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This terrific made-for-cable adaptation of Gelbart's "Play On Words" is probably more suited to TV than it is for theater. Presented as TV coverage of a Congressional hearing, Mastergate describes an elaborate parody of Iran-Contra, in which illegal arms shipments are made using a big budget Hollywood action film as cover. (The film's "budget" eventually exceeds a billion dollars--"1.3 billion with catering.") The real joy of the play, though is Gelbart's brilliant use of language--the politicians on both sides of the gavel speak as much as they can while saying as little as possible. There's enough doublespeak to put George Orwell to shame, all delivered by a top-notch cast. Mastergate stands with The Candidate and Wag The Dog among the best political satires.
Oct. 10 2006
It has been many years since I saw this on TV, but I remember liking it, and wish to recommend it as best I can to my fellow IMDb.com readers.
This recommendation is compounded by the fact that it is not available anywhere, except I think sometimes it is performed as a play, which I think is its original form (I have not seen or read the play).
Writer Larry Gelbart's mastery of quick language humor is evident and recognizable from his role as a (writer/"creator"?) of the TV Show Mash (though he did not originate the book upon which the Movie Mash and the TV Show were based). Mastergate is a Stage Play where the author had a chance to sit down and pack it full of good writing, and so perhaps that is why it comes across that, in terms of the jokes and mood, it is sort of like watching a Mash episode where the writers had a chance to pack it full of more good quick language-joke ideas than usual. And perhaps when a writer finds particularly fertile territory, they get in a groove.
For me, when I saw it (on HBO or some such?) years ago, it wasn't so much a belly laugh as a very amusing and intelligent satire of the Iran-Contra hearings, and that type of Washington Boondogle. The acting includes good performances by James Coburn (as the Oliver North type character if I recall), Mash vet David Ogden Stiers, and Ed Begley, Jr.
I wish there were a place on the internet where we could communicate to executives in the Movie Business when we think there is a movie some of us would like to see and where we think they are missing out on sales. As yet, when we participate on websites that seem to take our wish-listing of a film, that does not seem to translate into the idea "registering" with film industry executives that they might be missing out on on sales. I would say that Mastergate is a Made-For-TV tape that I would pay a standard DVD price to see again, if there were a place to get it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While the other reviewer may not know it, Mastergate may be found in
three parts on YouTube and is easily downloadable for free. Anyone with
moderate skills can merge the parts into a whole and burn to DVD,
although I don't know what copyright thinks of that.
When I first saw Mastergate we still were under "Daddy Bush", not to mention a vice president who didn't know how to spell "potato". The film has gained in importance and relivence with each passing year. All you need do is watch a few hours of CNN or C-SPAN to realize this. Alcohol is pretty much recommended.
Nevermind "Watergate" or "Iran-Contra", both of which are lampooned in Mastergate, the years following have brought us such wonderful reality shows like "Enron-gate", "Cigar-gate", a vice president who can probably spell "potato" but shoots a friend in the face and a president who appears to have taken up drinking again.
I have always loved double-talk as it usually takes a lot of skill. When it turns into "spin" is when it gets scary because they are SERIOUS about it. When I watch "Wag the Dog" I think of Criswell's words in "Plan9,from Outer Space"....."Can you prove it DIDN'T HAPPEN???"
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