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August 23, 2014

Posts in "Movies"

August 11, 2014

Roll Call After Dark Documentary of the Week: ‘Road Scholar’

It’s August, when many people take vacation and are lured by the open road. “Road Scholar,” Roger Weisberg’s 1993 chronicle of Andrei Codrescu’s journey across America in a red Cadillac, is the perfect documentary to illustrate what could lay ahead: fast food, kitschy motels, machine guns and an exploration of what it means to be an American.

Codrescu, the long-time NPR commentator, reporter, novelist, essayist, poet, professor and editor, was born in Transylvania, Romania, one of his claims to fame, as he states at the beginning of the movie. His other? That he doesn’t drive, which he remedies by not only getting a drivers license but using it to take what he views as that most American of things: the cross-country road trip.

Along the way, he traces the paths not just of Americana but his own immigrant roots. He came to the United States in the 1960s, a political refugee, and landed in the most car-centric city of all: Detroit. His return to the Motor City is a sad one, with the decay that continues to define the city taking hold in the early 1990s.

It’s not all sad. Codrescu’s wry narrative, which helped the documentary win a Peabody award, navigates the American landscape with humor and affection. Years before Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” made some of these rounds, Codrescu paved the way, without having to fake the accent.

When Codrescu’s journey ends, in San Francisco at a citizenship ceremony he helps conduct, it’s a poignant moment that fits well into today’s debate on immigration. His own journey, from Romania to the United States, from New Orleans to San Francisco, shows the potential, accomplishment, absurdity and fun messiness of the American experience.

Plus, you get to listen to that awesome accent for a good hour and a half.

By Jason Dick Posted at 8:28 a.m.

August 4, 2014

Who’s the Fairest Nixon of Them All?

coin1 081503 2 370x335 Whos the Fairest Nixon of Them All?

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Richard Nixon resigned the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974, capping off a political career and providing writers, historians and filmmakers creative fodder the likes of which Shakespeare would have drooled over.

Nixon’s ambition, his successes, his failures, his paranoia and his mannerisms have provided memorable film roles for some of Hollywood’s most talented actors. Here, then, are some of the best Nixon performances put to celluloid, yielding that most Washington of questions: Who is the fairest Nixon of them all?

— Philip Baker Hall in “Secret Honor” by Robert Altman. Hall’s Nixon is an enraged man alone in a White House with a bottle of booze, recording equipment and portraits of the people who have shaped his life and loom ominously over him. This cinematic one-man play is a bitter pill, and Hall gives his sweaty, drunken, extended soliloquy everything he’s got in the tank.

— Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon” by Ron Howard. Langella’s portrayal of the disgraced ex-president seeking to redeem himself through his extended sit-down interviews with David Frost is a marvel. He shows a calculating, slippery, awkward man, deeply hurt and coldly calculating all the same, desperate to re-engage in the game.

— Anthony Hopkins in “Nixon” by Oliver Stone. Stone’s gonzo biopic allowed Hopkins to lean into his interpretation of Nixon as  a less-sophisticated but just as dangerous version of Hannibal Lecter. It’s a wonder Hopkins doesn’t bite someone in this role. You have to admire the commitment.

— Dan Hedaya in “Dick” by Andrew Fleming. The Watergate scandal as comedy! Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams are the Rozencrantz and Guildenstern of Nixon’s White House, two ditzy teenagers who find themselves enmeshed in the biggest political scandal of modern times. Hedaya, so used to playing cranky police captains, homicidal villains in Cohen brothers movies or Carla’s deranged husband Nick Tortelli in “Cheers,” gives the most bubbly portrayal of Nixon ever, a marvel considering how dark the source material is.

— Richard Nixon in “Our Nixon” and “Nixon by Nixon.” Judge for yourself how Nixon does compared to the other Nixons out there. Penny Lane’s “Our Nixon” and Peter Kunhardt’s “Nixon by Nixon” use archival footage, Super-8 home movies and the Watergate tapes to illustrate the 37th president. Both films, particularly viewed as a package, paint a portrait of Nixon that is compelling, entertaining and haunting.

By Jason Dick Posted at 1:18 p.m.

Roll Call After Dark Documentary of the Week: ‘Our Nixon’

The Aug. 9 40th anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation is almost upon us, and it’s being accompanied by the recent releases of archival material and re-interpretations of the 37th president that portray Nixon as more than just a disgraced caricature.

Chief among these, partly because they marry the power of actual images to the sounds of real people’s voices, are two documentaries: Last week’s Documentary of the Week “Nixon by Nixon” by Peter Kunhardt and this week’s pick, “Our Nixon” by Penny Lane.

Both are the kind of movies that give non-fiction filmmaking a good name. Kunhardt’s film relies on Nixon’s secret tape recordings and archival news reports to paint the picture of the behind-the scenes president. Lane’s film is a different animal that uses some of the same techniques, but has an incredible twist, leaning on Super-8 home movies taken by White House aides H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Dwight Chapin that were impounded by the FBI until just a few years ago.

What unfurls in Lane’s movie are images of a White House staff in its most candid moments, some light-hearted, some puzzling. It shows how much fun it can be in the White House and how dull it can be. Many of the film’s scenes depict a heavy conversation between, say, Nixon and Haldeman or Ehrlichman while the camera rolls on an image unfolding outside the West Wing — a hummingbird or a squirrel eating or spring-time blooms on the grounds. It’s a weird, abstractly sublime contrast.

“Our Nixon” shows a world most people don’t get to see outside of staffers and the press. It’s a view of the play from backstage, and the program is one of the most consequential epochs in American history.

By Jason Dick Posted at 9:50 a.m.

July 28, 2014

Roll Call After Dark Documentary of the Week: ‘Nixon by Nixon’ (Video)

“Sometimes, I regret …,” President Richard M. Nixon intones at the beginning of the documentary “Nixon by Nixon: In His Own Words.” The voice trails off, leaving the viewer, or Nixon himself perhaps, to fill in the rest.

How does one mark the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s Aug. 9 resignation? One way is by watching Peter Kunhardt’s movie, which makes its debut on HBO on Aug. 4. Kunhardt uses recordings from Nixon’s secret taping system from 1971 through 1973 to form the base of the movie, along with images from news footage and other vintage sources from the era.

The strength of this documentary is letting Nixon do the talking, with an assist from senior aides such H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Henry Kissinger. The range of topics swings from Nixon’s attitude toward the press — “The press is the enemy. Write that down on a blackboard 100 times” — to the pandas he helped convince the Chinese to send to the National Zoo. “Oh, they’re just darling!” Pat Nixon tells her husband.

Let Nixon be your Virgil in this guided tour through Watergate’s back passages.


By Jason Dick Posted at 4:21 p.m.

July 21, 2014

Roll Call After Dark Documentary of the Week: ‘Code Black’

Not for the faint of heart, “Code Black” by Ryan McGarry is a documentary about Los Angeles County’s emergency trauma center. Right off the bat it plunges the viewer into the most graphic elements of health care, as well as doctors’ concerns about how they can balance the optimism that led them to their profession with the brutal reality they face on a daily basis. McGarry, who was in his residency at County while he was filming the movie, is just one of the many doctors who make the movie hum along.

“Someone is suffering. What are you going to do?” asks Jamie Eng, a senior resident physician says after a series of scenes that makes the goriest episode of “ER” look like kid’s stuff. The staff’s narration revolves around the role that emergency rooms fulfill in the American health care system, an out-sized and expensive one that goes beyond treating gunshot wounds and reaches to primary care for the most vulnerable members of society.

“When we started this, it seemed so simple. We were going to be doctors. We were going to help people. But what if those ideals can die? I mean, what if those hopes can fade into the failure of the system. If you’re a young doctor, you have to ask yourself, ‘how do I protect the ideals I came here for?” McGarry says early on in the film.

Amid the depressing polarization of the health care debate in Washington, the fact that they’re even continuing to ask questions like that is a minor miracle. This movie shows why people go into medicine, and how tough that choice can be, however rewarding it may be.

“Code Black” is playing at the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market at 550 Penn St. NE.

By Jason Dick Posted at 6:27 p.m.

July 14, 2014

Roll Call After Dark Documentary of the Week: ‘Getting Back to Abnormal’

A new political documentary, “Getting Back to Abnormal” debuts this week on PBS and examines New Orleans politics in the post-Katrina era.

The 90-minute documentary — produced and directed Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Peter Odabashian and Paul Stekler — profiles a Big Easy city council race between a white incumbent, Stacy Head, and a local African-American pastor, Corey Watkins.

But the film also asks: Can New Orleans preserve its character amid recovering from the 2005 hurricane?

This team’s previous work has appeared on PBS’ Nova, American Experience and Frontline.

Stekler wrote and produced Frontline’s 2008 “The Choice” documentary chronicling then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ahead of the general election.

“Getting Back to Abnormal” premieres Monday evening. In Washington, it airs Friday at 10 p.m. on WETA, and on July 23 at 8 p.m. on WHUT.

Beyond the Beltway, check your local listings here.

