"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Vice: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. Although a cinematic misfire of sorts, it is worth seeing for the extraordinary performances and for the civics lesson.

Vice, written and directed by Adam McKay, is the story of the meteoric rise of former Vice President Dick and his Machiavellian use of power. The film stars Christian Bale as Cheney, with supporting turns from Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell.

Vice is another one of those films of 2018 for which I had high hopes. I absolutely loved director Adam McKay’s last film, The Big Short, which brilliantly dissected the 2008 financial meltdown and I hoped that when he set his sights on Dick Cheney he would be equally effective in his vivisection of that worthy target. McKay proved with The Big Short that he was more than capable of turning a dense, intricate, complex and complicated topic into an entertaining and enlightening movie, a skill that would be desperately needed for a film about Dick Cheney.

Watching Vice was an odd experience as I found the film had multiple great parts to it, but on the whole, while I liked it, I didn’t love it and ultimately found it unsatisfying. I was so confounded by my experience of Vice that I have actually seen it three times already to try and figure out specifically why I feel that it missed the mark and is not the sum total of its parts. And yes…I realize that seeing a movie I don’t love three times makes me sound insane.

Why am I so interested in figuring out why Vice is not great, you may ask? Well, the reason for that is that Vice desperately needed to be great because it is such an important film for the times in which we live. Trump did not come out of nowhere…he is a fungus that grew out of the shit pile that was Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush/Cheney and Obama…and as we all know, past is prologue, so if we don’t fully understand and integrate the lessons of Dick Cheney’s nefarious political career, we are doomed to stay stuck in the tyrannical rut in which we find ourselves.

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Dick Cheney was a pivotal, behind the scenes player in American politics for four decades (70’s through the 00’s) and so bringing his sprawling yet mundanely bureaucratic career successfully to the screen is a massive and difficult undertaking. It is also an vital undertaking as the argument could be made, and Vice makes it, that Cheney’s underlying cosmology and his political and bureaucratic success are what has brought the U.S. and much of the world to the brink of collapse.

Sadly though, Vice is so structurally unsound as to be nearly untenable. McKay cinematically stumbles right out of the gate and makes some poor directorial decisions that lead to a lack of narrative coherence and dramatic cohesion that diminish the impact of this important movie.

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I could not help but think of Oliver Stone as I watched Vice. Stone’s Nixon is an obvious cinematic parallel to Vice in that it is a bio-pic of a loathed political figure whose career spans multiple decades. The problem with Vice though is that McKay not only lacks Stone’s directorial skill and talent, he also lacks his testicular fortitude and artistic courage.

In Nixon, which is a terrific film you should revisit, Stone and his cinematographer, the great Robert Richardson, go to great lengths to show us Nixon’s point of view and perspective, and it works in drawing viewers into the man who otherwise may have repulsed them. Stone and Richardson occasionally used the technique of switching film stocks and going from color to black and white in order to distinguish Nixon’s point of view and to emphasize flash backs and time jumps. (Vice certainly could’ve used this sort of approach to make the time jumps it uses more palatable and cinematically appealing)

Of course, Stone was pilloried for his dramatic speculation in Nixon by the gatekeepers of Establishment thinking, but despite the critical slings and arrows, it was the proper creative decision. Stone turned Nixon into a Shakespearean character and we knew him and understood him much better because of it, which turned the film about his life into fascinating and gripping viewing.

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Cheney, like his one-time boss Richard Nixon, is also cold and distant figure in real life, but McKay never emulates Oliver Stone and bridges that distance by using dramatic speculation in telling his story. McKay makes the fatal directorial error of only on the most rare of occasions allowing viewers into Dick Cheney’s head and giving them his distinct perspective and point of view. For the majority of the film the audience is forced to be simply spectators to Cheney’s villainy and not participants or co-conspirators, which undermines the dramatic power of the film.

The most interesting parts of the film are the two parts where we are actually given Cheney’s perspective and inner dialogue. The first time that happens is when we hear a voice over of Cheney’s thoughts as he meets with presidential candidate George W. Bush to talk about the Vice Presidency. In this scene we are given access to Cheney’s Macchiavellian musings about the man, Dubya, that he will use as an avatar to bring his dark vision to life, and it is intriguing.

McKay’s brief speculation of Cheney’s inner thoughts in the Bush scene propels the audience into Cheney’s head…which is where we should have been all along. We are then ushered out as soon as we arrive and are left with only a bird’s eye view of Cheney’s world until the final scene. Vice would have benefited greatly from McKay throwing the audience into Cheney’s head from the get go, but instead we get a rehash of Cheney’s greatest hits, or worst hits, depending on your political point of view, which is neither illuminating nor gripping. ( to be fair, McKay’s refusal to speculate on Cheney’s inner thoughts and motivations could be a function of the fact that Cheney is still alive and able to sue, but regardless of the reason, it does a terrible disservice to the cinematic enterprise)

McKay was obviously going to great lengths trying to be “historically accurate” in this bio-pic, but he falls into the trap of many, if not most bio-pics, in that he tries to recreate history instead of creating cinematic drama. McKay simply shows a series of well-known events in Cheney’s life (hey…remember that time Cheney shot somebody in the face!) without any new or interesting insights into them. In this way, Vice is less a drama/comedy than it is a docu-dramedy that merely skims the surface of its subject and re-tells history for those who already agree with its political perspective.

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The biggest hurdle though in telling the story of Dick Cheney is…well…Dick Cheney. When your film’s lead character suffers from an egregious charisma deficit and has created a persona of impenetrable banality, you have quite a hill to climb. Besides mastering the art of dullness, Cheney is also an unlikable and politically despicable person, which only adds to the burden that this film must carry. Unlike in The Big Short, where McKay was able to use multiple characters to propel the narrative, each one different and interesting in their own right, in Vice, McKay is forced to have Cheney be the sole focus and driver of the narrative.

As vacant a character as Dick Cheney is, Christian Bale makes him a genuine human being. Bale disappears into Cheney and crushes the role to such an extent that he solidifies his place amongst the best actors working today. Bale’s confident use of stillness and silence is volcanically potent. There is no wasted motion with Bale’s Cheney, and it is when he isn’t saying anything that he is saying everything. Bale fills Cheney with very specific and detailed intentions that radiate off of him and penetrate his intended target with deadly precision.

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The rest of the cast do outstanding work as well. Amy Adams is simply one of the best actresses on the planet and her work in Vice is a testament to that fact. Adams’ first scene as Dick’s wife Lynne is so dynamically compelling I nearly jumped out of my seat. Right out of the gate Adams tells the viewer everything we need to know about Lynne, she is smart, tough and will not put up with any bullshit. Adams’ Lynne is insatiable when it comes to power, and she is the Lady MacBeth behind Dick’s throne. Amy Adams has given a plethora of great performances over her career, but she has never been better than she is as Lynne Cheney in Vice.

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Sam Rockwell is also outstanding, playing the cocksure but dim-witted poseur of a president George W. Bush. Rockwell plays Bush as an unwitting moron and dupe who is so stupid he doesn’t know how stupid he really is. Cheney’s manipulation of Bush is seamless and entirely believable with Rockwell playing the insecure second generation President. Rockwell never falls into caricature with his Dubya, and fills this empty man with a delightful and at times poignantly meaningful nothingness.

Steve Carell is also great as the enigmatic Don Rumsfeld. Carell morphs into the irascible political climber Rumsfeld with ease and shows a deft touch in making Rummy a genuine human being, a sort of arrogant fly boy whose wings never get permanently clipped.

All in all, the entire cast do great work with Bale, Adams and Rockwell all deserving Oscar nominations for their work, and Bale and Adams very much deserving of the trophy.

As much as Adam McKay won the casting room, he did have other failures when it came to filmmaking. I am sure it is no coincidence that McKay hired editor Hank Corwin to work on his film, as Corwin edited Stone’s Nixon as well. Surprisingly since he was so good on Nixon, Corwin’s editing on Vice lacks a cinematic crispness and is one of the weak spots of the film. Corwin repeatedly uses a black screen for transitions which I found broke the pace and rhythm of the film and scuttled any dramatic momentum. Of course, this is not all Corwin’s fault, as McKay may have demanded that approach, but regardless of why it happened, it happened and the film suffers for it.

Another issue with the film was the use of a narrator. Well, to be more clear, it wasn’t the use of a narrator, but the choice of the narrator and how that character fit into the story. Jesse Plemons, a fantastic actor, plays the role of the narrator but it never quite comes together. Plemons is fine in the part, but considering the amount of information that needed to be passed along to the audience, a more direct and straight forward narrator would’ve been a better choice. Once again, Oliver Stone comes to mind and his mesmerizing opening to his masterpiece JFK, where Martin Sheen (and phenomenal editors Pietro Scalia and Joe Hutshing) masterfully set the complex stage for everything that follows.

As much as I was frustrated by McKay’s direction, there were some moments of brilliance. McKay’s use of Alfred Molina as a waiter explaining the crimes of the Bush administration was absolutely magnificent. His expanded exploration of the idea of the “Unitary Executive” was smart and well done too.

Other sequences by McKay that were simply sublime were when McKay would show the global and life altering power of the Presidency. In one sequence we see Nixon and Kissinger having a discussion about their Vietnam and Cambodia policy…and then we see the catastrophic results of that policy on regular people. The same thing occurs in relation to Bush and Iraq in one of the finer cinematic moments of the movie, where all of the power politics in America reduce people half way around the world to cower under a table in fear for their lives.

