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

Megamind (2010)

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Hey! It’s been a year since I posted my first review on this very movie blog. That’s quite mega don’t you think, so in weak relation to that I’m reviewing ‘Megamind’. It’s zippy, fun and entertaining too, just like keeping up with writing for this review blog is, so dive right on in to see what I thought of DreamWorks 2010 hero themed toon.

Rivals since babies; Megamind (Will Ferrell) and Metro Man (Brad Pitt) play the same revenge battles in Metro City until one day Megamind may finally come to winning. In the possibility of no hero and no need to keep on kidnapping reporter Roxanne (Tina Fey) what can Megamind do to keep occupied and will his answer make things worse like normal?

It’s not in any way a fresh story to run with, superheroes in both live action and animation are old hat but this film has some zippy visuals and fun energetic voice casting to help it along a lot. The destruction looks great and you can see where the 3D would have fitted in. Buildings crumble, sprays of Megamind graffiti line streets and explosions fill this Metropolis inspired city. The superhero angle is winked at from Lois Lane like Roxanne to Batman like lair and a mention of a Fortress of Solitude.

Brent Simons and Alan J. Schoolcraft don’t excel fully, some of their hero connected plot work is smart and suitably silly but not enough is different enough to feel as zany as it’s trying to be or remarkable enough to be a new thing. The story line is predictable from a long way off as you read into where each character is going, but that’s not a widely bad point, it is a family film after all and so it shouldn’t be too confusing, just maybe the good vs evil angle could have been played around in a less obvious manner.

Rocky soundtrack choices and humour in Megamind’s mispronunciation are a couple of selections from a few quite neat comedic touches in Tom McGrath’s enjoyable cartoon ride. The multiple coded code word back and forth discussions, the blase reactions of Roxie to her kidnaps, the radio cutting between songs and Megamind’s way of dealing with his loss of an obstacle are funny additions and keep the film running at a steady and welcome pace.

Will Ferrell gives the large blue headed alien baddie a buffoonish quality but yet with an endearing note that leaves you liking him no matter how idiotic he acts. The vocals he gives when the film spoofs Marlon Brando in Superman are hilarious and there for the adult audience. There’s a spark of wit in Megamind’s dialogue that gives him depth and character to carry the film more than well. This witty trend is shared greatly with David Cross and the quick firing banter he has with Megamind as talking fish sidekick, Minion. Brad Pitt gives his voice nicely to the showboating and over heroic Superman-esque stylings of Metro Man. Tina Fey is great at the nonchalant mannerisms and gives a balanced degree of heart and offish reaction to her reporting character. Jonah Hill as doofy nerd cameraman Hal is typically Hill but his character progresses and so does his vocal work so all in all the cast are very good at playing this story out.

A superhero parcel arriving at the door that needs not be opened before you know what’s inside, but there’s an amount of joy to be had in unwrapping that parcel. Metaphor aside and near the end of an anniversary review, ‘Megamind’ is rapid, fun and harmless heroic play.

6/10

Big Hero 6 (2015)

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A great film whizzing with colourful and cuddly delight, ‘Big Hero 6’ delivers on fun, adventure and heart in perfect equal measure combining the welcoming animation of Disney with action packed superhero sequences for the Marvel crowds. The look of the entire movie is beautiful with detail in every city corner and the story packs a robotic punch as you root for the central boy to overcome his emotional darkness.

13 year old Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is keen on tech wizardry and uses his know how to compete in illegal Bot Fights but on seeing the amazing Nerd Lab school that his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) attends, Hiro becomes set on creating a new invention that will please his mentor brother and school professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell), but Hiro’s microbots are something that a villainous masked figure wants and soon he and Tadashi’s lab mates must unite with a wonderful inflatable healthcare robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit) to stop the bad guy.

The animation of this film is just brilliant. Detailing of the San Fransokyo city is captivating and the place breathes exhilarating life, mixing concrete aspects of America and the sweeping Golden Gate Bridge with a cool oriental flavour dotting the streets and shops. The characters themselves are really well done, still sitting in that general Disney appearance but skin, hair and rubber inflation texture are crystal clear and entice you in. It would be nice for Disney to have differing characters that Dreamworks utilise more often, as girls always look the same and for a Japanese inspired creation they look more American than not.

The notion of good versus evil isn’t tiresome as it can always be used to pull the wonder of children and adults alike. The way this film expands is nice, in opening us to the struggle of Hiro’s world after a personal tragedy. The trailer of course gives away the loss but that doesn’t make the event any less impacting as we see how Hiro deals with trying to fight back against the person who killed his brother. As Hiro goes on a course of discovery and what is right and wrong in the light of an easy revenge path you feel for Baymax and the Nerd group caught up in trying to help.

Baymax is a sweet and cute tool and moving from the monster origin he has in the comics, we get a designed balloon nurse who shuffles along like a dopey marshmallow with blinking eyes and the softest voice to melt even the iciest hearts. The comedy comes a lot from how Baymax deals with his surroundings, from diagnosing Hiro to getting used to his space and fleeing swarming microbots. It’s a character that may even capture kids imaginations long enough to take over from the wave of Elsa fanatics.

