Tag Archives: Beaty

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

21 Feb

‘What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael’: Sweet kiss for film critic with acid tongue

What She Said' Review: Film Critic Pauline Kael Gets Own Documentary |  IndieWire

“What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael” is framed with tape recording of Kael being interviewed by a young girl who gaily asks the critic her first movie (Chaplin) and later, her favorite film is (a detail I’ll let the moviegoer discover). Kael, who lived in Great Barrington and died just before 9/11, came from humble roots in Northern California, where she attended college at Berkeley. She never graduated, failed as a playwright in New York and her one marriage ended quickly, but throughout it all she maintained a deep passion for emotion-provoking narratives, be they bound by book jacket or cinematically projected. Her early reviews were on radio and for free, but being a single mother Kael looked to get paid for her labor; before landing at The New Yorker she was at McCall’s, which ended badly. 

Film clips spruce up the narrative, sometimes to echo Kael’s thoughts and other times simply as illustrating the film being trumpeted or impaled. We get Kael’s personal reflections from letters and other scrawlings read by Sarah Jessica Parker in voice only, evoking a smooth, husky Hollywood starlet persona that feels warmly congruent with the actual Kael we hear at the bookends, and in interview clips with Dick Cavett and other TV talk show hosts of the era. Plenty of celebrities lend their talking heads to the project, most prominently screenwriter/director Robert Towne (“Chinatown”), Alec Baldwin and film-nerd-turned-auteur Quentin Tarantino. Continue reading

Election Flicks

23 May
A still from the film "Weiner." (Courtesy of IFC Film)

The political season is well upon us, more vehemently and contentiously so than past presidential primaries, especially given the surprising number of upstarts, lack of usual faces and an arguably unpopular field. If either of the Democratic candidates win, history will be made with the first female commander in chief or the oldest citizen to assume the Oval Office. If Republican front-runner Donald Trump wins, his victory will cap a campaign of shock and awe, bluster and division, the likes of which seemed only possible in a movie.

That said, hitting the campaign trail has not been a particularly vast topic explored on film, but when it has, it’s been done with biting satire or a telling inward look at ourselves, our society and how we value democracy.

Most often those films stoke our fear of big corporations and power brokers seeking to influence control, as well as our fascination with scandal, the politician’s sudden fall and the tabloid train wreck that ultimately becomes a reflection of our impossible expectations, our own hypocrisies and an illumination of the intoxicating stupor of power that leads to self-destructive hubris.

Below is a list of 10 movies that bear particular relevance to the campaign as it is currently unfolding. (The last film in the list, “Weiner,” opens this weekend in select locations.)

“The Best Man” (1964)

Gore Vidal’s seminal skewering of big egos clashing for the White House pit a fictionalized version of Adlai Stevenson (played by Henry Fonda) against a JFK-like incarnation (Cliff Robertson), both vying for a former president’s approval. The shards of political courtship carry the tang of Obama having to mitigate his allegiances with Sanders and his former secretary of state Clinton. Vidal adapted his stage play, Franklin J. Schaffner (who helmed “Planet of the Apes” and “Patton”) directs and Lee Tracy was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his turn as the ailing former president, casting an ostensible nod to Harry Truman.   Continue reading


20 Mar

R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 05/21/1998,


Warren Beatty’s brave, if ramshackle, political farce tackles the dirty business of racial inequality and corporate greed with the tenacity of a pit bull. As Senator Jay Bulworth (named loosely after Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party), Beatty, who also writes and directs, plays an extension of himself: a Kennedy liberal in the ’60s, now disillusioned by the political environment of the ’90s, where big money and favoritism suffocate activism and social advocacy.

Sick of all the hypocrisy and in the midst of a re-election campaign (it’s 1996, as Dole and Clinton duke it out), a sleep-and-food-deprived Bulworth makes a back-room deal for a $10 million life-insurance policy to benefit his daughter, then takes out a contract on himself. His imminent demise gives him the freedom to speak his mind: he tells the parishioners of a black South Central church to “put down their chicken wings and malt liquor”; he calls a group of Beverly Hills entertainment executives “big Jews” and brands their product “crap.” From there Bulworth angles his moral rebirth as a “White Negro,” pursuing a sultry flygirl (the always alluring Halle Berry), hanging out at hip-hop clubs (where they mistake him for George Hamilton), and even taking on a pair of racist cops, but the funniest incarnation comes when the middle-aged white guy starts rapping his anti-big-business sentiments at a chi-chi fundraiser.

As a piece of social commentary, Bulworth has an edgy, in-your-face texture somewhere between Network and Do the Right Thing. And though the plot contrivances — like the self-initiated hit — are old-hat, the dead-on performances, Vittorio Storaro’s kinetic cinematography, and Beatty’s nervy social agenda make this film a provocative tour de force in political incorrectness. 

— Tom Meek