Snowden

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By Neil Jordan

Greetings & Salutations Movie Fanatics!

When you break it down to the simplest definition, movies are entertainment. Comedies, dramas, sci-fi, horror, mysteries, epics, etc. They’re an escape. Time away from the world and our everyday lives. Every once in a while though a film comes along and even if it is completely or in part a work of fiction, it has some basis to current goings-on in the real world and encourages us to sit up and take notice at what is going on out there. Today’s selection for your consideration is one of THOSE films.

Edward Snowden. Traitor, spy, sell out, turncoat, hero, pioneer, champion, defender, upholder, protector, whistleblower. He has been referred to as all those and more. Regardless of what anyone thinks, he has been vilified and celebrated . The American intelligence contractor who leaked classified NSA files to the media in 2013 regarding ‘questionable’ intelligence gathering by American security services had something he felt was important enough to risk his freedom and possibly his life to tell the American people and the world. The director who would tackle the challenge of making a film based on his story? None other than Oliver Stone.

‘Snowden’ is a German-American political biographical thriller film written for the screen by Kieran Fitzgerald and Oliver Stone and also directed by Stone. Based on the books ‘Time of the Octopus’ by Anatoly Kucherena (Snowden’s real life Russian lawyer) and ‘The Snowden Files’ by Luke Harding, ‘Snowden’ stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role, Shailene Woodley as Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Scott Eastwood, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Nicholas Cage, Joely Richardson, Rhys Ifans, Ben Schnetzer, and LaKeith Lee Stanfeild.

The film follows Snowden form his early days in the CIA to his postings in Europe and Asia and eventually to Hawaii where he would decide to go through with his attempt to smuggle classified intelligence files out of an NSA facility and meet with journalists he had previously contacted in Hong Kong where he would tell them what he had uncovered in his time working in the employ of American intelligence agencies and share that knowledge with the public. Along the way, the film also deals with the ‘crisis of conscience’ Snowden dealt with. How a patriotic conservative aspiring soldier whom believed in his country without question became a patriotic ‘concerned citizen’ who was greatly disturbed by actions being carried out by his country all in the name of ‘national security’. We also see the relationships that Snowden had cultivated in the midst of it all. His mentors and colleagues in the CIA, NSA, and the military. How he came to meet his longtime girlfriend, artist Lindsay Mills and how his interactions with a few of them further influenced or didn’t influence the future actions he would take.

In the end, you can sum up the film this way:

Privacy vs. Safety

Rights vs. Security

Is there are balance that can be maintained?

Snowden violated security oaths because he felt obligated to his county and his fellow citizens.

Should he be punished?

I’m giving this film 3 1/2 out of five stars. I highly recommend it. A most excellent performance by the entire cast. Praise in particular to Joseph Gordon-Levitt who was ‘believable’ as Edward Snowden and managed to NOT BE Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The reason I’m not giving the film a higher rating is that I don’t think it was ‘edgy’ enough. I think Oliver Stone did a good job directing the film but it didn’t have any ‘edge’ to it. In his past films, the films end up ‘so far out there’ that they become almost unbelievable. I believe his paranoia, specifically his fear of interference in the film’s production by the NSA, may have negatively influenced him prompting him to ‘play it safe’ and play it safe too much. The did a good job ‘telling the story’ but that’s it. It was like watching the steady reading of an EKG meter hooked up to a healthy person. Every once in a while, you get slightly elevated readings. But that’s it.

Regardless though, I do indeed recommend the film. It dramatizes a current subject that folks need to know and should know of. The nature of the subject is such that as an American citizen, we need to know about it and although it is a movie. It will open the door for those who haven’t keep track of the situation and for those who do know about it, the movie will help place things in perspective.

This is is your friendly neighborhood freelance photographer ‘The CameraMan’ and on behalf of myself and my fellows at ‘Skewed & Reviewed’ I’d like to say, Thanks for reading and we’ll see you at the movies.

Second review by Jeremiah Scott

As with every Oliver Stone movie, you have to consider context while watching it.  Snowden is a persuasive essay attempting to turn the focus from the crime committed by Edward Snowden to the mass surveillance practices of the US government during the Bush and Obama administration.  This story was huge when the leaks began hitting the internet and so I was very familiar with the story through the media coverage ensued.  Through that coverage it was made to seem as though Snowden, a low level contractor, stole data and was putting it on the internet to spite the American government.