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There was one other scene that is worth mentioning, and not because it is so great, but because it reveals something nefarious about the film itself. In one scene where the principals of the Bush administration, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice etc., are debating whether to invade Iraq or not, there is a bit of dialogue which states in essence that Israel is opposed to the U.S. invasion because it will destablize the region. This is historically completely inaccurate and entirely at odds with reality. Why would Adam McKay put this bit of Israeli misinformation into his film that purports to tell the truth about the Bush administration? I think I know the reason why…but that is an uncomfortable discussion for another day.

In conclusion, as much as I wanted to love Vice because it shares my vision of the world and of the Bush administration, I didn’t love it. Cheney, like Nixon before him, should have been prosecuted and imprisoned for his crimes, instead of having his lackeys turned into exalted talking heads on MSNBC and CNN. If Vice were better made, if it were more coherent, cohesive and effective in its storytelling, it could have done to the Bush/Cheney administration, what The Big Short did to Wall Street…exposed them bare for the repugnant, amoral and immoral criminal pigs that they are.

Sadly, Vice doesn’t rise to the challenge, and so the historical myopia that pervades our current culture will persist and prosper. Liberals will continue to think everything was great before Trump and that Trump is responsible for all that is wrong in the world…and thus they doom themselves to repeat the cycle that brought us Trump in the first place. Just like Nixon gave us Reagan and Reagan gave us Clinton and Clinton gave us Bush/Cheney and Bush/Cheney gave us Obama and Obama gave us Trump…Trump will birth us another monster and it will devour us all unless we wake up and understand that it isn’t the individual that is rotten, it is the system that is rotting.

With all of that said, if you get a chance I do recommend you go see Vice, it is worth seeing for the exquisite performances of Bale, Adams and Rockwell alone. It is also worthwhile to see Vice to understand that as much as we’d like to blame others, be it Russians, Republicans or Democrats for all of our troubles, the truth is that Cheney bureaucratically maneuvered to give us the fascist tyranny for which we were clamoring. The fight is simply over who gets to control it the beast that is devouring us, and to see how much we can make selling rope to those who wish to hang us. My one solace to this national existential crisis is revenge, and the hope that I will get to see Dick Cheney and the rest of his gang at the end of one of those ropes before I die.

©2019

Shoplifters: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. I thoroughly enjoyed this intimate yet deeply profound and philosophical film, but be forewarned, this is a foreign, arthouse film, so those with more conventional cinematic tastes should stay as far away from this movie as possible.

Shoplifters, written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, is the story of a poor family in Tokyo who rely on shoplifting and petty crimes in order to make ends meet. The film stars Lily Franky as Osamu - father of the family, and Sakuro Ando as Nobuyo the mother, with Kairi Jo playing their son Shota and Miyu Sasaki their daughter Yuri.

Shoplifters is a distinctly foreign film in that on its surface it may seem to the less cinematically sophisticated to be innocuously mundane and even boring, but to those patient enough to peer beneath that veneer of the ordinary, they are rewarded with the discovery of a sublime universe teeming with human drama and intrigue.

Shoplifters is an original and fascinating film that explores the meaning and purpose of truth, knowledge, family and the need for human connection. Like a Russian Matryoshka doll, Shoplifters appears to be one thing, but once you look inside another and another and another layer is revealed, and everything you’ve previously seen takes on a different meaning in hindsight.

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On the surface, Shoplifters is a rather deliberately paced story of an ordinary family as they endure the suffocating nature of working class poverty in modern day Tokyo. This social/cultural narrative is insightful enough all on its own, as it is a profound statement on the cancer that is 21st century capitalism, where everything is commodified, including our humanity. But as the story progresses and more truths are discovered and revealed, the viewer’s perspective shifts, and the foundation upon which you’ve made assumptions about this seemingly simple family sways uneasily under your feet.

As more truth is revealed, the social commentary of the film doesn’t lose its impact, but quite to the contrary, it becomes even more profound. The film’s cultural critique gains a staggering degree of power and profundity as it adds narrative dimensions in the second half of the film.

Shoplifters forces us to question all of the assumptions we have about the things we know…or more accurately…the things we think we know. As the film shows, the rock upon which our own moral, ethical and intellectual beliefs are built may very well be sand. Shoplifters shows us that we are swimming in a deep and mysterious ocean and yet, as the saying goes, “fish don’t even know he’s wet.”

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After I watched Shoplifters I kept thinking of the line from Oliver Stone’s 1991 masterpiece JFK, where one of the characters, frustrated with the challenge to his conventional thinking, shouts in retort, “but you only know who your Daddy is because your Momma told you so!” And so it is in our world of manufactured consent, incessant propaganda and unlimited marketing and manipulation where we are led around by our nose and suffer from an interminable myopia and narcissism. Like subjects in Plato’s cave watching shadows dance upon the wall, we all think we know what we know, but when we walk outside the cave we realize we know nothing…and have known nothing all along. In that way, Shoplifters, although it is the polar opposite in most ways as it contains no action and is very slow and plodding, is a philosophical cousin to The Matrix films.

Hirokazu Kore-eda, who has directed such notable films as Nobody Knows, Still Walking, Like Father, Like Son and After the Storm, has a deft and confident directorial touch with Shoplifters, as he never pushes the pace but rather lulls the audience into a false sense of security and suckers them into projecting their own bourgeois assumptions onto the story and characters.

Kore-eda’s masterful camera movement and shot composition draw the viewer into the family at the center of the story, as we share their intimate world we too become members and collaborators in their life of petty crime.

Kore-eda creates a stultifying sense of claustrophobia and a lack of personal freedom in this darker side of Tokyo, where much like in our current techno-dystopian world, privacy is a fleeting luxury. For example, Shota is forced to sleep in a small closet more akin to a coffin than a bedroom, Aki (a pseudo-Aunt) makes a living anonymously exposing her private life to strangers, and Osamu and Nobuyo can’t remember the last time they shared a moment alone together.

Kore-eda is one of the masters of Japanese film working today, and Shoplifters is a testament to his cinematic skill and storytelling prowess as it uses the intimate and unique working of this one family to tell a philosophically serious and politically insightful story of our troubled times.

The acting in Shoplifters is solid across the board. Sakuro Ando is exquisite and transcendant as the mother of the family, Nobuyo. Ando’s Nobuyo is at once pragmatic and ruthless but also gentle, kind and loving. Ando imbues Nobuyo with a deep and palpable wound (symbolized by a burn scar on her arm) that is forever a mystery but always lurking within her soulful eyes, that are keen enough to see the same wound in Yuri.

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Lily Franky as Osuma is terrific as a man who desperately tries to be a father, but whose road to hell is paved with good intentions as he is only capable of, at best, making it all up as he goes. Osuma is a fascinating and compelling character, and it is a testament to Lily’s talent that he is simultaneously both a deplorable and sympathetic character.

Mayu Matsuoka brings a sense of wounded allure and innocent danger to the role of Aki, that in lesser hands may have been lost in the wash. Aki is the one of the group most naturally equipped to survive but also the one most vulnerable to being a victim to her own weakness. Unlike Nobuyo, Aki’s wound has no scar over it. Matsuoka does a wonderful job of creating a sense of melancholy and ennui about Aki that at times feels both dangerously combustible and also self-destructive.

The child actors, Kairi Jo and Miyu Sasaki also give excellent performances that feel genuine and grounded because they don’t feel like they are acting at all and the same is true of the grandmother, expertly played by the late Kirin Kiki.

In conclusion, Shoplifters is a film that subtly morphs and changes with every second you watch it, and as I have learned since seeing it, with every minute that passes after its over too. It is, in its own way, mesmerizing and hypnotic, enticing viewers into a story that appears to be one thing but ends up being another. I loved the film, but I love foreign films in general, and Japanese films in particular. If you are not a devout devotee of the arthouse, and in this case, the Japanese arthouse, Shoplifters’ deliberate pace, cryptic dialogue and unusual narrative will be much too much to endure. But if you love Japanese cinema or have a taste for the art house, definitely go check out Shoplifters as it is a fascinating ride, one that I’m not sure I have fully completed.

©2018

Has the Fear of Putin Seized Hollywood?

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 04 seconds

Is Hollywood cowering from their most frightening bogeyman Vladimir Putin, or is the business of anti-Russian propaganda stronger than ever?

 Los Angeles is a very strange place to live. The weather is almost always sunny, comfortable and clear, leaving the city in a state of perpetual summer. On the rare occasion it does rain, the local media cover it as though the apocalypse were underway. This glorious weather may sound heavenly to those who suffer with brutally humid summers or bitterly cold winters, or both, but it has a downside to it, namely it can be terribly disorienting.

The longer you live here the more disorienting it becomes as you are rendered incapable of remembering if something in your past occurred on the Fourth of July or Christmas Eve, as those days, and nearly every other day, look exactly the same. 

This disorientation is heightened by the constant influx of beautiful young people who come to the land of milk and honey to find their fame and fortune. This yearly harvest of fresh blood combined with the interminable glorious weather leads many Angelenos to live in a state of surreality, where their imagination and the real world morph into one. 

