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December 5, 2008 |

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | December 5, 2008 |

Pop Culture Item Consumed: Charlie Wilson’s War, a nifty little film about the 1980s Texas congressman who singlehandedly championed congressional aid to the Afghani resistance against the Soviet invasion. The movie was well-received critically (82% Tomatometer) and did decent box office ($118M so far against a $75M production budget), but I can’t help feeling it was a little overlooked. I have no patience at all for Julia Roberts, who has the range of a ficus, but it’s not just every day you see a movie with a droll, drunken Tom Hanks cavorting in hot tubs with Playboy bunnies and strippers, along with a world-weary, disheveled CIA spook played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, not to mention a stellar supporting cast that includes Amy Adams, Peter Gerety, and John Slattery.

(Anticipatory note to the Philip Seymour Hoffman Haters Club: We know. You don’t get why people like him. He’s overrated. He always plays the same character. Blah blah blah blah blahbutty blah blah. [How many more words do I need for a thousand, DR?] [You’re at about 170 right now. Ed.] Blah blah blah blah blah.)

Beverage Consumed: In honor of Charlie Wilson— whom I esteem as much for his womanizing and DIY liver-pickling as for his defense-centric liberal politics — Johnnie Walker Black. Johnnie Walker makes a series of scotch blends noted for their smooth flavor and clean finish, color coded by quality apparently, though I admire the person who can distinguish Black from Blue. (Johnnie Walker Red does taste rougher to me.) Blended scotch is just what it says: a blend of single malt and single grain scotches designed to bring the sharp individual flavors into harmony, making the resulting spirit easier on the palate.

The flavor of blended scotch could be described as a smooth, flinty taste — not flinty like rye whiskey, which can make you pucker a bit, but a restrained quasi-mineral flavor that makes no bones about the 40 percent alcohol behind it. Blended scotch is well outside the norm for the ol’ Boozehound — when I’m drinking Scotch, I usually want a little bone marrow in my chili, if you take my meaning. Just as a woman can rouse my rooster a bit easier if she hasn’t showered since yesterday, a single malt scotch lends a certain unwashed charm to the proceedings with its peat and sea water flavors. I’ve always felt that blended Scotch refines much of the individual flavor right out, which seems to be the point to some extent. On certain occasions, however, blended Scotch really hits the spot, and drinking Scotch and soda, as opposed to the straight 80-proof, can give you a full two or three more hours on the vertical.

There’s certainly no arguing with the cinematic pedigree of blended Scotch. The Thin Man’s cocktail of choice was Scotch and soda — Powell and Loy kept a large seltzer bottle close at hand at all times — though his most famous scene is probably the six-martinis scene at the beginning of the first film. Numerous great screen drunks have helped to add “scotch, rocks” to the tippler’s lexicon, and Pacino’s “Dewah’s, rocks” has become something of a tag line. (Sea of Love should be its own Boozehound entry at some point.) When someone says “scotch, rocks,” that person is requesting blended scotch, as opposed to single malt Scotch whiskey. No one orders “single malt Scotch” without specifying the label he wishes to pour, unless he’s hoping the bartender will spit in it.

I don’t know that any other spirit in the United States receives as much play in entertainment media while at the same time being as neglected at the bar rail. It is passing rare that I hear someone order blended scotch these days, and on those rare occasions it is invariably a well-practiced drinker or barfly. So in the interest of helping out the poor, ignored folks at Chivas Regal, J&B, Ballantine, White Horse, Cutty Sark, Famous Grouse, King’s Crest, Cluny, Dewar’s, and Johnnie Walker (all five colors) — who the hell is drinking all this stuff? — I picked up a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black and some club soda and settled in to watch Charlie Wilson’s War again. Club soda is essentially carbonated water with a saline or mineral agent added to achieve the distinctive flavor that was at one time native to the manufacturing process for carbonated water.

Summary of Action: The first time we see Hanks in this film, he lollingly reclines in a hot tub in a Vegas strip club, Playboy bunny on one side, two strippers on the other, arm ladled over the side so he can keep an eye on Dan Rather reporting on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In an age where the fucking National Enquirer somehow got one right by following John Edwards to a hotel to out an affair, it’s almost quaint to think of a U.S. Representative drunkenly cavorting with three nekkid girls and a sleazy television producer in a Vegas hot tub. I so, so, so want to believe in that vision, though, and Tom Hanks, as it turns out, is the perfect person to sell it to me.

