Category Archives: Movies

Michele Bachmann’s “Iron” Deficiency


Last summer, Margaret Thatcher snubbed Sarah Palin, turning down a visit from the Tea Party darling because (in the words of someone in Thatcher’s camp) “That would be belittling for Margaret. Sarah Palin is nuts.” If that was really how Thatcher thought of Palin, imagine the low regard she’d have for Michele Bachmann.

That’s not stopping Bachmann from comparing herself to Thatcher in a new ad (embedded above), one that capitalizes on the buzz surrounding Meryl Streep’s Oscar-worthy performance as Thatcher in the new biopic The Iron Lady. Now, it’s often problematic when conservatives try to tap into pop culture and align themselves with current hit movies.* (Remember over the summer when Republicans in Congress psyched themselves up for the debt ceiling fight by watching a clip of thuggish behavior from The Town? Was that really the image these fiscally responsible Republicans wanted to convey, that of violent bank robbers from a movie made by prominent Democratic supporter Ben Affleck?) How tone-deaf is it for Bachmann to associate herself not with the real Thatcher but with the movie Thatcher, played by one of Hollywood’s prominent liberals, in a film that British conservative politicians have criticized as an unflattering smear of Thatcher? Continue reading

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Dog-Tired of Perception and Reality Games

In my field, it’s that time of year when best-movie lists are announced, and while sequels like Transformers 3 and Twilight 4.1 have dominated the box office this year, they’re not showing up on critics’ lists. Instead, critics are touting little-seen movies like The Artist or Beginners (both of which happen to feature scene-stealing Jack Russell terriers, as seen in the video above). That is, there’s a vast disparity between what’s popular and what’s actually good. This will cause a lot of handwringing, as usual, at the Academy, since they would love the popular and the good to be in sync so that more people watch the Oscar show. It will also cause grumbling among contrarians who would dismiss critics as out-of-touch elitists. But the idea that the most popular movie must also be the best is nonsense. If that were true, the People’s Choice Awards would be taken more seriously than the Oscars. In fact, why have awards at all? Why not just look at the box office chart and give the best movie prize to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II?

The notion that validity should be determined simply by popularity has infected our politics as well. There was a good example of this last week in the kerfuffle over Politifact rating the Democrats’ assertion that Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan would end Medicare as “the Lie of the Year.” It was a curious choice, since the finalists included other, more brazen lies, such as Sen. Jon Kyl’s assertion that abortion accounts for more than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s activity, a claim Kyl’s own office said “was not intended to be a factual statement”) or presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s evidence-free assertion that the human papillomavirus vaccine can cause mental retardation. In contrast, the Medicare line comes down to, at best, a difference of interpretation. It’s a lie only if you buy the Republican argument that changing Medicare from a single-payer, guaranteed, cost-saving, government-provided health insurance program for seniors and future seniors into a single-payer, guaranteed, cost-saving, government-provided health insurance voucher program for seniors and future seniors doesn’t actually end Medicare. Continue reading

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Loose Lips and Seal Team Six

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This whole notion that the White House might have leaked classified information to the makers of the upcoming movie about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, just to make President Obama look good in time for the next election
, strikes me as absurd. I mean, what kind of administration would leak national security secrets and endanger our intelligence assets in the field and our efforts on the War on Terror, just for some short term political gain?

Oh, right.

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Elizabeth Taylor and the American Century

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor at 15 in 1947. Photo by Bob Landry for LIFE

Elizabeth Taylor‘s death last week made me sad, but not for the reasons I expected. I wasn’t sad for her; by all accounts, she lived a long and fulfilling life, brought joy to millions through her movies, and did enormous good through her philanthropy and activism. Rather the sadness came from the sense, as it did when her friend Michael Jackson died, that a more blissful era had passed.

The day Taylor died, I began working on a project for LIFE, captioning photos for an upcoming book commemorating the photojournalism magazine’s 75th anniversary. Poring through LIFE‘s archives, I was reminded again what a repository of our shared cultural memory it has been. So many familiar images — the sailor and nurse kissing in Times Square on V-J Day, Jackie Robinson stealing home, the Beatles frolicking in a swimming pool during their first visit to America, a naked Vietnamese girl running down the road, a student at Kent State screaming over the body of a classmate killed by National Guardsmen, the Zapruder film — all of them encoded in our DNA and burned into our retinas as if they had happened to us, even if we’re too young to have been there.

There were Hollywood pictures, too, of Marilyn Monroe in thoughtful repose, James Dean walking down a rainy street, and many pictures of Taylor, including the one at the top of this post, taken in 1947, when she was just 15 but already impossibly beautiful, already a star, yet with a lifetime of tumult and triumph and endless scrutiny still ahead, about to crash over her like an ocean wave. Who could have imagined it? And yet, she looks prepared and unafraid. Continue reading

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Are the Oscars Liberal or Conservative?

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech"

Photo by Laurie Sparham/ The Weinstein Company

As I’ve written before, movies are not telegrams, neatly-packaged envelopes containing pithy messages. They’re more like Rorschach tests. So are the Oscars, and interpreting them as sending any kind of straightforward political message is a fool’s errand.

Los Angeles Times movie columnist Patrick Goldstein tried anyway, labeling the victory this year of The King’s Speech (pictured) over The Social Network as “the triumph of Hollywood conservative values.” He’s not the only pundit this Oscar season to suggest there’s something reactionary about the Academy’s favoritism for Tom Hooper’s comforting, traditional Anglophilic, pro-monarchist period piece over David Fincher’s prickly, timely, formally and structurally unconventional drama about the young, wired, and litigious. But Goldstein takes it a step further, using the King’s Speech sweep to assert that, while Hollywood may be full of liberals, they’re not ideological robots bent on cramming liberal propaganda into movies. Continue reading

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Farewell to a Focked-Up Year

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in "Little Fockers"Visiting Colorado this week, I was chatting with a couple, family friends, who remarked that I was the first person they’d met who admitted to having voted for Obama. Of course, where I live, in a New York City suburb full of elite media folk, no one will admit to not having voted for Obama. Except for the politics, we had a pleasant conversation, but it dismayed me that we continue to live in two countries with seemingly irreconcilable views, not only on which policies and politicians should govern, but on how to interpret real events we all experienced.

There’s Fox Nation, where Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are distinguished sages, where Juan Williams is rewarded for the thoughtless bigotry for which NPR punished him, where Obama is an alien bent on destroying capitalism, where Andrew Breitbart is the wronged party after he’s condemned for making Shirley Sherrod notorious and costing her her job, where a proposed YMCMA a few blocks from Ground Zero is a shrine to a terrorist victory, where the midterm elections are a sign of genuine populist rejection of the Democrats’ big-government agenda, and where white Christian male privilege is a sign of embattled martyrdom and not still at the centers of power in most places.

And then there’s the place where the rest of us live, a place that doesn’t even have a name because we’re too disorganized, disputatious, and dispirited to give it one (per Yeats: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity); call it Colbert Nation — a place where jesters Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are taken seriously because they’re the only media/political watchdogs still actually doing their jobs, where Obama is a  Wall Street sellout who’s been too deferential to implacable obstructionists, where the midterm elections are a sign that a well-funded right-wing astroturf campaign beats an ineffectual Democratic party any time, and where the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the only sign that we’re not on the verge of a wholesale repeal of every positive social advance of the last century.

During my brief visit to Fox Nation, I found only a couple of signs of hope that an America riven into two seemingly irreconcilable camps can find something to agree upon. Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Arts, Barack Obama, Feuds, Media, Movies, TV

‘Unstoppable’ and the Politics of Movie Credits

Denzel Washington and Chris Pine in "Unstoppable"

A query from a reader asks an interesting question: why does established, A-list star Denzel Washington have to share above-the-title credit with relative newbie Chris Pine on the new thriller Unstoppable? Does it have anything to do with race? Do the producers not think that Washington can carry a movie all by himself, without having to share top billing with a white star of lesser stature? If Washington were white, wouldn’t he get the marquee all to himself? Continue reading

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