Archive for the ‘Metro In Focus’ Category

Metro In Focus: Taking those lazy teenage movies to school

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Fist Fight features so much bad language it completely outpaces f-word aficionados Tarantino and Scorsese combined. Accompanying the cussing are bad behaviour, violence and loads of oh-no-he-didn’t jokes all set against the backdrop of the end of semester at the rough-’n’-tumble Roosevelt High School.

Trying to hang on until the final bell rings are well-meaning English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) and Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), the world’s toughest history teacher. When Campbell accidentally gets Strickland fired a bad day goes from crappy to cruddy. “I’m going to fight you,” the amped-up Strickland says, looking for some street justice. “After school, meet me in the parking lot.”

As the #teacherfight spreads across social media, a crowd gathers in the parking lot to witness the carnage. After some hand-to-hand combat Campbell and Strickland come to terms with one another, learning important lessons with each punch.

My grade nine homeroom teacher Mrs. Armstrong wouldn’t recognize Roosevelt High as the kind of school she taught in, but it’s familiar territory for Hollywood, which has long used school hallways as a study of teen life. Relationships between students and teachers have fuelled movies like Blackboard Jungle and To Sir with Love, but just as interesting is the culture of the student body.

John Hughes mined the teenage dynamic for all it was worth in a series of classic teen operas like Sixteen Candles, but it’s The Breakfast Club that remains his most insightful look at high school life. The story is simple: five high school archetypes — the jock, the mean girl, the brainiac, the rebel and the outsider — thrown together during a nine-hour Saturday detention become unlikely friends, revealing their innermost secrets. “We’re all pretty bizarre,” says Andrew (Emilio Estevez). “Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”

It’s the emotional intensity of The Breakfast Club that makes it one of the most insightful high school films ever. Thirty-two years after its release it still feels fresh, but for my money one of the best looks at life in the halls comes from Emma Stone’s film Easy A.

The movie begins with the voiceover, “The rumours of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated.” It’s Olive (Stone), a clean-cut high school senior who tells a little white lie about losing her virginity. When the gossip mill gets a hold of the info, her life takes a parallel course to the heroine of the book she is studying in English class — The Scarlet Letter. At first she embraces her newfound notoriety; after all she had been all but invisible at the beginning of the school year. It isn’t until the lies and gossip start to spin out of control that she has to assert her virginity.

All the best high school movies — Election, Heathers, Dazed and Confused and Mean Girls — share that sentiment. The names, schools and places may change but it is the labours of students and teachers, like Fist Fight’s Andy Campbell and Ron Strickland, to find themselves and figure out what it all means that makes them interesting and relatable. As we learned studying Aristotle in philosophy class, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom,” and, in Hollywood’s case, entertainment too.

Metro Canada: Are you afraid of the toaster? The real story behind Rings!

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Years ago I interviewed Kōji Suzuki, author of the novels that spawned the Ring movies, manga comics and television shows. Ringu, the first book in the series, was published in 1991 and introduced us to the idea of a videotape (remember those?) that killed people seven days after they watched it.

The book and the movie were sensations, but in the interview Suzuki told me something really interesting. It’s hard to imagine the Ring movies without the spooky, grainy videotape images, but the writer let it slip that VHS tapes weren’t his first choice as a conduit of evil.

What was?

A haunted toaster. Good sense prevailed and he went with another commonplace object, one that almost everyone in the nineties had at least a passing familiarity with.

This weekend, Rings revisits the horrors of the original novel and films as a young guy decides to explore the urban legend of the deadly mysterious videotape. When his girlfriend sacrifices everything to save him, a shocking discovery is made — there’s a movie within the movie!

Suzuki made videotapes the spookiest inanimate horror object ever, but they’re not the only ones.
We can all imagine the fear that comes along with being chased by a werewolf. Or waking up to find Dracula staring down at you.

They are living, breathing (or in Drac’s case, dead and not so breathing, but you get the idea) embodiments of evil. But how about inorganic objects? Have you ever been terrified of a lamp? Or creeped out by a tire?

There have been loads of haunted houses in the movies. In most of them, however, the house is merely a vessel for a spirit or some unseen entity that makes its presence know by making the walls bleed or randomly slamming doors. Rarer is the house that is actually evil.

Stephen King wrote about a house that eats people in the third installment of his Dark Tower series. On screen Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg visualized the idea in the appropriately titled Monster House.

In that animated movie three teens figure out the house across the street is a man-eating monster.

By the time they got around to the fourth installment of the most famous haunted house series, the Amityville Horror, filmmakers had to figure out a new plotline apart from the tired “new owners move in to the house, get freaked out leave,” storyline. In The Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes, a cursed lamp causes all sorts of trouble when it is shipped from the evil Long Island house to a Californian mansion.

Much weirder is Rubber, the story of a killer tire (yes, you read that right) with psychokinetic powers — think Carrie with treads — who terrorizes the American southwest.

It’s an absurdist tract on how and why we watch movies, what entertainment is and the movie business, among other things.

But frankly, mostly it’s about a tire rolling around the desert and while there is something kind of hypnotic about watching the tire on its murderous journey — think Natural Born Killers but round and rubbery — that doesn’t mean Rubber is a good movie.

Finally, think bed bugs are bad? How about a hungry bed? The title of this one sums it up: Death Bed: The Bed that Eats.

Metro Canada In Focus – Resident Evil’s teaching moment

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Since 2002 Milla Jovovich has played a genetically altered zombie fighter with telekinetic powers in six Resident Evil films.

Like the undead fleshbags who populate these based-on-a-videogame movies, you can’t seem to kill this franchise, although the title of this weekend’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter seems to indicate the end is near.

But just because the Resident Evil movies aren’t Shakespeare doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from them. Here’s what I took away from Jovovich and Company in the last 13 years:

1. The undead have really, really bad aim.

2. No matter what stunt she has just performed, whether it’s plummeting 19 stories down an abandoned mine shaft, or battling legions of bad guys, Mila’s hair will, at most, only look slightly tousled, as if Vidal Sassoon had just finished running his magic fingers through her locks.

The amount of rainfall in the future makes Vancouver look arid.

To act in one of these movies you must perfect one of two facial expressions: a. steely determination, or b. uncontrolled rage (which can be alternated with a sadistic smile if necessary).

5. Characters will say, “What the hell is going on here?” when it is quite clear what the heck is going on.

6. Most of the people to survive the deadly plague that destroyed most of humanity look like Abercrombie & Fitch pinups.

7. Why take the stairs when you can drive a Rolls Royce down an escalator?

So there you have it — lessons learned.

Despite legendary director Jean-Luc Godard’s claim that, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl,” both of which are amply on display in the Resident Evil movies, they still feel more like a videogame projected on a big screen than a movie.

But who cares what I or other film critics think? These movies have been phenomenally successful and for over a decade have proven to be critic-proof. Roger Ebert placed Resident Evil on his most hated films list in 2005 and called its sequel, “an utterly meaningless waste of time,” adding, “Parents: If you encounter teenagers who say they liked this movie, do not let them date your children.”

Leonard Maltin added to the pile on calling Resident Evil: Apocalypse “tiresome” while Dark Horizons said the third movie, Afterlife was, “perhaps the first 3D motion picture to simulate the experience of watching paint dry,” and yet the splatter flick went on to gross $300 million worldwide.

Critics aside, others in the film biz love the movies. Avatar director James Cameron called Resident Evil his biggest guilty pleasure and the Ontario Media Development Corporation acknowledged the Toronto-shot Afterlife as the most successful production in Canadian feature film history.

Bottom line is that in total, the series has grossed almost $1 billion — a feat recognized by the Guinness World Records Gamers’ Edition who called the Resident Evil films “the most successful movie series to be based on a video game,” awarding them with the record for Most Live-Action Film Adaptations of a Video Game.

Metro In Focus: Getting us right into the meat of the McDonald’s backstory

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Ray Kroc changed the way we eat. He didn’t invent the hamburger, but has probably sold more burgers than anyone else.

He standardized food preparation, setting the template for fast food restaurants worldwide and built an empire based on two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.

