Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Babblin’ ‘Bout BLAIR WITCH, SNOWDEN, & The Beatles

Clint Eastwood’s SULLY, starring Tom Hanks as that airline captain that water landed his plane in the Hudson river back in ’09, was the #1 movie at the box office this last weekend, beating out two sequels that opened last week: BLAIR WITCH and BRIDGET JONES’S BABY. I found the third BRIDGET JONES film to be a fine, just funny enough follow-up, but the third in the BLAIR WITCH franchise struck me as a bogus retread. 

Actually horror filmmaker Adam Wingard’s (YOU’RE NEXT, V/H/S) BLAIR WITCH is supposed to be seen as a direct sequel to the 1996 smash hit THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (the original filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez executive produce), and we’re supposed to forget about or not count what happened in Joe Berlinger’s much maligned 2000 follow-up BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2, which is easy for me as I’ve never seen it.

So this new entry is yet another reboot that’s also a remake (see: THE THING, ROBOCOP, INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE, every other movie from the last five years), which deals with another group of 20-year olds getting lost deep in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland on a quest to solve the mystery of what happened to the three people from the first movie. One of the characters, played by James Allen McCune, is the brother of the missing Heather Donahue who you may remember from this iconic image:

See? I knew you'd know that image!

McCune is joined by Callie Hernandez as his girlfriend, and another couple, Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid who all are equipped with headset cameras, GPS devices, walkie talkies, and an aerial camera drone on their hike inspired by an image on a videotape that was found in the forest by a couple of sketchy locals, played by Wes Robinson and Valore Curry.

Robinson and Curry invite themselves along on much to the annoyance of the others, but after they awaken the next morning to find those classic stick figures twined together hanging from the trees surrounding their camp, the four friends suspect the couple to be pranking them and they kick them out of their group.

If you’ve seen the first you can guess the rest – the gang tries to head back to civilization but they get even more lost and circle back to their same campsite again (just like the river in the first one), one of them disappears, and the remaining kids wind up at the same spooky house from the original, and despite more action involving tunnels and the freaky naked witch that you can only see in quick flases of light, it ends pretty much the same way.

It’s a pretty tedious exercise full of jump scares and the shakiest of shaky camerawork in the entire found footage genre. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the first movie, and I only saw it once at the theatre (a multiplex in Greensboro if I remember correctly) but its imagery is burned into my brain as it was a fresh approach at the time. Despite all the new tech, BLAIR WITCH ‘16 doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of story or ideas, nor does it do anything to flesh out the series’ mythology.

We just get that there’s this supernatural, evil force that can uproot trees, change time and space, and can screw with your leg injuries (Reid sprains her ankle early on and the witch does what she can to make the wound worse just so there’s some gore) and these kids are stupid to think that they can solve any mystery about it, what happened to the previous party, and give us anything more than a bunch of jump scares. A found footage fail for sure.

I was also disappointed by Oliver Stone’s Edward Snowden biopic SNOWDEN, about the former CIA employee who in 2013 leaked tons of sensitive data about the scary extent of the United State’s mass surveillance, 
currently #4 at the box office. 

I’ve been a big fan of Stone’s work in the past (still think JFK is a masterpiece), and I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but their film falls way short of greatness. Pop culture critic extroadinaire Nathan Rabin once wrote that “there comes a moment in every cinephile’s intellectual and creative development when he or she comes to realize that Oliver Stone is full of shit.” And I laugh because, yeah, I remember when that happened for me (U-TURN).

But I wouldn’t say that SNOWDEN is full of shit, but just that it’s a by-the-numbers biopic that adds up to a preachy bore.

I’ll start with how takes too many liberties with its subject’s background. Stone dramatizes Snowden going through basic training as a candidate for Special Forces until he breaks his leg, but in real life he was only in the military briefly and had not undergone any training. Also Snowden’s role as a NSA security contractor is exaggerated, and the man most surely did not smuggle tons of classified CIA files on a SD card hidden inside one of the squares of his Rubik’s Cube. Actually that’s one of the better scenes in the movie but I still wasn’t buying it.

I also hear that Snowden’s relationship with his longtime girlfriend, Lindsay Mills played by Shailene Woodley, isn’t represented truthfully, but I was amused at how he becomes obsessed with the government spying on him, and everyone, through laptop webcams – one thing Stone does well is paranoia – but Woodley’s Lindsay doesn’t care and says things to him like “so what? I’ve got nothing to hide.”

By the time Gordon-Levitt morphs into the real Snowden (biopic rule #13: show the real person at the end) we’ve basically gone through all the ripped from the headlines motions and true story tropes Stone could squeeze out of the story. It does help that Stone has assembled a great cast – Gordon-Levitt is joined by the likes of Melissa Leo as filmmaker Laura Poitras, who made the Oscar-winning Snowden doc CITIZENFOUR, Zachary Quinto as journalist Glenn Greenwald, Tom Wilkinson as The Guardian writer Ewen MacAskill, and a bunch of fabricated characters or amalgams portrayed by Scott Eastwood, Logan Marshall-Green, Timothy Olyphant, Rhys Ifans and Nicolas Cage.

Stone’s SNOWDEN has noble intentions – to make a hero out of a man that exposed a great injustice – but it’s an underwhelming experience bereft of the epic angriness that gave his early work its “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” fire.

Lastly, I’m happy to report that Ron Howard’s THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS has been such a success that its run has been extended for another week at my local indie film venue, the Rialto Theater in Raleigh (it’ll run through September 29th). 

The wonderful rock doc, which I raved about in my review last week, is also currently available on Hulu, but I highly recommend making the pilgrimage to see it at an art house near you because the scores of great archival footage deserves to be seen on the big screen, and the 30-minute bonus film “The Beatles Live at Shea Stadium,” which looks and sounds amazing owing to its recent digital restoration, is an in-theaters-only exclusive.

More later…

No comments: