10 inspiring Presidential firsts

January 18th, 2009 by Barak

Barack Obama rode the inaugural train to Washington DC to be sworn in on January 20th – the first black President. To celebrate this first for the U.S., here are 10 other firsts for heads of state. Some are real-life firsts, some are fictions that I hope will come true – and I learned about them all from movies and TV.

First U.S President

George Washington in John Adams
This multi-award winning miniseries starring Paul Giamatti as President John Adams, Laura Linney as his wife Abigail Adams, and David Morse as President George Washington, covers the nation’s first 50 years in seven episodes. It’s a story of tragedy, love, war, friendship, freedom, liberty, and a uniquely American life. And it teaches us an important lesson, well put by Giamatti in his winning speech: “I’m living proof, kids at home watching, that anyone can play the President!”

First actor to become President

Ronald Reagan in Back to the Future
One of the funniest moments in Back to the Future goes like this:
Doc: “Then tell me, “Future Boy,” who’s President of the United States in 1985?”
Marty: “Ronald Reagan.”
Doc: “Ronald Reagan? The actor?!” Laughs and continues, “Then who’s VICE-President? Jerry Lewis??”

Yes, in the pre-reality-TV era, when being a celebrity wasn’t a job qualification, who would have thought that an actor could become President? Ronald Reagan did, two times in a row. A few of his most memorable films are Storm Warning, Bedtime For Bonzo, The Winning Team and his last film The Killers – based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway, in which he co-starred alongside Lee Marvin and John Cassavetes. Better actor or President? Depends on your political leanings. When Schwarzenegger said “I’ll be back,” did he have Reagan in mind…?

First assassination of a President

Abraham Lincoln in The Birth of a Nation
Abraham Lincoln was the first President of the U.S to be assassinated (unfortunately he wasn’t the last). In the movie, large-scale battle sequences and meticulous historical details culminate in a recreation of Lincoln’s assassination.

While The Birth of a Nation was a major step forward in the history of filmmaking, it must be noted that the film supports a racist worldview. But there is no denying that it remains a groundbreaking achievement, setting a high mark for film as an art form.

First President to resign

Nixon saw the Vietnam War to an end. He also sets the record as the longest serving individual to have held the two highest executive posts in the U.S.  Ironically, he also holds the record of the only U.S. President to ever resign from office, due to the Watergate scandal.

Not exactly inspiring, but still – he’s been depicted in quite a few films dealing with the scandal, the man, or the era: the most memorable being All the President’s Men and Oliver Stone’s Nixon, in which he was portrayed by the famous cannibal Anthony Hopkins.

Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon is the lastest entry in the Nixon filmography and is yet another of his movies that might pick up an Oscar or two. Although a bit slow, it’s a brilliant psychological movie about a man’s downfall, and well worth watching even if you’re not big on history lessons. Frank Langella’s portrayal of Nixon is nothing less than amazing and he might give a good fight to Sean Penn in the best actor category (funny, considering Penn has already been hurt cinematically by Nixon in The Assassination of Richard Nixon).

First (and hopefully last) President with a below-average I.Q.

Many agree that George W. Bush is, was and will be the dumbest President of the U.S. ever. There’s no PC way to say it, especially when Michael Moore has bluntly (and manipulatively) argued it before, in his disturbing Fahrenheit 9/11. Nevertheless, Bush had two terms in office – what does that say…?

Oliver Stone, who likes confronting controversy in American society, history and presidency (JFK, Nixon, Platoon, Born on the 4th of July) contributed his own take on Bush in the intriguing yet financially and critically disappointing W. One can’t help thinking that this was Stone’s way of contributing to Obama’s campaign; otherwise he might not have rushed its release.

First honest (and rapping) President

This one is – unfortunately – still just fiction.

This surprisingly entertaining political comedy features a funny, magnetic Warren Beatty as disillusioned politician Bulworth. He’s arranged his own assassination but decides he wants to live after all – and so he begins to tell the complete truth at all times, not worrying about the repercussions. Oh yes, and he starts rapping….

I don’t know about Obama’s rapping skills, but I do hope he will deliver on his promise for a different politics – and telling the truth could be a good start.

First President of the galaxy

Zaphod Beeblebrox in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Based on the five-book series by Douglas Adams, this is a funny, wacky and highly creative ride through a bizarre universe. Martin Freeman stars as Arthur Dent, a British everyman suddenly thrust into intergalactic intrigue when the earth is destroyed by the Vogons to make room for an interspatial highway. Arthur travels the skyways with good friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), an alien writer for an electronic encyclopedia called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy. Things get downright dangerous – and hysterical – when Arthur and Ford thumb a ride with the President of the universe, two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox (a wild and crazy Sam Rockwell).

Why does two-headed president sound like a familiar concept, though not too successful thus far?

First Queen Elizabeth

Trivia: the first Queen Elizabeth was crowned on January 15th 1559, 450 years (and six days) before Barack Obama.

This movie tells the story of Queen Elizabeth I from her early days as an innocent young woman, to her coronation, to the forming of her reputation as England’s stern “Virgin Queen.” Elizabeth is a lush portrait of history, full of pomp, intrigue, and romance, with colorful direction, and mostly anchored by Kate Blanchett’s award-winning performance.

So if Queens could rule so many years ago, why is it taking the U.S. more than 200 years to come up with a female president…?

First female President

Commander In Chief
Starring Geena Davis as the President, Commander In Chief was the first TV show or movie with a female U.S President. Few female presidents exist in fiction. Prison Break suggested one too, but there she started as vice president conspiring for the presidency and it was a rather minor role. Maybe if more filmmakers dared to make their presidents female, there’d be one in real life sooner. For now, it remains to be seen if the new female president on 24′s 7th season will contribute to realizing the idea, just as the show arguably contributed to the idea of a black president (in one of 2008 pre-election surveys, David Palmer was voted the most popular black presidential character).

First black President

The Man
After a series of coincidences, including the death of the President and the refusal of the Vice President to take over due to poor health, Senator Douglas Dilman (James Earl Jones) becomes the first black (cinematic) President. After this movie came Deep Impact, 24, Head of State and Idiocracy, all movies in which the President of the U.S. was black. Maybe those movies and shows made a small contribution to the public’s readiness for a black President… In any case, I would like to believe that popular art can foresee – and make – change!

Good luck Barack! Techcrunch has a nice list of resources for watching the inauguration here.

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Top 10 White House tips for the Obamas

January 15th, 2009 by Arik Shtern

So the Obamas have selected top decorator Michael Smith to update the White House. Redecorating a house is not to be taken lightly. Most people underestimate this adventure. Newlyweds, couples about to begin something new – somehow always decide to celebrate by redecorating. They forget that you may know how renovation starts but never how it will end!

Barack and Michelle: if you want your marriage to last, don’t worry about the stress of Barack’s new job, Iran’s nuclear aspirations or the deep recession. Just make sure you survive the renovations. Here are 10 movies and TV shows with crucial tips to keep in mind:

10. The Money Pit

Tom Hanks and his love Shelly Long thought, why not take the relationship forward by buying a great suburban New York house for a bargain price? They should have known better. New York bargain price is maybe buying the Plaza for $500 million instead of $550 million, but not a suburban house for almost nothing. They thought that as successful professionals, fixing a house is nothing. Wrong! Anything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. They found themselves battling the house and each other, on the verge of losing their sanity. The house easily trumped construction workers who stopped by to help.

Tip for the Obamas: As a successful professional couple making the opposite mistake – paying way high (on many levels) for a four-year rental – just hope that the White House, at its advanced age, will not turn out to be such a money pit. And kudos for bringing in a renovation professional!

9. Pacific Heights

Just like the Obamas, Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine are a young couple that worked hard for the chance to renovate their dream house. But once again, the dream turns into a nightmare. This time, for a different reason: they rent out one of the rooms – to the tenant from hell, as it turns out, who slowly and manipulatively takes over the house, driving the couple mad – and apart.

Tip for the Obamas: So yes, this time renovations were not the real problem, but the message is very clear: think again before you invite Michelle’s mom to live with you. And do not, under any circumstances, let Hillary rent any of the rooms!