An example of this bewildering condition where fantasy and reality blur, occurred this past Wednesday, July 19, when The Hollywood Reporter published an article provocatively titled “Vladimir Putin Cut From Two Upcoming Hollywood Movies”. Upon reading the headline I wondered if the Russian President was moonlighting as an actor and had felt the bitter sting of being left on the cutting room floor. Sadly, as entertaining as that premise may be, upon reading the article it was revealed that was not the case.

What the article did claim was that Hollywood studios are so petrified of retaliatory hacking by Vladimir Putin, they will not even mention his name in two upcoming Russian-themed films, The Red Sparrow and Kursk, for fear of angering him.

Apparently, Putin has become a kind of Creature from the Black Lagoon, or in this case the Black Sea, who if provoked, will rise from the depths to terrorize the innocent folk of Tinsel town. And like the citizens of Tokyo in a Godzilla movie, the studio big wigs are doing all they can not to agitate the great beast Putin in order to save their hides.

Studio executives are not exactly known for their profiles in courage, but the level of Putin-phobia described in this article is bizarre to say the least. That said, it would be understandable for Hollywood to cower in fear of Putin considering the steady diet of anti-Russian hysteria that they are continually fed by the mainstream media. The establishment press has turned Putin into a combination of Darth Vader, Sauron, Lord Voldemort and Hannibal Lecter, an omnipotent purveyor of evil who not only controls Trump, but aches for global domination and eats America’s elections with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

A case in point of the media’s voracious appetite for anti-Russian stories is that the aforementioned Hollywood Reporter article with its Putin headline, which was printed in an industry periodical and geared toward entertainment professionals, quickly spread and was reported on by standard news outlets across the globe, with similarly misleading headlines.

If Hollywood is afraid of hacking, it is not entirely unfounded, as Sony was the victim of a devastating hack. That hack occurred in 2014 and was blamed on North Korea who was allegedly trying to stop the release of The Interview, a comedy about trying to assassinate leader Kim Jong-Un.

One illuminating piece of information to come out of the 2014 Sony hack was that a senior U.S. State Department official, Richard Stengel, was actively trying to get Hollywood studios to create anti-Russian propaganda. This is an intriguing piece of information to keep in mind when digging through The Hollywood Reporter- Putin story in question.

The Hollywood Reporter article says that, despite their apparent fear of hacking reprisals, “the film industry is finding the Russia theme too irresistible to ignore” right now. The article mentions no fewer than 8 Russia-themed films that are either in production or in the pipeline. The list of films includes the previously mentioned Jennifer Lawrence vehicle Red Sparrow and the true story of a Russian submarine disaster, Kursk, along with a Wonder Woman sequel where Wonder Woman goes back in time to fight the Soviets, a Rocky spin-off with a Russian villain, a potential Mikhail Gorbachev bio-pic, and films with titles such as The Tracking of a Russian Spy, How to Catch a Russian Spy and The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

 Combined with Russian portrayals in recent feature films such as the dreadful Child 44 and the abysmal Bitter Harvest, and in television shows like House of Cards, which featured a Pussy Riot cameo and a recurring evil Russian leader meant to be Putin, and it seems as though the State Department were successful in their quest for assistance from Hollywood in the propaganda department.

No doubt the greatest propaganda comes from the news media though, and I have to include The Hollywood Reporter in that category.  Upon closer inspection it becomes very clear that this ‘fear of Putin hacking’ story is little more than “fake news”.

The only person quoted in the article who makes any mention of Putin and hacking concerns is Ajay Arora, who does not work in the film business, but rather runs a computer security firm. Mr. Arora being the only source for the Putin claim is absurd, since his company stands to gain mightily by stoking the fears of studio executives over hacking.

The article also states that, “Insiders describe the moves (to excise Putin) as ‘creative choices’, but by avoiding Putin, Fox is also steering clear of any Russian hackers who might protest.” This is quite a remarkable sentence, as the writer quotes people who are speaking anonymously and are therefore free to speak their mind, but who say it is a “creative choice” to remove Putin, and yet she sticks to her premise, despite a lack of any evidence that hacking is the real reason for Putin being removed from the pictures.

The writer makes the rather illogical case that Russia-themed stories are blossoming everywhere in Hollywood, but the film industry is so scared of Vladimir Putin hacking them they won’t even mention his name in a movie. I guess Putin is so narcissistically evil that he will only retaliate against those that speak ill of him but not his nation, and Hollywood executives know this and are confident in this knowledge. This is obviously, absolutely and completely preposterous.

The Hollywood Reporter article ends by claiming, “But while Hollywood is willing to feed the public's hunger for all things Russia, studios will likely continue to play it safe when it comes to depicting the current leadership. After all, even Oliver Stone, who directed the pro-Russia documentary series The Putin Interviews, left the president out of last year's Snowden.”

Yes, even that America-hating, pro-Russian shill Oliver Stone cut any mention of Putin from his film Snowden! In fact, Oliver Stone was so afraid of Putin he went to Russia and interviewed him for a four-hour documentary.  Wait…what? The article’s final paragraph is a perfect synopsis of the incoherence of the entire story.

The writer of this Hollywood Reporter article is guilty of not writing an article around the provable facts of the story, but rather manufacturing a story to suit her preconceived narrative. No doubt she had to search far and wide to scrounge up the agreeable quote from Mr. Arora that quenched the thirst of her hypothesis.

Does that approach to journalism sound familiar? A great number of mainstream journalists have done the same thing over the last three years in regards to most any Russian story. Open the New York Times or the Washington Post and you will read lots and lots of assumptions, innuendo and self-serving opinions regarding Russia, but very few facts.

This sort of rancid propaganda and lazy journalism serves no purpose but to feed the fever of Russian hysteria, and foster a Dr. Strangelovian paranoia over fear of Putin contaminating our precious bodily fluids, namely our “sacred” elections.

When powerful institutions that shape our culture, like Hollywood and the media, set out to incite hatred against Russia and its people, it can only end badly. The spate of shamelessly one-sided news reporting and the villainous portrayals of Russians in entertainment have ignited an anti-Russian frenzy and panic that borders on delirium. The dehumanization of Russians is now at a fever pitch and will grow into madness, and from that madness will come war.

The Hollywood Reporter fantasy of Putin hacking movie studios is but a symptom of a wider disease that will inevitability lead to catastrophe. Cue Slim Pickens and his nuclear bronco ride to our oblivion. 

 

This article was previously published on Sunday, July 23, 2017 at RT.

©2017

 

Deconstructing Criticism of Oliver Stone's "The Putin Interviews"

Estimated Reading Time : 7 minutes 38 seconds

Showtime recently released a four part interview titled The Putin Interviews, which are a collection of four, one hour conversations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and iconic American filmmaker Oliver Stone. The documentary series has generated a great deal of backlash against Mr. Stone, which should come as no surprise since controversy has long been his artistic companion. 

Oliver Stone's feature films like Salvador, Platoon, JFK, Nixon, W. and Snowden have attracted much criticism from establishment sources who despise Stone's contrarian views and political beliefs. When he got into making documentaries and interviewing political figures, the knives that were already out for him got considerably sharper and longer. Stone's interviews with Fidel Castro (Commandante, Looking for Fidel) and South American leftist leaders (South of the Border) and his historical documentary Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States, were pilloried in the mainstream media and by the powers that be, and that continues with his Putin interview. 

Google "Stone and Putin" and a plethora of attacks against the director and his interview with Putin will pop up. Stone went on Stephen Colbert's show recently and was laughed at by the audience and his host for having the temerity to question the establishment narrative when it comes to "the tyrannical dictator" Putin and Russia. 

These attacks are to be expected, the American public has been so heavily propagandized against the Russians and Putin in recent history that audiences are simply incapable of even contemplating questioning that powerful narrative. Add to that the fact that any opposing views to the official mainstream story are quickly exiled or labelled the work of Russian agents or dupes, and it is easy to see why any stance that is not even pro-Russia, but not anti-Russia is laughed at, suffocated or ignored.

Which brings us to this past Sunday, June 25, 2017. The New York Times ran an Op-ed from a contributing writer, Masha Gessen, titled "How Putin Seduced Oliver Stone - and Trump". Ms. Gessen is an outspoken anti-Putin Russian exile and LGBTQ advocate. She is well-respected by the establishment media, having written a book about Putin ("The Man Without a Face"), and is often a guest on cable news, or a contributing writer to some of our "finest" establishment magazines and newspapers, like the New York Times and the New Yorker, where she has a piece published this week as well. 

Ms. Gessen's op-ed is a remarkable thing to behold in that it is entirely at odds with itself, is devoid of any substance or insight and is a shameless hit piece. For a woman held in such high regard by people in power, she reveals herself to be a shallow and rather vacuous thinker with little value beyond being a propaganda asset. 

The opening line of her Times piece states, "Watching four hours of Oliver Stone interviewing Vladimir Putin is not a lesson in journalism." I assume Ms. Gessen thinks she is being clever here, but she shows her hand as being completely ignorant in regards to filmmaking. Oliver Stone is not a journalist, he is a filmmaker and documentarian. Those are two very different things. A journalist searches for THE story, while a documentarian tells A story that brings insight to THE story. Stone's approach to this interview is just like his approach to his feature films, he is seeking the counter-myth to the prevailing establishment myth. He is not here to regurgitate the official mainstream story that is repeated ad infinitum in the press and on cable news every night, he is looking for the alternative view. 

