Review: Snowden or “Nerd becometh Spy”

Today the world knows the name Edward Snowden. I remember driving home from work and listening to the radio as broadcasters recounted the hysteria surrounding this most elusive man that fled the country for fear of federal retribution. He had told the world of our government’s dirty secrets. The American government was spying on the whole world, even ourselves. Was he a hero? Or a traitor? The debate raged as we all followed the story of the former NSA operative that had leaked evidence to London’s The Guardian news organization. Eventually he ended up in Moscow while trying to get to Ecuador for asylum when our government was seizing the Ecuadorian leader’s plane and searching for him. So it goes.

What I enjoyed about this film was that it managed to make a normal man in an extraordinary situation compelling enough for film. This is mostly due to the performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the titular Snowden, and Shailene Woodley as his girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Don’t get me wrong though, the rest of the cast was great as well and I was pleasantly surprised to see many more recognizable faces throughout the film’s runtime. The bigger names included Rhys Ifans as Snowden’s CIA mentor, Zachary Quinto as Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian alongside Tom Wilkinson as Ewen MacAskill, Timothy Olyphant as a charming- yet seedy- NSA operative, and even a restrained Nic Cage! Oh and Scott Eastwood as a manager of sorts in the NSA, at least he was more useful here than in Suicide Squad, he’s getting better.

Oliver Stone wisely begins the movie with Snowden’s initial meeting with the journalists and retreads how he came to this point beginning with his time in the military before transfering to the intelligence field after discovering his physical limitations. He starts out on the side of conservatism as he rapidly advances through the CIA’s programs. Shortly thereafter he meets Lindsay Mills, a staunch and passionate liberal. They hit it off and Stone wisely makes this relationship the emotional cornerstone of the film. From there we follow Snowden as he witnesses the government’s reach grow as does his security clearances because of his own intellect and skill. Snowden increasingly becomes unsettled by the actions of those around him as his suspiscion of our government’s intentions intensifies.

At one point Snowden prompts Lindsay to be more careful about her personal content on her computer. She retorts with “Why should I care? I have nothing to hide.” That’s just it though, people deserve the right to privacy, you don’t have to have anything to hide for that to matter. Oliver Stone does a fine job in handling this debate in my opinion, and its a very important discussion that we seem to be terrible at having, or even considering at times. The difference between how people behave and act in public spaces versus in their own privacy is important and a neccesary component to a healthy society. Stone’s film does take a side, clearly, and this may not be the most action heavy, or awe inspiring movie of the year but it certainly centers itself on a subject and event that people seem to have forgotten in as little as three years time when we really should have taken that time to consider the ramifications of what he did. Snowden is heroic because he gave up his own freedoms and life in order to be the digital canary in the coal mine, he told the world a terrifying truth-we’ve given up our own freedoms and privacy without even realizing it.

Where the film lacks for me is that while the conversation is inherently interesting the story as a whole never quite goes there, if you know what I mean. The film lacks that satisfying punch, it lends itself more to a subdued restraint. It’s similar to a good joke, the build up is fascinating, but the punchline lacks the bluster you want, while still being kinda funny. This film is a good joke, but not a great one. However I cannot state enough the importance of the content at hand. This film will probably go down in the annals of film history as being more talked about and discussed than watched and rewatched, but maybe that’s okay. Not every film needs that. Some just need to present you with a debate, or an idea. Snowden does that, and in my opinion it succeeds by doing so effectively.

Final Score: 4/5


Monday Movie Pitch [On a Tuesday]: Expendables 4

First of all apologies for the late Movie Pitch this week, occasionally life can take precedence, and this week it did just that. Enough with the speed bumps however because this week I have a tantalizing pitch that I’ve been stewing over for quite some time now: The next iteration of “The Expendables” Franchise.

On the whole I’ve enjoyed “The Expendables” movies but as they continue the movies have an increasingly cumbersome issue with each episodic adventure. Each movie feels like just like the other but with different palettes of actors or explosive situations. It could be said that Marvel Studios films are getting somewhat into this same issue of overly consistent tone, but that’s a whole other issue in itself. As far as I’m concerned Sly and the Gang need to up the ante and change things up big time in the next movie or the franchise will die, especially given the horrific box office of last year’s third entry in the action heavy series. Granted, the numbers were particularly low because of the movie being leaked online two weeks before the release date, but any way you slice it 6 million for an opening weekend with the amount of star power involved just doesn’t add up. That’s simply bad news for everyone involved.

What I would do to revitalize the series is to play to the crowd of the audience, pitting the older action stars up against impossible odds, odds of a particular magnitude. Introduce a superhero into the mix. It’s the perfect direction for the series to reassert itself among the crowded super-powered market with a unique perspective. The trick is to cast a powerhouse in this role, somebody that’s charismatic, able to do action/CGI sequences well, and bring audiences along with him. That man should be nobody other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

I can already see the general outline of the plot. Act one has the Expendables sent to take out a young dictator on the world stage that has gotten unwisely bombastic with his nuclear weapon potential. North Korean assumptions can obviously be made here. Have Stallone and the team knock the palace doors down only to be out-staged by this new incredible force. They’re all out of the job after this sequence of events as the “hero” attempts to do as much as possible for humankind in eradicating war and instituting world peace. Eventually he must become either mad with power or deduce that he should be the earth’s sole leader because multiple sovereign nations will only ever result in war and discord. This is where the Expendables become important once more. After multiple countries attempt to nuke the Superman-like hero, and fail, the secret agencies that have been hiring the Expendables since day one step in and introduce some plot device or perceived weakness etc whatever they can do to trick, reason with, or kill the hero.

