Snowden (2016)

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With a neat common theme of modern like gloss layered over this political drama it’s hard not to feel some moments are heightened for cinematic effect, but the true life and accounts its portraying are truly interesting, thrilling and I liked the film quite a lot.

After being ruled out of the U.S Army, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explores his passion for computers and joins the CIA impressing Corbin (Rhys Ifans). At the same time, Snowden is developing a connection with photographer and liberal Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). As his roles develop, Edward Snowden questions the ideas of these huge government groups and winds up releasing date about American security reviling him as the notorious whistleblower.

I do find that with these type of films, there is never a running jump as to who the director wants to place their chips with, leaving us to walk out mulling over our own thoughts. That for me is something annoying and at least here, director Oliver Stone makes it clear that he’s on Snowden’s side. Of course that gives this movie an obvious bias but he’s having the confidence to put his foot down and direct his own mind.

Edward Snowden was someone I’d always heard of, knew of the whistle blowing status and what he had done to a small degree, but this movie explores a lot more which is great. I liked what the whole feature had to say, as it doesn’t just shed light on this man and how not only his work changed his decisions and therefore life but gives us enough to make an opinion even if Stone is leaning us to the fact that what he did was a necessary thing to kick-start a change in American surveillance.

I too will stake my place and agree that what Snowden was for the benefit of a hopeful world, with big countries needing to be more open about their spying on everyday people. The opposite side is agreeable too, concerning how he definitely threatened pivotal date to possible terrorists and stole information but then this is why I liked the film because there’s a huge meaty conversation starter to be had about the actions of an ethical and technological 29 year old.

Structurally the movie is done as you’d imagine, starting at the most recent point in his timeline as he’s about to leak the information before jumping back every now and then with the the newest 2013 scenes interspersed from time to time. It’s never confusing or muddled and sometimes the scenes blend nicely together. There are some beautiful little touches, for example the kaleidoscope hotel corridor as Snowden walks along, almost a visual parallel to the different stands of his career.

What hit me most is when we watch him use a program that hops from a tracked person if interest and links him/her to contacts they have, then contacts those people have and so on and so on. That was an alarming realisation that I’d just ignorantly never thought to think about and it really demonstrates how mostly innocent people are being watched constantly. It’s all cleverly awash with a neon blue and ends on a graphic circle melding into a shot of Snowden’s eye before pulling out and seeing Edward watch that program unfold.

Gordon-Levitt is great, the change to his voice matches the sound of Snowden very well and he looks remarkably like him as the stubble appears. Woodley is radiant as the antithesis to her partner, she acts playfully but shows emotion too as his commitment to work affects their relationship. Rhys Ifans is a sort of formidable character, on the brink of villainy because of what he knows, this characteristic is illuminated further as his faces looms over Snowden on a screen through a Facetime call. Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson aren’t in it too much but do enough to become believable intrepid allies to the cause and likewise Nicolas Cage has little screen-time but is a friendly if typically Cage-like role helping Edward out.

The very biased construction of the film, shining Snowden in a radiant light might be off-putting to some, but he is an icon whichever way you look at him. There’s plenty to think about after seeing this and for me that just outweighs the idealistic siding they’ve taken to their own hero.

7/10

Sully (2016)

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Soaring heights and then crashing back to Earth very quickly, is this safe biographical drama that is interesting, good but an overall un-amazing feature that feels as if it’s hovering calmly over the water never daring to pull up or take the plunge.

In early January, Captain Sully (Tom Hanks) is boarding a flight from LaGuardia in New York to Charlotte in North Carolina, but he and First Officer Jeffrey (Aaron Eckhart) literally fly into trouble as a flock of birds damage their engines. In that quickening scenario of danger Sully manages to land the plane on the Hudson but this leads to many eyes determining whether he made a bad decision.

Clint Eastwood directs this inspiring story about a brave yet everyday hero in a similarly painted-by-numbers manner that he did with ‘Jersey Boys’. It all feels like it’s conforming to a pedestrian telling of a real life event. So considering the life-threatening drama involved it is a film that never comes across as something incredible, rather you’re faced with a good but wholly simple movie.

I couldn’t say I dislike the film though, it’s made efficiently enough and captures that work-like nature of a man in crisis with ease. The differing points of view that come throughout sees the landing from both sides and builds a good narrative, but they get slightly drawn aback by two pretty pointless flashbacks that show younger Sully’s through his work progression, they hardly warrant involvement in the actual finalised release.

