30 films in 30 days: #3 The Wind and the Lion (1975)

In Algiers, Charles Boyer threatened to smack a woman in the face, but Sean Connery, in The Wind and the Lion, actually goes through with it, striking the kidnapped Candice Bergen across the mouth early in the picture.

Explanations for the act include: the film being set in 1904, 34 years before Algiers, that Connery is a Berber chieftan, that Connery is well, Sean Connery, or that this is one of the infamous John Milius’ portrayals of Manly Men Doing Manly Things in a Manly Way. Continue reading


BP Quick Hitter: In the Loop (2009)

Malcolm Tucker: Right. Was it you?
Simon Foster: No, it wasn’t. No. What?
Malcolm Tucker: You do know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
Simon Foster: No. And… And… whatever it was, I almost certainly didn’t do it.
Malcolm Tucker: Was it you, the baby from Eraserhead?
Toby Wright: No, no.
Malcolm Tucker: Then it must have been you, the woman from The Crying Game.
Judy: It wasn’t me

(from Imbd)

I don’t know if it’s because I work in Washington, or because I like well-done satire, or because I believe cursing is, indeed, an art form (especially in D.C. traffic), but I can’t remember the last time I laughed as often watching a movie.

Like the near-constant streams of profanity emitted from the mouth of British government flack Malcolm Tucker, I couldn’t stop smiling though this entire film, as the dialogue grew faster and faster and yes, meaner and meaner.  Whether you like depends on your tolerance for high-velocity verbal assault and whether you think calling someone a “Nazi Julie Andrews” is funny.

In the Loop is merciless. It’s is the movie that Burn After Reading (2008) should have been.

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BP Rewind: Cinema’s Missing Children

The following is a book review I wrote for the webzine Pop Matters in 2003:

During the spring of this year, while American, British and Iraqi citizens were losing their lives in scores in Iraq and the Israelis and Palestinians continued to trade casualties in their perpetual conflict, the media in the United States found time to become fixated on something else: Two missing people.

Prior to their disappearances, Laci Peterson and Elizabeth Smart were – except to their families and friends – not people of national note. One was a young wife from Modesto, California. The other a Utah teenager. Once they vanished, however, they became sensations, drawing attention in a matter wholly disproportionate to the circumstances. After all, thousands of people go missing in the U.S. each year. Few of them engender Fox News Channel hour-by-hour updates.

But the coverage was in line with a recent ramped-up interest taken in cases involving lost children. Laci Peterson was late-term pregnant when she disappeared, and the concern for her was intertwined with concern for her unborn baby. The 15-year-old Smart, a child herself, was abducted by a stranger from her Salt Lake City home last summer.

The two stories came after a year – 2002 – in which America grew almost obsessed with stories of missing children; there seemed to be a new horrifying story every week. Along with Smart, there were, to name two, five-year-old Samantha Runnion and seven-year-old Danielle van Dam, two young California girls who were kidnapped and murdered. The bodies of Laci Peterson and her undelivered child were ultimately discovered in April. Her husband is charged with the killings. Smart’s drama ended in happier fashion. She was discovered alive in Salt Lake City, Utah, in March.

The ascent of the vanished child to the level of national preoccupation is nothing new to film scholar Emma Wilson, who has been tracking the phenomenon in both Europe and the United States for years. Wilson, a professor at Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University, contends that images of missing children have become among the most predominant and haunting in western art, particularly in film. Using a handful of contemporary art films as illustration, Wilson argues that while cinema has become increasingly focused on the missing child as a means to explore ruptures in both family and societal dynamics, filmmakers have grappled — and sometimes struggled — with identifying tools within the medium to adequately represent the emotional toll that losing a child carries.

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The Three Faces of Al

Alexander Haig, the former secretary of state, four-star general and presidential adviser, died Saturday. You can read the obit I wrote on Haig here.

Haig was part of the inner circle around two presidents, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, making him a player in  some of the more key events of our age. As you might expect, he’s been portrayed in film and movies by several actors. Here are just there, who are notable for not looking like Haig whatsoever: Matt Frewer, Richard Dreyfuss and Powers Boothe.

More interestingly, Dreyfuss and Boothe (right) have both played vice presidents as well. Dreyfuss played Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone’s W. and Booth was that smarmy veep on 24. (Did he become president too for a short time? They all do at some point.)

But Frewer outdid them both. He was Max Headroom. (You don’t remember Max Headroom?)

BP Quick Hitter: All the President’s Men (1976)


Just get the byline right. The rest is automatic.

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Writers: William Goldman (and Bernstein and Woodward, naturally)

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jason Robards

Didn’t so much create the concept of investigative journalism but canonize it. Still, nice to revisit a time when reporters were considered to be heroes, as opposed to craven opportunists or self-promoting prospective franchises. What struck me while watching this film again, however, is how much has changed. Woodward and Bernstein operated the old-fashioned way, with phone calls and shoe leather, largely because they were more sophisticated–and more committed–in their methods than those they were pursuing. This was a time when you could call government officials and politicos on the phone and they’d talk to you, not hide behind spokesmen and talking points and counter-information. Watergate, in part, gave rise to the modern public relations state, where every action is focus-grouped, field tested and downscaled for easy consumption.

With the current popularity of Frost/Nixon, is it finally a time for NixonMania? The historical reassessment he always craved?

Man of Action, Man in Black

Fascinating piece in Sunday’s Washington Post by the talented film critic Stephen Hunter, in which he views John McCain and Barack Obama through the lens of cinema archetypes.

McCain, Hunter writes, comes from a line of movie tough-guys, the John Waynes, the Robert Mitchums. He’s the wisecracking pilot straight from those black-and-white films on TCM, to whom Hunter gives props for bagging a beautiful, rich second wife. (“Nobody will write this anywhere except me here, but we guys, you know what: We admire another guy for making a great catch.” Hunter writes)


Is John McCain a two-fisted man of action like the legendary Duke?

McCain, Hunter also says, would be the only president in recent times who has actually killed someone, a point not often mentioned when his biography is detailed. The question, Hunter writes, is whether McCain, like John Wayne, always considers settling a matter with violence first. (Perhaps McCain should put “The Quiet Man” at the top of his Netflix queue.)

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Five Movies for Hillary

As it appears to be heading for the twilight, here are five films that may best describe the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign:

1. Das Boot (1981)

Plot: A German U-boat goes on a long and ultimately doomed quest to return home safely.

Key line: They won’t catch us this time! Not this time! They haven’t spotted us! No, they’re all snoring in their bunks! Or, you know what? They’re drinking at the bar, celebrating our sinking! Not yet, my friends. Not yet!

2. The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

The plot: A famous but tyrannical columnist competes with a young, ambitious press agent who is forced to adopt sleazy tricks to make it big.

Key line: I’d hate to take a bite outta you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.

3. Primal Fear (1996)

The plot: An ambitious Chicago lawyer is thwarted by a mysterious individual who assumes multiple personalities.

Key Line: I speak. You do not speak. Your job is to just sit there and look innocent.

By the way, the next time I send an audience research report around, you\'d all better read it, or I\'ll sack the f--king lot of you.

4. Network (1976)

The plot: A ruthless and ratings-obssessed TV network executive cynically exploits a deranged ex-TV anchor’s ravings and revelations about the media to advance her career.

Key line: I seem to be inept at everything except my work. I’m goddamn good at my work and so I confine myself to that. All I want out of life is a 30 share and a 20 rating.

5. Red River (1948)

The plot: A young cowhand challenges the trail boss’s leadership and splits from the herd. The trail boss relentless pursues him, swearing revenge.

Key line: Cherry was right. You’re soft, you should have let ’em kill me, ’cause I’m gonna kill you. I’ll catch up with ya. I don’t know when, but I’ll catch up. Every time you turn around, expect to see me, ’cause one time you’ll turn around and I’ll be there.

Honorable Mention: Election (1999)

The plot: An ambitious student sees her campaign for student council president upset by a popular athlete.

Key line: He was no competition for me; it was like apples and oranges. I had to work a little harder, that’s all, see I believe in the voters; they understand that elections aren’t just popularity contests, they know this country was built by people just like me who work very hard and don’t have everything handed to them on a silver spoon.

The people at Slate figured this out way back and produced this great mashup: