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Movie Reviews: Snowden and Blair Witch

Snowden

Cary, NC – Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone (JFK, Platoon) directs star Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this biopic of Edward Snowden. Despite being familiar territory for Stone, Snowden has a hard time rising above being an average government thriller and being something much more of the moment and urgency that it desperately wants to be, despite another solid showing from Levitt.

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Levitt Gives A Great, Committed Performance

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an actor that likes to swing for the fences. He’s a truly fearless performer. He donned heavy prosthetics in Looper to look more like a young Bruce Willis. In The Walk, he went all in on a French accent, and while it was never 100 percent convincing, he fully committed and in the end his charisma and determination helped make up for the flawed accent. In Snowden, he does something similar with his voice. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t heard or seen an interview with the real Snowden. He has a much higher pitch than Levitt’s voice. It’s a detail that probably wouldn’t matter much to other actors but Levitt again goes all in, changing his voice completely to fit the character.

It’s distracting at first but once you get used to it, the performance begins to take over and once again Levitt delivers. The man is proving to be a jack of all trades, having done comedy, action, drama and even a little singing here and there and I’m always curious to see what he has up his sleeve.

Film Lacks Focus And Urgency

The movie as a whole has trouble keeping up with Levitt though. Director Stone has tackled government and paranoia before to fantastic results with films like JFK and Born on the Fourth of July. It seems like this should be a slam dunk for him but Snowden doesn’t have the bite that those films have. It remains intriguing throughout, if only because the subject matter itself is so interesting, but Stone can’t quite get the material to rise above. A real shame.

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Skip It

Overall Snowden fails to entertain or even educate. Director Stone manages to get a great performance from his star, but seems to have lost focus for the film has a whole. Very disappointing especially with such a topic. Not worth the price of admission, unfortunately.


Blair Witch

Cary, NC – One of the most impactful horror movies of the last 20 years gets revisited with two of the most active filmmakers in horror today. Unfortunately, Blair Witch proves the brilliance of the original Blair Witch Project by showing how difficult it is to recreate such a unique movie.

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Slight Tweaks

If you have seen The Blair Witch Project, much of Blair Witch is going to be very familiar and not always in a creepy déjà vu way. At night there is strange rustling in the distance, a few members of the camera crew go missing, and stick figures mysteriously appear one night.

There are some changes to the formula. A much larger film crew goes into the Burkittsville, Maryland woods to find out what happened to Heather Donahue, the closest thing The Blair Witch Project had to a main character and the sister of Blair Witch‘s lead, James. The stick figures they find are significantly larger. And more cameras are employed as well as more up-to-date technology. This leads to some heightened anxiety, with different points of view as disparate strange things happen but also some eye-rollers such as overhead drone footage of the woods.

But for the vast majority of Blair Witch, we are treated to a retread of The Blair Witch Project. There are some important changes, such as characters who go missing and then, more disturbingly, return with, let’s say, a new outlook on the world. And these changes do come to a head at the end of the film but more on that later.

Too Good

Blair Witch‘s problem is that it is following such a seminal horror movie. While found-footage films existed before and people believed they were real (the director of Cannibal Holocaust was charged with murder in Italy because people thought it was all genuine), The Blair Witch Project brought this style to the mainstream and as silly as it seems now, a good portion of filmgoers thought they were seeing actual footage from film students who mysteriously vanished after trying to find a legendary witch.

This is a testament to not only how well the cast and crew staged the film – from directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez coming up with creative ways to guide the production to moments such as Donahue’s tearful self-eulogy to the camera – but the marketing. It was 1999, before many people understood the rumor-spreading power of the Internet. And it was put on full blast to make people think this was real.

But that is a hard trick to repeat. Maybe if it was any other movie, another team could pull it off but this is the Blair Witch series and people are already primed for it. The creators of the new Blair Witch, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, have shown they can make great horror with the V/H/S series, ABCs of Death and You’re Next and make an effective and scary movie but one that is trying to fit into an overdone genre, especially with the never-ending parade of found-footage films we already get thanks to the success of Paranormal Activity.

Interestingly enough, a more successful sequel to The Blair Witch Project does exist in the form of the director’s cut of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 which moves away from the found-footage format and offers a commentary on being wrapped up in public interest and celebrity, as the original film was. But the movie was severely tampered with by the studio and the official version of the movie is largely unwatchable.

The Key Moment

The Blair Witch Project‘s ending turned a lot of people off. Not to give it away if you haven’t seen it, but if you expect a straight-forward horror movie where the killer or source of terror presents itself, you may be disappointed. But Blair Witch‘s take away moment is its finale where a lot happens.

Again, it is difficult to describe without spoiling the film, but we learn new information about the Blair Witch or about the phenomena in the woods or about the characters themselves, based on your interpretation. And it is scary. Truly, unnervingly scary. What Blair Witch lacks in the overarching sense of dread the original had, it tries to take back with this finale and succeeds to a small degree.

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Fans Only

Is the finale powerful enough to go see the movie? That varies from viewer to viewer. If you are a serious horror fan, aren’t familiar with the original and are curious or are a super-fan of The Blair Witch Project, then it might be worth it. But for anyone else, it’s hard to see getting much out of this.


Jordan Hunt reviews movies for CaryCitizen. Read more Movie Reviews. Photos from Facebook (Snowden/Blair Witch).

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