Six Stages of Hell – ‘The Stars Collection’ Part 6: Buster (1988)

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Directed by: David Green

Although we’ve come to the end of the road, there is still one last film from ‘The Stars Collection’ left to review – ‘Buster’ starring Phil Collins.

Phil Collins was a constant thorn during my childhood; I think it was ‘I Can’t Dance’, a Genesis Music Video on constant rotation which haunted me most. He seemed to be everywhere back in those days. I was able to put these memories behind me until I developed an obsession with ‘American Psycho’ (book & film); Patrick Bateman’s adept summary of ‘Invisible Touch’ caused me to reappraise Phil Collins.

When I think about Collins, and I look at the vacuous world of pop nowadays, I don’t see how on earth he would survive today. Vocally he was average, yet he possessed a distinct nasally voice which sounded mildly interesting to daydreaming housewives buzzing on fondue. Looks wise, he was short, balding and in a time when a club footed Dudley Moore was a sex symbol, he against all odds… fitted in.

From the get go as ‘Keep on Running’ from the Spencer Davis Group plays, we know straight away that Buster is a cheeky chappy, a rogue, a bit of a lad. He steals a suited mannequin from a shop window, and changes into the suit before strutting across to a funeral that he is fashionably late for.

Buster is a domestic tale. A love story between Buster and his long suffering wife June played by Julie Walters. Whilst Buster is out taking part in The Great Train Robbery, poor June is having a miscarriage. Buster continually lets June down throughout the movie, and because she loves him, she continually takes him back.

The Great Train Robbery is glossed over a fair bit, and you can’t really get a sense of the share audacity of the plot. The film makes it out that the robbery was a victimless crime, although in reality there were two casualties, Jack Mills suffered from trauma headaches for the remainder of his life and died in 1970 and David Whitby was also left traumatised, dying from a heart attack aged 34 in 1972.

After the robbery Buster, June and their young daughter Nicky flee Blighty and end up going loco down in Acapulco.

In Mexico June gets homesick and struggles to adjust to a new culture. Whereas another of the robbers Bruce and his wife Franny are absolutely lapping it up, delighting in the exotic cocktails and spicy chili con carne, Buster and June are at each other’s throats. It is here where Julie Walters does what Julie Walters does best, and annihilates every other living creature on screen, every feverish Latino mosquito, every cockroach, Phil Collins, absolutely slays it. Top notch performance as always.

‘Buster’ is not quite a comedy, and not quite a drama (is it a Dramedy?), and I don’t really think it stands up too well when viewed in 2013, in theory an eighties take on the sixties should be quite authentic, but it doesn’t seem that way. I think if remade today it would either be presented as a gritty sub-Guy Ritchie gangster film, or a watered down Richard Curtis romcom. Like Phil Collins, it is a product of its time, when we could process the concept of pop stars as serious actors and accept that a rowing pair of Londoners existed outside of Albert Square.

The real Buster Edwards committed suicide in 1994, it would be wrong to suggest that this film contributed in any way to that act, but it couldn’t have been easy to see a reconstruction of what was likely a difficult part of his life played out on screen by Phil Collins. ‘Buster’ isn’t really seen as a cult classic, or a fondly remembered piece in the pantheon of British cinema, to the extent that a couple of years back they were giving away DVD’s of the film for free in a Sunday newspaper supplement.

– RJW
4/10

Buster on IMDB
Buy Buster [DVD]

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Deep Blue Sea (1999)

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1999 is seen as something of a golden year for film, we were adorned with modern classics such as American Beauty, Eyes Wide Shut, Fight Club, The Green Mile, Magnolia, The Straight Story and Man on the Moon with other, more left-field titles also serving up consistently strong content such as Arlington Road, Being John Malkovich, Buena Vista Social Club, The Virgin Suicides, The Boondock Saints, Office Space and Mystery Men. We were also given multiple enduring genre game-changers like The Blair Witch Project, The Matrix and The Sixth Sense which brings me nicely to one of my guilty pleasures of ’99, Deep Blue Sea.

’90s Hollywood action hack Renny Harlin (born Lauri Mauritz Harjola) was one of the top studio go-to-guys for middle budget actioners in the last decade of creative freedom in film before the bean counters took over. He was entrusted with the second instalment of the Die Hard (1990) franchise, worked with Shane Black on The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), oversaw John Lithgow overpowering Sylvester Stallone with a headlock in Cliffhanger (1993) and is responsible for the biggest box-office flop of all time, Cutthroat Island (1995).

Harlin then decided to wave the 20th century goodbye with an elaborate science-fiction/horror/action hybrid starring an ensemble cast made up of Tom Jane (in one of his earliest leading roles), Saffron Burrows, Michael Rapaport, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, pop-rapper Ladies Love Cool James and some genetically engineered CGI sharks.

L. Jackson plays Russell Franklin, a corporate executive whose company is bankrolling an ocean based science lab called ‘The Aquatica Project’ in the hope of finding a cure for alzheimer’s disease by testing on sharks. Aquatica is headed up by ambitious scientist Dr. Susan McAlester (a pouting Saffron Burrows) and the sharks are kept in touch by good-at-heart criminal Carter Blake (Tom Jane) who is made to herd the underwater predators as part of his parole conditions.

It turns out Burrows has been using illegal made-up sciency stuff on the sharks which increase their brain capacity making them capable of hunting in packs and also gives them the super-power of swimming backwards (there’s even a collective gasp among the cast when this is first noticed). Cue an underwater Frankenstein rollercoaster ride of creation rebelling against creator which starts with Stellan Skarsgard having his arm bitten off by one of the test subjects and then, while being airlifted to a chopper the unlucky Swede’s rescue is first scuppered by adverse weather conditions and finally (and fatally) by the leader shark who slams him into the main window, thus breaking it and securing entry to the facility.

Australian screenwriter Duncan Kennedy was inspired to write Deep Blue Sea by witnessing firsthand “the horrific effects of a shark attack” on a beach near his home which onset a recurring nightmare of “being in a passageway with sharks that could read his mind”. The only way Kennedy saw fit to alleviate his subconscious mind of those terrible dreams was to thrash out the basic plot of what would eventually evolve into Deep Blue Sea. He also noted that Harlin wanted to go one better than Jaws which has a 25 foot killer shark so the big one in Deep Blue Sea reaches a length of 26 foot. Take that Spielberg.

In a neat and surprising twist the film’s biggest star is killed off about halfway through while delivering a rousing speech proving that Deep Blue Sea is much more than just a standard-fare guessing game of who gets got and in what order, in fact Deep Blue Sea showcases a broad range of technical competencies that made the Finnish filmmaker such a highly-rated genre director throughout the decade. Bonus points too for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo from Ronny Cox as the head of the corporation behind it all.

Like most of Harlin’s previous work it’s packed full of slick, suspenseful build-up and thoughtful and wholly original action set-pieces, in one scene he even manages to blow-up water which even his closest challenger for ridiculous action sequences, John Woo, never achieved and he blends the serious with a good dose of humour as one of the clever sharks turns on an oven that LL Cool J is hiding in reminiscent of old Looney Tunes cartoons. Harlin plays it straight throughout the film no matter how ridiculous it gets (and it gets very bloody ridiculous) and it’s this tongue-in-cheek approach that appeals to me kind of like a subtle, marine version of Police Squad but without the Zucker’s zany humour. One feels it could’ve too easily descended into farcical parody territory had he taken a lighter route.

This film along with countless others throughout the 90s emphasises just how much filmmakers were getting away with and how big budgets were being blown on any and every idea no matter how far-fetched, fantastic or just plain weird they were. However coming into the following decade Renny Harlin soon fell out of favour in Hollywood, maybe this simply coincided with the belt tightening of the 2000s or maybe it’s just because he was making tosh like Deep Blue Sea.

– Greg Foster

Deep Blue Sea on IMDB
Buy Deep Blue Sea [1999] [DVD]

FDR: American Badass (2012)

Picture the scene. You’re 14 years old. You’re into hip-hop. You’re super-horny all the time, but you’re not sure about sex, really, or what the finer points of it involve. You love swearing. You’ve got a fairly short attention span. Also, your Grandad is a World War 2 veteran who tells you stories of the greatest generation all the time.

Then one day you decide to write a film, and bizarrely it makes it all the way to the screen with not a word of your incoherent, sex drenched, urban slang-using, World War 2 epic changed in any way. “FDR: American Badass” is that movie.

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This is the third  below-average alternate history US president mashup film I’ve reviewed for this site – , “Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” being the others. In fact, I think you could say that ISCFC is your home for films where US presidents of the past defend the country against supernatural creatures. Hey, webmaster! I have a new tagline for the site!

Anyway, Barry Bostwick, star of one of my favourite cheesy scifi movies “Megaforce” as well as a bunch of much better-known films and TV shows, plays Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It turns out he got polio due to a werewolf bite, but became President anyway. Wouldn’t you know it, when he has to fight the Axis powers, they’re led by werewolf Hitler and Mussolini (although you never see them as humans, so I’m not sure what they are).

That’s really all the plot you need for this film. There are few things worse than a comedy where all the jokes suck, and even fewer where everyone involved in the film thinks they’re making something hilarious. The mastermind behind this film is a guy called Ross Patterson, who’s also got a film called “Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves” in post-production, and has developed a comedy character called St. James St. James, who usually shows up in his other films (he’s also responsible for “Poolboy: Drowning Out The Fury”, which is sorta okay). In this film, he’s a Georgia gentleman who has a very open relationship with his wife, and he just sorta shows up every now and again throughout the film. Patterson seems like a good guy, and is certainly dedicated to making independent cinema, but wow is he not anywhere near as funny as he thinks he is.

There’s a scene where the radio announces Roosevelt has won the election that, I think, sums up the problem this film has. Rather than celebrate like normal people, they go insane – pouring drinks over their heads, leaping about, smashing furniture, and Roosevelt’s son empties a vase…I can barely believe I’m typing this…and takes a dump in it. We see “it” drop into the bottom of the glass vase too. This prompted a pause and the following exchange between me (M) and my lovely wife ( C ):

C: What. The. Hell.

M: Two ways of looking at this. Firstly, that it is a parody of celebration scenes, going deliberately over the top.

C: And the second way?

M: That they’re morons and thought this was funny.

C: Okay (pause) It’s the second one, isn’t it?

The style of this film is to throw everything at the screen and hope it works – crude humour, bizarre racial stereotypes, and an interest in sex so intense that I began to be a little worried for the person who wrote it. Almost every scene has someone wanting to have sex with someone, or talking about having sex with someone, or actually having some unusual sexual coupling of some sort. It goes a long way past the point where it’s funny, too, although it would have been nice if they’d at least started with some good material.

There has to be something positive about this film? Well, it’s always fun to see Barry Bostwick, even if him doing FDR’s famous “Fireside Chats” over the top of his black butler scratching an old record is a little on the odd side. For such a cheap film, it’s pretty stacked with solid acting, even if seeing them mugging so constantly, saying “sup, dawg” and having sex with that guy above’s wife is a bit offputting. And it tries! I feel bad criticising a group of people who obviously worked for peanuts, who love independent cinema as much as me, trying to make us laugh. But, y’know, show a guy taking a dump in a glass vase, in detail, twice, and I’m going to have to be done, I’m afraid.

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Due to the enormous lead-in time of films, we’re probably not at the end of this run of mashup films. We’ve got “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” coming at some point, and there’ll no doubt be others. I doubt any of them will skate on the far edges of lunacy like this film does –also, they’ll have less people pooing in vases, smearing themselves with mustard and ketchup, and fewer former presidents firing a rocket launcher from their specially adapted wheelchair.

FDR: American Badass on IMDB
Buy FDR: American Badass [DVD] [2012] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

Six Stages of Hell – ‘The Stars Collection’ Part 5: Let Him Have It (1991)

lethimhaveit

Directed by: Peter Medak

I sit here stunned. This shouldn’t be possible, not on ‘The Stars Collection’, but finally we have a bloody good film, the penultimate part of this epic run. I’m not going to score this film at the end of the review because doing so would seem trivial in the context of the gross injustice that occurred in the case that this film is based upon. Simply put, you must see this film.

When I’m not wasting time writing about film, or music, I also waste time writing about serious matters for a website that seeks the truth in a culture riddled with horror, sleaze and trash. Scribbling down cack-handed missives to the ether about homelessness, drug rehabilitation programmes, free speech, and generally getting riled up about the ills of society meant that ‘Let Him Have It’ therefore appealed to my sensibilities as it sought to present the truth in a case where an “innocent” man was sentenced to death.

Derek Bentley was afflicted by epilepsy from childhood; he also had learning difficulties, after a few misdemeanours he was sent to a school for disruptive children. After leaving education he lived a reclusive life in his family home. His parents and sister attempted to get him out of his shell, and encouraged him to spend more time outside. Eventually he did, and he fell in with the wrong crowd, a group of wannabe gangsters, who perhaps took advantage of Bentley and lead him astray.

Christopher Eccleston is superb as Bentley, and this performance demonstrated his acting talent, which it could be said has thus far not been fulfilled in any career defining leading movie role, but then maybe this was it, a film that many people will never get round to watching. C’est la vie. Eccleston’s most memorable performances it could be argued have been on television, and though that shouldn’t diminish his achievements, it is a shame he hasn’t hit the big time.

The Derek Bentley case left an indelible black mark. Bentley and his friend Christopher Craig botched a confectionary company robbery. They found themselves stranded on a rooftop. The police were called, and there was a tense stand-off. Craig pulled out a handgun and allegedly Bentley said “Let him have it”. Shots were fired. During the trial the defence argued that when Bentley said “Let him have it” he was instructing Craig to hand over the gun to the police. The prosecution argued that what Bentley actually meant was for Craig to shoot at the police. Craig when interviewed in 1991 denied that those words were ever spoken. Craig shot dead a policeman in the ensuring shoot out. Both Bentley and Craig were arrested and went to court, both were found guilty of murder. Since Craig was only sixteen years old at the time he was sentenced to ten years. Bentley was nineteen years old and sentenced to death, though the jury made a plea for mercy. There are those of the opinion that Bentley was not fit to stand trial, due to his extremely low IQ and learning difficulties, yet at the time the concept of diminished responsibility did not exist, and wasn’t introduced until 1951.

Bentley’s fate has been held up as an example of why capital punishment should not exist in the United Kingdom, the last executions took place in 1964, eleven years after Bentley was hanged. When Bentley’s lawyers initially appealed against the guilty verdict, the Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyge and The Home Office didn’t bat an eyelid. The verdict stood, despite public and political objection. It seems likely that someone needed to pay the price after the murder of a policeman. A message needed to be sent to the rest of society. Christopher Craig, the murderer, the sixteen year old who shot the policeman, escaped punishment, and was able to rehabilitate himself, putting the case behind him, yet Bentley at 9am on the 28th January 1953 was another mark on the tally of Albert Pierrepoint, Britain’s most famous executioner.

In 1998 the Court of Appeal pardoned Bentley posthumously, Bentley’s parents and sister, who thought so hard against Derek’s conviction were not alive to witness this moment.

Ah, the movie. I almost forgot. The key to the films brilliance is the screenplay. The writing partnership of Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, who have since gone on to revive the flagging Bond franchise, produced an amazingly accurate version of events, which simply sticks to the facts of the case. This isn’t a preachy protest tale, more an intelligent display of anger at the injustice of the Bentley case.

Accurately painting the 1950s youth as a bunch of post-war survivors searching for a rebellious identity in light of a life of ration books and peaceful conservatism, director Peter Medak helps us to understand why kids owned firearms. Rock n’ Roll was beginning to shape a generation, every boy looked to the States for edgy role models, in the case of many lads, sharply dressed gangsters who drove fast cars and carried guns. This led to gangs of teenage males going around committing petty crimes. Derek Bentley looked for somewhere to belong; he was sucked in to an adventurous life beyond his hum drum reclusive existence, and Christopher Craig, played by Paul Reynolds (of ‘Press Gang’ fame) gave him the opportunity to encounter the kind of danger he was never prepared for.

– RJW

Let Him Have it on IMDB
Buy Let Him Have It [DVD] [1991]

Six Stages of Hell – ‘The Stars Collection’ Part 4: Where Eskimos Live (2002)

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Directed by: Tomasz Wiszniewski

In this post-Savile media world, nowadays, when a film involves a well-known male celebrity of a certain generation looking for a small boy, specifically a nine year old, questions begin to get asked. Thankfully this film was set in 1995, a more innocent time when we were blissfully ignorant.

‘Where Eskimos Live’ starts off like a Rough Guide to the Balkans travel show as Bob Hoskins endures riding in various uncomfortable modes of transport. Set in the mid-nineties when ethnic cleansing was all the rage, Hoskins wanders through war torn Bosnia, getting stopped at various military checkpoints by bucktoothed, AK toting, morally duplicitous soldiers. Since there were no rules back in Bosnia circa ’95, you don’t need much paperwork to get you across the country. We find out that Hoskins, who plays a character called Sharkey, is looking to get hold of a child, but we’re not completely sure why. He poses as a UNICEF worker, wearing the kind of pin badge you’d get in a welcome pack after promising to donate five pound a month to the organisation in monthly direct debits. Hoskins also carries a fetching UNICEF holdall, the kind you’d like get if you donated ten pounds a month.

Hoskins eventually runs into a pack of feral scallywags who have just used a landmine to blow up a military jeep. After they look through the wreckage and pick the pockets of the charred corpses, Hoskins negotiates with the eldest member of the group, and ends up getting what he wants – a nine year old orphan boy named Vlado who is keen to visit Norway, because that’s where he believes the Eskimos live. Although Hoskins tells the boy he isn’t from UNICEF, Vlado still chooses to stay by his side.

There are several sad aspects to this tale, most notably the fact that Bob Hoskins is out performed by a child actor. Sergiusz Zymelka plays Vlado perfectly, but as far as Hoskins character Sharkey. We’re not sure who he is, because there is no backstory, we don’t fully understand his motivations for over three quarters of the film, and it is almost impossible to tell where he is from, given that Hoskins accent veers all over the place. It could be argued that this is the worst film set during the Bosnian conflict since Owen Wilson’s vain attempt to be an action hero in ‘Behind Enemy Lines’.

When Sharkey and Vlado make it to Poland we are able to figure out that there is some kind of human-trafficking taking place, where young boys are of value in the adoption market. Yet because of the ham-fisted build-up we don’t understand why Hoskins would risk life and limb to steal away a boy from a war torn country when he could quite easily have taken advantage of any impoverished Eastern European country. It really does make no sense.

The atrocity of war is evident when Sharkey and Vlado encounter a number of dead bodies strewn all over the place, and impoverished children are either taken advantage off or left to fend for themselves. However something doesn’t click; this should in theory be a real tear jerker. It should shock and amaze us. The direction instead could almost be considered emotionally withdrawn, and because of this, we are kept at a distance. We skirt through the horror and don’t stop and analyze what is happening and why. I suppose there is a lack of context and given that the Bosnian conflict was incredibly complex, and that the scale of events such as the Srebrenica massacre were unimaginable in Europe post-WW2, perhaps it is understandable why the film chooses to focus on the adventures of a man of dubious character and an orphaned child and leave the conflict starkly in the background.

– RJW
2/10

Where Eskimos Live on IMDB
Buy Where Eskimos Live [2002] [DVD]

Six Stages of Hell – ‘The Stars Collection’ Part 3: Al’s Lads (2002)

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Directed by: Richard Standeven

Halfway through ‘The Stars Collection’, and I haven’t felt this fatigued since I pulled a hammy climbing Beeston Bump three summers ago. I can’t say that the films I’ve sat through thus far have been woeful, but they’ve been tiring to watch. There’s something to be said for two films containing ample amounts of stodgy dialogue and plodding scenes that lead up to moderately expensive yet completely unnecessary action sequences, in that they set-up a point of interest for the viewer, yet retaining that interest is where these films struggle.

I hope things get better…

Grizzly dark violence, a back alley throat slitting, not too far removed from ‘Boardwalk Empire’ leads into a shot of the Titanic…. no wait; this is another luxury cruise liner. Great, I think to myself, this film is going to be stuck on a bloody boat. On board we discover that the crew are a merry bunch of Scousers. By day they serve the wealthy travellers, by night they nick booze from the kitchen stock room and fight bare knuckle boxing contests.

Three of the lads – Jimmy (Marc Warren), Dan (Ralf Little) and Eddy (Stephen Lord) plan, when the liner docks in the States, to make a new life for themselves in Texas. With a stash of gin bottles they attempt to con a couple of sharply dressed Yanks. The two men, who moonlight as streetwise gangsters, outsmart the lost Englishmen, and talk them into a bare knuckle boxing contest. Jimmy, the slugger of the trio, is up for a scrap.

I think Marc Warren deserves some praise for his wiry performance as Jimmy, although at times it is distracting that his boxing storyline runs parallel to Eddy and Dan’s comedy double act, he plays with aplomb a believable gutsy fighter who lives with the whole world on his shoulders.

The fights scenes in the film are surprisingly realistic, though we’re not getting the poetic drama in-ring drama of ‘Raging Bull’, or the attention to detail of ‘The Fighter’, there is battling grittiness shared with movies that have featured bare knuckle contests such as ‘Fight Club’ or ‘Snatch’, where each punch can almost be felt through the screen.

The action shifts to Chicago; where after impressing Georgio, the lead gangster, Jimmy is groomed as a fighter under the tutelage of a wise man named Boom Boom played by Richard ‘Shaft’ Roundtree, operating here in the Morgan Freeman role (Hollywood’s equivalent to the Makelele role?); whilst Eddy and Dan scrub factory floors and carry out delivery jobs for a grey haired fella named Birch.

It is in Chicago that the lads figure out they’re working on the lowest rungs of Al Capone’s pay ladder. Jimmy is set up to take a dive in a high profile championship fight with a boxer named Sammy Cruz, Eddie and Dan realize that the heavy wardrobes they’ve been shifting around town contain dead bodies. As danger circles, the lads find out they’ve gotten involved in a situation way over their heads.

I have a minor gripe with the chummy Scouse chat between the three lads, mainly because it is rather annoying. To give you a flavour, one exchange is “How’s it going mate?”, “Its tough mate”, the word “mate” gets used bloody hundreds to times. I’m aware that might accurately reflect working class Liverpudlian dialogue, but Christ, this wasn’t reflected in ‘Nowhere Boy’ or ‘Backbeat’ that featured salt of the earth lads from Merseyside.

There are also two bizarre, and I wouldn’t call them cameos, but very minor supporting roles in the film for Warwick Davis and Ricky Tomlinson. Davis is miscast as a murderous gangster dwarf (did such a thing exist in Capone’s Chicago?), and likely this was one of the roles that he drew inspiration for him when working on ‘Life’s Too Short’, and Tomlinson jovially larks about at the beginning and then right at the end of the movie. His appearance is rather baffling in both scenes and adds nothing to the ***Spoiler Alert*** happy ending.

– RJW
6/10

Al’s Lads on IMDB
Buy Al’s Lads [DVD]

Swing Vote (2008)

Swing Vote (2008)

In an unprecedented (and implausible) turn of events, the latest U.S. election between Republican incumbent Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammar) and Democrat candidate Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) has resolved itself in a complete dead heat. The heat is so dead, in fact, that its outcome lies in the hands of just one citizen; Ernest ‘Bud’ Johnson (Kevin Costner), a New Mexico resident and deadbeat dad, who earns a reprieve after his vote malfunctioned. Given the obligation to complete his vote and decide the election, Bud becomes the most famous man in America, leading to courtship from both political parties. Bud gleefully exploits this new-found attention, much to the chagrin of his civic-minded daughter. As the date of his vote looms and the fate of both the country and his relationship with his daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) in the balance, will Bud do the right thing? What is the right thing anyway? Lucky for Bud, this movie isn’t that interested.

The main problem with partisan satire is in alienating about half of your potential audience, and also courting accusations of satiety. Once seen to take sides, you are to an extent no longer the outsider. No longer the archetypal Pueblo Clown figure, favoured by the likes of Stewart Lee and high-brow comedy theorists, mocking the system from some exterior vantage point and — above all else — never doing voiceovers for the Prudential. To do so will firmly place yourself within the narrative, and undermine any effort to ridicule the process.

Now the problem with bipartisan satire; Republicans. Not so much a specific judgement on those who vote Republican, or even particularly the fiscal conservatism at its bedrock. It’s more a call on the homopobia, racism, gun-coddling, historical revisionism, and Galtiphile exceptionalism that clings to that particular bedrock like so much foetid barnacle.  A bipartisan approach is ultimately a re-enforcement of the status quo, communising every polarising issue. Swing Vote, amounting to little but a middling vehicle for what will optimistically be known as ‘mid-period Costner’ by the more resilient pockets of his fanbase, is this form of cop-out. It at least cops out with a compelling premise, one with potential, but only gets round to sprouting on screen.

There’s a lot to be done with the idea of a single voter deciding an election. It could be used to address the illusion of mandate, where ideas of competition, and ‘winning’, trounce the more democratic ideal of accurate representation. Similarly, it could be used to attack the disproportionate influence of the swing states themselves. What’s the real difference between a loveable dufus picking an election and a few hundred thousand Floridans doing much the same in 2000? Perhaps you could satirise the electoral college, a controversial system whereby a series of state representatives vote in the citizen’s stead. Or perhaps one could pluck the last taboo of Democracy. Do we actually need it? Perhaps things would be more efficient if one person just decided everything for us? If not, what can be done to remedy our disparities?

Swing Vote isn’t very interested in any of these big questions. At the most, it’s a lightweight, overly saccharine critique of political apathy, with no analysis of endemic social causes of disenfranchisement. “Bud” Johnson is modern Hollywood’s idea of a south-west Everyman, which never says more about the south-west than it does the attitude of Hollywood. He’s dumb, he’s lazy, and can’t hold a job on account of his dumb laziness. To cap it all off, he drinks Budweiser, and is named ‘Bud’, hopefully not because of the Budweiser. Not to say that there’s nobody out there who fits that particularly broad silhouette, but to hang an entire movie (and an ostensibly political one at that) on someone who doesn’t appreciate the stakes or even care that much about the outlandish turn of events that comprise his story, is patronising. His loveability stems entirely from Costner’s residual on-screen charm, something always rather more niche among a pantheon that includes the likes of Tom Hanks and…I don’t know…Tom Selleck? Whatever.

The main bulk of what could be considered ‘an satire’ occurs during the second act. Both campaigns, spurred by the opportunity of appealing to — and winning by — Bud’s vote, egregiously abandon their policies and make counter-intuitive pledges. GOP President Boone supports gay marriage, while Democrat Greenleaf becomes virulently pro-life, all based off sound bites from Bud’s lackadaisical interviews. The result is buffoonish, jarring queasily with the mawkish sentiment prevailing elsewhere in the picture. It’s as though Swing Vote, somewhat ironically, doesn’t have the courage of its convictions. The critique is squarely on the political class’ appeal to popular interests rather than internal ideology, without ever having to concede the merits of one policy over another. Gay marriage, or being anti-gay marriage, is just as good/bad as being pro-life, or pro-choice. There’s no interest on the part of the film-makers to get their hands ‘dirty’.

At the very least, both candidates are allowed to be in two minds about their ridiculous pandering, something that composes the majority of their character definition. It’s never that convincing, however, that either side would take this much of an ideological plunge on so flimsy a presupposition.

When the time comes for Bud to finally (spoiler alert) get his civics lesson  and, by extension, an active part in his own film, it’s an extremely perfunctory montage. Not to mention an extremely-late-in-the-game montage, occurring as it does well into the third act. Downhearted and chastened by the public turning on him for being a national embarrassment and effectively holding the election hostage, Bud makes amends by requesting to chair another national debate between the two candidates. Here he makes an impassioned introductory speech, apologising for his errancy and effectively blaming society’s problems on himself and his ilk. The system isn’t so much in error, or unfairly weighed against its people. It’s our fault for not properly engaging with the system. For not working hard enough, not making enough sacrifices, not having enough aspiration etc. Whether you agree with this sentiment or not, it’s an egregiously conservative coda for a film so otherwise bent on political ambiguity. Counting the vice-presidential debates, this would make for the fifth debate in a dramatically overrunning election. It’s amazing that the crowd are so pleasant!

Swing Vote was released in American cinemas on August 1st, 2008, a few months before the Obama/McCain election was to dramatically change the political landscape. Like many western democracies, the US is in the thrall of two-party centrism, where their relatively slender disparity consolidates people to often bitterly opposing clans. The wake of Obama’s victory, however, has exacerbated the US ‘culture wars’ to such an extent that the idea of both parties being “as bad as each-other” feels increasingly anachronistic. Swing Vote is more interesting as a political what-if? than as a movie, which is partly why the bulk of this review has focused on these implications, rather than its dramatic worth or the quality of performance. Perhaps another movie down the line will take these ideas more seriously, or at least have more fun.

Swing Vote on IMDB
Buy Swing Vote [DVD] [2008]

Six Stages of Hell – ‘The Stars Collection’ Part 2: All the Queen’s Men (2001)

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Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitzky

The second side of disc one is ‘All the Queen’s Men’ starring Matt LeBlanc. It feels odd to have a double sided DVD; it almost takes me back to my early nineties cassette days when I played side A of a 2 Unlimited album and then flip over to side B only to find the tape gets chewed up. One thing I’ve always admired about physical media is that there is an interaction with the product, and that often the product is faulty. This side didn’t play straight away, so I had to take it out, rub it a bit with a glasses cleaning cloth and stick it back into the DVD player. It luckily worked second time around.

‘All the Queen’s Men’ should appeal to me, because I am interested in the Second World War, and have a perverse fascination with transvestites. It took some genius to combine them both, and that man was David Schneider, the deviant looking comedy actor from ‘The Day Today’ and ‘I’m Alan Partridge’. Schneider’s idea is unique enough to work, and in the right hands it might have. But the main problem is that Matt LeBlanc was cast as the leading man.

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We open with Matt LeBlanc, and given that he is best known for playing a failed actor in a long running sitcom, to see him prancing around with his perfect hair, and cheeky smile, it takes a little while to take him seriously as a hard-nosed Special Forces soldier. He’s behind enemy lines, wearing a German officer’s uniform; he steals an enigma machine, commandeers a tank and flees with a whole squadron of Nazi’s chasing after him. One enterprising Kraut jumps into a tank, and LeBlanc and the German indulge in a tank chase across a idyllic field.

Thankfully the Brits are able to intercept LeBlanc and force him to hand over the enigma machine. Believing it to be a typewriter and given they don’t keep hold of German property; they destroy it and throw LeBlanc into an Allied military prison. LeBlanc spends some time whilst incarcerated rolling around in the mud, learning the basics of rugby. He looks likely to spend the rest of the war imprisoned.

Partly similar to act one of ‘The Dirty Dozen’, (LeBlanc’s character was not going to be hanged, but he did bite the finger of a British officer) LeBlanc is given the chance by Major Aitken to skip porridge and take part in a special mission to infiltrate a factory where the enigma machines are manufactured, this factory is staffed by women. Ever the ladies’ man, LeBlanc quips “And where would I be inserted?”

A motley team is assembled to join LeBlanc, which includes a naïve brainbox called Johnno who is multi-lingual and adept at cracking codes, a cowardly pen pusher named Hartley and Parker (Eddie Izzard) a transvestite cabaret singer. The Major tells Parker “I want you to turn these men into women”. The group, clad in the finest 1940’s woman’s fashion, parachute deep into Nazi Germany and search frantically for the enigma factory.

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Had David Schneider passed this idea onto Quentin Tarantino when he was brainstorming for ‘Inglorious Basterds’ then we might have had a more subversive movie. Instead it is a passable afternoon romp, but nothing more than that. Matt LeBlanc is not an inspiring lead, and is somewhat cursed by being forever stuck in our memories as ‘Joey’. It’s weird, you get the impression that LeBlanc would only dress up as a dame if throughout the film the audience is reminded that he isn’t really a queer. Hence the inclusion of a love interest, a librarian called Romy, who seems to be some kind of resistance member, yet we’re never quite sure why she risks life and limb to help the four Allied drag queens. It’s also interesting to note that this film was distributed by Strand Releasing, a company that has put out numerous LGBT titles. Then there is the problem with a Major in the British army going to all that trouble in the first place to send a mouthy American on a suicide mission. Why not just let him rot in jail?

Director Stefan Ruzowitzky went back to the Second World War and won an Academy Award for 2007’s ‘The Counterfeiters’. But ‘All the Queen’s Men’ will remain a stone cold flop on his record, earning just under twenty three thousand dollars at the American Box Office. LeBlanc has since redeemed himself in TV land playing himself on ‘Episodes’, and one can only hope he never returns to film.

– RJW
5/10

All the Queen’s Men on IMDB
Buy All The Queen’s Men [2001] [DVD]