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.

Star Trek Beyond Review: Thrusters on Full


Director: Justin Lin

Writers: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana

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Release date: July 21st, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA, China

Running time: 122 minutes


4/5

Best part: The central cast.

Worst Part: The villain’s convoluted plot.

In its 50th year, Gene Roddenberry’s creation Star Trek is one of pop-culture’s most lucrative and unique franchises. Its run has been extended by TV series’, films, comic books, fan fiction and everything else in between. The Trekkies and Trekkers have helped the series become an ever-changing organism. With nerd being the new black, the franchise must bend and warp to gather as many fans as possible.

The newer Star Trek instalments have, for the most part, done a bang-up job. The 2009 reboot introduced a new timeline and cast. Fans grew to love the younger crew members, director J. J. Abrams’ love of lens flares and the USS Enterprise’s shinier aesthetic. The Sequel, Star Trek into Darkness, fumbled the ball. Star Trek Beyond, the third feature in the Kelvin timeline, sees the crew in the third year of a five-year mission to explore strange worlds, meet new beings and bring order to the galaxy. Flying peacekeeping group the Federation’s flag, Starfleet captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) feels lost in the deep, dark void of space. Key members including Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), chief medical officer Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and main navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) also hit the wall.

Of course, a movie about the crew hanging up their skivvies 10 minutes in would be deeply unsatisfying. Receiving a distress call from the nebulous zone outside Federation base Yorktown, they are ambushed and captured/disbanded by warlord Krall(Idris Elba)’s drone/alien army. The first third balances cute comedic moments and high stakes threats. The opening scene is a blast – detailing how some missions go better than others. The aforementioned ambush sequence is electrifying, with the Enterprise and its crew torn apart with devastating velocity. The second act takes a peculiar turn, splitting the lead cast into twos. Pegg and Doug Jung’s script provides greater insight into each key member. Although the plot and momentum stall, the middle section delivers infinite character development and wit. In true sequel fashion, new characters including alien warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) create several surprises.

With Abrams off on Star Wars duties, director Justin Lin (Fast and FuriousTokyo Drift through to Six) takes control of the ship. Not to be underestimated, he balances between the original series and this franchise’s bold, blockbuster-y direction. The exhilarating filmmaker piles action sequences on top of one another in the third act. The motorcycle set-piece clicks with the movie’s tone and close-quarter scope. The finale combines a high-flying spaceship battle, clever banter and a Beastie Boys’ track with aplomb. Meanwhile, the fist-fight finale injects pathos and resonance into an otherwise light-weight story. Assisting Lin’s breezy direction, Michael Giacchino’s score is as slick and dynamic as the Enterprise herself. The talented, good-looking performers aptly bounce off each other. Pine and Quinto snuggly fit into their famous roles. Urban, Pegg and Boutella are standouts. Meanwhile, Elba is let down by the character’s befuddling backstory and master plan.

Star Trek Beyond ventures where the franchise both has and has never gone before. Credit belongs to the performers, living up to the original cast’s crackling chemistry. Lin and co. have refueled and beefed up the Enterprise for future adventures. Most importantly, Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy are given touching send offs.

Verdict: An exhilarating thrill-ride.

Hitman: Agent 47 Audio Review: Big, Bad, Bald & Boring


Director: Aleksander Bach

Writers: Michael Finch, Skip Woods

Stars: Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Ciaran Hinds

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Release date: August 21st, 2015

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 96 minutes


 

2/5

Review:

Star Trek into Darkness Review – Khan-do Attitude!


Director: J.J. Abrams

Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Damon Lindelof

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch


Release date: May 16th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 133 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The villain.

Worst part: The underused supporting characters.

In 1966, a sci-fi TV show called Star Trek hit the airwaves. It contained a low budget, some groovy outfits, and an over-acting William Shatner. With all that said, it’s difficult to comprehend that Trek is now a pop culture phenomenon. 47 years later, the Starship Enterprise is still going where no man has gone before. The latest offering, Star Trek into Darkness, proves this franchise has many more successful voyages to come.

Zachary Quinto & Chris Pine.

