Snowden (2016)

Snowden
Director: Oliver Stone
Writer: Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone
Based on: the books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Melissa Leo, Zachary QuintoShailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Tom Wilkinson, Joely Richardson, Timothy Olyphant, Erol Sander, Scott Eastwood, Ben Chaplin
Seen on: 4.10.2016

Plot:
Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) used to be a soldier, then he started working for the NSA. Growing disillusioned with the NSA’s surveillance practices, he decides to do something about it. He contacts journalists Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and leaks documents and evidence through them. But whistleblowing like that is treason and Snowden has to be smart to make sure that the information reaches the public and that he doesn’t get caught.

Snowden is a very nice companion piece to Citizenfour. It’s a well done, engaging film and you can’t repeat this horrifying story and the sheer scope of everything enough.

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London Has Fallen (2016)

London Has Fallen
Director: Babak Najafi
Writer: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, Chad St. John
Sequel to: Olympus Has Fallen
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Radha Mitchell, Angela Bassett, Morgan Freeman, Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo, Alon Aboutboul
Seen on: 13.3.2016

Plot:
Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is about to resign from his job in the Secret Service as the bodyguard of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), despite the fact that he and Asher are very close indeed. But Mike’s wife Leah (Radha Mitchell) is expecting and he wants to take it more slowly when the kid arrives. Before that, though, news that the English Prime Minister died reaches Asher. It’s clear that like most of the world’s most prominent politicians, Asher will have to attend the funeral in London and Mike will come with him. But an event like that is the perfect place for an attack – which is just what happens, leaving Mike and Benjamin stranded in London, fighting for survival.

I really hadn’t planned on seeing this. I pretty much hated Olympus Has Fallen (much preferring White House Down) and so putting myself through the sequel seemed like a non-starter. But then puzzledpeaces made puppy eyes at me and I found myself packing a whole lot of alcohol and resigning myself to my fate. It turns out that London Has Fallen is not necessarily a better film than Olympus Has Fallen, but it is more entertaining. Do take that as the very faint praise it is, though.

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The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short
Director: Adam McKay
Writer: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Based on: Michael Lewisbook
Cast: Christian BaleSteve Carell, Ryan GoslingBrad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy StrongJohn MagaroFinn Wittrock, Melissa Leo, Karen Gillan, Max GreenfieldBilly Magnussen, Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, Anthony Bourdain, Richard Thaler
Seen on: 20.1.2016

Plot:
Michael Burry (Christian Bale) may not have many social skills, but he knows finance. And he knows that something will have to give in the world of finance – and that he can profit from the banks’ greed if he plays his card rights. So he starts betting against banks, assuming that the loans they give out will start to collapse. His tactic becomes known to Wall Street Broker Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) who approaches fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) with the proposal to do the same. At the same time, college kids Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) enlist veteran investor Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to join into their own version of Burry’s scheme.

The Big Short treads pretty much the same ground as Margin Call, only that it is much more entertaining and made me understand the bursting of the real estate bubble much more.

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Prisoners (2013)

Prisoners
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Dylan Minnette, Zoe Borde

Plot:
It’s Thanksgiving and the Dovers are celebrating with their friends and neighbors, the Birchs. But when the little daughters of both families suddenly disappear, the festivities are quickly interrupted. As Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is called, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) quickly loses his temper. And when suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is apprehended to be released soon afterwards, Keller decides to take justice into his own hands.

Prisoners has a rather similar theme as Big Bad Wolves, so it’s hard not to compare the two and in that comparison, Prisoners stays a bit behind – but that’s just because Big Bad Wolves was that exceptional. Prisoners is, in fact, a really good movie.

prisoners

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Welcome to the Rileys (2010)

Welcome to the Rileys
Director: Jake Scott
Writer: Ken Hixon
Cast: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo

Plot:
Ever since their daughter died, Lois (Melissa Leo) and Doug (James Gandolfini) have grown distant. Doug has an affair with waitress Vivian (Eisa Davis) and keeps on losing money playing poker, while Lois hasn’t left the house in a while and practically only gets by with the help of medication. After Vivian suddenly dies, Doug is completely lost. He goes to New Orleans for a conference where he meets 16-year-old runaway, stripper and prostitute Mallory (Kristen Stewart). On a whim he decides to stay and help Mallory out, which actually prompts Lois to finally leave the house.

