FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #79 – “Everest” (dir. Baltasar Kormákur)

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel climb the mountain of conflict as they bicker on how well Everest stacks up to its IMAX and geographical namesakes. Strap on your oxygen tanks and tune in – your survival may depend on it! (37:05)

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 6/10 (Daniel); 7.5/10 (Glenn)

Show notes:

  • Music for tonight’s episode is “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow, from the film’s soundtrack.
  • The fact-checking website we referred to is known as History vs. Hollywood, and features quite an impressive entry on this film.
  • The world record holder for summitting Mount Everest the most times is Apa Sherpa, at 21 times. We were definitely talking out of our butts a bit on this subject – check out a complete list of the records on Wikipedia.
  • A helicopter has indeed landed on the summit of Mt. Everest – on May 14, 2005, French pilot Didier Delsalle landed an AStar helicopter at the summit, and remained there for approximately 4 minutes before taking off again. The helicopter had several unnecessary items (such as passenger seats) removed to reduce weight, but was otherwise just a stock AStar model. You can view video of this world record landing here. The search result page that contains that video has quite an impressive array of high-altitude rescue landings, and confirm that this film portrayed such flights with an impressive degree of realism.
  • CORRECTION: We conflated a pair of related conditions – high-altitude hypoxia, and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), both physiological effects of high altitude and failure to acclimatize, but with different effects.
  • CORRECTION: We referred to a USAF helicopter crashing on Mt. Baker during a rescue – the incident actually occurred on Mt. Hood, and was televised live throughout the region. Video is available here. While several climbers were killed from the initial fall into a crevasse which had prompted the rescue, none of the helicopter’s five crewmembers died in the crash.

Listen above, or download: Everest (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

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FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #78 – “The Visit” (dir. M. Night Shyamalan)

Poster for "The Visit"

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel reflect on another mediocre genre thriller. That’s three times in a row I’ve used that first sentence. M. Night Shyamalan‘s The Visit may be regarded as a return to form for the director, but the “found footage” form is one that systematically works against his previous strengths. (25:16).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 4 out of 10

Show notes:

  • Music for tonight’s episode is “Everyday” by Buddy Holly, a cover version of which appears in the film’s trailer.
  • Regarding The Happening, the insect-suicide inducing parasite that we referred to was actually a confusion of two different ones. The first is a fungus called Dicrocoelium dendriticum, which triggers an ant (by way of vomit from a land snail!) to crawl up to the top of a stalk of grass at night, in order for it to be eaten by a cow. The other is Schistocephalus solidus which is even more sinister – this one triggers a stickleback fish to seek out warmer waters so it will grow bigger, then become bolder and more solitary so it will be eaten by a sea-bird. io9 has a good round-up of these and ten other parasites that effectively zombify their hosts. Sweet dreams!

Listen above, or download: The Visit (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #77 – “The Transporter Refueled” (dir. Camille Delamarre)

Poster for "The Transporter Refueled"

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel reflect on another mediocre genre thriller. It’s pretty sad that I didn’t need to rewrite that first sentence. Ed Skrein and Ed Skrein’s Tough-Guy Voice star in an unnecessary reboot of the Transporter series. (32:42).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 3 out of 10

Show notes:

  • Music for tonight’s episode is the track “How You Like Me Now?” by The Heavy, from the film’s trailer. Again.
  • As we mentioned, check out the Planet Money podcast explaining why it felt so unrealistic to us to see money transfer quickly in this movie, and why it kinda works in Europe.
  • Here’s the door-kick fight-scene we referred to in the original film The Transporter (which was from 2002, not 2007). Man that movie was fun. Here’s another one!
  • Ed Skrein did indeed play Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones, until he was replaced by a nearly indistinguishable actor.
    Daario Naharis Comparison

Listen above, or download: The Transporter Refueled (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #75 – “Minions” (dir. Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin)

Poster for "Minions"

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel had an intense, lengthy, thematically trenchant discussion about Minions. Then some villainous hackers struck and we lost most of it. So here are some highlights! (03:03).

