We need a hero every now and then.  Chesley (“Sully”) Sullenberger, the pilot who somehow guided his damaged plane to a landing on the Hudson River on a cold day in January, 2009, allowing every one of the 155 passengers and crew on the plane to survive, is definitely one of those.

mv5bmjm5nje2mti1nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzuymjc3ote-_v1_ux477_cr00477268_al_Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks as the heroic pilot, tells the story of that fateful day . . . and a little bit more besides.  Interestingly, the focus of the movie isn’t on the “forced landing,” as Captain Sullenberger calls it, but on the aftermath, as Sully the man struggles to deal with sudden fame and the potential ramifications of a National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the incident.  For while the rest of America was celebrating Sully as a hero, the bureaucratic investigators were looking at whether he could have, and should have, gotten the plane back to LaGuardia or to another nearby airport.  If the investigation determined that Captain Sullenberger was at fault — a scenario the movie presents as a real possibility — he could lose his job when his family could ill afford it and also see that sudden celebrity turn to ashes in his mouth.

Sully is a well-made human interest story that packs a touching emotional punch.  The highlight of the film, of course, is the abrupt flight of US Airways Flight 1549, the bird strike that crippled the plane, and the quick and calm decisions of Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot, and the flight attendants.  The depiction of the incident is absolutely convincing and astonishingly realistic, and a testament to just how far Hollywood special effects have come.   The viewer is on board, in the cockpit, and ultimately with the crew and passengers as the doomed plane begins to sink into the frigid river, water gushes in, and the survivors huddle on the plane’s wings and safety rafts hoping to be saved.  It’s a harrowing experience, even when we know that it will all turn out all right.

sully-trailer-810x540As the events unfold, you can’t help but identify with the desperate passengers who know that something is wrong and then hear the Captain say:  “This is the Captain.  Brace for impact.”  (Those are words I hope to never hear on my travels, no matter how calmly they might be spoken.)  But the passengers were in the hands of angels that day, because somehow the captain and crew kept them alive.  Sully later says, “we were just doing our jobs,” but we know that there is more to it than that, and he’s just been appealingly modest about having done something tremendous.  And equally uplifting are the immediate responses of the ferry boat captains, diving units, firefighters, and police officers who keep the passengers and crew of the sinking plane from drowning or dying from hypothermia.  There were many, many heroes on the Hudson that day.

Hanks is terrific as Sully, the man.  We feel his anguish as he is tormented by nightmares of what could have been, and we feel his surge of joy and pride when he is finally told that every one of the people on the plane under his charge survived.  He knows in his gut that he made the right decision, but it’s not clear that the administrative state will agree with him.  When the formal NTSB hearing finally occurs, and Sully’s years of experience allow him to show that the computer simulations and the human simulations are dead wrong, we know that he has saved the day once again — by keeping a true hero from being unjustly maligned and allowing his reputation to remain, as it were, unsullied.

I encourage everyone to go see this film.  And stay in your seats while the credits roll if you want to get an extra feel-good treat.

Clint Speaks — And Not To A Chair

Clint Eastwood has given an interview and discussed his legendary appearance at the Republican Convention, where he spoke to an empty chair representing President Obama.  Appearing in the Carmel Pine Cone — the local newspaper in the town where Eastwood once served as mayor — it’s an interesting read.

Among the highlights:  he had three broad points to make during the appearance; his remarks weren’t vetted beforehand because he hadn’t decided what to say; and the decision to use the empty chair as part of the presentation was a last-minute inspiration that occurred when he saw the chair backstage and a stagehand asked him if he wanted to sit down.  His remarks were intended to be impromptu and “a contrast with all the scripted speeches, because I’m Joe Citizen” and “have the same feelings as the average guy out there.”  Eastwood says he knew his presentation was “very unorthodox,” but he didn’t realize he had provoked a firestorm of comment — pro and con — until a day later.

The Pine Cone interview leaves no doubt — if there was any — about his political views.  He’s quoted as saying that “President Obama is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,”  and that “Romney and Ryan would do a much better job running the country, and that’s what everybody needs to know.”

Eastwood said his presentation “was aiming for people in the middle.”  It’s not entirely clear whether he hit that target, but one thing is certain — people still are talking about it and watching it.  If I read the YouTube data correctly, the various videos of Eastwood’s performance have been watched more than 2 million times.

Speech Saturation

After watching three days of Republican Convention, and now three days of the Democratic Convention, Kish and I are reaching the point of speech saturation.  I think I can make it through President Obama’s speech without suffering peroration poisoning — but it’s going to be close.

The sad fact is, there just aren’t many good speakers or speechwriters in either party.  Most of the speeches are hopelessly generic.  Everyone seems to talk about their families coming from nothing and their parents sacrificing.  Everyone relates some interaction with a generic American citizen — “in east Bejeebus, I met an ex-autoworker named Mel . . . .” — to illustrate some tired point.  Everyone tries to get the audience repeat some limp catch phrase, time and time again, until the viewer is ready to hurl a Coke can through the TV screen.  Except for Clint Eastwood, there’s not much originality out there.

The deliveries usually aren’t much better.  For every high-energy speaker like former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, there are dozens of deadpan, monotone snore-inducers.  Most have no sense of timing and can’t deliver a punch line; they don’t know how to use facial expressions or gestures to accentuate the words.  They stand stiffly, turning their heads from side to side like a robot, reading off the teleprompters.  Even worse, however, are those people who think they are just about the most clever, entertaining personalities imaginable; their mugging and winking is intolerable.

