Happy birthday, Dick

So, yesterday was Elvis Presley’s birthday and today is the birthday of his old partner in the war against drugs, President Richard Milhous Nixon.

Because of Watergate and Vietnam, and possibly also because in so many respects he still can seem like a central casting villain, Nixon gets depicted in movies a lot more than presidents you’d think we’d like to see on screen more often.  Want to see a movie about George Washington? Well, there was David Gordon Green’s “George Washington,” but our nation’s first president wasn’t exactly a character. Nixon, on the other hand, has been depicted in starring roles in numerous theatrical and TV movies by, among other, Frank Langella, Anthony Hopkins, Philip Baker Hall, and even Beau Bridges. Nixon was even portrayed by comedian Chuck McCann as Oliver Hardy to Vice President Spiro Agnew’s Stan Laurel in a 1972 ultra-ultra-obscure comedy called “Another Nice Mess.” (You may know writer-director Bob Einstein as TV’s Marty Funkhouser and/or Super Dave Osborne. ) If I could find a clip, I’d definitely feature it here but the film has apparently been secreted somewhere, perhaps in Dick Cheney’s man-sized safe.

In any case, my favorite portrayal of Nixon is by the great Dan Hedaya in the title role of Andrew Fleming’s underrated little 1999 comedy, “Dick.” One thing the film gets right is the innate humor of Nixon’s situation — a man with almost no sense of humor whatsoever (always hilarious) who was also the least hip man in America, president at a time when hipness was at a kind of premium.

Nice supporting cast in this one, huh?

  

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Xmas ghosts, a dead popster, goat starers, aliens, a box, and some demons

Yes, it’s a real mishmash this weekend at the box office and I’ve got less time than usual — but let’s just see how it goes.

A Christmas Carol

Anyhow, the clear winner over the next few days will almost certainly be yet another version of Charles Dicken’s constantly remade and revisited holiday perennial, this time from Disney, “A Christmas Carol.” Jim Carrey stars as Scrooge, who won’t hurt at the box office and Robert Zemeckis, in his “Polar Express” mode, is at the helm. Personally, while I found the earlier motion-capture movie a fun visceral thrill ride in Imax 3-D, despite a story that was the very definition of treacle, I personally find this style of animation extremely ugly; it’s as if it’s always stuck in the armpit of the Uncanny Valley. Moreover critics, including our own David Medsker, complain that Zemeckis gets carried away with the effects and makes things a bit too visceral and scary for the film’s own good. Still, if it worked even for Mr. Magoo, there’s no reason to think it won’t work well enough for some fiscal redemption. THR‘s Carl DiOrio, whose nearly as jolly as an way-too-early St. Nick, is guessing it’ll grab about $40 million in premature yuletide cheer. A split decision by critics is, I suppose, neither here nor there.

After that, we have four films that will be duking it out with two extant strong releases, Michael Jackson’s ghostly final bow, “This Is It,” which may benefit from better than expected word of mouth and, of course, the horrifyingly profitable “Paranormal Activity.” Intriguingly, all these new major releases have a slightly spooky and/or “paranormal” spin and trying to guess which will do best is probably about as wise as playing with a Ouija board at a demon-infested San Diego townhome.

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The definition of a slow Monday morning in Hollywood

We’ve only got news on one remake, one sequel, and few odd cultural jeremiads on the same theme.

* I’ve just barely finished my decades-long personal boycott of the original, and now there they’re talking about a remake of John Milius’s “Red Dawn”. The 1984 film may seem a bit quaint now that it’s old enough to be ready to finish grad school but at the time it seemed to me an irresponsible act of cultural provocation with potentially catastrophic impact if people took it too seriously. Fortunately, few did and most took its absurd plot about a Soviet land invasion as the balderdash that it was. Back then, Republicans and Democrats alike knew that World War III would last about 90 minutes and result in the destruction of most everyone and everything. (This was before the tinfoil hate hat era of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.)

As political propaganda, the prior year’s “War Games” proved far more effective and possibly even affected movie-bred President Reagan’s thinking on the topic as well. In any case, a film about a Chinese-Russian co-invasion (don’t they still hate each other?) seems just bizarre now and, again, pretty much impossible — assuming it doesn’t end with something very close to complete annihilation.

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Best Actor: Sean Penn

Wow. In one sense this is a shocker. Mickey Rourke seemed like a lock. If he didn’t get it, many thought Frank Langella also deserved to win.

Then again, given the subject matter of “Milk,” it’s not surprising that Sean Penn got the nod here. He acknowledged as much in his acceptance speech.

  

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