The twelfth film to be crafted from Gene Rodenberry’s original creation, Star Trek into Darkness is a visually stunning and powerful blockbuster. This may be a strong statement, but the movie is in serious contention to be the best big-budget movie of 2013. This sequel/reboot/prequel/whatever starts off with an exciting race against time for our plucky band of heroes. After Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) are chased by an alien tribe, Dr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) comes to be in charge of saving the tribe’s planet from destruction. Whilst saving Spock from being burnt alive inside an active volcano, Kirk comes under fire from Starfleet for breaking the mission’s ‘Prime Directive’. However, Kirk and Spock’s demotions are the least of Starfleet’s problems. Super-powered secret agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) betrays the Federation and blows up London’s Starfleet Archives building. With a point to prove, Kirk and Spock are reinstated and tasked with eradicating Harrison by any means necessary. However, the universe and Harrison hold many surprises for the Enterprise’s crew.

Benedict Cumberbatch.

The real captain of this multi-layered ship is J.J. Abrams. Abrams is one of the busiest and most engaging producer/directors currently working. When he’s not creating shows like Lost, he’s directing big-budget flicks like Mission Impossible 3 and Super 8. His first Star Trek film, back in 2009, revived a once flagging franchise; smartly and efficiently bringing together the beloved group of Starfleet officers in an alternate timeline. Once again, his directorial flair shines in every scene. Clearly inspired by the early works of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, he injects charm and wonder into every shot. His film hits warp speed rather quickly. This instalment, despite containing a convoluted screenplay by Lost writers Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci, excels at keeping everything balanced and weightless. Despite some familiar and unnecessary plot points, the screenplay keeps you guessing whilst keeping the extraneous Trek jargon to a minimum. Unlike most sequels, the plot, characters, and special effect/action sequences fit together seamlessly to propel the story forward. This instalment owes a debt of gratitude to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Whilst containing some major spoilers, this instalment matches the classic Trek sequel in emotion and thrills. Both Trekkies and average film-goers will savour Abrams’ take on these eternally culturally-relevant characters.

Alice Eve.

This time around, Abrams has beefed up the series’ ‘Mac Store’ look. The film switches mostly between futuristic Earth settings and scenic vistas of the universe. Every setting is slick, expansive, and brightly lit; adding to this already awe-inspiring experience. Some may find Abrams’ lens flares to be jarring, while everyone else will quickly be immersed in his expansive creation. Abrams, hurriedly becoming an auteur, has a keen eye for universe building. The production design immediately impresses with the opening scene. The threatened planet, featuring a lush, red forest and black and white-painted tribesman, becomes an enthralling sight to behold. The inventive cinematography and score also stand out. Abrams’ unique camera-work presents the Enterprise as an intricate, maze-like creation. The action set-pieces come thick and fast. Spaceship battles, foot chases, and shoot outs are some of the film’s most enthralling moments. The ship is nearly destroyed on multiple occasions, somehow coping with whatever the universe throws at it. However, Abrams never allows style to overtake substance. His references to the original series and movies are subtle and, at points, extremely clever. The famous quotes and signs (Vulcan salute, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” etc.) are subtly thrown in when required. The comedic moments are also fun, and delivered particularly well by the film’s immensely-talented cast.

“KHAAANNNN!” (Spock (Zachary Quinto), Star Trek into Darkness).

Despite the heavy amount of exposition in some scenes, the dialogue is delivered flawlessly by this stellar cast. The cast now comfortably fits into every key role. Abrams balances wit and drama whilst controlling the film’s colourful array of personalities. Pine is a charismatic and powerful presence on screen. Kirk is a man of many talents, but continually fails to follow orders. His arc here is both familiar and touching. To conquer this ominous threat, he must trust his crew members and learn the importance of humility. His friendship with Spock becomes more naturalistic as the film progresses. Quinto flawed me here with his nuanced and delicate portrayal of Spock. Here, Spock is in an internal tug of war with his Vulcan sense of duty and humanistic sense of modesty. Cumberbatch’s Harrison is a menacing and sympathetic villain. Essentially a 23rd Century terrorist, his startling actions draw many comparisons to current events. He represents the enemies that major organisations struggle to find. This vengeful character’s motivations are clear and understandable. However, this is one of many recent blockbusters to depict the lead villain being intentionally captured (this cliché has now officially run its course!). The supporting cast, including Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, John Cho, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Zoe Saldana, are effective in small roles. However, newcomers Peter Weller (‘Robocop’ himself) and Alice Eve fail to make the most of their underdeveloped characters.

Tense in some scenes and tear-jerking in others, Star Trek into Darkness is an almost flawless big-budget, sci-fi action flick. The cast, kinetic visuals, and fun action set pieces form a thrilling and enlightening film-going experience. With Abrams making Star Trek instalments of this quality, let’s hope that Into Darkness isn’t his final frontier.

Verdict: An exciting and profound sci-fi spectacle.