Disclosure: The author of this post interned for Stekler while a student at the University of Texas. 

July 11, 2014

The Movies’ Guide to Understanding Cleveland

 The Movies Guide to Understanding Cleveland

(Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

It’s been quite a week for Cleveland, starting out by scoring the 2016 Republican National Convention and ending it with LeBron James spurning NBA mistress Miami to return to the Cavaliers.

But what if you’re not one of the fortunate travelers out there who have experienced all that Ohio’s North Coast has to offer? Well, there’s always the movies. Here are five to get you started on your journey to understand Cleveland.

  • “American Splendor.” Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s 2003 brings the real crown prince of Cleveland, the late graphic novelist/file clerk Harvey Pekar to the screen with Paul Giamatti and Harvey Pekar playing Pekar, whose vision of life in Cleveland matches the city’s gritty ethos.
  • “Major League.” David Ward’s 1989 film about a Cleveland Indians team that the owner tries to sabotage, but, of course wins instead, is a classic against-the-odds sports flick. It does capture the particular craziness of Cleveland sports fandom and their resignation to falling short, particularly with its ending. The team wins, yes, but it’s just a win for the division title. Usually these movies end with a World Series win! Not in Cleveland.
  • “Stranger Than Paradise.” Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 black and white story of a road trip that takes in a nice, middle-of-winter visit to Cleveland and the shores of Lake Erie captures just a little bit of what the reasoning might have been for some of the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled Cleveland in the last few decades.
  • “Draft Day.” Want to see the more optimistic view of Cleveland sports? Ivan Reitman’s film this year stars Kevin Costner as a hometown general manager for the Browns whose ass is on the line to deliver big on the NFL’s draft day for the team and its fans. Wouldn’t you know it, he did. Wouldn’t you know it, within weeks of this film being released, the Browns drafted Texas A&M Quarterback Johnny Manziel. You be the judge if art imitates life.
  • “Howard The Duck.” Willard Huyck’s 1986 flick is perhaps one of the worst studio movies ever made, a colossal flop with George Lucas’ imprimatur and a Marvel Comics pedigree. A talking duck from a parallel universe gets beamed to Cleveland. Has to be seen to be believed.
By Jason Dick Posted at 5:53 p.m.

July 7, 2014

Washington’s Biggest Repertory Cinema: The Great Outdoors

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(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The outdoor summer movie circuit is in full swing, with plenty of al fresco viewing to go around in Washington, including the grande dame herself, the upcoming Screen on the Green on the National Mall.

Screen on the Green, which is entering its 16th year, starts back up between Seventh and 12th streets on July 21 with “The Karate Kid,” that touchstone of 1980s and Generation X culture. It continues on following Mondays with “Lover Come Back,” “Key Largo” and “A Soldier’s Story.”

Debuting that same week is the Washington City Paper’s Summer Cinema series in the Heurich House Museum’s garden, a bit cozier venue than the National Mall located just south of Dupont Circle at 1307 New Hampshire Ave. NW. The first in the series, “Wayne’s World,” plays on July 24, with the next three Thursdays hosting “Clueless,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Beetlejuice.”

The city’s Film Office last month launched its Gateway DC Summer Film Series on the grounds of St. Elizabeth’s East Campus, the District’s only outdoor film series east of the Anacostia River at 2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. SE. On Wednesday, it will show “Talk to Me,” a feature film about legendary D.C. journalist Petey Greene. The series continues through Aug. 13 with “Life of a King,” “My Family/Mi Familia,” “Wall-E,” “Rize” and “Are We There Yet?”

Closer to the Capitol, the NoMa Summer Screen at Second and L streets Northeast, continues Wednesday with the “The Muppets,” the rebooted one with Jason Segel and Amy Adams, not the original with Richard Pryor and Charles Durning. The food trucks serving the NoMa crowd are scheduled to be Popped Republic, Kafa Mania, DC Slices, Crepe Love and Orange Cow. NoMa’s series continues on Wednesdays through Aug. 20 with “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Dark Knight,” “Pitch Perfect,” “Top Gun” and “The Sandlot,” with a rain date slated for the last slot and the film to be determined.

Also not too far from the Capitol is the Capitol Riverfront’s Canal Park series at 200 M St. SE. On Thursday, after a one-week hiatus, the movies fire back up near Nationals Park with “Balls of Fury,” the ping pong comedy. The “It’s a Whole New Game” theme will be in full effect, with Thursdays through Sept. 4 showing one sports movie after another. On July 17, Canal Park will show “Space Jam” and the following weeks will feature “Invincible,” “Bend it Like Beckham,” “Rudy,” “A League of Their Own,” “The Blind Side,” (a break on Aug. 28 in anticipation of Labor Day) and end with “Moneyball.”

