Sunday, November 4, 2012

Video Six-Pack: Hollywood’s take on presidential elections

Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman star in "All the President's Men."

Americans will head to the polls on Tuesday to elect another president.

Either Barack Obama will continue to reside in the White House for four more years or Mitt Romney will try his hand as president.

Whoever wins will have a difficult task of dealing with a massive deficit, terrorism, possible nuclear weapons in Iran and economic uncertainty.

Hollywood has had more than its share of films devoted to the race for president as well as the men who have occupied the White House over the years.

Films about candidates with dark secrets have included the Bruce Willis action film “Red” about a candidate trying to cover up his involvement in a military cover-up. Dustin Hoffman stars as a spin doctor in “Wag the Dog” about a campaign of disinformation and manipulation when a candidate is caught having sex with a minor. Frank Sinatra stars in “The Manchurian Candidate” about a candidate (Laurence Harvey) who is a communist stooge after being brainwashed while a POW during the Korean War.

Fictional presidents have had their share of woes including Michael Douglas as a widowed president trying to do his job, run for re-election and woo a lobbyist in “The American President.” Hal March is a president who has to thwart a military coup in “Seven Days in May.” Kevin Kline portrays both a calculating president who dies while having an affair with a staffer and the good-natured imposter brought in to portray him in “Dave.”

Real-life presidents have had their problems, too. President John Kennedy faces off with the Russians over missiles in Cuba in “13 Days in October.” Before he was president, Dwight Eisenhower has to defeat Nazi Germany in “Ike.”

Presidents have been action stars, such as the gun-toting chief executive portrayed by Harrison Ford in “Air Force One,” while Abraham Lincoln moonlighted as a vampire killer in “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer.” Jack Nicholson’s president is chased out of the White House by bloodthirsty aliens in “Mars Attacks!”

Here are six films available on video, DVD, on-demand or streaming that have featured one way or another the campaign for the highest office in the land.Vote early and often (it's a Chicago thing).

“All the President’s Men” (1976) – This exceptional film about the two Washington Post reporters who uncover the Watergate scandal is a tribute to old school journalism and, unfortunately, a look at how paranoia brought down a president. Stars include Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards and Jane Alexander.

“Swing Vote” (2008) – A presidential election comes down to a single man’s vote in this political comedy that may be a more accurate observation of the average voter than we want to believe. Stars include Kevin Costner, Paula Patton, Dennis Hopper, Madeline Carroll, Kelsey Grammer and Nathan Lane.

“Primary Colors” (1998) – John Travolta stars as a Bill Clinton-like candidate stumping for the Democratic nomination for president who will stop at nothing to win. Other stars include Emma Thompson, Kathy Bates, Adrian Lester, Billy Bob Thornton, Maura Tierney and Larry Hagman.  

“Shampoo” (1975) – The 1968 election between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey plays in the background for this film about a hair dresser (Warren Beatty) trying to find financing for his own shop while he beds just about every woman he encounters. Other stars include Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Lee Grant, Jack Warden and a young Carrie Fisher.

“Man of the Year” (2006) – Robin Williams stars as a Jon Stewart-like television pundit who runs for president and wins because of a computer glitch that the voting technology company will do everything to keep secret in this twisted comedy. Other stars include Laura Linney, Christopher Walken and Lewis Black.

“Head of State” (2003) – A candidate for president dies and his party decides to replace him with a nobody (Chris Rock) in the waning days of the campaign in this comedy. Other stars include Bernie Mac, Dylan Baker, Nick Searcy, Lynn Whitfield and Robin Givens. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Athletes and sports are the stars in Olympic films

British athletes train for the 1924 Games in the opening scene from "Chariots of Fire."

Few sporting events capture the world’s attention as do the Olympics, and few have its international flavor.

That makes sense considering 10,490 athletes from 204 countries are expected to compete in 26 sports for a chance to win one of 302 medals that will be given out at the London Games, which kick off Friday.

London is the first city to host the Games three times since they were revived in 1896. The British capital hosted the Games in 1908 and again in 1948.

Although the Olympics have not inspired filmmakers the way sports such as baseball or football have, there have been plenty of movies made about the Games and the athletes.

Cary Grant stars in “Walk, Don’t Run,” about a race walker at the Tokyo Games in 1964. “Wee Geordie” is about an undersized Scottish athlete training for the hammer throw at the 1956 Games in Melbourne. “It Happened in Athens” is a film about the effort to bring back the Olympics.

Many movies have focused on individual athletes and their lives or accomplishments. “The Bob Mathias Story” was a bio-pic about the 1948 and 1952 decathlon champ. He starred as himself. “Berlin 36” is a film about Gretel Bergmann, a female Jewish German athlete trying to compete in the 1936 Games in Berlin. “Forever the Moment” is a film about the South Korean women’s handball team that lost to Denmark in a shootout at the 2004 Games in Seoul.

Some movies about the Olympics are just plain silly or stupid. Chinese detective Charlie Chan uncovers a spy ring in Berlin while watching No. 1 son compete in the 1936 Games in “Charlie Chan at the Olympics.” Susan Anton is the daughter of an ex-Nazi scientist who has been pumping her full of secret drugs to make her an Olympic hero in “Goldengirl.” Dolph Lundgren portrays an American penthathlete who foils bad guys at both the 1992 and 1996 Games in "Pentathlon."