If you believe The Founder, a biopic of Kroc’s building of the McDonald’s hamburger chain, he was also a bit of an SOB.

Michael Keaton, who plays Kroc from failed travelling salesman to a millionaire whose business card reads simply Founder, says the choices his character  “makes towards the end after he becomes successful are harsh, man. And nothing I would ever do. Nothing most people would ever do.”

So, is he a hero or villain? That’s the question The Founder asks. Does he deserve a break today for changing the way the world eats or is he a ruthless businessman to be grilled for his heavy-handed tactics?

When we first meet Kroc he’s hustling a newfangled milk-shake maker. Despite his slick pitch, his blender isn’t shaking up the fast food business. Restaurant after restaurant turns him down, until a small San Bernardino, Calif., burger shack run by siblings Mac and Dick McDonald (played by John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman) places an order for six of the machines, then ups the buy to eight.

Intrigued, Kroc travels cross-country to check out the operation and finds a bustling restaurant pumping out good food with military efficiency.

The brothers streamlined their kitchen for maximum productivity, maximizing every inch of space to bang out burgers in under 30 seconds. Kroc, amazed, convinces the pair to allow him to franchise their ideas and name. Reluctant, they agree but with a strict set of rules to ensure quality control.

Their uneasy partnership becomes a powder keg when Kroc unilaterally changes how the company is run. As the company grows so does Kroc’s ego and anything-to-win attitude.

Much of the way Kroc treats his business partners in The Founder is as distasteful as The Hula Burger, his famous and failed foray into vegetarian cookery. He double deals, goes behind their backs and worse, tampers with some of their recipes.

Keaton does a great job of slowly revealing Kroc’s duplicity and dive into self-indulgence as he transforms from failure to success. His natural charisma and flair — He’s Batman! He’s Mr. Mom! He’s Beetlejuice! —  brings with it a familiarity that makes sense when telling the story of one of the best known brands on earth.

As an actor Keaton brings us on side as he effectively portrays Kroc’s descent into amorality and callousness.

Like the operation that caught Kroc’s eye, the film is efficient, wasting no moves in the telling of the tale. It’s a classic story of persistence and greed and director John Lee Hancock gets right to the meat of the story.

As much as the film is about the U.S.’s 1950s growth spurt, it is also a portrait of the kind of never-say-die spirit that evokes the very best and worst of the American Dream.

On film Kroc is insufferable, a ruthless conniver who grabbed the gold ring, or, in this case, golden arches. Is he a good guy or scoundrel? Depends what side of the sesame seed bun you place the special sauce on.

Metro In Focus: why Annette Bening may be Hollywood’s grandest dame

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Meryl Streep has a body of work that speaks for itself and, as she proved last Sunday night from the stage of the Golden Globes, is unafraid to challenge the status quo. But last week while the world formed opinions about Streep as she mouthed off about Donald Trump—She’s an icon! She’s overrated!—I had my eye on someone in the audience.

During Streep’s speech the camera landed on Annette Bening, who, for my money gives the Grand Dame a run for her money acting wise.

This weekend Bening adds 20th Century Women to her already stellar IMDB resume. As free-spirited single mother Dorothea she is, as writer David Edelstein wrote, irreducible. In other words she’s complex, loving yet stand-offish, warm but steely, a hippie who studies the stock market and Bening brings her to vivid life.

It’s that density of character that sets Bening apart from her peers, Streep included. Warren Beatty, her husband and sometimes director says she has, “talent, beauty, wit, humility and grace,” a combination that makes her “the best actress alive.”

Biased? Likely, but the evidence is on the screen. Bening works sporadically, sometimes taking years between projects or taking small supporting roles in idiosyncratic independent films like Ruby Sparks, but her characters are always compelling.

She became a star playing femme fatale Myra in 1990’s con artist caper The Grifters. Gleefully embracing her character’s deviousness, she stole the movie away from vets John Cusack and Anjelica Huston. Then came intricate portrayals of everything from a muckraking lobbyist in The American President and neurotic real estate broker in American Beauty to Bugsy’s tough-talking Hollywood starlet and In Dreams’ psychic vigilante. Each performances is a polished gem even when the movies aren’t as good as she is.

