Snowden Movie Review

Maybe there’s something to the notion that the passage of time when it comes to Oliver Stone’s political dramas is an asset. After all, JFK and Nixon are two of his most riveting and they took place a couple of decades beyond the events. Whether or not you agreed with the director’s conspiracy theories or characterizations, they both flourished on separate terms. The former crackled with energy as a legal and courtroom procedural. The latter felt like a glorious Shakespearean tragedy.

In these more recent years, Stone’s films of the genre have been concerned with issues in the fierce urgency of now. His third picture named after a President – 2008’s W. – was released while Bush 43 was still sitting in the Oval and it was unimpressive. His newest is Snowden, centering on the man who turned the American intelligence universe on its axis in 2013 and beyond. The common feeling I had for both? That a solid documentary about both stories would’ve been more effective. In this case, it actually was. The director’s visual flourishes and creative editing are here in spots, just as they were in his finest works. They’re welcome on occasion, yet 2014’s Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour essentially told the same story and didn’t need Stone’s talents to tell it in an interesting way.

Joseph Gordon Levitt is Edward Snowden, who worked for both the CIA and NSA and very famously grew disillusioned with their data mining practices. His disclosures of their content and of agency practice have given him both hero and traitor status, depending on who you’re talking to. The film opens in 2013 as he’s holed up in a Hong Kong hotel with three journalists as he prepares to reveal his secrets.

Snowden then traces about a decade of his journey through government employment, government frustration, and, finally, fleeing from the government. His relationship with girlfriend Lindsay (Shailene Woodley) is also explored, from the happy times to difficult ones as he can’t really talk about what happened at the office, ever. There are also a host of familiar actors playing reporters and federal employees, though the lens is firmly trained on the title character.

Stone’s biopic presents its subject as whip smart, patriotic, and determined to right perceived wrongs. That Mr. Snowden himself makes an appearance towards the conclusion stamps his approval. Levitt does a fine job mimicking his cadence and mannerisms and his low-key persona. For those who didn’t catch watching the real man in Citizenfour, this could serve as an OK telling of the tale as Stone sees it. Yet I could not completely escape the thought of that filmmaker who’s done much better dramatically when longer political seasons passed between their happenings.

**1/2 (out of four)

Box Office Predictions: September 30-October 2

Four new titles roll out in wide release this weekend at the box office and they are: Mark Wahlberg’s true-life disaster pic Deepwater Horizon, Tim Burton’s YA fantasy Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, oft delayed Zach Galifianakis/Kristin Wiig comedy Masterminds, and Disney’s Ugandan chess prodigy tale Queen of Katwe. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each here:

As I see it, Deepwater Horizon should top Peregrine for the top spot. Both have the chance to debut higher than my predictions, but the trend over the last couple of weeks has been titles under performing and not over performing. If Magnificent Seven loses close to half its opening weekend audience, it should be third with Storks at the four spot (it should experience the smallest decline of holdovers).

My estimates for Masterminds and Queen of Katwe put them in the sixth and seventh positions with Sully holding on for another week in the top five.

Here’s how the blog readers feel about my projections for the newcomers:

Deepwater Horizon – 45% Too Low, 38% Just About Right, 17% Too High

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – 69% Too Low, 16% Just About Right, 15% Too High

Masterminds – 54% Just About Right, 46% Too Low, 0% Too High

Queen of Katwe – 50% Just About Right, 38% Too Low, 12% Too High

And with that, a top 7 predictions for this weekend:

1. Deepwater Horizon

Predicted Gross: $24.7 million

2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for the Peculiar Children

Predicted Gross: $19.6 million

3. The Magnificent Seven

Predicted Gross: $18.2 million (representing a drop of 47%)

4. Storks

Predicted Gross: $13.2 million (representing a drop of 37%)

5. Sully

Predicted Gross: $9.1 million (representing a drop of 33%)

6. Masterminds

Predicted Gross: $6.3 million

7. Queen of Katwe

Predicted Gross: $5 million

Box Office Results (September 23-25)

As expected, The Magnificent Seven remake with Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt easily topped the charts, though it did come in towards the bottom end of most expectations. The Western took in $34.7 million and I went considerably higher with $47.1M. Still, the opening is in line with Washington’s The Equalizer from two years ago.

After the animated talking animal mega-hits that were Zootopia, Finding Dory, and The Secret Life of Pets – perhaps family audiences had their fill as Storks posted a debut on the lowest end of expectations. Despite positive reviews, the Warner Bros release made $21.3 million for second (below my $27.9M projection). Its best hope is for smallish declines in future weekends.

Sully dropped to third after two weeks on top with $13.5 million (under my $14.9M forecast) for a total of $92M.

Last weekend’s newcomers all posted lackluster debuts and they all experienced unimpressive second weekends as well. Bridget Jones’s Baby was fourth with $4.6 million (I said $5.1M) for a $16M total. Snowden was fifth with $4 million (I said $4.3M) for a $15M tally. Blair Witch dropped to sixth with $4 million as well (I predicted $3.4M) for a $16M overall gross.

And that’s all for now, folks! Until next time…

Box Office Predictions: September 23-25

This past weekend, all newcomers failed to connect with audiences, but the fourth weekend of September has two openings where their prospects look more solid. They are the Denzel Washington/Chris Pratt Western remake The Magnificent Seven and Warner Bros animated Storks. You can read my detailed prediction posts on each right here:

I have Seven slated for the second largest September debut of all time, just behind last year’s Hotel Transylvania 2. As for Storks, I’m predicting a solid second place start.

Sully should fall to third after two weeks on top. As for the aforementioned newbies from last weekend, Bridget Jones’s Baby seems likely to have the smallest decline in its sophomore frame over Blair Witch and Snowden. In fact, while Blair Witch had the highest opening of the fresh titles (which isn’t saying much), I have it primed for a massive drop due to its putrid D+ Cinemascore average.

As far as where the readers think I am with predictions on our two newcomers:

The Magnificent Seven: 36% Too High, 35% Just About Right, 29% Too Low – quite the even split!

Storks: 46% Too Low, 36% Just About Right, 18% Too High

In last weekend’s poll, 74% incorrectly (including I) guessed that Blair Witch would be #1 while 26% correctly said Sully. 

And with that, let’s do a top six for this weekend:

1. The Magnificent Seven

Predicted Gross: $47.1 million

2. Storks

Predicted Gross: $27.9 million

3. Sully

Predicted Gross: $14.9 million (representing a drop of 31%)

4. Bridget Jones’s Baby

Predicted Gross: $5.1 million (representing a drop of 40%)

5. Snowden

Predicted Gross: $4.3 million (representing a drop of 47%)

6. Blair Witch

Predicted Gross: $3.4 million (representing a drop of 65%)

Box Office Results (September 16-18)

Sully once again landed (the pun is old, I know) safely in first place for the second weekend in a row with $21.6 million – just shy of my $23.3M forecast. The Tom Hanks hit has earned $70M thus far.

The curse of the Blair Witch applied to its dismal box office numbers as the sequel to the 1999 smash hit made just $9.5 million. I originally predicted $27.4 million before revising it down to $22.4M. I should have kept going down further and further. In a year that’s been mighty good for horror, the Witch debut gave us a rare dud. However, keeping things in perspective, it did only cost a measly $5 million to make, so it nearly doubled its budget in three days.

In more underwhelming sequel news – Renee Zellweger’s return to the big screen in her signature role was met with a shrug as Bridget Jones’s Baby earned $8.5 million, under my $12.3M estimate. The third entry in the franchise (and first in 12 years) posted its lowest debut in third, just under the $8.6M of 2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. 

Oliver Stone’s Snowden was fourth with $8 million, a bit ahead of my $6.8M prediction. This is just an OK showing as mixed reviews and perhaps a distaste for political drama on the big screen contributed to its ambivalent roll out.

Don’t Breathe stayed in the top five with $5.6 million ($75M total). I incorrectly didn’t include it as its drop-off was smaller than I anticipated.

When the Bough Breaks was sixth in weekend #2 with $5.4 million (I said $5.6M). It’s made $22M.

Last and least – the Christian concert doc Hillsong – Let Hope Rise tanked with only $1.3 million – less than half of my $3M projection for an unlucky 13th place showing.

And that will do it for now, friends! Until next time…


Box Office Predictions: September 16-18

The third weekend of September brings us four new films (just as last weekend did) and they are: horror sequel Blair Witch, rom com three-quel Bridget Jones’s Baby, Oliver Stone’s political thriller Snowden, and faith-based concert documentary Hillsong – Let Hope Rise. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each of them here:

As I see it, Bridget Jones’s Baby looks like it’ll easily place third for the weekend – unless Snowden does considerably better than my estimate. However, I have Snowden pretty far behind in fourth.

Hillsong is unpredictable (it doesn’t help that I don’t have a screen count). I have it in eighth place at $3 million.

The battle for #1 could be one to watch. My estimate for Blair Witch puts it there, but I expect Sully to experience a rather smallish decline. If Witch comes in below my prognosis, the Clint Eastwood/Tom Hanks could land in first for the second frame.

As for current #2 When the Bough Breaks, I look for it to place fifth with a hefty decline.

