Shattered Politics #64: Dick (dir by Andrew Fleming)


I wouldn’t necessarily say that I love Dick but I still think it’s a pretty good film.  (Ha ha, see what I did there?)  Of course, to really appreciate this 1999 comedy, it helps to know a little something about political history.  For instance, it helps to know that the Dick of the title is President Richard Nixon (played here by a hilariously paranoid Dan Hedaya).  In 1973, as the result of his attempt to cover up White House involvement of a burglary at the Watergate Hotel, Nixon became the first President to resign from office.

A lot of the credit for Nixon’s downfall was given to two reporters for the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (played, in this film, by Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch).  While Woodward and Bernstein investigated the Watergate break-in, they were reportedly fed information by a highly placed informant who was referred to as being Deep Throat.  For years, the identity of Deep Throat was a closely held secret.  Countless books were written that speculated as to who Deep Throat may have been.  (In the film All The President’s Men, he was played by Hal Holbrook.)  Finally, in 2005, it was revealed that Deep Throat was a FBI agent named Mark W. Felt, who was upset because he was passed over for a promotion.

And, quite frankly, that’s kind of a disappointing solution.  When you think about someone who brought down the government, you hope that he or she will turn out to be something more than just a disgruntled employee whose previous work consisted on running counter intelligence operations against domestic political activists.

In fact, it’s hard not to wish that, perhaps, Deep Throat could have been two 15 year-old girls who just happened to stumble across one of the biggest political scandals in American history.

Well, fortunately, this is the theory proposed in Dick.  Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene (Michelle Williams) are two friends who, one night in 1972, sneak out of Arlene’s apartment so that they can mail a fan letter to singer Bobby Sherman.  While doing so, they happen to stumble across the Watergate burglars and get a good look at White House aide G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer).

The next day, while on a field trip to the White House, the two girls are spotted by Liddy.  Liddy arranges for them to be pulled to the side and questioned by chief-of-staff H.R. Haldeman (Dave Foley), who determines that the girls barely know who Nixon is and that they don’t understand what they witnessed.  However, before Haldeman can send the girls on their way, Nixon himself enters the office and complains about how poorly planned the break-in was.

This leads to an unlikely relationship between Nixon and Betsy and Arlene.  Hoping to win their loyalty (and their silence), Nixon arranges for them to be his official dog walkers.  Betsy and Arlene, meanwhile, still don’t have the slightest idea of what’s going on.  They accidentally bring pot cookies to the White House (which Nixon particularly enjoys) and Arlene even develops a mad crush on Nixon.

But, of course, Nixon eventually shows his true colors and Betsy and Arlene take down the government….

In many ways Dick is a one-joke film, in which Betsy and Arlene regularly find themselves blissfully unaware while history literally unfolds around them.  But it’s actually a pretty clever joke and it’s also a very plausible one.  People are often unaware that anything important is happening when it’s actually happening.  Often times, it’s only in retrospect that historical moments are seen to be truly historical.  And, ultimately, Watergate itself is such a bizarre scandal that it’s the perfect moment in history to be reinterpreted as a comedy.

Dick is ridiculous enough to be funny but plausible enough to be memorable.

Shattered Politics #63: Primary Colors (dir by Mike Nichols)


Jack Stanton (John Travolta) is the charismatic governor of an unnamed Southern state.  After spending his entire life in politics, Jack is finally ready to run for President.  Even more ready is his equally ambitious wife, Susan (Emma Thompson).  Jack proves himself to be a strong candidate, a good speaker who understands the voters and who has the ability to project empathy for almost anyone’s situation. He’s managed to recruit a talented and dedicated campaign staff, including the flamboyant Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton), Daisy Green (Maura Tierney), and journalist Henry Burton (Adrian Lester).  Henry is the son of a civil rights leader and, as soon as they meet, Jack talks about the first time that he ever heard Henry’s father speak.  Within minutes of first meeting him, Henry believes in Jack.

The problem, however, is that there are constant hints that Jack may not be worthy of his admiration.  There’s the fact that he’s a compulsive womanizer who is given to displays of temper and immaturity.  When one of Jack’s old friends reveals that Jack may have impregnated his daughter, Jack and Susan respond with a pragmatic ruthlessness that takes Henry by surprise.

When one of Jack’s mistresses threatens to go public, Henry is partnered up with Libby (Kathy Bates) and sent to dig up dirt on her and her sponsors.  When the former governor of Florida, Freddie Picker (Larry Hagman), emerges as a threat to derail Jack’s quest for the nomination, Henry and Libby are again assigned to research Picker’s background.  Libby is perhaps the film’s most interesting character.  Recovering from a mental breakdown, Libby has no trouble threatening to shoot one political opponent but she’s still vulnerable and idealistic enough that it truly hurts her when Jack and Susan repeatedly fail to live up to her ideals.  As an out lesbian, Libby is perhaps the only character who has no trouble revealing her true self and, because of her honesty, she is the one who suffers the most.

First released in 1998 and based on a novel by Joe Klein, Primary Colors is an entertaining and ultimately rather bittersweet dramedy about the American way of politics.  John Travolta and Emma Thompson may be playing Jack and Susan Stanton but it’s obvious from the start that they’re meant to be Bill and Hillary Clinton.  And while it takes a few minutes to get used to Travolta’s attempt to sound Southern, this is ultimately one of his best performances.  As played by Travolta, Jack Stanton is charming, compassionate, self-centered, and ultimately, incredibly frustrating.  One reason why Primary Colors works is because we, as an audience, come to believe in Jack just as much as Henry does and then we come to be just as disillusioned as Libby.  Emma Thompson’s performance is a little less obviously based on Hillary.  Unlike Travolta, she doesn’t attempt to imitate Hillary’s voice or mannerisms.  But she perfectly captures the steely determination.

Primary Colors captures both the thrill of believing and the inevitability of disillusionment.  It’s definitely a film that I will rewatch in the days leading up to 2016.

Shattered Politics #62: Bulworth (dir by Warren Beatty)

BulworthSo, if you’ve ever wondered what happened to Robert Redford’s Bill McKay after he was elected to the U.S. Senate at the end of The Candidate, I imagine that he probably ended up becoming something like the protagonist of 1998’s Bulworth, U.S. Sen. Jay Bulworth.

As played by Warren Beatty, Bulworth is a veteran senator.  A former liberal firebrand, he may still decorate his office with pictures of him meeting Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King but Bulworth sold out a long time ago.  Now, he just says whatever has to say in order to get elected, including pretending to have a happy marriage. He has become a part of everything that’s wrong with Washington.

Sick of both politics and life in general, Bulworth decides that he’d rather be dead.  But, in order to make sure that his daughter collects on his $10,000,000 life insurance policy, Bulworth cannot commit suicide.  Instead, he arranges for a contract to be taken out on his life.  In two days, Bulworth will be assassinated.

Returning to California for his campaign, Bulworth gets drunk and suddenly starts to say what he actually believes.  He attacks the Washington establishment.  He attacks the voters.  He attacks the insurance companies and comes out for single payer health insurance.  With his desperate press secretary (Oliver Platt) chasing behind him, Bulworth spends the night dancing at a club where he discovers marijuana and meets a girl named Nina (Halle Berry).

(Platt, meanwhile, discovers that he really, really likes cocaine.)

Soon, Nina and Bulworth are hiding out in the ghetto, where Bulworth meets both Nina’s brother (Isiah Washington) and local drug dealer, L.D. (Don Cheadle), and gets a lesson about how economics actually work in the ghetto.  Soon, Bulworth is appearing on CNN where he raps his new political platform and suggests that the solutions for all of America’s problems would be for everyone to just keep having sex until eventually everyone is the same color.

Of course, what Bulworth doesn’t know is that Nina also happens to be the assassin who has been contracted to kill him…

I have mixed feelings about Bulworth.  On the one hand, the film starts out strong.  You don’t have to agree with the film’s politics in order to appreciate the film’s passion,  Bulworth is an angry film and one that’s willing to say some potentially unpopular things.  It’s a film about politics that doesn’t resort to the easy solutions that were proposed by some of the other films that I’ve reviewed for Shattered Politics.  Warren Beatty does a pretty good job of portraying Bulworth’s initial mental breakdown and Oliver Platt is a manic wonder as he consumes more and more cocaine.

But, once Warren Beatty starts rapping, the film starts to fall apart and becomes a bit too cartoonish for its own good.  You get the feeling that Warren Beatty, at this point, is just trying to live out the liberal fantasy of being the only wealthy white man in America to understand what it’s like to be poor and black in America.

Bulworth starts out well but ultimately, it begins better than it ends.

Am I Woman Enough To Survive “Bitch Planet” ?