Henry Jackman’s score is uplifting and booms with that recognisable tension of music used in live action superhero movies. The elevating sounds and big beats make the heroic set-ups more impressive and the orchestral overtones of Baymax’s first flight are done so well to make the flying scene more evocative as this big invention sees the world in a new way as we do too. Fall Out Boy’s ‘Immortals’ track comes into the film and over the credits as a rocky pumping tune and works nicely, not feeling out of place like Rihanna’s song in ‘Wreck-it Ralph’.

Scott Adsit from ’30 Rock’ fame and hilarity manages to give wonderful warmth to a robotic character and Baymax sounds truly loyal and caring while still maintaining a emotive and humourous quality. Ryan Potter is a great leading vocal talent with little film or TV experience to date he makes Hiro a realistic lad to follow. James Cromwell uses that assured and gravelly tone to make Robert sound like the intelligent professor he is. T.J. Miller gets a lot of the comedic lines as hero obsessed Fred Zilla and the hint of stoner teen is not pushed but there enough for him to play with. In fact all the players of the team Big Hero 6 sound right and give their characters depth to stand up as their own identities, whether flame breathing or chemistry mad.

This is a delight of a film, feeling happily different to past Disney efforts and in my eyes overshadowing the overrated ‘Frozen’ phenomenon. Bursting with futuristic innovations and a unique Japanese city inspiration this movie plays on themes of heroism, grief and friendship to excellent standards and is full of enjoyable feels.

8/10

Birdman (2014)

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Zany, arty, mad, poetic and thoughtful in design and structure, Birdman soars to extravagant heights in its exploration of fame and the media. One of the smoothest yet surreal showcases I’ve witnessed and absolutely superb because of it.

This film sees Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) trying to shed his superhero acting days of the Birdman series by directing, writing and starring in a Broadway play. ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ is having financial problems until supremo actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) comes along. Soon acting wars arise and the issue of celebrity and theatre take centre stage as Riggan uses apparent powers to be the respected talent he craves to be.

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, this tale has a crazy amount of flair and style. He displayed that unwinding criss cross of direction in the brilliant ‘Amores Perros’ and in this movie he lets the story play out through near full length unedited wonder. The film glides and floats through scenes making the whole story seem oddly smooth considering the madness centered in the plot. This fluid one shot appearance is perfect and as it winds around through the theatre it feels like a promenade performance, as if we the audience are following Riggan and his life, a theme key in the film as it explores culture and the obsession of fan followings.

The writing is smart and beautifully written in making the many exchanges feel real. The entire scripting team have conjured up a poignant yet absurd narrative and though there can be a lot of dialogue that some may get bored with, others will lap up the neat and well constructed study of celebrity and identity. The ending itself is one that you always wonder how it’ll play out and when the screen goes to black and the first credit appears, I at least felt happy in the clever and open ending.

Antonio Sanchez gifts this movie a heroic amount of tempo and charisma through repeated percussion. The drum beats really strike the speakers well and ramp up either tension or feelings of bewilderment as Riggan goes about his ever odder days. Having the drummer planted into the scenes is a nice out of body touch and breaks the fourth wall, it also adds to the way Riggan sees himself as powerful, a possible illusion to him believing the drummer is soundtracking his life.

The movie is genius in the design and content. As simple as a background billboard of Superman reflecting the hero-like stature of Riggan as he stands atop a building. Then there’s the fact of having two former superhero actors in the movie. One time Batman and Hulk squaring off against one another is fantastic, piled tremendously on top of this is Thomson’s story of George Clooney and a plane crash, a wink to another Batman alumni worrying Riggan’s mind. The near end in a hospital features neat mask imagery too.

It’s a mysterious film and it grandly details the desire of fame, recognition, plaudits and love. These are running themes that go alongside the main issue of media and especially concerning the artistry of the theatre. The whole critic vs performer debate is brilliant from both sides and added to all these other themes is the magnifying glass on audiences and their expectations. We crave action and fast moving plots as much as Riggan craves to be adored for something understated. The insane explosive, robotic bird, birdman journey that Thomson takes around New York is the brief action filled superhero-esque nonsense that so many want in movie releases.

Michael Keaton is a shoe in for an Academy Award, if not then it’s a terrible snub from the Oscar panel as his performance is mad, emotional, subtle then big and overall a fascinating character comes to life because of Keaton. The echoing voice over of Birdman is fantastic and every look Keaton gives breathes further life into Riggan, a high flying role deserving of every credit. Edward Norton is also insanely good, the jerky arrogant talent runs through every nuance and as he faces off against Keaton we get some of the best scenes in the film. Zach Galifianakis steps away from his usual shtick and gives comedic yet panicked sidekick material to producer Jake. Emma Stone is doe eyed and unhinged as Riggan’s daughter Sam, her pieces of dialogue about twitter, social media and the clawing of attention are powerfully spoken about and she acts as a brilliant opposite to Riggan.

Birdman is a technical triumph stuffed with dizzying spectacular performances. The smooth one take centre is wonderful, the plot is beautiful and mad and the look is stylish and haunting. This has to be seen to believed and in my thoughts, seen at least twice just to admire Keaton, Norton and the magical direction.

8.5/10