Movie of the Week: Queen of Katwe

I’ve always been a checkers person rather than a chess person but I do recognize the appeal of the game; how it enables the player to strengthen the strategic aspect of their minds and grow the ability to be two steps ahead of another person. This week’s movie Queen of Katwe isn’t exactly about chess, but about what chess has done to one young girl. Phiona Mutesi is determined to be more than just a product of the poor Ugandan hamlet she has grown up in and finds an outlet through chess, and that outlet awakens a talent so hidden, it may as well be considered a treasure.

What am I expecting to see?: From what I’ve heard about Queen of Katwe, this is a genuine crowd-pleaser and a slightly possible Oscar contender. 2016 has been a good year for Disney and I believe this film could be another well-received addition to Disney’s good fortune. This film features a promising cast including David Oyelowo, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Kabanza, Ivan Jacobo and newcomer Madina Nalwanga all under the direction of Mira Nair and adapted to the screen by William Wheeler. I expect Queen of Katwe to be this season’s most inspiring and uplifting film and perhaps call itself the crown jewel of Disney’s year.

Review: Snowden

The movie I saw and chose to feature this week is a film that sought to chronicle the rise of the man who is now considered one of the most controversial figures in the world. He has been branded and labeled many things since 2013 but director Oliver Stone simply dubs him and this film as Snowden.

By now the world should have a firm idea who Edward Joseph Snowden is and what he has done since stepping forward and revealing the truth about the NSA’s reach to gather intelligence but Snowden the film chronicles the events that led up to the exposure of both him and the NSA’s secrets from 2004 to 2013; his fall from serving in the military, his rise in the CIA, his shift to the NSA, his contributions as a contractor for the intelligence community, the effect of his work on his health and his relationship with Lindsay Mills, everything that led to his sit-down with the embattled documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, and journalists Ewan MacAskill and Glenn Greenwald, a sit-down which yielded an Oscar winning documentary.

share

Image by Open Road Films

While watching Snowden, I was held by the film’s methodical step-by-step progression to lead this film to where it ultimately ended which is the present and I could see the appeal to director Oliver Stone who is a filmmaker driven by truth but I found myself wondering, why make this movie when Citizenfour is already out there?

Perhaps Stone and screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald sought to give Edward Snowden another chance to be judged in the court of public opinion since so many Americans have already made up their minds about him? Perhaps they wanted to humanize Snowden and foster sympathy for him because in the film, he is a man beleaguered by sacrifice and driven to do something bigger than just himself?

The reasons behind this film are many just as there are many reasons as to why Snowden blasted the NSA’s secrets out into the open but I can say that Snowden remarkably naïve to the point of biased perhaps in the sense that it goes so out of its way to make Snowden heroic it wastes no opportunity condemning the government and the intelligence community every chance it has. It doesn’t take long to realize that it is so one-sided, you have no choice but to elicit sympathy for Edward Snowden whether you have an opinion about him or not.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt did his utmost by the title character and while his performance isn’t exactly Oscar caliber, his effort to pass himself as Edward Snowden is noteworthy and the rest of the supporting cast is in the same boat. Shailene Woodley as the clichéd housewife girlfriend Lindsay Mills who suffers yet soldiers on at home while her man is out “fighting the good fight”, Melissa Leo as the seldom screened Laura Poitras, Rhys Ifans as creepy intelligence instructor Corbin O’Brian, Zachary Quinto as the rather wooden Glenn Greenwald, in addition to Tom Wilkenson, Nicholas Cage, Scott Eastwood, the entire cast and their contributions, if any, are subverted to Stone’s cause.

There are some technical aspects to this film that are worth mentioning. For instance, the cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle is exceptionally good. Perhaps the best moment of the film was when Snowden and Corbin had a video conference and Corbin was essentially questioning Snowden’s loyalty and Corbin pulls his laptop towards him in a forceful manner to make a point, while the camera behind Gordon-Levitt stayed fixed. That was a compelling moment.

The editing by Alex Marquez and Lee Percy is adequate, Craig Armstrong and Adam Peters’ music is decent, the production design, costumes, art-direction all unremarkable since the events of this film took place rather recently so it isn’t much of a stretch to go all out on authenticity.

oliver_stone_01

By Towpilot (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

To me, I believe I know why Oliver Stone was attracted to make this film but again I ask, what is the purpose of Snowden? It is unclear if he wanted to change minds about Snowden, to slight, embarrass and blame the U.S. government for Snowden’s actions as a whistleblower, to shed light on who else shaped Snowden’s path to snitching? It’s unclear but the reasons are layered and diverse and I honestly couldn’t find a reason to genuinely like or dislike this film.