This show may contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: N/A

Show notes:

  • Music for tonight’s episode is “My Generation” by The Who.

Listen above, or download: Minions (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #70 – “Furious 7” (dir. James Wan)

Poster for "Furious 7"
This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel bid a fast and furious farewell to both Paul Walker and Justin Lin, bid a mostly positive hello to James Wan, and ponder the future of Hollywood’s biggest, dumbest action franchise that we just can’t get enough of (36:25).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 7.5 out of 10

Show notes:

  • Music for tonight’s episode is the film’s opening theme song, “Ride Out” by Kid Ink, Tyga, Wale, YG, and Rich Homie Quan.
  • CORRECTION (kinda): We referred, slightly critically, to the “artifice” of the cars-dropping-from-planes sequence. To be clear, whenever we actually see the actors in the cars, it’s clearly fake, composited from green-screen footage shot elsewhere. So this critique still seems fair, even if that’s also been true of many of the simpler street racing stunts throughout the franchise. But, as one of our astute listeners pointed out, the stunt team actually did jump cars with skydiving cameramen out of airplanes to get the footage. Check out the (pretty awesome) behind-the-scenes featurette here.
  • CORRECTION: Not for the first or last time, I mixed up the names of Luke Evans and Lucas Black. I regret nothing.
  • We referred to a video from The Onion that featured “the 5-year-old screenwriter of ‘Fast Five'” – it’s well worth a look. And Chris Morgan has actually written the last five Fast and Furious scripts – everything from “Tokyo Drift” on.
  • Um, it seems we didn’t mention Kurt Russell at all on this podcast. Just an observation.

Listen above, or download: Furious 7 (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #65 – “American Sniper” (dir. Clint Eastwood)

Poster for "American Sniper"

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel take on the challenge and controversy of American Sniper, the tale of SEAL Sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), and a film that is equal parts Iraq war diary and a powerful cultural artifact. And while the film only superficially reminded us of Act of Valor, much like that film, we were quite surprised which side we came down on (38:57).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 8 out of 10

Show notes:

  • Music for tonight’s episode is the track, “Full of Sound and Fury“, by Dean Valentine, from the film’s trailer.
  • We mentioned a few films by way of comparison – check out our podcast review of Act of Valor, as well as one of the earliest reviews on the site, for 2009’s The Hurt Locker.
  • CORRECTION: We briefly misstated Chris Kyle’s unofficial kill record as being “over 350”. According to multiple sources (as well as the film itself), the US Navy credits Kyle with 160 confirmed kills – meaning kills that were confirmed by a witness. The larger figure is 255 claimed/unconfirmed kills, with a few other sources listing vaguely higher numbers (“more than twice that”).

Listen above, or download: American Sniper (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” – A harbinger of doom for spy cinema

Poster for "Blackhat"

I must admit, when the FilmWonk Podcast reconvened after the New Year to review Inherent Vice, and I found myself uttering phrases like “trenchant statement on post-war masculinity,” I was a bit concerned that the wondrous, cinematic wasteland that is the first month of the year might fail to deliver its full measure of seasonal stupidity. Vice may have been a holdover from an awards-qualifying run in NY and LA, but it is still a January release, and January releases are supposed to be dumb and terrible.

On that count, Michael Mann‘s Blackhat did not disappoint – it is incredibly stupid at times. But what was truly baffling about this film was just how much it got right. Out of the gate, its treatment of 21st century hacking was pretty much spot-on. Screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl uses many real tricks – undiscovered (zero-day) exploits that abuse the autorun features of USB thumbdrives, attacks targeting industrial control systems that have the capability to both physically destroy their mechanized targets, and hide any sign of their malicious activity from safety monitoring software until the destruction can’t be stopped. All of these things are real (even if they tend to operate a bit more slowly and less publicly in real life) – and the irony of duplicating Stuxnet as a cinematic attack on both the US and China was not lost on me. And the film also remembers the best old tricks. Social engineering is by far the most resilient hack – the easiest way to get into a system in an unauthorized fashion is to convince a silly, flawed, Mark-1 human being to let you in.