Stone has made his mark in cinema by seeking the contrarian narrative in the face of conventional thoughts and beliefs. So when America was in love with itself and its unquestioned moral purity in the 1980's, Stone directed Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street and Born on the Fourth of July, films that shatter the American myth of good intentioned superiority. 

With Stone's 1991 masterpiece JFK, he explicitly states that the film is a counter myth to the establishment myth of the Warren Commission. Even with his biography of Nixon, a man Stone should have reviled, he goes contrarian and paints a heartbreakingly human portrait of a man he could have easily caricatured as a villain. 

And so it is with Stone's documentaries as well. His interviews with Castro, South American leftists and now Putin, are meant to challenge the prevailing conventional wisdom and narrative of the establishment. That Ms. Gessen is too blind to see that reveals either her bias or her ignorance. If Ms. Gessen wanted the same old Russia bashing story, she could watch Megyn Kelly interview Putin. 

Gessen then follows that opening line with this beauty, "The four part series contains many dull exchanges and even more filler, like footage of the two men watching Dr. Strangelove together."  This sentence alone reveals Ms. Gessen is in so far over her head in regards to cinema that she will never make it back to shore. 

The scene where Stone and Putin watch Strangelove is a piece of cinematic brilliance that nearly made me fall over laughing. The juxtaposition of Putin, this alleged dictator and tyrant, sitting for two hours watching a cold war Kubrick dark comedy about U.S. - Russian relations and war, is priceless entertainment. This entire sequence wasn't filler, it was symbolically the heart of the documentary. America of today, with its anti-Russian hysteria, has turned into a nation of General Jack D. Ripper's who are fearful of those Rooskies tainting our precious bodily fluids (our "sacred" elections!!). For Gessen to not get the joke, and to not understand the nuance and brilliance of that sequence exposes her as being either humorless or intentionally obtuse. 

Ms. Gessen then gets into the meat of her anti-Stone/Putin piece by laying out how "a powerful, wealthy American man can hold affection for the tyrannical, corrupt leader of a hostile nation." This sentence is riddled with assumptions that are never proven and say more about the writer than its subject. Just to remind Ms. Gessen, America and Russia are not at war. Russia is only a "hostile nation" to those that declare it to be but never prove it. Unlike the U.S., Russia is not currently moving troops and equipment to America's border, or illegally invading and bombing (Syria) one of America's allies. That Ms. Gessen just assumes her thinking to be true shows us that she expects her readership to be of the same mind set as she, which means she isn't here to convince anyone who doesn't already agree with her, the marker of a weak writer and flaccid argument if there ever was one. 

Ms. Gessen then lays out five conditions that need to exist for someone like Stone (and by never explained but magical extension Trump) to be duped by Putin. They are, in order...

1. Ignorance : Ms. Gessen attempts to lay out the case that Stone is so ill-informed that he is little more than a wounded mouse being toyed with by the big, bad cat Putin. Her two examples of this are, when Putin claims that Russia has hundreds of television outlets, and so the idea that he controls them is absurd, and that Ukrainian Special Forces kidnapped ethnic Russians in East Ukraine. Ms. Gessen says these two things a egregiously incorrect…although she never provides any information or links to prove this fact. Maybe they are totally wrong, that is certainly possible, if not likely, but after four hours of conversation, THAT is the most powerful evidence you can find to back up your claims of ignorance? That makes for a very shoddy case at best, and does not speak well of Ms. Gessen's anti-Stone/Putin case. 

2. Love of Power and Grandeur : Condition number two seems self-explanatory enough, Stone was seduced by the power of Putin's position and the grandeur and opulence of his life. Ms. Gessen references Putin's stable of horses and Stone's fawning over Putin's hockey prowess. 

Then, in a bizarre jump, Ms. Gessen references an exchange where Stone challenges Putin over his LGBTQ stances, something which has made him enemy number one in some precincts here in America. Gessen claims Putin responds by declaring his desirability and homophobia which makes both men laugh. I was surprised when I saw this exchange because Putin actually stated that there are no laws against homosexuals in Russia, a fact that most Americans will probably not know. He then said that he is very traditional and prefers a traditional marriage and children, but that adults can do as they please. 

Look, people can disagree on their interpretation of Putin in this exchange, and no doubt Ms. Gessen, an LGBTQ advocate, has a predisposition to dislike Putin on this issue, but that is besides the point to me. My point is this…what does Putin's stance on gay issues have to do with Power and Grandeur? Because it is so haphazard, it feels like Ms. Gessen just wants to bring the LGBTQ issue up so she does it here because it won't fit anywhere else. Again, this undermines her argument and makes it rather incoherent. 

Later in this section, Gessen pulls a trick out of her bag that is a doozy. She pulls the old "weasel word" routine to make her point. She states that, "At the conclusion of the episode, Mr. Stone recites to Mr. Putin the Russian president’s own speech about the annexation of Crimea. Mr. Stone seems to enjoy having Mr. Putin’s words in his mouth. Mr. Putin is clearly pleased to hear his own speech, albeit in English." 

Two things here…the first is, the phrase "Mr. Stone seems to enjoy having Mr. Putin's words in his mouth" struck me as…pardon the pun…queer. It was reminiscent of Stephen Colbert's "cockholster" joke regarding Trump and Putin. A not-so-subtle dig at Putin's alleged homophobia and Stone's supposed infatuation with the man. 

The other thing is that Ms. Gessen uses the word "seems". "Seems" is a weasel word that lets you speculate as to what is in someones mind. It is a cheap and easy stunt to pull to simply project what you want into someones motives or thought process without having to take responsibility for having done so. When Ms. Gessen says it "seems" Stone likes Putin's words in his mouth, she is imagining and making up things in order to make her argument more powerful where facts are not present to do so. Again, in a four hour conversation if you have to conjure up boogie men and pretend to read people's minds to make your case, you have a very weak case indeed. 

3. Shared Prejudice : This is by far my favorite condition, because it reveals Ms. Gessen to be an absolute and utter intellectual fraud. In this section, Ms. Gessen claims that Stone and Putin are both "terrified" of Muslims and that this "shared prejudice" is what binds them together. It might have been a good idea for Ms. Gessen to take two seconds and learn a little something about Oliver Stone before writing this piece, like the fun little fact that his son Sean is a Shia Muslim. Does Ms. Gessen know that? I'd bet not, which reveals not only the weakness of her argument, but her laziness as well. 

She finishes this section with another dip in the pool of weasel words. She says that "Mr. Putin practically appears to be the savior of the white race." Can you find the weasel words readers?  How about…"practically appears". So Putin isn't exactly the savior of the white race, he just "appears" to be, and even less he "practically appears" to be. This is a giant red flag signaling Ms. Gessen's un-seriousness and the vacuity of her argument. 

4. An Inability or Unwillingness to Separate Fact From Fiction : In this section Ms. Gessen takes Stone to task for believing a bunch of nonsense about assassination plots against Putin. She writes, "There had been more plots against Mr. Putin, says Mr. Stone, than against Fidel Castro. “There is a legitimate five I’ve heard about,” he says confidently. This is remarkable, because journalists who have covered Mr. Putin — including me — have not heard of five, four or even one attempt to assassinate the Russian president".

This should be Ms. Gessen's strong suit, as someone who has covered Putin she should know the facts about these things and her insight would be useful for those of us that are ignorant of the facts, among whom she includes Stone. But even before she ends that sentence she destroys her credibility by writing in parenthesis, " (though Russian law enforcement has claimed to have foiled a plot or two)". Ummm…wait…what?

Here is the full sentence again…" This is remarkable, because journalists who have covered Mr. Putin — including me — have not heard of five, four or even one attempt to assassinate the Russian president (though Russian law enforcement has claimed to have foiled a plot or two)."

So Ms. Gessen has "not heard of five, four or even one attempt to assassinate the Russian president", except she then says Russian law enforcement claimed to "have foiled a plot or two". So that means there is at least a "plot or two" she has heard of, which means her previous statement is self-debunked and utter nonsense. And again…the nebulous sort of language she uses…like "foiled a plot or two". Which is it…one or two?…or maybe more?…maybe five, like Stone said. Ms. Gessen's credibility has left the building and she ain't coming out for an encore.

5. Moral Neutrality : Ms. Gessen finishes her piece by destroying the argument she made to open her piece. In attempting to prove Mr. Stone's and Mr. Putin's "moral neutrality", she cites a sequence where Stone questions Putin about Stalin. Ms. Gessen writes,  

"A quote from Episode 4 illustrates how this approach works: “Stalin was a product of his time,” Mr. Putin says. “You can demonize him all you want, or, on the other hand, talk about his contributions to victory over Nazism. But the excessive demonization of Stalin is just one way to attack the Soviet Union and Russia, to suggest that today’s Russia carries the birthmarks of Stalinism. Everyone has one kind of birthmark or another. So what?”

So what, that is, if Russia increasingly idolizes the man who killed millions of Soviet citizens and confined tens of millions to concentration camps? So nothing, apparently. “Your father, your mother, admired him, right?” Mr. Stone says. “Of course,” Mr. Putin says." 

Ms. Gessen started her piece by excoriating Stone for not getting Putin to say anything worthwhile, but here Stone gets Putin to say quite clearly that his parents, and most likely by extension him, respected Stalin. That "seems" quite revealing of Putin to me, but what the hell do I know?

