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

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Nerve (2016)

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This blue-y purple-y filled adrenaline shot of breaking rules and playing high stakes is a giddy watch, not always brilliant but satisfying and fun enough to never get bored or restless.

Single and unadventurous Venus aka Vee (Emma Roberts) is having a hard time with a university application and a boy she likes. Vee’s friend Sydney (Emily Meade) however is daring and popular online thanks to a reality mobile game that challenges players to dares for cash prizes. Vee steps up and joins the game and after joining with stranger and fellow player Ian (Dave Franco), the dares get bigger and ‘Nerve’ becomes dangerous.

Directed by Henry Jost and Ariel Schulman, co-workers from Catfish and Paranormal Activity, means it’s safe to say that this neon coloured movie has a degree of surveillance horror to it. Nothing jump scary or other-worldly but definitely alarmingly voyeuristic and technologically tense. I believe it’s not even that tense either, some places are but why I say it’s tense is because of the worrying reliance on phones and trying to keep up with the crowd that’s so real and is played upon in the film.

Like the trailer, the first two thirds are energetic, slightly funny and thrilling before subverting into a murkier horror-esque vibe. For me, that’s what annoyed me about the trailer but at least with the movie itself, the last act even with it’s quick ridding of fellow players from failing or bailing, doesn’t stride too far into the horror zone I thought it would. It’s rather interesting to be honest as we see the true side of the game come into effect. In fact, that previously mentioned energy does wonders for a film that is admittedly quite adolescent and flawed.

The notion of the game itself is quite cool but becomes a teeny bit messy in places as the movie takes us on a journey in how easily Vee jumps up the viewers ratings. Also, the intro says keep the game secret yet everyone seems to know about it and the last scene features a stadium filled with people which surely officials or cops would have seen going on. That’s just me maybe but it did bug me at times, even if the bright blue sharpness they gift New York is a welcome buzz. Oh and the use of the dark web, an obvious shoot-out scenario and teen boppy romance is a little cliche but hey, there’s fun visual flair throughout the film for distractions to that!

Emma Roberts is perfect for this role, though she can do catty very well, it’s nice to see her as the shy girl and watch her blossom into a ‘Venus’ flytrap of thrill-seeking potential. She brings a whole load of charisma to the part and it ignites well with Dave Franco; who is also fun yet mysterious as the knowledgeable and brave guy to fit into the puzzle. Emily Meade plays a wild child, loose of inhibitions and confident with looks, she’s the perfect opposite to Roberts’ Vee and gets a fun role with an element of bitchiness, fear and friendship to cycle through.

The Big Apple is the best possible place for this wild, tech filled game of dare. Roberts and Franco fill it with confidence and though there are problems and the ending is sub-par, the rest is so fun that you nearly don’t care.

7/10

Friend Request (2016)

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First released in Germany, this techno fright horror tries desperately to burrow under the audience’s skin but becomes ridiculous and as it goes on and on it stretches to attaining near yawn fest status, like ones in your social media past that you regret posting.

Highly popular college student Laura Woodson (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is liked by everyone on and off social media. One day she receives a Facebook friend request from outcast Marina Mills (Liesl Ahlers), who Laura hardly knows but Marina believes their connection to be real and lasting, so when she’s unfriended, she takes her own life and starts possessing Laura’s internet and stalking her friends with an evil thirst to kill.

Coming to screens like a poor ‘Unfriended’ which was distributed almost a year ago, this supernatural horror feels like a cheap knock off even if some of the gory effects are decent. It’s most of what you’ve seen before when concerning movies of this genre, the jump-scares and the insane levels of loud noise that blasts with it are back, false scares and creepy stalkers, basements, burning houses and insects all play the part in the big ol’ cliché hit list.

I know ‘Unfriended’ was of a similar plot and I rated it a 7 out of 10, but what that had going for it was a neat rising tension and the fun yet worrying aspect of everything being seen through Facebook pages or Skype as if the entire movie was a computer and we were voyeurs to the dying and terror. This film sadly has no pulling visual and is in fact a sort of spin off to last year’s film because it did so well. The fact then, that it is trying to be in the same world makes it feel even more repetitive and trying.

Many times I just felt like I was watching the same plot and that’s not a good feeling. The set-up is done well enough I guess in making Marina creepy as hell but once we’re seeing the true nature of her ghostly/witching ways it bleeds into over the top laugh-ability and not scary like it so should be. First time watchers of horror may enjoy this but seeing many before and especially ‘Unfriended’ this feels like a slow and tame watch.

It never goes beyond the idea of computer hacking and demonic power, it’s a pretty dull affair that seems to meander into deaths and awful changes in character instead of focusing on making the story stronger and racking up tension. I must admit I liked the initial idea of the ending making a character suffer but then a hilarious name change and contact lenses to the camera made me walk out of the film feeling like it had been a pointless and unpleasant viewing.

Debnam-Carey plays the lead like a pretty white girl in horror films does best, screaming, crying and trying to survive. She’s attractive and looks broken but isn’t anything much more than that. Connor Paolo is darkly mysterious as Kobe, tattoos, staring eyes and a hunger for Laura make him someone vaguely interesting to watch. Liesl Ahlers is a superbly creepy vision as the hooded, black haired trichotillomaniac. Marina possesses a truly twisted Facebook page and goes on to possess most other characters with her pale skin and black eyes doing the work in making her a figure to avoid.

This film is more laughable than it ever should be, the whole Facebook angle is dumb and for me an unwanted copy of a much more interesting movie. If this movie comes into your friend inbox then delete that invitation pronto.

4.5/10

Swordfish (2001)

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Attempting to be cool and clever, this action film about computer crime becomes anything but those two things. Instead it feels incredibly cheesy, logically rubbish and at times plain dull. The forced sex appeal of making one of their stars go topless for even more insane fees does nothing to make the film better.

Top hacker Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) is offered a deal by Ginger (Halle Berry) to assist the plans of her boss Gabriel Shear (John Travolta). The problem is Stanley is a wanted man and can’t touch a computer again but wanting to see his daughter again and not anger the touchy dangerous Shear, he realises that he must hack money out of government funds.

It could have been a good film, there is plenty of room to make this plot stylish and tense but instead it feels like a washed up 90’s action crime flick without much action or indeed crime. Aside from a couple of so-so moments including the opening scene reveal to who Gabriel is surrounded by and the interrogation room shooting, this film tries outlandish ways to excite the audience and heck, even a bus soaring through the sky by helicopter can’t save it.

Dominic Sena, who had previously directed ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ tries revving back into gear with this technological film, but there isn’t any sleekness or glossy captivation to be found. Sena seems to miss the point and brushes over scenes that could hold more interest to paint a clichéd narrative with no excitement.

Of course this isn’t all his fault as Skip Woods, the screenwriter skips on logic to bash together a barmy shortcoming that he probably believed as explosive entertainment. There are explosions but aside from making Michael Bay happy, they don’t do much to stop this film from being average. It’s as if Woods was trying to be calculating and smart when writing the antagonist, but Travolta’s opening monologue is not a patch on the wit of Tarantino styled speech and when he mentions Hollywood being unrealistic, well boy this film fits right into that bill.

Hugh Jackman shows us the earlier potential he has now proven but aside from grimacing at having to go back to a life or crime or staring at many screens he doesn’t do much as an engaging protagonist. John Travolta, however hammy he may be as the villain actually is a breath of fun, there’s a clear sense of danger to his character and he seems to be enjoying every line. Halle Berry and her first topless scene become the biggest thing she does in this movie as she doesn’t do much apart from possibly being something and then not. Don Cheadle may as well be on auto-pilot playing an FBI agent as he doesn’t having anything extensive to do, maybe rolling down a huge hill with Jackman like a cartoon disaster would have been something, acting surprised that none of them broke their legs.

It’s beyond ridiculous, but it rises with a good set-up and a enjoyable villain before slumping with uninteresting typing, far-fetched sequences and a dire script that got a green-light somehow. Perhaps Skip Woods is an advanced hacker.

4.5/10

Terminator Genisys (2015)

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Resetting the Terminator franchise, to pretty much disregard the last 2, this 2015 feature succeeds in being entertaining and simultaneously bombards its viewer with constant carnage that the film could be viewed as a slick mess. Slick, but a mess nonetheless. It isn’t bad though, reset your brain to T-0ff and enjoy the action.

It’s 2029 and freedom leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) along with Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) make a huge stand against the robots and Skynet. Kyle goes back in time to try and stop a Terminator from killing Connor’s mum, Sarah (Emilia Clarke) to halt John’s existence. Back in 1984 Kyle is met by a less than waitress-ey Sarah along with apparently tamed Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who become a trio of fighters to halt a new hidden version of Skynet in 2017.

The story itself can be lost to the wind, dripping away like liquid metal to focus on the typical blockbuster attraction factor. The original 1984 movie that kick-started the robots versus human struggle still contained action but it had a clever core about tech terror and the thematic quality of a new war, whereas this plot by Patrick Lussier and Laeta Kalogridis attempts to put a modern spin on an 80’s classic by weaving in the past and bringing in a new scare of Skynet as an all encompassing hold on society, which like Google can be scarily accurate but doesn’t have much dramatic weight.

Is it also harsh to mark the film down for its god awful title, because why is it ever a shocker of a movie name. Gen-eye-sis as I will forever call it, is one part terrible spelling and one part thinking of itself as a rebirth for a run of films that needn’t have been reborn. Though in all honesty the moments where this movie cuts back into parts from the 1984 feature are well done, even if the actors are different, ol’ Arnie fighting 80’s Arnie more than makes up for the shakier bits.

Unexplained is where this Pops version of the T-800 model was sent from and by whom, but maybe that wasn’t necessary when helicopters are dancing around buildings and buses are flipped to end up dangling vertically on the Golden Gate Bridge. Poor San Francisco is having a right time in the movies at the moment. The Hollywood CGI fest isn’t spared and though it gets a bit much, it’s fun to watch and I admittedly enjoyed watching the film.