Later more information came forth that he wasn’t as low level as we were led to believe and that Snowden was claiming that he performed the illegal act out of love for his country, not out of spite to harm it.  But for a large portion of the country the original story has already been burned into their brain and nothing short of Ronald Reagan descending from heaven to tell them otherwise will change that.  A few months ago Donald Trump even called for Snowden’s execution, if that helps paint a picture of the mindset of a portion of the US population about Edward Snowden.

This movie was made to convince you otherwise, that Snowden was and still is a brave American hero.  It tells the story beginning with his Special Forces training and takes you all the way through the incident and up to present day, with the actual infamous Edward Snowden closing out the movie. I won’t go into too much detail here because I hate when reviews ruin a movie but I will say that it covers the whole story right down to the Ocean Eleven’s esque way that he got the files out of secured US spy facility.

This movie surprisingly also weaves a love story in and out of the technical background of the data release and while I enjoyed that aspect of the movie, some of it made me question its authenticity… it wasn’t realistic at times how the two reacted to different problems that arose in their relationship.

I left the movie thinking how strange it was that the espionage was the most believable part of the movie and the love story seemed contrived.

Joseph Gorden-Levitt was awesome.  I’ve watched enough Snowden videos to know that he nailed it.  The love interest was cute and likeable, but the primary antagonist was a bit over the top for a movie based on reality.  But I guess that’s what this movie was trying to tell me… that there are some seriously evil people working for our government.

The pacing was good, acting was great, subject matter was insanely interesting and the love story humanized the hacker/criminal/hero.  Go see it with an open mind, consider the context with which the film was created and come to your own conclusion. Snowden… hero or villain?

4.5 out of 5

Battleborn

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Gearbox and 2K have teamed up yet again create an animated action fest that is filled with colorful characters, humor, and plenty of action.  If you thought it was a new entry into the popular Borderlands you would be mistaken although at first glance some might take the similar use of brilliantly cell shaded graphics to be part of the series.  That however is where the majority of the similarities end as Battleborn is one of the most frantic and enjoyable action games to come along in a while.  I first played the game at E3 last year and was instantly impressed with what I had just played.  Subsequent games at PAX Prime and in the early access portion of the game only increased my enjoyment and anticipation for the final product.

The game involves an evil force that has been destroying all the stars in the universe.  A team of misfits who specialize in all types of combat known as the “Battleborn” take up the call to save the universe.  Accompanying them is a ship captain, and unstable scientist, and is even more unstable A.I, unit who pop up during the campaign with all sorts of humorous commentary to help propel the story along.

The campaign missions for the game are not linear in that players opting to take part of the five player co-op campaigns select which mission they will undertake and at times waiting for a mission that you have not already played does require a bit of patience or for players to leave the party and try again in the matchmaking screen.

Gameplay is of a first-person perspective but in the unique style that players are free to select from 25 playable characters, many of whom unlock as the campaign mode unfolds.  There are male, female, and alien characters as well as some other more unique individuals for players to select from.  As they go on, players will be able to customize power ups and abilities for players as well as various aspects of their appearance.  In the game action, players will have the opportunity to reach 10 different skill levels and each opportunity a new skill or ability that can be deployed during the game and will regenerate itself on a timer after being used.

The key aspect of the game is the variety of the characters as you can go from a slow-moving but massive chain gun wielding character to a clone soldier, a cybernetic butler, a fiendish imp, and so many more. The characters have everything from close quarter and distanced combat abilities and many have support functions as well.  This is one of the greatest aspects of the game but also for many one of the biggest tricks in that you have to select a player that best suits your style of play but you are not able to fully comprehend what a character is and is not capable of until you try them in action.  Unfortunately once a character is selected, you are required to play them through completion of the mission and do not have the opportunity to change in the middle of a match.  I found out the hard way that a selected character did not have much in the way of offensive abilities and therefore had to spend the majority of my match hanging in the background mopping up and offering support whenever needed.  This is quite a change from my usual approach of going in the thick of the action and cutting down as many of the enemy forces as I could.

The maps are very clever and creative and have all sorts of things ranging from jump ads which control you will cross the locale, to weapon emplacements were using credits earned from collecting energy shards, players can power up traps and defensive weaponry which will help them with the endless waves of enemies they will encounter.

While there only two main species of enemies, there are plenty of variations amongst them but after a few missions you will have felt that you have seen them all.  This is where the clever boss battles come into play and really make the game shine.  Players can revive one another should they fall in battle, and also take advantage of various power ups located throughout the map.  The missions can take a bit of patience because there is nothing more frustrating than enduring wave after wave of enemies 30 min. into a match and failing a mission because a key locale was left unprotected when a player succumbed to a swarm of enemies while the rest of the team was off defending against a multi-pronged attack.

The developers have promised more characters would be included in future updates and there is also DLC coming that will add new options for players to enjoy.

The game also boasts several multiplayer modes where players can take a break from the campaign and enjoy numerous matches that are more in line with what players might come to expect from a multiplayer experience.  There certainly will not be any shortage of options for players as some players will up to play through the campaign with as many different characters as possible, and others like myself will stick to a tried-and-true character and occasionally dabble with one of the others.

The game looks and sounds fantastic and the action as I mentioned is fun, intense, and frequent.  I hope that we see plenty of additional Battleborn titles and content in the future as I continue to enjoy the game with its quirky and enjoyable characters and enjoyable premise and gameplay.  This is definitely been one of the more enjoyable gaming experiences for me this year and I definitely think it is a game not be missed for fans of this genre.

4.5 stars out of 5

The Nice Guys

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by Ian M. Woodington

This is how it’s supposed to be done. Though it’s not the most original flick to grace the silver screen, Shane Black’s follow-up to his instant cult classic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has everything you could want in an action/comedy romp. A solid dynamic between its two charming yet flawed leads, a strong plot that has enough twists and turns to keep you thrilled but not lost, and plenty of quotably razor-sharp dialogue. Imagine the Lethal Weapon type meets a less obtuse Inherent Vice. Besides the return of Jason Bourne in July, it will undoubtedly be the most entertaining thing you’ll see in another summer season of mediocrity. Is anybody really that interested in a ninth X-Men film?

Russell Crowe is the muscle-for-hire opposite Ryan Gosling as the P.I. referred to by his daughter as “the worst detective in the world”. They are thrust together by circumstance and, after a couple of amusing altercations, come to find out they are both involved in a larger case of conspiracy and cover-up as they race to find the girl at the center of it all. Crowe and Gosling make a winning team with chemistry in spades and, though the dialogue they’re given may not feel as fresh as what Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. had to work with in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; they still pull it off marvelously. Between Gosling’s unfortunate directorial debut, Lost River, and Crowe’s string of misfires since 2010’s Robin Hood, these were the type of roles their fading stars were in dire need of and they both certainly look at home in a 70’s-era Hollywood detective story. For Gosling especially, this is probably the most likable he’s ever been. Well done also to the casting department for finding Angourie Rice. As Gosling’s daughter, she’s does an admirably fine job of playing a girl who can stand up to an incredibly hostile world and give some back. Here’s hoping she’s got a decent agent that will keep her in rich, multi-dimensional characters.

Shane Black, already having proved that he knows his way around a screenplay or two,  is firmly coming into his own as a director (though the Christmas thing has got to stop), and I’ll be eagerly anticipating his next foray behind the camera. It’s also another excellent job from Warner’s marketing team, with a trailer that gave just enough of the one-liners and snippets of action without spoiling too many of the fun and twisty plot points. The action beats and moments of violence themselves, due to a tightly-structured script, feel earned and well-placed. Not once did I get that overwhelming feeling of action fatigue I’ve been experiencing so much in film lately (I’m looking at you, Marvel). The Nice Guys is all-around great filmmaking and one I can’t wait to revisit. I wouldn’t doubt it’ll be a day-one buy for me when it hits the home video market.

 

4 ½ out of 5

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The summer 2016 movie season has launched in a big way with Marvel Studios offering up the eagerly awaited “Captain America” Civil War” which once again stars Chris Evans and the title character.

The film is set in the aftermath of “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” where the governments of the world have grown fearful of the devastation that can be unleashed by their super-powered protectors and their enemies and devises a plan of action.

A law is introduced that requires heroes to register and be held accountable to governing bodies which for the most part would also control their activities.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), is still reeling from his part in the Ultron threat and the usually smug and cocky Iron Man is all in favor of the new legislation proposal.

Captain America/Steve Rogers on the other hand remembers the evils of making various groups register and answer to the government during World War II and he is very opposed to this new development.