So find a comfortable blanket for these free, dusk-time events. That’s a whole lot of movies.

By Jason Dick Posted at 3:30 p.m.
Down Time, Movies

June 26, 2014

In ‘Korengal,’ Junger Closes The Book on Afghanistan

Sebastian Junger’s films about Afghanistan have a knack for coming to town when news is spiking about the war.

“Restrepo,” his film about an Army company’s tour of duty there, was released in 2010 as Gen. Stanley McChrystal was being relieved of his command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan; the war had officially become the longest one in U.S. history; Congress was debating a multibillion-dollar supplemental war-funding bill, and U.S. coalition forces had endured their deadliest month to date.

Now, as “Korengal,” his sequel to “Restrepo,” opens in Washington Friday, the country is in the midst of an intense debate over how to take care of its returning veterans, typified by the unfolding Department of Veterans Affairs waitlist scandal. President Barack Obama has nominated a new commander for Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Campbell, as the U.S. combat mission there winds down and veterans have begun to speak out more candidly about the divide between military and civilian life. Full story

By Jason Dick Posted at 5 a.m.

June 15, 2014

Congressional Women’s Softball Game Highlights a Busy Week

Think it’s going to be a busy week in the Capitol, what with a full legislative calendar and House leadership elections? There’s just as much going on in the outside-work calendar, including a throw-down between members of Congress and the media and a telling of the Koch brothers’ tale.

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Bendery, in a non-trash talking moment. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The 6th Annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game is Wednesday night, and the trash talk is flying, including a radio “Softball Smackdown” featuring Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., and Huffington Post scribe Jennifer Bendery on the Bill Press Show. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at Eventbrite. Proceeds benefit the Young Survival Coalition. The opening pitch is at 7 p.m. at the Watkins Recreation Center at 420 12th Street SE.

One of Washington’s high-profile film festivals, AFI Docs, gets underway Wednesday, with an opening night show at the Newseum of “Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey,” by Scott Teems. Actor Hal Holbrook, who has been portraying Mark Twain on stage for more than six decades, will be on hand to introduce the film. The festival, which as a full slate of 84 films, runs through June 22 at various venues in D.C. and Silver Spring, Md. For tickets and showtimes, visit the festival website.

Roll Call Book Club returns Thursday night, when we’ll sit down with Mother Jones Senior Editor Daniel Schulman to discuss his new book, “Sons of Wichita, How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty.” In case you don’t check in on the Senate floor every once in a while, the Koch brothers are kind of a big deal. However, the K-Bros that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made into Democrats’ bete noire, Charles and David, are only half of the brood. Schulman’s biography serves up juicy bits on the eldest, Frederick, who’s a patron of the arts, and Bill, David’s fraternal twin, an America’s Cup winner and to this day a bitter rival to Charles and David. This free event, complete with wine, cheese and a book giveaway, starts at 6 p.m. at Hill Center at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Please register on Hill Center’s website ahead of time.

Friday is the day we wrap the voting for the annual Roll Call Taste of America contest. Pulling for the deep-sea heavyweight, Maine’s lobster rolls? Want to make sure Iowa bacon wraps itself in victory? Trying to make sure Maryland crab cakes scuttle to victory? Then vote at The winner will be announced at the following week’s 53rd Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park.

June 4, 2014

‘Drones’ Gets a D.C. Premiere, and a Moral Debate

“I think you’re going to be intensely affected by the movie you’re about to see,” Sen. Jeff Merkley said to an audience awaiting the Washington, D.C., premiere of “Drones,” a taut film about the use and morality of unmanned drones in combat zones. The Oregon Democrat wasn’t kidding.

As the screen went black after the final frame of the movie, when a young Air Force officer makes her decision about whether to launch Hellfire missiles at a terrorism suspect who happens to be surrounded by a favorite euphemism, “collateral damage,” the audience at Tuesday night’s show at Landmark’s E Street Cinema was audibly moved in its reaction.

“This is a film people seem to want to stay and talk about,” director Rick Rosenthal had said earlier, referring to previous screenings in places as far away as London and California. As the United States begins to draw down troops in places such as Afghanistan, all the while continuing to invest in unmanned aerial vehicles, the movie is being released at a time of debate over the future of warfare itself. The crowd that stayed to discuss the film with Rosenthal seemed to think so.  Full story

By Jason Dick Posted at 1:53 p.m.

