Snowden Review: Story half told


Director: Oliver Stone

Writers: Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone (screenplay), Luke Harding (book), Anatoly Kucherena (book)

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto

snowden-movie-poster


Release date: September 22nd, 2016

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA, Germany

Running time: 134 minutes


3/5

Best part: Levitt and Woodley’s chemistry.

Worst part: The sluggish pace.

There are many words to describe whistleblower Edward Snowden. Descriptors like patriot, terrorist, rebel, whistleblower and tyrant have been used by all manner of people. In spite of finger pointing and name calling, there is no doubt this is a fascinating tale. 2014’s Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour exposed the truth behind one of the 21st Century’s most alarming leaks of classified information.

As Citizenfour proved, the fiery debate over cyber-security, privacy and whistleblowing rages on. So, with the documentary and internet providing maximum information, what does docudrama Snowden do differently? Not much. We first meet Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) being kicked out of special forces for dodgy legs. A devastated young Snowden joins the CIA under Corbin O’Brian(Rhys Ifans)’s watchful eye. The computer genius rises up the ranks and delves further into the system. He finds the government and security agency NSA’s secrets. His discoveries affect his and long-term girlfriend Lindsay Mills(Shailene Woodley)’s relationship. Years later, he reaches out to documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen McAskill (Tom Wilkinson) for help.

Obviously, Snowden finds the dirty details, steals secrets then leaks them to the press before going into exile in Moscow, Russia. This ongoing story is far from reaching a peaceful conclusion. A better docudrama would have detailed the journey’s ethical, emotional and psychological toll. Sadly, like The Fifth Estate, Snowden becomes a straightforward, useless stunt. Unlike Citizenfour, or anything the internet would provide, its delivers little information about Snowden’s identity, job or life-changing events. Each sub-plot and conflict merely blurs together. Set to a sluggish 134-minute run-time, it shifts lackadaisically between life moments. Instead of building drama and dread, he moves between jobs and countries without any impact. For better or worse, the narrative explores the nitty-gritty of analyst/spy work (finding contacts, moving between outposts etc).

Oliver Stone is a veteran director out of his league. He began with jagged-edge thrillers (Wall Street, Natural Born Killers) and war-dramas (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July). However, his last few (from Alexander through to Savages) have bitten the dust. Like the latter efforts, Snowden drags a top-notch premise and cast through the mud. Being one of Hollywood’s most opinionated filmmakers, Stone’s interest in Snowden seemed promising. However, his paranoia is almost laughable. The second act, when not languishing in Snowden and Lindsay’s relationship politics, delivers extended montages about cyber-security. His old-man-yells-at-cloud approach broadly targets the US Government, multi-million dollar corporations and those behind the scenes. Stone clumsily attempts to jazz up desk-jockey work and hacking with flashy visuals. Levitt and Woodley escape unscathed, delivering stellar impersonations of real-life counterparts.

Snowden had potential to tell a detailed story, bring Stone back from career suicide and showcase a quality cast. Instead, it’s a meandering, boilerplate procedural with little insight or even basic information. Stone’s out-of-touch direction and point of view deliver a snooze instead of a success.

Verdict: A wasted opportunity.

The Night Before Review: Naughty & Nice


Director: Jonathan Levine

Writers: Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Jonathan Levine, Ariel Shaffir

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Michael Shannon

The-Night-Before


Release date: November 20th, 2015

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


 

3/5

Review: The Night Before

The Walk Audio Review: Straddling the Line


Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writers: Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne (screenplay), Philippe Petit (book)

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale

walk_ver2


 

Release date: September 30th, 2015

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


 

3/5

Review:

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review – Feelin’ Black, White, & Blue


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller

Writer: Frank Miller (screenplay & graphic novel)

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

sin-city-2-poster


Release date: August 25th, 2014

Distributors: Dimension Films, Troublemaker Studios

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The confusing structure.

Back in the 1990s, one well-known comic-book writer sparked up the perfect concept for a truly unforgettable graphic novel. As a political and social satire, the Sin City series skewers everything our capitalism-run world has, and will ever have, to offer. Amicably, creator Frank Miller didn’t aspire to make millions when it was first released. In fact, if you read anything he’s done, or listen to any of his interviews, his unique viewpoints still stand tall. With that in mind, his recent cinematic endeavours come off as wholly contradictory and hypocritical.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tearing down Sin City.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tear down Sin City.

