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


Release date: September 22nd, 2016

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA, Germany

Running time: 134 minutes


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.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Review: A Depp in the Wrong Direction

Director: James Bobin

Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (novel)

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway


Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


Best part: Sacha Baron Cohen.

Worst part: Johnny Depp.

A-lister extraordinaire Johnny Depp has had, even by his standards, a bizarre past twelve months. On top of hilarious run-ins with foreign governments, the actor was forced to confront his mother’s passing, a costly divorce to Amber Heard, allegations of domestic abuse, a dwindling worldwide fanbase, and a string of critical and commercial flops. His latest misadventure, Alice Through the Looking Glass, has done nothing to part the dark clouds hanging over his current predicament.

In amongst misfires like The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, The Tourist, Dark Shadows, and Mortdecai, 2010’s woeful Alice in Wonderland and its sequel add to the actor’s ever-growing list of crushing cinematic hiccups. Part of 2016’s collection of sequels nobody asked for, this installment continues ‘acclaimed’ filmmaker Tim Burton’s bright, shiny, unwarranted vision. This time around, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is an accomplished ship captain coming home after over a year on the high seas. Cast out by her bitter ex-fiance (Leo Bill), she falls back into Underland with a thud. With help from the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Absolem (Alan Rickman), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas) among others, Alice seek to cure the Mad Hatter(Johnny Depp)’s sadness.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is an unnecessary and underwhelming homage to Alice in Wonderland‘s legacy. Based very loosely on Lewis Carroll’s seminal works, the movie delivers few original ideas or twists. Plot-points including the Hatter’s long-lost family and the Red Queen’s backstory fail to justify this sequel’s existence. Although covered in Burton’s grimy fingerprints, director James Bobin (The Muppets) is left to pick up the scraps. This time around, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) returns from exile with a new antagonist – Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). So that’s…something. Despite said talented cast and crew, everything about this production – From the typecasting to its overwhelming reliance of style over substance –  comes off as pure self-indulgence.

Alice Through the Looking Glass haphazardly toys with several intriguing ideasTime’s dungeon-like domain is operated with textbook precision. Each person’s soul is encapsulated by a stopwatch, with human life determined by Time’s current mood. Leaping between his own motivations and Underland’s well-being, the character – supported by Cohen’s Werner Herzog/Arnold Schwarzenegger impression – provides a welcome spark of life. Sadly, the movie delivers a mind-numbing assault on the senses. Packed with unconvincing green-screen vistas and brash CGI characters, the experience is more tiresome than entertaining. In this day and age, over-the-top performances from Depp, Carter, and Hathaway are no longer interesting. Meanwhile, talented actors including Rhys Ifans, Lindsay Duncan, and Geraldine James are underutilised.

Like many of 2016’s new releases, this fantasy-adventure reeks of sequelitis’ unbearable stench. Dragging a talented cast and crew through the mud, the uninspired direction and leaden screenplay make this yet another strike against Depp’s once-glowing reputation.

Verdict: A useless, mind-numbing sequel.

Serena Review – Mountainous Mishap

Director: Susanne Bier

Writers: Christopher Kyle (screenplay), Ron Rash (novel)

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Rhys Ifans, Sean Harris

Release date: November 27th, 2014

Distributors: StudioCanal, Magnolia Pictures

Countries: USA, France

Running time: 109 minutes




Best part: The scenery.

Worst part: The misjudged direction.

Review: Serena

Verdict: A Laughable and dull western-drama.

The Amazing Spider-Man Review – Rollicking Reboot

Director: Marc Webb

Writers: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen

Release date: July 3rd, 2012

Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment 

Country: USA

Running time: 136 minutes



Best part: The kinetic action sequences.

Worst part: The repetitive story.

Reboot or remake? Many will be asking this question when watching the latest Spider-man film. This beloved comic book character has now been rebooted after three commercially successful adaptations. The Amazing Spider-man may be similar to what we have already witnessed, but it matches the first two Spider-man films in quality through likeability and thrills.

Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone.

Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone.

