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From Under A Rock: Bulworth

January 14, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Bulworth  


We’re about to have a new president sworn into office, and I’m a big fan of making my picks relevant to what’s happening in the world sometimes. So I used this as an opportunity to watch and discuss my favorite political movie that most people have not only not seen, but not even heard of.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron showed Michael The Big Lebowski. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock for Bulworth.

Released: May 22nd, 1998
Directed by: Warren Beatty
Written by: Warren Beatty & Jeremy Pikser
Warren Beatty as Senator Jay Billington Bulworth
Halle Berry as Nina
Oliver Platt as Dennis Murphy
Don Cheadle as L.D.

Michael Ornelas: I love this movie because it holds a mirror up to its audience and shows them things about race relations in our country that a lot of those with privilege refuse to admit. And this was almost 19 years ago. It’s only increased in its relevancy, even if it can be a bit regressive at times in its portrayal of certain stereotypes.

Aaron Hubbard: I can say with certainty that I have never seen a movie quite like Bulworth. I never really went for political satire, and probably the only one I saw when I was a kid was Chris Rock’s Head of State.
Who Is Jay Bulworth?
Michael: Jay Bulworth is a man at odds with himself over who he is; he’s lost his identity. The opening scene of the movie sees him crying as he (a Democrat) watches campaign videos he’s made in which he is spouting out primarily conservative policies. He’s sold out and he can’t live with himself. What does he do about it? Well to start, he uses the insurance lobbyists to give him a multi-million dollar life insurance policy whose sole beneficiary is his daughter, then hires a hitman to kill him because suicide would negate the policy. His dissatisfaction for who he’s become seems to lead to the end of the line for him, but the sleep he loses from his paranoia over the hitman causes him to lose his mind, and ultimately discover who he wants to be: an advocate for marginalized groups. Specifically black people. This leads to Jay adopting some qualities often associated with stereotypes of black people, and while the movie comes from a good place, it does go too far…but it’s absolutely intentional. And if you think his performance is bigoted…that’s the point. His character’s view on how black people act is incredibly misguided, and that is intentionally done to show how politicians view minorities. All that said, it completes Jay’s character arc of self-discovery and more important, an ability to look himself in the mirror.

Aaron: Nice plot synopsis. Warren Beatty directs and stars in this movie (from a script he co-wrote), and it’s obvious this was a passion project for him. The movie lived and died with his character, and a lot of the early stuff really did catch my attention. Seeing him speak his mind honestly was quite entertaining and a bit tragic. I also really liked the first big rap scene he did. Personally though, I thought the gag wore out its welcome pretty quickly and by the end I just wanted him to speak instead of rap badly. Aside from that; cool character, better concept. It was also perfect for its time, as Bill Clinton had to appeal to conservatives in order to get his second term. So that’s the context it was written in, and then it was released in 1998. Yeah…

Michael: I welcomed the rapping throughout as it was the best way to signify that he wasn’t himself. It’s not until after he finally gets some rest that he’s able to communicate clearly and that’s in line with what one would expect from someone in that situation. The performance was awesome, the character grabbed attention and stood out, and managed to add levity to some very heavy content. It’s weird that I consider this film a comedy when you listen to its message, which is anything but funny.
Future Stars
Aaron: For me, the standout performances of this movie were Halle Berry and Don Cheadle. Halle’s career hasn’t exactly been stellar since her Oscar win, but I have to imagine this movie opened some eyes. She has a ton of presence in this film that’s more than just her looking good. I checked out her filmography and her biggest hit before this was The Flintstones. She certainly got more to work with here. And Cheadle… man. That guy is so underrated.

Michael: Don Cheadle is a national treasure.

This movie was chock full of future stars. Sean Astin, pre-Lord of the Rings, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, and even Isaiah Washington were all in this film. And even though he was more the past than the future, Beatty is 100% the star of the show. I love this performance so much because it was equal parts bold and vulnerable.

Aaron: Also from the past, Oliver Platt. The whole movie is just underappreciated actors. There’s something to be said for movies like this that don’t necessarily have a ton of star power when released, but over time becomes an all-star cast.
Money is the Root of All Evil
Michael: Beyond the racial bias pointed out by this film, there’s also the message that shows the flaws with corruption in politics. SPOILER: Bulworth gets shot at the end of the film by the man who lost the most money to Bulworth’s morally realigned policies, the ultimate symbol that you can’t escape the system, and our politicians are slaves to those that line their pockets. END SPOILER. It’s depressing as all hell, and goes again to show that this movie is a comedy whose content is to be taken seriously because it’s 19 years later and these problems are only amplified.

Aaron: I don’t know if I’d call it amplified; race relations were not exactly calm in the 1990’s. It’s certainly still prescient though. I’m amazed at how many people who are in the majority feel like they are playing the victims. “Oh, this guy only got his job because he’s black!” “Oh this woman only got her promotion because she doesn’t have testicles!” Etc. Etc. Not that there isn’t something to that, but the bottom line is that minorities have historically had a harder time even achieving a moderate standard of living than straight white males. And that continues to happen. And while I choose to be ever hopeful on most days; man, seeing a movie like this and looking where we were then and where we are now? Depressing is the word for it.

Michael: I think that makes it even more important to unearth movies like this that flew under the radar at the time and make sure people know that there have been movies that make strides to point out some of the struggles black America have had to endure. Systemic racism isn’t going to end until enough people allows themselves to admit inequality and we all work together to even the playing field. For that reason alone, I encourage more movies like this being made.

Aaron: Bulworth is not likely to stick with me, but I definitely enjoyed it. It’s still fresh over twenty years later, and while I don’t think it’s great, I do think it’s underappreciated.


Michael: Bulworth has an important message in a somewhat-confusing package. I won’t deny that the plot is sometimes hard to follow, but the performances are stellar, and the story is definitely interesting. My only real knock is the stereotypes it perpetuates in its portrayal of “black” but seeing as the movie is also in defense of people of color, it’s a little easier to overlook.


Aaron: You know what else would make a great movie with rapping politicians? Hamilton.

Michael: Is that a thing about ten-dollar bills?

What’s the definitive Warren Beatty role?

Next week:

Aaron: Next week, it’s time to knock a film off the bucket list with perhaps Martin Scorsese’s best.
Raging Bull
Michael: I was supposed to watch this last year but lost track of my attempt to watch all of Scorsese’s filmography. So I’m thrilled we’re watching it for this because from the sound of things, it left quite an impression on you.

Aaron: Definitely. I waited way too long; it’s a masterpiece.

Tough question; what is Robert DeNiro’s best role?

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Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer, The Exorcist, Hellboy, Village of the Damned, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Idiocracy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Fly (1986), Under the Skin, Die Hard, Dredd, Star Wars Holiday Special, A Christmas Story, Snakes on a Plane, The Big Lebowski, Bulworth

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411 Comics Showcase is focused on the Man of Steel this week, and how to tell the best stories possible with him. Taken For Granted puts Back to the Future under a microscope.

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The final score: review Good
The 411
Bulworth was such a pet project of Warren Beatty’s that he only agreed to star in Dick Tracy if the studio would greenlight this movie. It’s a scathing satire on the role racism plays in modern American politics, and certain moments are flat out hilarious. On top of that, the character arc Jay Bulworth experiences is one of the more unique stories I’ve ever seen and that makes this movie an absolute pleasure.