But for all that it got right technologically, this film was an utter failure as a coherent piece of cinema. It attempted to apply a 20th century espionage formula to a 21st century technological crisis. As criminal superhacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) and his network engineer-cum-Bond girl, Lien Chen (Wei Tang), jaunt across the globe through multiple countries, physically chasing after a hacker who quite realistically operates from a single location behind seven proxies, my mind was abruptly drawn to the abysmal 2014 comedy, Sex Tape. Like that film, Blackhat never escapes the nonsensical logic of physically chasing errant data around the real world. But it might have worked, if only its every attempt to depict a realistic human interaction or relationship hadn’t fallen so flat.

Bless these actors, they tried hard to make this weak material work. Viola Davis steals the movie in several scenes as FBI supervisor Carol Barrett, but is criminally underused, and the film’s few attempts at humanizing her – as well as US Marshal Jessup (Holt McCallany) – were clunky in the moment, and embarrassing in retrospect. Even Hemsworth and Tang try their best to make their contrived romance succeed, and a few times, their half-decent chemistry almost makes it happen. But the worst thing about this romance is that it could easily have been buoyed with a single line of dialogue. Hathaway’s old friend from MIT, Chinese military cyber-commando Dawai Chen (Leehom Wang), is Lien’s brother, and is solely responsible for getting the two of them involved in the film. Rather than saddle Tang with awkward meet-cute lines, it would’ve been a simple enough matter to simply give the two of them some prior relationship. But the film seems content to let Hemsworth’s abs do the talking when it comes to the plausibility of their torrid affair, then proceeds to take it far too seriously.

Still from "Blackhat"

In fact, the film’s self-seriousness really becomes a problem as it becomes bizarrely, graphically violent. There are some well-choreographed sequences of hand-to-hand combat and marvelously staged gunfights in this film, each more out of place than the last. Hathaway inexplicably morphs from imprisoned hacker to improvisational super-soldier in minutes, dispatching enemies with chairs and tables, handguns, and prison-fu with alarming speed and capability. Meanwhile, Lien changes from a network engineer (who does zero network engineering) to a bizarre fantasy construct that’s equal parts spy, nurse, and helpless arm-candy. Bond meets girl. And the tone is obscene.

In keeping with Mann’s devotion to every advance in digital cinema, this really is a gorgeous film, even if it does little to justify the majority of its scenery. At one point, the power-couple takes a trip to Middle-of-Nowhere, Malaysia to solve the villain’s master plan. I won’t spoil it here, but I will say that it was a breathtaking location, their presence was superfluous, and the ensuing dialogue provoked audible laughter in my auditorium. And what’s more, the film bizarrely jumps to the duo sifting through code and financial records in a hotel room moments later, redundantly solving the mystery in a much more realistic manner. The grand finale continues the film’s descent into ultraviolent madness. We know what the bad guys are up to – time to go kill them. And if the laughter in the previous scene wasn’t audible enough, it certainly resonated as Hemsworth donned his prisonesque arsenal – sharpened screwdrivers concealed about his person, and torso armor composed of magazines and duct tape. I wish I were making this up, and if the film didn’t devolve into a level of Assassin’s Creed (with inexplicably unresponsive AI from the crowd NPCs), I might have credited it with a bit of self-awareness.

But Blackhat – Hathaway – is no hero. And its awkward, genre-straddling attempts to merge globetrotting spycraft with virtual warfare do not bode well for the genre as a whole. You can’t have a Western with automobiles, and you can’t have a Bond film with realistic hackers and semi-realistic violence. Might be best to stick with the magical Skyfall nonsense next time.

FilmWonk rating: 3 out of 10