Tonight, we’re seeing more of the same.  Sigh.  President Obama’s speech can’t get here soon enough.

It’s National Empty Chair Day! Or Is It National Invisible Obama Day?

The world moves so fast these days.  Thursday night, Clint Eastwood gives a weird, unforgettable performance at the Republican National Convention during which he talks to an empty chair that is supposed to be President Obama.

That day and the following day he gets alternatively ripped and praised, depicted as senile or as crazy like a fox.  And then, social media takes the story deeper.  People from across the political spectrum seize on Eastwood’s empty chair theme.  Democrats mock him with “Invisible Obama” pictures and tweets on Twitter.  Republicans respond with “empty chair” tweets and blog posts.  And then someone declares today to be National Empty Chair Day, and from coast to coast Romney supporters are taking photos of empty chairs in various poses — and the press starts writing about it.

Clint Eastwood therefore has accomplished something beyond the powers of mortal men.  He’s brought Republicans and Democrats, conservative “wingnuts” and liberal “moonbats” together, by making the empty chair a potent political symbol for both parties.  Put chairs out on your front lawn (as some of our neighbors have) and let people guess whether you are marking National Empty Chair Day, or Invisible Obama Day . . . or maybe you just plan to sit in your yard later, with the bare feet in the grass, on the last day of a three-day weekend.  Whatever you mean, why not be part of a goofy national craze?

In the meantime, we can all marvel at the speed of the modern world.  It used to take a week or a month for fads like hula hoops or pet rocks to sweep the nation.  Now, it just takes a camera, a twitter account, and a potent symbol, and within minutes people are off to the races from sea to shining sea.

Clint’s Stint

No one who watched Clint Eastwood’s short appearance at last night’s Republican National Convention, where he talked to an empty chair supposedly occupied by President Obama, will ever forget it.

It was a high-wire act, an incredibly bizarre performance that obviously was a radical departure in tone and style from every other speech at the convention, an apparently improvised stunt by a haggard looking Eastwood in a kind of Christopher Walken hairdo — but it was memorable, and I would bet that today more people have talked about Eastwood’s appearance than anything else.  Was it carefully scripted and intentional, or just ad libbing gone awry by an aging, forgetful American icon?  Was it an unforgivably vulgar effort that crudely diminished the office of the Presidency, or just an edgy lampooning of a very-full-of-himself President?  Is Eastwood losing it and on the edge of senility, or was he in character and portraying an average American reacting to what he considers to be a record of arrogance and failure?

Who knows?  I watched it again today — it’s only about 11 minutes long, although watching it last night it seemed longer — and I’m convinced that it was a highly intentional, controlled performance by Eastwood.  But, whatever its intent, the presentation was, as Kish observed, incredibly creative . . . and it got people talking about some of Eastwood’s plain-spoken criticisms and judgments.  The internet today was full of discussion of it, and of the points Eastwood was trying to make.  Don’t you think that was exactly what Eastwood was hoping for?  What are people going to remember from the 2012 Republican convention:  John Thune’s address, Rick Santorum’s remarks, or Clint Eastwood’s pungent, rambling star turn with an empty bar stool?

Halftime In America? (II)

As I suspected, the Clint Eastwood “Halftime in America” commercial for Chrysler that aired during last night’s Super Bowl turned out to be quite controversial.

This AP article discusses some of the reaction to the ad from various points on the political spectrum and quotes Eastwood as saying the ad was not intended to be political, but rather just about job growth and the spirit of America.

Interestingly, some people apparently construed the ad to be a pro-President Obama endorsement of the federal government bailout of Chrysler and GM.  I guess I’m just dense, but I didn’t get that message if it was intended.  In fact, if I were the President I don’t think I would want that ad, with its emphasis on tough times and America needing to come from behind, to be associated with me.  If President Obama wants to highlight what he considers to be positive accomplishments during his term, you’d think he would be able to come up with a better subject than poor, broke, decimated Detroit.

Halftime In America?

I expect that the most talked-about commercial from the Super Bowl is the Chrysler ad featuring Clint Eastwood.

In the commercial, the gravelly voiced Eastwood says that just as it is halftime in the Super Bowl, it’s halftime in America, too.  Times are tough, he says.  We’re down and out of work, we don’t understand each other, and we’re stumbling in a fog of discord and recrimination.  But you can’t knock out America with just one punch.  We need to come together to figure out how to come from behind because the second half is ready to begin.  Detroit is showing us it can be done, Clint says.

Huh?  America as a whole is supposed to follow Detroit’s lead?  For the record, Detroit is on its knees.  The city is losing money and deeply in debt, and the city government and the state of Michigan are trying to figure out whether the city can avoid being governed by an emergency manager who would have the ability to revise union contracts, restructure government, and sell off city assets like parks.  I’m hoping Detroit can pull through, but let’s not kid ourselves — Detroit is no model and no inspiration.

I recognize that the Chrysler commercial provided an excuse to hear the welling music and to see the by-now-standard shots of courageous firefighters, mothers and children, and families standing strong.  But it cheapens our country and its circumstances to compare America to a football game, and it’s jarring to receive a commercial message about coming together and sacrifice in close proximity to an over-the-top Super Bowl halftime show featuring Madonna.

Can’t commercials just stick to selling products, rather than trying to send us irksome, ankle-deep inspirational messages about our country?