11 09 2016

Clint Eastwood’s ideas about America tend to get a lot of airtime, be it his decidedly anti-politically correct personal statements or the perceived xenophobia or myopia of his films like “Gran Torino” and “American Sniper.” In some regard, Eastwood’s much-ballyhooed empty chair speech at the 2012 RNC set the stage for a political lens to become the most commonly applied approach to his work. With “Sully,” the director offers up a vision to make America great again – though not in the controversial manner in which you might think.

His film is an ode to the American spirit of communal support and teamwork. It’s a tribute to those brave souls who think like caring, sentient human beings rather than machines. And this tale is not without a dark side; our nation’s faith in the extraordinary capabilities of an ordinary individual can thrust unwitting individuals into the limelight as heroes.

This message gets a perfect vessel through Tom Hanks’ Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, an experienced pilot who successfully executed a water landing in a passenger jet that lost both engines in a bird strike. Less than eight years ago, the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson” captured the public’s imagination amidst financial scandals and economic woes. The event took place just days President Obama’s inauguration, but it might as well be lumped in with the optimism his early days in office. (Most of the major news networks opted to show footage from the “Miracle” over George W. Bush’s final address to the nation.)

At one point during the ensuing scrutiny from federal investigators, Sully looks into his wallet and finds the message from a fortune cookie: “Better a delay than a disaster.” The film itself possesses about the same level of wisdom and insight. That might sound a bit like damning with faint praise, but Eastwood – and Hanks, too, for that matter – knows there is something to be learned from the simple philosophy of the common protector. Thoughts and words are just fine, yet they mean little unless backed up with action. In “Sully,” the staff aboard U.S. Airways Flight 1549 and countless New York City first responders show their commitment to human life by dropping everything to save 155 passengers on a moment’s notice.

“It wasn’t me, it was us,” says Sully after hearing the audio recording from the cockpit. The lone hero might be a staple of Eastwood’s western iconography, but he’s all about civic unity in “Sully.” Tragedies do not define our nation. Our responses to them do. Some uneven storytelling tactics might prevent the film from rousing a groundswell of collectivist feelings, although it certainly stirs the yearning for a moment that once again rallies us together in hopefulness.  B2halfstars

REVIEW: Equity

27 08 2016

EquityIn the lead-up to the series finale of “Breaking Bad,” actress Anna Gunn penned an essay for The New York Times entitled “I Have a Character Issue.” In it, she said the following about fan reactions to her character, Skyler White: “My character […] has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women. As the hatred of Skyler blurred into loathing for me as a person, I saw glimpses of an anger that, at first, simply bewildered me.”

Gunn’s role in the new film “Equity” represents a feature-length doubling down on this curiosity about how American society views powerful women. As high-powered Wall Street banker Naomi Bishop, she continues probing the perils of feminine assertiveness in the workplace. She must deal with the continued frustration of being judged on her reputation, not by her results. Virtually every move she makes entails a dual calculation – first on her professional instincts, and then on how the powerful men around her will perceive it.

Virtually every scene of Meera Menon’s has this built in conflict perspective about women in business. Be it Naomi, her newly expectant underling Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas) who reluctantly draws power from her seductive wiles, or the ruthlessly committed attorney Samantha (Alysia Reiner) on their trail, no female is exempt from feeling the weight of the patriarchal power system. At certain points, the existing dynamic even pits apparent allies against each other.

“Equity” gets monotonous at times due to its unilateral interpretation of events, but the perspective remains so underrepresented that it never becomes tedious. Menon never opts for the easy resolution of any situation, even ending on a harshly cynical note to make her points. With Gunn bringing her own experiences to the table, however, the film adds a level of informed, impassioned weight that elevates invective to the level of a great discussion generator. B2halfstars