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The Helena Arkansas Daily World - Helena, AR
  • Movie Man: 'War Room' peeks behind political curtain

  • For a 19-year-old movie about a long-ago election, “The War Room” looks very timely right about now.

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  • For a 19-year-old movie about a long-ago election, “The War Room” looks very timely right about now.
    Directed by Chris Hedgedus and D.A. Pennebaker, the 1993 documentary focuses on the 1992 presidential election. More specifically, on Bill Clinton’s campaign. Even more specifically, on James Carville and George Stephanopoulos.
    Sure, there are plenty of other players in this movie, including the candidate himself. But access to Clinton was (understandably) limited, and so Hedgedus and Pennebaker were forced to switch their attention to Carville and Stephanopoulos. And they wound up with a very memorable movie. “The War Room” is a real fly-on-the-wall story, with the cameras taking the viewer into the rooms where decisions — major and minor — about the campaign are made. There’s no narration to explain what you’re seeing or why it matters, but that just adds to the drama. You follow Carville, Stephanoupolis and the rest of the team as they navigate the continuous hurdles of the 1992 election — including Gennifer Flowers, H. Ross Perot and Paul Tsongas — and somehow manage to shape a successful presidential campaign out of all of that chaos. (The fact that those names might not ring a bell shows just how long ago 1992 really was — and how quickly we forget.)
    In many ways, “The War Room” is a nostalgic movie, looking back at an era in American politics before there were cell phones or websites or blogs. At one point, Carville and company are shocked — shocked! — that the national media would pick up a story the National Enquirer broke. Ah, what an innocent time that was.
    Criterion’s new DVD and Blu-ray of “The War Room” include extras to put the movie in context. Best of all is 2008’s “Return of the War Room,” a companion documentary that interviews the folks from the first film. There are also features on how “The War Room” was made (with 1992 technology, it wasn’t easy) and a panel discussion featuring Carville and a certain surprise guest. Obviously your enjoyment of “The War Room” will depend on how you felt about Clinton’s election, but even if you’re a die-hard Republican, the peek into high-pressure politics should remain fascinating.
    From the Archive
    Warner Archive (warnerarchive.com) continues to excavate fascinating, forgotten films from Hollywood’s past. Here are two of the latest releases:
    “Fast Workers” (1933) stars John Gilbert and Robert Armstrong as a couple of pals who work building the skyscrapers of Manhattan. The love triangle at the heart of the movie is nothing special, but the setting is fun, with lots of shenanigans high atop the girders. The casting is interesting, too: Gilbert was a silent star at the end of his career, Armstrong starred in “King Kong” the same year and Mae Clarke, who plays the con woman who comes between our heroes, was in “Frankenstein” two years earlier. Also, director Tod Browning had helmed classic Lon Chaney films and 1931’s “Dracula,” but in 1932 he directed the ultra-controversial “Freaks,” which almost ended his career — and might explain why he was directing a low-budget (but fun) movie like “Fast Workers” one year later.
    Page 2 of 3 - “Blessed Event” (1933) is a great example of the “fast-talking reporter” genre that was popular during the Depression. Lee Tracy — one of the screen’s fastest talkers — plays a ruthless gossip columnist who specializes in revealing “blessed events” — meaning out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Tracy naturally finds his moral center by the end of the movie, but until then “Blessed Event” has lots of fun with tabloid journalism, gangster subplots and high-minded hypocrisy. There’s a great scene where Tracy explains how an electrocution works to a terrified gunman (Alan Jenkins) and a surprising moment when the only innocent character in the movie, Tracy’s dear old mom, utters the film’s only profanity.
    Read Will Pfeifer’s Movie Man blog at rrstar.com/blogs/willpfeifer/ or email him at wpfeifer@rrstar.com.
    Some DVDs out Tuesday
    “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”: David Fincher, the man who brought you “Seven” and “Zodiac,” takes on the best-selling novel in this chilly thriller starring Oscar-nominee Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig. If you can handle a few tough scenes, you’re in for a wild ride. Look for a Movie Man review soon.
    “The Muppets”: The beloved felt characters get a reboot for a new generation, with a story that brings in some new humans (Jason Segel, who also wrote it, and Amy Adams) and brings back all your old favorites. If you grew up watching Kermit and the gang, get your handkerchief out for “The Rainbow Connection” — I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to shed a few tears.
    “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”: Gary Oldman got an Oscar nomination for his subdued performance as a British spy master on the trail of a double agent. It requires paying careful attention, but if you do, you’ll see one of the best films of 2011.
    “Carnage”: Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play two sets of angry parents in this Roman Polanski movie.
    “Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Season 2 Part 2”: Trust me — it’s one of the best versions of Batman ever made. Your kids will love it, and you just might, too.
    “The Sitter”: Jonah Hill tries to take care of some unruly kids in this box office bomb. P.S.: It’s not the movie that earned Hill his Oscar nomination.
    “Battle Royale”: Long before “The Hunger Games,” this controversial Japanese movie told the tale of a group of teens exiled to an island and ordered to kill each other. After years of not being available, it’s finally on sale in the States. Go get it.
    And CDs ...
    Adam Lambert, “Trespassing”: Pretty soon, Adam Lambert is going to be taking the place of Freddy Mercury as the lead singer of Queen. Talk about trespassing.
    Page 3 of 3 - The Shins, “Port of Morrow”: Think back to the movie “Garden State,” where Natalie Portman said “the Shins ... you gotta hear this song. It’ll change your life.” Now imagine how many CD sales that one inane line of dialogue inspired.
    Casey James, “Casey James”: It’s been awhile since we had a performer using the least imaginative idea for naming his album, but here’s Casey James proving that someone, somewhere is still using that lazy trick.
     — Will Pfeifer
    Sources: thedigitalbits.com; tophitsonline.com
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