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January 14, 2004

Movie reviews
Posted by Teresa at 06:00 AM *

The winners have been announced for Move On’s Bush in 30 Seconds competition. The challenge was simple: Make a thirty-second ad. Over 1,500 submissions were received. I’ve now watched the winners and the finalists, and concluded that the winners are better. Some of the finalists are pretty good too.

Below is my annotated list. I’ve linked to the low-bandwidth versions. If you want the high-bandwidth version, or the really-low-bandwidth slideshow version, they’re available onsite.

Overall Best Ad and People’s Choice Winner: Child’s Pay. A lyrical and damning look at the long-term effects of the Bush deficit.
Runners-up for Best Overall Ad:

In My Country. Preachy and obvious. I’d skip it.

Polygraph. Decent enough, but no surprises.

What Are We Teaching Our Children?. This one’s worth watching. It owes a little something to the classic Where did you want to be? ad, but that’s all to the good.

Imagine. Just assume that unless I specifically say otherwise, every entry I didn’t like was preachy and obvious.

Human Cost of War. Okay, I guess. Demonstrates that the REM music video trope of saying one thing in the on-screen text and another on the audio track, over the top of a fast-moving video montage, is harder to do well than you might think. On the other hand, its TMI confusion does save it from being preachy and obvious.

Desktop. A bit of a lightweight, but witty and deft. Would have been more of a standout in the Animation category, which IMO is where it belonged.

Wake Up America. P&O. Implies voters are dumb, which is not an effective message.

Army of One. Good choice of subject97Bush’s callous treatment of the serving military97but fails to pull together a clear message at the end.

Bankrupt. Never quite jells. Escapes being preachy and obvious by being diffuse and confusing.

Hood Robbin’. Say those two magic words: p___ and o___. Also a___, as in awful. Storyline has a guy in a green Peter Pan costume and a George Bush mask, running through a neighborhood stealing stuff from the citizenry, then delivering the swag to a guy in a suit at a corporate office building.

Leave No Billionaire Behind. Another real goodie. Ingredients: Kids, piggy banks, plutocrats. Don’t miss the logo at the end.

Bush’s Repair Shop. Simple premise, less than brilliant writing, but oy, have they got a great prop to play with.

Gone in 30 Seconds. P&O. Statistics from the Bush Administration viewed as a speedometer, wth car crash sounds at the end. Skippable.
Winner, Funniest Ad: If Parents Acted Like Bush. Deservedly the winner.
Runners-up for Funniest Ad:

Bush Sucks. Okay, I laughed out loud at this one. Its best feature is its gleeful manic energy, but it needed tighter editing.

Greatest Hits. Bush as late-night-TV record compilation. A little preachy, a little obvious, but it’s passably funny and it has the good sense to move fast.

If the Bush Administration Was Your Roommate 3. Kind of funny, but I suspect it’s a lot better in combination with 1 and 2.
Winner, Best Animated Ad: What I Been Up To. Very good. Definite Trey Parker influence there.
Runners-up for Best Animated Ad:

Brother, Can You Spare a Job?. Great black-and-white animation reminiscent of Max Fleischer. Unfortunately, it’s teamed with an incoherent script.

Yeehaw!. Preachy, obvious; kind of fun in a few places.

School Yard Politics. Traditional animation, quite well drawn, but as an ad it’s absolutely dreadful. The most didactic cartoon you’ve ever seen would look like Ren & Stimpy next to this. I think it was put on the finalists’ list in recognition of the fact that even thirty seconds’ worth of unwatchable animation is still a hell of a lot of work.
Winner, Best Youth Ad: Bring It On. Fast, clean, hard-hitting, intelligent: an impressive piece of work.
Runners-up for Best Youth Ad:

Bush Knew. A heartfelt performance by an inexpert but not untalented young rapper.

Al Keyda. A fast, economical, energetic little morality play with what may be the best closing line of the lot: “It’s not likely 85 but it’s legal. Thank you, Patriot Act.”

