GAME ON: POLITICS

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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At The Thread we’re already exhausted by the “upcoming election,” the debates, who will run, who will drop out, who will burn out–not to mention the reality show that is Donald Trump!

We need to take a deep breath as this is one seriously long, tedious haul and it’s only just begun!

So this week at The Thread we are seeking some perspective and humor as we take a cynical look at the Art of Spin and the Darwinian role of the doctors who play it.

our-brand-is-crisisOUR BRAND IS CRISIS (2015)

Out this week is David Gordon Green’s film based on the 2005 documentary of the same name. The documentary followed James Carville’s political consulting firm as it managed Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s campaign for president of Bolivia in 2002.

This time around the Carville part is played by Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock): a political operative in self-imposed retirement following a scandal that earned her the nickname “Calamity.” Jane is coaxed back into the game when an opportunity presents itself to beat her professional nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), now coaching the opposition (interestingly, Thornton played a Carville-like character in the movie Primary Colors).

Our Brand is Crisis reveals the cynical machinations and private battles of world-class political consultants for whom very little is sacred and winning is all that counts.

iTunes

carville OUR BRAND IS CRISIS (2005)

Rachel Boynton’s documentary follows James Carville and a team of U.S. political consultants as they travel to Bolivia to help Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (a.k.a. ‘Goni’) win the presidential election in Bolivia. The documentary examines the team’s marketing tactics as it strategizes for the struggling candidate using media strategies from the dog fight that is American politics.

While the documentary is ultimately about Americans trying to spread Democracy overseas, its finale is a shocker. Carville’s team rebrands Goni as an appealing figure in an attempt to win an election whose aftermath is nothing short of devastating. Spoiler alert: Goni now resides in the US living in exile despite Bolivian attempts to have him extradited.

Amazon

wagthedog3WAG THE DOG (1997) 

Barry Levinson (see last week’s Rock the Kasbah) directs this dark comedy, based on the novel American Hero by Larry Beinhart and with a script co-written by David Mamet. Robert De Niro stars as a Washington spin doctor who hires an archetypal Hollywood producer, Dustin Hoffman, to create a fictional war to distract the public from a scandal threatening the President of the United States’ reelection campaign.

It’s a bitingly funny look at the marketing machine behind political campaigns and the very real process of manipulating public opinion on a massive scale. The film takes liberties with the novel – in this case a good thing. It may be exaggerated for comic effect, but it gets you thinking about how politicians curry favor and the fantastic lies that have become an everyday part of our politics.

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Primary-Colors PRIMARY COLORS (1998) 

Director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May crafted this adaptation of the Joe Klein (originally “Anonymous”) 1996 bestseller—a funny and troubling fictional account of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. 

Jack Stanton (John Travolta) is a virtually unknown Southern governor on a quest for the White House alongside his strong and equally ambitious wife, Susan (Emma Thompson). The campaign is joined by an idealistic young advisor, played by Adrian Lester, and a tough veteran played by Kathy Bates. They roll off on a hilarious and ultimately depressing roller coaster ride to the pinnacle of power. They’ve earned it — but do they deserve it?

You have to wonder if Joe Klein is at his computer right now working on a novel based on Hillary’s campaign—between Benghazi and her email server and everything else, it would certainly make a juicy follow-up.

iTunes    Netflix    Amazon

war room THE WAR ROOM (1993) 

D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ documentary captures the brainstorming and bull sessions of Bill Clinton’s team of consultants in the 1992 presidential election. James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, both of whom went on to become media stars in their own right, inject a savvy and youthful spirit into the process of campaigning. Despite a series of potentially disastrous revelations about Clinton’s past (adultery, draft-dodging, that joint he smoked but didn’t inhale) the team hews to their broader strategic plan and reach The White House.

As an added bit of delightful improbability, in the midst of the campaign Carville starts an unlikely romance with Mary Matalin (chief strategist for George Bush). That relationship is still going strong today.

iTunes    Amazon    YouTube

kennedynixon PRIMARY (1960) 

Decades before “spin” was a term for both a cardio class and a transparent lie, Pennebaker mentor Robert Drew directed this cinema verité feature following Democratic presidential hopefuls John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey for five days of campaigning during the 1960 Wisconsin primary.

When Drew first approached Kennedy about making the film “Kennedy asked questions about how this would work. Was I out to get him? He didn’t use those words, but that was his question,” recalls Drew. “I told him we were partial to neither side and would edit fairly, and for this to work at all, he would have to trust me.” He gave me a long look and said, “If I don’t call you by tomorrow, we’re on.” “And he didn’t call, and we were on.” Humphrey likewise assented and Primary was underway.