My opinion on Edward Snowden is irrelevant but perhaps because I have an opinion on Snowden the reason I have such an ambiguous perspective on Snowden. I encourage viewers to watch CitizenFour to learn the story of the whistleblowing rather than seeing Snowden, which is practically the story about the man behind the whistleblowing; CitizenFour is by far more compelling than this shallow retelling.

Movie of the Week: Snowden

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch Laura Poitras’ riveting documentary about the man who changed the perception of government’s ability to discern privacy and security. No matter who you talk to, this man will be associated with the terms “whistleblower,” “traitor,” “defector,” “liability,” “hero,” “snitch,” etc. Oliver Stone’s latest feature is centered around the infamous NSA analyst who sent shockwaves throughout the entire intelligence community and the world by sharing vital intel among the public and in fear for his safety as well as the woman he loves, he fled. The man in question is Edward Snowden, who is portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Oliver Stone’s film is simply titled Snowden.

What am I expecting to see?: While I had the opportunity to watch CitizenFour and I certainly enjoyed watching what I saw, I feel that a film like Snowden could give audiences a better look at the man who shook the intelligence community to its core; who he was before the NSA, what he did, the truth behind his motivations and above all, how he came to do what he did. In my opinion, this film could be boom or bust and I wouldn’t be shocked if it went either way. Gordon-Levitt leads a talented cast including Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, Zachary Quinto, Nicholas Cage, Melissa Leo and Timothy Olyphant, and I hope that Snowden can be a movie that shakes up the climate of the films released this season.

Review: Sully

tom_hanks_2014

Image By U.S. Department of State, via Wikimedia Commons

In case you haven’t noticed, Academy Award winner Tom Hanks has been on a biopic kick these last few years. Don’t believe me? Look at some of his most recent roles:

Hanks’ biopic tour continues with his newest film based on man who got his 15 minutes of fame for an action that occurred in 208 seconds. Maybe you remember the news coverage of what happened on January 15, 2009, when U.S. Airways Flight 1549 did something unthinkable, unprecedented and unexpected: successfully survived a forced water landing in the middle of the Hudson River with all 155 men and women aboard her, surviving the ordeal of the plane losing both of its engines shortly after take-off. The event was dubbed, the Miracle on the Hudson and one man was at the center of that miracle: Captain Chesley Sullenberger, “Sully” for short.

Tom Hanks steps into the skin of the title character as the film follows Captain Sullenberger through the precursor of the landing, the landing itself but more so, the aftermath, which involves a scrutinizing investigation by the National Travel Service Bureau looking into how Sully successfully got the plane on the Hudson and all of the passengers alive. Through this picture we see Sully haunted by the ordeal, reflecting and second-guessing if he made the right call, beleaguered by the press and the investigation, worried for his wife and family back home, but in truth, Sully, both the actual man and the main point of this film, is just a man who was doing his job and made a judgement call that paid off. Big time.

clint-eastwood

Image by Feminist Current

I for one was quite smitten by Sully, the motion picture not the man. The great Clint Eastwood made a film that was very smooth, like a flight gone right; wasn’t exactly turbulent as I wanted but I saw a lot that I liked as I was taken by the ride. Eastwood was the pilot, Hanks was the co-pilot of sorts and through their expertise audiences got to their intended destination rather satisfied.

Sully isn’t on the same emotional frequency as Eastwood’s last directorial effort, American Sniper, so I don’t believe it’s fair to compare the two even though there are some comparisons that can be established. I guess you could say that both central characters are in their own ways, haunted by their actions and are trying to cope with the aftermath of what they have done.

Granted the main attractions to Sully are the lead actor who turns in a rather grounded and solid performance and the director who did a fine job in helming this story with dignity and respect to the subject matter but there are other moving parts to Sully worthy of praise.

The writing based on Captain Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow’s bestseller “Highest Duty” adapted to the screen courtesy of Todd Komarnicki is riveting and it takes you by the hand, guiding you throughout the ordeal without losing a step or leaving anyone behind, yet when the film ends, it somehow feels unfinished. Perhaps, I found the subplot of Sully’s family back home was unresolved at the cost of the conclusion of the NTSB’s investigation; I just prefer my movies to leave all loose ends tied up.

Tom Hanks has a worthy acting co-pilot in Aaron Eckhart, and a well-rounded supporting cast in Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Mike O’Malley, Blake Jones, Holt McCallany, Jamey Sheridan, Valerie Mahaffey, including cameos from Katie Couric, Vincent Lombardi and others.

Tom Stern’s cinematography was superb. The utilization of ALEXA IMAX 65MM cameras to capture the scope and enormity of the landing was done damn near flawlessly and it wasn’t just the landing that was eye-grabbing. For instance, there was a scene where Sully is out for a run at night and he runs through steam which gives him a shadow in the background, that was beautifully shot.

I thought the editing of the film was just sublime. Blu Murray did a superb job in moving from the subplots, seamlessly rather than haphazardly like in other movies. The use of flashbacks from when Sully is out for his run and he sees a jet he used to fly in the Air Force, he flashes back to the last time he encountered a situation where he had to make another successful landing due to a mechanical malfunction with the plane and then back to the present, that style of editing is done with purpose and if it works, that purpose can be felt and I for one felt that purpose.

I thought the sound quality and visual effects were well done. To recreate the Miracle on the Hudson both had to be effective and they were, not only in that particular sequence but when Sully has nightmares, there is impact there.

chesley_sullenberger_honored_crop

Image By Ingrid Taylar, via Wikimedia Commons

As we move into the fall season, I can say that Sully started the season with a great degree of thrust. This is another solid effort by Clint Eastwood as he pays tribute to not only a remarkable man who was only doing his job to the best of his ability but to the first responders, fire fighters, police officers, the best New York City had to offer during an time of crisis. Men and women doing their jobs to the best of their ability.

Sully is worthy of seeing and praising. Great film.

Ladies and Gentlemen! Meet Deathstroke!

Last week during the production of Justice League, star and executive producer Ben Affleck took a moment out of his very busy schedule to give fans across the world a look behind the curtain regarding what may in store for his character in a future DCEU motion picture.

In case you were wondering, yes. That is in fact the infamous mercenary from DC comic lore, Slade Wilson, alias Deathstroke and ever since Affleck announced the character, there has been official confirmation that Deathstroke will be coming to Gotham City to challenge Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight. A week later, point-man for the DCEU going forward, DC comic expert Geoff Johns, has officially confirmed who will take up the role of the sinister Slade Wilson: Joe Manganiello.

joe_manganiello_july_2015

Image by Eva Rinaldi, via Wikimedia Commons

For those who are unfamiliar with the character of Slade Wilson/Deathstroke, here is some background information.

Originally the archenemy of the Teen Titans, writers have developed him over the years as an adversary of other heroes in the DC Universe. Over time, DC writers established parallels between him and Batman, as well as his grudge against Green Arrow. The character has been substantially adapted from the comics into multiple forms of media, including several Batman related projects and the Teen Titans animated series. Slade Wilson/Deathstroke later appeared on The CW‘s live action TV series Arrow, where he is portrayed by Manu Bennett.

Deathstroke is and has been a formidable adversary for many of the individual members of the Justice League, and in some instances the entire league. An expert in hand-to-hand combat, military tactics, weapons and an intellect among some of the most prolific villains in the DC mythology, the appeal of Deathstroke for Ben Affleck’s take on Batman must have been undeniably difficult to resist. He’s basically an adversary worthy of Batman’s attention, capable of fighting him on his terms and his level. I for one love this decision and I recall how well Manu Bennett portrayed the character on the CW’s Arrow during its second season.

I took a quick look at Joe Manganiello’s credits and actually, I’m a more familiar with his acting acumen than I thought. He was Flash Thompson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, he has experience with both film and television on programs such as ER, How I Met Your Mother, One Tree Hill, True Blood and films such as Magic Mike, Knight of Cups and What to Expect When You’re Expecting. He’s certainly an actor to watch out for and judging by his physical demeanor, I believe he can step into the skin of Slade Wilson without any degree of difficulty and give Ben Affleck the adversary he desires. Can’t wait.

In the meantime, this may be a preview of what’s to come.

Movie of the Week: Sully

By now, everyone should know about the event known as the Miracle on the Hudson. The media covered it extensively; the story about a flight captain successfully landing an airliner that suffered engine failure as it was minutes into its takeoff from New York City with over 150 passengers aboard and how the pilot managed a successful landing afloat the Hudson saving everyone aboard, but Sully is the story seen through the eyes of the esteemed Clint Eastwood. Oscar winner Tom Hanks steps into the skin of Captain Sullenberger as the pilot lives through the event and the aftermath of such a miracle.