The words plane and disaster are ones you never want to hear spoken together, so the few times we see Sully’s nightmarish visions of a plane smashing into a NYC building conjures up jangling nerves and a 9/11 horror. Though the twinkling Christmas-esque music over the passengers being saved is cliched it does help create a miraculous aura over the triumph of many people being helped by others.

Tom Hanks is, as you’d imagine, a fine solid lead playing a capable and charmingly knowledgeable hero, on the flip-side though you know it’s Hanks all the way through and you never lose yourself into his performance enough to buy into it 100%. Aaron Eckhart gets a few good quips and does well in helpfully rooting for Sully but is mostly lost to the wayside.

‘Sully’ flies effectively yet super calmly to the screen as a biopic like nearly every other biopic that gets released during this point of the film calendar. It does the job as Sully himself did but it’s a quiet and average film.

6/10

Bleed for This (2016)

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Stepping into the ring is this boxing bio-pic that smacks with a few of the expected sporting movie cliches but thanks to a great great performance from Miles Teller, the rise to riches and fame story isn’t so tedious.

Boxer Vinny Pazienza (Teller) is in the junior welterweight category but doesn’t seem to have luck winning bouts. Once he teams up with former Mike Tyson coach Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) and bumps up to junior middleweight he begins succeeding. That run comes to a tragic halt as Pazienza breaks his neck in a car crash but he doesn’t want to quit and tries fighting again.

Ben Younger directs this biographical drama with a clear understanding of crafting the journey. There’s enough time and attention given to not just the party boy character of Vinny but his family also. The moment he winds up almost paralysed is delivered well, showing what that change has on everyone. A lot of the time in fighting/boxing films, it’s the bouts themselves that run tiresome or repetitive so gladly Younger focuses more on the character development than what happens confined behind the ropes.

Of course there is still the usual boxing pitfalls of initial fights, underdog statuses and the middle plot drive where Vinny shifts a gear and becomes a big winner. Then there’s the next fall and with a devastating accident like the one we see, it’s obvious we’ll receive the protagonists gritty resolve to progress and never give up. The ending fight is predictable and lacks any inspiring gusto but it certainly hits with a good comeback end showing off the powerful mindset some people have to endure and prove people wrong.

A neat moment of editing occurs nearing the end, sharp quick sounds of punching as Vinny smacks from the past. Along with this we get fast flashes of scenes retelling his story as we come the huge step in his career where he hopes to squash fears of his injuries and triumph.

Miles Teller lands a fantastic point in his career in a role that topples his dedicated wonder in ‘Whiplash’. That drum-centric film may be better but here Teller is a muscled machine that pushes the story onward and upwards as much as he can. It’s certainly his show and he excels as Pazienza bringing sweat dripping determination to the screen. Aaron Eckhart is great also, the knowing coach is believable and he has a good connection with Teller, dancing and drink induced scenes give him fun and character. Ciaran Hinds is another engaging talent through this, the actor immerses himself brilliantly as Vinny’s father.

There’s enough in this sporting feature to keep you watching but not enough to break the mould or overly excite. The performances are strong but the film doesn’t help make me think boxing movies need to step down for a while.

6.5/10

Anthropoid (2016)

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Rattling along with uniformed bravado and tension, this is a neat WW2 film that does well in displaying the planning of such a powerful moment during the drama of the Nazi regime. It’s a building drama with a knack of being intense if not 100 percent solid.

Agents Jozef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) make their way into Prague knowing they have an operation to proceed with. This is Operation Anthropoid; a taskto assassinate third highest ranking Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich. The two of them withhelp from the Czech Resistance plan their method of attack carefully for the 27th May 1942.

I must say first of all that though there is a great amount of costuming, location and accented detail throughout the first act, it does go by ever so slowly. In a good way it lets us as the audience have a chance to breathe in the dangerous war atmosphere and understand the character’s motivations but it almost drags with dialogue and the quite Hollywood style romantic subplots just don’t sit right.

Once the 60 minute hits though, the film shifts a gear. This is of course as we witness the assassination attempt on real life German horror figure Heydrich. The sequence we get could possibly be one of the best unnerving bouts of cinematic tension I’ve seen, it’s paced effectively, performed amazingly and with a gripping score on top, the scene becomes highly strung and appears like the massively important event in the war effort it was.