Right off the bat, the answer to the question I pose in the headline here is a definitive “no,” simply because — well, I’m not a woman. And the interstellar penal colony that is the setting for writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Valentine De Landro’s new Image Comics series, Bitch Planet, looks like kind of a rough place, so even if I could get in, it’s doubtful that I’d make it out alive.

Tell you what, though — I’m lucky. There’s just no way I could ever be sentenced to do time there, and not only because it’s fictitious. See, the BP is a special place reserved for only female convicts, and it houses the worst of the worst. Terrorists. Hardened killers. Bloodthirsty axe-murderers. Psychotic sexual deviants.

Just kidding — it’s where a future patriarchy sends its “non-compliant” second-class citizens who are guilty of such “crimes” as not getting the dishes done, being bad cooks, not “putting out” as often as their old man wants (or in the way that he wants), or even just getting too old to fit society’s standards of “attractiveness” anymore. Don’t ask me how future Earth got to be so relentlessly misogynistic, but I’m betting Mike Huckabee was elected president at some point and things just sorta slid from there.


As I’m sure is no doubt obvious by now, Bitch Planet is a comic with a definite point of view, and that’s certainly something that’s all too rare in today’s milquetoast, “be careful not to offend anyone” marketplace. De Connick is crafting an unabashedly feminist sci-fi action story here, and to call it a breath of fresh air is quite the understatement. The first issue landed like a ton of bricks last month and got everybody talking, and the second issue, wherein our creators limn the boundaries of the world they’re crafting in a bit more detail and introduce the ever-popular element of TV bloodsports, shows that nobody’s going to be taking their foot off the gas anytime soon here. They’re determined to give us material that’s as thought-provoking as it is exciting every 30 days, and I couldn’t be happier.

That being said — I think at least a hat-tip is owed to fellow feminist comics scribe Alex de Campi, who explored some of these same themes in a two-part story called “Prison Ship Antares” that she did last year as part of her Grindhouse : Doors Open At Midnight mini-series for Dark Horse, and utilized some of the same “B-movie” stylistic trappings that De Connick and De Landro employ to such stunning effect here.  The politics of Bitch Planet, however,  are much more overt, and we all know that ideas take a fair amount of time to go from the brain to the printed page, so just who thought of what first is an open question. I simply thought it was worth mention  — just as I think both books are well worth your time and money.


Now then — since trying to take an “objective” look at BP without its jubilantly-stated viewpoint entering into the discussion is an exercise in futility, let me just say this : if you’ve got a problem with feminism, for whatever reason, this isn’t the comic for you. De Connick’s overriding ambition with her story is to take dead aim at patriarchy and fire a kill shot. That doesn’t mean that men should feel threatened by this book’s contents by any means, of course — provided you’re the sort of guy who’s honest enough to admit that our entire social structure is still bent toward keeping women, to one degree or another, “in their place.” The fluffy sense of faux- sexual-equality we’re spoon-fed by the media is a lie, and if owning up to that reality offends you, then Bitch Planet will probably offend you even more. But ya know what? Some people deserve to be offended.

Think about it, guys : when was the last time we had to put up with leering glances from strangers or cat-calls on the street? When was the last time we had to answer to our employers for our health care choices? When was the last time we were judged on the basis of our physical appearance before  anything else is taken into consideration? When was the last time we were told that we didn’t have to be paid as much as someone of the opposite sex for doing the exact same work?

Geez, when you look at things that way, maybe the out-of-control phallo-centric future on display in these pages isn’t so much an exaggeration of the current state of affairs as it is a reflection of them — albeit one where all the pretense is stripped away.

Clearly, though, the term “feminism” is one that means different things to different people, and the really cool thing about what De Connick is doing here is that she acknowledges that fact and is trying her level best, in both the script and the book’s idea-crammed back matter (overseen and assembled with the help of series editor Lauren Sankovitch, who used to work at Marvel but has now apparently gone freelance) to present multiple perspectives of current feminist thought. Sure, we can probably all agree that at its core, feminism is about empowering women to make whatever choices they want in life and about respecting those choices, but how we get there from here, and what’s preventing it from happening, is open for much debate and discussion. De Connick certainly has ideas about all of it, but she’s opening up the pages of her comic to “let it all hang out,” so to speak, which makes for a damn engrossing cover-to-cover read (and those back covers! Oh my how I do love ’em!)

Women of color are front and center here, as well, in the form of both series protagonist Kamau Kogo and “instant-fan-favorite” character Penny Rolle, who’s probably got a thing or two (or more) to say about size-acceptance issues, I’m prepared to bet. It also seems more likely than not (although it’s only a guess at this point) that homophobia and transphobia  will be working their way onto the Bitch Planet radar screen before too long, as this series also seems tailor-made for addressing those particular (and persistent) societal ills.