That Putin couches his answer about Stalin by speaking of his victory over the Nazi's should come as no surprise. The Soviets lost 30 million people fighting the Nazi's and winning the war.  Stalin was a monster, no doubt, but he in fact, DID defeat Nazism. 

Think of it this way, America massacred and slaughtered millions upon millions of Native Americans, and imprisoned the others into concentration camps where hunger, disease and poverty nearly wiped them off the face of the planet.That is America's "birthmark". Does that make anyone who thinks America is a wonderful country, like, one would assume Ms. Gessen who emigrated here, a proponent of the dreaded "moral neutrality" of which she writes? No, it means that things are not always black and white, and that two things can be true at the same time. Nuance, Ms. Gessen, is not the enemy.  

Ms. Gessen concludes her piece by writing, "Of course, Oliver Stone is not Donald Trump. But he shares with him a certain way of seeing the world and being in the world — and the luxury of persisting in this way of being, and even making a spectacle of it."

These last lines, upon closer examination, mean absolutely nothing. Just for fun, let's take a look at them and see what we can decipher. "Mr. Stone is not Mr. Trump." This is the most logical sentence in the entire piece. No, Oliver Stone is NOT Donald Trump. They are two different people with two different bodies living two different lives. "But he shares with him a certain way of seeing the world and being in the world". Weasel word alert!! Can you find it? You got it…"certain". A "certain way" of seeing and being in the world. What way is that? It would really be helpful if Ms. Gessen explained what that "way" is because it is pivotal to her argument, yet she, for some unknown reason, never clarifies what that way is…odd. 

This mysterious "way", like the rest of Ms. Gessen's mystical and mythical argument, never materializes in her writing and so we are left with little more than a muddied, muddled and fuzzy diatribe that is light on fact and insight and reeks with the stench of emotionalism. 

I do not doubt Ms. Gessen's sincerity, I only doubt her intellect and writing ability. It "seems" to me that "maybe" due to Ms. Gessen's personal feelings about Russia, Putin and his LGBTQ beliefs, she let her emotions over ride her intellect, and thus her argument and her op-ed suffer grievously and are rendered moot as a result. 

As for Oliver Stone and his Putin Interviews, I commend Stone for having the courage, just as he did with Fidel Castro, to go straight to the eye of the storm to find the truth rather than relying on our compromised media and their endless propaganda. Regardless of what you may think of the Russian president, I believe Stone's Putin Interviews should be mandatory viewing for any and all Americans. As inundated as we are with anti-Russian and anti-Putin propaganda, it is important to see another side of the story if only to give us more information to make up our minds about this man who dominates our news, but about whom we know so little.

Putin may be the ultimate villain the media make him out to be, but permitting him to be portrayed as a cartoon Dr. Evil gives us no strategic or tactical advantage when sizing up our alleged greatest enemy. Or maybe, just maybe, we haven't been told the whole truth about Vladimir Putin and Russia, and Oliver Stone's interview is a window into a world that has existed all along, that we have not been inclined, or permitted, to see. Your best bet is to watch the whole thing and judge for yourself. 

***To see another example of the New York Times running an anti-Russian hit piece like Ms. Gessen's, please read this awful "news" piece by the repugnant Jason Zinoman about comedian Lee Camp, but first, read Camp's awesome response to it so you can slog through the bullshit more easily. It is well worth your time and will help you read between the lines of the propaganda that permeates our everyday, courtesy of the establishment media and The New York Times. ****

©2017

 

 

Snowden : A Review and Commentary

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 12 MINUTES AND 39 SECONDS

MY RATING : 3 out of 5 Stars

MY RECOMMENDATION : If you saw and liked Citizenfour, see Snowden in the theatre. If you don't like Edward Snowden, or are indifferent, see it on Netflix or Cable.

Snowden, written and directed by three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone, is the story of famed NSA whistelblower Edward Snowden. The screenplay is based upon the books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. The films stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden, with Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Rhys Ifans and Nic Cage in supporting roles.

Director Oliver Stone, like Edward Snowden, is a controversial figure who is despised and ridiculed by those in the establishment, which is a pretty good reason to like the guy. Stone has spent his career sticking his finger in the eye of those in power and their sycophants in the media. Stone and his films have been an important cultural counter weight to the prevailing winds of his time. During the height of conservative rule and thought in America during the 80's, when the nation was all too happy to forget its sullied not too distant past and corrupt present, Stone reminded America of its unresolved hubris with his Vietnam films (Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July) and his indictment of then U.S. foreign policy in Latin America with Salvador and the economic ruse of the times in Wall Street.

In the early 90's, while the nation was still basking in the warm glow of sunlight from Reagan's "morning in America", Stone pulled back the veil and tore off the scab to reveal the rot at America's core underneath the flag waving veneer with his films JFK, Nixon and Natural Born Killers.  Stone's insistence that America look at and acknowledge its true self was never warmly welcomed by those who need to deceive in order to succeed, thus the Washington and media establishment have always loathed him. All the more reason to admire the man and his work, which certainly struck a raw nerve for those in power.

Edward Snowden is also quite a controversial figure to say the least. As the marketing of the film tells us, some people call him a traitor, like those in the establishment and media, others call him a hero. The film Snowden itself is probably a Rorsharch test for viewers, with those who think Edward Snowden a hero liking it and those thinking he is a traitor hating it. The reality is that if you already think Snowden is a traitor, you probably aren't going to go see this film anyway. The people who believe Snowden is a hero are the most likely ones who will go and see this film.

With that context in mind, director Oliver Stone surprisingly pulls a lot of his punches in the film. In Snowden, Stone "bottles the acid", to quote Judge Haggerty from JFK,  and never goes in for the kill shot on the intelligence community, which is very out of character for the rebellious director. Considering Oliver Stone's past work, I found his indictment against the intelligence community in Snowden to be rather tame. That said, Stone certainly shows Edward Snowden in as positive a light as he can, and there is never any doubt as to Snowden's moral and ethical superiority throughout the story, but the scope, scale and magnitude of the evil being perpetrated by our intelligence community, and the impetus for Snowden to act, is under played and never fully fleshed out to satisfaction.

All that said, Snowden, while not a great film, it certainly is a good one. It is without question the best Oliver Stone film of the last twenty years or so since Nixon in 1995. The only other film of note from Stone during the second half of his career is 2008's W., which like Snowden, is also a Rorsharch test for viewers and is a good but not great movie. Both Snowden and W. pale in comparison to Oliver Stone's genius work during the first half of his career, when he made a bevy of tremendous films such as, Platoon, Salvador, Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street, JFK, Nixon, The Doors and Natural Born Killers. When I speak of the futility in the second half of Stone's filmmaking career I am not counting his documentaries which can be quite good. His Showtime series Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States is extremely well done and should be mandatory viewing for any citizen.

As for Snowden, as much as I enjoyed the film, the greatest issue I had with it was that it failed to use Stone's signature visual and editing style (think JFK) to tell the complex and mammoth tale of the various surveillance programs that Ed Snowden uncovered and revealed. This is the crux of the story as it shows why Snowden risked so much in order to inform the public as to what was being done to them and in their name to others. Stone does try to personalize the snooping that the programs do, but while that sequence is effective it isn't quite enough. Stone also under-uses actual news footage and cutting between it and the dramatic narrative of Snowden. Stone used that technique to great effect in JFK but fails to utilize it enough in Snowden, much to the detriment of the film. Stone's masterful work on JFK showed how to take an enormous and complex subject and whittle it down so that people could understand and digest it, he needed more of that approach in Snowden, not less. Oddly enough, Snowden almost feels like it was directed by someone other than Oliver Stone, as the film lacks his visual and storytelling trademarks.

As for the acting, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance is simply miraculous. Levitt's work is meticulous, detailed and vibrant. Levitt perfectly captures Snowden's unique vocal tendencies and looks strikingly like the man, so much so that in some shots I was wondering if that actually was Edward Snowden and not the actor. Snowden is not an easy character to take on, he is an enigmatic man, probably somewhere on the autism spectrum, who is both self conscious and self confident, sometimes all in the same moment. Levitt creates a genuine, complex human being with all of his intracacies and inhabits him fully, never letting the character slip into caricature or imitation. Levitt's Snowden is multi-dimensional and is a truly remarkable piece of acting work, proving Levitt to be among the best actors of his generation. In comparing Levitt's performance as Snowden to other actors in previous Oliver Stone films, the thing that is strikingly obvious is that other actors in Oliver Stone films were actors in "Oliver Stone films". For instance, Born on the Fourth of July is an "Oliver Stone film", not a "Tom Cruise film", the same can be said for Charlie Sheen in Platoon or Kevin Costner in JFK or Anthony Hopkins in Nixon, these actors all did solid work but were overshadowed by the talent and vision of their director Oliver Stone, hence they were in "Oliver Stone films" and not in "Sheen/Costner/Hopkins films". The very high compliment I can pay Joseph Gordon-Levitt is that Snowden is, without question, a "Joseph Gordon Levitt film", and not an "Oliver Stone film". Levitt outshines his director, which is a tribute to him as an actor, and a recognition of some creative slippage on the part of Stone the director.

