Snowden (2016)

6a2d45c885d7e6533105c4f86086dffc

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

The Walk (2015)

walk_xlg

The second in IMAX spectacle features after the snowy daring of ‘Everest’. This one fares better though and gladly so, as it gives us less characters with more focus, a more engaging artistic story and fun creativity in the setting up of this mans story to ascend to the clouds but not on a mountain.

Ever since Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a young boy, he had aspirations of high wire acts and once he sees there’s construction of the Twin Towers in New York, he makes it his mission to get a team together and plan to join and then walk a wire across the World Trade Center.

There can be do denial here that this movie directed by Robert Zemeckis has that feeling of a heist flick. The actual walk itself is a small step near the end of this journey. I feel Zemeckis delivers more punch and pizzazz before the walking moments. As I said, this heist theme runs throughout with confident arty Frenchman Petit evading rules and police to follow his dreams. The run of scenes with him scouting the building of the towers and his way up them are dealt with fantastically, feeling the strongest parts of the movie for me.

Screenplay wise, Zemeckis and Christopher Browne make a good thing out of Petit’s book, ‘To Reach the Clouds’. This true story as they say can feel far fetched but then that just goes to show what a dynamic character Philippe was and assuredly still is. The way they bring in narration to open the plot could be dumb and yes it whacks with exposition but it’s dealt with in a creative and also visual flair that helps invite us in. The travel through his life is interesting and we get why he’s up for this death-defying act. The only wobbly steps are with the relationship with Annie that never feels alive and the walk itself.

I heard one audience member behind me gasp loudly as he shakes near the end of his extended showmanship, but I didn’t get why. The walk was the lamest part for me, after all the build up I didn’t even think the visuals were truly astounding. IMAX suits the sky piercing towers well and gives the film depth and scale but it all looked green screen and graphic created to me like the effects team putting out their elongated money shot for the Academy. As he kept going back and forth I grew tired of the routine, honestly. I may be saying something mad here as he did do this for real, but the walk of The Walk was the least interesting note to take away from this film.

Alan Silvestri’s score does feel magical and sweeps high and low for the character driven moments, from Philippe’s first step out onto the wire to the paranoid midnight ‘coffin’ fixing he does. The music may be the only reason I got gripped as Petit lays on the wire to take in the sky above. The opening Parisian sequence with black and white as the canvas gifts the movie that fantastic creative flair I mentioned before and then from the initial mention of the NY World Trade Center to the credits there’s that unshakable feeling you get of knowing they’re not there anymore, it makes the last line of the film utterly powerful even for someone not from the city or America.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt sinks under his blackened hair and blue contacts to deliver a clownish performance as the driven artistic mind of Philippe Petit. The French accent is convincing, it may waver a couple of times but that’s it, he pulls of the vocal very well. In his eyes you can see that determination but worried vulnerability as he wonders whether the Towers and the wire will be kind to him. Ben Kingsley comes along for a few scenes and does his thing to almost steal the show. Skipping from wise teacher to mad uncle, he helps Petit along the way with strong advice and mentoring. Charlotte Le Bon arrives with a graceful presence with her musical dreams and through her acting we see her commitment to Petit but her love fades as she loses her grip on her own dreams.

A fun film that does it’s work for the family, it has no grit or biographical feel that gives it any true weight but Levitt and the visuals are sparky throughout to muster up the enjoyment factor.

6.5/10

Don Jon (2013)

don_jon_ver6

This got the number 8 spot in my top films of 2013 and I guess after watching it again, I shall expand on why I like it enough to warrant it a top 10 status. It’s incredibly slick and sexy, there’s a fine amount of comedy and romance and though some ideas aren’t perfect the movie proves to be cool, clever and interesting.

It’s a story revolving around the pumped up Jersey lad Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who cares for his body, car, friends, women and porn. This last obsession could ruin the amazing chance he has with new partner Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) and maybe a fellow night student called Esther (Julianne Moore) could make Jon see what he’s doing wrong.

As a debut director, Gordon-Levitt nearly hits it out of the ball park. He does definitely demonstrate some charisma in acting and directing terms, the quick and smooth sections accompanied by spot on voice overs contribute to this stylish feel. It’s in his world of porn viewing that the largest amount of style and comedy arrives, the simplicity of the start up sound doing more than enough to crack a smile and make you realise what Jon is doing. This simple audio device is once again used to comedic effect in the nightclub scenes when Jon eyes up his next sexual partner.

It’s a confident film with a simple narrative utilising family, religion, relationships and sex. The routine Jon has is brilliantly executed in repeated images of him entering church or the gym, the panning shot of him and his family sat in their pew is a nice touch, if just for Brie Larson’s disinterest heightened more than at the dinner table. When a new figure comes along, some of these routines change and that has more effect after seeing them pretty much the same before then.