Nagging throughout the pull of possible spectacle and surprise is the lack of it. The film’s marketing department should hang it’s head in shame for spoiling so much of the movie in its trailers. I know trailers now give away nothing or everything but surely it’s not hard to balance that fine line, even trails that show something secretive aren’t as annoyingly spoilerific as the John Connor baddie robo reveal. That could have been a cool unveiling in the film but sadly it lessens the impact knowing it’s coming.

Emilia Clarke brings determined shade to her role as more warrior minded Sarah. She has that worried expression down for the fear of what might come and her eyes speak volumes as they do in ‘Game of Thrones’. A wonderful actress who runs alongside Jai and Arnie with believable capability. Jason Clarke as Emilia’s son, perfect name casting there, is brilliant as the leader and can flick to that dark layer in an instant. There’s a sneer and evil lurking on his face that he brings effortlessly. Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to the films as if he never left from the 80’s, his static walking and almost blank expressions down to a T and his cheesy lines giving the film that comedy gold. Jai Courtney isn’t an overly interesting watch, he looks the action hero but there’s not much more to that. Matthew nee Matt Smith drops his sonic screwdriver and crops up briefly in a role that will surely expand and he gives it enough flicker of interest to keep you wanting more.

Already with two other planned outings, this genesis film isn’t as terrible as many are saying. It looks shiny and packs a effect laden punch, if you forget that the main narrative is a series of references, a bad serious thread and a muddle of other parts.

6/10

Ex Machina (2015)

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Tremendous, impressive, gorgeous and worrying, this sci-fi thriller is an astounding debut feature for Alex Garland and every second is worth the watch. Tech and futuristic developments are scratched away slowly but surely leaving the fundamental elements of troubling reliance on robotics for all to see.

At work one day, coder Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finds out he’s won a lottery, entitling him to visit the quarters of his company’s CEO director, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). There he has the chance to sign a contract letting him see a wondrous new creation of A.I crafted by Nathan. Ava (Alicia Vikander) is there as a test but what other things will Caleb uncover in his week long stay?

I swear that every frame in this movie is beautiful, whether Rob Hardy fills moments with the entrapping progression of Nathan’s home or lovingly squares on lush green landscapes, this film is magnificent to look at. Considering it goes into the thriller genre, it has a calming influence running throughout, a soft almost blur like quality that can be taken as welcoming you into a false sense of security and also in matching the perfect softness of Ava’s design.

This film can draw relations to other movies, as I’m sure it will and as I too shall do. This by no means takes anything away from the story as it does it’s own special thing but the undercurrent of tension and playing God feels the same as ‘The Skin I Live In’ and the far away resort and tech savvy world feels akin to ‘The Machine’. This film however takes these moulds and makes a more interesting take on the motive of generated technology. The will to survive is examined through meetings with Ava and stirring dialogue about power, Turing tests, playing people along or not and the possibility of loving something not human.

The direction is precise and builds to a bubbling and great crescendo, where the end is satisfying, at least I felt it was the right way to have this film go. Alex Garland who has background experience in suspense and thrills from scripting the work of ’28 Days Later’ uses his knowledge to build tension while keeping some seductive romanticism to it all. The film is as smartly constructed as the screenplay is and Garland is to credit for both. A behind the camera presence to keep an eye on for sure.

The way characters are studied, not just the robotic element of Ava, is fascinating to watch. The flaws of us as people are stunningly done and both Caleb and Nathan are subjects of science in seeing how they work against one another. Ava is amazingly executed and the visual effects of her body are glorious, the make-up team behind this work must be applauded, their prosthetic achievement gives Ava a unique look making her a sci-fi character to remember.

Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury are to credit for a skin-crawling score that can switch from placid and misty, echoing the other wordly lush mountains surrounding Nathan’s building, to a more buzzing troublesome sound as the film twists into the horror realm. It’s certainly plays on the electronic element and as the music rises at points it puts goosebumps over your arms.

The only little weakness that I came away with is, that a couple of developments in the script are predictable. It doesn’t lose the cleverness it just lost any shock factor a better twist could have given. But this is honestly the tiniest of critiques, the story is just as thrilling and thoughtful knowing the danger around the corner.

Domhnall Gleeson gives a great performance in this ‘Black Mirror’-esque tale of suspicion in technology. Facial tells and held gazes all play into his role as he begins the journey of discovery into what an A.I can do to someone. The more nervous side of things plays nicely against the muscular scheming Nathan. Oscar Isaac is powerful and keeps giving off degrees of menacing intent through his towering way of trying to charm. The silent glances or flips in how he speaks to Caleb make him a worrying Dr. Frankenstein figure to witness. Alicia Vikander is a star to look out for, her quiet approach to Ava makes her instantly likable and her plight as the real victim is played brilliantly, though the unflinching stare and half smile of Vikander never make you forget the unpredictability of her desires.

This dystopian sci-fi has many subtleties to admire as the tension of tech terror is explored. A sexy, intelligent tale with three riveting performances and a creative shifting tone from debut director Garland.

8/10