There were a lot of good things about Welcome to the Rileys and some things that didn’t work so well. Generally I was pretty unimpressed though.welcome_to_the_rileys

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Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Olympus Has Fallen
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Finley Jacobsen, Dylan McDermott,
Rick Yune, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Ashley Judd

Plot:
Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) was President Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart) first bodyguard and friend. Until he wasn’t able to safe the life of the First Lady (Ashley Judd). 18 months later he’s working a desk job even though he wants nothing more than to get back at the president’s side. Then the White House is attacked, the president is being held hostage in his own bunker and Mike finds himself in the middle of things, trying his best to save everyone.

I didn’t expect Olympus Has Fallen to be any good. @kathrintha and I went in with a bottle of alcohol and the distinct suspicion that it was going to be awful. We had no idea how awful though and when we ran out of (ready-made) Mojito half-way through, the movie became pretty much unbearable.

olympus_has_fallen

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Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writer: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt
Based on: Joseph Kosinski’s and Arvid Nelson‘s unpublished comic
Cast: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell

Plot:
Jack (Tom Cruise) and Vicka (Andrea Riseborough) are the only people left on earth. Everybody else has left after aliens attacked the earth and the only way to get rid of them were nuclear bombs. Now Jack and Vicka are tasked with drone repair, while the last of the water is sucked up to be transported to the human colony. But there are still some aliens on earth that keep attacking. Bit by bit though, Jack starts questioning what’s going on.

Oblivion stole most of its parts from famous SciFi movies and jumbles them together in absolutely meaningless and idiotic ways. It could have succeeded in being an homage, if it had been able to become more than just a string of scenes and plot points we already saw somewhere else. But unfortunately it just isn’t clever enough for that.

Oblivion

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Flight (2012)

Flight
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: John Gatins
Cast: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce GreenwoodJohn Goodman, Nadine VelazquezJames Badge Dale, Melissa Leo

Plot:
Whip (Denzel Washington) is a divorced pilot with an addiction problem. To get over his hangovers – when he’s not too drunk to have one – he usually takes a bit of cocaine. He goes through that same routine before getting on a plane that subsequently crashes. Though everyone agrees that this is due to a technical error and that Whip is solely responsible for saving most of the people on board, an investigation into his life makes him slowly face his drug problem.

Flight was very long. It could have easily been shorter and it would have been better for it. But even if it had been shorter, it just felt tired. Like both the story and the production was just a paint-by-the-numbers thing. Which is not really what you want from a film.flight

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Francine (2012)

Francine
Director: Brian M. Cassidy, Melanie Shatzky
Writer: Brian M. Cassidy, Melanie Shatzky
Cast: Melissa Leo, Victoria Charkut, Keith Leonard
Part of: Viennale

Plot:
Francine (Melissa Leo) was just released from prison and is trying to rebuild her life. She starts working in a pet store, but soon her withdrawn, a bit surly attitude costs her that job. The local church group, headed by Linda (Victoria Charkut) tries to help her find a new job. But Francine generally has a really hard time connecting to people. The only really meaningful relationships she can make are with the various pets she keeps collecting.

Melissa Leo is fantastic, and the film was a wonderful, sensitive character study that uses her in the best possible way. I loved it.

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Frozen River (2008)

Frozen River
Director: Courtney Hunt
Writer: Courtney Hunt
Cast: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott, Michael O’Keefe, Mark Boone Junior
Part of: Real America

Plot:
Ray (Melissa Leo) dreams of a house for herself and her family. But when her husband takes off with the balloon payment and leaves her and her two sons (Charlie McDermott, Dylan Carusona) without any money whatsoever, her dream (and down-payment) seem lost. But then Ray happens upon Lila (Misty Upham), a Mohawk who also fights to get by. Circumstances throws the two of them together as they start smuggling people into the US through the Mohawk territory.

I’m not exactly sure why and how I missed Frozen River so far, but I really am cursing myself for it. It is absolutely fantastic. Writing, story, cast and general filmmaking actually left me breathless a couple of times.

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