What am I expecting to see?: Well, now that summer is officially behind us all, I’m hoping to see a good movie and from what I’ve been hearing at certain film festivals, Sully is certainly a movie with a degree of weight and gravitas attached to it. From the look of the trailers it somewhat reminds me of films such as Flight and The Walk and both of those films were likeable from recollection and I’m up for a project that Clint Eastwood is fascinated by and this is certainly a respectable cast. Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn and Sam Huntington, are all good performers and I expect Sully to take off now that we are at the start of the fall film season.

 

An Assessment that is Summer 2016 at the Movies

I certainly didn’t see every movie that came out this summer but I certainly tried to see every movie of note that was released. To say that the films released between the period of mid-May to the twilight of August and speaking of the twilight of August: we’re in it! The Rio Olympics, which I did not bother watching at all, came and passed, NFL preseason is halfway through, the back-to-school advertisements are out in full force, and even though the final official day of summer arrives in early September, I’m ready to call it: summer’s over. That being said, I’d like to take a look at some of the highlights and lowlights of the last few months at the movies!

Summer 2016’s biggest surprise: Hell or High Water

Man, I’m still aglow over this knockout comtemporary Western gifted to us by director David McKenzie and rising star screenwriter Taylor Sheridan! In case you missed my review, Hell or High Water stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as two bandit brothers determined to keep a bank from foreclosing on their family farm by elaborately robbing various branches throughout Texas. Jeff Bridges plays the grizzled long-in-the-tooth lawman nipping at their heels as they tear through the Lone Star State and with a solid 3-man leading ensemble, excellent writing and superb execution, Hell or High Water came out of nowhere and scored a vintage cinematic homerun!

Summer 2016’s biggest disappointment: Now You See Me 2

I can’t remember if I cried when I saw this sequel come untied, but something touched me deep inside, the day Now You See Me 2 proved, the magic had died. The magic, being the magic, fun and the unexpected twists and turns from the original Now You See Me, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and others about a team of magician thieves who pull off criminal feats of awe-inspiring dexterity. Now You See Me 2 is merely one of the many unnecessary sequels of this summer no one asked for and honestly, director Jon M. Chu should have kept this rabbit in its hat.

The superhero movie of the summer: Captain America: Civil War

This decision was not even close! X-Men: Apocalypse failed to live up to the hype, and Suicide Squad was doomed by its own shortcomings, but even if this wasn’t by default, Captain America: Civil War had it all! This star-studded Marvel grand showcase pitted Avenger against Avenger is a thoroughly well-thought out execution of philosophy, orchestrated by powers beyond the Avengers’ field of vision and started Phase Three of the Avengers Initiative with a bang!

Summer 2016’s best animated film: (tie) Finding Dory & Kubo and the Two Strings

2016 was a year to celebrate animated features and two of my most anticipated animated films of this summer did not disappoint at all! Disney & Pixar should probably take home a prize for actually making a sequel that was done right for audiences everywhere were taken back to the sea to check in on Marlyn, Nemo and Dory who set out on a grand adventure to realize who she was and where she came from. Finding Dory was absolutely precious and it should be celebrated not only as one of this summer’s best films but one of the best films of this year, but not so fast!

The latest animated adventure from Laika and Focus Features is a genuine marvel in itself. Kubo and the Two Strings follows the tale of a boy with a magical knack for origami and storytelling and he embarks on a quest to inherit his father’s legacy while supernatural forces are hunting him and his companions down. I’ve always respected the work of Laika and Focus Features’ stop-motion animated adventures but Kubo and the Two Strings is a genuine treasure and a highlight of this summer.

Summer 2016’s best visual effects: Captain America: Civil War

captain-america-civil-war-key-art

Image by Marvel

Again, this is another competition the super soldier won without much difficulty and that’s saying something considering the summer is the season where visual effects run rampant throughout movie theaters. Whether it was the fight between Team Cap and Team Iron Man or the final battle between Iron Man and Captain America, this movie was a feast for the eyes.

The best movie of the summer: Hell or High Water

hohw

Image by CBS Films

I should really proclaim this as one of the best film’s I’ve seen this year. Oh wait. I think I did!

The worst movie of the summer: The Legend of Tarzan

There were many to choose from over the past few months. To narrow my choice down, I thought about a movie that I had no high expectations for going in whatsoever and a movie that attempted to or didn’t even try to meet those shallow expectations and what I was left with is The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skaarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Djimon Hounsou, in David Yates’ take on the legendary character crafted by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This movie was like watching a snake crawl back into its old skin after shedding it and it was rather unnatural to digest.

Fare the well Summer 2016. I did my best to see your best and I certainly will try to forget your worst, if indeed I did bother seeing them. Anyway, I’m on to fall. Check on my blog for any updates or news or my next film and I’ll see you at the movies.