In The Heart Of The Sea

That damn whale! Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) wrote the classic American novel Moby Dick. You may have read the book—or maybe skimmed the CliffsNotes—in high school.

Melville, it turns out, was inspired by a true-life story that occurred a few decades before he wrote his novel. In The Heart Of The Sea presents that story as told to Melville by Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) whose younger self (Tom Holland) joined the whaling crew of the Essex when he was just a teen.

Though old Tom keeps threatening to stop, the series of flashbacks continue. His wife (Michelle Fairley) urges him on, as does the eager note-taker Melville.

As In The Heart Of The Sea gets in gear, you know that the whale is going to wreak some major havoc. Director Ron Howard and screenwriter Charles Leavitt concoct a slow buildup to the encounter with the enormous and violent sea mammal.

Nantucket is the heart of the whaling world two centuries ago. Hunky hero Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) expects to be named captain of his next expedition, but that honor goes to the less capable George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). At sea, first mate Chase disagrees with Pollard when the captain chooses to confront a storm head on, so as to give the crew experience. The outcome is not good.

The voyage of the Essex continues around South America and up the west coast to Ecuador. In a bar, the crew is told of a remote spot in the Pacific teeming with whales. They are also warned about a “demon whale.”

The confrontation with this huge, angry animal is intense. The effort to procure whale oil quickly becomes a mission of survival. The details of the crew’s recovery are some of old Tom’s more agonizing memories.

In The Heart Of The Sea is a well-constructed piece of storytelling. There is drama and conflict throughout. The visual depictions of life and catastrophe at sea are convincingly real, though not quite perfect.

The main thing that bothered me about ITHOTS was this: When he began the voyage around 1920, young Tom Nickerson was 14. Now, he is telling the story in 1850. In the movie, he appears to be much older than 44. (Gleeson is 60 but with his beard and weight looks older.)

In The Heart Of The Sea is a decent, though not great, film. With many solid films having been released recently and others due out in the next two weeks, if ITHOTS is not on your list of films you really want to see, I understand completely.

 

Blackhat

Blackhat has numerous scenes that look cool. Plus it has a dreamy cool synthesizer soundtrack. But the plot is ridiculous. What might have been a good nugget of an initial concept is destroyed by the way this story is presented.

When hackers cause a meltdown at a nuclear power plant in China, followed by a hack into a commodities market in the U.S., swift action is called for. Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) is selected by the Chinese to find the source of the hack. He drafts his sister and fellow computer geek Chen Lein (Wei Tang) to help. He also reaches out U.S. authorities and to a former M.I.T. classmate who is currently incarcerated in the states.

Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) is behind bars for hacking. When he’s released to help with this mission, he is chastised for having added credits to accounts of fellow prisoners at the lockup’s commissary. Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) is the F.B.I. operative who joins the team.

Blackhat has a romantic element as Hathaway and sister Chen quickly hook up but their coupling seems more out of convenience than true attraction. As Hathaway and crew work to track the hack, they travel to Asia. The foreign settings in Indonesia and Malaysia provide nice backdrops for gun battles and chase scenes.

Director Michael Mann brings compelling visuals to the screen. His Tron-ish representation of data traveling over networks looks good. Setting a showdown between good guys and bad guys within a large folk dance ceremony makes the confrontation interesting. Many shots have a grainy video quality that adds a true verité feel to the film.

Overall, though, the film’s structure is flimsy. Actions and motivations are not easy to figure out. Others (such as the hackers’  real goals) are explained away with a simple line of questionable dialogue. With some films, such as certain James Bond movies, that’s okay. But with Blackhat, it’s not. This is a timely, ripped-from-the-headlines problem that’s real. A movie about hacking should be topically meaningful. But Blackhat disappoints.

Snow White and The Huntsman

There’s a decent movie in here somewhere. “Snow White and the Huntsman” has a classic story, memorable characters, great special effects, spectacular settings and thrilling scenes. Yep, it has all the stuff we go to movies for.

But it gets off to a very slow start. I honestly found myself writing “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” type lines in my head during the first half of the movie. Some were funny. Trust me.

