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  • daniel2645

Commander-in-Stream


Now that love and romance are officially dead to us, we can focus our attention on the next holiday, one with actual work day and parking enforcement implications. Some might bemoan the fact that a single all-encompassing holiday has been streamlined from celebrating two of the country's most cherished presidents with individual days off; others might not feel like the office itself deserves much celebration right now. Still, while Americans consider it perfectly normal to binge on screen romances in the week before, whether or not we have any religious reverence for a relatively minor Catholic saint, there doesn't seem to be the same enthusiasm towards Presidents' Day. Admittedly, presidential themed films are much more of a niche than romantic movies. Almost every movie has an element of romance, while relatively few have the President of the United States of America. President movies tend to fall into three basic categories: historical biopic, blockbuster action or light comedy. Either the historical weight of the office preoccupies the filmmakers or serves as a means to artificially inflate the stakes. Not that this is always a bad thing. Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for the movie that usually tops the listicles and we'll get off President Harrison Ford's plane any day of the week (especially if he's flying it), though not even Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver can salvage a far-fetched premise of centrist fantasy politics. Apart from one or two notable exceptions, fillmmakers tend to shy away from portraying the wonkish banality of presidential life, the mind-altering effects of power or the frustration of institutional bureacracy that might make the Oval Office truly cinematic. Maybe that will change in the post-Trump era, assuming we ever get there. In the meantime, here are some other presidents to take your mind off the actual occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW this long weekend.



The American President - One of the few films on this list that doubles as a Valentine's Day movie, this might be more notable for its impact on prestige TV as a pre-pilot for The West Wing. Noted political junkies Rob Reiner and Aaron Sorkin deserve credit for grinding in the legislative sausage factory while making a romantic comedy.



Amistad - Steven Spielberg's other movie about an American president illuminated a lesser known chapter in a much lesser known president's life. John Quincy Adams was not only an unsuccessful one-term president but also the son of a Founding Father and President of the same name. Despite the double impact of this historical legacy, he championed the abolition movement after leaving the office, returning to Congress and defending the leaders of a slave ship mutiny.



Primary Colors - Technically, John Travolta's thinly veiled Bill Clinton stand in isn't even president yet. That said, as we re-examine Clinton's political legacy, it's worth revisiting Mike Nichols' adaptation of Joe Klein's anonymously penned novel about the ups, downs and freewheeling insanity of a presidential primary. For bonus points, check out the documentary about the same subject as a point of comparison.



The Manchurian Candidate - Maybe a paranoid thriller about presidential assassination isn't the best way to commemorate the holiday. Director Jonathan Demme took on a massive challenge in remaking a classic, but his sincere effort to update the Cold War themes of the original for an era of unchecked corporatism and a nebulous War on Terror produced a surprisingly sophisticated political drama.



Dick - Andrew Fleming's Watergate farce manages to strike the balance between the goofy comedy of other presidential flicks and gonzo madness. Watching this movie, it's no surprise that Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst would go on to become two of the more accomplished actresses of their generation.



Barry - The last year of Obama's presidency saw two different imaginings of his younger self on screen. This one focuses on his college years. We're still waiting for the law school, community organizer and Illinois state senate chronicles. Or maybe something about his actual presidency?


National Treasure - Okay, there's no president here, though the treasure map is on the back of a document written by Thomas Jefferson. And Benjamin Franklin Gates does [spoiler alert] kidnap the president in the sequel for anyone looking to make a double feature. For better or worse, this may be the best lesson in modern civics since Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.





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