The supporting cast is hit and miss. Shailene Woodley does a solid job in the terribly underwritten role of Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Woodley is a strong actress, approachable and artistically honest, who has an undeniable charisma that lights up the screen. On the other hand there is Nic Cage, who is simply a dreadful actor of epic proportions, and frankly, contrary to popular opinion, always has been. Cage is in some very crucial scenes but is so distractingly bad that those scenes and the highly critical information they convey, get scuttled, much to the detriment of the film. It feels like Cage is in one of those god-awful National Treasure films and not a serious Oliver Stone film.

Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo and Tom Wilkinson all do solid work as the documentarians and reporters Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill. The scenes with Snowden and the reporters in the Hong Kong hotel room are surprisingly compelling since they are scenes we have already seen in the documentary Citizenfourthat is a credit to the actors.

Snowden reminds me of two films, one, Citizenfour is pretty obvious. Snowden is a very nice companion piece to Laura Poitras' Academy Award winning documentary Citizenfouras it dramatizes and expands on what was revealed in that excellent film.

The second film I was reminded of is much less obvious, at least on the surface. That film is American Sniper. Here is the round-a-bout way in which Snowden reminded me of American Sniper. As I walked out of the theatre post-Snowden, I was wondering if Oliver Stone has simply lost his fastball as a filmmaker and was not able to land his punches quite as crispy and effectively as he was twenty five years ago in films like JFK, Platoon, Wall Street etc. Then I wondered if maybe Stone had just grown weary of the cultural battle to which he has dedicated his life, which seems never ending and futile at best. I thought this because of Stone's surprisingly conventional storytelling in Snowden, punctuated by an upbeat ending that, in my opinion, defies the reality we find ourselves in, in regard to surveillance and what the intelligence community is up to. And then I wondered if…and this gives a big benefit of the doubt to Oliver Stone, who, frankly, with the stellar filmography of his earlier years has earned that benefit, Stone had made a truly subversive film with Snowden, but it was hidden beneath the surface of the rather tepid bio-pic it was buried under. It could be that Snowden is Oliver Stone's answer to American Sniper, right down to mimicking its flaws?

Here is my theory…that Oliver Stone intentionally made Snowden to undermine the propaganda of American Sniper and reduce its power on the American collective unconscious.  Snowden the film and the man, are counter-myths to Chris Kyle and American Sniper. Like American Sniper, Snowden is structured as a standard bio-pic, almost hitting the same exact beats and with the same exact rhythm as American Sniper. Also like American Sniper, Snowden ties the dramatic film to the actual, real-life man in it's final scenes, blurring the lines between what is dramatized and what is real. That said, one real life difference between the films is that unlike with the Kyle family and American Sniper, Edward Snowden had no say or final approval of the final script, and received no money for Snowden.

I don't think those structural and narrative similarities between American Sniper and Snowden are accidental. If Oliver Stone is anything, he is a true-blue subversive and it is a stroke of genius to make Snowden a parallel to American Sniper. Oliver Stone has spoken of his masterpiece JFK as being a counter-myth to the prevailing myth of the Warren report. The only difference between the Warren report and JFK is that JFK readily admits it is a myth, while the Warren report holds onto the illusion and delusion that it is factual. And so it is similar with Snowden and American Sniper, as Stone sets out to counter Clint Eastwood in his bootlicking, ass kissing, myth making, propaganda with a counter-myth meant to celebrate the thoughtful, rebellious, principled subversive in the form of Edward Snowden.

Why do I think Oliver Stone is intentionally taking shots at American Sniper in Snowden? I think that because Stone has cast the remarkably wooden actor Scott Eastwood, American Sniper director Clint Eastwood's look alike son, as Trevor James, an NSA middle management type who never questions, or thinks, about what he is tasked to do, or much of anything really. It was seeing Scott Eastwood in the film that made me connect American Sniper and Snowden, and I think that that was not an accident. Stone could have cast a million other actors in that role, but he didn't, he cast Clint Eastwood's kid. Scott Eastwood being cast is not because of his superior talent (God knows) and it isn't a business decision, it is a creative and symbolic decision, and it is deliciously stealthy bit of cinematic intrigue.

Stone subtly and surreptitiously shows that Trevor James is, just like his father's American Sniper muse Chris Kyle, an unquestioning and unthinking fool who fights for tyrants and tyranny, as opposed to Snowden, who selflessly risks his life for the truth, and nothing else. That is what stands out the most to me in Snowden as a contrast to American Sniper, namely that Edward Snowden is smart and insightful enough to recognize the true enemy of America is within in the form of Bush, Obama, Clinton, Petreaus, Hayden, Clapper, the intelligence/political and media establishment et al. Stone is showing that Chris Kyle, like Trevor James, is a dupe, a sucker and a fool, who gives his life as a pawn for the powerful to exploit the weak, the stupid and the gullible. If Chris Kyle were a real man and the true American hero he has been sold to us as, he would not have gone to Iraq to keep us safe from phantom enemies a world away, he would have used his substantial sniping skill on the only actual threat to America that exists, namely the same tyrants who were sending him to war for their own benefit. Of course, Oliver Stone would be excoriated if he came out and said what I just wrote, and it is hard enough to sell movie tickets to a film about Edward Snowden, the man our country and culture has labelled a traitor, already, considering we live in a nation of propagandized flag waving dupes, dopes and dipshits who don't have a single clue between them and are as happy as pigs in shit about it. So Stone made a subtle and ingenious dig at Clint Eastwood, Chris Kyle and American Sniper, that only those cinematically savvy enough would be able to catch and I, for one, give him great credit for that.

One other thing to keep in mind in regards to Snowden and some parallels with American Sniper, namely that both of them may very well be pieces from the same propaganda puzzle brought to us by our power and control hungry friends who operate in the shadows (and are unaware of their own shadow - psychologically speaking!!). There is a part of me, and there is substantial evidence to back this up, that believes that The Legend Chris Kyle was created as a propaganda tool out of whole cloth. His story and his rise into public consciousness is very suspect to say the least, as we've seen from the revelations about his less than truthful depiction of his life and military career. The other thing to keep in mind though is that Snowden, as much as I admire what he did, he may very well be just another piece of counter intelligence propaganda meant to spread disinformation and to manipulate the masses. The reason I say that is because while Snowden revealed a great deal of government illegality, yet no one has ever been held to account for these crimes, which is quite convenient. One result of Snowden's revelations are that the public has become numbed into a shoulder shrugging apathy in regards to government surveillance. So with Snowden's revelations, the intelligence community gets to have the cover of being forced to  "come clean", meanwhile they can continue surveillance without anyone noticing or more importantly, caring.

In keeping with the intelligence communities playbook, right after Snowden's revelations the media went into hyper-drive to destroy Snowden personally. The usual suspects at the Washington Post and New York Times and all the television outlets painted him as a self serving, smug, fame hungry man trying to harm his nation for his own advantage. Even ferret faced "comedian" John Oliver got into the act. So now, any other whistleblowers will be reticent to come forward, and any other revelations of government criminality will be ignored. The cavalcade of information that Snowden revealed has been masterfully manipulated into having the effect of creating apathy in the general public and giving immunity to the intelligence community from any crimes committed.  Snowden may not have been a part of the bigger propaganda and counter intel project, but he was certainly useful to it.

Add to that that Snowden seemingly came out of nowhere…his life story reeks of someone who was snatched up by the intel community and groomed to be an asset. He never finished high school? Failed out of the Army Rangers? These are odd things for someone so obviously intelligent and highly functioning. To tie things back to Oliver Stone, Snowden may be a modern day Oswald, nothing more than a patsy. (Oswald too was a high school drop out and was seemingly much more intelligent than he seems at first glance, for example he allegedly taught himself to be fluent in Russian.)

The reality is that if I am to be suspect of Chris Kyle's story I need to be equally suspect of Edward Snowden's story, as both of them are littered with red flags, some waving higher than others. A giant red flag for both of them is that their stories were made into major motion pictures. Hollywood is a very useful tool to the intel community to shape culture and perception. The idea that Snowden is an intelligence asset meant to obfuscate the truth rather than reveal it may be a stretch to some people, but we must understand that nothing can be taken at face value. If you want to be a well informed human being, you have to be skeptical of everything you come across. Manipulation of the masses by the powers that be is as old as civilization itself, and one must always be vigilant against one's owns prejudices.  

The intel community could use Snowden's revelations to divert attention and distract us from what they are really up to, which is probably a hell of a lot more heinous than we can ever imagine. Maybe that is why Oliver Stone made such an un-Stone-like film. Maybe Stone had an inkling that not all was as it seemed in the Snowden story, and so he used the film as an opportunity to subtly undermine the military-industrial-propoganda complex by taking shots at American Sniper while telling a tepid version of the Snowden tale. Maybe…just maybe…Oliver Stone's Snowden is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Or maybe my tinfoil hat is on too tight…who knows?

One final odd contradiction coming from people like Chris Kyle and his flag waving and ass kissing supporters, is that they are usually either Republicans or conservatives, and often times both. They dislike and rail against government, determined to reduce it to a size where they can drown it in a bathtub, but they fail to realize that the military, the intelligence services and law enforcement are all part of the government. In fact, military/intelligence/law enforcement are often times the most expensive form of government and the most dangerous to the things that I, and alleged conservatives, say we hold dear, namely, the constitution and our individual, GOD-given liberties. As Republicans and conservatives like to tell us, and as I certainly believe, government didn't give us our liberties, God did. So why are conservatives in general, and Republicans in particular, so infatuated with government power, violence and secrecy? It is odd. And don't get me wrong, the Democrats are usually just as awful as Republicans on these issues…look at the superstars who have been my Senators and representatives over the years, Jane Harman, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton…they are like a murderer's row for the military/Intelligence industrial complex and against civil liberties.

