Welcome to the House of Crouse. At it’s very core Snowden, the story of Ed Snowden, an American computer wiz who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency to The Guardian, is about privacy, and how much of it you can expect to enjoy every time you turn on your computer or pick up your mobile phone. Learn more in the HoC conversations with director Oliver Stone and the film’s stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley. C’mon in and sit a spell… but leave your cell phone in the microwave.
Richard and CP24 anchor Jamie Gutfreund have a look at the weekend’s new movies the long awaited sequel to “The Blair Witch Project,” the biopic “Snowden,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the return of Renée Zellweger’s most famous character in “Bridget Jones’s Baby.”
Richard sits in with Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s new movies, including the found footage frights of “Blair Witch,” the rom com delights of “Bridget Jones’s Baby” and”Snowden,” Oliver Stone’s biographical look at one of the decade’s most controversial figures.
If there ever was a story tailor made for Oliver Stone’s sensibilities, “Snowden” is it. Polarizing in the extreme, Ed Snowden, an American computer wiz who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency to The Guardian, was called a traitor by Donald Trump and a hero by the New Yorker. Two hours into this biopic it’s not hard to see which side of the fence Stone falls on.
It’s 2003 when we first meet future whistleblower Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) he’s a grunt in the US Army struggling through basic training. The deeply patriotic high-school dropout wants to serve his country but his body doesn’t cooperate. Honourably discharged for medical reasons he turns to the CIA, hoping to find meaningful work as a computer specialist and because, “it sounds really cool to have a top security clearance.”
Hired on, he learns the tools of today’s warfare. “The modern battlefield is everywhere,” he’s told while designing and building computer systems he believes will keep his country safe. Meanwhile the secretive nature of his work is slowly driving a wedge between he and girlfriend Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), a liberal leaning photographer who doesn’t always support Ed’s views but always supports him.
Over the next decade his efforts to prevent terrorists and cyber attacks leads him down a rabbit hole of intrigue and double-dealings. Partially responsible for running a dragnet on the whole world he helps gather information—using cell phone and computer cameras—on regular everyday citizens as well as the baddies and begins to question his mandate. The NSA, he says is tracking the cell phones of everyone. “Not just terrorists or countries,” he says, “but us.”
In June 2013 he decides to go public by leaking classified information from the National Security Agency to The Guardian. “I just want to get the data to the media so people can decide whether I’m wrong,” he says, “or if the government is wrong.”
A title card at the beginning of “Snowden” reads, “The following is a dramatization of events that occurred between 2004 and 2013.” That gives director Stone ample leeway to tell the story his way. In other words, this ain’t a documentary. It is clear he is on Snowden’s side, that he doesn’t see him as a traitor or snitch but a hero. His thesis seems to be that you don’t have to agree with your politicians to be a patriot. Stone supports his view visually—Snowden literally comes out of the darkness and into the light when he leaves the NSA building for the last time—and through the actions and words of several of his characters. Rhys Ifans plays a CIA trainer/master manipulator who feeds Snowden’s naïve patriotism with defence mantras. “Most Americans don’t want freedom,” he preaches, “they want security.” Later Snowden’s NSA supervisor Trevor (Scott Eastwood) argues that a job like the one Snowden is doing, can’t be criminal “if you’re working for the government.”
But hey, this isn’t CNN or Fox News, it’s a big screen entertainment and on that score it works. Gordon-Levitt transforms into a monotone über nerd, equal parts sweetness and paranoia. What he lacks in warmth Woodley more than makes up for, handing in a performance that is all emotion and concern.
When Ifans leaves a video conference call with the sign off, “I’ll see you soon,” those simple words take on a sinister feel when it is clear that he really can see you, whether you know it or not. Stone may not be able to shape the way you feel about Ed Snowden, but if nothing else he’ll make you want to cover the camera on your computer.
Oliver Stone: “This is really a secret underworld and no one in the NSA has come forward in its 70-year history,” Stone said.
“We only saw a sliver until Ed Snowden. No one saw into that thing, so it’s really an undercover detective story. And for me it’s exciting because it’s like JFK, it goes into something that we don’t know. Americans don’t know anything about it and they still don’t because it’s tricky.
“The government lies about it all the time and what they’re doing is illegal and they keep doing it. And it gets better and better, what they do, so this a very upsetting story.”