The last of her Best Actress Oscar nods came with 2010’s The Kids Are Alright. At the center of story are Nic (Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), a long time lesbian couple raising their two kids. It’s a happy family until their daughter contacts her biological father Paul (Mark Ruffalo) via the sperm bank.

A scene near the movie’s end displays the complexity of Bening’s work. Nic and Paul sing a Joni Mitchell song at a dinner party. Their wild act is joyful, ridiculous and poignant simultaneously and is a perfect microcosm of Bening’s performance. Bening is unpredictable, sometimes funny, sometimes not, just like real life. It’s her well-drawn character that keeps the basic story afloat with its lived-in, realistic feel.

Less known is Bening’s fine work in The Face of Love, a 2014 film about a widow obsessed with a man who looks exactly like her late husband Tom. Trouble is, she never tells him about his resemblance raising the question, Is she in love with Tom or a memory?

Another question: Is she a selfish conniver, a grief stricken widow or one brick short of a load? The movie allows for interpretation, but regardless of your take, Bening’s performance is so raw and vulnerable it’s difficult to completely condemn her behaviour.

Bening’s name may not always be mentioned in the hushed tones as Streep, but I suspect she doesn’t care for the accolades as much as shattering the clichés of how women are portrayed on film. On that score she is at the top of her field.

Metro In Focus: Forecasting a plan to help part the clouds over Hollywood

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

It’s awards season, a heady time when the movie biz pats itself on the back for a job well done. Tuxedoes are rented, Botox injected by the gallon and hundreds of miles of red carpets unfurled as industry insiders honour the best of the best with statues and speeches.

But is it really a time for celebration? The movie biz had a record-breaking year, raking in north of $11.4 billion on the backs of, as one industry insider said, “a forgetful fish, infighting superheroes and some intergalactic rebels.”

But for every Finding Dory, Captain America or Rogue One, which all earned good reviews and audience support, there were dozens of others that acted as public repellent, driving viewers away in droves. Those unsuccessful movies are dark clouds hanging heavy over the Hollywood landscape. Metro has some thoughts on how to clear the skies and ensure smooth sailing until Hollywood runs out of awards to hand out.

Let’s spend more time watching imaginative new worlds and ideas brought to life on the screen. Give me more movies from Guillermo Del Toro, Edgar Wright and Andrea Arnold, filmmakers who constantly reinvent our relationship with story and cinema.

Although I’m looking forward to John Wick 2 and Skull Island, let’s cut back on the reboots, reimaginings, remakes and films with numbers in their titles.

Let Kristen Stewart do anything she wants. Her death-defying leap from a Young Adult idol to indie star has been inspiring to watch. She digs deeper and deeper with every role, distancing herself from the teeny-bopper image that defined the early part of her career. Her choices are wild and woolly and you don’t know what to expect next from her. More please.

No more ‘interesting’ movies from Will Smith. His overthinking has done more collateral damage to his once towering career than his last film, Collateral Beauty.

More convulsive belly laughs triggered by thoughtful, interesting jokes please. That means fewer films that mistake politically incorrect “did he really just say that?” jokes for actual humour.

Can we have more reliance on the human touch on screen; directors like Jim Jarmusch, Mira Nair and Barry Jenkins who use instinct and experience to create their art.

Let’s have less studio reliance on branding, formula and script algorithms like ScriptBook, ScripThreads and Slated. Successful movie ideas don’t come from marketing departments or mathematical analysis, they come from the hearts and minds of interesting storytellers.

We need more films that pass both the Bechdel Test (does the movie feature a scene where two women discuss something other than a man?) as well as the DuVernay Test (do the African American and other minority characters have fully realized lives or are they just scenery in white stories?) If the answer is yes to either of these questions, you’ll have more films that better reflect the world we live in.

Finally, it’s time for Hollywood to be truly egalitarian. We need to see an end to white actors cast in non-white roles. It’s not knee-jerk political correctness — it’s justice for years of whitewashing in Hollywood. Recently in Doctor Strange, Gods of Egypt, Aloha and many others caucasian actors were cast in roles written or conceived for people of colour. Let’s stop that in 2017.

