Wag the Dog 1997 Loosely adapted from Larry Beinhart’s novel American Hero. Directed by Barry Levinson. The blackest of comedies and prescient. To distract voters from a White House sex scandal, presidential aide Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) brings in spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro). Brean, in turn solicits the help of infamous Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman, having a grand time). They decide to concoct a fake war in Albania which is executed with all credible trimmings. (It could happen.)
Eventually, the CIA in collusion with the president’s rival, discover the hoax turning news interest back to the underage girl at hand. To combat this, Brean and Motss come up with a rescued hero left behind the lines in Albania. This goes horribly wrong, but is spun again to their advantage. Things in fact go so well, the producer wants to take credit. NOT a good idea.
The title of the film comes from the English-language expression “the tail wagging the dog.” Hoffman’s character, Stanley Motss, is said to have been based on famed producer Robert Evans who commented, “I’m magnificent in this film.” Rent on Amazon Prime.
Bullworth 1998 Co-written, produced, starring and directed by Warren Beatty. Democratic U.S. Senator Jay Billington Bulworth (Warren Beatty) is badly losing the primary because of his 1960s/1970s liberal views. Even giving in to a more conservative platform doesn’t seem to help. He and his wife Constance (Christine Baranski) have been respectively having affairs for years. At the end of his tether, Bullworth hires someone to assassinate him in two days. During those days, he’s attracted to Nina, a black activist whose brother is involved with a drug dealer; goes on a bender, publicly smokes marijuana, and speaks his mind becoming a media darling.
With nothing to lose on camera one night, he offers the solution that “everybody should fuck everybody” until everyone is “all the same color” stunning the audience and his interviewer. Also featuring Oliver Platt. The twisty way this works out is very like updated Preston Sturges, paralleling belief in America with irreverent attacks on the corruption and hypocrisy of its institutions. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Primary Colors 1998 Inspired by the novel Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign – published anonymously, later found to have been written by journalist Joe Klein. Directed by Mike Nichols. Charismatic Governor of Arkansas Jack Stanton (John Travolta) is trying to win the Democratic nomination for president. His formidable team includes wife/political strategist Susan (Emma Thompson), Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton), and political operator Howard Ferguson (Paul Guilfoyle).
The Stantons’ old friend, Libby Holden (Kathy Bates), is asked to address allegations of his womanizing which include the possible impregnation of an underage baby sitter. His team’s new strategy is to attack opposition candidate Senator Lawrence Harris for anti-Israel votes. When Harris is sidelined with heart issues, former Florida governor Fred Picker (Larry Hagman), a greater threat, steps in. Stanton’s campaign unearths considerable “dirt” on Picker.
Revealing some of it would not only irrevocably harm his reputation, but reflect on Stanton’s denials. Reparations, then choices are made. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Contender 2000 Directed by Rod Lurie. Timely. Highly recommended. Why didn’t this film get more play?! An updated inspirational approach to what America should be. Virginia Governor (D) Jack Hathaway (William Peterson) and an aide are fishing when a car loses control, careens off a bridge, and splashes into water just beside them. Hathaway immediately dives in and tries in vain to get the driver out. His heroism seems to cinch an already viable appointment to the Vice Presidency left vacant when the VP died three weeks ago.
Instead, though praising Hathaway, President Jackson Evans (D) (Jeff Bridges) chooses Ohio Senator (D) Laine Billings Hanson (Joan Allen). Hanson is smart and liberal. Helping shatter the glass ceiling will enhance Evans’ legacy. House Judiciary Chair Congressman Sheldon Runyon (R) (Gary Oldman – creepy and outstanding) is determined Hathaway should get the job and embarks on deep investigation of Hanson’s past. A vacant seat on the committee is filled by newbe Delaware Representative (D) Reginald Webster (Christian Slater).
Runyon’s innuendo and fact spinning are abhorrent. Photos and testimony of what this ersatz McCarthy calls a college orgy are unearthed. Hanson declares they have no right to ask questions about her private life and refuses to respond. Though the president wants (and needs) her to speak up, she stands firm. A witch hunt ensues. Seemingly pushed into a corner, Evans makes a deal with Runyan that presumes Hathaway’s appointment. Much, however, has been going on behind the scenes. There are several exhilarating speeches, most especially the president’s last one.
The film serves as a response to the Monica Lewinsky scandal involving President Bill Clinton. It’s dedications reads: For Our Daughters. Also featuring an excellent Sam Elliott –without facial hair!- as White House Chief of Staff. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The American President 1995 Directed by Rob Reiner. A romantic comedy, but issues and lobbying behind an environmental bill ring true as do concerns about the president’s consort. When his standby companion is ill, Democratic President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), widower and father, finds himself without a date for a state dinner. Much to her surprise, having met only once in somewhat embarrassing circumstances, he invites attractive environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening). They begin awkwardly to credibly date.
In a heat for the bill, deals are made and broken, loose lips affect, Shepherd almost loses Wade for lack of backbone (his). Happy ending. Pleasant respite. Originally, Robert Redford approached a number of screenwriters with the single-line premise, “the president elopes.” Aaron Sorkin was selected to write the screenplay with the expectation that Redford would star. When Rob Reiner was brought aboard to direct, the actor dropped out. Martin Sheen, to whom we were all devoted to as president in The West Wing plays White House Chief of Staff. Rent on Amazon Prime.
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