Thursday, July 31, 2008

"And The Whole World Has To Answer Right Now Just To Tell You Once Again... Who's Bad?" -Michael Jackson

I got to see two movies today, one was Hellboy 2 and it was fine, there was nothing to it. I got my $7.50's worth when Ron Perlman and Doug Jones (Hellboy and Abe Sapien, respectively) sang Barry Manilow's Can't Smile. It was awesome.

The other movie I saw, and thank the G-ds this was a free sneak preview was Swing Vote.

Now, I said before I walked into the theater that I was going because I adore Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane, and I was interested to see Dennis Hopper and Kelsey Gramer as Presidential candidates. I don't typically like Kevin Costner, I have always thought that he was kind of a one-trick pony and that after Bull Durham it was a pretty ugly downward slide. But that is just me. He makes a gazillion bucks a year, he has a daughter with an Ivy League education and I sit in my efficiency apartment typing up a movie review that maybe eight people will read, so fuck me.

Much to my surprise, however, casting wasn't the problem. Neither was photography, or directing, or acting or anything with Kevin Costner. The problem with this story is two fold: For enders it is a movie based on a moral imperative that is rousingly delivered in the final five minutes of the movie, which to sum it up, We the people made this mess. The starter of the shit show is a faulty premise based around a felony offense and a call to civic duty. But it fails because it is based around a lie that never comes to the light.

Normally I would warn about spoilers--and I guess I am right now--but fuck that. If you see this movie I want no part of it. This is the worst movie I have seen in probably three years and the last time I remember being this angry at a movie was when I saw Very Bad Things.

Anyway, back to the task, here is the premise. A little girl is taking her civic responsibility very seriously. So she registers her father to vote. Then she tells him, Dad, it is really important that you vote, please do it, pick me up at the polling center. But he doesn't. Because he is a fuck-up. He actually gets fired from his job because he is drinking on the clock, and then proceeds to the bar to get drunk, and finally passes out in his truck. He never makes it to the polls.

Instead his civically minded daughter decides to vote for him. She obviously forges his name on the voting record and then as she is about to vote, a cleaning woman unplugs the machine... tragedy ensues with hearty guffaws.

The travesty here isn't the movie. Gramer and Hopper are great Presidential candidates who lend earnestness and spinelessness in equally believable parts; Tucci and Lane are scene stealers as the guys pulling the strings, and Costner and Carroll play a beautiful troubled single family.

The problem with this movie lies in its failing to achieve the goals. The only characters that are honest through the movie are the scummy politicos who are the guys behind the guys. They unabashedly maneuver their candidate to the victory line and in the end they own up to their motivations, for Lane it is being an idealist with something to win and for Tucci it is securing legacies.

EVERYBODY ELSE IN THAT MOVIE IS BEYOND REDEMPTION! The Presidential candidates waffle on the topics that seem to mean the most to them. The Republican is seen backing gay marriage and opening a Wildlife preservere; the Democrat is backing stronger immigration policy and pro-life; all because hapless Bud can't seem to get his head around a question.

Which brings us to the news reporter. This is a character that is presented with the fact that the girl lied and that Bud has no right to vote because his daughter signed his name and instead looks the other way, even after screaming her head off about ethics for ninety minutes. If this movie is meant to present us with an ethical dilemma, which it does, it resolves that dilemma by doing the wrong thing. Imagine you are in a position where you are presented with evidence that will stop one man from deciding the fate of the presidential election, and instead of telling that story and allowing the constitution to work the way it's designed--allowing the House of Representatives to choose the President--you put on a cable-knit sweater and sit beside the felonious family at a rodeo ground debate.

The civically minded girl never comes clean about her part in the whole affair even after watching her father get tugged, pulled, and swayed; and seeing the ugly side of the political process she loves so much in the first twenty minutes. Instead she allows the world to believe that her father got to the poll on time. If Bud were doing his job as a father he might've even said to his daughter, "Honey we can't live this lie, it just doesn't feel right." Because we already had the story present us with his morality. He's lazy, not evil. After being caught drinking his boss--and high school friend-- says, Bud, give me a reason why I shouldn't fire you, just one reason to keep you and staff. But Bud knows that there isn't one, and rather than making something up he allows himself to be fired.

If the point of this movie was to rouse up the slumbering masses from their apathy and help them to get motivated about the issues that will decide this November's election between McCain and Obama, then I think it might have horribly missed the mark. Here is what the movie showed me:

  1. Presidential candidates are little more than mouthpieces of a platform. Leadership has very little to do with becoming President because the guys that design the platforms and strategize behind the scenes are the ones who are really running.
  2. Don't trust the media. They can't help. If their job is to inform and help in some small way to deliver the truth, they fail too. And they fail for largely selfish reasons because they are human and prone to their own emotional failings.
  3. The problem with true civic responsibility is that most people don't understand how it works. There are fail safes for bad ballots, the Constitution has a contingency plan set up for just this sort of thing.
  4. Any moral imperative based on faulty morality is doomed to failure. The only way to make this story work is to have Bud begrudgingly pulled away from a foosball game where he loses money, then have step in to the polling center and cast his vote. Then the machine becomes unplugged. Because what he have here is actually a great lesson in how voter fraud works and how the people responsible for fighting are largely relying on people to the do the right thing. (Read Leviathan it won't work.)

But because I don't want to end this revant (a combination of review and rant) on a sour note I want to talk about three things that did help redeem this movie for me.

First, the casting choice of New Mexican politicians. Brilliant. The guy that played the Secretary of State was awesomely cast because he looks like a Salty New Mexico Politician, and I have known more than a couple of them.

The guy that played Lewis is named Charles Esten and he stole every single scene he was in for me. He is charged with protecting the family by the Secret Service and in the background of the scenes he is in mopping floors or reading mail or doing dishes. My favorite scene involves him standing in the back of the class while Molly (the daughter) defends her father for being a drunk. In the scene he has the earpiece to his walkie talkie out of his ear and resting on his jacket. It is too beautiful to be a mistake. I am going to pretend that it was Esten's decision.

Lastly, this film was shot with the help of the New Mexico State Investment Council Film Commission. I don't understand how this works exactly but I used to go to NMSIC meetings and here is my understanding: if a film maker is willing to shoot and finish a film in New Mexico the Film Commission, which is an executive branch organization will grant them certain tax relief during the process. It will also lend them money with a small interest rate that is payable after the movie is finished and released. Here is why I like this program. It draws Hollywood to New Mexico and it employs New Mexicans in high paying movie jobs. The downside is that they don't have any control on the quality of the film.

Outside of those three things I have nothing positive to say about this movie, I think that there are funny scenes and I think that the actors and the director did a fine job with the material they were given, but the material itself was written poorly and in a rush. If you see this movie after reading this revant (trademark) then it is on your shoulders alone. Because I am telling you right now. This movie sucks. Bad.


Blogger Quin Browne said...


recently, i was called by a polling group.

"what is the best thing this country can do to improve the political future?"

i said, "dig up harry truman"

there was a pause. "no, really... what do you think..."

"i'm serious. dig up fucking harry truman. i'd rather have a dead man who was that honest than any of the fucktards out there today."

end. of. story.

thanks for the heads up on the film... here's my film advice, avoid momma mia and the mummy. the first one because it just plain stinks. the second one because it stinks, and the continuity issues drove me mad.

<3 you.

8/05/2008 02:55:00 PM  

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