Pop Quiz. P&O, somewhat redeemed by lighthandedness. The pacing gets a little wonky toward the end.
This contest was a great idea. The four winners are punchier and more memorable than any political ads I’ve seen in ages, and almost all of them are at least marginally watchable.

I don’t know how personal a reaction this is—the rest of you are welcome to let me know—but I’m truly grateful to see campaign ads that don’t reek of that stale, flat, encoded language that political insiders don’t so much speak as compile. I loathe that stuff. The “Bush in 30 Seconds” ads, even the clunky ones, have the grace to sound like they were made by human beings who’re trying to communicate with other human beings.


Simon (writing in the comments thread) and Patrick (speaking from the next room) have both directed me to a very notable unofficial entry: Bush in 41.2 Seconds.

Comments on Movie reviews:
#1 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 08:36 AM:

There has been a lot of flack over a couple of the entries posted -- but a couple of the winners here are the spots they should be fearing.

I wonder if result could be Democratic presidential candidates playing these spots for their "media advisers" with the threat (explicit or implicit) "do at least this good or we'll just run these."

#2 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 09:24 AM:

My responses were mostly the same as your, Though I thought the Greates Hits on was the funniest.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 09:33 AM:

Claude, "a lot of flak" is right. A couple of the submissions did compare Bush to Hitler, but if you think of the contest entries as a 1,500-manuscript slush pile, that's a really low Hitler incidence. Ask any slush reader.

#4 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 09:41 AM:

I really liked the same ones as you did, Teresa. The Billionaire one was soooo smarmy in a Bush kind of way, and the kids were so sincere...the contrast was fabulous.

Also, I confess I really liked the car in the repair shop getting smashed to tiny pieces.

The best thing about these ads, imo, is their sincerity. Been a long time since I saw any political ad that admitted to real emotion the way these ones do. MoveOn always makes me smile.

#5 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 10:07 AM:

I would very, very much like to see these on tv. Particularly Child's Pay and Bring It On (speaking of: the military pay cut the speaker mentions in that ad; is that true? It'd be the first I heard of it.).

#6 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 10:12 AM:

Bring It On felt a lot like a Rick Mercer streeter. Too bad you don't have fast talking Newfies down there because the accent really lends the kind of mocking cadence you need.

#7 ::: Dave Ciskowski ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 10:32 AM:

Child's Pay and Bring It On are definitely the best of the lot. Overall there's a "preaching to the choir" effect but Child's Pay in particular avoids that by sticking to one issue and working it. Clarity of message.

MoveOn sent out a fundraiser email last night. Evidently the plan was originally to show Child's Pay on CNN for the week of the State of the Union address; now they're trying to raise money to get it on the Super Bowl. Now THAT would be a conversation starter...

#8 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 10:32 AM:

Take a look at this unofficial entry.

#9 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 11:23 AM:

CBS is making noises about how MoveOn's ad will have to pass their "standards and practices" review in order to be accepted for Superbowl broadcast, and their spokesthings are broadly hinting that it won't pass. Goodness, we can't have an "advocacy" ad at the Superbowl.

Of course, as someone pointed out, CBS happily ran two ads during last year's Superbowl that asserted that drug use supports terrorism. No "advocacy" there, of course. So we have the shocking news that CBS are shameless, hypocritical whores. Film at 11.

#10 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 12:26 PM:

Thanks for the list. I watched "Child's Pay" last night but was intimidated by the long list of runner's-up. Now I know which are worth checking out.

Child's Pay was really, really good. Subtle, grabbing, with a simple and biting payoff-message.

#11 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 05:11 PM:

I thought "Hood Robbin'" was funny, but you're right, it's definitely not the strongest of the lot.

"Child's Pay" makes me cry harder each time I see it. I'm glad they chose that one for the winner. It is one of the most effective ads I've ever seen.

#12 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 05:12 PM:

Oh, and the music in "Child's Pay" is also really good. I have to wonder if the creators of the ad wrote and recorded it themselves; I imagine they couldn't use something already out there, for copyright reasons. If so, they did a remarkable job with it.

#13 ::: Rivka Wald ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 06:20 PM:

"Child's Pay" brought tears to my eyes. It's really good: hard to tune out even if you're not part of the choir yet. I hope they do air it.

#14 ::: Hal O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 11:19 PM:

Jason, re the Army pay cut:

I don't know the specific cut they're citing, but it gibes with what I've heard from active duty friends.

This Administration in general appears to have its knives sharpened aginst the soliders. Note this story from Army Times re benefit cuts (titled, "An Act of 'Betrayal'"), or this story from a local Spokane TV station about Air Force families being evicted from Fairchild AFB.

Re the ads in general, I liked "What Are We Taching Our Children" best, myself... But I agree that the most important aspects of the whole thing is just that it's being done at all, and the engagement shown.

#15 ::: elise matthesen ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 11:33 PM:

Did you see the hate mail that Margaret Cho is getting since the awards ceremony?

Are those people always like that?

#16 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2004, 12:55 AM:

Only when awake, Elise . . .

#17 ::: Jim Millen ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2004, 01:28 PM:

I can't get any sound for any of the ads on the link in the original blog post. Is it just me, or has anyone else found the same issue? Everything works fine for other web-streamed video.

Annoying, since with some of the ads I can almost - but not quite - work out what is happening without sound.

#18 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2004, 03:10 PM:

In re: the Al Keyda spot.

The second director of the 1925-39 University of Chicago digs at Megiddo, one of the most significant digs in biblical archaeology, was named "P.L.O. Guy".

No, really.

And it's not like he went by "Larry", or anything like that. You can't find references to him as anything other than PLO.

I could see having a name like that in one's passport as causing problems at the border, nowadays.

#19 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2004, 04:37 PM:

Philip Langstaffe Ord Guy, if you're curious. But Alter is right: he went by P.L.O.

#20 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2004, 09:47 PM:

Off topic, but tangentially related:

Mormon Cinema (As reported on "All Things Considered," 1/15/04.)

#21 ::: Leslie ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2004, 11:45 PM:

I particularly liked the movied Simon linked to although it will sadly never be seen on network tv

Do also check

#22 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 01:23 PM:

I showed "Child's Pay" to Julie, age 13. She is already rabidly anti-Bush in that clear-eyed passionate way that adolescents have, but after seeing the ad she shook her head and wandered away muttering "we are so-o-o-o f*ucked."

(She then looked over her shoulder at me and apologized for the language. Good child.)

#23 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 04:10 PM:

Leslie: Do also check

Good heavens! I did so--fun website--and discovered that the director of their 30seconds ad is in fact an old friend of my husband's. Gee, I guess it has been a while since we saw her. Now I feel the urge to treat her to a drink, so I should go make a phone call.

#24 ::: TL Hines ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 01:45 PM:

Above, Dave says most of the ads "preach to the choir," and I have to agree: the people most likely to respond to these ads are folks who are already aligned against Bush.

It's far more difficult to reach the fence sitters, and an overly-strident approach runs the risk of ruffling a lot of Middle American sensibilities.

Does that make them "bad" ads? I don't think so; there's nothing wrong with energizing your own base. Still, I doubt getting ads on the Super Bowl, or any other venue where they'll be exposed to a large audience, will do much to bring new people into the tent.

#25 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 11:32 PM:

RNC tells TV stations not to run anti-Bush ads

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Republican National Committee is warning television stations across the country not to run ads from the Voter Fund that criticize President Bush, charging that the left-leaning political group is paying for them with money raised in violation of the new campaign-finance law.
#26 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 04:18 PM:

I am unendingly amazed at how little respect they have for their fellow citizens. No matter what your political beliefs, someone who'll lie to you like that is not on your side.

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