8. Independence Day

No, I don’t really think aliens are a threat Obama will need to handle. But this one is here to remind the couple that one day a deadly beam (or a Middle Eastern rocket off its course…) might erase your dream house in a minute – and all those antiques Michael Smith likes to use will be blown to pieces.

Tip for the Obamas: Considering you already paid millions just to get into the White House, think again if you really want to hire a prestigious and probably high-priced decorator for the job.

7. Are We Done Yet

This could be called the African-American Money Pit. This time around, it’s a family with two kids who hire professionals – just like the Obamas. But director Steve Carr and actor Ice Cube didn’t learn anything from The Money Pit. First, they cast another actress whose last name is Long. Second, they went for a fixer-upper in the suburbs. Here, the house and the constructor join forces to drive the man of the family insane – and to bankruptcy. To top it all off, the constructor gets too close to the wife and kids.

Tip for the Obamas: Considering that being the US President wears you down, distances you from your family, and in general marks the peak after which you can only go downhill, maybe it’s not such a great idea to bring in a hot superstar designer to spend a lot of time with your family.

6. The War of the Roses

There is no real need to wait for aliens or missiles to tear down your dream house. You can do it with your own bare hands. Yes, it sounds great to be President of the US and all. And the family is probably enthusiastic about living in the White House instead of waiting hours in hot and humid DC for a brief tour. But there is also a less glamorous scenario. The stress of the new job, the kids nagging their mom because they see their dad even less, the mother-in-law driving everyone crazy (I said not to invite her…), the wife starting to lose patience, everybody on edge – and then someone will angrily smash one of Smith’s precious antiques, and the next thing you know, the White House turns into a battle zone.

Ask Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner – a long-married, successful couple. They had a great house, great art, great cars and great kids. Then she started introspecting, he said he hated the way she decorated the house, one thing led to another, and the house… Yep, ruined once again.

Tip for the Obamas: Breakable objects will not make you happy.

5. Beverly Hills Cop II

Michael Smith – other than John Smith, this might be the most popular fake name out there. Googling it gives more than 1,700,000 results. So this got me thinking: how well did the Obamas really choose their decorator? Did they check references? Shouldn’t decorators have less common names, not to mention foreign or exotic, like – Philippe Starck, Nina Campbell, Rachel Ashwell or Mauro Lipparini?

Tip for the Obamas: Just hope not to find out one day that this allegedly distinguished decorator has taken over the house and is relaxing in the pool (how come nobody built a pool there all these years?) – just like Eddie Murphy took over a Beverly Hills villa under renovation by impersonating a building inspector.

4. Home Improvement

Per Smith’s references, I hope the quality of his work is better than Tim Allen‘s. Also, I hope Smith doesn’t come with his own Tool Girl, especially a well-equipped one like Allen’s. It could be a bit of a distraction for all those policy makers. In case he does, at least the Obamas don’t have any male teenagers at home. Being a Michael Smith, perhaps he should also be aided by a mysterious adviser like Allen’s neighbor. Preferably Philippe Starck.

Tip for the Obamas: “More Power” is not always the best solution, especially now that a Democratic President is once again in charge.

3. Lethal Weapon 2

Barack Obama is, unfortunately, the most threatened President-elect in history. So better be careful that renovation will not turn out to be a real life threat! Imagine someone tries to infiltrate the White House (obviously Smith will not do the work himself, so with all those construction workers running around, it’s not so far-fetched). The attacker wouldn’t need to bring any weapon, as nail guns will be spread around like… well, nails. Now, when Smith gets behind schedule, like any renovator, Obama will get pissed off, like any client. And if the Secret Service isn’t glued to Obama’s every step, and the attack occurs when Obama is arguing with Smith about the unfinished sauna for example – then it could get deadly.

Tip for the Obamas: Grab the nail gun first! If Barack wants practice, he can go to brother Glover (Sergeant Murtaugh), who’s experienced with both construction workers and nail guns.

2. & 1. This Old House and Me, My House and I

To conclude, I recommend that Michelle watch two reality TV shows and come prepared to the first meeting with Michael Smith, so he doesn’t BS her with too many expensive materials and unnecessary additions. After all, this is a recession, and like any of us the Obamas need to keep their renovation budget tight.

