Friday, July 2, 2010

For the Weekend: Dare to be Cliché

Woohoo!!  4th of July weekend is here!  Three-day fest, here I come!  Not only do I get to enjoy a nice holiday, but I also get to celebrate the birthdays of two of my favorite people this weekend (my brother Stephen and my friend Patrick).  And, AND, let us not forget - the birthday of our country.  (My fingers are crossed the days stay just as sunny and beautiful as today for it.)  So, with all that, why not be a little bit cliché this weekend, and watch some great movies celebrating America.

First up, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," Frank Capra's classic film from Hollywood's greatest year, 1939. James Stewart stars as the title character Jefferson Smith, a young, patriotic man who is appointed to the Senate by his state's corrupt governor after the previous senator passes away.  However, when he arrives in DC, he discovers that the senior senator from his state (Claude Rains), his childhood idol, is also corrupt and trying to manipulate Smith's naivite.  So Smith does the only thing he can think of to stop the crooks' plans, he starts a filibuster on the Senate floor.  "Mr. Smith," now considered one of the best films in American history (it's ranked #26 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies list), was considered by many in the government to be very anti-American when it was released.  It premiered at Constitution Hall in DC with 4000 invited guests, including 45 senators.  A few senators actually walked out of the screening in disgust, saying it should be banned.  However, at the same time, "Mr. Smith" was banned in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Soviet Russia and Falangist Spain, for showing the good that can come from democracy.  The critics at the time all saw the greatness in the film, though, and it went on to receive 11 Oscar nominations (winning for Best Writing, Original Story).  You can catch "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" on TCM July 4th at 6:30am EST.

Next, try another political drama - "All the President's Men" (1976).  Based on the true story of journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's discovery of the Watergate scandal, it follows the two as their investigation leads to corruption deeper and deeper in the government.  It was produced by Robert Redford, directed by Alan J. Pakula, written by William Goldman, and stars Dustin Hoffman and Redford as the reporters.  Redford bought the rights to Woodward's and Bernstein's book himself in 1974 for $450,000.  Warner Bros. then agreed to finance the production, but only if Redford starred as Woodward.  Then the #1 star at the box office, Redford felt he needed someone equally as powerful to play opposite him, so that the film wouldn't be off-balance.  So, at a Knicks game, he went up to Hoffman and offered him the role.  Both men took their roles to heart, spending several weeks at the offices of the Washington Post, even memorizing each others' lines so that they could interrupt each other.  "President's Men" did not earn either of the men an Oscar nomination, but it did garner 8 others.  You can watch this great film instantly right now on Netflix.

Finally, how about some comedy thrown into the mix?  "Guarding Tess" from 1994, starring the wonderful Shirley MacLaine and Nicolas Cage.  Cage plays Secret Service agent Doug Chesnic who has been guarding Tess Carlisle (MacLaine), the widowed former First Lady, for years now, a "cushy" job that has him more as a servant than an agent.  Longing to get away from the maddening woman and back into the action, he begs the current president for a change of assignment over and over again, but Tess constantly blocks his requests.  However, when Tess is kidnapped, his world is flipped upside down.  It's a sweet, humorous film that earned MacLaine her 15th Golden Globe nomination.  Filmed entirely on location in Maryland, it almost had another hunky star in its mix.  George Clooney, before his "ER" days, auditioned for one line in the film...and didn't get it.  This funny film can be seen either on Netflix or Hulu.

So, be sure to be cliché this weekend, and watch plenty of movies celebrating America.  It's her birthday after all.  Have a wonderful holiday, everyone!  Be back Monday!

(Post-tidbit:  While filming "All the President's Men" in DC, Robert Redford actually stayed at the Watergate Hotel.)

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