Primary captures the campaign process as it had never been seen before. Kennedy’s charismatic presence vs. Humphrey’s populist appeal — mixed with the anxiety and contrasting campaign styles of the two men — makes this a must-see for all political buffs.

Amazon

BLOODY FUNNY: COMEDY & WAR

Watch it!

Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
Watch it!

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This week the Homeland graffiti prank advanced the dialogue on… kind of not much of anything, in our humble opinion.

It did expose the fact that apparently no one on the Homeland production team speaks Arabic.  Which is admittedly lame.

But it was a shame the trickster artists didn’t have something more pungent to say than “Homeland is racist”.  We had a laugh at Homeland’s expense, gave the graffitists thumbs up for the joke, then went back to watching the show.

There’s hundreds, maybe thousands of dramas set in war zones.  But only a couple of dozen comedies — and only a handful are that are really good.

Pollyannas that we are here at The Thread, we were hoping that the new Bill Murray movie Rock the Kasbah would fall into that category.

 

Bill Murray Kasbah
ROCK THE KASBAH (2015)

We’ve been hoping against hope that this gonzo comedy set in Afghanistan would be as good as we dreamt it could be.  But there were bad signs: on Monday there were absolutely no reviews anywhere; the release was pushed back from April; and it premiered at (drumroll) The Hampton’s Film Festival.

The trailers are funny, we say, with a hopeful uplift.  Yes, we know, we know.

And now, midweek, the first reviews are coming in.  And it seems like while there are enough moments to cut a couple of good trailers, the film is itself may be way less than brilliant. It’s a shame.  How could you not wish the best for an aging star who lets himself look as real as Murray does in the publicity photo above?  Richard Gere, take note.

The film is written by Mitch Glazer, who besides having a remarkable coif for a man his age (here he is on Wikipedia) worked with Murray before — on Scrooged and the bellyflop Passion Play (Glazer’s directorial debut – the reviews are so revoltingly horrible it made me want to see it). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitch_Glazer

Directed by Barry Levinson.  We didn’t think of him first for his comedy, until we realized he may be the most prolific director of war comedies ever.  Before this one he did Good Morning Vietnam and the biting war-as-PR-ploy satire, Wag the Dog.

YouTube YouTube

 

 

The Hunting Party
THE HUNTING PARTY (2007)

We  ascribe to the theory that some people look too much like movie stars to ever look as real as the rest of us.  But even though Richard Gere may be one of them, in his post-superstar years he’s tried to do risky and “interesting” projects.

The Hunting Party is a dark comedy wrapped in an action movie.  But the studio apparently figured nobody would buy tickets to that, so they marketed it as a straight-ahead action movie.  That didn’t help anybody.  It flopped.

The writer/director is Richard Shepard, whose surprising career has hopped back and forth between TV and idiosyncratic film projects.  Fer instance, he wrote/directed The Matador in 2005.  Then he won an Emmy for directing Ugly Betty in 2006.  And in 2005 he came out with this uneasy hybrid.

Richard Gere plays a journalist vows revenge on a Bosnian Serb leader, “The Fox” (a thinly veiled Radovan Karadzic).  When his unwillingness to suffer fools implodes his career, he sets out with his cameraman buddy (Empire’s Terence Howard) to snag an interview the war criminal.  But what he really wants to do is capture the monster.

The movie is based on real life — an Esquire article by journalist Scott Anderson and opens with a huge tip-off to its tone: a card that reads “Only the most ridiculous part of this story are true.”

Action audiences — and even most critics – couldn’t forgive the disconnect between the humor and the bombs.  But we latched onto this fact: the movie was released simultaneously in Turkey, and made almost as much money there as in The States.  For some reason, that made it worth watching.

We also think they should’ve kept the film’s original titlet: Spring Break in Serbia.   That would’ve made us go see it.

Amazon iTunes  Google PlayVudu

 

 

Kellys Heros
KELLY’S HEROES (1970)

1970 was a bumper year for war comedies (more below), but this Clint Eastwood vehicle was the only one of the three that was willing to totally ignore the out-of-control train that was Vietnam and eschew any pretense of anti-war commentary.

The McGuffin here is Nazi gold.  Clint is Private Kelly, who finds out about the gold from a Nazi prisoner.  Surrounding him are Don Rickles, Telly Savalas, Carroll O’Connor.