Here’s how the blog readers feel about my newcomer predictions:

Blair Witch: 36% Too High, 33% Just About Right, 31% Too Low

Bridget Jones’s Baby: 51% Too Low, 32% Just About Right, 17% Too High

Snowden: 71% Too Low, 23% Just About Right, 6% Too High

**I made my Hillsong prediction just this evening, so no real data on that one yet.

And with that, a top 5 predictions for the weekend:

1. Blair Witch

Predicted Gross: $27.4 million

2. Sully

Predicted Gross: $23.3 million (representing a drop of 33%)

3. Bridget Jones’s Baby

Predicted Gross: $12.3 million

4. Snowden

Predicted Gross: $6.8 million

5. When the Bough Breaks

Predicted Gross: $5.6 million (representing a drop of 61%)

Box Office Results (September 9-11)

Sully had a terrific debut over the weekend with $35 million – good for the fifth highest September opening ever and coming in above my $28.5M estimate. It also marks Tom Hanks’s largest live-action premiere in seven years. With an A Cinemascore grade, expect Sully to have sturdy legs moving forward.

The news wasn’t as good for When the Bough Breaks, which made $14.2 million for runner-up status. I was way higher with $22.7M. The romantic thriller couldn’t match the September openings of similarly themed 2014 and 2015 pics – No Good Deed and The Perfect Guy. That said, Bough‘s price tag is only a reported $10 million so a tidy profit is in order for studio Screen Gems.

Don’t Breathe, as expected, dropped to third after two weeks on top with $8.2 million – in line with my $7.5M forecast for a total of $66M. Suicide Squad was fourth with $5.7 million (I predicted $5.1M) for a $307M tally.

Fifth place belonged to Belgian animated entry The Wild Life and I incorrectly had it outside the top five. It earned $3.3 million (I went with $3.2M) for a lackluster beginning.

Kubo and the Two Strings was sixth, also at $3.3 million (I said $3.8M) to bring its gross to $40M.

Last and least, Kate Beckinsale’s horror flick The Disappointments Room bombed in a 17th place showing with just $1.4 million. I was a bit more generous at $2.3M.

And that will do it for now, folks! Until next time…

Oscar Watch: Snowden

Oliver Stone has won two Best Director Oscars for 1986’s Platoon and 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July. He’s received little love from the Academy for the past two decades and his new true life political thriller Snowden hits screen next weekend.

It screened at the Toronto Film Festival this weekend. The verdict? Look for the lack of Oscar attention to continue. Some reviews marked it as a return to form for Mr. Stone, but others weren’t impressed. The tale of CIA analyst Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon Levitt) had originally been scheduled to open late last year before being delayed.

The buzz is muted enough that I don’t expect any nominations for it, including its director, lead, and supporting cast that includes Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Zachary Quinto, and Nicolas Cage.

As the Toronto Festival rolls along, so will my Oscar Watch posts.

Snowden Box Office Prediction

Four have passed since Oliver Stone released his last picture and it’s been eight years since he’s gotten political. That changes next weekend when Snowden hits theaters. This is a biopic of former CIA analyst Edward Snowden with Joseph Gordon -Levitt in the title role. A stellar supporting cast includes Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Zachary Quinto, Scott Eastwood, Timothy Olyphant, Rhys Ifans, and Nicolas Cage.

The thriller was originally set for release in December of last year before being pushed to May and, finally, September. Snowden will be a test as to whether audiences wish to spend over two hours witnessing a story well-publicized in the press and already covered in the recent documentary Citizenfour.

My feeling is the answer will be no. Political dramas often struggle at the box office and I don’t see that as an exception. My prediction is Snowden doesn’t reach double digits in its debut as many moviegoers may be getting their fill of current events on the small screen.

Snowden opening weekend prediction: $6.8 million

For my Blair Witch prediction, click here:

For my Bridget Jones’s Baby prediction, click here:

For my Hillsong – Let Hope Rise prediction, click here:

2016 Early Oscar Predictions: Best Picture

We have reached day 6 of my earliest Oscar predictions and that means the big one – Best Picture!

This week, the Venice Film Festival has helped make the scene a little clearer in a couple of ways. For one, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land not only looks like an easy pick for a nomination, but it could potentially be a winner. Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals and Denis Villenueve’s Arrival are also in the mix. For now – I’m leaving Arrival out and Animals in (obviously this could certainly change over the next weeks and months).

There’s plenty that we haven’t seen that appear strong – Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Denzel Washington’s Fences. Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.

And there are others that have already screened at other festivals that look like contenders: Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. Jeff Nichols’ Loving. This list also includes Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation and whether or not news stories involving its director prevent it from being nominated is a legit question. For now, I’ve got it in.

A host of other possibilities abound that have yet to be screened and I’ll be keeping you up to date with numerous prediction posts over the fall. At this juncture, I have nine movies being nominated (there can be anywhere from 9-10).

They are:


Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

The Birth of a Nation


La La Land


Manchester by the Sea


Nocturnal Animals


Other Possibilities:

The 13th

20th Century Women


American Pastoral


Collateral Beauty

The Founder

The Girl on the Train


Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

I, Daniel Blake



Live by Night

The Lobster


Miss Sloane


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rules Don’t Apply



A United Kingdom