Here are six films about the Summer Olympics available on video, DVD, on demand and streaming that can get your juices flowing until the real Games start on Friday, or that can get you through the lean days of canoe slalom and synchronized swimming over the next two weeks.

Chariots of Fire (1981) – This is an epic film about two British track stars – one a Jew and the other a devout Christian – who take different paths to the 1924 Games in Paris. Stars include Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams, Ian Charleson as Eric Liddel, Ian Holm, Alice Krige and John Gielgud.

Running Brave (1983) – A heartwarming film about the shocking upset by U.S. Marine Billy Mills in the 10,000 meters race at the 1964 Games in Tokyo. Robbie Benson stars as Mills, a Sioux who must fight prejudice and his own coach to be a champion. Other stars include Pat Hingle, Graham Greene and Claudia Cron.

Without Limits (1998) – Billy Crudup stars as the University of Oregon track star in this film that traces his life leading up to the 1972 Games in Munich and his untimely death in 1975 at age 24 in a car crash. Other stars include Donald Sutherland as his college coach Bill Bowerman, Monica Potter and Jeremy Sisto. “Prefontaine” is another bio-pic starring Jared Leto as the runner.

Personal Best (1982) – Mariel Hemmingway stars as a talented but na├»ve pentathlete in this film about two young women fighting for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team leading up to the 1980 Games in Moscow. Complicating matters is that both her teammate and coach fall in love with her. Other stars include real-life pentathlete Patrice Donnelly and Scott Glenn.

The Jesse Owens Story (1984) – Dorian Harewood stars as the African-American athlete who demolished Hitler’s notion of Aryan superiority with a string of track victories at the 1936 Games in Berlin. Other stars include Levar Burton, Tom Bosley, Georg Stanford Brown and Norman Fell.

Jim Thorpe – All American (1951) – Burt Lancaster stars in this bio-pic of Native American athlete Jim Thorpe, who won both the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Games in Sweden and then had his medals stripped when he was discovered to have played semi-pro baseball. Thorpe is considered one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. He went on to play college and pro football as well as pro baseball and basketball. In 1983, the International Olympic Committee restored his Olympic medals. Other stars include Charles Bickford as Pop Warner, Steve Cochrane and Phyllis Thaxter. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ernest Borgine, from Film Heavy to TV Funnyman

Ernest Borgnine won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a butcher in "Marty" in 1955.
Ernest Borgnine spent the better part of six decades as an actor and was performing almost to the end. 

He died last week of kidney failure. He was 95 and had recently finished work on “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez,” a film about a bitter old man who finds fame among the Latino workers at a nursing home.

Perhaps best known as the conniving skipper of PT-73 in television’s “McHale’s Navy,” Borgnine had no trouble finding work in films and on television.

He moved back and forth between TV and film with relative ease.

He was often cast as a movie villain in his early years, but managed to take home the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as an Italian butcher who somehow finds love in “Marty” in 1955.

His TV career included “McHale’s Navy,” “Airwolf” and “The Single Guy.” He also lent his voice to animated shows including “SpongeBob Square Pants.” In 2009, at age 92, he was nominated for an Emmy for his performance in the final two episodes of “ER.”

Borgnine’s personal life was almost as remarkable as his film career. He was married five times including a 38-day marriage to Ethel Merman in 1964. Other wives included actress Katy Jurado.

Among his film roles was Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi in “Legend in Granite.” He also appeared as a general in all four “Dirty Dozen” films. Didn’t know there were three made-for-TV sequels, did you?

Other performances included “Bad Day at Black Rock,” “Johnny Guitar,” “Emperor of the North,” and “Ice Station Zebra.”

One of his funnier roles was as the cabbie that chose to stay in New York in the Kurt Russell adventure film “Escape from New York.”

He also appeared in a bit part as the record keeper in Bruce Willis’ spy adventure “Red” in 2010.

You can see how good an actor he was by checking out these six movies available on video, DVD, on-demand and through streaming services.

“From Here to Eternity” (1953) – Borgnine is a brutal MP who beats Frank Sinatra’s character to death in the stockade in this film about military life in Hawaii in the days leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Other stars include Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed and Jack Warden.

“Marty” (1955) – Borgnine took home the Academy Award for his performance as an Italian butcher who unexpectedly finds love in this wonderful film, beating out Frank Sinatra, James Dean, James Cagney and Spencer Tracy. Other stars include Betsy Blair and Jerry Paris.

“The Wild Bunch” (1969) – Borgnine stars as one of the title bunch who find themselves hunted after a robbery in this Sam Peckinpah Western bloodbath. Other stars include William Holden, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones.

“The Vikings” (1958) – Borgnine stars as Viking king Ragnar in this epic film about two brothers fighting each other as much as the English. Other stars include Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and James Donald.

“The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) – Borgnine is one of the survivors trying to find a way out after a luxury liner hits a tidal wave and capsizes in this epic disaster film. Other stars include Gene Hackman, Red Buttons, Jack Albertson, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters and Pamela Sue Martin.

“A Grandpa for Christmas” (2007) – Borgnine stars as former song-and-dance man who discovers he has a granddaughter when he must take care of his estranged daughter after she’s in a car accident right before Christmas in the made-for-television Hallmark movie. Other stars include Tracy Nelson, Jamie Farr, Katherine Helmond and Juliette Goglia.