Unclear and Present Danger

Unclear and Present Danger

New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie and freelance writer John Ganz delve into the world of 90s post-Cold War thrillers with Unclear and Present Danger, a podcast that explores America in an age of transition to lone superpower, at once triumphant and unsure of its role in the world.


May 27, 2023 75 mins

In this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John are joined by David Sims of The Atlantic magazine and the Blank Check podcast to discuss the 1995 comic book adaptation “Judge Dredd.” Made in the era when Hollywood had no idea what to do with comics and science fiction properties, “Judge Dredd” is, in most respects, a failure. But within that failure is interesting gli...

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In this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John watch “True Lies,” James Cameron’s tonally-incoherent (but hugely successful) spy thriller starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. They discuss the film as a straightforward take on the American crisis of masculinity in the 1990s, as a depiction of American beliefs and ideologies around sex and power, and as...

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April 28, 2023 69 mins

This week on Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John watched “Canadian Bacon,” a 1995 political comedy written, produced and directed by Michael Moore, which takes aim at American politics in the wake of the Cold War. It stars an ensemble cast of John Candy (in his last film role), Alan Alda as the president of the United States, Bill Nunn, Kevin J. O’Connor, Rhea Perlman, Kevin Pollak...

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April 15, 2023 76 mins

On this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, we watched “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” the 1995 threequel to the original 1988 “Die Hard.” Directed by John McTiernan, who helmed the first film, it was written by prolific Holllywood screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh based on an original screenplay and stars Bruce Willis as recurring hero John McClane, Samuel L. Jackson as “Zeus,” and Je...

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April 2, 2023 69 mins

On this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John discuss Wolfgang Petersen’s medical thriller slash action movie “Outbreak.” We spend the bulk of the episode discussing the experience of watching this movie having lived through a pandemic, as well as the pandemic fears of the 1990s that might have inspired this film. Unfortunately, a few technical difficulties meant th...

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March 19, 2023 67 mins

This week, Jamelle and John are joined by Soraya Roberts of Defector and Pipe Wrench magazine to talk “Drop Zone,” a quintessentially 1990s action film starring Wesley Snipes and Gary Busey. They talk Snipes' career and his fall into “sovereign citizenship,” the 90s obsession with “extreme” sports, and race and Hollywood.

In our next episode, we’ll d...

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March 6, 2023 67 mins

In this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John watch “Toys,” a largely-forgotten fantasy-comedy film from director Barry Levinson. Despite its myriad flaws, the boys have a productive conversation about the film’s obvious themes — the military-industrial complex and the rise of remote and drone warfare — and its less obvious themes, specifically the bourgeois vi...

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February 18, 2023 11 mins

We are concluding our Graham Greene series with an obscure spy drama from director Otto Preminger, the 1979 film "The Human Factor." It is of a piece with "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and to that point, Jamelle and John spend this episode discussing the connections between the two works and the similarities (and differences) between how Le Carre and Greene view betrayal and deception.

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February 18, 2023 72 mins

In this week’s episode, Jamelle and John watch Disney’s “The Rocketeer,” a throwback action-adventure film starring Billy Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Sorvino and Timothy Dalton. They discuss the 1930s revival of the late 80s and early 90s, the real-life conspiracies that might have inspired the plot of “The Rocketeer,” and the political power of nostalgia for Americans on ...

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February 3, 2023 59 mins

In this week’s episode, Jamelle and John discuss “Without Warning,” a made-for-television science fiction film from 1994, produced as if it were an actual breaking news event, with “reports” from on-the-ground correspondents from around the world. They discuss the inspiration for this “docudrama” genre as well as the general wave of “asteroid attack” films in the 1990s. They also talk the p...

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New Episode

This week, Jamelle and John are joined by historian Gillet Rosenblith to discuss the 1994 action thriller “Surviving the Game,” a loose adaptation of “The Most Dangerous Game” and a glimpse into anxieties and fears regarding poverty, homelessness and urban decay in the 1990s. They also discuss other, similar films of the era, like John Wo...

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January 9, 2023 66 mins

Happy New Year! In this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, we watch “The Puppet Masters,” an adaptation of a 1951 Robert Heinlein novel that feels aimless in the absence of the original Cold War context. Jamelle and John discuss, among other things, the “Body Snatcher” genre, science fiction as a vehicle for allegory, and the war on drugs.

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December 24, 2022 71 mins

What do you get when you mix Boston, bad accents and a lot of explosions? The 1994 thriller “Blown Away” starring Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones! Jamelle and John are joined by Clare Malone of The New Yorker to talk Irish-American identity, Irish nationalism, the racial politics of Boston and much, much more.

Connor Lynch produced this episode. Art...

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December 16, 2022 9 mins

Hello listeners! This on the Patreon week we continued our journey into the work of Graham Greene and Carol Reed with the 1949 British noir “The Third Man.” It suffices to say that this is one of the most famous and acclaimed movies of all time, so Jamelle and John had a lot to say about its production, its writing and its themes. They also spoke a great deal about Orson Welles, the politic...

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December 10, 2022 65 mins

In this week’s episode, Jamelle and John scrape the bottom of the cinematic barrel with the 1994 environmentalist action flick, “On Deadly Ground,” directed by and starring Steven Seagall. It’s not a good movie, but they had a good conversation covering Seagall’s political trajectory, right-wing misogyny, and the psychological origins of authoritarian politics.

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For this week’s Patreon episode, Jamelle and John cover the 1959 film “Our Man in Havana,” an adaptation of a 1958 Graham Greene novel by the same name. We talk Graham Greene, director Carol Reed, and Alec Guinness, the star, as well as esoteric topics like motivated reasoning, the nature of intelligence work, and the power and peril of propaganda. We also, as always, looked at the news for the day the film was released, December 3...

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November 25, 2022 78 mins

In this week’s episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle, John and special guest Jay Willis of Balls and Strikes discuss the 1993 adaptation of John Grisham’s “The Pelican Brief,” and ask whether anything about the movie’s plot actually makes any sense. They also discuss the early days of the conservative legal movement, the political hegemony of capital, and Stanley Tucci.

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November 18, 2022 11 mins

We have another Patreon episode for you and this week, it’s a John favorite: the 1979 BBC adaptation of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” We go deep into the character of George Smiley, John le Carre’s critique of the British ruling class, and the idea of national “decadence.” Jamelle also spends a little time talking about the American constitutional system, so it’s basically an episode where e...

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November 11, 2022 70 mins

Jamelle and John are joined by Michael Liroff of the Five Four podcast to discuss “The Fugitive,” a masterpiece of Dad cinema. They talk the liberal politics of the 1990s, the surprisingly nuanced racial politics of the film, and complain, as always, that they just don’t make them like this anymore.

Connor Lynch produced this episode. Artwork by Rach...

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October 30, 2022 65 mins

Episode 26 — The Hunt for Red October (Take Two)

In this one year anniversary episode of Unclear and Present Danger, Jamelle and John return to the film that started it all, “The Hunt for Red October.” They discuss the film as an elegy for the Cold War era, and further explore the dilemma of American power and identity in the post-Soviet world.


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