Also, while watching SWATH, there were numerous scenes and elements that made me think of other movies, from “Da Vinci Code” to “Shawshank Redemption” to “Star Wars” to “Narnia” to “Lord of the Rings” to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” That’s not a good thing.

Let me add that it’s hard to watch Kristen Stewart (as Snow White) without thinking of her portrayal of Bella in the “Twilight” movies. She has talent and shows stronger acting chops in “Snow White and…” than in those vampire flicks.

One more complaint: the mirror in this movie looks more like a big gong.

Chris Hemsworth plays the Huntsman. While we know him as Thor, he (unlike Bella, um, Kristen Stewart) was more convincing in his performance. He’s a bit of a ruffian redneck, but brings the romantic charm at the key moment. Charlize Theron as the Queen is simmering with wickedness and allows it to boil over in the film’s climax. If you’re a Charlize fan, don’t miss SWATH.

As with “Mirror, Mirror,” the light-hearted Snow White movie that came out two months ago, I LOVED the dwarfs! Very smart to cast top British character actors, all normal sized men, and cinematically shrink them.

SWATH’s director is a rookie, Rupert Sanders, a veteran commercial director. His feature film debut, while far from perfect, is an impressive effort. “Snow White and the Huntsman” has much to offer that will be more greatly appreciated on the big screen than on TV (even if you do have an 80-inch HDTV). If you can tolerate a few shortcomings, there is (as I mentioned at the top) a decent movie in here somewhere.

“The Avengers”

Marvel’s “The Avengers” is too much and too many.

Not that you shouldn’t see it. You should. Just prepare yourself to be stuffed. Like a huge holiday meal, “The Avengers” will leave you totally sated.

It’s also analogous to a sports All-Star game. Sure, it’s great to see all the Marvel heroes together. But as an All-Star game is not always an entertaining game, so does “The Avengers” fail to deliver a truly great movie.

The interaction—including verbal and physical battles—among the characters is fun and often funny to watch. It’s amusing as Captain America (Chris Evans) tries to assimilate into the 21st century world, after awakening from a 70-year nap.

Thankfully, the film’s writers and director give the biggest chunk of screen time to Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark. This is good because Downey is a much better actor than the rest of the cast. Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk/Bruce Banner is also excellent in his Marvel debut.

The other main players: Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Tom Hiddleston as the villain Loki.

The movie’s pacing brings to mind the latter Star Wars movies with long periods of exposition between the action scenes. The film’s final battle is spectacularly good, but overlong—not unlike having three pieces of pumpkin pie at the end of a holiday feast.

Clocking in at 2:20 or so, it’s a long movie. But with so many characters to feature and so much action to fit in, it has to be.

“The Avengers,” like a Transformers film, is critic-proof. Even if every reviewer in America from Ebert on down said the film sucked, it would still gross $100 million plus this weekend.

It doesn’t suck. But it’s not as good a movie as one might have hoped for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Cabin in the Woods”—(Scary Funny)

Five college students (three guys, two girls) drive an RV to a secluded cabin for a weekend of fun. Bad things happen. That’s about all I can reveal without venturing into spoiler territory.

If you’ve seen the preview trailers, you already know that the students are being watched. The watchers are in a control room with big screen TV monitors.

Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford play the mission control leaders. Their nonchalant, routine, ho-hum approach to their work, complete with joking, gossiping and side bets, belies the terrors that we know will ensue.

More humor comes from the stoner among the five, played by Fran Kranz. The only well-known actor among the college quintet is Chris Hemsworth who starred as Thor last year. (“Cabin” was shot in ’09 before he got the Thor role. He’ll be Thor again in the new “Avengers” movie coming in three weeks.)

In “Cabin,” as in many movies of this genre, tension builds slowly until the horror gets going. As the story proceeds to its resolution, things get really weird. Honestly, much of the weirdness is hard to describe. Just enjoy the ride.

“Cabin in the Woods” is not the scariest movie I’ve seen, nor is it the funniest. But it does a nice job of blending horror and comedy. Rated R for gore, language, weed and boobs.