When I watch a movie, there are two of me in the same seat. There’s that regular movie-going guy who likes blood and boobs and things that explode, the kind of movies we call POPCORN MOVIES. But there’s another fellow who accompanies him. This guy likes some of the same things as his friend, but he is a seeker and connoisseur of SERIOUS CINEMA. This guy doesn’t just want to see a movie, he wants it to change his life. POPCORN: Eeny-meeny-miney-mo . . . CINEMA: Deciding whether to lounge on the couch here or at your own house? POPCORN: No, dude. Tryin’ to figure out which one of these losers should be president. I mean, seriously. This pile of poo’s got corn in it and this one’s got peanuts in it. Either way . . . CINEMA: Yeah, I know. But I’ve got to say, it’s not a job that I’d want. In fact, I’d have to say that president of the United States might be the worst job ever. Trying to uphold the government in a way that makes everyone happy, playing the role of chief diplomat to the entire world – POPCORN: – fighting off alien invasions – CINEMA: – coming to grip with the nation’s debt, being a symbol of the American people – POPCORN: – helping the night guard catch a T-Rex, stopping Jedediah and Octavius from destroying the entire museum – CINEMA: – and at least half the country is going to hate you, no matter what you do. POPCORN: Why can’t presidents ever be like they are in the movies? CINEMA: Well, sometimes – POPCORN: Yeah, here we go. This is the part where you tell me all about the history of presidents and movies. Something about Kinetoscopes and Thomas Edison and shadow puppets of George Washington on cave walls and shit. CINEMA: I could. POPCORN: Well, hurry up then. CINEMA: I don’t think we need to go all the way back to the advent of cinema . . . but were you aware of how many people have been the president in movies and television? POPCORN: Um . . . Harrison Ford and that dude from 24? CINEMA: That’s not all. Among the actors who have portrayed the commander-in-chief are . . . Henry Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Bill Pullman, Jeff Daniels, William Daniels, Nick Nolte, Burgess Meredith, Anthony Hopkins, Charlton Heston, John Carradine, Raymond Massey, Michael Douglas, Geena Davis, Gene Hackman, Louis Gossett, Jr., Phil Hartman, Hal Holbrook, Brendan-freakin’-Fraser, Kevin Sorbo, Gilbert Gottfried, Harry Morgan, Danny Glover, Jamie Foxx, Tom Skerritt, Robin Williams, Bill Murray, Tom Selleck, James Earl Jones, Cliff Robertson, William Petersen, Randy Quaid, Dennis Quaid, Eric Roberts, Chris Rock, Alfre Woodard, Sharon Stone, Woody Harrelson, Bob Newhart, Gregory Peck, Donald Pleasence, Kevin Pollak, Richard Dreyfuss, R. Lee Ermey, Forrest J. Ackerman, John Cusack, Tea Leoni, Patricia Wettig, Peter Graves, Lorne Greene, Barry Bostwick, Kelsey Grammer, William Shatner, Roy Scheider (three times), Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Patty Duke, Eddie Albert, Billy Crystal, Ben Stiller, Kris Kristofferson, Gregory Peck, Hal Holbrook, F. Murray Abraham, Billy Bob Thornton, Sam Waterston, Powers Boothe, Michael Dorn, John Goodman, Claude Akins, Bruce Boxleitner, William Sadler, James Caan, George Clooney, Stephen Colbert, George Kennedy, John Lithgow, Robert Duvall, Nick Nolte, Rob Lowe, Rich Little, Rip Torn, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, Ben Kingsley, Jack Lemmon, Zero Mostel, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Bruce Campbell, and Weird Al Yankovic. POPCORN: Whoa, dude. Darth Vader was president? CINEMA: Really? That’s what you get from all of that? Yeah, he was in a TV movie in 1972, called THE MAN. The screenplay was written by Rod Serling from a really, really long novel by Irving Wallace. Jones is president pro tempore of the Senate (because the Vice-President has suffered a stroke) when a ceiling caves in on the President and Speaker of the House, and – POPCORN: So Darth Vader was the first black president? CINEMA: Actually, the first onscreen African-American commander-in-chief was a seven-year old Sammy Davis Jr., in the 1933 musical RUFUS JONES FOR PRESIDENT. But don’t go looking for it. It’s racist as hell and the music is terrible. You’re better off just thinking about Sammy looking suave with a cigar, singing about the Candy Man. POPCORN: Tellin’ you, man. You make him president, nobody’s gonna mess with us. CINEMA: Sammy Davis?? POPCORN: No, dude, pay attention. Darth Vader! CINEMA: You do realize that he’s a fictional character, right? Please tell me that you get that . . . because, right