The whole debate of virtual sex and real dramatic partnerships is a great platform to base a film on and though it doesn’t go to outstanding levels, you do see both sides of the argument and ultimately there is an end answer to whether or no porn is brilliant. The laddish talk and fanastising of perfect women doing all kinds of things is understandable and so to is the flip-side of someone not appreciating them loving it more than them. Seen through manically edited porno videos to raise the adrenaline or the twee romance of movies starring Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway is a big contrasting tool to set apart Jon and Barbara and however obvious there stances on life are, it works well.

It’s quite a touching story at times, with Moore’s character providing more of the grounded human aspect needed for this film. Esther is there but not at the same time and it’s clear she has a sad background, this three dimensional persona in fact makes her the best character in the film, Jon and Barbara merely serving as caricatures of the Jersey lifestyle which is both suitable and annoying.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a twinkled eyed star, but to good effect he loses that good guy image and becomes a greasier gel haired objectifier with eyes only on stellar bodies, himself and the female species included. He opens up and becomes more real when around Esther and this is a nice character progression to have. Scarlett Johansson is just gorgeous. Now that shouldn’t be a acting review but it works in favour for her male gaze character. She plays the romantically inclined dreamer of homely togetherness to fab effect, in fact making you dislike her because she cannot care about Jon. Julianne Moore, as mentioned is the best character and she acts that mysterious past well, while all the time being frank, engaging and believable. Brie Larson has the moment to say what we all think after being quiet for so long. Tony Danza is a great way to show how Jon is and could be and his football and Barbara focused passion are very funny.

A fun and slick insight into relationships from differing sides, the sentiment that finally lands may be too predictable and sugar coated but the debauchery, sex, comedy and style that comes before, more than makes up for it in a thoughtful and satisfying directorial debut from Levitt.

7.5/10

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Sin-City-A-Dame-to-Kill-For-final-poster-

Sleek, stylish and sexy without a doubt but the fault lies with substance in the concoction of it all. The film’s biggest sins are in feeling stretched out, familiar and not having that same oomph factor the 2005 movie came with. There’s no serious impact or sense of noir amazement sadly, though it’s still a superbly watchable film with shadows, sleaze and splatter lighting up Basin City as per usual. 

That’s a lot of ‘S’ alliteration crammed into one paragraph and for that I apologise. Sliding swiftly sideways let’s see what the story serves up. It’s a mix of four plots that come along as prequel and sequel material to the first film. One is short and gives us more of the Marv (Mickey Rourke) magic as he deals with some frat boys. The Long Bad Night comes in two parts and sees newcomer Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) use his luck and skill at poker cost him more than he bargained for when he sits at the table of Senator Roarke (Powers Booth). The titular subheading of this film features a pre Clive Owen Dwight (Josh Brolin) meeting up with old flame Ava Lord (Eva Green) and trying to help her from an apparently abusive husband though getting out of his detective ways and back into action could be dangerous. The last segment is Nancy’s Last Dance and deals with Nancy (Jessica Alba) trying to train up to kill Roarke thanks to him leading Hartigan (Bruce Willis) to commit suicide, with the help of Marv she desires to finally be strong, leave the strip club behind and murder the corrupted Senator. 

Of all the things leading this film to be a box office bomb, it’s been time. A powerful and unforgiving master tis time and the nine years between the bold and greatly stylish first taste now feels slightly stale and not overly worth the long gap. Don’t get me wrong this movie still looks slick and comes dripping with sultry gloss and deep red blood but now there’s been a few films in the same vein as this and it doesn’t feel as original anymore. The white silhouettes and colour splashes are still fun to watch but just not as cool as they were before. If this sequel/prequel had come out three to maybe even five years after the first it could have succeeded better I think, but a nearly 10 year wait is just too long and even for a Sin City lover like myself I grew tired of on and off rumours waiting for this film to come. 

There’s still handfuls of enjoyment to be had in watching both the grime and glamour of this brutal city unfold and scenes come with that graphic novel stamp that keep scenes from becoming slightly boring as they might do if they weren’t shot in the way they were. It does feel drawn out longer than perhaps necessary but there’s plenty of thriller giddiness to be found in the dingy corners of Basin City. The saxophone backed voice overs are deliberately over the top and filled with strings of image stirring descriptions but that’s part of the delicious territory and I love the narration. There’s still vague echoes of the violent world the 2005 film smacked cinemas with but not as much which is a let down. Considering the 18 rating there could have been more utilising of Marv’s bloody nature and the sadistic villainous side of proceedings crumble for a pretty standard corrupted baddie. Most kill shots and hand to hand offings are seen in the whites and blacks of comic book panel mode and grotesque villains such as the Yellow Bastard and Elijah Wood’s Kevin are a distant memory with Roarke and one other the only true big bad names and they’re both just pretty normal people, no yellow skinned nastiness or white glassed cannibalism here guys. 

Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez direct together and achieve in providing audiences with the same fantastic visuals as before. They do however stumble in gaining that same bottled genius of interweaving tales and boldly drawn violence. The stories here work now and then but feel stitched together in the same way that I’d badly stitch up a jumper. Shocking self sewing declarations and more alliteration aside, A Dame to Kill For doesn’t ever work in making feel like you’d kill to see this again. I’ve been waiting so long and adored the first one but this feels lost and doesn’t hit hard like it should. The stories aren’t really interesting and dark as before. The only one that had some charisma and depth was Dwight, Gail and Ava’s story. Nancy’s story as the final chapter did come with some great moments too and that’s not just counting Alba shaking what her mamma gave her. It worked because it felt like it was attached to the first film and there was nostalgia thanks to that, I feel like I can use the word nostalgia because nine years is a long time ago! 

Mickey Rourke is always brilliant, bulky and up for trouble as Marv and he commits to the role under the square jawed prosthetic as fantastically as before. He delivers his voice over lines with the same gravelly tone that gives the film a hard edged steel needed to sell the film noir genre. Josh Brolin does well in trying to convince us he’s Dwight from before the Big Fat Kill and he sells the developing urge to kill bad eggs and yet look after attractive women from Old Town just as Clive Owen did. Powers Booth has a meatier role this time around and gives his character every devil eyed and snarled grimace to make you damn well sure he’s the man to be wary of. He too has the gravelly voice that every good film noir must have and after TV’s ‘Nashville’ you’re even more sure Booth is set for rich powerful baddies. Jessica Alba is more twisted and descending into drink and vengeance as she wishes to kill Roarke, she convinces us she’s on the warpath and haunted by Hartigan and truly Alba’s best acting comes as playing Nancy in both ‘Sin City’ films. The scarred aftermath of her femme fatale days give her time to breath as a more confident woman and after a steamy last dance she’s down to business. Eva Green provides some of the best stuff in the film and when she’s not in the story then the movie can feel like it’s dragging. She breathes life into the feature as Green always manages to do, she’s smart, sassy and funny and after many angled shots of her breasts she can still show she’s not just a body but a fine acting talent. Levitt, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple and Christopher Lloyd are fun and interesting additions but they’re all really just bit parts to the main event and don’t add a whole degree of anything wow. 

Disappointingly not as fresh as the original, but if you’re a Sin City fan or someone who likes film noir then this film will do more than enough to occupy your time and keep you wrapped up with some snappy and swish stuffed gleam. There’s more style than substance here but that’s not an awful sin if you choose to accept it. 

6.5/10

Looper (2012)

Image

This sci-fi and action story of time travel, identity and saving the world is glorious. The director Rian Johnson shoots a beautiful yet deadly tale filled with lens glares, wide shots and beneficial CGI. When a looper has to kill off bagged victims and the moment comes that he faces himself from the future you know you have a premise for greatness.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great, even under the prosthetic nose to make him seem more like Bruce Willis – who is great here too; another one of his finer films, if only he did more intelligent movies like this and less of the Die Hard franchise. When the time comes for their paths to cross and share a scene together it’s tense and funny too. The diner is their backdrop for angst and macho bravado against each other, even more interesting as they are the same person.

The story is intricate in places, it’s a film that’s worth multiple watches as you see more and like more. It’s touching and dark, clever and thrilling. Some of the camera shots are awesome; in particular where a camera tilts and falls alongside Levitt as he topples from a window. Sheer filmmaking brilliance aided in not unnecessary doses of CGI, from floating quarters to levitating humans it all adds to the storytelling and helps throw you into the film. One other set piece that uses CGI but to good effect comes with a chilling idea of what happens to your future version when something happens to present you, the mutilation is worrying and sets up another neat notch to this time travel story.

Another highlight of the film is the presence of a child actor who is just downright creepy, sure he has a sweet innocent side but when his crazy comes out, all hell breaks loose and you best try and look away from his brilliantly acted deranged shouty face.

All in all this film is a huge step in the right direction for dazzling and smart films using sci-fi and action as its base genre. You are taken on a ride and the payoff is hugely worth it, a neat ending and an even neater story that throws down a gauntlet in how great films of this category should be done.

8.5/10

Aside

Image

 

8. Don Jon – This is a sexy comedy with a heart to it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut was a surprise film for me, I wasn’t expecting too much but it’s well crafted in script terms, the idea is charming and dirty and played well by the cast. Sure some moments aren’t executed to perfection and in accordance to rom-com tropes it becomes obvious what will happen but it’s filthy, edited with slick cuts and voice-overs and proved that Levitt is a man to watch.