Sean Ellis directs the majority of this film in an engaging manner. He falls short of the authenticity from time to time or as said takes too long in the first act, but with the road side assassination sequence and the following aftermath we kick into an aggressive third act seeing the Gestapo and other officials hunt down the Czechoslovakian fighters. In a way the church violence and stand offs looks more entertaining than bloody, painful or uncomfortable, which perhaps it should have been instead, but all guns are literally blazing as we greatly see these brave soldiers defend themselves.

Jamie Dornan in the first thing I’ve seen him in, is a great role. He displays the shaky nerves of a Czech man constantly well but is still a dominant and capable hero wanting to fight back. Cillian Murphy is brilliant as he always is, playing the more forceful and thinking Slovak to Dornan’s Kubis. Toby Jones immerses himself also, as a possible fictional but still necessary uncle type role who leads the Resistance.

For such a huge event in WW2 and the task they underwent, I feel ashamed I’d never heard of it in any capacity. This movie then is brilliant for shedding light on a group of men deserving of their place in the history books if not totally brilliant as a movie there’s enough tension to keep it respectable.

6.5/10

 

 

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)

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Taking inspiration from the book/memoirs of an international journalist, this American comedy drama uses war as a backdrop and gives it, in places, a biting edge but doesn’t seem to dare take a further step in accounting the horrors of Afghanistan during the troops placement there.

Sick of her desk job, Kim Baker (Tina Fey) grabs the opportunity to go on an assignment to Afghanistan. There she meets another journalist; Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) who helps Kim acclimatise to the Kabul life, or the ‘Kabubble’ as they take to calling it. Kim stays longer than expected and begins getting used to the environment with the added help of photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman).

It feels like a long film, which isn’t a great thing to be kicking off with. The 112 minute run-time could have been okay to focus on the grittier side of realities both soldiers and Afghan people faced but it spends too long with Kim and her limited view on the subject. I only began really liking the movie as it got close the end. It takes Kim going back to New York and gaining an understanding of actions she’s taken and her new course of action to help the plot gain any real drive.

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa direct films as a pair and have the slicker ‘Focus’ under their belt, which is a silly comparison but it shows they know how to keep pace and style up whereas this movie lagged in places and is generally quite a pedestrian looking feature. There’s no special treatment that makes the dangerous location of the story feel more worrying. Even some hand held camera may have helped but aside from the in veil head camera Fey wears, the film tries to be realistic and light-hearted but falls short of both.

I liked where they tried going with it, the basing of the real memoirs and what the actual Kim saw and reported is tinged with a comedic twist. As they joke and laugh at Kim when she’s covered up so the men don’t look at her, the attempt at humour feels ill placed. The pairing of Fey and Freeman helps the film though and the disjointed harmony they share is amusing and sentimental. There’s a sure dryness to the script and it works in most places but they should have been more serious too.

Tina Fey is sharp and straight talking as her character. It’s almost a fascinating achievement as she goes a while being dislikable for the decisions and life risking choices she makes to get news scoops. Fey gladly acts seriously which only draws more attention to the fact the movie isn’t as grounded as it should be. Martin Freeman has a convincing Scottish accent and is an equal match to the sharp, dry playing of Fey. Margot Robbie is a vaguely arrogant yet fun-loving bundle of energy, she plays the sneakier side to her reporter character well to make you dislike her, which is definitely a fascinating achievement. I liked the performance from Alfred Molina a lot, it’s a fun look at the strict ways of a government figure and he pulls off that manner well.

It is Fey and Freeman that provide the drama and heart to a film that unfortunately doesn’t take a brave leap in being more than just an American’s viewpoint and journey.

6/10

 

Elvis & Nixon (2016)

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There’s no question that the acting from these impressive male leads is what makes the film. Aside from the twinkling presence they both radiate, I feel this film goes down a bonkers route about a seriously odd meeting in a way that’s less than dominating than it should be.

Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) sees himself as a potential figure of hope and anti-drugs for the youth. He gets an idea to have a meeting with the President to gain a badge and become an agent at large. POTUS Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey) is at first against the idea but soon realises this meeting could prove very popular and so, on December 21st 1970, these two famous men meet.

Before the trailers I had no idea that this meeting ever took place, something I’m sure Elvis Presley would be glad about. He wanted it to be a secret, he wanted badges and control and clearly aiming for the President was the logical step. I’m glad I’ve seen this movie just for the fact in seeing something so absurd yet knowing it happened makes it even more unusual.