now, I’m convinced that you’re going to vote for Donald Trump. POPCORN: He’s no worse than Hillary. CINEMA: You’re kidding, right? I mean, do you have a job huffing paint? POPCORN: Well, the president’s kinda, like, the ultimate guard dog. If you gotta protect the junkyard, do you want some sneaky liar or, like, a big, stupid bully that makes lots of noise? CINEMA: I can’t even talk to you anymore. Seriously. I suppose that kind of confusion comes naturally to many Americans, living in the age of reality television. It’s nothing new, though. The roles of real-life presidents and their fictional counterparts have enjoyed a fairly symbiotic relationship in this country. POPCORN: Clue me in, Marion Webster. CINEMA: Frank Capra’s 1948 film STATE OF THE UNION, with Spencer Tracy as president, allegedly convinced Harry Truman to seek a second term. Just over a decade later, the debates between presidential hopefuls John Kennedy and Richard Nixon were both on television and radio, and – POPCORN: Folks listening to the radio thought Nixon won. CINEMA: Yeah, but everyone who watched them on TV thought Kennedy had nailed it – POPCORN: Cuz Nixon was all gross and sweaty-lookin’. CINEMA: Exactly. What television viewers saw was a good-looking young man who just looked presidential, even though Nixon’s answers were more than adequate. Then, of course, Reagan came from Hollywood, which certainly helped his presentation of himself as presidential – POPCORN: His greatest role ever. CINEMA: – and Bill Clinton was a natural for TV, blowing his saxophone on the late-night talk shows and making appearances on MTV, essentially securing the younger vote. Then, following the election of Barack Obama, Dennis Haysbert said that his role on 24 helped pave the way for America’s acceptance of the first African-American president. It’s probably not as cut-and-dried as that, but there’s no doubt that the populist fare of television and movies has a huge affect on the American people. POPCORN: Don’t tell me. I bet your favorite movie prez was Daniel Day-Lewis. CINEMA: While his total immersion in that role was very impressive, I’d have to say that my favorite Lincoln was from a 1998 TV movie called THE DAY LINCOLN WAS SHOT. It was produced by TNT and starred none other than Lance Henriksen. POPCORN: Frank Black?? CINEMA: – and Bishop from ALIENS, yeah! I know it seems unlikely, but he was perfect in that role. Dare I say, even more so than Daniel Day-Lewis. There’s something in Henriksen’s face, something gaunt and ghostly, that eerily resembles those old photos of Lincoln – POPCORN: Yeah, dude. Lincoln always looks like the Slender Man in a beard, dressed up for a funeral. I guess that’d be the right guy to play him. CINEMA: It’s not just his appearance. Of course, he’s got that face – POPCORN: Looks like he’s been dragged across the whole state of Texas. CINEMA: Yeah, but he’s able to convey an incredible depth of emotion in such a minimalist way. He’s a greatly underrated actor. In his portrayal of Lincoln, there are none of those vocal tricks that Day-Lewis used, the high, reedy voice that, frankly, got on my nerves. Instead, Henriksen chooses to keep his voice very low, like a man uncomfortable in the face of his own heroism. He carries himself with the weariness of someone who knows that the battle isn’t over. POPCORN: Even though he’s a goner. CINEMA: I may be reading something into the performance that isn’t there, but he does seem to play Lincoln with a sense of resigned inevitability. Of course, when I saw this movie, MILLENIUM was still on the air. I was used to seeing him in this very dark and paranoid show, having visions about demons and the coming of the apocalypse. POPCORN: Dude, that show was the shit. CINEMA: In addition to Henriksen’s great performance, you’ve got one of the best portrayals of John Wilkes Booth that I’ve seen. He’s played by Rob Morrow – POPCORN: The doctor dude from NORTHERN EXPOSURE? CINEMA: The same, yes. He gives the assassin more humanity than he’s usually allowed in this story, spinning a characterization that’s more proud-but-disillusioned Southerner than monster. The whole thing is told in a kind of point-counterpoint, alternating between the perspectives of the president and his eventual killer. The film’s final act, and both actors interpretation of that historical moment, is even more heartbreaking due to the talent involved in this movie. POPCORN: Sounds cool, but that’s not the best Lincoln you ever seen. CINEMA: Do I even dare to ask? POPCORN: Dude . . . ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES. CINEMA: Oh, come on! That’s not even a real movie. It’s just a flimsy Asylum knockoff of the one where Lincoln’s a vampire hunter . . . which wasn’t that good to begin with! POPCORN: Yeah, well, you’re allowed to have your opinion. Even when you’re a big, stupid, stuck-up loser. Tellin’ you, man, this flick is bad-ass. The title pretty much says it all – CINEMA: That’s for sure. POPCORN: It’s, like, 1863 and the prez has a lot to deal with. There was a war or something. Even worse, there’s an army of undead dudes out in Fort Pulaski. So he gets some live dudes together to go out there and kick some ass – CINEMA: Yeah, Stonewall Jackson – the confederate general – and Pat Garrett, who killed Billy the Kid . . . plus a ten-year old Teddy Roosevelt. I mean, this is just ridiculous. At some point, the zombies are advancing and Lincoln hands Roosevelt a shovel, telling him to speak softly a carry a big stick – POPCORN: I know, dude. Kick-ass, right? He’s swingin’ that scythe, loppin’ off heads – CINEMA: There are a lot of heads flying in this movie. POPCORN: – and he’s all, like, “Emancipate this!” Yeah, I’d like to see Daniel Day-Lewis do that. CINEMA: He could if he wanted to. POPCORN: Dude, I’d put my left foot up Daniel Day-Lewis’ ass. You know, in the name of the father. CINEMA: Whatever. POPCORN: Whatever, nothin’. There will be blood, and it’s gonna be his. But, for all you stuck-up losers who want movies to have, like, meaning and shit . . . there’s this other dude with ’em out there. Some bushy-mustache-having actor that doesn’t like the way Lincoln’s puttin’ down the zombie uprising. See where this is going? CINEMA: Unfortunately. POPCORN: The dude is Booth, man. It’s, like, a new take on the assassination, and it’ll make you cry. Tellin’ you, you just gotta see it. CINEMA: I’ve seen it. I don’t know that it’s going to make anyone cry . . . but, admittedly, the end of the movie was a little better than this studio’s usual fare. POPCORN: That, and some of the phoniest-looking beards you ever seen are in this movie. CINEMA: And this is a good thing? POPCORN: Makes me feel young, dude. Like I’m watchin’ a school play or something. Only thing that’d of made this movie better was, maybe, Lance Henriksen – CINEMA: Maybe. POPCORN: – and he would definitely kick Daniel Day-Lewis’ ass. CINEMA: What’s up with all of this ass-kicking? You’re even more riled up than usual. POPCORN: Just pumped, dude. Been watchin’ campaign speeches all day. I wanna go out and bust something up. CINEMA: Then you might be watching the wrong speeches. There’s a really good one in one of my favorite political thrillers, delivered by one of my favorite movie presidents – POPCORN: If it’s Daniel Day-Lewis, I’m gonna kick your ass. CINEMA: Calm down. No, it’s from the 2000 film THE CONTENDER, in which lame duck president Jackson Evans (played by Jeff Bridges) is preparing to nominate a replacement for his recently deceased VP. Amidst much controversy, he chooses Ohio senator Laine Hanson – POPCORN: A chick, right? CINEMA: Well, I’m not sure that chick is the right word. POPCORN: Woman, then. CINEMA: She’s a former liberal Republican turned conservative Democrat, not to mention both an atheist and a vegetarian. A real hard package to sell to the American people, despite being a principled and overly qualified candidate. The role was virtually tailor-made for Joan Allen, who is simply amazing – POPCORN: Was she the blind chick, um, woman . . . in MANHUNTER? CINEMA: Among other things, yeah. THE CRUCIBLE. THE ICE STORM. The mother in PLEASANTVILLE. She was the president’s wife in NIXON, and in this film she’s in a position to ultimately be the president. But there are forces gathering against her, most notably in the form of a Republican watchdog named Shelly Runyon. He’s played by Gary Oldman, in all of his mustache-twirling, villainous intensity, with a hairstyle almost as bad as Donald Trump – POPCORN: Dude’s name is Shelly? CINEMA: Heh, yeah. This may, in some small part, account for the passion with which he goes after Hanson. The contention is that he’s sure the president has nominated her based on her gender, rather than her qualifications for the job – POPCORN: The woman card, huh? CINEMA: Shelly’s determined to stop this nomination at any cost, going so far as to make public an old photo from Hanson’s college days. It seems that, when she was younger, she may have participated in an orgy – POPCORN: Dude, what? What the hell’s this movie rated