Tip for the Obamas: Watch the first 28 seasons of the Emmy Award Winner This Old House, in which master carpenters, plumbing experts and other top professionals give humorous (80s style…) advice on just about anything to do with renovation. Or you can try the more up-to-date, lesser-known Canadian show Me, My House and I, in which comedienne Brigitte Gall attempts to renovate her 100-year-old-house and tackles just about any catastrophe imaginable.

And one last word for Barack: since you will probably choose to deal with Iran, the recession, and other minor issues – and not watch the 28 fascinating seasons of This Old House – then please remember the lesson of The Roses, and don’t complain about the curtains when it’s all done!

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10 movies the new President should learn from

November 3rd, 2008 by Barak

A new American President will be elected on November 4. Whether Barack Obama or John McCain, here are 10 pieces of important advice from the movies for our new president.

10. Be imaginative and sincere as your campaign comes to an end.

Bulworth (1998)
This surprisingly entertaining political comedy features a funny, magnetic Beatty as disillusioned politician Bulworth. He’s arranged his own assassination but decides he wants to live after all – and so he begins to tell the complete truth at all times, not worrying about the repercussions. Oh yes, and he starts rapping….

9. Be smart. Show us you didn’t get there by chance.

Being There (1979)
In this clever satire/comedy of errors, a dimwit by the name of Chance becomes a very influential man in politics without ever intending it. Peter Sellers is marvelous as the always-deadpan cipher in whom everyone sees whatever they need.

8. Have a sense of humor.

Man of the Year (2006)
Robin Williams and Barry Levinson reunite for this political comedy in which Tom Dobbs, host of a comedy talk show who’s fed up with the political system, decides to run for president. It’s a fast-paced, seriocomic look at 21st-century America.

7. Be orderly. Don’t bring chaos to the White House and the world.

Ali G Indahouse: The Movie (2002)
In this hilarious satire, Ali G joins an evil Chancellor’s plot to expel the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The British wannabe gangsta appears so infernally clueless that the Chancellor (Charles Dance) believes he will easily manipulate him in the campaign to oust his nemesis. He doesn’t count on Ali G’s ability to unknowingly stumble into greatness…

6. Love and be loved.

The American President (1995)
Love isn’t easy, especially when you’re President. And politics aren’t easy when your love life gets in the way. Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), charismatic President and eligible widower, learns this the hard way when he falls for lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening).

5. Have a stable tenure, kind of like Queen Elizabeth’s.

The Queen (2006)
Helen Mirren delivers a royally stirring performance as Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears’ fictional romp. What begins as a humorous critique of the stuffy royal family becomes an unexpectedly sympathetic portrait of a woman who carries the weight of a nation on her shoulders. A devilishly clever script and expert performances make the film an exhilarating ride.

4. Don’t start unnecessary wars.

Duck Soup (1933)
In this laugh-out-loud spectacle of politics gone haywire, Groucho, leader of Freedonia, frustrates his cabinet and offends the aggressive neighboring country to the point of war. Chico and Harpo are foreign spies. Verbal byplay and one-liners abound. A must-see, considered by many critics to be the Brothers’ funniest movie.

3. Be an idealist.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
In this classic Oscar winner, Mr. Smith finds nothing but deep-rooted corruption when he ascends to Capitol Hill. Refusing to submit to cynicism, he tirelessly takes the message of the American people right to their out-of-touch representatives.

2. Be peaceful. Do your best to avoid violence.

Gandhi (1982)
The acclaimed dramatization of the life of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi: from his beginnings as a South Africa-educated lawyer through his historic struggle to free India from British colonial rule. This classic biopic won 9 (!) Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.

1. Be ethical and just – not cruel and corrupt.

The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Idi Amin’s horrific reign of Uganda is shown through the eyes of a fictional character, a young idealistic doctor from Scotland who travels to Uganda hoping to do good. The film belongs to Forest Whitaker: as he shifts from charming to maniacal in the space of a breath, he infuses Amin with startling humanity.

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