Which brings us to another point made in Snowden, albeit only in passing. Namely that all of these surveillance programs run by the intelligence community aren't meant to stop terrorists at all, they are meant for corporate and government espionage, and to scuttle civil unrest and protest. In the film, Nic Cage's character Hank Forrester describes to Snowden how he had developed a much better, much more accurate and much cheaper surveillance program than the one the CIA and NSA currently use, but they chose not to use it because they wanted to fill the coffers of the military industrial complex by using a bigger, less effective and more expensive by billions program. This sounds exactly like our trusted government in action. Even applying the most basic, Luddite logic, one would understand that the more information you sweep up, the less usable information you will actually be able to focus on. When you expand the haystack, needles don't get easier to find, they get harder.

This is proven by the fact that the NSA and CIA have never used these surveillance programs to stop a terror attack. They have CLAIMED to have stopped terror attacks using these surveillance programs, but there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that is true. Like the overwhelming majority of police work, these surveillance programs, at best, give the intelligence services something to do AFTER an attack, but never before. So what are these programs really about? These surveillance programs aren't about security, they are all about power.

If the U.S. government were so interested in stopping terrorists, then why do they bend over backwards to protect the home and heart of terrorists, Saudi Arabia. Bush's bestest hand holding buddy Saudi Prince Bandar, has been proven to be an accomplice and paymaster to the 9-11 hijackers, as was his wife. And yet, Bush and his successor Obama have moved heaven and earth to protect the Saudi's at all costs and to protect that information from coming to light…why? The Saudi's have been proven to have supported the 9-11 hijackers…think about that. Saudi Arabia was complicit in 9-11, where three thousand Americans were killed. 9-11 has been used as the catalyst and excuse for all of the intrusive (and illegal) surveillance the government has undertaken, and yet, that same government has no interest in pursuing justice in regards to the Saudi's. In fact, not only are they not holding the Saudi's accountable, they are actively arming and protecting them. Any rational human being could, in the light of this information, see the War on Terror for the Kabuki theatre that it is.

Further strengthening the case against the alleged use of surveillance in the war on terror is the fact that the U.S. is also actively working with, arming and supporting terrorists in Syria. ISIS and Al Qaeda are being used by the U.S. as weapons in their war against the Assad regime and its Russian benefactor.  We are doing the same thing in Ukraine where we supply and arm jihadists in the war against Russian nationalists in eastern Ukraine. We play our little public game of charades and pretend to deplore terrorists but behind the scenes we do everything we can to arm and empower them in Syria, Ukraine and across the globe. Is this the act of a nation so desperate for security that they would trample the Constitution and our civil liberties in order to stamp out terror? 

In conclusion, I have an opinion of what Edward Snowden that is probably right in synch with Oliver Stone's, thus I enjoyed the film. I think it could have been much better, but in the final analysis I think it was good enough. I am sure people on the other side of the argument will loathe the film. I believe that if Edward Snowden is the man he says he is, this is the type of man we as a nation should celebrate and hold in the highest regard. It is a sign of our culture's decadence, intellectual indifference and moral and ethical decay that Edward Snowden has successfully been labelled a traitor and an enemy by those in the establishment. He may be an enemy of the state, but he is undoubtedly a hero for the people. If we plan on getting our country back from the oligarchs, aristocrats, corporatists and military industrialists who currently reign over us with their Eye of Sauron intelligence apparatus, the people will need to wake up and fight back. The film Snowden is not perfect, and seeing it will not be a cure-all for the fear, weakness and stupidity that cripple us as a people, that said, seeing it would be a small and positive step in the right direction. 

©2016

 

Oliver Stone : Top Five Films

Today, September 15, 2015 is director Oliver Stone's 69th birthday. The ever opinionated, and often controversial Stone has been both lauded and loathed, celebrated and denigrated during his thirty plus year career as a writer and director. After nearly two decades of artistic and box-office mis-steps, it is easy to forget that at one point in time, from 1986 to 1995, Oliver Stone was arguably the most powerful force creatively, politically and financially in both Hollywood and the culture. It is also easy to forget that Oliver Stone is one of the most important filmmakers in the history of American cinema.

To celebrate Oliver Stone's birthday, let's take a look at his meteoric, tumultuous and often-times brilliant career. Here are what I consider his top five films of all time.

OLIVER STONE'S TOP 5 FILMS

. THE DOORS (1991) 

Oliver Stone, like many of his fellow baby boomers,  excavated some of his most glorious inspirational treasures by going back to his formative years in the turbulent 1960's. In 1991 Stone went back to his, and my, favorite rock band, The Doors, and their iconic lead singer Jim Morrison.

Years ago I watched the dvd extras for The Doors which had a series of interviews with Stone and the actors talking about the process of making the film. It was pretty standard dvd-extra fare, until the very end of an interview with Stone. In it he talks about what Jim Morrison meant to him, both as a young man and as an artist, and Stone speaks eloquently about what Morrison represented, what he symbolized, and then he says, rather poignantly, with his voice breaking, "I miss him". It was a strangely moving, oddly touching and intimate glimpse into Stone, who is often portrayed in the media as a hyper-masculine, misogynistic boor. What that interview reveals is that The Doors was not just a bio-pic of Morrison, but also a deeply personal film for Oliver Stone and his artistic soul. That is what makes it both very good to some people (Me and John Densmore) and very bad to others (Ray Manzarek and Robby Kreiger). 

The Doors is a remarkably hypnotic film with Val Kilmer's magnetic performance as its center. The concert scenes are among the most vibrant and realistic ever captured on film. While the film is less a bio-pic of the band and Morrison than it is an exercise in cultural myth making and personal/psychological exploration, it still has a seductive and fascinating dark energy to it…not unlike its main character and its director.

4. NIXON (1995)

In 1995 Oliver Stone once again went back to the 1960's well and made a sprawling and peculiarly sentimental bio-pic about disgraced former president Richard Nixon. Shakespearean in its scope and execution, Nixon is a testament to Stone's skill as both writer and director. As a writer Stone is able to coherently and dramatically weave countless historical events amid intimate personal motivations all the while spanning multiple decades. As director, Stone coaxes a uniquely powerful and fantastically courageous performance from Anthony Hopkins in the lead, and Joan Allen as Pat Nixon. The supporting cast is terrific across the board, with James Woods and Paul Sorvino doing especially great work.

Nixon is a staggeringly ambitious film that only Oliver Stone would have made, could have made, or should have made. Nixon may be the last great film Oliver Stone ever makes, but even if it is, it is a worthy testament to his artistry and skill.

3. PLATOON (1986)/ BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (1989)

When Platoon came out in 1986, I went and saw it and like most everyone else, I was blown away by it. The four time Oscar winning film, including Best Picture and Best Director, was an original and unique perspective on the daily grind of the regular soldier toiling away in the morass of the Vietnam war.  Ten years later I caught the film again when it was on tv somewhere and was terribly underwhelmed by it, the film simply did not hold up to the test of time at all. The main problem was that visually, the film looked flat and washed out. I came away thinking the film was, like another Stone film from that period, Wall Street, a superb script, but unlike his early 90's films , JFK, The Doors, Nixon and Natural Born Killers, a rather cinematically sluggish film. I was more than happy to share my self declared brilliance with anyone who would be foolish enough to listen to my insufferable ravings on the visual failings of Platoon versus Father Time. Now of course, I am unable to rave too loudly as my throat is stuffed with crow. Why the change of heart you ask? Well, I recently saw a restored version of the film, and boy oh boy, it looks really magnificent. Stone's longtime cinematographer, the brilliant Robert Richardson, creates a subtly vibrant and layered look to the film that shows an incredibly deft and masterful hand on his part.

The film also boasts powerful performances from a wide array of actors, including Charlie Sheen, of all people, in the lead. Stone is such a great director that he makes Charlie Sheen seem like he could be the next big thing in acting. Sheen would have been wise to keep his wagon hitched to the Oliver Stone band wagon rather than venturer off into the land of Young Guns, ahhh…what could have been. Willem Dafoe and Tom Beringer also give standout performances as the ying and yang of the American psyche in regards to the Vietnam conflict and the conflict over Vietnam.

The one thing that does hurt Platoon in retrospect is that it is compared to other films of the same Vietnam War genre. In 1987, one year after Platoon came out, Stanley Kubrick's vastly superior Full Metal Jacket hit theaters. Oliver Stone joins a long list of other great directors, in fact, every other director, who has failed in comparison to the singular genius of Stanley Kubrick. Platoon is, without a doubt, a truly great film, probably the third greatest Vietnam War film ever made, behind Full Metal Jacket and  Francis Ford Coppola's iconic masterpiece Apocalypse Now.

In keeping with the Vietnam War genre, Stone's second foray into that most personal of wars (he was a Veteran of the war and Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient), was 1989's Born on the Fourth of July. The film is the story of Ron Kovics, a Long Island born and raised, flag waving patriotic son of America, who enthusiastically enlists in the Marine Corps to go fight in Vietnam.  

