This Weekend, See ‘Sniper,’ Skip ‘Blackhat’

My fellow moviegoers, is there anything more depressing than the fourth weekend in January when Hollywood inflicts its questionable choices upon us in a three-day period we’ll spend the rest of the year trying to forget?

Yes, this Friday brings us a disconcerting assortment of future Razzie nominees, including “Mortdecai,” “The Boy Next Door,” “Strange Magic” and “Spare Parts.”

My advice? Forget this weekend ever happened. Or take the opportunity to catch up on films you may have missed.

If you’re brave enough to venture forth on this, the worst moviegoing weekend of the year, I salute you and offer one film to avoid like the plague and another to warmly embrace.

Godspeed, my friends.

blackhat-movie-review-thor-loki

Blackhat
One and a half stars (out of four)
R (violence, language, and apparently the MPAA fell asleep during this movie because there’s a pretty obvious sexual situation, too)
133 minutes

You probably don’t need me to tell you not to bother with “Blackhat,” director Michael Mann’s cyberterrorism thriller.

According to Box Office Mojo, the film earned a paltry $3.8 million over opening weekend, making it the worst showing for Mann since 1986’s “Manhunter.” That’s also the one of the worst debuts of all time for a movie playing in more than 2,500 theaters.

Still, lest you be tempted to give it a shot …

Let’s start with the film’s star, Chris Hemsworth. The strapping, young lead of “Thor” and “The Avengers” is certainly an arresting presence, and 2013’s “Rush” proved he’s more than just a pretty face, capable of radiating cocky intelligence.

But I draw the line at “Blackhat’s” depiction of Hemsworth as Nick Hathaway, a rogue hacker doing hard time in a maximum security prison for past crimes. It’s beyond laughable that a dude who spends his waking hours in front of a computer screen would ever look as smolderingly sexy as Hathaway. It’s also highly unlikely he’d display the range of Jason Bourne-like skills he demonstrates throughout the film, including expertly firing a handgun in an insane shootout and infiltrating the site of a nuclear meltdown.

Sadly, the blatant miscasting of Hemsworth and the increasingly ridiculous situations he finds himself in are just two of the movie’s flaws. The film gets off to an excruciatingly slow start and its stakes are too vaguely defined for us to care much whether Hathaway succeeds in stopping a presumed cyberterrorist before he strikes again, creating international havoc.

Mann spends too much time on a completely unconvincing romance between Hathaway and the sister (Wei Tang) of a Chinese security expert (Leehom Wang) who happens to be the hacker’s former roommate. Meanwhile, more interesting characters languish in the background, like Viola Davis’ tenacious FBI agent.

As is his trademark, the director crafts several brutally kinetic action sequences, but on a visual level, “Blackhat” doesn’t rise to the gritty style befitting the helmer of “Collateral” and “Heat.” The movie is a letdown in almost every way possible.

AmericanSniper

American Sniper
Three stars (out of four)
R (strong and disturbing war violence, sexual references)
132 minutes

You probably don’t need me to tell you to see “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood’s biopic of Navy Seal and deadliest-sniper-in-history Chris Kyle.

The drama struck a chord with moviegoers nationwide, topping last weekend’s box office with a record-breaking $89.5 million. When I went to see it Monday, the house was packed, the audience remained in their seats through most of the end credits and a respectful hush fell over the crowd when they left the theater. Such a reverent response is a rare thing to witness at the local cineplex.

Perhaps the movie resonates because there have been few heroes celebrated in more than a decade of murky Middle Eastern wars. Eastwood’s take on Kyle’s life, deeds and philosophy has stirred controversy but the film is surprisingly complex, a celebration of heroism, yes, but one that acknowledges the shattered minds and bodies war leaves in its wake.

At the heart of the film’s success is a modest, truly magnificent performance by Bradley Cooper, portraying Kyle as a man of simple but strong convictions, a walking contradiction — a warrior ruthless and tender. Eastwood’s very first shot of Cooper isn’t subtle — he’s wearing a white cowboy hat — but it firmly establishes the character, a proud Texan who views the good and evil in this world in stark black and white.

There have been complaints that “American Sniper” glorifies an “unrepentant killer,” but Cooper has never been softer or more vulnerable than he is here, even as his burlier, hairier appearance makes him physically imposing in a way that’s startling. With his slick, shark-like charm, the actor isn’t known for disappearing into a role, but he does this time, powerfully channeling Kyle’s anguish at the disconnect between deployment and domesticity. This is by far the best performance in the career of an actor who has just begun to find his way, judging by his recent turns in “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.”

Some critics have faulted the film, and Eastwood, for declining to make a political statement about America’s messy involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but perhaps they’re missing the point. The director has always been adept at painting gripping portraits of men of violence. In “Sniper,” he delivers a series of graphic, suspenseful missions — some fictionalized — with considerable grit and technical prowess.

More compellingly, he engages in an unexpectedly bold and sensitive discussion of topics that remain largely out of sight and out of mind — things like PTSD and the suffering and neglect of wounded vets.

Is “American Sniper” a perfect film? No, but it is an important one.

Photos: wqyk.com, zdnet.com

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