What a Country!

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Has Jefferson Smith come at last? With all that bipartisan grinning over the budget deal, it's almost as if there were suddenly a functioning democracy in Washington. Of course, there's still Jesse Helms. Confused? Get to the guts of the Beltway, Hollywood-style. Follow Jimmy Stewart to town with 1939's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Frank Capra's valiant paen to all that's great about this country of ours. Back that up with Born Yesterday, the 1950 Holden/Holliday original, and you'll be running for city councilman by the time the tape's rewound. So be sure to wash it all down with a movie or two from Column B. The Senator Was Indiscreet, with 'Thin Man' William Powell, is a still-funny Washington lampoon from 1947, before we knew there was so much to satirize. Throw in star-studded Senate classic Advise and Consent for a briefer on the Weld mess. But if you're a campaign finance junkie, and you need a good Asian infiltration plot to get through the weekend, just go get The Manchurian Candidate. As a watchdog, committee chairman Fred Thompson has absolutely nothing on Chairman of the Board Frank Sinatra.

Unfortunately, all this American Way stuff doesnít go over too well with certain Arab types. So watch Black Sunday. Be prepared.

This Just In . . .

MOVIES . . . CAREER GIRLS: Like virtually all of his characters, the two 'Career Girls' of his new film are trapped in the hopelessness of modern life. Educated to the point of glibness, but not to the point of wisdom, they know just enough to recognize the constraints of class, gender and material longing, but not enough to break through them, to achieve the freedom of mind and spirit that modernity keeps promising but never quite delivers. "This leaves them at once ranting and wistful, delivering those arias of discontent -- often funny, sometimes touching, always brutally frank -- that are the hallmark of the directorís famously improvisational style," says TIME's Richard Schickel. "Though our heroines' initial wariness gives way to a tentative reawakening of a friendship less abrasive, possibly more trusting, than it once was, nothing much happens, dramatically speaking, in 'Career Girls.' It is less scarring than Leigh's 'Naked,' less poignant than 'Secrets & Lies.' But still it offers a behavioral truthfulness and a passionate engagement with the despairs of dailiness that put most movies to shame."

MOVIES . . . PICTURE PERFECT: Jenifer Aniston, as she proves every week on 'Friends,' is an actress who serenely lets the comedy come to her instead of frantically searching for it, notes Schickel. And her nicely judged blend of intelligence and inexperience saves the slightly silly premise (woman needs man to play her husband in order to get a raise) of this romantic comedy. "Director and co-writer Glenn Gordon Caron, late of 'Moonlighting,' operates in the same smart, patient manner," says Schickel You might wish he and his colleagues had toasted Nick, their studmuffin, a little more crisply -- enough of these puff-pastry leading men -- but the rest of the roles are crunchy, and 'Picture,' if not quite perfect, makes a nice light snack for a hot summerís day."