May 28, 2014

Ian Fleming’s Birthday Is Today, so Drink a Martini

Need an excuse to have a martini? It’s Ian Fleming’s birthday on Wednesday, so hoist one to the creator of Bond, James Bond.

Some of the better places to indulge? Wisdom cocktail parlour at 1432 Pennsylvania Ave. SE is arguably your best best on Capitol Hill, although you can expect proprietor Erik Holzherr, the Gintender, to speak up in favor of gin, as opposed to Mr. Bond’s preference for vodka martinis.

Washington’s good enough to be a town replete with good cocktail places. If you’re not on the Hill, may we suggest the Passenger (1021 Seventh St. NW), Round Robin (1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW) or the Gibson (2009 14th St. NW)?

If Bond’s not your thing, just remember that Fleming is the man who also gave us “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

May 27, 2014

Time to Start Hanging Out Outside

The mercury is climbing in Washington, which means it’s time to start scoping out your outdoor lounging sites, including open-air movies right next to Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, NoMa Summer Screen returns to the Near Northeast neighborhood with a screening of “Back to the Future” to kick off its 2014 Unlikely Friendships theme.

Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 time-travel comedy starring Michael J. Fox as a teenager whipped back to the 1950s in a DeLorean is one of the seminal movies of the 1980s (Huey Lewis and the News! Christopher Lloyd! 1950s nostalgia!) and is always worth another viewing, particularly when shown outside with the benefit of your pals and mobile eating courtesy of this go-round’s food trucks: Popped!Republic, The Big Cheese, TaKorean, Red Hook Lobster and Dangerously Delicious Pies. As always, the movies are free, the food is not.

Full story

May 22, 2014

‘D-Day: Normandy 1944′ Movie Arrives in Time for Memorial Day, 70th Anniversary

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Brokaw, left, and Blakey were on hand to discuss D-Day. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

This year’s Memorial Day weekend is followed shortly by the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has a primo movie to go along with it all that opens Friday at its fancy-pants IMAX theater: “D-Day Normandy 1944.”

The 3-D film by Pascal Vuong got a nice Washington premiere on Monday night, when World War II buff/newsman Tom Brokaw moderated a panel with Vuong, National World War II Museum President Nick Mueller and Tom Mueller, a 93-year old veteran who parachuted into Normandy on the Longest Day and lived to tell the tale.

Brokaw hopes the film about “the greatest military invasion in the history of the world” will help raise awareness of just how big a deal it all was. “D-Day was a huge gamble at the time” Brokaw said to the crowd assembled Monday, which included members of Congress such as WWII veteran and Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio. “This was the biggest one of them all. There was no alternate plan,” Brokaw added.

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Dingell, left, himself a World War II veteran, was donned the 3-D glasses for the movie. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The film, which clocks in under one hour, combines dramatized invasion scenes with animation and graphics that attempt to show not just the magnitude of the invasion that helped topple the Third Reich, but also the human elements and damage inflicted on the French countryside and population. Brokaw narrates the American version, while the French version features the voice of actor Francois Cluzet.

Brokaw is not exaggerating in his description of the scope of D-Day and its effect on world history. The simple logistics of arming and siting the invasion force are explored in great detail in Rick Atkinson’s “The Guns at Last Light,” the conclusion of his World War II trilogy.

For a holiday weekend movie, “D-Day Normandy 1944″ fits the bill.


By Jason Dick Posted at 1:09 p.m.

May 21, 2014

AFI DOCS Announces 84-Film Full Slate

The AFI DOCS documentary film festival announced its full slate of 84 movies today, and the list includes several films that touch on issues with contemporary political currency.

At a time when the public and its representatives in Congress are exploring the extent of the government’s surveillance of everyday citizens, the movie “1971″ touches on a decades-old incident that shows such topics are perennial in American society. Johanna Hamilton’s picture is about a March 1971 break-in at an FBI office in Media, Pa., by activists calling themselves the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI, who stole top secret files on the agency’s domestic surveillance program and sent them to news organizations. Betty Medsger’s book, “The Burglary,” released earlier this year, is also about the case.

In the same vein, Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s “The Newburgh Sting” is about a more contemporary FBI case, and explores whether the bureau entrapped four men who were later convicted of terrorism. Both movies were part of last month’s Tribeca Film Festival as well.

Other politically themed movies on the schedule include “Silenced,” about government whistleblowers, and “We Are The Giant,” about the Arab Spring, as well as “Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus,” about an underground acting troupe who risks imprisonment or worse in Belarus.

The festival runs June 18-22, at multiple locations in Washington and Silver Spring, Md.

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