We make fun of Hanks for the same reasons we make fun of white people: They’ve had it good for a long time now, and they can take it. Yes, I despise (a) The Da Vinci Code, (b) that stupid fucking hair from the The Da Vinci Code, and (c) the inexplicable commercial whore in Hanks that allows him to make films like The Da Vinci Code; and don’t fucking get me started on You’ve Got Mail — this is how you follow Saving Private Ryan, you sick fuck? Still and all, there’s no denying Hanks’ justifiable status as a national treasure. Starring in Philadelphia was a substantial risk for young comedian looking to branch out into dramatic roles — 1993 was still a pretty closed-minded, paranoid time when it came to the AIDS epidemic — and for someone whose major calling cards to date were Big and A League of Their Own, being known as “the AIDS guy” across Middle America was not a recipe for mainstream success. Fifteen years later, he’s the Jimmy Stewart of his era; I wish I had a nickel for every time some hack movie critic [a-hem] called him “Everyman.”

Beyond his dramatic arc, however, it’s easy to forget what a gifted comedian he is. Had he retired after “Bosom Buddies” and Bachelor Party, he would still be responsible for more laughs than the ass-clown puu-puu platter of Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia, and Larry [shudder] the Cable √úr-Tard. For every crappy Meg Ryan misadventure — I’m not buying the historical revisionism lauding Joe Versus the Volcano — there are two loosey-goosey comedic efforts that, while no one would call them masterpieces, are still part of the smart-ass underpants of every U.S. kid that came of age in the late 80s or early 90s. The ‘burbs is one of the most underrated comedies of my lifetime, and I can sit down any Saturday morning and watch The Money Pit or Volunteers or Splash while catching up on chores.

Charlie Wilson’s War represents a genre that is all too rare these days, and I’m pretty sure it’s because natural selection is officially losing the battle to wipe us off the face of the earth. I’m going all Pajibasaur on your asses for a second here, so here’s an anticipatory “get the fuck off my lawn.” Back in the day, when cinema was beginning its 1960s-70s sonic boom of awesomeness, far fewer films were made per year than are made now, and with substantially fewer resources and very little technology. Yet every year, there were a few films like Charlie Wilson’s War — overlooked films that still did well critically and commercially and just served to remind everyone that the also-rans should still be pretty fucking good. Somewhere along the line, sometime in the 1980s, someone decided it was OK for the also-rans to be a putrid pile of Hollywood hemorrhoid pads, or as I like to call them, “Paul Haggis screenplays.”

I look at the worst thing Tom Hanks has made in the last ten years — almost certainly The Ladykillers, though Da Vinci is a fine slice of sour mustard purgatory — and I contemplate that I have watched it twice, once intentionally, and the rest in bits and pieces here and there. And watching Tom Hanks mangle, spindle, and grudge fuck a Virginia gentleman’s accent beats the hell out of seeing Jack Black do a one-note careen through yet another decent screenplay, much less having Katherine Heigl defy the laws of Hell by coming back to earth after having a wooden stake driven through her heart. During that decade, the only real comedy Hanks starred in was Toy Story 2, a masterpiece in its own right, akin to The Incredibles in terms of engaging narrative and layered humor. (Cars was a small part, I believe.) Still, I miss gangly, pasty Tom Hanks from Turner & Hooch. I hope he bookends his career with some loosey-goosey.

How the Pairing Held Up: Phenomenally well. Just close your eyes when Julia Roberts is on-screen, otherwise you’ll convince yourself that you went to sleep and woke up watching Ocean’s Fourteen: The Elevendiest.

Tastes Like: Charred Russian tank armor meeting a hard, 80-proof reality. Or a Valtrex-soaked stripper’s thong. Could go either way, really.

Overall Rating: This Tom Hanks fella, I think he may be going places. You heard it here first.

Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who plans to leave his barstool to stalk Whit Stillman, now that someone has found Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at [email protected]

Charlie Wilson's War : Boozehound Cinephile / Ted Boynton

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