And the art — oh my, the art! De Connick has come under at least a little bit of criticism for doing this book with a male artist, but apparently De Landro has been a full involved co-creator from the outset, he’s very much “on board,” philosophically speaking, with everything that’s going on here, and his passion for the subject shows in every panel. The double-splash title pages are a thing of beauty, to be sure, but it’s not like he’s “slacking” anywhere else. Add in the superb colors of Chris Peter and you’ve got a comic that’s quite often breathtaking to look at (yes, it’s still okay to judge a comic based on looks — just not people).

I’ve been around the comics scene for a long time, and the strides toward inclusiveness that fandom has made have been significant. Even as little as ten years ago it was unusual to see a woman in a comic store, and now look — we’ve got books like Bitch Planet proving that female creators, and readers,  aren’t about to take a back seat to anyone. But let’s not mistake progress for “problem solved.” The very existence of this series  proves that we’ve come a long a long way, sure, but its raison d’etre lies in showing us just how far we still have to go and challenging us to come up with ways of getting there. Sure,  I’m not a woman (as we’ve already established), but I’m proud to throw my lot in with the team behind this comic as be as loudly and proudly non-compliant as any of them.

Shattered Politics #61: Murder at 1600 (dir by Dwight H. Little)


I have to admit that, seeing as how I was only 11 going on 12 back in 1997, I really wasn’t paying much attention to what was going on in the world at the time.  But, whatever it was, it must have been something big and scary and it must have left people feeling deeply suspicious of the government.  How else do you explain the fact that 1997 not only saw the release of Absolute Power, a film in which the President is a murderer, but Murder at 1600 as well.

Murder at 1600 opens with a White House maid finding the dead body of Carla Town (Mary Moore), an intern whose sole goal in life was apparently to have sex in every single room in the Executive Mansion.  (And, before you judge, that happens to be my goal in life as well.  So there.)  Streetwise homicide detective Harlan Regis (Wesley Snipes) is on the case!

And he’s certainly got a lot of suspects.  Could it be the Vice President (Chris Gillett)?  Or maybe Alvin Jordan (Alan Alda), the National Security Advisor?  Or how about Nick Spikings (Daniel Benzali), the bald-bef0re-bald-was-cool head of the Secret Service?  Or maybe it the President’s son (Tate Donavon)?  Or maybe even the President (Ronny Cox) himself!?

Fortunately, Regis is assigned a partner, Secret Service agent Nina Chance (Diane Lane).  When Regis first meets her, he’s all, “Oh my God, you’re a woman!”  And then Nina’s all, “I also won an Olympic medal for sharp shooting!”  And then Regis is like, “I bet that will be a relevant plot point before the film ends!”

Of course, Regis already has a regular partner, as well.  His name is Detective Stengel and he’s played by Dennis Miller, which just seems strange.  Stengel basically looks like Dennis Miller, sounds like Dennis Miller, and acts exactly like Dennis Miller, except for the fact that he’s a cop.  His jarringly out-of-place presence in this film just adds to Murder at 1600‘s general air of weirdness.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the North Koreans are up to no good and the President is being pressured to take military action.  However, he’s being distracted by this whole criminal investigation thing.  Will the country survive or did its future die at 1600?

(And why doesn’t the President just send in Team America to take care of the situation?  Or maybe James Franco and Seth Rogen.  There are way to deal with the North Koreans….)

(By the way, have you noticed how brave everyone online is when it comes to being snarky about the one country in the world that doesn’t have internet access?  If Kim Jong Whatevuh ever gets a twitter account, I bet everyone will start following him and asking him for retweets.)

Murder at 1600 is an enjoyably ludicrous thriller.  It’s one of those films that you’ll enjoy as long as you don’t take it seriously.  Take it seriously and you’ll end up asking question like why the FBI isn’t involved in the investigation and whether or not the solution to the film’s mystery is a bit too convoluted to make any logical sense.  However, if you simply decide to enjoy Murder at 1600 for what it is, an extremely pulpy thriller that’s full of nonstop melodrama, overwritten dialogue, and a healthy distrust of the government*, then you’ll find this to be an entertaining thriller.

At the very least, a White House full of potential murderers is probably a lot more realistic than anything that you might see in The American President.  


* Oh, everyone knows the government sucks…