We could play into the otherworldly alien hero raised among humanity to save/destroy us storyline but that Superman “skin” has been used countless times as is. I prefer a “radiation/accidental act that transforms the everyday man” sort of event for this central character’s origin. For international appeal, and to make more sense for the global scale of the story, including new additions to the Expendables team from other nations would only help the formation of the group.

My top choices for additions to shake up the core team are as follows:

Jackie Chan: I’ve personally wanted JC in this franchise from the beginning since his contemporary Jet Li has had a spot on each film, small as they may have been. I shouldn’t have to explain why this would be a great deal of fun. Especially if he is against the use of guns.

Kurt Russell: Adding Kurt Russell to any movie is a wise decision in my opinion but he’s proven he’s ready to get back into the limelight with his “Furious 7” and “Hateful eight” roles and I’m sure any role they craft for him would be a blast.

Nicholas Cage: The franchise has gotten a bit ridiculous and if they want to be self aware and referential then adding in Nic Cage would be the just desserts. Especially if they need anyone to go crazy. He could be a conspiracy nut that knows everything on Dwayne Johnson’s character. Woody Harrelson would also fit this type of role… or Charlie Day, but that’s just because I love Charlie Day and will gladly advocate more roles for him.

Laurence Fishburne: The man that made Morpheus work has a certain gravitas to himself that would only help to bring balance to the team, plus he’s proven himself many times over the years for the type of work this film would likely entail.

Tom Cruise: Incredibly unlikely I know, but maybe they could squeeze an extended cameo sequence out of him similarly to how they utilized Chuck Norris in the second flick?

Charlie Hunnam: After “Pacific Rim” and “Sons of Anarchy” he could definitely be comfortable with a gun and growl, plus Stallone seems to enjoy the idea of “Young Blood” being added to the team.

Vin Diesel: Between saying “I am Groot” a hundred times and driving off of cliffs Diesel might be too busy to take on another franchise role anytime soon but no one can deny how much he could bring to the table in this sort of setting.

Idris Elba: Citing “Luther”, “Pacific Rim”, and his recurring “Thor” roles it comes to be seen that not only does Elba have a propensity for genre fair, but he’s a damn fine actor that can handle a one liner, or a monologue. Give that man a gun already!

Gerard Butler: “Shoot ’em up” alone has given this man enough action film cred to be involved in this series, let alone his glorious “300” role as King Leonidas. Give that man a sword, or a gun, or both- and let him have at it!

Chiwetel Ejiofor: I seriously doubt he would even want to take on this caliber of role, but his choice of the villain in the upcoming “Dr. Strange” film opens the conversation for more ridiculous options than the Oscar level work he’s currently being more associated with.

A few other recommendations for this film:

Make it a Hard “R” rating. All, or at least most of, the actors in the franchise come from action series where they are almost constantly killing hordes of bad guys in the process of achieving their goals, let them be who they want to be. Let the movie be what it wants to be too, going PG-13 for a wider audience only alienates the core audience that clamors for this type of movie anyways. Oh and cut the CGI blood splatter and terribly awful renderings of tanks and helicopters, we can all see how terrible it is and in the year 2015 we shouldn’t have to see blatant budget choices every time a bad guy bites the dust.

Put Stallone back in the director’s chair again. I stand by the fact that the original Expendables was the best in the series. While I enjoyed the second one there were clear losses of vision and expertise on several levels that Sly had covered in the first piece. Granted I know this series is not known for Oscar nominated performances or the world’s most stunning cinematography, but the first film excelled in areas where the sequels lacked. Having Stallone back in the saddle again might alleviate these issues and help to keep the tone and feel he wants consistent with what ends up being the wide release version.

Kill one of the main characters. They are called the Expendables after all, right? At this point in the game a death in the family, and I mean a meaningful death *SPOILERS* not what we got in two where a newcomer is introduced and killed two scenes later. It would be a good motivator for the team, but it only works emotionally for the audience if we’ve invested in the character. I nominate Dolph Lundgren’s character. He’s gone through a lot in the series and it would maker sense thematically to painfully cut that chord. Nothing against Lundgren though- he’s great.

All in all this could be a potentially huge game changer for this series if pulled off well. Obviously there needs to be a lot more thought put into Dwayne Johnson’s character to make sure he is overwhelming but not omnipotent as well as pacing issues, and having enough for the action guys to do what they do best, shoot, cut, blow up, and punches to the face! Hopefully Sly can make the next one work because I enjoy the series and love the talent involved, its because of this that I want each installment to be better than the last. That’s my movie pitch for this week!