Friday, September 16, 2016



Snowden official site When you board a bus, there is a sign stating that your voice and image will be recorded by CCTV. But no one seems to be bothered by the warning and no one refuses to take a ride. Does it make a difference to riders whether the sign is there or not? What if the surveillance goes beyond public spaces such as buses or subway? What if the government secretly monitors your daily life in the name of national security? That's precisely what the US government has been doing as revealed by Edward Snowden, a formal Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee and a former contractor to the National Security Agency (NSA). He was the subject of Laura Poitras's Academy Award-winning documentary "Citizenfour" (2014), and his story has been told in great details in media reports. Yet, the celebrated Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone is able to dramatically reenact some crucial moments of Snowden's life in a gripping new film "Snowden" (USA/Germany/France 2016 | 134 min.). It helps to enhance the debate over liberty vs. security, and fuels the movement of urging President Obama to pardon Snowden.

The film opens in Hong Kong, when Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) releases classified NSA documents to journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), and later joined by journalist Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson). In flashbacks, the film chronicles Snowden's short-lived career in the army, his rigorous training mentored by Corbin O'Brian (Rhys Ifans) and Hank Forrester (Nicolas Cage) at the CIA, his unsettling discovery at the NSA, his up-and-down relationship with his girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), and his courageous actions that prevent him from living in the country he loves.

Snowden Official Site

The film doesn't really add any new story to what we already know, except that being a dramatic recount of those events, it does convincingly expand the subplot between Snowden and his girlfriend and adds some thrilling elements in the storytelling. The director Oliver Stone skillfully unfolds the narrative and keeps us captivated even though we are familiar with the subject. There is no question that he regards Snowden as a hero instead of a traitor, but he never makes Snowden look anything more than a grounded patriot. By making this film, he makes a sound argument against the government's illegal secret surveillance program. It's hard to imagine anybody else telling Snowden's story better than Oliver Stone.

Speaking in a deep voice from his throat, the terrific Joseph Gordon-Levitt remarkably resembles Edward Snowden's demeanor. Equally fine is Shailene Woodley who strikingly resonates with us even though her character is essentially unknown before this film.

After watching the film, you may think twice when you make a phone call or send a message. Yes, the government is watching even when you think you have nothing to hide. But in the name of better security, will you surrender your civil liberty to the government? The film says a resounding no, in an inspiring voice from Edward Snowden.

"Snowden," an Open Road Films release, opens on Friday, September 16, 2016.

Friday, September 9, 2016



Sully official site Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger became a household name on January 15, 2009 after he miraculously landed the US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River and saved all 155 people on board. He has been hailed as a hero and beloved by the survivors as well as the entire nation. Even though this incident has been well-known, it's still a great story to tell one more time. This time, it's told by the legendary 86-year-old director Clint Eastwood in his latest uplifting film "Sully" (USA 2016 | 96 min.). Even better, Sully is played by the all-around nice guy Tom Hanks. While the latest headlines have been filled with gloomy news such as wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and the presidential election, this feel-good movie provides a much-appreciated escape.

But that doesn't mean watching this movie is a smooth and easy ride. After all, it's about an aviation accident when an airplane is struck by geese and loses both engines in the air. Despite the fact that we all already know the outcome, Clint Eastwood's skillful recount of those terrifying moments is nothing short of a thrilling experience.

The film is set during the days right after Sully successfully landed the airplane on the Hudson River. Capitan Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), a.k.a. Sully, and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) are kept in a hotel in New York City while the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducts the mandatory investigation about the incident. Although Sully calmly took swift and wise actions after his plane was struck, now he appears to be shaken and frequently has nightmares. Yet, he continues to be the most good-natured guy you can ever encounter and never loses his temper even though the officials from NTSB seem to be unreasonable or even hostile.

Sully Official Site

In flashbacks, the film vividly recreates each hair-raising moment when the plane is in the air and in the water. The actions taken by Sully and his crew illustrate the high-bar of their professionalism and the profound heroism that is both inspiring and moving. The great compassion and kindness from New Yorkers is also on full display when they rush to the rescue after the incident. The director Clint Eastwood clearly salutes not only to the flight crew, but also to the New Yorkers.

What can possibly go wrong when America's most liked actor Tom Hanks plays the kindest hero Sully in a Clint Eastwood film? Hardly anything, except that the protagonist gets all the spotlight and leaves almost nothing to the rest of the characters. Playing Sully's wife Lorraine, Laura Linney only gets to answer a few phone calls to express her concerns and we know little about her character.

Featuring a nice-guy hero, with such a happy ending of a great story, the film has all the best ingredients to make a delicious product. The film is almost impossible not to be embraced, especially when it gives you such a positive vibe while so many negative stories flood the media. Sully might get a lot votes if he were put on November's presidential ballot because we all dream of taking a ride with a competent and trustworthy Capitan like Sully, be it an airplane or a nation.

"Sully," a Warner Bros. Pictures release, opens on Friday, September 9, 2016.

Friday, September 2, 2016


The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans official site Sometimes you just wish you could dial back the clock and do things differently. Of course that's impossible and what you must face might be the heart-wrenching reality. That's precisely what the sympathetic couple have to confront in the writer-director Derek Cianfrance's sentimental drama "The Light Between Oceans" (USA/UK/New Zealand 2016 | 132 min.), based on a novel by M. L. Stedman. Even though the film's devastating narrative is perhaps more common in a Korean drama, it is told in an operatic fashion with lush visuals and mesmerizing performances.

