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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Mann’
Sometimes clichés are clichés because they are true. No news is good news. A penny saved is a penny earned. Any publicity is good publicity.
No news is usually good news — unless you’re the editor of a newspaper with blank pages to fill — and the math behind a penny saved is a penny earned isn’t so hard to figure out, but recently the veracity of any publicity being good publicity has been put to the test.
The Sony hack and ensuing commotion that swirled around the Seth Rogen movie The Interview garnered headlines around the world, moving the story off the entertainment pages and into the news sections.
Stories, some true some not, and reviews, some good, some not, lit up social media.
The brouhaha surrounding the film lived at the very heart of popular culture for several weeks and even President Obama weighed in. But notwithstanding the endorsement of the most powerful film critic in the world, the movie is unlikely to actually make money.
The Guardian suggests The Interview’s total cost sits somewhere near $80 million in production and marketing costs, and at the time of this writing has only earned $36 million in digital rentals, purchases and traditional theatrical receipts. The Guardian also says Sony could be facing “damage north of $1 billion by some estimates” as a result of the hack.
So, if this was all a massive publicity stunt, as asserted by certain outspoken twitterratti, it was a marketing failure of Titanic proportions and it could even hurt the box office of other films.
This weekend Blackhat stars Chris Hemsworth as the world’s best-looking computer hacker, now serving a 15-year sentence for internet crime.
Authorities give him a get-out-of-jail-free card because he’s the only computer whiz on earth geekified enough to stop a cyber terrorist from causing havoc.
You might think a hacking movie would be perfectly timed to take advantage of the hoopla surrounding the Sony situation and yet Universal made no attempt to connect the dots between real-life events and their movie.
Why? The New York Times, quoting unnamed sources, opined that “ticket buyers could be tired of hacking stories after weeks of media attention on Sony, and a film that is too topical might strike potential viewers as less entertaining.”
Perhaps Universal’s decision not to cash in on the publicity generated by real life events reveals there is no room for current events in a marketplace where two of the top 10 grossing movies of 2014 were based on toy lines (the rest were inspired by novels and comic books) or maybe that sound we hear is the swoosh of an old cliché swirling down the bowl.
In computer hacker lingo the term “blackhat” refers to someone who violates computer or Internet security for illegal personal gain. It’s a riff on the old school nickname for a bad guy and it’s also the name of a new moody Michael Mann film about cyber terrorism.
I’ll add that if Mann keeps making movies this lazy, he’s the one who should be wearing the black hat.
When we first meet Nicholas Hathaway (People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Chris Hemsworth), he’s the world’s best-looking hacker, serving a thirteen-year sentence for launching a cyber attack on a bank and making off with forty six million dollars.
When a Chinese nuclear plant is sabotaged and world financial markets are tampered with authorities give Hathaway a get-out-of-jail-free card because he’s the only computer whiz on earth geekified enough to stop a cyber terrorist from causing havoc.
The terrorist is an enigma who doesn’t ask for ransom or make a political statement. “What does this guy want?” asks Hathaway.
To find out he leads FBI agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis), Chinese government General Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) and Chen’s beautiful hacker sister Lien (Wei Tang) on a journey from America to Hong Kong and Jakarta in an effort to bring the terrorist to justice.
Cyber crime is a hot button topic these days, but it doesn’t make for great storytelling. Scenes of Hathaway hunched over a laptop, tapping away on a keyboard, while delivering crucial story points aren’t terribly interesting. Mann tries to jazz things up with the hacker genre cliché of having the camera pierce the computer screen and race along a series of wires and onto the information highway like Bruce Springsteen speeding down Thunder Road in a stolen ’57 Cadillac. It’s a hack move in a hacking movie and he does it repeatedly.
The movie fares better when it moves away from the computer, but even then there are plot twists that require a suspension of disbelief that no amount of jiggling the cord can fix. Hathaway pieces together the villain’s elaborate scheme in one fell swoop and tops it off with the film’s only (and unintentionally) funny line. It is ridiculous but not nearly as silly as the MacGyverish finale that is as old school as the idea of cyber terrorism is new school.
Mann can stage a heart pounding action scene, and pulls off a couple of them here that spice things up when the movie starts to run a bit slow, but at 133 minutes the whole movie feels in need of a reboot.
First here’s all the stuff from the Miami Vice television show that you won’t see or hear in the movie version: pastel jackets with t-shirts underneath, Elvis the alligator, Jan Hammer’s distinctive theme song, or Phil Collins. In short, all of the stuff that made the “MTV cop” show a hit.
This isn’t your Dad’s Miami Vice. Director Michael Mann, who created, executive produced, wrote and directed the original series has turfed everything except the two main characters in his attempt to update the 1980s classic for the big screen. Sonny Crockett, now played by Colin Farrell still hasn’t figured out how to use a razor, but aside from that it’s a whole new game. In fact, only about half the movie actually takes place in Miami.
In Mann’s new version of Miami it’s always night and danger seems to lurk around every corner. Shooting in grainy digital video, the director transforms the Sunshine State’s biggest city into a menacing paradise where both life and drugs are cheap. It is a world where the good guys don’t always win and the bad guys don’t completely lose.
Mann has loosely based the film on one of the television show’s most famous episodes, Smuggler’s Blues. The story begins with a sting operation gone bad which costs two federal agents their lives. It appears there’s an information leak in either the FBI or DEA or ATF and it’s up to Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) to put a plug in it. Working deep undercover, posing as drug transporters they begin by infiltrating the network of a mid-level trafficker called Yero. Yero will be able to hook them up with the drug kingpin, Montoya, and from there they should be able to bring down his entire empire.
It’s not exactly the most original story we’ve seen at the movies this year, but the beauty is in the telling of the story, not the story itself. Mann has a way with this kind of material. Miami Vice, like his best work in the crime genre—movies like Thief and Heat—is dripping with cool atmosphere, enough to make up for the by-the-book story.
Less successful is the casting. Jamie Foxx and Mann have worked together three times now—on Ali, Collateral, which nabbed an Oscar nomination for Foxx—but this has to be their least inspiring outing. Foxx and Farrell don’t seem to have much chemistry, which is crucial to their roles as partners who would do anything for one another, but worse than that, Foxx isn’t given much to do. The character of Tubbs is so stoic and no nonsense that all he is required to do is stand there and look good. He does that well, but it feels like he is holding back.
Not so for Farrell who gives a performance of mock seriousness that sometimes borders on camp. He barks his tough-guy lines in a way that would knock the pastel off the original Crockett, Don Johnson. Johnson’s Crockett was unhappy and angry, but in the movie seems to have turned his life around. Now he’s angry and unhappy.
Miami Vice on the big screen isn’t a remake of the television series; it’s more than that. It’s the maturation of it. Mann has made a demanding but interesting film that reflects where he is now, not where he was when he created the television series.
Mohammed Ali is one of the most charismatic characters of the late 20th Century, and turning his life story into a movie must have been a daunting task. Ali was (and remains) a complicated man. He was the people’s champion, who thought that African-American women who dated white men should be killed. He was an American hero who refused to fight in Vietnam. He was a devout Muslim who cheated on his wives at every opportunity. In short a fascinating, thorny force of nature who declared himself to be “The Greatest.” Director Michael Mann eschews regular storytelling tricks, opting for an impressionistic take on the material. Images fly past the viewer, moving the story along, but more importantly imprinting a sense of time and place that is palatable. Will Smith is up to the job of playing the champ in the charisma department, although lacks the stature to be completely believable as a heavy-weight boxer. All in all Ali is a fitting and largely unsentimental tribute to a man who lived his life in the public arena.