Sunday, April 30, 2006

Akeelah and Dave

Watched a couple of movies yesterday. Paid money to see "Akeelah and the Bee," and it was well spent. Although I recently railed on movie critics, they basically liked this film, for good reason, but I'm not letting them off the hook because it highlighted the major problem with reviewers. Everything in this movie is covered in stereotype, syrup, and predictability, yet the actors, script, and director all pull it off. The key to a good movie isn't whether it deals with predictable plots and stereotyped characters; it's whether they are done well or badly. Too many movie reviews parrot a "saw everything coming" or "characters not original" checklist that automatically lowers the eventual grade. "Akeelah" shows that the key is what you do with the checklist plots and characters, and, as I said before, too many reviewers are too third-rate to move beyond the checklist. So, should you see a review of "Akeelah and the Bee" that pulls the same old tired critic crap like this, and I did, don't pay attention. The movie plays off the predictable plots and characters very well, adds its own touch, and pulls off a satisfying ending. If that's not good enough for you, you should be writing half-assed movie reviews.

The other movie was on one of the 87 HBO channels last night--"Dave." Now, I actually have a copy of "Dave," but I hadn't seen it in a while and it seemed like a good time. (It's been out there for over a decade now so I assume I won't be doing any spoilers here.) In its day it seemed just a little too Hollywood, too far-fetched, to have a corrupt, mediagenic President with an even more corrupt Chief of Staff, the latter subverting the Constitution to perform a coup after the former is incapacitated. Now both the characters seem a bit too simple, and their scandals have multiplied exponentially without any of the media or public reaction that the movie generates. So, in that sense, the movie is depressing now, that in a few years we have spiraled so far in our national decency and honor.

But "Dave" was always a movie about what government and its leadership could be and should be, and, in that sense, its appeal to our ideals and the American legacy of democracy and self-government can still cut through the calloused cynicism that we have built. Like "The American President," "Dave" calls for a President of real principle and empathy who understands that historians a thousand years from now will distinguish this country not for whatever wealth or empires it created but for what it extolled for human possibility. Like "Akeelah," "Dave" is a movie about hope for America despite its worst impulses and flaws currently on vivid display, that the American Dream hasn't vanished for most Americans.

Stereotyped and syrupy? Sure. No great speller has emerged from South LA, and no great impersonator has taken the White House back from the thieves who stole it with the media connivance and public approval that have cost us so much to date. But these movies show what the Dream is and how it has the chance of popping up unexpectedly and how, if we are ready and able to nurture it when it does, it might yet grow again into what this nation is supposed to be about.

So, I went to bed a little cheerier than I have most nights recently, thanks to these two films. They're good medicine. I prescribe them eagerly. At whatever dosage you need. If enough people take them, the prognosis for this country might still edge us out of the ICU.