of the filthiest dialogue to ever grace a Bond-inspired movie.
Welcome to Kingsman: The Secret Service, Vaughn’s splendid homage to classic gentleman spy capers such as John Steed’s Avengers, 007 and assorted other genre classics.
Colin Firth is a perfect fit as Harry Hart, the agent who owes a debt to his dead colleague.
So after paying his widow (Samantha Womack) a visit, years later, grown up tearaway ’Eggsy’ (Taron Egerton) calls in Hart’s debt; he gets Eggsy out of prison after a joy riding incident.
Every Bond-inspired fantasy adventure needs a megalomaniac ready to take over the world, and a lisping Samuel L Jackson clearly has a great time as the obligatory bad guy.
With his slinky female sidekick, and her lethal artificial feet, the duo are a formidable match for Hart and Eggsy as they plan a global cull via Sim cards.
The first half of the movie feels like Vaughn’s previous hit, X-Men: First Class. Training exercises to get the young protagonists up to speed, followed by a do-or-die mission in which they get to execute said skills.
But there are also standout set pieces that linger in the mind long after the closing credits have rolled. In this case there is a scene in a church that has to be seen to be believed.
Harry Hart’s assault on the congregation makes it one of the most jawdropping scenes of recent years, while you’ll never hear Lyrnrd Skynyrd’s Freebird in the same way again.
Then there is that thrilling finale. It clearly owes a debt more to Austin Powers or Keith Lemon rather than any Ian Fleming creation.
There are no Bond-style double entendres here. Vaughan and cowriter Jane Goldman set their juvenile stall out amid brilliant flashing lights just in case you didn’t get the innuendo.
Co-star Michael Caine clearly had it written into his contract that he could play the whole movie sat down, while there is good support from Mark Strong, Mark Hamill and Jack Davenport among others.
Halfway through Kingsman, I was having such a good time I thought I could watch this again. And although I probably would have changed that final derriere-centric scene, this is great entertainment made by a team at the top of their game.
It might not be by Royal approval, but judging by the fact my screening was almost sold out, I imagine it will go down a storm with the masses, even if some do come out shocked.

General Chaos, Ginger Cats And Gone Girl’s Emily Ratajkowski

So it’s a typical Tuesday morning. There’s a light frosting of snow on the ground, I’ve got an interview with one of the world’s most famous models in a few minutes. Having Dysoned up the telephone lead a few weeks ago, now it chooses the moment not to work.

I think wrapping tape around the damaged lead will do the trick, but it seems to just want to tease me, going off and on again.

The massive pack of batteries I bought for my dictaphone the other week, having been present in the drawer for as long as I can remember, has now done a vanishing act worthy of David Blaine.

Oh, and on top of all that, the cheeky ginger cat who regularly decides to break into my house has done so, and has brought most of my fridge top contents crashing down.

If wonderful things come from chaos, then this should be one of the greatest interviews of all time.

Thankfully, when my mobile finally rings and I manage to tread gingerly over the ginger cat – a lot more lively than the one in Gone Girl apparently – and the various power leads, and grab my iPad where I’d written a load of notes, normality is restored.

The interview goes off remarkably well. Ginger cat has vanished, my two dictaphones last the duration of our chat, there is no sudden knock at the door, earthquake, or emergency that interrupts my few minutes with Emily Ratajkowski.

I am one of the last people in the world, 67 million and counting, that saw her performance in the Robin Thicke video for blurred lines.

#controversial

Having just watched it, as research you understand, I can see why Ben Affleck thought she would be perfect for a role in Gone Girl, one of director David Fincher’s most financially successful films.

I’m not going to tell you who she portrays, in case you’ve not seen the film or read the internationally successful bestseller by Gillian Flynn. Safe to say she’s an integral part in the story.

It’s a few months since I first saw the movie, and because of the nature of the story, it’s one of those movies that deserves a second look so you can see it in a different context.

An added bonus on the Blu-ray special edition, aside from insightful commentary by Fincher, is a copy of Amazing Amy, One of the kids’ storybooks at the heart of the movie.
It’s one of the strangest marketing additions to any Blu-ray I’ve seen in recent years. An accompanying book on a 18 certificate movie seemingly targeted at a five-year-old.
A little like buying a copy of Child’s Play, the classic 1980s horror film, and getting a free Chucky doll your kids can play with while you’re being scared silly.

In case you didn’t know it, Ms Ratajkowski is one of the hottest actresses of her generation right now. Go into any newsagent around the UK and chances are you’ll see her staring back from one of the leading lads’ mags.

In person, she turns out to be far more than just a pretty face. Eloquent, smart, and clearly committed to her craft, it’s little wonder Fincher had nothing but good things to say about her during his commentary.

On a second viewing, Gone Girl is every bit as good as the first. Now seeing it in context, it’s a thriller that grabs from the word go and keeps you hooked until that OTT finale.

Ben Affleck treads the crucial tightrope needed so you’re not sure which side your fidelity falls on, while Rosamund Pike is splendid as his glacially beautiful wife, the eponymous victim at the heart of the story.
Recommended viewing.

:: Gone Girl is out now on BluRay, DVD and Digital HD.