With his latest project, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, he and co-director Robert Rodriguez are simply treading old ground for a quick profit. With this instalment blazing through cinemas, the question Should asked: why is it  coming out nine years after the first one? With the 2005 original breaking the mould for comic-book adaptations, and becoming a critical and commercial surprise hit, why did it take so long? Sure, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit several major studios hard. However, that didn’t stop Rodriguez and Miller from crafting mega-flops like The Spirit and the Machete double. Our two pop-culture conquerors built this bewildering comeback effort from the ground up. Developing a powerful concoction of film noir, exaggerated comic-book gloss, and gritty action extravaganza, this rushed return delivers momentous highs and lows. Spreading several stories across this nightmarish ordeal, the hidden ingredients fuel its best moments. Sadly, these ingredients are hard to find. First off, in ‘Just Another Saturday Night’, we see the violent return of hulking badass Marv (Mickey Rourke). With no recollection of his past, Marv tries to figure out how and why he crashed a car before murdering several teenage gangsters. Next up, in ‘The Long Bad Night’, we are introduced to slick poker champ Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Swaggering into Kadie’s Saloon, he hits the slot machines before besting the all-powerful Senator Roark with the cards. Soon after, Johnny is taught one major lesson: don’t mess with a Roark!

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

These stories, rekindling the original’s invigorating tone and consistent pacing, make for a cracking first third. Throwing old and new characters through this awe-inspiring universe, the opening scenes deliver over-the-top action beats and emotional resonance. In addition, these sequences set up a magnetic mystery-thriller vibe for the narrative to capitalise on. Unfortunately, the middle and final thirds fail to deliver on the first’s promises. The third storyline, ‘A Dame To Kill For’, takes up a significant part of this instalment’s efficient run-time. After Dwight (Josh Brolin) falls for yet another one of Ava Lord(Eva Green)’s tricks, the movie’s gratuitously eyes down the slinky dames and leather-clad hookers of Old Town. With Gail (Rosario Dawson) and Miho (Jamie Chung) leading the charge, the titular storyline becomes a lugubrious mix exposition and tiresome twists. In addition, some sub-plots hinder this vignette’s overarching impact. One story-line, involving a conflict between detectives Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven), sucks the tension and gravitas out of this otherwise intriguing narrative. However, the final third’s vignette, ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’, in which Nancy Callaghan (Jessica Alba) – recovering from saviour John Hartigan (Bruce Willis)’s suicide – heads straight for Roark, lacks this series’ coherency, humour, and allure. Relying on kooky comedic moments and tiresome action beats, this storyline is nowhere near as creative as Rodriguez and Miller think it is. Ultimately, our two writer/directors never blend these heavy-handed, sequel/prequel-purposed vignettes together effectively. Thanks to overcooked dialogue, hokey narration, and misogynistic overtones, Miller’s involvement nearly eviscerates this puzzling instalment.

“Sin City’s where you go in with your eyes open, or you don’t come out at all.” (Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Creating ‘The Long Bad Night’ and ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ specifically for this adaptation, Rodriguez and Miller’s latest effort awkwardly fuses their once-celebrated styles with more-recent ticks. As two great tastes that don’t go together anymore, Miller’s cynical perspective and Rodriguez’ nostalgia-drenched glow never blend. Fortunately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For clings onto the original’s breathtaking visuals. In fact, Rodriguez’ style pays off throughout. Bolstering their black and white creations, his atmospheric direction delivers several memorable flourishes and captivating compositions. Indeed, his cinematography, editing, and production design choices elevate every sequence. Filling certain frames with smoke, chiaroscuro lighting patterns, kinetic colour splashes, blood splatters, and breasts, his direction bolsters Miller’s nihilistic narrative and abrasive character designs. The action, despite harming the climax, bolsters certain panels and ideas. Above all else, Rodriguez deserves credit for rewarding such respected performers. Credit belongs to this obscene cast for fuelling this belated instalment. Despite the obvious nine-year hiatus, Rourke, Alba, Boothe, and Dawson efficiently sink back into their beloved characters. New cast members including Brolin, Meloni, Piven, and Dennis Haysbert perform adequately despite the challenges involved. However, chewing up the scenery, Gordon-Levitt and Green stand out in valuable roles.

Beneath the wind and rain coursing through Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriguez and Miller languish in its seedy underbelly. Immersing themselves within this world, these writer/directors fail to re-capture the original’s imagination and vigour. Becoming an oppressive parody of original, this instalment comes off like an ageing stripper – once flexible and courageous, now belligerent and unconvincing. However, credit belongs to Rourke, Brolin, Gordon-Levitt, and Green for embracing their surroundings and delivering splendid turns in two-dimensional roles. Clearly, in going by the trailer’s advice, they went in with their eyes open.

