Sunday, 25 September 2016

Film review: Blackhat, Michael Mann (2015)

There's an artist in the UK called Jim'll Paint It who uses Microsoft Paint to create affectionately absurd and frequently nightmarish renderings of scenes suggested by his fans, like "Zippy from Rainbow as John Hurt in Alien being held down as a human hand bursts through his stomach":

I mention this not only because it's utterly brilliant but also because, with a little help from this retrospective on Miami Vice by Stephen Hyden, I've realised that it provides a good way of illustrating how best to enjoy Blackhat, the 2015 hacker thriller from director Michael Mann.

Hyden says of Miami Vice that "the plot [...] matters less than how it looks and feels", and although I think Miami Vice is still a pretty terrible film, I also think Hyden's observation works perfectly for Blackhat.

Blackhat is about a hacker who gets let loose from jail so that he can help the US and Chinese governments track down a nastier hacker who caused a nuclear power station to go into meltdown. The good(ish) hacker is played by Chris Hemsworth, the same actor who plays Thor in those superhero films. Yes, really.

And despite his character's primary skills being by nature best deployed at a distance and distinctly non-physical, Hemsworth is soon gallivanting off to China and Malaysia, throwing tables at people and using screwdrivers for things other than upgrading his motherboard.

There's also a love interest, who's supposed to be a network engineer. This mostly involves caressing Hemsworth's forearms.

But none of this matters. What matters is that, as in two of Mann's masterpieces, Heat and Collateral, Mann has a reason for pointing his lens at things and making them beautiful. In this case those things include the interior of a Korean restaurant, the skeleton of a half-built skyscraper, bullet-riddled shipping containers and the control room of a decaying nuclear reactor.

Mann shoots cities, and people interacting with cities, better than anybody else around. Way better.

And so it doesn't matter how improbable it is that Thor-as-freed-from-prison-kickass-hacker would be sent into a still-hot reactor core to physically wrench out a hard drive while the walls crumble around him. What matters is that it gives Mann an excuse to shoot Hemsworth in a lime-green radiation suit smashing the place up with an axe (see one minute forty for a brief flash):

Just like Jim'll Paint It cramming Zippy, Kermit and Sooty into a reimagining of the Alien chestbuster scene, Blackhat takes a mountain of improbables and uses them as the anything-goes basis for creating something almost unbearably gorgeous. It's a work of art.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

This week's best reads #3

Italy's  anti-establisment - or is he? - PM Matteo Renzi profiled in Vogue:

"We sat with our coffees under the gaze of a stuffed owl Renzi placed on a marble end table to remind himself that his many enemies are always watching. Renzi has no shortage of them."

Ross Douthat for the NYT on how blanket cultural liberalism is affecting US politics:

"Among millennials, especially, there’s a growing constituency for whom right-wing ideas are so alien or triggering, left-wing orthodoxy so pervasive and unquestioned, that supporting a candidate like Hillary Clinton looks like a needless form of compromise."

Peter Beinart for The Atlantic on how American news is finally calling bullshit:

"Last Saturday, The New York Times published an extraordinary story. What made the story extraordinary wasn’t the event the Times covered. What made it extraordinary was the way the Times covered it."

The FT on how Swiss relations with Brussels affect the UK and vice-versa:

"Mr Blocher has suggested blocking access to the new 57km rail tunnel under the Gotthard mountain — the longest in the world — if its dispute with Brussels escalates."

Alfie Brown for LSE on how a new book on Dennis Hopper goes straight for what really matters:

"French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan started his project from the central belief that the discourses of structuralism and other philosophical models had always failed to account for one thing: enjoyment."

Hitchhiker "goes Berserk" after four days without a lift:

“He was a spoilt millennial, and he created a hell of a din. But all that time he was standing in the wrong place to hitchhike – a corner with poor visibility and nowhere for cars to easily pull over.”