Shattered Politics #90: FDR: American Badass! (dir by Garrett Brawith)


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So, as I was thinking about Hyde Park On Hudson, I started to ask myself: what would have made that movie better?  Obviously, the script could have been improved.  Bill Murray could have had some better lines.  Laura Linney could have been a bit less bland.  The direction could have been a bit more dynamic…

And of course, the film could have used a few more werewolves.  Maybe not a huge amount of werewolves because, after all, you do want to keep things plausible.  But, at the same time, a werewolf or two would have livened things up.

And then I thought about Sunrise at Campobello and I realized that film was also missing something.  Once again, the film could have used some werewolves.

“My God,” I thought, “aren’t there any filmmakers out there willing to combine Franklin Roosevelt with werewolves!?”

And then, I realized that there was!

The 2012 film FDR: American Badass! features Barry Bostwick in the role of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  At the start of the film, Roosevelt is the dynamic and athletic governor of New York.  However, while out jogging one day, Frank is attacked by a werewolf and ends up contracting polio as a result.  Recovering in the hospital, Roosevelt decides to run for President and kill werewolves.

Over the course of the film, he does just that.  And, when it turns out that the leaders of the Axis Powers are all werewolves as well, FDR single-handedly wins World War II.  Fortunately, with the help of Albert Einstein, FDR gets his wheelchair equipped with all the latest weaponry.

And did I mention that, as President, FDR smokes weed with Abraham Lincoln (Kevin Sorbo)?  Because he so totally does…

So, at this point, you’re probably already getting the feeling that FDR: American Badass! is kind of a weird film.  And it is.  But what makes the film better than you might think is the fact that it totally commits itself to making no sense.  FDR: American Badass! is full of scenes that are alternatively hilarious, disgusting, and offensive but it works because, unlike something like A Million Ways To Die In The West, FDR: American Badass! is at least creative in its stupidity.  Say what you will about the idea of FDR killing werewolves, the fact of the matter is that there’s only one film where you can actually see that happen.

So, should you see FDR: American Badass?

Go back and read the film’s title.

Did it make you roll your eyes and say, “Oh my God, that is so stupid?”  If so, you’ll probably have a similar reaction to the film itself.

On the other hand, did the title make you smile?  If so, you’ll probably find something to enjoy in this movie.

At the very least, FDR: American Badass! is better than Hyde Park on Hudson.

Shattered Politics #89: Hyde Park on Hudson (dir by Roger Michell)


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Is there anything more frustrating than a film that should have been good but yet somehow turned out to be … well, to be rather awful?

Case in point: 2012’s Hyde Park On Hudson.  In this slow-moving and almost painfully old-fashioned film, Bill Murray plays President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  When the film opens in 1939, Roosevelt is being visited by his sixth cousin, Margaret (Laura Linney).  It’s been several years since Roosevelt and Margaret last saw each other.  Franklin’s mother (Elizabeth Wilson) thinks that Margaret’s company could cheer up her melancholy son.  So, FDR and Margaret go out for a drive and, sitting atop a nice green hill, Margaret gives him a hand job.

And it is the most stately and respectable hand job to ever be quaintly portrayed in an American film.

Anyway, the rest of the film deals with FDR’s affair with Margaret.  Eventually, Margaret discovers that FDR has many mistresses but, before she does that, she helps FDR to charm England’s King George VI (Samuel West).  In the days leading up to World War II, George and his wife (Olivia Colman) visit Roosevelt out at his Hyde Park estate.  As we all know from watching The King’s Speech, George is insecure about his stutter.  But, fortunately, FDR points out that, despite the fact that he’s in a wheelchair, people still view him as being a strong leader and therefore, people will view George in the same way, regardless of his stutter.

And, speaking as a former stutterer, I have to say that it’s amazing to witness how poorly Hyde Park On Hudson deals with subject matter that was so brilliantly handled in The King’s Speech.

When I first heard about Hyde Park On Hudson, I had high hopes for it.  After all, I love history.  I love royalty.  I love gossip and I love scandal.  And, really. FDR was one of our more gossip-worthy Presidents, a spoiled rich kid who could not reach his full potential until after he was struck down by polio and who regularly cheated on his wife while battling both the Great Depression and the Nazis.  FDR was a dynamic and controversial figure and none of that comes through in Hyde Park on Hudson.

(Seriously, Bill Murray is totally wasted in this film.  If you’re going to cast an iconic actor in an iconic role, at least give him some good dialogue.)