Verdict: An enjoyable sequel arriving nine years too late. 

Lincoln Review – Day-Lewis Destiny


Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book)

Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn


Release date: November 9th, 2012

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 150 minutes


4/5

Best part: Daniel Day-Lewis.

Worst part: The film’s Subjectivity.

Abraham Lincoln, the United States’ 16th President, is one of the most important people in history. The world would be a completely different place without his determination and guidance. So who better to tell his story than another inspirational man? Steven Spielberg has handled this though-provoking and poignant story with care.

Daniel Day-Lewis.

Lincoln chronicles the last four months of the President’s life. It’s 1865. The Republicans and Democrats refuse to agree. It’s also four years into the Civil War. The Union and Confederacy engage in a bloody battle across America. Everyone wants it to end, but none more so than Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis). Lincoln aims to end both the war and slavery. His Emancipation Proclamation has already passed but the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is about to be put to a vote. With the help of Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) and Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), Lincoln must, by any means necessary, procure the last 20 votes needed to pass the amendment.

Day-Lewis & Sally Field.

There have been many films that deal with slavery and/or Lincoln himself. You can either go in all guns blazing (Django Unchained, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) or delicately discuss these important issues. With Lincoln, Spielberg has created his greatest work since Munich (he has made three big-budget films since then). This story clearly means so much to Spielberg. Getting Lincoln’s triumphant story across this way is an achievement. There are many parts of Lincoln’s life that would’ve been worthy of cinematic interpretation. But Spielberg has chosen one significant part to focus on rather than re-creating his entire existence. The four month period shown here is vital to both Lincoln’s personal and professional lives. Instead of re-creating the Gettysburg Address or Lincoln’s assassination, Spielberg provides important reminders of these incidences. The film is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s best-selling Lincoln biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Tony Kushner’s screenplay is a dialogue, and political discourse, heavy examination of a difficult time in America. People who love history and/or political science will love this daring look at Lincoln’s legacy. But people unaware of every detail will be catching up throughout the film’s 2½-hour run-time.

Tommy Lee Jones.

Directors and Presidents sometimes, metaphorically, walk hand in hand. Oliver Stone, for example, loves to push his agenda whilst placing certain Presidents on the big screen (W., Nixon, JFK). Spielberg never focuses too much on trademark flourishes here. There are no overly rambunctious or epic moments. Instead, we see a profound and vital interpretation of a monumental point in history. This is an unexpected and honest film for Spielberg. Schindler’s List and Munich are clearly both major influences here. Lincoln can be compared to other Spielberg films dealing with the same subject matter. Both The Colour Purple and Amistad discuss the ramifications of certain historical events. Amistad (his most underrated film) discussed both racism and prejudice whilst focusing on Djimon Honsou’s slave character. Lincoln, however, focuses on what white people thought of this issue. There are no prominent black characters here. Instead, their viewpoints are represented by Lincoln, his advisor and his political friends. Having no prominent black characters, or even dignified democratic characters, is a wholly subjective way of depicting this story. However, this film is an important reminder of how far democracy has come and how the republican Party has affected history. It also intelligently discusses how the world has treated people who are different. Comparing Lincoln’s administration to today’s Republican Party is cause for heated discussion.

“Buzzard’s guts, man! I am the President of the United States of America! Clothed in immense power! You will procure me these votes.” (Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis), Lincoln).

Politics in full force!

Spielberg sometimes lets his sentimental side get away from him. There are many underdeveloped characters here that are depicted as saints. The huge ensemble cast, including Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, Jarred Harris and John Hawkes, is left to inject some life into thankless roles. To be fair, Lincoln is nowhere as saccharine as some of Spielberg’s other efforts (War Horse). Spielberg’s regulars, composer John Williams and Director of Photography Janusz Kaminski, prove here that they are two of Hollywood’s greatest talents. When the film is at its most rhetorical, Kaminski’s beautiful cinematography stands out. Sunlight and smoke, flushing into every interior dialogue sequence, lend Lincoln a much-needed earthy aesthetic. Occasionally framing him in his notorious and rousing portrait pose, Spielberg has brought a sweet yet tenacious Lincoln to life. Credit should also go to Day-Lewis. Worthy of his Academy Award nomination, the two-time Oscar winner is at the top of his game here. Adding to the remarkable make-up effects, Day-Lewis captures every one of Lincoln’s slight and unique mannerisms. Lee Jones also captivates in one of his more lively performances. Dishing out some truly disconcerting insults across Parliament, Lee Jones is a wryly and conquering presence here.