But the casting wild card is Donald Sutherland, who plays a stoner (yes stoner)  tank captain (even though it’s WWII).  The whole movie is a jolly anachronistic mess, but who cares?  Except for the important stuff, like the tanks — Soviet tanks were meticulously retrofitted to look German.

Two years earlier Brian G. Hutton had directed Eastwood in the war epic Where Eagles Dare.  In the interim, Eastwood had started to stretch the boundaries of his career, with the musical Paint Your Wagon, and Two Mules for Sister Sarah.

It’s especially weird that this movie came out the month after the Kent State massacre, when the anti-war movement was at its peak.  But it makes sense as the culmination of a long string of WWII movies where Americans slaughtered Nazis with gleeful, un-morally-ambiguous abandon.

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mash
MASH (1970)

Sutherland’s apearance in Kelly’s Heroes is all the more remarkable because MASH had been released in January of the same year.

As a baseline, let’s just speculate that MASH is the greatest war comedy ever made.  It won the Palme d’Or, was nominated for 5 Oscars and won for Best Screenplay.

It lost Best Picture, Director, and Editing to Patton – an indication of the wee dialectic that was going on in American culture about then.

The movie launched Altman as one of the most innovative and maverick American directors of the 70’s and many decades after.

Here at The Thread, we have had had lengthy, heated discussions on the subject of MASH the movie vs. M*A*S*H the TV show.  All we can say is, Robert Altman didn’t direct the TV series.  And if you’re a big fan of the show, maybe you shouldn’t even bother watching the movie.  Seriously.  Go for McCabe and Mrs. Miller instead, which in our book proves that the movie is inevitably superior.

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Catch-22 B
CATCH-22 (1970)

It depends on your source, but in the 1970 box office, MASH was #3, PATTON was #4, Kelly’s Heroes was #20.  And Catch-22 was #10.

Catch-22 was a capital “N” Novel, a hugely popular book and one of the most influential of the 20th century.  Joseph Heller’s titular coinage entered the English language as shorthand for a characteristic irony of the modern world – multiple options give the illusion of choice and hope, but yield the same inevitable result: failure.

The book was so clever and scathing and singular that the movie was predestined to disappoint; but not for lack of trying.

This was Mike Nichols’ third feature, coming off Virginia Woolf and The Graduate.  Like writer Buck Henry, he was smart and literate.

Maybe that was the problem. Neither the writer nor the director were willing to kill the book in order to make a good movie.

The nail in the coffin was MASH. It had already seized the zeitgeist that Catch-22 was designed to catch — but earlier and better.

But people who have watched it more recently than us say it’s improved a lot with age.  And the cast is pretty amazing:  Alan Arkin, Richard Benjamin, Jon Voight, Orson Wells, Paula Prentiss, Bob Newhart, Art Garfunkel, Anthony Perkins, Martin Sheen.  And it’s just so hard to believe that Nichols made a clunker at this point in his sure-footed career.  After all, his next film was Carnal Knowledge.  So we think this one deserves another shot.

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Stripes
STRIPES (1981)

We’re neglecting a lot of outstanding movies to go with this one – Wag The Dog, 7 Beauties, Dr. Strangelove.

But here at FollowTheThread, it’s the nature of our beast.  Bill Murray got us started this week.  And what we were hoping for from Rock the Kasbah — which it may or may not deliver — was not exactly  the irony and darkness of most war comedy.  We were looking for transgression — a dose of gonzo madness that would cut through the relentless bleakness of the Jihad vs McWorld news cycle.

And, lacking that, just some comic relief: thus Stripes.

Coming after the low-budget Meatballs and the Rodney Dangerfield co-starrer Caddyshack, this was Murray’s first big feature. Ivan Reitman directed again (he also directed Meatballs).  Harold Ramis (who co-wrote Meatballs, directed and co-wrote Caddyshack) co-wrote Stripes and also got in front of the camera to costar with Murray, cementing the unholy trinity that would in a few years bring us Ghostbusters.

Two slightly older guys seek to escape their messed-up lives by enlisting in the Army, then game the system with amusing results.

This was the first time you see the Bill Murray that would become a monster star  –

the low-key and likeable real guy who is also smart and subversive.  The movie star whose biggest appeal is that he neither looks nor acts like a movie star.  A guy who is so appealing that you’re dying to go and see his one of his movies even when everybody says it’s really not that good.

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