Monday, October 27, 2008

"An American Carol" -- It's funny, and it renders a dire warning

Well, if you’re going to make a right-wing parody, make it funny. And “An American Carol” is certainly that, with no hint of Dickens. Directed by David Zucker, it is distributed by Vivendi, a French company with ties to Universal (apparently for a film so controversial and irreverent, Focus Features wasn’t an appropriate brand). Let me mention one image that is telling for me: At the closing scene demonstration in New York when a terrorist incident has been avoided, the film shows us soldiers in uniform, going back in time from the present day all the way to the Revolutionary War. In fact, the three “ghosts” (not from Macbeth) present a snapshot of our idea of freedom, too: John F. Kennedy (Chriss Anglin), General Patton (Kelsey Grammer), and George Washington (a foppish but conservative Jon Voight). Zachary Levi even gets to play a lab tech like Chuck. Vicki Browne plays "Rosie O'Connell" in a talk show battle without Donald Trump, but Bill O'Reilly plays himself, since he's a conservative.

The anti-hero is, as everybody knows, Michael Malone aka Michael Moore, played by Kevin P. Farley. He is made fun of as a “documentary filmmaker” who likes Cuba’s health care too much ("Sicko"). His latest film here has a title including the word “Pigs” and it dies in the box office. So some Taliban or Al Qaeda sorts hire him to make an anti-American film, with the idea of abolishing the Fourth of July, by abolishing the country.

At this point, the movie becomes like a dream, moving between a summer family picnic to the filmmaking, to the encounters with the ghosts (Kennedy’s comes right out of the TV screen – the “Ask Not” speech which I already covered on this blog Oct. 18), and, of course, the wild demonstrators. The script manages to throw every imaginable punch line about all the social and political issues and twist them into pretzels.

Very early, there are lines about gay marriage and then “don’t ask don’t tell”, in a context that sounds almost sympathetic to the usually liberal position – because conservatives can say, after all, that gays should share responsibility for the country. And just while the time bomb is ticking in a lavatory comes in, some sailors and Marines come in and eye each other, missing the threat. The best line here is “Marines.”

The film hammers the point that we really do have enemies. Radical Islam is arguably much more dangerous than “radical Christianity” in a real world, even if in theory it shouldn’t be. Hitler and Stalin were intrinsically evil, whatever ideology had consumed them.

The comedy and parody starts to become scary. At one point, I was thinking, I could almost imagine a "Dr. Strangelove" typed script about what this country really would be like in the moments and hours after a suitcase nuke went off somewhere, or perhaps an EMP blew up from a missile fired from off the coast. It could look a bit like the highly touted video game “Fallout”. (One can imagine a script then getting into the moral karma points of the characters. I saw the graphic ads for the game in the DC Metro, including a picture of Washington on "The Day After".) I thought, also, about how silly out financial markets are behaving. Oil prices keep sinking, as if investors had forgotten CNN’s film “We Were Warned” about what would happen if Saudi oil fields were attacked. I thought about the behavior of our Wall Street wizards who have simply forgotten the difference between right and wrong.
And I am a bit frightened.

I saw this in a small Regal auditorium on a Monday night, and I was the only person there. It seemed that the show was held just for me. I asked an employee of the theater who came in to clean how it had done, and he said not particularly well. The movie does say a lot of things a lot of people don’t want to here. I think more people need to see this movie, and take heed. But, people don't go to movies for moral lessons, do they. They don't want to be told to eat their vegetables.

Freedom can not be taken for granted.

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