Film Review: MIDNIGHT RETURN: THE STORY OF BILLY HAYES AND TURKEY (USA 2015) ***

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Midnight Return: The Story of Billy Hayes and Turkey Poster
Trailer

The documentary, “Midnight Return” explores the enduring and emotional power of film as seen through the lens of the blockbuster success, “Midnight Express”.

 

An incredibly watchable movie because of is subject and also because it is derived from one of the most controversial films of all time, Alan Parker’s MIDNIGHT EXPRESS that was written by Oliver Stone.

MIDNIGHT EXPRESS is the slang for prison escape.  MIDNIGHT EXPRESS is the American extremely box-office successful prison drama that tells the real life prison escape of 23-year old American Billy Hayes from a Turkish prison in the 70’s.  Billy Hayes was jailed for smuggling a large amount of hashish across the Turkish border.  MIDNIGHT RETURN, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, explores the making of the cult classic Academy Award winning film MIDNIGHT EXPRESS as well as the international controversy it started with Turkey and the true story around Billy Hayes’ infamous imprisonment for drug smuggling.

Based on True events!  This does not mean that the film is 100% or even 50% true, as in the case of the film MIDNIGHT EXPRESS.  Hayes’ escape from prison was glorified while Turkey put down as one of the worst places in the world to live in. 

MIDNIGHT RETURN tackles three issues.  First is the life of the film’s real life hero Hayes, as he benefits from the riches from telling his story.  Second is the filmmakers’ points of view.  Writer Oliver Stone who won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay saw his career advanced by the film.  Director Alan Parker reveals that he and Stone never got along despite the film’s success.  The third issue is the Turks who have been shamed from the film, which has grown even more popular after Turkey protests.

It is advisable that one sees MIDNIGHT EXPRESS before (if not, at least after) watching the doc, so that the audience can get a good perspective of the issues in MIDNIGHT RETURN.

The doc features the real Billy Hayes in almost very scene.  Hayes loves the camera and is more than keen to tell is story, in the making of both the doc and in the original MIDNIGHT EXPRESS movie.  He puts a real person into the story and makes the film both believable and personal.  He is also quite a good-looker, very much like the actor Brad Davis (who died of AIDs in 1991) who portrayed him in the film.

To make her film more entertaining, director Sussman injects some insight and humour, especial in the making of the film.  It is revealed for one that the prosecutor apparently babbling at Hayes in the courtroom in what is assumed to be Turkish is not, but a combination of Turkish and other languages.  Parker said he wanted the effect that Hayes would be scared at not knowing what is happening to him in court, so whatever was said was immaterial.  Parker also reveals that no one had known that it was Hayes’ 4th attempt at smuggling drugs.  If it had been known, the film wold probably never had been made.

Sussman’s trails Hayes’ revisit to Turkey as the film’s climax.  In this, she reveals the inner personality of Hayes and what kind of man he is.   In the process, Sussman also demonstrates how life could be dramatically altered from a single event.  The film ends on a light note with Hayes describing how he got his medical marijuana license.

The insightful and entertaining MIDNIGHT RETURN: THE STORY OF BILLY HAYES AND TURKEY will be opening theatrically in Toronto on January 30th. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJEATMUHATY

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1987 Movie Review: WALLSTREET, 1987

 

WALLSTREET MOVIE POSTER
WALLSTREET, 1987
Movie Reviews

Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring: Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Martin Sheen
Review by Mike Peters

SYNOPSIS:

In 1985, an ambitious young broker, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is lured into the illegal, lucrative world of corporate espionage when he is seduced by the power, status and financial wizardry of Wall Street legend Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).

Review:

Janwillem Van De Weterling once said that: “greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough”. Greed is good according to Gordon Gekko. It is the template of society. Without greed, there would be no progression, no desire, no nothing.

Michael Douglas’s portrayal of Gordon Gekko is masterly. The slick and calculating financier who uses and abuses the people around him is perhaps one of the most vile and despicable characters in film history. However, for as much as the audience hates him, they can never take their eyes off of him. He controls the gaze and manipulates and twists the emotions of the people he is trying to convince. As he notes to Bud Fox, there are no friends in the business world: “If you want a friend, buy a dog”.