Despite the origin story of our friendly neighbourhood Spider-man being a commonly referenced part of popular culture (see Kick-Ass for a detailed example), this interpretation is a darker look at these important events. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is an intelligent but quiet teenager living the typical high school lifestyle. His curiosity for science leads him to search for the answers to his father’s research and parent’s disappearance. The signs point to renowned Oscorp. scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). His research, and alluring protégé and classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), draw Parker into a potentially dangerous web. From then on it’s the well-known elements of Spidey’s origin – bit by a genetically modified spider, uncle Ben(Martin Sheen)’s death, and the evolution of this nerdy nobody into the masked superhero known as Spider-man. Apart from spinning webs anytime and catching thieves just like flies, Spider-man must also stop Connor’s radical genetic change into a reptilian beast from threatening the safety of New York City.

Rhys Ifans.

Rhys Ifans.

If there’s one broken strand in this well-developed web, it’s that The Amazing Spider-Man feels essentially like a remake of the revered 2002 Sam Raimi directed original. Despite its darker tone and unique nuances, the film’s story and characters hit the same notes as the original, without enough to clearly differentiate between the two. The one definitive difference however is the search for Parker’s parents. Despite their mysterious disappearance an intriguing aim for his search for answers, the film forgets about his parent’s involvement within the first act. The Amazing Spider-Man instead focuses on elements we are accustomed to such as the love story and hero/villain conflict. Despite being hard not to compare it to the 2002 interpretation of Spider-man’s origin story, the film benefits from its clever direction and witty screenplay. With a fitting last name for this popular series, Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer) has successfully transitioned from directing films of largely different genres. Elements of his unique directorial style are comfortably added to this interpretation. After creating a likeable yet realistically flawed screen couple out of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, Webb knows how to create engaging yet awkward angst out of these beloved comic book characters.

Martin Sheen & Sally Field.

Martin Sheen & Sally Field.

Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker communicate alarmingly like teenagers in the halls of any high school, with Webb clearly aware of the relatable and personal problems inflicting that demographic. These beloved characters are aided by the charismatic and likeable cast. Garfield and Stone (currently a real life couple) create powerful chemistry faster than you can say “bugboy”. Brought together through cute interactions, Garfield and Stone create empathetic lead characters and a lovely partnership. Garfield’s performance as the sympathetic Peter Parker is palpable and proves he can lead a superhero franchise after his supporting role in The Social Network. With the determination of Aaron Johnson’s character in Kick-Ass and the agility of Sebastian Foulcan in Casino Royale, Parker is a witty and effective presence here. Ifans, known primarily for playing the hilarious roommate in Notting Hill, is engaging as the focused yet morally driven antagonist as his sympathetic side is brought to the surface. The Lizard is easily the best cinematic Spider-man villain since Doc Ock. The intricate and disgusting creature design of the Lizard creates a menacing presence for Spider-man to face. Also providing fun performances are comedian Dennis Leary as Gwen’s father Captain George Stacy and Sheen as Uncle Ben.

“You should see the other guy! The other guy, in this instance, being a giant mutant lizard.” (Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield), The Amazing Spider-Man).

Garfield's Spider-Man.

Garfield’s Spider-Man.

Webb’s visual style is also a breathtaking insight into the origins of a superhero. With the current popularity of superhero cinema and with similar themes explored in the recent surprise hit Chronicle, Webb still manages to create a noticeable visual flair for every action scene and montage throughout. The cinematography is gorgeous; capturing every frame of Spider-man’s super strength and agility. The camera loops and whirls through every wall and crevasse in New York City as spider-man’s parkour and acrobatic wall crawling and web swinging skills are documented with the vertigo inducing thrills needed in a special effect-driven Spider-man flick. Webb’s editing style, synonymous with the non- linear story telling of his previous film, succeeds in creating an energetic rush within each action set piece. Moments of genetic change in Peter Parker edited together with stylish choreography illustrate an adventurous superhero figure. His subconscious is even brought into light; changing to adapt to spider genetics when placed in a bad situation such as the subway fight sequence.

The Amazing Spider-Man, for all intents and purposes, is a message to other Marvel superhero properties. Despite the derivative narrative, Sony has taken this mega-successful property and run with it! Well, wall-crawling works better in this case.

Verdict: Spider-man swings back into action in this charming and visceral thrill-ride.