ianrandalstrock (ianrandalstrock) wrote,
ianrandalstrock
ianrandalstrock

My day, and a reading, and a movie review (of Swing Vote)

Had a really New York today (well, I guess technically it was yesterday, since it's after midnight, but I consider "today" as the time between "I wake up" and "I go to sleep". And why do we start the day at midnight, anyway? Wouldn't it be interesting if the day started at, like, 7:42 AM? ANYWAY...)...

Saw a couple of the waterfalls (which I've mentioned before) from the subway this morning, along with the Statue of Liberty and a bunch of water traffic on the East River. About noon, looking south from the 49th floor, I saw not one but two blimps floating northward above the East River. It almost looked like they were flying in formation. About an hour later, I saw them from the north side of the building: one out toward LaGuardia, the other flying south above the Hudson River. Later in the afternoon, I walked from the Plaza (at the southeast corner of Central Park) up to Tavern on the Green (on the west side of Central Park at 67th Street). I walked through the park, never more than a block or two from the surrounding streets, yet it was a walk in the country, through trees and grass and rock outcroppings (there's a massive outcrop by the Herkscher ballfields and playground called Umpire Rock, which is a massive bit of glacial leftover, really neat place to climb). I exited the Park past Tavern on the Green, where we ate once last Autumn, and where I attended a book launch party for the 40th anniversary of Isaac Asimov's Pebble in the Sky. Leaving the greenery of the park and the floral outbursts of the restaurant, I walked along 66th Street, past the apartment building where Isaac Asimov lived (I remembered dropping him off there after his last visit to the magazine's offices), and then joined Kit at the Lincoln Center Barnes and Noble for a talk/performance/signing by Charles Strouse (accompanied by Christine Ebersole). After Kit got her book signed, we walked uptown two blocks to the theatre for a screening of Swing Vote, which is scheduled to be released the first or second of August (review below). Then it was a quick stop at a pizza place for dinner, and back on the subway home. Riding along, I took out the galley of my book, just for a quick smile (I've been doing that a lot the last two days), and Kit struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to her, telling her about my book. The woman was friendly (or polite) enough to be impressed that I'd written the book, and actually perused it. We chatted a bit, saw the half Moon hanging low in the sky from the Manhattan Bridge, as well as the Statue of Liberty again (they turn off the waterfalls for the night), and then home. A nice, full day of New York City.

Review of Swing Vote:

I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say this movie is a paean to the importance of voting. The story is what happens when the presidential election is so close that it all comes down to one man's unrecorded vote. Thus, he'll have to cast a new ballot, and the candidates, their staffs, and pretty much everyone else in the country has an opinion to share with him.

I liked the movie, though it felt like an updating of Isaac Asimov's "Franchise" (1955) [wow! three Isaac mentions in one post; guess it was an Isaac type of day], in which the vote of only one man is necessary for the election (ironically enough, the story is set in the year 2008). That isn't necessarily bad: I liked the ideas in the story, and the ideas in the movie. The movie version, however, is simply that everyone else has already voted.

The girl playing Kevin Costner (the voter)'s daughter, Madeline Carroll, is wonderful, and the film is chock-a-block with name actors, along with a raft of television and news personalities playing themselves

There were, however, some features of it I thought could have been better…



Drunk loser Bud Johnson (Costner) and his lovable, superachieving 10- or 12-year-old daughter Molly (Carroll) live in Nowheresville, New Mexico. Election Day is coming up, and Molly has an assignment to view the electoral process, so she makes Bud promise to meet her at the polling place after work (he works in the local egg factory, but not very well). Bud retorts that he isn't even registered, to which Molly responds "I registered you by mail." At school, Molly reads her kick-ass essay on the electoral process, and it's so good that she winds up on the local news. Bud, meanwhile, has been laid off (he's not a very good worker, and the constant influx of hard-working, less-demanding Mexican employees foretold his future early on), so he's drinking and playing pool at the local bar when a friend mentions that Molly's on tv. Seeing her, he remembers he was supposed to meet her, scurries out of the bar, and bashes his head on a sign (reading, ironically, "Vote Today"). He stumbles into his pick-up truck, but passes out, unable to drive to meet her.

Molly, feeling the civic duty her father lacks, sneaks into the polling place after all the other voters have left. One of the poll watchers is asleep, and the other has gone to a back room for something (the polling place is usually a bingo hall). Molly signs Bud's name, takes his ballot, and steps into a booth with an electronic machine. She has only just inserted the ballot and seen the screen with the candidates' names when the other poll worker comes out pushing a mop (to clean up), and accidentally pulls the plug. The voting machine loses power, Molly freaks, tears off the stub sticking out the bottom, and sneaks out. The poll worker replaces the plug, and all is well, except…

Well, you knew this was coming: the election is 267 electoral votes to 266 with only New Mexico undecided. It's five electoral votes will decide the election, and it turns out the state is really and truly tied (they make no mention of absentee ballots). But they've discovered that Bud is listed as having voted, although his ballot is not recorded (the powers that be blame the power outage). New Mexico's Secretary of State and Attorney General visit the double-wide in which our hero lives, and inform him that his ballot was not counted, but that if he swears an oath, he'll be allowed to cast a replacement ballot in 10 days.

And then the fun and games start.

First, there's the (mercifully short) race to find out who the "lucky" voter is. Then, once his home is surrounded, the public's hue and cry to learn his preference, at which point he says he's keeping an open mind (because he hasn't a clue who is even running, let alone who he should vote for).

Cue the vast and ravening hordes, as President Andy Boone (Kelsey Grammar) and challenger Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper), along with their teams, and seemingly every news van in the country, descends on the tiny town of Texico, all to convince Bud to vote one way or the other.

Costner plays the clueless doofus well, but he holds the pose way too long, not realizing that he has an earth-shakingly important decision to make. Molly knows what's going on, and when they visit the president aboard Air Force One, we think Molly is going to be negotiating with campaign manager Martin Fox (Stanley Tucci) while Bud and the president enjoy a cold one. The latter happens, but the former, not so much. Molly is preternaturally aware of the world and the issues, and puts Fox in his place, but there's no real discussion of the issues as we think there might be.

Oh, and throughout Bud's cluelessness, he and Molly are forced to keep up the pretense that it really was he in the voting booth; he swore the oath, and it's discovered he's lying, it'll be the felony that locks him up ("Yeah baby, I can't get no more felonies."). It's necessary to the world the filmmakers have built for us, but an incredibly minor point that doesn't help anything along.

At any rate, Greenleaf and his campaign manager Art Crumb (Nathan Lane) show up, and again there's the father/daughter-candidate/manager split. Molly gets in a good jab about the fact that Crumb has run seven unsuccessful national campaigns.

Well, the campaigns bring in celebrities to convince Bud to vote (Richard Petty and Willy Nelson play themselves); they make instant commercials based on Bud's every utterance; they manage to completely realign themselves to get his vote (the Democrat talks about banning abortion; the Republican about gay rights); and throughout it all, Bud's having a terrified grand old time, enjoying the fruits of his position. Molly, however, is answering some of the mounds of mail Bud's getting, and she's fretting that he'll let slip the fact that he didn't try to vote, and she's worried about getting Bud to realize what's going on, that he'll actually have to make up his mind.

Bud takes entirely to long to realize the gravity of the situation. Only Molly running away from home (out from under the eyes of the Secret Service agent, who ruefully tells Bud "Well, she's smarter than the presidents we watch") convinces him that he'd better straighten up and fly right. And about that time, the candidates, too, seem to realize that they have to stand for something, rather than giving away everything to win this one supremely important vote.

Bud demands a presidential debate between the candidates, with himself as moderator, and takes a crash course in all things USA, taught by Molly, the friendly local reporter who realizes she'd much rather be good than be successful, and the ever-present, ever-helpful Secret Service agent.

Bud shows up for the debate, and starts with a long, impassioned speech apologizing for being a clueless boob, talking about the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen, and the awesome thing it is to vote, and then begins asking questions.

At this point, I was only surprised that so many people in the audience expected to learn which candidate Bud was going to vote for: the point of the movie was that he would vote, and he would take his vote seriously. There's no way—and no reason—for the film to actually decided which candidate will win.

I liked the movie. It could be better, but the humor is enough to keep the audience watching, and the drama, though a bit over the top at times, emphasizes that as funny as it might be, the topic is deadly serious.
Tags: art, movies, new york, randomness
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