Richard and CP24 anchor Nneka Elliot talk about the weekend’s four big releases, including “Finding Dory,” the buddy comedy “Central Intelligence” with Duane Johnson and Kevin Hart, and a duo of documentaries, “De Palma,” an unflinching look at the films of Brian De Palma and the self explanatory “Raiders! The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made.”
Richard and CTV NewsChannel morning show host Todd Van der Heyden chat up the weekend’s big releases, including “Finding Dory,” the literary bio “Genius” with Jude Law and Colin Firth, and a duo of documentaries, “De Palma,” an unflinching look at the films of Brian De Palma and the self explanatory “Raiders! The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made.”
Tracking shots. Split screens. Eighteen-minute Steadicam sequences. Visually spectacular set pieces. All are part of the Brian De Palma canon, but absent from a new, comprehensive look at his career. “De Palma,” a love letter to the director from filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, makes up for its lack of visual pyrotechnics with De Palma’s storytelling prowess.
“Many of movies were considered great disasters at the time,” says the director of “Phantom of the Paradise,” “Dressed to Kill” and “Body Double.” Now, decades after his commercial peak, many of De Palma’s films are considered classics. This new talking head documentary chronicles them all, warts and all.
From his early days as an indie filmmaker, working in the shadow of better known friends like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, to his critically reviled (“You are always being criticized against the fashion of the day,” he says.) but commercially successful period to a brief era when reviews and audiences lined up in tandem, he holds nothing back.
We learn how the director kicked “Scarface” screenwriter Oliver Stone off the set for talking to the actors, that in “The Untouchables” Robert De Niro wore the same kind of silk underwear Al Capone wore (“You never saw it but it was there,” says De Palma.) and how the studio loved the controversial “Body Double” “until they saw it.”
There’s more, told in De Palma’s bemused, colourful way—“I love photographing women,” he admits. “I’m fascinated by the way them move.”—but the real meat of the doc comes when he auteur talks about being a square peg trying to fit into Hollywood’s round hole. “The values of the system are the opposite of what goes into making good original movies,” he says.
“De Palma” is a simple film about a complex subject. “The thing about making movies is every mistake is right up there on the screen,” he says. “Everything you didn’t solve. Every shortcut you made. You will look at it for the rest of your life. It’s like a record of the things you didn’t finish.” It’s a master’s class not just in De Palma’s life and career, but also in how movies were made in the latter half of the twentieth century.
I knew “Savages” was going to be an over-the-top Oliver Stone movie from the opening minutes. A “wargasm” reference was my first clue and by the time Benicio Del Toro literally twirled his moustache like a pantomime baddie I knew this wasn’t the same restrained director who gave us “W” and “World Trade Center,” this was Stone in unhinged “Natural Born Killers” mode. It’s a wild ride, but I found it more flamboyant than fun.
Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch are Ben and Chon, entrepreneurs, drug dealers and two thirds of a love triangle with California cutie Ophelia (Blake Lively). They sell a potent strain of legal medical grade marijuana but also siphon off some for illicit practice and profit, which earns the attention of a Mexican Baja drug Cartel run by Elena (Salma Hayek). She’ll do anything to create a “joint” venture, including kidnapping their shared paramour Ophelia. Revenge turns bloody when Elena’s enforcer, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), gets involved and complicated when a dirty DEA agent (John Travolta) double-crosses everyone.
“Savages” is definitely a good-looking movie from the stars to the scenery, but I thought the cast was really interesting as well as pretty. Johnson and Kitsch are good and evil, flip sides of the same coin, Lively isn’t as sprightly as her name might suggest, but she does do damaged quite well. I also enjoyed Travolta, Hayek and Del Toro chewing the scenery but I felt it hard to care about any of them. They’re all rather despicable, and I found myself hoping they’d all end up in a Mexican standoff, firing until no one was left standing.
But stand they do, so for a little over two hours we’re taken to their world of double-crosses, beheadings, threesomes and seemingly pointless close-ups of beaches, crabs and Buddha statues. Stone is a sensualist, allowing his camera to caress Lively’s face and fill the screen with beautiful images. Even Del Toro’s torture scenes have a certain glamorous élan to them, but as entertaining to the eye as it all is, it’s a rather empty experience.
The plotting goes crazy near the middle, and any comment on the morality of the drug trade, one way or another, is sidestepped in favor of an ending—and this is no spoiler—that seems to want to play both sides of the intellectual fence.
Perhaps I expected too much. “Savages” is at its black-hearted best a preposterous popcorn movie that strives to be something more, but the film’s message apparently went, like the product that makes all the characters do such horrible things, up in smoke.