Did you know that September 22, is National Elephant Appreciation Day?!? Neither did I. But now that we do know, I think we can all agree that it’s an excellent day to take a day to appreciate these gentle giants with one of the following films.
Dumbo (1941) The fourth animated Disney film based on the children’s story by Helen Aberson revolves around Jumbo Jr. a young elephant cruelly nicknamed “Dumbo” by his peers for his big ears. But it turns out these ears can also help him fly! Even despite the advent of WWII, Dumbo was still the most financially successful Disney film of the 40’s, and today holds a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and in 2011 was named one of ‘The 25 All-TIME Best Animated Films” by Time Magazine. It’s titular character has also become an internationally recognized icon.
White Hunter Black Heart (1990) Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, the film is based on the Peter Viertel novel of the same name; which was in turn a thinly disguised account of Viertel’s experiences working on the 1951 film The African Queen. Filmmaker John Wilson (Clint Eastwood) travels to Africa in the early fifties for a shoot bringing along young scriptwriter Pete Verrill (Jeff Fahey of Wyatt Earp and The Seventh Scroll). But once on location, Wilson neglects film preparations for his new obsession with hunting down a big tusked elephant -a goal he even acknowledges is sinful. It has an 88 percent fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and has been described as Eastwood’s best work before Unforgiven.
Born to be Wild (2011) David Lickley directed this nature documentary short about orphaned orangutans and elephants and the people who rescue them. It has a 98 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes for the movie’s heart-warming story and nature footage that is both charming and really, really cute.
The Eyes of Thailand (2012) Windy Borman directed and produced this documentary about Soraida Solwawa who opened the world’s first Elephant Hospital. The Friends of Asian Elephants Hospital in Lampang, Thailand took in two elephant landmine survivors Motala and baby Mosha who had lost their legs. Solwawa and her team developed the first elephant prosthesis to help them walk again. Besides celebrating elephant’s the film’s also a cautionary tale about landmines and won the Ace Documentary Grant.
When Elephants Were Young (2015) This French-Canadian documentary was directed by World Elephant Day (a separate holiday from Elephant Appreciation Day) co-founder Patricia Sims and narrated by Will Shatner. Twenty six year old Wok in Thailand has been caring for his elephant Nong Mai since she was three. Nong Mai was one of thirty five captive elephants in Wok’s village as part of a (now rapidly fading), tradition of elephant keeping. The family’s business is street begging with Nong Mai in Bangkok. The film follows how the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation offers to buy Nong Mai to reintroduce her to the wild. The film had its international premiere at the Palm Beach International Film Festival where it won Best Documentary Feature.
Top photo: Bigstock
“It’s been a long time that New York had news this good, especially with an airplane in it.”
We toss around the word “hero” a lot, but often that word describes ordinary people just doing their jobs with extraordinary results. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is one such person. On January 15, 2009, Sully was piloting a US Airways plane out of LaGuardia Airport when a flock of Canada Geese struck the Airbus A320. With both engines gone, Sully realized there was no hope of landing at either LaGuardia or Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. He made the decision to land the plane in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.
Scenes of the water rescue dominated the airwaves and newspapers all over New York and, indeed, the world. The event was declared “The Miracle on the Hudson.” Sully was hailed a hero by the media and he and his team even appeared on The David Letterman Show. One New York tavern named a drink in his honor. “The Sully, Grey Goose with a splash of water,” the bartender tells him. It’s one lighthearted moment in Clint Eastwood’s taut, tense, and terrific film starring Tom Hanks as Sully.
While the public was celebrating a new hero, things were darker behind the scenes. (The film is based on Highest Duty by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow.) The National Transportation Safety Board investigating the incident seemed determined to prove that Sully made the wrong decision. Facing the NTSB panel, Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), are told that computer simulations prove they had enough time to make it back to LaGuardia. The second engine still had thrust and would have supported the plane for the time it took to land on the ground, they say. “Not possible,” Sully tells them. Leaving the meeting, Sully tells Skiles, “I’ve delivered a million passengers over 40 years but in the end I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds.”
Not only would such a ruling by the NTSB turn the tide on public opinion, but would effectively end Sully’s career and cancel his pension. Sully has to stay in New York until the NTSB completes its investigation. While he wades through a sea of journalists whenever he leaves his hotel, his wife, Lorraine (Laura Linney), is essentially a prisoner in her home, the media camped out on her front lawn.
Sully maintains an authoritative presence in public, but in private he suffers flashbacks and has trouble sleeping. (In interviews, Sullenberger revealed that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for several weeks following the accident.) In the film, Sully’s nightmares find the plane crashing into buildings, exploding in flames, scenes that are sure to remind many of 9/11. Battling those sleepless nights, Sully takes to running, one evening finding himself across from the Intrepid Museum, staring at a fighter plane that he once piloted and reliving another moment when he had to bring down a disabled plane. (Sullenberger graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, holds a post graduate degree from Purdue, and was once a member of the Air Force’s aircraft accident investigation board.)
Hanks turns in a fine performance as Sullenberger, demonstrating a steely resolve while making what many would consider a foolhardy decision to land a jet on water. But he also allows us to see Sully behind the scenes, uncomfortable basking in the media’s glare while also having his decision second-guessed by government officials who have never flown a plane. Co-pilot Skiles (a great supporting performance by Eckhardt), never wavers in his support of Sully, even when confronted by the NTSB panel. For that government group, Eastwood has gathered actors who do unlikeable very, very well. Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan, and Anna Gunn as the NTSB investigators seem less willing to discover the truth and more eager to bring Sully down, whatever the cost.
While those confrontations are fascinating, the center of the film is, of course, the miracle itself. Eastwood has recreated the entire event with such realism that we can feel the terror the passengers felt when Sully ordered, “Brace for impact!” Soon after landing, the passengers find themselves standing on the plane’s wings or huddled in one of the inflated slides. And while Sully managed the impossible by landing the plane, those passengers might have perished in the Hudson’s frigid waters if first responders had not made it to the scene so quickly, taking the terrified survivors onto boats, rescuing two who fell into the water, and getting them needed medical care.
When the credits role, we see photos from the actual rescue. We also see a Sully himself in a short video greeting the survivors during a reunion, the reconstructed plane in the background. As splendid as Hanks is in the role, there’s nothing like seeing the hero himself embracing the people he saved with his experience and skill.
The Miracle on the Hudson remains one of New York City’s finest moments. During a time when we desperately need heroes, Sully reminds us that they walk among us.
Sully opens nationwide September 9, 2016.
Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers.