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Best Veeps in Movies & TV

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A new season of HBO’s wacky, wonderful “Veep” is upon us, which is a golden opportunity to celebrate some great political second bananas from TV and movies. You might even recognize a couple of them from history class – and the evening news.

PAUL GIAMATTI IN “JOHN ADAMS”

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Our first example is our first vice president. Paul Giamatti gave a towering performance in the TV miniseries “John Adams” in 2008. It was no easy job, because Adams was a feisty, fussy character while also being an intellectual powerhouse and a true patriot. The section where Adams is vice president is wonderful, showing just how uncomfortable that position has been from the very beginning.

GLENN CLOSE IN “AIR FORCE ONE”

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Here’s a great popcorn movie in which the vice president is faced with something the Founding Fathers never envisioned: terrorists have kidnapped the president aboard his airplane IN MID-FLIGHT. Close does nice work showing us her character’s shock, confusion, hesitation and resolve.

TIM MATHESON IN “THE WEST WING”

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Aaron Sorkin has given so many actors a chance to show their dramatic range. In this case, Matheson, normally a comic actor with a light touch, got to be wonderfully complicated and prickly as President Bartlett’s VP on “The West Wing.” I think it’s the best work he’s done. Well, aside from “Animal House.”

BEN KINGSLEY IN “DAVE”

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No nuance here. In the comedy “Dave,” about a guy who happens to look exactly like the sitting president (Kevin Kline), Ben Kingsley is the straight-arrow vice president who has been shunted aside because he’s not corrupt.

POWERS BOOTHE IN “24”

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TV’s “24” offers us an array of complex vice presidents – many of them quite devious. My favorite of the bunch is Powers Boothe, who came on later in the series’ run. Boothe just has an incredible intensity.

JOAN ALLEN IN “THE CONTENDER”

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Technically, Joan Allen’s character was only in the running to become vice president in “The Contender.” Still, it was a role that indicated the symbolic importance of the office and also the thankless nature of it.

RICHARD DREYFUSS IN “W.”

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Say what you will about Vice President Dick Cheney, he never approached the position as symbolic. In “W.,” Richard Dreyfuss played Cheney as a politician with immense influence in the George W. Bush White House.

DAN ZISKIE IN “HOUSE OF CARDS”

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Sure, Ziskie’s VP is a fictional character, but he does bear some passing resemblance to a certain folksy, gaffe-prone vice president we all know. In “House of Cards,” the vice president becomes something of a pawn in an overall scheme by a Congressman yearning for more power.

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS IN “VEEP”

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She is simply brilliant in “Veep” as a vain, egotistical, paranoid vice president. Anyone who thinks they’ve seen all the tricks Ms. Louis-Dreyfus has to offer in “Seinfeld” needs to see this show. Here, she’s a classic fast-talker. She’s also hard-edged, foul-mouthed and completely in charge. I believe this performance puts her solidly in the handful of best comic actresses in TV history.

Hail to the Almost-Chief!

Great Typewriter Scenes

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As someone who well remembers what it was like to compose and express thoughts using a typewriter, seeing an old Royal or Corona pop up in a movie is always fun. These are some of my favorite film typewriter moments. Clickety-clack!

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE (1972)

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Thank goodness we had the typewriter scene early in “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Getting across the trippy, time-hopping aspect of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel would have been rough without it. These days, it probably would have been done with a narrator, which isn’t nearly as effective as reading over Billy Pilgrim’s shoulder that he was “unstuck in time.”

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976)

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This great newspaper story is made all the more real because of the constant clatter of words being typed. You see Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman feverishly converting their intricate reporting into sentences and the movie culminates in a series of paragraphs typed across the screen.

RUBY SPARKS (2012)

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How about a magical typewriter? That’s what Paul Dano has in “Ruby Sparks.” He types up a soul mate for himself – and she comes to life.

SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)

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Ben Kingsley says it exquisitely in “Schindler’s List.” “This list … is an absolute good. This list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.” Indeed, the power and urgency of names typed on sheets of paper has never seemed so real.

NAKED LUNCH (1991)

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Now for something unreal. In “Naked Lunch,” a typewriter isn’t just a collection of metal parts daring you to write; it’s a feisty bug with an attitude. What writer hasn’t felt this way on occasion?

MISERY (1990)

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Talk about deadline pressure. James Caan is an injured novelist forced to work under the watchful eye of a deranged fan, played memorably by Kathy Bates. There’s plenty of physical pain in “Misery,” and I’m not just talking about how tough a Royal typewriter can be on the pinky fingers.

WHO’S MINDING THE STORE? (1963)

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For delightful silliness, there’s nothing better than watching Jerry Lewis type on an imaginary typewriter. Complete with typing sounds and music, Jerry is a total keystroke maestro.

STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING (2007)

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In this beautiful little character study from a few years ago, Frank Langella is an aging fiction writer coming to grips with family, mortality, loneliness and a novel that just isn’t right. His typewriter is a sacred object, to be treated with respect and reverence. The rest of his life isn’t quite so tidy.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)

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Anyone who bemoans the hassle of lugging around a laptop would do well to see Rosalind Russell putting a typewriter through its paces in “His Girl Friday.” She writes just as fast as she talks – which is pretty damned fast – and her faithful machine appears to weigh as much as a block of cement.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)

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“Saving Private Ryan” has a couple of compelling typewriter moments. One is when Tom Hanks recruits a kid for a dangerous mission, and the young man attempts to bring his typewriter with him. It’s movie shorthand for saying that there are some jobs that can’t be accomplished with words. But in another scene, we see rows of women typing condolence letters to families who have lost a loved one to the war. That’s movie shorthand for saying sometimes words are the only comfort we have.

BARTON FINK (1991)

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It would take a much smarter individual than me to piece together all of the symbolism and meanings of “Barton Fink.” It’s a moody mix of creative angst, murder, sex, religion and the value of artistic integrity. Fink (John Turturro) is a New York playwright lured out to Hollywood to write movie scripts in the 1940s. For much of the film, he painfully sits in his hotel room, unable to writer. Another character calls him a “tourist with a typewriter.”

YOU’VE GOT MAIL (1998)

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In a much lighter vein, you have Greg Kinnear’s nostalgic love of typewriters in “You’ve Got Mail.” His character is something of a pompous windbag, too enamored with his own observations, but he does have a point when it comes to the sweet sound of typing.

THE SHINING (1980)

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Only Stanley Kubrick could make a stack of typed pages this scary. Poor Shelley Duvall knows that her husband (Jack Nicholson) has been acting crazy, but she doesn’t truly understand the severity of the situation until she goes into the room where he writes. She finds hundreds of sheets repeating the same phrase: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Yikes!

Frankly, I don’t see why there can’t be a typewriter tossed into every movie. It definitely would have helped “John Carter.”

11 Little Big Men of Cinema

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Some of the roughest customers in cinema have been surprisingly small in stature. From the earliest talkies to today’s 3D extravaganzas, they’ve used their moxie and personal magnetism to project a powerful screen presence. Here are my favorites.

ROBERT DUVALL

Duvall, one of the best actors in film history, has this way of strutting around like a banty rooster. Two examples: the insane American officer in “Apocalypse Now” who marches along a beach oblivious to the explosions going on around him; and the overbearing father in “The Great Santini,” who wreaks emotional havoc on his family.

BRUCE LEE

Even decades later, the action sequences in “Fists of Fury” and “Enter the Dragon” remain truly astonishing. Lee’s intensity and charisma are unrivaled in action films, and countless movies since have tried to copy his unique style.

JAMES CAGNEY

James Cagney was a bull terrier of an actor – a compact package full of charm and snarl. In pictures such as “White Heat” and “The Public Enemy,” he lit up the screen with an electric energy. I hear he could dance, too.

ADOLPH CAESAR

Caesar’s turn as a sadistic U.S. Army sergeant during World War II is an amazing bit of work. It is full of bitterness, frustration and power. The movie (and the play it is based upon) wouldn’t hold together if the audience didn’t feel threatened by little Caesar.

EDWARD G. ROBINSON

Speaking of “Little Caesar,” there’s the great Edward G. Robinson. Here’s a guy who isn’t big – isn’t even muscular – yet everyone is rightfully afraid of him. Robinson had a mug on him that could stop traffic, plus an imperious, dead-serious aura that made him oh-so-dangerous.

AL PACINO

Whether he was playing Tony Montana in “Scarface,” or Michael Corleone in “The Godfather,” Pacino’s eyes were always a window into a volcano of violence. He may not be tall, but his reputation as an icon of American movies looms quite large.

BEN KINGSLEY

Hang on now – what is this? Why is “Gandhi” on a list of Little Big Men of the movies? All I can say is, go and watch a dandy, 2000 British crime drama, “Sexy Beast.” Kingsley got an Oscar nomination as a deliciously brutal thug who wants his old crew to do one last job. He’s utterly convincing.

JACKIE EARLE HALEY

Haley was dynamite as the psycho superhero, Rorschach, in “Watchmen.” But if you think about it, he’s been playing spunky fighters for years, going back to “Breaking Away” and even “The Bad News Bears.” There’s a fearless edge to his acting that takes him to some dark places.

JACKIE CHAN

He’s unlike anyone else on this List, in the sense that his persona is rather sunny. He brings a joy to his fight scenes that jumps out at you as much as the acrobatics. Yet even so, you come away very much aware that this is one tough dude.

BEN FOSTER

I loved Foster’s deranged gunslinger in the remake of “3:10 to Yuma.” His emotionally wounded soldier in “The Messenger” was even better. Though wildly different characters, both of them were capable of sudden violence at any moment.

JOE PESCI

No disrespect to Jimmy Cagney & Co., but Pesci has to be my No. 1 Little Big Man of movies. His Tommy DeVito in “GoodFellas” is a crazy gangster for the ages, and just about every guy I know has done that “Funny how? I mean, funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you?” riff multiple times among friends. Then you have “Casino,” “Raging Bull” and “My Cousin Vinny.” Great roles, and he made them look easy.

But that’s just me. Who are YOUR favorites?