Born on the Fourth of July won Stone his second Best Director Oscar, and for good reason. The film is a remarkable piece of work for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it is easily the best performance of Tom Cruise's long career. As good as Cruise is in the film, and he is in nearly every scene, it is an indication of Oliver Stone's power as an artist that you never feel like you are watching a Tom Cruise picture, but rather an Oliver Stone picture.

Like many of Stone's films, Born on the Fourth of July covers a staggeringly vast amount of history, and it is also able to personalize that historical struggle by poignantly showing the gut wrenchingly emotional struggle of its main character Kovics. 

The film is really a love story, with the love being between a man and his country. The man, Kovics, discovers that his lifelong love, America, has betrayed him by not living up to it's values, the war in Vietnam. This is wonderfully portrayed in a secondary narrative of unrequited love between Cruise's Kovics and his high school sweetheart played by the luminous Kyra Sedgwick. The film is at once heartbreaking and invigorating, and only Oliver Stone, with his deeply intimate relationship with Vietnam and America could have made the it. 

2. NATURAL BORN KILLERS

Yes, I know, Natural Born Killers at number two? Many people, maybe even most people, would more consider Natural Born Killers AS a number two rather than AT number two. I realize I am in the minority, but I don't mind. I think Stone's frantic, ultra-violent assault on the media and the culture is a genuine and daring masterpiece prescient in it's foresight.

The film precedes and perfectly captures the vile cable news era and the odious reality tv era. Remarkably the film came out a mere month after O.J. Simpson's wife was murdered and well before the sickening media and cultural circus of his trial. (As an aside, I hope you join me in praying that they find  the real killers!!).

Critics thought the film was a bombastic and vacant orgy of  sex and violence. Of course, what makes the film so genius is that it is a satire of American culture, which is a bombastic and vacant orgy of sex and violence. If you don't believe me, turn on any cable news channel at any time of the day, a reality show or a prime time network sitcom. In fact, one of the most inspired parts of the film is when it wonderfully eviscerates the vapid and insipid sitcom which had become the staple of the American tv diet at the time.  

What Stone did with Natural Born Killers was show how hyper, frenzied and frenetic our culture had become and how toxic that was to our collective and personal psyche. Of course, since 1994 our culture has only become more frenetic and frenzied. Our thirst for violence and our hunger for the salacious has increased infinitely since Stone showed us our true and more base impulses gyrating up on silver screens in cineplexes across America in the fall of 1994.

Once again the brilliant Robert Richardson does masterful work with the camera and gives the film a muscularly vivid visual style. There are also some great performances from some surprising places, most notably Rodney Dangerfield, (who you may remember previously "got no respect")  who deserved not only respect for his performance, but a Best Supporting Actor trophy for his work as a disgustingly repugnant sitcom dad, sadly he didn't get nominated. Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore and Robert Downey Jr. all give inspired and memorable performances as well.

You may hate Natural Born Killers, and you wouldn't be alone, but the reality is that Stone accurately depicted the rot at the heart of the American culture, and that rot has only grown more aggressive and malignant as the decades have passed.

1. JFK (1991)

JFK is Oliver Stone's masterpiece. It is also the film that garnered him the most criticism and made him a marked man of both the Washington and media establishment. With JFK, Stone did the near impossible, he made a uniquely original, intensely captivating, coherent, heart pounding suspenseful drama of President Kennedy's assassination, all the while challenging the establishment narrative in the form of the Warren Commission and it's lapdogs in the media with his own self described "counter-myth". He also forced the movie going public to actually sit down and watch the Zapruder film, over, and over, and over again, making sure there was no doubt there now dead President's head snapped "back and to the left". 

Stone wasn't saying that JFK was the absolute truth about what happened on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, what he was saying was that his film, an acknowledged piece of fiction, is as close to the truth as the Warren Commission, a supposed work of investigative non-fiction.

The best way to know that Oliver Stone was on to something with JFK, was in seeing the reaction of the establishment to it's release. The Washington and New York chattering classes went absolutely apeshit. Stone was attacked across the board, from those on the left, the right and the center. "Serious" people from "serious" news organizations told us that Stone was a mere "conspiracy theorist", so anyone who wanted to be taken seriously on any other subject, had to show their bona fides by knocking Stone as an unserious person and attacking the the film. This sort of thing has become old hat for the establishment. It is also a sure fire sign that the person they are attacking is cutting them close to the bone. If Stone were such an unserious kook, then ignoring him would have sufficed, but he wasn't and isn't, so the knives had to come out.  

As a result of the success of JFK and of Stone's tireless public work on the subject, Congress was persuaded to release some of the files relating to the JFK assassination. At the time it seemed like things might be changing, that all of the files might be released. That was over twenty years ago and still nothing has changed. The JFK assassination was over fifty years ago, yet we have barely gotten a glimpse of the vast seas of paperwork that remains classified on the subject.

As far as the film goes, Stone's script was, once again, Shakespearean in it's epic scope. His brilliant use of newsreel footage mixed with dramatic footage created an intense immediacy that brought the viewer ever closer to the edge of their seat. JFK was also cinematographer Robert Richardson's masterpiece as well. His use of multiple film stock was as vital a reason for JFK's dramatic edge as anything else, as was his impeccable camera work and framing. Editor Pietro Scalia also was a key figure in bringing this dramatic beast under control. Both Richardson and Scalia won Oscars for their work.

The acting was stellar across the board. Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald was particularly brilliant. Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work as one of the alleged conspirators Clay Shaw. 

In many ways, all of Oliver Stone's other films, including his Oscar winning pictures, pale in comparison to JFK. JFK was a cinematic, artistic and cultural bellwether. It is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all-time, and it is a towering monument to the legacy of Oliver Stone.

(For more on the JFK assassination, the media and Oliver Stone, check out this article from my archiveJFK AND THE BIG LIE  )

FINAL THOUGHTS

In many ways, Oliver Stone reminds me of Francis Ford Coppola. Both men won Oscars for screenplays, Coppola for Patton, Stone for Midnight Express, before they had tremendous runs of artistic and financial success as Oscar winning directors. Then both men, for reasons that I can't quite explain, fell off a cliff creatively and never recovered. Coppola of course, had his incredible run in the seventies with both Godfather films, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation, while Stone had his from '86 to '95 with the films listed above (among others).

I think it is a great loss for filmmaking that Oliver Stone has lost his cultural relevance. Cinema, and the culture, were much more interesting when he was at the top of his game and relevant. His willingness to stand for what he believes and to challenge the culture that bred him, are traits sorely lacking in todays Hollywood. My birthday wish for Oliver Stone, is that his next film, Snowden, lives up to his stellar previous work, and is as worthy a film as the subject at its center.

I tip my cap to you Oliver for your brilliance!! Happy Birthday!!

ADDENDUM:

I received a few emails regarding this post. One from a reader named "Captain Big Guy" and another from a reader named "Johnny Steamroller".

Capt. Big Guy wrote " In each of the 4 movies leading up to the 5th (#1), you described your thoughts on the lead actor - which I really enjoyed - BUT WHY NO MENTION OF COSTNER IN JFK?" In keeping with that thought Johnny Steamroller wrote, " Dude, you got me sooooooo interested in what you were going to say about Costner in JFK, your #1 movie!! Seriously, I kept reading. You do mention Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones by name but zero mention of the lead actor in "Oliver Stone's masterpiece"?? Arggggghhhhhh!!!"

Both the good Captain and the esteemed Mr. Steamroller make an excellent point. In my haste to post this piece I overlooked Kevin Costner's performance in JFK . It was an egregious oversight. Maybe not as egregious as Waterworld, but egregious none the less. 

So without further adieu…my thoughts on Costner in  JFK .

Let's be clear, Costner isn't Marlon Brando. With that said, he didn't need to be Marlon Brando in JFK. What makes Costner effective in JFK is the fact that he was maybe the biggest movie star  in the world at the time of the films release. In addition his persona was that of an all-American, squeaky clean guy. His image and persona were a key part of why he works in JFK and why he was cast. Casting Costner accomplished two things for Oliver Stone in his most ambitious film. 1. In terms of the business, it got the movie made. I am sure the studio was much more at ease making this rather challenging film with the biggest movie star in the world, at the height of his fame and popularity, on top of the marquee. 2. In terms of creatively, casting Costner made Stone's challenging the establishment, and the public, much more effective with the persona of the all-American good guy making the case to the public for Stone. It was a very wise move on Stone's part to use Costner and all of the good will he had accrued with the public through his earlier work.

Remember, just two years before JFK, Costner had starred in Field of Dreams, which is as mythically and archetypal an American film as has ever been made.  And the year before JFK was released, Costner had won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Dances With Wolves. In many ways, not the least of which was symbolically, by the time JFK came out Costner had become the modern day Jimmy Stewart.

Costner's acting in the film is pretty paint-by-numbers, leading man stuff. As in all of Costner's work, he doesn't have too much range or depth. But because of the intangible traits and very particular image Costner the movie star (as opposed to Costner the actor) brought to the film, I believe he ends up being very much a net positive for the film, and a very wise and shrewd casting choice by Oliver Stone.

So thanks to Captain Big Guy and Johnny Steamroller for the emails!! Hope my answer was satisfactory.

 ©2015