44 Days of Paranoia #16: Wag the Dog (dir by Barry Levinson)

For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we’re taking a look at Barry Levinson’s 1997 political satire, Wag The Dog.

Wag the Dog opens with a White House in crisis.  With two weeks to go until the Presidential election, it’s been discovered that the incumbent President has had a brief dalliance with a girl scout.  Up until the scandal became public, the President was enjoying at 17 point lead in the polls.  Now, that lead is about to evaporate unless something can be done to keep the American public from thinking about the President’s personal life.

Significantly, the President himself never appears on-screen.  We never learn his position on the issues.  We never hear about anything he’s done during his first term.  We don’t even know what political party he belongs to.  (However, his opponent is played by Craig T. Nelson so I’m going to assume that the President is a Democrat.  Because, seriously, it’s hard for me to imagine Nelson being anything other than a Republican…)  The President remains a shadowy and insubstantial figure who, in the end, represents nothing.

Instead of getting to know the President, we instead spend the film with the aides who have to clean up after his mess.  One of those aides, Winifred Ames (Anne Heche), calls in a legendary (and rather sinister) political PR man, Conrad Bean (Robert De Niro).  Conrad announces that the only way to save the campaign is to distract the American public with a quick and totally fake war with Albania.  Why Albania?  According to Conrad, Albania has a sinister name and nobody knows anything about it.

To help create this fake war, Conrad recruits Hollywood film producer, Stanley Motts (a hilariously manic Dustin Hoffman).  Much as Conrad is a legend in politics, Stanley is a legend in Hollywood.  Stanley enthusiastically jumps into the project of creating a fake war of Albania, manufacturing everything from fake war footage to patriotic songs to anything else necessary to rally the American public.  Denis Leary shows up as a mysterious figure known as the Fad King and schemes how to make war with Albania the latest trend.  Willie Nelson sings a song to stir the spirit of every patriotic American.  A very young Kirsten Dunst is recruited to play a terrified orphan in staged Albanian atrocity footage.  A shell-shocked vet (Woody Harrelson) is cast as the Albanian War’s first hero.  Stanley greets every problem with an enthusiastic exclamation of, “This is nothing!”

Along the way, a rather odd friendship develops between the secretive Conrad and the overly verbose Stanley.  However, when Stanley, who often laments that he’s never won an Oscar, starts to complain about the fact that he’s never going to get any recognition for his “greatest production,” Conrad finds himself forced to reconsider their relationship.

Wag the Dog was first released in 1997 and, thanks to David Mamet’s darkly comedic script and Barry Levinson’s brisk direction, the film feels incredibly prophetic.  Indeed, all the film needs is for someone to mention making the war a trending topic and it would be impossible to tell that it was made 16 years ago.  Wag the Dog accomplishes the best thing that any political satire can hope to accomplish: it makes you question everything.  Whenever one watches a news report triumphantly bragging about the latest done strike, it’s hard not to feel that Stanley Motts would approve.

Other entries in the 44 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To

The 15 Semi-Finalists For Best Documentary Feature

The Academy has announced the 15 semi-finalists for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar.  5 nominees will be picked from this list and then the winner will be announced on March 2nd.

I’m rooting for Stories We Tell.  I’m also hoping that Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer will, at the very least, get a nomination.

“The Act of Killing,” Final Cut for Real
“The Armstrong Lie,” The Kennedy/Marshall Company
“Blackfish,” Our Turn Productions
“The Crash Reel,” KP Rides Again
“Cutie and the Boxer,” Ex Lion Tamer and Cine Mosaic
“Dirty Wars,” Civic Bakery
“First Cousin Once Removed,” Experiments in Time, Light & Motion
“God Loves Uganda,” Full Credit Productions
“Life According to Sam,” Fine Films
“Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,” Roast Beef Productions
“The Square,” Noujaim Films and Maktube Productions
“Stories We Tell,” National Film Board of Canada
“Tim’s Vermeer,” High Delft Pictures
“20 Feet from Stardom,” Gil Friesen Productions and Tremolo Productions
“Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington,” Tripoli Street

Ghosts of Christmas Past #3: The Star Wars Holiday Special Retrospective

I am not a huge Star Wars fan.

Don’t get me wrong.  I respect the fact that the movies are important to a lot of my close friends and fellow movie bloggers.  My boyfriend loves the first three Star Wars films and I’ve told him that if he ever wants me to wear a gold bikini and a chain around my neck, I’ll do it.  It’s just that, on a personal level, the Star Wars films don’t do much for me.  When people mention Star Wars, I usually think about how I fell asleep 10 minutes into Attack of the Clones and then when my date woke me up at the end of the movie, my bra had mysteriously been undone.

That said, I still knew that when I started my series of Christmas Past posts, I would have to post something about The Star Wars Holiday Special.  The Holiday Special aired way back in 1978 and it was apparently such a disaster that George Lucas has spent the past 3 and a half decades trying to convince people that it doesn’t exist.

Perhaps that’s why, when I did a search for the Holiday Special on YouTube, I came across a lot of videos that had been either taken down or had their audio tracks removed.

However, I was able to find a 15 minutes video from a YouTube user who goes by the name of StarWarsFan1975.  The Star Wars Holiday Special Retrospective features some background material on the Holiday Special and some of the special’s more bizarre moments.


The NYFCC Honors American Hustle

Oscar season has begun!  This afternoon, The New York Films Critics Circle announced their picks for the best of 2013.  Fortunately, I had the office to myself so I was able to follow along online.  Here are the winners and a few random thoughts:

“American Hustle”

(This is something of a surprise, no?  Most award watchers were expecting 12 Years a Slave to pretty much sweep all of the critics’ awards.  It will be interesting to see if American Hustle does with the other critic groups but, for now, it seems like American Hustle has taken a major step forward to scoring a best picture nomination.)

Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”

(This was much more expected.)

Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”

(Ditto.  I recently saw All Is Lost.  It’s interesting to note that Redford has only a few more lines than Jean Dujardin in The Artist.)

Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

(Deserved and expected.)

Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers’ Club”

(I haven’t seen this one yet but I hope to soon.)

Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

(I was kind of surprised how angry some people on twitter got over Lawrence’s victory.  However, from my own personal experience, being intelligent, talented, and pretty really brings out the haters..)

“American Hustle”

(A lot of people on twitter were upset over this.  I haven’t seen American Hustle yet so I can’t judge.)

Bruno Delbonnel, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

(This was the award that managed to tick off thousands of Gravity fans.  Don’t get me wrong — I liked Gravity.  But some of the pro-Gravity people actually make the pro-Avatar people look calm and collected.)

“The Wind Rises”

“Blue is the Warmest Color”

(I agree.)

“Stories We Tell”

(I agree.)

“Fruitvale Station”

(And, for a third time, I agree.)

One final note — unlike the Academy, in which a simple majority determines the winner, the NYFCC awards were determined by consensus and, as a result, several of the categories apparently required multiple ballots before a winner was agreed upon.  As such, some of the winners listed above are definitely compromise picks.

Myself, I still have to see a lot of the potential Oscar nominees — including 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, and Dallas Buyers Club.  However, for now, my favorite film of 2013 remains Upstream Color.