As if this was not enough for the heroes to deal with, a villain named Crossbones (Frank Grillo) is causing trouble and then there is the matter of The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), which is like adding gasoline on a raging fire.

The Winter Soldier is blamed for a horrific tragedy and the forces of the world are poised to bring him to a final justice no matter the cost.

Rogers believes that his former friend can be saved and as such is willing to take great risks to do so. Stark and his supporters believe that The Winter Soldier is a threat that must be stopped at all costs. This combined with the already growing tensions over the new legislation divides the former allies and puts friends and allies at odds with one another.

The resulting backlash is a battle that threatens to destabilize those sworn to protect society and makes the world an even more dangerous and volatile place especially with an ever darker threat looming in the shadows.

The film does a great job mixing in intense action sequences that are visual effect spectacles, yet never losing the fact that is story powered by real characters with real issues.

The characters may be super powered, but they are dealing with real issues ranging from trust, loyalty, betrayal, and accountability in an ever changing world that seems to be caught in the crossfire of their heroic deeds.

The large ensemble cast works very well with one another and this is the key to making a film like this work. This is not simply pitting characters against one another in a conflict; this is a well-developed story that sets up future films very well but uses compelling and interesting characters with some timely humor to carry the film.

There are plenty of surprise moments in the film and Directors Anthony and Joe Russo proved that their last Captain America outing was no fluke, as they have delivered an action-packed and gripping film with some very mature content and themes set against some dazzling and intense action sequences which have become a trademark of the Marvel Film Franchise.

4.5 stars out of 5.

Ratchet And Clank

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Based on the popular video game series for the Playstation systems, “Ratchet and Clank” has arrived looking to take the duo’s success to the big screen in a new animated adventure. The film follows the diabolical Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti), who has a nefarious scheme that leaves planets destroyed in his wake. The government decides to hire an additional Ranger for protection which leads lowly mechanic Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor), to see his chance for greatness. Sadly the head of the Rangers; an ego-maniac named Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), dismisses the physically unimpressive Ratchet and thus crushes his dreams.

Fate steps in when a defective robot named Clank (David Kaye) arrives with news that will shake the very fabric of the galaxy. Ratchet and Clank team up to help the Rangers and must overcome all obstacles on all sides to save the day. The animation of the film is solid and it was a bit of a surprise that the film was not presented to us in 3D which has become the norm for animated film. The solid voice cast does a good job and there are more than a few nice celebrity voices along the way. The biggest issue I had with the film was that it was a bit dull and dragged in places. Our screener was loaded with children and families and I saw some leave the cinema during the film and did not return.

The movies takes a while to get going and there are more than a few nods to the game and other Playstation characters along the way. The biggest issue is that it seems as if the film is dedicated to hardcore fans of the series. I have played the last three games in the series and I found myself lost at times as it was clear that this was for those who have been there from the start. This is not to say that new fans will not be gained by the film, but one has to wonder how many children who are not familiar with the characters will have the patience to wait for things to get rolling in the film.

As it stands the film is a good first effort but may or may not be enough to successfully launch a long term franchise.

3 stars out of 5.

Keanu

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by Don Guillory

When Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele announced that they would be ending their program Key and Peele, I was saddened. Their lively antics, comedic sensibilities, and ability to it on political and social issues in a way that allows them to make America reflect were what their fan base love about them. We saw original, sketch comedy that was actually funny and insightful as missing in today’s environment. As part of their “retirement,” they informed their fans that this was not the end of Key and Peele, just that they were going to entertain other projects.

It was a stroke of genius. They left when all of us were wanting more… and they deliver with their current film Keanu. This buddy action comedy picks right up where they left off with their show. It is a film with a very basic plot where two friends get way in over their heads. The jokes are not cheap and offer us a chance to laugh at the things that make us uncomfortable. The two men, and Keanu the cat give us a film reminiscent of the Wilder and Pryor films.

The jokes and situations will have you laughing throughout the film. In addition, the film and storyline poke fun at stereotypes, generalizations, and tropes in order to make us laugh even more. What many of us thought could be nothing more than random sketches strewn together for cheap laughs turned out to be a well-orchestrated first step into a journey of comedic genius. Comedy fans will love this film. Those looking for a serious turn or a film that involves seamless plotlines, you are going to be disappointed, but only in that aspect.

