Once upon a time I produced and hosted a film criticism program called Freeze Frame. I liked the title then and so I have christened this series of film reviews, which will appear more or less regularly on this BLOG, Freeze Frame. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I surely will enjoy writing them.
Let us agree on a distinction between film reviewers and film critics. Film reviews are written by folks who go see a film and say: I liked it or I didn’t. And then they proceed to tell you why, often awarding, thumbs up or down, or rating the film and assigning four bunny heads, or four stars or whatever symbol appeals to them. I promise you no such silliness will invade this space.
Film critics on the other hand attempt to evaluate films in a much broader historical and artistic context and the critic tries to explain what there is in the film to make it worth seeing, or exploring or analyzing. These pieces are often of, by, and for academics and they are usually arcane, dense to impenetrable and boring. Although often tempted, I will do my best to refrain from that kind of academic gamesmanship.
Film Reviewers are fond of offering up their top ten films of all times, and needless to say, if I were to draw up such a list, most of my top ten films would not be known to a general audience, much less make the top ten list of say the American Film Institute which has an incredibly parochial outlook especially for folks who ought to know better.
A newspaper editor friend of mine once said: Film critics are people who take themselves much too seriously. To which I responded. Film reviewers are people who nobody takes seriously.
Neither statement is fully true or fully false but there is a grain of truth in both of them. Happily, there is no film in the summer blockbuster crop worth comment from a critic’s point of view.
The Summer Crop
This column then is reduced to a reviewer’s perspective. So here goes. I have seen the summer crop of movies. Only one entices an endorsement. I have see Batman and Hellboy,. Boy, watching Batman is hell and man, watching Hellboy will make you batty. Enough said. The latest Batman folly was praised to the sky by most reviewers who took more or less the same tack. The death of Keith Ledger made it de classe to criticize the film so it was, perforce, a masterpiece. By now most readers will have wasted the price of admission and perhaps convinced yourselves that you were watching a major artistic success even though it appeared to be the latest incarnation of a comic book film aimed at the pubescent male mind with the usual pyrotechnics, chase scenes and sexual tension. As Pauline Kael might have noted, it was the classic mindless Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang movie. I saw it. I was bored to tears. It was predictable, silly, and nonsensical and although Ledger turns in a good enough performance he didn’t come close to touching Jack Nicholson’s performance as the Joker in Batman Begins or– get a load of this– Cesar Romero’s performance as the Joker in the cartoonish Batman television series from the 1960’s.
The rest of the crop is a bunch of yawners. I didn’t bother seeing the Mummy or Journey to the Center of the Earth. I did see Get Smart (nostalgia) and Mamma Mia (ditto) and the X Files (was never a fan). None is worth the price of admission.
If you wasted your money On Batman, I am truly sorry, ditto for Hellboy, ditto for Get Smart and the rest of the films in the summer crop. All were bummers.
Well then, what is worth watching??
Yes Swing Vote.
Understand that writing a satirical piece on the American Political system is shooting fish in a barrel. The American political system is a parody wrapped in a satire folded into a hackneyed bad joke. Even when folks try to write seriously about the American Political system it appears to be satire. So why would I recommend this movie? First, I must admit to being a political junkie. Watching the American political system is like watching Three Stooges Cartoons—both are so bad they are fascinating. Swing Vote, in the parlance of the old studio idea man is: The Odd Couple meets Wag the Dog Or Bob Roberts or A Face in the Crowd. The odd couple is Mr. Mom, played by Kevin Costner who is raising his teen age daughter played by Madeline Carroll. He is a dumb-ass, boorish, bass-fishing, irresponsible, weekend alcoholic. The daughter is dead smart, aware, involved, caring, mature, even wise, brave clean and reverent. In sum, he is the typical uninformed blue collar Republican voter. She is the typical Democrat. Bud is served up a giant heaping helping of reality when he loses his job at the local chicken processing plant to an illegal immigrant. He does the manly thing and gets roaring drunk, forgets his daughter who is left at school and forgets to keep his promise to her to vote. She sneaks into the polling place and attempts to vote for him. The voting machine fails and his vote is stuck in the machine. The entire presidential election comes down to his vote since New Mexico law allows him to re vote. The rest of the film is devoted to the two presidential candidates pandering to what they think Mr. Moron believes. It is so close to a real election in this country as to be painful, and yet very funny, to watch.
Kevin Costner and Madeline Carroll are spot on in their roles as the odd couple, and the supporting cast is stellar. If you peek at the cast, you must admit that watching this ensemble work is well worth the price of admission. One small hint. Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci are the presidential team and Dennis Hopper and Nathan Lane are the challengers.
Go see Swing Vote. As is the case with most political humor these days you will likely get more information abut the issues from the movie than you will from the ads runs by the candidates in the real campaign. A single line spoken by Bud after a crash course in the issues: “If America is such a rich country, why can so many of us not afford to live here anymore?” makes the film worth the price of admission.