In the end, Hyde Park on Hudson fails because it’s just too respectful.  It’s a slow, visually unimaginative film that manages to make an exciting time feel dull.  FDR deserves better and so does Bill Murray.

Shattered Politics #88: Grassroots (dir by Stephen Gyllenhaal)


Grassroots_2012Well, it’s nearly over.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been watching and reviewing 94 films about politics and politicians.  We started Shattered Politics by reviewing the 1930 film Abraham Lincoln and, 86 reviews later, we have finally reached 2012!  It’s hard to believe that, over just three weeks, I have reviewed that many films.  Some of those films have been good.  Some of them have been bad.  And, quite a few of them, have been somewhere in between.

The 2012 film Grassroots in one of those in between sort of films.  It’s based on a true story.  Phil Campbell (Jason Biggs) is a Seattle-based journalist who has just lost his job.  Unsure what to do with himself, Phil finds himself reluctantly dragged into the city council campaign of his friend, a music critic named Grant Cogswell (Joel David Moore).

Grant is running because he feels that the city council is not making proper use of the Seattle monorail.  Grant also appears to be a bit crazy, the type of guy who will spontaneously start to shout about everything that he views as being wrong with the world.  However, Grant is also very sincere in his desire to do the best for the people of Seattle and Phil agrees to manage his campaign.

And, as Grant continues to campaign and as the city’s political establishment goes out of its way to make it difficult for Grant or any other insurgent to run a legitimate campaign, he starts to pick up support and suddenly, it starts to look like he very well could win.

And then, the World Trade Center is attacked on September 11th and suddenly, the voters are a little bit less enthusiastic about handing the keys to the asylum over to one of the inmates…

Grassroots is a minor film but it’s definitely likable.  It took me a while to adjust to the film, largely because almost all of the characters are the type of stereotypical Seattle hipsters who would probably be used for violent comic relief in most other films.  (Don’t misunderstand, though — some of my best friends are hipsters … though they’ll never admit it.)  As well, the film trots out the familiar trope of having the campaign cause friction in Phil’s marriage and seriously, is there a more tired plot point than sudden marital friction?

But, ultimately, the film won me over because, much like Grant, it’s just so sincere in its love for Seattle and in its belief in grassroots politics.  It won’t challenge Milk for the title of being the most inspiring recent film about a city council election.  But, taken on its own terms, Grassroots is a likable movie that should inspire even more hipsters to run for public office.

Shattered Politics #87: The Ghost Writer (dir by Roman Polanski)


GhostwriterlargeIn the 2010 film The Ghost Writer, Ewan McGregor plays a character known as the Ghost. We never actually learn the name of his character and that’s perhaps appropriate.  The Ghost has made his living by being anonymous.  He’s a ghost writer.  He’s the guy who is hired to help inarticulate and occasionally illiterate celebrities write best-selling biographies.

The Ghost has been given a new assignment.  He is to ghost write the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan).  Despite the fact that Adam is one of the most famous men in the world, the Ghost is not initially enthusiastic about working with him.

First off, there’s the fact that Adam and his wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), are currently hiding out in America because America is one of the few countries that will not extradite him to be prosecuted for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.  It seems that Adam (much like Tony Blair) is a controversial figure because of some of the actions he may have authorized as a part of the war on terror.  Not only does the Ghost have political objections to working with Adam but he has to leave his London home and go to Massachusetts in order to do so.

Secondly, there’s the fact that, once the Ghost arrives in America, he discovers that — for such a controversial figure — Adam is actually rather boring and seems to have very little knowledge about anything that he did while he was prime minister.  Instead, he seems to be more interested in spending time with his mistress (Kim Cattrall, giving the film’s one bad performance).  Ruth seems to be the political (and smart) one in the marriage.

And finally, there’s the fact that the Ghost is actually the second writer to have worked with Adam.  The previous writer mysteriously drowned.  While that death was ruled to be an accident, the Ghost comes to suspect that it was murder and that the motive is hidden in the first writer’s manuscript…

The Ghost Writer is a favorite of mine, a smart and witty political thriller that features great performances from Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, and Pierce Brosnan.  Brosnan especially seems to be having a lot of fun sending up his dashing, James Bond image.  Roman Polanski directs at a fast pace and maintains a perfect atmosphere of growing paranoia throughout the entire film. In the end, The Ghost Writer proudly continues the tradition of such superior paranoia films as The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, and the Parallax View.

Incidentally, I have a theory that Adam Lang was also the unseen Prime Minister who was featured in Into the Loop.  Watching The Ghost Writer, it’s hard not to feel that Adam really feel apart without Malcolm around to help him out.