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The President Doesn’t Answer to You, Monday Movies!

The American President is a D.C. sex scandal movie before Monica Lewinsky, which makes it obsolete; and it is a D.C. Aaron Sorkin movie before The West Wing, which makes it fascinating.

The cast of characters is mostly the same. Martin Sheen plays the Leo McGarry/chief of staff character, Anna Deveare Smith the C.J. Cregg/press secretary character, Michael J. Fox is Josh Lyman/political deputy (though reportedly based on George Stephanopolous, he has a Rahm-worthy outburst), David Paymer, Toby Ziegler/Jew. There’s even an old lady executive assistant; Mrs. Landingham coulda broke her in two. Notably missing is an Abby Bartlett figure; the president’s wife is dead, and Michael Douglas’s President Andrew Shepherd must romance Annette Bening’s top-dog lobbyist (part the hated Moira Kelly character, part the beloved Mary-Louise Parker).

Here is why Martin Sheen makes a better Aaron Sorkin president than Michael Douglas: because, in everything he does, Martin Sheen is secretly a little bit smarter than you, and in everything he does, Michael Douglas is secretly an asshole. In Aaron Sorkin’s redemptive vision of America, the smart people will be freed to lead from their hearts. (The Social Network may be the only thing Aaron Sorkin ever wrote in which smart people were not also wise.) Jonathan Chait says most of what needs to be said about the politics of this view here. I would like to see a movie in which Michael Douglas’s secret-asshole property were exploited to be the special power of the President of the United States. Jeff Bridges was a winning President in The Contender; because Jeff Bridges is always secretly stoned, there was a great scene revolving around late-night calls to the White House kitchen.

The American President was directed by Rob Reiner. Interestingly, Reiner also directed Sorkin’s script of A Few Good Men, which I remember as a lot crisper than the former movie. The West Wing was directed by Thomas Schlamme, although in television, unlike in features, the buck stops with the head writer, also known as the showrunner, so we can consider The West Wing Sorkin’s direct execution of his vision. The low, golden lighting, the high-speed deadpanning; both are missing from The American President. 

After we watched The American President, we turned on the pilot of Sports Night, which is a terrific half-hour of television. I had no qualms about it whatsoever, because I know shit about sports.


Rise of the Planet of the Apes: a moving tragedy. Andy Serkis is a genius — are we all agreed that his gift to physical acting on film is comparable to that of Buster Keaton? The movie decisively shifts from the story of James Franco’s scientist character to the story of Serkis’s intellectually-enhanced chimpanzee. This shift leaves the end feeling a little unbalanced, when Franco’s story has come to a bittersweet resolution but Serkis’s — and that of ape-kind — seems to have only reached a midpoint. Then the credits roll, and with them the rest of the story.


August 15, 2011 - Posted by | Monday Movies | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. So it’s not about the apes after all?

    (does Reiner rhyme with Weiner?)

    Comment by Guido Nius | August 15, 2011

  2. 8/08/11 – Sword of Doom – Okamoto 1965 8/10
    nihilist masterpiece doesn’t even have a ending, just “killing and killing to be continued”;Tetsuta Nakadai terrific

    8/9-10/11 – Sasame-yuki Makioka Sisters – Ichikawa 1983 4/10
    pretty kimonos and flowers totally pedestrian directing and butchering of a great novel
    title is wonderful…”fine snow” which alludes to cherry blossoms and major character’s name Yukiko

    8/10/11 – Never Let Me Go – Romanek 2010 7/10

    8/11/11 – The Scent of Green Papaya – Anh Hung Tranh 1993 6/10
    1st half good 2nd half ruined by annoying lead actress pretty pictures but fell asleep

    8/12/11 – Sorekara – Yoshimitsu Morita 1985 9/10
    masterpiece;I cannot imagine, as much as I know of him, of a better treatment of Natsume Soseki and his
    context;2:20 of long still silent takes and never bored;just amazing

    8/13/11 – Irezumi – Masumura 1966 7/10
    terrific accessible crisp introduction to Masumura who approaches exploitation sex and violence but remains art film maker;self-referential and meta-;Wakao Ayako 2nd best bad girl after Kyo Machiko

    8/14/11 – Maihime – Naruse 1951 5/10
    Interesting line:”Father got in trouble during the war because he wrote a book “Literature of the Yoshino Court” “He would never do that.” I thought the Southern Yoshino late 1300s Court was the legitimate Imperial Line in opposition to Northern Court Ashikaga usurpers

    Comment by bob mcmanus | August 15, 2011

  3. It’s “Tatsuya Nakadai” Supposedly SoD was supposed to be the first in a Restoration series that was never finished, but if you examine it closely entire plot lines simply can’t be reconciled with the blood orgy at the end, so it as if our nihilistic protagonist took over the movie from the director and screenwriter and told them “Fuck this movie, I just have too much more killing to do.”

    Comment by bob mcmanus | August 15, 2011

  4. We started “Winnebago Man,” but it got boring halfway through. A half-hour TV series about the origin of “viral videos” would maybe be a good idea.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 15, 2011

  5. Watched Super. Had some thoughts.

    Kevin Kline made an underrated president in the underrated Dave.

    Comment by Josh Malbin | August 16, 2011

  6. Last night I watched and greatly enjoyed Withnail & I.

    Comment by ben | August 16, 2011

  7. […] watched Kick-Ass last week, but left it out of my Monday Movies gig because I was short on time and I had this exercise in mind. A screenwriter’s “beat […]

    Pingback by Kick-Ass vs. the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet - Joshua Malbin | August 17, 2011

  8. Monday Movies Late Edition! I also watched Kick-Ass last week, and analyzed it for structure as a screenwriting exercise.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | August 17, 2011

  9. Oh, hai, pingback.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | August 17, 2011

  10. Paymer’s Fametracker bio inexplicably fails to credit his fine turn as the taxi driver in The In-Laws.

    Comment by Mr. Blandings | August 18, 2011

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