Returning from the horrific war zone of World War I in 1918, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) lands a solitary job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island in Australia. Before he heads out for the job, he meets a young woman Isabel (Alicia Vikander) who instantly locks her eyes on him. They fall madly in love after a corny conversation about the future during a picnic. Soon after exchanging a love letter, they get married so that Isabel can come and live with Tom on the isolated but magnificently scenic island. Although this setup may take a leap of faith to believe in, the genuine chemistry between the two on screen leaves us with little doubt about the plot.

Unfortunately, after two miscarriages over the course of four years, Isabel is grief-stricken and desperately yearns for a child. One day, a small boat is washed to the shore with a dead man and an infant girl inside. Isabel is immediately attached to the child and cannot let the girl out of her arms. Despite the guilty feeling, Tom gives in to her tears and her plea to keep the girl. They name the girl Lucy and raise her as their own.

The family's life cannot be happier until one day they run into Hannah (Rachel Weisz), a widow who mourns the loss of her husband and her daughter. Now Tom and Isabel are forced to face the consequences of their earlier action.

The Light Between Oceans Official Site

The director Derek Cianfrance is well known for brilliantly exploring the relationships among his characters such as in "Blue Valentine" (2010) and "The Place Beyond the Pines" (2012). He has the amazing ability to orchestrate terrific ensemble performances from his actors that capture the heart and soul of his stories. Even though his usual collaborator Ryan Gosling is absent from this film, the casting of real life couple Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander proves to be a fantastic choice in telling this engrossing and heartfelt story. It's often hard to tell if the couple is acting or simply showing their true feelings toward each other. They are both convincing and arresting, despite the occasional lack of strokes in the script regarding character development. Furthermore, Rachel Weisz deserves another Oscar for her heartbreaking portrayal of Hannah.

When two beautiful people like Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander appear in front of a breathtakingly gorgeous landscape, you wish the ocean breeze not only dry off their tears but also blow away their sorrow—they are so likable that it seems unbearable to see them suffer. That's also the little trick this movie plays and it doesn't shy away from being sentimental.

Despite being related to a similar subject matter, unlike Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda's "Like Father, Like Son," (そして父になる 2013 ), this film doesn't focus on the moral or ethical aspect of raising a child and being a family. Instead, the director zooms in at what he does the best—exploring the profound emotions among his characters, especially between Tom and Isabel. That makes this film a great date movie, even though you might end up weeping with the characters.

"The Light Between Oceans," a Touchstone Pictures release, opens on Friday, September 2, 2016.

Friday, July 29, 2016


Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne official site On the eve of Democratic Convention, news broke about how the Russia hacked D.N.C. and released the documents to WikiLeaks. But that hacking incident is quite elementary compared to what the C.I.A. can do in the beginning of the director Paul Greengrass's new installment of the Jason Bourne franchise, named simply "Jason Bourne" (USA 2016 | 123 min.). Its crispy action sequences and its fast pace make the film both gripping and relevant to the current events, until it disappoints us by piling up clichés and nonsense toward the end.

The hacker at the beginning of the film is a former C.I.A. agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). She breaks into C.I.A.'s network to steal some documents about top-secret C.I.A. operations. Without even a search, she is able to pin-point to the folder to find out the background information about Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) who has been off the grid surviving on underground fighting gigs. In order to give the information to the visibly weathered Jason, Nicky comes to Greece where political unrest is running high on the streets.

However, their every move is under the surveillance of a stone-faced C.I.A. cyber-security officer Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who is even able to remotely shut down the power of a building in another country. She can also zoom in a camera to just about every corner of the world and monitor it on the giant screen in a central control room. Next to her is the aging C.I.A. director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) who is willing to do anything to eliminate Jason and Nicky and keep his operations a top secret. He deploys a ruthless contract assassin code-named Asset (Vincent Cassel) who basically shoots everyone that appears in front of him including C.I.A. agents.

But Jason Bourne is not an ordinary individual. Despite being hunted by the C.I.A. and Asset, he gets where he wants to go with a little help from his sympathizers. He is determined to uncover the truth about his past.

Jason Bourne Official Site

It might look like a ridiculous fantasy in a sci-fi fiction when you see how powerful Heather is under the name of surveillance. However, after what Edward Snowden has revealed, we are no longer sure what the government might be able to do in secret. But that still doesn't give the film a free pass on its credibility. No hacker would be stupid enough to use his real IP address in action and let himself be tracked back by the C.I.A. to have his computer wiped clean. The film often omits the details about how the agents can pin-point the target even at night, except "Find My iPhone" must have contributed to the tracking. That illustrates how limited the script writers' knowledge is about computer technology.

Fortunately, the non-stop action and effective visual in a better first half of the film leave you no room to question the plot's credibility. It keeps us captivated during Jason Bourne's globe-trotting adventure in the name of truth seeking. It's also remarkable that the film incorporates or mirrors many current events as the plot's backdrop. Is any high-tech start-up teaming up with the C.I.A.? You bet.

But when the truth eventually comes out, the film seems to run out of ideas about what to do next. Somebody must have come up with the lousy idea to let Jason fight with Asset. It's unwatchable not because the fight scene is brutal, but because of its absurdity. The unoriginal and overly long car chase scene of Asset driving a stolen SWAT vehicle only leaves us with a bad taste, because it will remind us about the recent tragedy in Nice.

Nevertheless, we can take some comfort in knowing that Jason Bourne didn't go to the Russians for help—at least he is a patriot.

"Jason Bourne," a Universal Pictures release, opens on Friday, July 29, 2016.

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