Sunday, September 18, 2016


            Depending on your point of view, Edward Snowden is either an American hero or a traitor.  His true story of exposing classified Government information has been well documented in the press and in the excellent documentary, "Citizenfour". Now comes the "dramatization" of his story by director, Oliver Stone.

            Known for incendiary films in the past, Mr. Stone takes a rather pedestrian approach to telling Mr. Snowden's story. He presents the facts as he knows them but stretches and bends the truth for the sake of  absorbing storytelling, using his self proclaimed (at the beginning of the film) "dramatization" as his out.  

            The film starts in 2013 in Hong Kong, where Mr. Snowden, played by Joseph Gordon- Levitt, tells his story to journalists from The Guardian" played by Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson. The event is documented by filmmaker,  Laura Poitras, played by Melissa Leo ( the aforementioned, "Citizenfour"). The story then jumps back in time to Mr. Snowden's time in the military and what leads to various jobs at the CIA and NSA. Early on, we are also introduced to Lindsey Mills, played by Shanilene  Woodley, the young woman who quickly becomes his girlfriend. The film also co-stars Nicolas Cage as a trainer at the CIA, Timothy Olyphant, as a CIA field operative, and Rhys Ifans, as his senior CIA trainer and mentor,  Corbin O'Brian.

        If not for the score, the film would be completely lacking of suspense. The music creates an atmosphere of tension and paranoia that is truly represented in just a few scenes. The rest of the film is saved from utter boredom by the excellent acting of Mr. Gordon-Levitt. The film is really a character study of Mr. Snowden and Mr. Gordon-Levitt, an engaging and thoroughly committed actor, does a fine job in his accurate portrayal. Mr. Ifans is also excellent as Mr. O'Brian, the type of character he has never played before and he is chilling. Ms. Woodley's role calls for her to be eternally understanding and smile a lot. 

          It is clear that Mr. Stone sees Mr. Snowden as a hero, blatantly in fact, as he exits the CIA bunker bathed in light with his stolen documents. Directing without his usual fireworks and even craziness, the film leaves little in the way of entertainment or controversy. Mr. Snowden's real story is controversial enough and the film disappointingly adds nothing on it's own to the real life drama that continues even today.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


       Clint Eastwood directs and Tom Hanks stars in this new drama based on the true story of "the miracle on the Hudson". Sully is Captain Sullenberger, the pilot of the US Airways plane that had an emergency landing on the Hudson River in January of 2009. The film recreates that faithful day but probes deeper behind the the amazing landing that saved all 155 people aboard.

        Mr. Eastwood loves a hero and Captain "Sully" certainly qualifies as such but the film takes us behind the scenes to the NTSB probe and hearings regarding the incident. The National Transportation and Safety Board comes across as the villain of the story trying to place blame on Sully for choosing to land in the river rather than attempt to return to LaGuardia Airport or nearby Teterboro Airport. This makes for greater dramatic impact creating an even stronger affection for the stalwart pilot.

          The films rest squarely on the capable shoulders of Mr. Hanks and he is brilliant. He fully immerses himself in the role and should easily garner award nominations.  Laura Linney and Aaron Eckhart co-star and while Mr. Eckhart is also excellent as Sully's real life co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, Ms. Linney is wasted as the worried wife at home. Anna Gunn, Mike O'Malley, and Jamey Sheridan also co-star as the members of the NTSB investigating the incident. Screenwriter Todd Komarnicki and Mr. Eastwood clearly portray them as the villains in a story that in reality, has no villains.

           The story jumps around in time which successfully fattens the film. The recreated landing is a marvel of CGI and live action that is emotional to watch. The entire film is actually quite stirring and emotional (direction, where Mr. Eastwood excels), especially for native New Yorkers who remember that day clearly, myself being one of them. Sully's sleepless nights haunt him with scenes that present a very different end to the flight, which stir old emotions as well.

             This is  a terrific blend of fact and fiction to create a very entertaining film that ultimately celebrates, not only Captain Sullenberg and his crew but also the brave New Yorkers from the many different agencies that assisted in the rescue and got everyone safely back on dry land.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Captain Fantastic

              Written and directed by Matt Ross, this is a  gem of an Indie film that is definitely worth your while. Viggo Mortensen stars as a father of six kids raising them off the grid in the Northwest Washington forest.

                Rejecting the establishment, Ben and his wife Leslie home school their kids as well as teach them survival techniques and give them rigorous exercise. When Leslie falls seriously ill, Ben is forced raise the kids alone and then later, confront the world he left behind and introduce the children into a society he had long ago rejected.

                  Mr. Mortensen is literally fantastic as Ben. His love and concern for each of his kids is so honest and pure, you believe every moment. The conflicts they encounter back in society are both humorous and heartbreaking. Each young actor has their moment to shine and they play off each other in very convincing ways.

                    The film co-stars Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella, and Ann Dowd all in much smaller but important roles. It's really about Mr. Mortensen and the fine young actors that play his children.

                     This is an offbeat, original film that is filled with warmth and and a wild spirit. It's still playing in Manhattan at The Sunshine Cinema and hopefully in other art house theaters near you. If you miss it in a theater, find it on video or cable. You will be glad you did.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins

       Based on a true story of a beloved New York socialite in 1944, who loved music and singing but had a terrible singing voice, this is a very entertaining film.

       Supported in her pursuit of a singing career by her husband, Ms. Jenkins hires a pianist to fulfill her dream.  Meryl Streep plays Florence and she is flawless as usual. It is uncanny how she continues to slip chameleon like into every role. Her husband, St. Clair is played by Hugh Grant, who is at the top of his charming self. The pianist, Mr. Cosme McMoon, is played by Simon Helberg (of TV's Big Bang Theory) , who's facial expressions are priceless every time Florence hits a sour note (which is often). There is terrific chemistry between the three leads and especially Ms. Streep and Mr. Grant.

      Whether it's St. Clair paying people off or Florence just winning them over with her warmth and charm, no one close to her can bear to tell her the truth and she continues to believe in her vocal abilities.

         It's an interesting and fun story anchored by terrific performances with just a touch of heartbreak and a nice change of pace from the usual summer film fare.