4.5/5

 

Second Review by James Buckles.

 

The thing I loved about “John Wick” was it was all about getting revenge for a evil act.

In their new film “Keanu”, Key and Peele took it one step beyond and fans of their comedy will love their first full length film.

When the two friends end up way over their heads and complicate things by trying to make things better, the jokes become funnier and more outrageous with each turn.

The comedy team took jabs at several action movies and created a new film centered around a kitten named aptly Keanu.

The jokes fly fast and frequent and viewers who find themselves laughing too hard may end up missing the next hysterical set of jokes to follow.

The duo took what was a sketch concept but were able to keep it fun, fresh, and lively for the length of the film, which is something that many sketch comics struggle to do.

Key and Peele have shown that they are a rising force in comedy and deliver smart, timely, and very effective humor time and again.  “Keanu” is a very nice surprise in that it is the rare comedy that is funny throughout and one that will leave you smiling.

4 stars out of 5.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

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Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?”

Once again the story that has captivated millions throughout the world returns to the big screen with a prequel and sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman. At the end of the first film, the evil mirror-obsessed queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is defeated by Snow White (Kirsten Stewart) and Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth).  The second film begins with the revelation that Ravenna has a sister named Freya (Emily Blunt), who was completely normal until she made the mistake of falling in love and getting pregnant, which endangered the sinister plans of Ravenna. Under unknown circumstances Freya loses the love of her life and her baby, causing so much pain and suffering , she becomes the sad and lonely Snow Queen , leaving her sister to conquer kingdoms on her own .

The Huntsman is related to Ravenna, not only because of Snow White, but because he and his wife Sara (Jessica Chastain) were raised and trained in the kingdom ruled by Snow Queen Freya who, as a survivor of unthinkable heartbreak, has one big rule all her “children” must obey: Do not love. Ever.

Long story short, Freya’s reign threatens Snow White’s kingdom and it’s up to Eric, Sara, and their companions to stop her. And although her role is smaller here than in the original film, Queen Ravenna returns to both aid and manipulate her youngster sister Freya.

There might not be Seven Dwarves this time around, but the four this sequel does include are hilarious and offer some of the cleverest comebacks I have heard in a long time. Nick Frost’s Nion is the only dwarf from the original to return, and he’s joined by his brother Gryff (Rob Brydon) and two females, Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexandra Roache).

I can say that I really liked this film, and as a Charlize Theron fan I most enjoy her work especially as an evil, selfish witch obsessed with eternal beauty. And of course having Chris Hemsworth in the screen is always a delight for our eyes. The special effects are not distracting at all; they’re actually the complete opposite. The quality is outstanding which makes it easier to be transported to a magical world filled with fairies and enchantments.

Although I have to say it is not as family-friendly as the fairy tale inspired film, it is definitely funny, including a lot of action and fight scenes with a story line that entertains the audience.

3.5 of 5

 

Second Review By Sasha Glenn

Based on characters from the fairy tale “Snow White,” the film “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” tells the story of the sorceress Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and her sister Freya (Emily Blunt). The film is sort of a sequel to the 2012 “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

It starts out strong, with the first scene showing some of Ravenna’s wicked magic when she kills her King and rises to power. Driven by her hypnotic relationship with the mirror, Ravenna betrays her sister Freya and unleashes a new evil on the land.

Freya creates her own kingdom of ice and builds an army made up of children she forces to grow into soldiers.

At first it seems like the film is going to be epic. But rather suddenly, the directorial decisions take a turn for the worst. It becomes disappointingly cheesy and glaringly shallow in plot.

When the child soldiers are training and suddenly change into adults, the way the scene is shot comes off as laughable. There on out, it is far from impressive and feels like a made-for-TV film.

Granted, it is an enjoyable adventure to watch. It has plenty of funny moments, a lovely cast, and some beautiful graphics. But, even the graphics sink to subpar levels. Particularly in one scene with demonic ape-like creatures that look like they are from a film made in the 90’s.

With a solid story to build from and such a quality cast, it’s as if director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan went into his tool shed and purposely dulled every knife he had. Even Theron’s performance, which was sadly sparse, was nothing special. Perhaps this was simply because the film failed overall at rising to what it could have been by staying tame enough for children.

A cute attempt at making an epic film, I give “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” 1.5 out of 5 stars.