There is so much to both endure and enjoy in Lincoln. It passionately discusses the importance of both politics and freedom. It may not be worthy of 12 Academy Award nominations, but this is still a remarkable acting and directorial achievement. Honouring the President’s immaculate legacy, Spielberg’s latest effort highlights cinema’s artistic and social merits.

Verdict: Spielberg’s best film in quite some time.

Looper Review – Futuristic Felon


Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels


Release date: September 28th, 2012

Distributors: TriStar Pictures, FilmDistrict

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Levitt’s cold yet charismatic assassin.

Worst part: An over abundance of slimy henchmen.

Imagine this possibility; you are handsomely paid to kill the scum of a futuristic crime-filled world, but your superiors decide to flip your life upside down and inside out. This is the premise of the fun sci-fi action flick Looper. The idea of meeting your future self has always been an alarming thought, what would you ask them? Or even more intriguing; How could it effect the future? Looper recovers quickly from plot flaws to create a largely satisfying and breezy character study of an assassin gaining a parallel identity and quickly losing time.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Joe explains that time travel has not been invented in his world of 2044, but it will have been in the future. Slick, leather clad assassins known as Loopers are a vital part of major crime syndicates using time travel to eradicate people from 2072, completing assassinations when their targets arrive in the past. When the mob have finished with said hired assassins, they ‘close the loop’; making Loopers kill their older selves for a satisfying reward. Joe’s life is livened with strip clubs, riches and drugs, but still wants out of his murderous existence. When his time is up however, his older self (Bruce Willis) escapes his execution. For younger Joe this is Bad news! Now hunted by his mobster superiors, younger Joe must escape their clutches, while protecting farm girl Sara and her son from his older self.

Bruce Willis.

Bruce Willis.

The second collaboration between director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) and superstar Joseph Gordon Levitt brings weight to a genre previously considered to have run out of originality. Time travel is a major staple of the genre. Influenced by entertaining ideas of time travel from films like the Back to the Future series, The Terminator and 12 Monkeys, Looper finds its own sense of style while paying homage to classic 80’s sci-fi cinema. The film delivers on its intriguing premise, ceasing the ongoing number of underwhelming action flicks this year. ‘What if?’ is the film’s most important question, as the characters delve too far into their own motivations and soon struggle to see beyond them. Levitt’s Joe is a smooth character pushing himself to the edge. His repetitive lifestyle seems fun to the average Joe (no pun intended) but he becomes adamant on a life away from a technicolor drug trip. Willis’ older Joe is given a considerable amount of depth. His affect on his younger self creates a profound exploration of how one’s future can change with the pull of a trigger. The witty script works to Willis’ effect, creating instant chemistry with Levitt from their first dialogue sequence. Looper slows down to a considerable extent when Blunt’s single mother and her son are brought into the film. The plot switches from the chase to Joe’s interaction with country life, diverting from the breakneck pace of the first half to focus too much on Joe’s new way out. 

“I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.” (Older Joe (Bruce Willis), Looper).

Emily Blunt.

Emily Blunt.

The chemistry between Levitt and Blunt however proves why they are two of 2012’s hardest working actors, with English actress Blunt fitting into the country girl role with a convincing American drawl. Levitt, despite having to work around annoyingly distracting prosthetic make up, captures Willis’ mannerisms while creating a gritty interpretation of the cliche assassin character. While Jeff Daniels (the half of Dumb and Dumber who isn’t Jim Carrey) proves to be one of the best character actors in the business, with his intense performance adding to his already stellar year on screen after TV series The Newsroom. This neo-noir exploration of the ‘professional assassin on the run’ story is also grounded by creatively shot and violent action set pieces along with a techno score, subverting the monotony of modern action films. The style of Johnson’s biggest flick to date is heavily focused on the works of Stanley Kubrick and Christopher Nolan. Not reaching the glittery, lurid and clean visuals of Total Recall and In Time (thankfully), its grounding in a dirty, third world environment is a chilling reminder of a slipping economy desperate to avoid gangster control. The use of dark colours and stylised costuming creates a believably contrasting and enviable world in which the wealthy try as hard as possible to avoid the grime-covered and brutal poor.

Certainly, Looper exists to boost Johnson and Levitt’s careers from indie to mainstream. Playing with interesting sci-fi concepts, this projects succeeds in taking us on a long, lost thrill-ride. In addition, with Willis back in full force, more movies like this need to be made.

Verdict: A mind bending and energetic sci-fi actioner.