Aloha! Disney’s next big animated epic Moana (featuring Dwayne Johnson as the famed Hawaiian God Maui himself) comes out November 23. Clever timing not only to release a family friendly movie around the holiday season, but also now that the weather’s getting darker and chillier to beguile audiences with one of the world’s dreamiest tropical location shots. In fact Hawaii has long been the setting for a wide variety of movies including the following.
From Here to Eternity (1953) Fred Zinneman (Oklahoma! High Noon, A Man For All Seasons) directed this adaption of the James Jones novel. The film follows the personal issues of three U.S soldiers stationed on Hawaii in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor. The all-star cast sported Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, and Frank Sinatra as the three men while Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed played the women in the their lives. The supporting cast included Ernest Borgnine, George Reeves, and Claude Akins, among others. Small wonder it was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and won eight including Best Picture, Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra) and Supporting Actress (Donna Reed). It’s also now considered one of the best films ever made and the scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the beach is a cultural icon.
Blue Hawaii (1961) First and foremost among Elvis’s legendary Hawaiian films is this musical comedy. Chadwick Gates (Elvis) is a returning veteran whose mother Sarah Lee (Angela Lansbury) wants him to take over the family fruit company. Chad instead goes to work as a tour guide at his girlfriend Maile’s (Joan Blackman) travel agency. Reviews were mixed but the healthy box office receipts inspired the studio to send Elvis back to the Big Island for two more films Girls! Girls! Girls! and Paradise Hawaiian Style. Meanwhile the movie’s soundtrack spent twenty weeks at #1 on the Billboard Pop Album charts and was nominated for a Grammy as well.
The North Shore (1987) Rick Kane (Matt Adler of Flight of the Navigator and White Water Summer) is a teenage kid from Arizona who uses his winnings from a wave tank surfing contest to fly out to Hawaii in hopes of becoming a surfing pro. He quickly learns the real ocean is a lot different than a wave tank and he’s got a lot to learn. Fortunately he comes under the tutelage of legendary soul surfer Chandler (Gregory Harrison). The film has gone on to become a cult hit for its awesome surfing sequences and use of real life professional surfers like Corky Carroll, Gerry Lopez, Laird Hamilton, among many more.
Picture Bride (1995) Kayo Hatta directed and co-wrote the screenplay for Picture Bride with Mari Hatta. It follows a young woman named Riyo (Youki Kodho) who arrives in Hawaii as a “Picture Bride” for a man she’s never met before. To Riyo’s disappointment her intended Matsuji (Akira Takayama) turns out to be considerably older than she anticipated. Meanwhile, racial tensions and labor disputes are rife on the sugar plantation where Riyo and Matsuji work. Critically acclaimed with an over 80% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, it also won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and was an Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Descendants (2011) Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, Nebraska) directed this comedy-drama starring George Clooney and adapted from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Land Baron Matt King (Clooney) is considering selling a land trust of 25,000 pristine acres his family owns on Kaui. While this is going on his wife Elizabeth is now in a coma because of a tragic boating accident and Matt is shocked to learn from his eldest daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley in the role that launched her career) that his wife was having an affair. It won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and two Golden Globe awards for Best Picture and Best Actor for Clooney.
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Oliver Stone’s films are not just entertainment; they are political statements. His new film, Snowden, focuses on the former CIA employee and government contractor who leaked information about widespread global surveillance by the U.S. government. The film is a sympathetic portrait of a whistleblower. And while many believe that Edward Snowden should face prosecution, others have lauded his actions. In June, 2015, President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, which sets some limits on what telecommunication data intelligence agencies may collect on U.S. citizens, a law that might not have happened, some say, without Snowden’s disclosures.
Snowden, viewed in the closing moments of the movie, seems to be taking advantage of any positive feelings that may result from Stone’s film. As Barack Obama heads into the final months of his administration, a time when many presidents issue pardons, Snowden is asking for one. In statements made to The Guardian, the British newspaper that first broke the story, Snowden called what he did “vital,” and “moral.” Snowden, who first fled to Hong Kong, has been living in Moscow. While White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has said that Snowden would face charges if he returned, former Attorney General Eric Holder in May said that Snowden had performed a “public service” by sparking a debate about surveillance. Stone’s film seems perfectly timed to continue that conversation.
While Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been acting since he was a child and has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, he will be a new discovery to many theater goers who will turn out to see him as Snowden. That low profile allows him to disappear into the role. He bears a physical resemblance to the title character, but it’s his performance that serves as the core of the film. He allows us to see his transformation, from an ardent patriot who believes the U.S. is the greatest country in the world (he’s asked that question in numerous polygraph tests along the way), to a disillusioned patriot who believes that post-9/11 the country has gone too far, sweeping up “metadata” on its citizens. At one point, he resigns from the CIA, so concerned about what he sees happening. But before too long, he’s back in and what he learns the second time around leads him to take action.
Snowden was a high school drop out who never graduated from college. (He earned a GED and took classes at a community college.) After 9/11, he enlisted in the Army, hoping to become Special Forces. A broken leg revealed more serious health problems and he was discharged. Looking for another way to serve his country, he applied to the CIA. When agency heavyweight Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans) asks Snowden why he wants to join the CIA, he responds that it would be cool to have such a high security clearance. O’Brian is nonplussed by the answer, but he recognizes Snowden’s talents and hires him. The two become close but their relationship will be tested again and again.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley
Shailene Woodley plays Snowden’s long-suffering girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Although they meet on a site called Geek-Mate, Lindsay is a photographer, not a techie. She’s also liberal, while Snowden still defends the Bush Administration. His security clearance prevents him from sharing anything about his work with Lindsay. As he becomes aware of just how far surveillance has gone, his moves to protect their privacy – covering up the camera on her computer with tape, claiming that their home is being bugged – come across to her as extreme paranoia. Yet she remains loyal and follows him to Tokyo and Hawaii. (In the closing credits we learn that Lindsay has moved to Moscow to be with Snowden.)
Melissa Leo, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Wilkinson, and Zachary Quinto
The film toggles back and forth between Poitras’ interview with Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room, and scenes from Snowden’s past while he was climbing the intelligence ladder. Melissa Leo plays Laura Poitras, who directed and produced Citizenfour, the Oscar-winning documentary about Snowden and Zachary Quinto plays Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who interviewed Snowden with Poitras’ camera running. There’s a claustrophobic feel to those hotel scenes, the tension building as the authorities threaten to close in. Once the Guardian story appears (according to the film, the outcome was never assured with Greenwald pushing his London editor, Janine Gibson played by Joely Richardson, to get it done) the hotel is overrun with journalists. Snowden manages to escape, hiding out for days in rundown sections of the city, eventually making it to Moscow.
Stone hasn’t had a high profile film in years. Snowden should put him back on the map.
Snowden opens nationwide September 16, 2016.
Photos Courtesy of Open Road Pictures
Father’s Day is coming up, and besides the obligatory gifts of ties, coffee mugs, and socks consider watching one of the following movies with dear old dad.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) The film adaption of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning work starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as his daughter Scout in what is possibly the most adorable father-daughter pairing ever on screen. It also features Robert Duvall in a legendary turn as Boo Radley. To Kill a Mockingbird deals with fatherhood, race, prejudice, the limits of the legal system, and more. It won three Academy Awards including Best Actor for Peck, was nominated for eight more including Best Picture and is nearly universally considered one of the best films of all time.
Paper Moon (1973) This American comedy-drama directed by Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) starred real life father-daughter pair Ryan and Tatum O’Neal as Moze and Addie. Moze is a shady grafter who takes on the nine year old Addie (who may or may not be his biological daughter) as his mascot/sidekick/protégé on a madcap road trip through plains country during the Great Depression. Filmed in black and white it was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay and Tatum O’Neal won for Best Supporting Actress making her the youngest performer to ever win an competitive Oscar.
Field of Dreams (1989) Phil Alden wrote and directed this fantasy drama starring Kevin Costner as novice farmer Ray who becomes convinced that he’s supposed to turn his corn fields into a baseball diamond. The movies ostensible focus is on letting Shoeless Joe Jackson (among others) play ball again but the not so hidden underlying theme is Ray repairing his relationship with his own now deceased father. Co-starring Amy Madigan, Burt Lancaster, James Earl Jones, and Ray Liotta, Field of Dreams was nominated for three Academy Awards and “If You Build It, He Will Come,” is now part of the cultural lexicon.
Finding Nemo (2003) The Pixar Blockbuster about how Marlin (Al Brooks) the clownfish sets off on a voyage through Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to find his lost son Nemo encountering Dory (Ellen Degeneres) a regal blue-tang who suffers from short term memory loss, sharks trying to kick the fish eating habit, and surfer dude turtles was an instant classic that won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and was nominated in three other categories including Best Original Screenplay. It also inspired a long-gestating sequel Finding Dory that opened on June 17, 2016.
The Descendants (2011) Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska) directed this film adaption of the novel by the same name. George Clooney stars as land baron Matt King whose wife Elizabeth is in a coma and then learns from his elder daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley in her breakout role) that Elizabeth had an affair. Matt’s emotional journey is momentous and important decisions are made but the movie’s ultimate focus is on Matt’s struggle to form a stronger bond with his daughters. The Descendants won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as two Golden Globe Awards including Best Picture-Drama and Best Actor-Drama for Clooney.
Top photo: Bigstock