Gekko’s name has clearly been inspired by the insect that feeds off insects less powerful. Scaly and slithery, the gecko is a creature that is quite innocent from a physical perspective but is driven by a desire to live and survive in the jungles of the land from all adversaries. Gordon Gekko is exactly the same. He is not content with merely surviving in the jungles of the business world but rather is determined to destroy all of his competition with a vengeance. He is a greedy, self absorbed mongrel but people attach themselves to him as if they were moths to a flame. Bud Fox fits this analogy to a tee and is definitely burned by it.

The 1980s was a decade in search of an identity. The 1960s and 1970s had been tumultuous years for America and great change was thus needed in the 80s in order to instill some sort of defined leadership to appease society. When Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1980, he demanded alterations in hopes of witnessing the revival of The United States of America. He pushed forward the prospect of individual freedom and the idea that the individual could accomplish anything on the strength of himself rather then through a reliance on government institutions. In connection with this, Reagan also wanted to reinvigorate the United States economy. As a result, the 1980s became more about the self rather then the country for many individuals. Driven by the idea that dreams could be accomplished through capitalistic practices, America became a self-absorbed culture of excess.

Bud Fox is a man driven by these very needs. A broker who frantically must sell himself to clients all day long finally begins to become disillusioned with his current status. At one point, he notes that he wonders when he will be on the other end of the line. Instead of selling, he wants to be buying. His desire is to be like Gordon Gekko. He is passionate and determined and after 40 days of constant harassment, Gekko finally agrees to see Fox. But he is in over his head from the get go. When he enters Gekko’s luxurious office (which is ten times the size of his apartment on the upper west side of New York), he stares in amazed wonderment. Gekko is such an imposing figure that he intimidates the young Fox. Being slightly coy with him, he demands that Bud tell him something worthwhile. He is playing and toying with him the entire time and is setting him up for the kill. That is until Fox surprises him with a tip. Gekko no longer feels the need to kill him off (figuratively) and cast him back out in the harsh world of bureaucratic business. Gekko understands that he can now use him and mold him into someone who can help him become even richer.

Fox is so enamored by the chance to alter his present situation of financial strain that he quickly is enveloped into the lecherous world of Gekko. Immediately, Fox begins to change both externally and internally. His suits become darker, his hair becomes slicker rather then frazzled, his ideals begin to change and arrogance begins to manifest itself from within (which has never been transparent before). In one instance, his desire to become someone has corrupted his ideals and has transformed him into the man Gekko wants him to be.

Oliver Stone provides an interesting sub-story at this point of the film. Fox’s father, Carl (Martin Sheen), is an honorable working class man who fixes airplanes. He is a morally centered man. He dreams that his son will make something of his life and desires the best for him. He truly cares for his son whereas Gekko merely uses him. In a sense, Carl Fox and Gordon Gekko are vying for the soul of Bud. He must choose between the ideals emphasized by the character traits of these two men. Bud’s desire has always been to become successful and rich and he is easily manipulated by the temptation of what Gekko has to offer him. Gekko not only blackens the soul of Bud but he also becomes a new father figure to him by lavishing gifts and women on him (which Carl never had the ability to do). Bud turns his back on his father because success has tainted him. Money has become his life; his new family. Wall Street is not a perfect film in any way. In fact, it is not one of Stone’s masterpieces. But it does capture a time period with magnificent clarity as a result of Oliver Stone’s ability to capture greed at its finest. With this being said, there are some elements that take away from the overall impact of the film. For instance, Darryl Hannah’s performance is forgettable, Sean Young’s turn as Gekko’s wife is small and unmentionable (she is barely in the film although I assume that this is the point-the business world and personal world do not mix and Gekko has clearly chosen the professional world as his family), the music is typical cheesy 80’s fare and the self reflecting dialogue by Fox is sometimes forced and illogical.

Though the story follows a familiar trajectory with rise, fall and redemption elements, there is still something truly intoxicating about the film. As we journey with Fox, we realize what he is becoming. He is no longer in control of his destiny. He has sold his soul to the devil in order to feel superficially happy. It is a morality tale that can speak to the likes of everyone. How much is too much? Is financial success the true meaning of happiness? Gekko is happy but he never truly lives in this film. He lives for the money but for nothing else. Is this the symbol of what life should be? Only you, the individual, can decide for yourself.

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TIFF 2016 Movie Review: SNOWDEN (USA/Germany 2015) ***1/2

snowden_poster.jpg
SNOWDEN (USA/Germany 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Oliver Stone

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo

Review by Gilbert Seah

Renegade filmmaker Oliver Stone knows how to get the blood of an audience flowing. He demonstrated this ability in the Oscar Winning PLATOON, political JFK and the controversial NATURAL BORN KILLERS. One can expect the same from his new film about whistleblower, Edward SNOWDEN (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

The ads for the film goes… Patriot, dissident, or traitor? But director Stone portrays him as none of the three. At the film’s start, there is a scene that shows Snowden saying that he believes that America is the best country in the world. As the film goes along, he ends up wrestling with his conscience on what is right thing to do. In Stone’s film, the right thing to do is to expose NSA (National Security of America) for violating the rights of not only the Americans but of the citizens of every other country in the world by lying to their Governments. Yes, the NSA can track every single person in the world – the only lame excuse given is the need for prevention of terrorism. To those who actually believe Snowden to be a traitor, Stone’s film will either infuriate you or convert you. Stone lays out the facts, but in a prejudiced way, just as in PLATOON.

But Stone makes Snowden’s story more human by concentrating on his human side – and his love with his wife (Shailene Woodley). The most emotionally charged scenes are the fights he has with his wife. Stone also invokes the audience’s sympathy by showing Snowden’s illness – his proneness to epilepsy.

But the film’s most effective scene is the climax. If Stone knows how to manipulate the audience, this scene shows it. After Snowden’s live speech on the Internet, the live audience gives him a standing ovation. At the same time the image of actor Gordon-Levitt metamorphosizes into the face of the actual Edward Snowden.

The story of SNOWDEN is old news by now and unless one has not been reading he news, one knows that Snowden is presently living in Russia, not coming back to the U.S. as he believes, which is true, that he would not be given a free trail. This is how the film ends, so as to be accurate.

This is not the first film made about Snowden. Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras made CITIZEN FOUR as she was called by Snowden himself when he was blowing the whistle. Poitras is portrayed by Melissa Leo in this film. CITIZENFOUR lays the facts out straight. The titles at the start of SNOWDEN declares that the film is a dramatization of true events. And that the film is, entertaining as it might be.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlSAiI3xMh4

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Happy Birthday: Oliver Stone

oliverstone.jpgOliver Stone

Born: September 15, 1946 in New York City, New York, USA

I consider my films first and foremost to be dramas about individuals in personal struggles and I consider myself to be a dramatist before I am a political filmmaker. I’m interested in alternative points of view. I think ultimately the problems of the planet are universal and that nationalism is a very destructive force. I also like anarchy in films. My heroes were Luis Buñuel and Jean-Luc Godard. Breathless (1960) was one of the first pictures I really remember being marked by, because of the speed and energy. They say I’m unsubtle. But we need above all, a theatre that wakes us up: nerves and heart.

Platoon
1986
dir. Stone
Starring
Charlie Sheen
Willem DaFoe
WallstreetWallstreet
1987
dir. Stone
starring
Charlie Sheen
Michael Douglas
The DoorsBorn on the 4th of July
1989
dir. Stone
starring
Tom Cruise
Willem DaFoe
The DoorsThe Doors
1991
dir. Stone
starring
Val Kilmer
Meg Ryan
MOVIE POSTERWORLD TRADE CENTER
2006
dir. Oliver Stone
Stars:
Nicolas Cage
Michael Pena
Any Given Sunday
1999
dir. Stone
starring
Jamie Foxx
Al Pacino
ALEXANDERAlexander
2004
dir. Oliver Stone
Cast
Colin Farrell
Angelina Jolie
WW
dir. Stone
Starring
Josh Brolin
James Cromwell
WALL STREET 2WALL STREET 2
dir. Oliver Stone
Stars:
Shia LaBeouf
Michael Douglas
MOVIE POSTERSAVAGES
2012
dir. Oliver Stone
Stars:
Aaron Johnson
Blake Lively
MOVIEJFK
1996
dir. Oliver Stone
Starring
Kevin Costner
Tommy Lee Jones