Metro In Focus: Snow business like show business (at the movies)

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

On a film set the weather is frightful;
But on screen it’s so delightful;
And since snow in July is a no go;
Let it fake snow! Let it fake snow! Let it fake snow!

Are those beads of sweat on Santa’s brow? It just might be. Movies set at and released during the Christmas season are usually shot when most people are wearing bathing suits, not parkas.

So how do you make it look a lot like Christmas? Fake snow — i.e. cellulose flakes, snow sheets, snow blankets, acrylic icicles — and lots of it. Here’s a look at how Hollywood creates sleigh ride in summer.

1. Snow Business Hollywood, a leader in providing fake snow for film production, says they have 168 products used to create screen snow. What’s the advantage to filmmakers of using artificial snow on a film set? “You can control it,” says owner Roland Hathaway. “Also, you’re never dealing with the cold weather.”

2. To create the sound of swirling snow heard on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, Foley Artists recorded surf sounds and tinkered with the sound by raising and lowering the volume. The Empire Strikes Back was shot at Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England, the same film studio where The Shining was made. As a result, much of the fake snow used for Kubrick’s film was also used for the Hoth scenes.

3. Asbestos was often used as fake snow in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s. The White Christmas sequence in Holiday Inn — showing Bing Crosby singing the classic tune amid the falling snow — exposed the cast and crew to asbestos fiber.

4.  The “snowy” maze near the conclusion of The Shining consisted of 900 tons of salt and crushed Styrofoam.

5. Fake snow was also used during the uncharacteristically snowless Denver shoot for Die Hard 2. Huge air fans had to be brought in to replicate snowstorm conditions.

6. Fake snow is obvious in The Santa Clause when a SWAT officer slips and falls on a set of steps, causing the snow to warp. It’s obviously a snow blanket and not snowflakes, either real or fake.

7. It’s a Wonderful Life was shot in the sweltering heat of a Los Angeles summer in 1946, necessitating the need for fake snow. Instead of using cornflakes painted white — which was loud when stepped on — director Frank Capra and RKO studio’s head of special effects Russel Sherman invented a quiet — and sprayable — version by mixing foamite with sugar, water and soap flakes to create the winter wonderland of Bedford Falls.

8. The usually snowy Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport was chosen as the location for the field and terminal scenes in Airport but the film’s producers had to use bleached sawdust as a supplement, to make up for the lack of falling snow, until a snowstorm hit the Twin Cities area during the production of the film.

9. A “beginner” model movie snow machine will set you back about $1,584.02.

10. To create blowing snow for a scene, throw laundry soap flakes or instant potato flakes in front of a powerful fan. Be warned! Soap flakes can make the set slippery. To make a snowy ground, mix 1 1/3 cups of liquid starch, 4 cups of laundry soap flakes and several drops of blue food colouring. To add a sparkling effect, add glitter.

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Metro In Focus: We all remember feeling that first flash of the Force

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-9-01-15-pmBy Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

February 3, 1959 and February 9, 1964. The day the music died and the date it was reborn on the Ed Sullivan Show, both days burned into the collective memories of pop culture fanatics everywhere. But what about May 25, 1977?

If you were a teenager then chances are you felt the earth shift. It was the day Star Wars opened, kicking off a cultural phenomenon that continues to this day.

This weekend the universe George Lucas unleashed in 1977 grows to include Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Much-anticipated, the movie is the first of the standalone Star Wars Anthology films and is expected to decimate the competition, Death Star style.

Expect line-ups and packed theatres — box office seers estimate it could pull in somewhere between $130 million to $150 million at the U.S. box office this week — but no matter how wild the weekend gets, nothing will match the pandemonium that greeted Star Wars in May, 1977.

To paint a picture of the first blush of Star Wars mania I asked my Facebookers what they remember about that moment a long time ago, in a galaxy (not so) far, far away…

“I remember being so in awe of that legendary opening scene with the giant spaceship coming into picture from the top and filling up the entire screen… oooo, aaaaah,” wrote Glenda Fordham. “The audience gasped in unison.”

“Upon leaving the theatre, with my little mind totally blown, I was interviewed by the news,” recollected Lesley Mitchell-Clarke, “where I think that I said, ‘Anything is now possible cinematically.’ I was all of 19.”

“My stepbrother, who was seven at the time, was dead set against seeing it,” says Tina Cooper, “and then of course saw it at least 50 times and dressed in Star Wars gear and played with Star Wars toys every single day for the rest of his childhood.”

“The line-up went right around the block and we ended up sitting in the front row of the balcony,” recalled Chris Ball. “I was mesmerized but dad was bored. Part way through I guess he decided he might as well get comfortable. He took his jacket off and in the process knocked his popcorn over the balcony railing. We got a stern lecture from the manager and almost got thrown out. Fast forward 20 years (1997) and I am now the manager of the same theatre and handing out those stern lectures.”

“I was six,” remembered Sue Edworthy. “My Dad took me to see it. I fell asleep halfway through. He took me to see it again. I fell asleep halfway through. The seventh time, I finally saw the whole thing. Clearly he had no problem seeing it again, and again, and again.”

“It was the first film that I went to more than once in its initial run,” said Adrian Gruff. “In the scene where the X-Wings enter the Death Star’s trench, I disengaged from the screen just so I could watch everyone’s heads do the sideways bob and twist that mine had done on first viewing.

“It was the first time that I had a true inkling as to the energy that religion refers to as ‘God.’”

Metro In Focus: Miss Sloane the latest ‘Drain the Swamp’ film to hit Hollywood

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-3-16-06-pmBy Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

This weekend Jessica Chastain stars in the political thriller Miss Sloane. The title refers to the lobbyist main character but the film could easily have been titled Drain the Swamp.

Made before Donald Trump became president-elect, it only takes about 20 seconds before the word “trump” crops up in the dialogue. He’s never mentioned by name, but this look at “the most morally bankrupt profession since faith healing” paints exactly the ugly picture of behind-the-scenes machinations that Trump railed against on the campaign trail.

Chastain is Elizabeth Sloane, a sleep-deprived D.C. lobbyist “at the forefront of a business with a terrible reputation.” She’ll represent anyone, it seems, except the gun lobby, who offer her a lucrative contract, only to be laughed at and rejected.

Soon after she leaves her firm — one of the biggest in the country — to join a small, scrappy group who aim to whip up support for a bill that will demand background checks for all gun owners.

It’s a new hot-button peek behind the curtain of a political process, but Hollywood has been making Drain the Swamp movies for years.

The explosive Advise and Consent is based on former New York Times congressional correspondent Allen Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the ratification of a secretary of state and the dirty little secrets people in public life must keep hidden. Political battle lines are drawn as a full frontal attack is launched on the character and credentials of the new nominee.

Director Otto Preminger almost pulled off one of the great casting coups of the 1960s when he offered civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. a role in Advise and Consent. The mercurial director thought King would be perfect for the role of a southern senator, despite the fact that no African Americans were serving in Senate at the time. King gave the offer some thought, but declined fearing the backlash and possible harm to the civil right movement.

More recently, in The Ides of March George Clooney (who also directed) played a Democratic Party candidate; the kind of guy who would make the top of Bill O’Reilly’s head pop off. He’s pro-ecology, anti-oil. He wants to tax the rich and legalize gay marriage. If he leans any further left he’ll topple over.

Although Clooney has spoken out about many of these topics in real life, he didn’t make a left-wing film. Instead he made a warts-and-all political movie about dirty dealings on the campaign trail.

The first hour is good stuff, great acting from Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman and a fascinating, if occasionally dry look at life in the political fast lane. Then comes the blackmail, the meetings in darkened stairwells and double-crossing journalists.

Finally The Campaign, a comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as incumbent congressmen, begins with a quote from former presidential hopeful Ross Perot: “War has rules. Mud wrestling has rules. Politics has no rules.”
Neither does the movie; no rules or boundaries. These candidates go beyond the usual name-calling — “He looks like Osama Bin Laden” — to dirty tricks that would make Tricky Dick blush. It’s a through-the-looking glass-vision of how politics works that features ambition, greed, corruption and even a candidate who punches a baby.