Archive | Country Matters

Stoned, Snowed, “Snowden”

snowed inOliver Stone movies are best described by their volume levels. There are those at a “Spinal Tap” eleven – a register so loud that a new setting is required to describe it. Most of the films by which he’s made his name belong to that category: the deafening, bombastic “Natural Born Killers,” “JFK,” and “Any Given Sunday.” Then there are his quiet films, so understated that they sound like elevator music or an irritatingly audible whisper: “W.,” “World Trade Center,” even his late-to-the party sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” Only his best films – Goldilock’s all-elusive “just-rights” – trumpet their truth in clear, round tones without overselling their case. Think “Nixon,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Wall Street,” and now “Snowden,” an adaptation of The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. Should the seventy-year-old writer/director choose to stop working now (and he shows no such inclination), this feature about the world’s most famous whistle blower would be a fitting swan song to his career.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who became a fugitive by exposing the slippery slope that is the new American surveillance state. With his sweet eyes and acrobatic grace (he always seems poised to break out in a dance number, as in “500 Days of Summer”), Gordon-Levitt may seem an unlikely candidate to embody Snowden’s robotic remove. But clad in the techie uniform of gray tee shirt and grayer pallor, the actor disappears quickly into the role, and his old-soul gaze helps explain how he landed Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), Snowden’s hottie girlfriend who plays a big role in Stone’s (largely successful) attempt to humanize this man about whom everyone has many opinions and few facts. Continue Reading →

Suria 8/27/71-9/11/01

suriaI’ll never forget the morning, only months before her death, when she taped a hair to the bathroom mirror with a note. In her big gorgeous calligraphy she had written: “MY FIRST GRAY HAIR.” There’s more to this story–in some ways it’s the story of my life and of a soul family I’ve been traveling with for many lives–but fifteen years later it still doesn’t feel like I’ve earned the right to tell it. All I can say is every time I curse all the gray now mixed into my blonde, I flash on that note–her characteristic bemusement, her breezy assumption there’d be many more to come–and I cry. Suria.

‘Sully’ and the 208-Second Molehill

sully“Sully” begins with a plane crash – a wobbly, fiery descent right into a Manhattan skyscraper. It’s a nightmare of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who in 2009 saved 155 people by landing U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, and whose subsequent memoir, Highest Duty, provides the backbone of this film. It’s also a traumatic, what-if reference to September 11, 2001, which makes the timing of this release a mite cynical. In fact, undertaking this film at all is a mite cynical, or at least misguided. Because Captain Sullenberger’s heroics took only 208 seconds, fashioning a full-length feature worthy of it would entail another feat of heroism, and director Clint Eastwood isn’t the right knight for the job, not even with a white-haired, white-mustachioed Tom Hanks at the helm as the titular character.

Working from Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay, Eastwood attempts to build out dramatic tension, not only with that dramatic CGI opener (an echo of the opening sequence in his tsunami clunker, “Hereafter”) and by slowly meting out details of what really happened in the ill-fated flight. The conceit here is that, once the waves calmed on Sully’s save, National Transportation Safety Board investigators questioned whether the flight captain had unnecessarily endangered his passengers’ lives with his emergency water landing.

According to protocol, Sully should have returned to LaGuardia Airport or tried to land at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, and both the airline’s insurance company and Sully wrangle with the consequences of his decision. But while zooming in on the pilot’s growing self-doubt and post-traumatic stress adds a much-needed depth to this tale, demonizing the commission feels like a flimsy effort to make a mountain out of a 208-second-long molehill. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy