Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Arts & Life

SWING VOTE (Rated PG-13)


If anything, Kevin Costner, as the star and co-producer, picked the right time for a comedy about politics where the future of the nation hangs in the balance, based on the vote of one guy intellectually unqualified to cast a vote in any election, let alone that for our nation’s next president.


“Swing Vote,” resurrecting the spirit of Frank Capra, works up a mild satire of our electoral system, where an ordinary man is called upon to display the kind of wisdom and thoughtfulness he has never possessed in his life.


Thankfully, the politics is fictional, even though the battle for the presidency comes down to a tight match between Republican incumbent President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and Democratic challenger Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper).


Seeking a relatively evenhanded approach to political persuasions, both candidates are solid if unremarkable as candidates. All the nasty stuff is left to their overheated campaign managers, both of whom are the epitome of sharks in search of the next political kill.


On the Democratic side, it’s Art Crumb (Nathan Lane), an operative desperate to win at all costs since his track record has been a losing one. Republican Martin Fox (Stanley Tucci) is the caricature of a slick campaign manager.


In the dust-blown small town of Texico, New Mexico, Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) is an apathetic, beer-slinging, lovable loser coasting through life. Unreliable and incompetent, Bud can’t even hang on to his miserable job on the assembly line at the egg factory.


The one bright spot in his life is his precocious, overachieving 12-year-old daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll, stealing every scene in the movie). Surprisingly civic-minded, Molly pesters her indifferent father to vote in the presidential election. Of course, he promises her to show up at the polling place at the end of the day.


Leaving the local tavern that evening, Bud passes out in his truck, and the disheartened Molly takes it upon herself to attempt to vote in his place. A strange set of circumstances causes the voting machine to freeze before Bud’s vote is counted. Ordinarily, this would matter little, but the presidential election comes down to a dead heat, where New Mexico’s five electoral votes will make the difference.


Even more extraordinary is that the results in New Mexico are deadlocked in a very improbable tie. This causes election officials to determine that Bud’s vote must be recast in order to break the logjam.


The interesting thing about New Mexico is that in 2000 Al Gore beat George W. Bush by a scant 366 votes for the five electoral votes, the closest tally of any state. So maybe this deadlock in “Swing Vote” is not so far off the mark.


In any case, Bud’s identity as the deciding voter is soon compromised. One of the funniest things is when the media descends on the small town in droves, taking up a vigil outside Bud’s trailer park home and yelling questions at him as if he were Tom Cruise on the red carpet at a movie premiere.


Since Bud has 10 days in which to cast his ballot, the candidates, political advocacy groups and the media hordes blanket the New Mexico town in a flurry of activity. Some of the funny political stuff is when the candidates start pitching messages at Bud in attempt to curry favor, even if it means tossing aside core principles.


For all of the media frenzy and political posturing, “Swing Vote” really comes down to the shaky relationship between Bud and Molly, and everything else is just wrapped into a number of subplots.


More than anything, the disillusioned Molly wants her father to become a responsible citizen and participant in civic affairs. Of course, she loves him dearly, in spite of his many faults, and wants to protect him from the predatory schemers.


Madeline Carroll’s Molly is something like Tatum O’Neal’s precocious little girl in “Paper Moon,” though not a cynical con artist. Molly’s cynicism is reserved for those who would take advantage of her father, including local TV reporter Kate Madison (Paula Patton), who’s just too eager to score a big-time network news job.


“Swing Vote” alternately mocks the political system and seeks to impart the significance of a single vote, even if the decision is in the hands of a complete nincompoop. Humor is mined from the political pandering of the candidates and the bluster and bravado of blowhard pundits (with real-life ones like Chris Matthews and James Carville pontificating on the fictional election). But the best moments of “Swing Vote” are between Molly and Bud, the way it should be.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


I was thinking of tacking on a new DVD release with a political theme. “The Executioner’s Song: Director’s Cut,” shining a spotlight on the revival of capital punishment in the late 1970s may be the best, if only, bet.


Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Norman Mailer, “The Executioner’s Song” stars Tommy Lee Jones in an Emmy Award-winning performance as the first person in the United Sates to be executed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.


It’s based on the real-life story of Gary Gilmore, beginning with his release from prison, soon after which he embarked on a crime spree resulting in two murders.


After a widely publicized trial in which he was sentenced to death, Gilmore refused all appeals and was executed in 1977 by a firing squad.


Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.


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LUCERNE – Artists Sandy Wilson and Sylvia Nelson will be at The Gourd Gallery on Aug. 2 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.


Let Sandy and Sylvia show you the many facets of creating a unique piece of art.


The Gourd Gallery is located in the new Harbor Village Artist complex at 6197 E. Highway 20 in Lucerne.


Call 274-2346 for information.


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Can you identify countries like Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu, much less locate them on a map? The International Olympic Committee lists them among a record 205 member nations recognized for competition at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, coming to you soon by way of NBC Universal and its many networks.


I always thought some of these obscure nations had little value beyond creating some nice postage stamps for philatelists to enjoy, but they are sending athletes into competition. Now is the time to brush up on geography.


Speaking by way of satellite to a gathering of the nation’s TV critics recently, Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, announced that he’s “awed by the enormity of what’s going on” in Beijing, particularly because the NBC family will provide a record 3,600 hours of coverage, at least 2,900 hours of it live.


Considering that NBC paid $894 million for the rights fee for broadcast coverage in the United States, one would hope that Ebersol is enthusiastic about the 17 days and nights of what he calls “unscripted drama.”


You may ask how NBC can provide 3,600 hours of coverage. It’s a fair question in light of the fact that it would take 90 weeks at a regular 9 to 5 job to watch everything. I don’t think I can spare that much time, but it works for NBC Universal, because they will run coverage on NBC, USA, CNBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.


Of course, NBC’s primetime coverage will focus on the prime traditional sports of swimming, diving, gymnastics and beach volleyball, with Bob Costas again acting as the primetime host. I am not kidding about this, but even the Oxygen network will carry nightly programming on gymnastics, plus synchronized swimming and the equestrian category. Only the Sci-Fi Channel is not getting into the act.


Even with more than a half-dozen networks and cable outlets, NBC Universal doesn’t have enough hours in the day to become the most ambitious single media project in history. So this is where NBCOlympics.com comes into the picture, providing additional competition footage but also being the venue for more information about the schedules, listings, news and biographies of the athletes. This Internet destination will take every sport and offer it on-demand, while also offering the best of daily TV coverage as encores.


There is a 12-hour time difference between Beijing and New York. As you know, in the media world, New York is the center of the universe, so the folks at NBC somehow finagled commitments from the International Olympic Committee to secure certain finals at 9 or 10 in the morning in China so that they would go on primetime live in New York. Ebersol told the TV critics that prime coverage would be live on the East Coast and in the Central time zone, leaving the rest of us out here on the left coast to get our Olympics on a time delay.


“Historically, we have always shown the Olympics on tape on the West Coast,” said Ebersol, noting that roughly 81 to 82 percent of all households in the United States are in the Central and Eastern time zones.


California may be the largest state in the union (we have the electoral votes to prove it), but we don’t matter as much to the network bigwigs. Actually, they are taking us for granted, because as Ebersol noted, people on the West Coast “love sports so much, and they know when they want to watch it, and that’s in primetime.” After extensive research, he figured out most of us are employed and can’t get home in time to watch something at 4 o’clock.


The NBC executives obviously have high hopes for the Beijing Olympics. Noting that the Chinese were second to the Americans on the gold medal chart in Athens in 2004, NBC host Bob Costas told the TV critics that “when Yao Ming leads the Chinese (basketball) team against the Americans in their very first game in the second day of competition of the Olympics, this is going to be like a Super Bowl atmosphere.” Sensing that he might be succumbing to hype that often afflicts sports announcers, Costas followed up by saying “that is not an overstatement.”


On the other hand, Ebersol seems to have picked up the hyperbolic fever. He thinks the Chinese curiosity about the Games is not just about sports. “China’s new to the world in terms of any level of openness,” he claims, and then goes on to say that in the seven years NBC has been in business with Chinese he “clearly sees change.”


Ironically, an AP news report claims the Chinese are backtracking on a promise of open press coverage, and that they have placed blocks on Internet sites in the Main Press Center and venues where reporters will work. Hoping or thinking change is afoot in China is one thing, but it’s a hard notion to sell in a repressive society.


Politics aside, let’s hope we can share Bob Costas’ belief and fervent wish that the opening ceremonies, based on what he has been told by people privileged to have seen the early plans, will be “uber-spectacular.” Curiosity will probably take hold of me on Aug. 8.


Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.


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UKIAH – Area businesses and musicians are joining together for an event to raise needed funds for Boys And Girls Club of Ukiah.


Rising Stars Competition is a multi-band, multi-genre competition in which musicians from Lake and Mendocino counties will be competing for prizes donated by area merchants.


This daylong event will encompass as many musical genres as possible showcasing the often- unheard talents of musicians of all ages.


Event organizers Cherie Sheraque and Mary Chadwick have partnered with Russian River Records to provide a venue for these musicians to play and bring the public in to enjoy the talents in our communities.


Bands from all genres are encouraged to enter this competition by going to the Web site at http://www.risingstarscompetition.com and submitting their entry. Entry forms can also be obtained from Ukiah Music Center and Dig Music in Ukiah.


Bands will be placed in divisions according to their genre of music and be judged on an individual basis with each judge scoring individual acts on stage performance and presence, talent and audience reaction. Prizes will be awarded to the winners in each genre with overall winners receiving the grand prize of studio time at Russian River Records.


Bands are also encouraged to add themselves to the competition Myspace at http://myspace.com/risingstarscompetition.


Businesses and groups are needed to sponsor this event through various levels of sponsorship opportunities. For sponsoring this event, businesses will receive promotional advertising on Kwine/ Max Radio and other radio stations, newspapers and printed fliers placed throughout the two counties. Businesses will receive higher levels of promotion based upon the level of donation.


Sponsors will also be recognized through banners at the event. Sponsorships and donations of prizes are gratefully accepted. Those interested in sponsoring this event can learn more about sponsorship by visiting the Web site at http://www.risingstarscompetition.com or emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


The venue for this event is provided by Russian River Records. Ken Ingels, owner of Russian River Records and long-time supporter of The Boys and Girls Club of Ukiah has built a brand new venue in Ukiah and has graciously donated the use of his facility for this event. The public is invited to attend this event for a suggested donation of $5 for the Boys & Girls Club.


Limited food vending spaces are available for rent to groups or businesses wishing to rent them. Inquiries about booth spaces may be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Local musicians II Big and Faded At Four will also provide entertainment during this competition. Though neither band will be competing in this event, they will be lending their support to this fund-raiser by performing for the audience. II Big will perform during the afternoon and Faded At Four will perform before the winners are announced.


This showcase of talent is an effort to promote awareness of all of the musical talent in the area along with helping the Boys and Girls Club of Ukiah continue their much-needed program for the youth. Musicians, businesses and organizations are encouraged to participate in some way to help keep the music alive and keep the doors of the Boys & Girls Club of Ukiah opened.


Information can be obtained at the website, through email or through calling Mary at 272-6514.


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THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (Rated PG-13)


As a television series, “The X-Files” was wildly popular, particularly with the crowd that enjoys something weird and paranormal. Then, years ago, along came an “X-Files” movie that now I can scarcely recall, but dimly remember as muddled and barely comprehensible. My lack of connection to the movie probably was due to having seen, at best, only a couple of episodes of the original TV series.


For reasons unclear, after all these years, “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” emerges from the fervid imagination of creator Chris Carter. If I want to believe anything at all, it’s simply whether this new “X-Files” holds up its billing as a standalone plot which requires little more than a passing acquaintance with famous characters Scully and Mulder and the premise of the old series.


“The X-Files: I Want to Believe” does give reason to accept as true its underlying promise. At one time, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) were agents at the FBI, pondering the paranormal to solve crimes, and yet just strange happenings often defied explanation.


Now, Mulder is a virtual recluse somewhere in West Virginia, mostly clipping newspapers. Scully is a first-rate surgeon working at a Catholic hospital, bucking heartless administrators who don’t want her to pursue a risky operation on a young boy that requires experimental stem cell technology.


Meanwhile, in the snowy fields of West Virginia, swarms of FBI agent are combing the countryside to locate a missing colleague. The investigation is being assisted by the eccentric Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a pedophile former priest who claims psychic ability.


Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet), while not exactly a believer in the paranormal, is willing to give the disgraced priest some benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, Agent Drummy (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner) is downright hostile to using tactics outside the field manual.


Agent Whitney prevails upon Scully to bring Mulder back into the fold, at least for this one vexing case that quickly turns into serial murder. Practical and logical, Scully despises the former priest’s crimes against kids, and this feeling is likely exacerbated by her emotional involvement with her young patient who is terminally ill absent a miracle operation.


For his part, Mulder is more willing to believe that Father Joe could be on to something, particularly when he locates body parts hidden in the snow and bleeds from his eyes when overcome by one of his visions. This sets up the dichotomy between Mulder and Scully, a situation that sets up a believer against a skeptic, which apparently reflects their ongoing duality.


What’s entirely believable, though, is that the plot veers off into the serial killer territory that is just plain creepy, as if “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was suddenly joined with “Frankenstein” while mixed up in paranormal weirdness. Without giving away too much detail, it can be safely said that trafficking in body parts takes on a nasty, brutal gruesomeness that makes me, at least, question the wisdom of a “PG-13” rating on this movie.


The mood and tempo of this crime thriller is advanced by the gloomy, wintry backdrop of desolate areas in the bleak countryside. The movie’s villains are aliens, but not the extraterrestrial kind. There’s true menace to these bad guys, which is really stating the obvious when the horrific, gruesome nature of their crimes is revealed.


Even though, as mentioned earlier, “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” is a standalone affair, it’s perhaps asking too much for the movie to appeal to people not already attached to the characters and the franchise’s paranormal pedigree. The movie is simply not a strong enough entry in the summer sweepstakes to pull an audience already given great picks like “The Dark Knight” or one of the other credible superhero adventures.


“The X-Files” asks us to believe that it holds great interest as a serious crime thriller with psychic overtones, but there will be skeptics.


DVD RELEASE UPDATE


Not to be confused with the August release of “Deal,” about an arrogant young card player on the world poker tour, “The Deal” is a fitting release for an election year. OK, it’s not about American politics, but it still has relevance.


Chronicling the rise of two British politicians, “The Deal” delivers an intimate portrait of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, both of whom united to make the Labor Party electable for the first time in a generation.


The film probes the enduring, complex and often tense relationship between the former Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and his successor Gordon Brown (David Morrissey). For those like me, with a short term memory, you should know that “The Deal” initially debuted on HBO last year, and so our familiarity with this movie is probably limited.


It is, however, a compelling drama about how the intellectual Brown was eclipsed by his younger, charismatic protégé Blair, who delivered an election victory.


Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.


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