anyway? CINEMA: Oh, it’s rated R. There’s some sexuality in it, but it’s . . . well, there’s a lot of melodramatic excess. Other than the supposed orgy, I felt like this film could almost have been made in the 50s with Barbara Stanwyck. It’s definitely a case of everyone rising above the material, because all of the players here turn in some of their best work – POPCORN: So does she end up being the president? CINEMA: It’s not really about that, although, in essence, that is what’s at stake – POPCORN: Who was the first one then? CINEMA: Well, there was PROJECT MOONBASE in 1953. Co-scripted by renowned science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, it’s set in the very futuristic world of 1970 – POPCORN: Space-age bell-bottoms, man. CINEMA: – and concerns a lunar expedition gone wrong. There’s a bunch of dirty Commies and bad special effects. It’s really quite awful, but you could break a lot of barriers in awful sci-fi movies because no one was paying attention. This one just happened to be broken by someone actually named Ernestine Barrier. She was the first female president ever to appear onscreen. POPCORN: Saw something on cable one night. It was, like, the dad from MY THREE SONS and the wife from the old CAPE FEAR . . . CINEMA: Oh, it must have been KISSES FOR MY PRESIDENT . . . Polly Bergen, 1964. Yeah, that was only the second film to have a woman running the show. Sadly, they focused more on the First Husband than the first lady president. Ultimately, the script wasted both Bergen’s talents and all the ground they’d broken by having the president resign when she got pregnant. POPCORN: Yeah, it sucked. So what about this speech you were talkin’ about? CINEMA: From THE CONTENDER? Well, President Evans is a real cool customer. The first time he appears onscreen, it’s almost like a scene from CITIZEN KANE. He’s not a complicated man, but he seems somehow larger than life. I mean, the guy eats shark sandwiches, for crying out loud. He’s the kind of person you wish would end up in the Oval Office . . . and he can see these kinds of qualities in Laine Hanson as well. POPCORN: But that Shelly dude ain’t having it. CINEMA: There are doubters everywhere, and Shelly has done everything in his power to make it so. Then the president appears before Congress to officially name Hanson as his nominee. He’s scolding them for their cheap tricks, saying that they’ve brought blood and shame to the nation. He says that they’ve raised the stakes of hate to a level where we can no longer separate the demagogue from the truly inspired . . . POPCORN: Demagogue? CINEMA: Someone who stirs the people up with emotion, trying to win them over through prejudice and fear. You know, saying whatever they have to say to gain power. POPCORN: I think I see where you’re goin’ with this. CINEMA: I’m not going anywhere. It’s just a movie, after all. But he’s up there, talking about the concept of making America blind to gender. He admits that he is not free of blame either. He says, “Right from the start, I should have come down here, pointed a finger your way -” Then he points directly to Shelly in the congressional audience, and says, “Have you no decency, sir?” POPCORN: And then lops his head off. CINEMA: Ha. No, but it was like he did. As Shelly is hauling ass out of there, Evans gives him one more warning. He says that they can use whatever weapons they have, but there is no weapon as powerful as an idea whose time has come. POPCORN: And that idea is – CINEMA: That a woman shall lead them. POPCORN: Huh. CINEMA: Huh. POPCORN: So do you really want Hillary to be the president? CINEMA: Oh, hell no. I don’t believe a word that comes out of her mouth. POPCORN: Me neither. CINEMA: So do you really want Trump to be the president? POPCORN: Oh, hell no. You ever see IDIOCRACY? CINEMA: Yeah. POPCORN: Watched that shit last night, dude. Thought it was a documentary. CINEMA: More like a prophecy. POPCORN: Dude, what are we gonna do? CINEMA: Eeny-meeny-miney-mo . . . POPCORN: So, for real, though. Best president was that dude in INDEPENDENCE DAY. CINEMA: What?? That guy was a moron! When a huge, planet-destroying spaceship appears above the White House, he’s inside bickering with the Secretary of Defense about what level of DEFCON it would be. He can’t even manage to save his own useless life – the cable repairman does that. POPCORN: Dude, he flew that big-ass jet! And what about that speech? CINEMA: Speech??? The guy nuked Texas!! POPCORN: To save ’em . . . 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