Liza Johnson does a great job in building up the apprehension of the real life based plot. We see Presley and Nixon at varying times, we see the men that aid their lives and so we sort of sit on the edge of our seats waiting for the inevitable meeting to take place. This comedy slash drama falls under sparkle yet no bang. There is no grand or even rewarding pay off by the end of this film, the Oval Office scene between these powerhouses of America is like a dud sparkler on Bonfire Night.

It could be called a bio-pic but then as no recordings took place in the office of Nixon until a year later, who’s to say how much of this movie is taking cinematic liberties just for entertainment purposes. I realise that Nixon’s hand Egil Krogh made notes on the event but apart from the photograph and his scribbles, there’s times that this movie makes things feel larger than life and I couldn’t swallow them as facts, comedy or entertaining. The film kind of feels off in a few places, whether it’s the lack of substance or the somewhat slow pacing, which is a shame considering the acting talent involved.

Michael Shannon dons a wig and shades in a convincing manner to portray the King of Rock and Roll. He has the hand gestures and deep drone voice down to an art and makes Elvis come alive in a charismatic way, even if there’s a couple of occasions where he catches your eye as a Vegas impersonator and looks oddly cheap. Kevin Spacey is perfect as Nixon I think, the jowly gravel tone of his voice and the hunched cross armed poses, he does a stellar job as the President. Colin Hanks and Evan Peters are both likable in their roles and Alex Pettyfer plays Presley PA/friend Jerry Schilling with a needed human touch amongst the caricature nature everywhere else.

Not as fascinating as I hoped, Elvis certainly enters the building with swagger but a meeting like this comes across like Heartbreak Hotel and not Whitehouse Rock.

6/10

Fruitvale Station (2013)

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Not knowing anything about the true life case of this movie’s focus point, I can unequivocally say that this a biographical drama that utterly buries into the life and character of a man who we get to know and therefore like. It’s heart rending, powerful and gripping as it looks at life and death.

Based on the real life events at Fruitvale Station of the Bay Area Rapid Transist system in California, this bio-pic follows 21 year old dad of one Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) who is trying to live a better life for the sake of his daughter and partner Sophina (Melonie Diaz). On New Year’s Eve Oscar, Sophina and their friends go out to celebrate but their night ends up going fatally wrong.

Just the way we see day to day life helps us as the audience get on board with Oscar. He may have had a rocky past, lied and been involved with drugs but what matters is we see his progression and all those negative aspects actually aid in making him more human, a person with flaws like most of us. Every step of his life, from being brilliant with Tatiana, his daughter or caring about his mother shows us what a genuine friendly man Oscar was.

Ryan Coogler directs this film with a very motivated sense to stay true to the heart of Oscar and ensure those that watch feel the pain of the injustice served to a kind and young individual. The family of Grant of course worked very closely and I’m sure they’re humbled and proud of the work Coogler created because with the 16 mm format, the locations, the screenplay, everything feels and looks so real that it’s almost a glossy documentary. Also, the fact it was his debut feature promises great things from Coogler, now with ‘Creed’ under his belt too.

This is a very sobering movie, that leaves you very quiet and sucker punched as the credits roll and see the true life pictures on the anniversary of Oscar Grant’s death. I do admit I didn’t hear or know of this atrocity before hearing about the film so thankfully this movie sheds light on something I feel everyone should know. By placing in the mobile phone footage at the beginning it brings everyone else up to speed with what happened and sets the tone of the film running.

Michael B. Jordan is an astonishing presence in this, he’s outstandingly convincing as a fun yet caring father, trying and loving boyfriend and son. He plays the darker and aggressive edges very well just showing enough but not too much. He makes sure he gives Oscar empathy so we understand his journey and feel moved when he’s subjected to the sadly, very real and current act of police brutality. Octavia Spencer is a tower of strength as Wanda, his mother. Always wanting to seem strong and wish the best for her boy, it’s crumbling to watch her reaction when she knows Oscar has died. Melonie Diaz is a perfect note to compliment Jordan, she’s got a fun side but is very real in her emotions for wanting more of an honest man and of course when she wants answers near the end.

One of the more impacting films I’ve watched, leaving me shocked and saddened to tears for the atrocious handling of a night out. It’s thought provoking, relevant, powerful and so moving.

8/10