A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

EDITION #31 - WEEK OF JANUARY 19-25, 2015

Densely paced cyber-thriller

Blackhat (Universal)

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, William Mapother

Director: Michael Mann

Producers: Thomas Tull, Michael Mann and Jon Jashni

Story/Screenplay: Morgan Davis Foehl

Film Review

In the wake of the hacking incidents surrounding Sony Pictures and external threats levelled at their controversial political satire The Interview, Michael Mann picked a very timely project focusing on it with Blackhat, his first directorial film in five years. While it harkens back to the style and method used in previous works Miami Vice and Collateral, the film feels a bit dense in places where it could have made this more accessible to the average viewer.

When China becomes besieged with acts of sabotage inflicted by a malware virus that causes a nuclear power plant meltdown on the mainland to inflating stock shares on the Hong Kong Exchange, a People’s Liberation Army cyber-defence agent Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) enlists an old friend and major hacker from his MIT days Nicholas Hathaway (Hemsworth) to help him stop the online saboteur known as The Actor from causing any more damage.

Problem is, Hathaway’s serving time in prison for carding into banks and U.S. authorities aren’t keen on letting him out on temporary furlough. But seeing the benefits to Sino-American relations and further implications of The Actor’s activities could ensure, he’s conditionally released into Chen’s custody with FBI agent Carol Barrett (Davis) and U.S. Marshall Mark Jessop (Holt McCallany) to make sure he’s no flight risk.

It becomes a pan-Pacific chase to stop the cyber-criminals from committing their next caper, made a bit more complicated with Hathaway getting close with Chen’s younger sister Lien (Wei), also a computer expert; and the Americans mistrustful with the Chinese when things start taking a more personal turn with The Actor getting more heavy-handed.

Mann knows well enough how to helm through exotic locales and atmosphere when needed through his lenses, thanks to Stuart Dryburgh’s effective cinematography, and puts together a capable ensemble of big names and bit players to tell a story. However, Morgan Davis Foehl’s script feel like dry potboiler loaded with enough technobabble swirling around the testing of friendships and global realpolitik lost in the backseat with its tepid pacing and two-hour running time.

Hemsworth plays the antihero carder like he knows his way around a mainframe yet uninspiringly mumbles his lines, even when the pace does pick up. Wei and Wang pulls some weight in their roles, but it’s the hardboiled performances of Davis and McCallany as dedicated agents that learn the advantages of bending the rules a little that stand out mostly that makes this worth watching, including the ruthlessness of Ritchie Coster as The Actor’s brutal subordinate.

For the most part, Blackhat doesn’t stray far from the gritty crime world theme to be somewhat interesting that Mann has mainly built his career on and does best. Yet for all its realism the film reaches an anticlimax in the presentation, which is a pity for all its potential laden here, given its topical subject on how vulnerable our wired world really is.

Seagull flies

The Seagull (Crow’s Theatre/Canadian Stage)

Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street

Saturday, January 17; 8 p.m.

AUDIENCE ADVISORY Coarse language

Theatre Review

“Human beings are exhausting!” exclaims one of the characters in the Anton Chekhov classic examination of the human condition The Seagull, as put on by Crow’s Theatre company with Canadian Stage; as directed under Chris Abraham is as momentous and moving one can contain in its sprawling 2 ½-hour run.

Several artisan figures gather for a spell at a cottage during pre-revolutionary Russia, all with volatile personalities in the heat of the summertime: estate manager Shamrayev (Tony Nappo) contending with a drama queen for a daughter Masha (Bahia Watson), frustrated Konstantin (Philip Riccio) unable to gain respect from his prima donna actress mother Arkadina (Yanna McIntosh) or accept her companion Trigorin (Tom Rooney), a successful author who curses his talents driving his to obsession to write while lusting after a younger, inspiring actress Nina (Christine Horne) that Konstantin already has eyes for, yet the feeling isn’t quite mutual.

As dramas, comedies, egos and jealousies unfold under the roof of Arkadina’s elder brother Sorin (Eric Peterson), the endless and elusive pursuit of the creative process and happiness is apparent on them all living lives of desperation regardless of their stations in life as they play off each other in exchanges of experiences, resentments and unspoken desires. Oh yeah, and then there’s that metaphoric rifle around, too.

Abraham’s direction plays itself out to let these entire emotions clash, separate and bind in the interconnectivity from Robert Fall’s adaptation and translation by George Calderon over the arguments and counterarguments over life, art and the meaning of existence. Kimberly Purtell knows how to make the brilliance of a summer sun and textural shadowing through her lighting designs (although it uses too much theatrical fog to create the haze is a bit overpowering), sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne throws in the right high pitches of cicadas, thunder rolls and winter squalls in the air and even Julie Fox’s sparse stage set and period costuming is rightfully modest here.

The casting choices are all decent ones, in particular to McIntosh’s vainglorious but insecure matriarch chewing up her scenery, Peterson doing well in depicting Sorin’s bitterness over lost youth and opportunities and the way Horne underlines as the ingénue is the play’s core behind Riccio’s tragic figure cut down by unrequited love by his muse Nina and from his own self-centred mother.

The Seagull is a bit challenging to some to sit through, but it will be a conversation piece to ponder after watching on what true happiness is and how it’s so hard to remain that way, even for those who have more than others and questioning art and its purpose instead of just glib entertainment Chekhov wanted to muse over in this stellar production.

***

The Seagull runs through February 8. For tickets/information: call 416-368-3110 or canadianstage.com.