If I was writing a school report from this movie, I would probably write “Could do better…”. It is not a bad movie, but given who is involved, I was expecting more. Directed by Michael Mann (Public Enemies, 2009), I came away with the feeling the effort that should have been put in to the movie was not used. Despite the name this is simply a police procedural, thriller type movie with relatively little in the way of “techno-plot” indeed given some of the errors and continuity breaks I think those involved perhaps did not have the technical know-how to close out the movie from a plot perspective.

The movie opens with an excellent graphics sequence (possibly a highlight) showing code being sent to a computer which turns off a fan at a Chinese nuclear power station and causes a breach (they said meltdown at one stage, but if it was, there would not have been people running around the site in civilian clothes just days afterwards). Shortly after the commodities markets in New York are hacked and feedstuffs a spiked netting a $75m profit for our bad guy. While working on the nuclear a Captain, Chen Dawai, (Leehom Wang, My Lucky Star, 2013) in the PLA (a rising Princeling judging by his description) he recognises some old code he is responsible for, he along with his old room mate in college, Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth, Thor 2011), who just so happens to be doing a prison sentence for hacking some banks and costing them about $50m, depending on which part of the movie we refer to, he is either doing 13 or 15 years in prison for this.

Long story short, Hathaway is released on furlough after Captain Chen links with the FBI and his Network engineer sister ( Wei Tang, The Golden Era, 2014). Despite initial reservations the FBI lead investigator, Carol Barrett ( Viola Davis, The Help, 2011) sees their worth and backs them as they end up following clues around the Far-East.

Eventually Hathaway puts the clues together, not so much from his cyber skills as from his ability just to stand back and look at the complete picture.

If you ant to look at this movie with any sense of seriousness, you will be disappointed, if however if you like a movie with people running all over the place, shooting everybody and anybody while seemingly never getting in trouble, then you will love this.

There are a number of huger plot holes – if you are trying how to disable a pump PLC system , you don’t need to find one of the pumps at a nuclear power plant, which will raise headlines. Speaking of PLCs (Programmable Logic (not Launch) Controllers are a fairly basic piece of kit that even I was programming when in college a generation ago, so no big challenge there. There are also a number of continuity errors, in Tshirts changing colour, stains on suits suddenly disappearing etc.

Hathaway who is supposedly a SW genius does some funny stuff like use a browser/domain name to indicate an IP address (dodgy) and I’m not going to ask when he got in to an illegal server farm, how he managed to find the drive he needed and hack it.

As a chase-‘em, shoot ‘em up movie it works, but anybody with more than an ounce of engineering or coding skills is going to be entertained much. The closing scenes in Jakarta also strain the imagination, it is noteworthy how many people ignored gun & knife toting westerners as they possessed along the road with their torches. I also have a problem with the “little things”. After arriving in Malaysia (illegally) they seemed to have no shortage of ready cash and indeed in the closing scenes Hathaway actually takes €5000 out of his, supposedly secret Swiss bank account; two things in the few hours he was in Malaysia, how did he mange to get his bank card (there nothing to suggest he had this or other private belongings prior to the last arrival), oh and why use Euro when going to Switzerland, rather than Swiss Francs.

I started off giving this a *** rating but the more I think about it, and how unconvincing the movie was from both a characterisation and technology perspectives I have to revise down to **. This might be a little harsh, but like I said at the beginning “could do better”. A final comment is the effect of mixing the digital and 35mm camera work, hmm – small doses please, it was certainly over used and grated a few times.

Project Almanac

Director Dean Israelite’s first feature length movie works well for him. Opening with High-school kid, David Raskin (Jonny Weston, Insurgent 2015) making a video presentation to MIT for acceptance on one of their college programmes with the help of his two friends Quinn (Sam Lerner, Nobody Walks, 2014) and Adam (Allen Evangelista, Belas, 2013). The film is largely shot in POV (Point of view) format, that is always through a camcorder or such like always used by one of the kids. David’s sister Christina (Virginia Gardner, The Goldbergs. 2013) is the primary recorder. The POV format largely works, even if there are one or two sequences where it is not as successful.

Routing through some old belongings in the attic he comes across a video-camera once owned by his father who was killed in a car accident about 10 years ago. While looking at footage, David notices something, just a frame or two, but he notices it. Reviewing the home-movie in question it is clear David in in the movie as his 17year old self, with his 10yo self also there. Noticing that the David in the film was heading for the basement, they decide to check down there.

Now here is a significant weakness in the film, centred around a young technically gifted student, whose father was an engineer, he (David) only now goes down to the basement and “discovers” his father’s workshop and very quickly its secrets.

Pretty quickly they find the time machine, or at least the workings of it and all of the necessary blue-prints, and as any kids do, they decide to finish building it. With much chaos and experimenting they manage to move something back through time. Of course all of this has the added benefit of entangling one of David’s school mates; Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black D’elia, Born of War 2013), David has a crush on her and as with most young lads of his age, he is totally unable to act on it. A good section of the movie deals with the youngsters building and improving the time machine, often with mixed results.

First the five youngsters experiment with sending inanimate objects back and forth through time, but David is eager to move things on and after much tinkering and adaption, they have a time travel device which they can bring with them, which can transport them to when they want to go (within a limited window of a couple of weeks, but growing as they tinker)

As the movie progresses it starts to take on a slightly darker more sinister hue. After firstly starting off with small things, they decide to “surgically” (my words) interfere with the past, but very quickly learn that one event might have a knock-on effect on another even though the two may not seem linked. After making changes to the time line. On their first trip back they see how the lawas of nature actually kick-in to prevent them from meeting themselves in the past, if they do, bith are removed from nature, no longer existing.

These trips back in time start of light enough, with Quinn using the trips back to ace a pop-quiz in chemistry and then get more intense as they try to undo changes to the timelines brought about by their travel. These changes which seem like nothing much have implications which spread far and wide, the ripple effect being nicely expounded here.

This film is a lot more watchable than I thought it would be and indeed deals with some of the more fundamental aspects of time travel, concentrating on the effects (as thought) rather than on the pure science of the physics. Indeed this is where the film lets itself down slightly, but only slightly.

Without going into the physics of time travel the movie looks to the impacts and how the people involved try to deal with and correct what they have done. One could argue that there is not a whole lot original in the first half of the movie, when even the movie itself draws parallels with some of those time-travelling presentations which came before (even down to video shots of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989).

The second half is where the movie really kicks in and ups the tempo. This is an interesting look at the whole area of time travel and its consequences and might be compared to About Time (Richard Curtis, 2013). Much of the tension surround the undoing of the consequences of even the supposedly smallest actions when they went back in time. One of the issues with Time travel movies is the potential for the heroes to go anywhere, any when in time. Almanac carefully circumvents these issues by building in practical limitations to their device and so keeping the movie on a relatively (sorry for the pun) tight perspective and prevents it from tackling too many physics questions.

Over all it works, with perhaps just a little bit too much time spent on the concert in the baseball stadium, but then again there are implications for the event. It also manages to convey some of the science of time-travel without breaking into applied physics. The movie does have some convenient plot holes but nothing that takes away from the picture overall.