Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The October cinematic surprise, Part 2: When filmmakers attack (each other)

Note: You can find Part 1 here

Earlier, I gave you my assessment of "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against The West," an inflammatory documentary which was distributed last week in newspapers across the country. While "Obsession" is a serious documentary that in part is unintentionally funny, an upcoming release from a renowned comedy director looks like it may just elicit groans.

Enter the newest effort from David Zucker. Over the past three decades, the Wisconsin native has become a sort of comedy legend. With his brother Jerry and childhood friend Jim Abrahams, the trio got their start with 1975's "Ketucky Fried Movie," a silly low-budget assault of short bits and gags. I actually admit to owning this oddball gem on VHS. The trio hit paydirt with their next film, the classic "Airplane!" in 1980, a hilarious mashup of early 70's disaster flicks and 50's war films. The movie was a smash, putting them in the same league as Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and other film satirists of the day, and led to other similar projects, including "Top Secret!" (melding Elvis movies and spy flicks) and "The Naked Gun," which evolved from a outrageous, short-lived "Dragnet" spoof called "Police Squad!" that lasted a mere six episodes on ABC in 1982.

Over the years, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker (ZAZ) inspired many imitators, some good (like Keenan Ivory Wayans) and some really terrible (like Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the guys behind the recent "Disaster Movie" and similar quickie so-called pop culture 'comedies'), but David on his own soon began to imitate himself, as if he were recycling past glories. In the meantime, Zucker also had a personal revelation. He found Republicanism.

Zucker could be best described as a "9/11 Republican." Like Dennis Miller, Ron Silver and other self-described 'former Hollywood liberals,' he formed the idea that George W. Bush and the GOP could keep us safe from terrorist attacks (though that obviously didn't happen in September, 2001). All it would take is to wage war in Iraq, lower taxes for rich people, tie yellow ribbons, do a lot of flag waving and listen to Lee Greenwood songs. And label anyone who stands in opposition as 'un-American traitors.'

During the past few years, Zucker's new-found faith found itself creeping into his artistic work. He directed a few shorts for right-wing think tanks, released on the internet, that attacked Democrats such as John Kerry, and repeated the tired 'tax and spend' rhetoric. Zucker also made a short mocking former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Unfortunately, the short was released in 2006, almost six years after Albright and the rest of President Clinton's administration left office.

Okay, so Zucker's recent work seems evident of someone living in the past. And his recent cinematic output seems to milk past glories. How out of touch is David Zucker? His upcoming release, out October 3, is called "An American Carol," and mocks Michael Moore, and his 2004 documentary smash, "Fahrenheit 9/11." More than four years after numerous other films did exactly the same thing. A summary on Wikipedia describes it as such

Left-wing activist and filmmaker Michael Malone (subtle, huh?) is campaigning to end the celebration of the Fourth of July (WTF???). Malone truculently argues to the American people that America's past and present are offensive, and therefore should not be celebrated. Malone is then visited by three ghosts, George Washington, George S. Patton, and John F. Kennedy, who try to make him rethink his view of America

Years ago, some would call a film with this premise evidence of too much cocaine flowing through Hollywood. these days, it appears to be too much Kool-Aid. Now, normally I don't like to criticize films I have not seen. I held off on passing any kind of judgement on the "Obsession" DVD until I actually had a chance to sit down and watch it. As Zucker's new offering has yet to be released, all I have to go on is a synopsis, some promotional materials, the listing of cast and crew and a trailer. But seeing as a studio executive or potential producer can initially make a yes or no decision based on a mere sales pitch, and syndicated right-wing columnists like Kathleen Parker are already drooling over it, well, I guess I can give it my best shot

The film, a rehash of the famous Charles Dickens Christmas fable, features a who's-who of right-wing Hollywood, with the likes of Kelsey Grammer, Jon Voight, Dennis Hopper, James Woods and country singer Trace Adkins on board. Longtime Zucker regular Leslie Nielsen also appears, as well as has-beens Kevin (Hercules) Sorbo and Gary Coleman. Oh, and Bill O'Reilly appears as himself. Somehow, I get the feeling that quite a few Hollywood executives took a pass when they heard what had to be an obviously weak-ass pitch.

So, what do I think? First off, this film reeks of something that's been sitting on the shelf for a long, long time, well past its expiration date. In other words, it sounds really, really stale. Cheapie right-wing hit pieces attacking Moore came and went years ago, and have long since been forgotten. Trey Parker and Matt Stone already milked the Moore parody bit years ago in "Team America: World Police." Moore has also moved on since 2004, and his most recent release, "Sicko," took a markedly different tone than "Fahrenheit 9/11." The premise of "An American Carol" sounds as timely as a Monica Lewinsky blow job joke. And if this film is a Christmas story about Independence Day, why release it in early October

Second, Zucker, like many right-wingers of 4-5 years ago, makes really stupid arguments. He pokes fun at a fact that really doesn't exist. Namely, he accuses someone of being un-American, simply because he disagrees with him. It's a vile, classless, immature and uninformed accusation, since our country was founded and built on dissent and activism. Think we'd have the abolition of slavery, women's sufferage, the 40-hour work week, the end of child labor and civil rights unless brave people spoke up and challenged the system? Noted rabble-rouser Susan B. Anthony was eventually featured on U.S. currency. Martin Luther King has a federal holiday and a Capitol Mall memorial on the way. Upton Sinclair's works are still studied in classrooms. Are they traitors? Do they hate America? Right-wingers who attack Bush dissenters for being 'un-American' are intellectually lazy and are apparently oblivious to the history of our country and what it's about. To assume someone like Michael Moore, who obviously loves his country enough to try to make it better, wants to abolish the Fourth of July is just plain lame. And when the patriotism bit plays itself out, all Zucker is left with is fat jokes. But I guess that's what David Zucker has devolved into.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for satire from all types of viewpoints, so long as it's actually good. The varied viewpoints of 300 million people are what make this country what it is. It is sad, though, that conservatives have a hard time finding things to laugh about. Political humor tends to work better when it rails against the establishment. That's what gave us Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Hunter S. Thompson. And like it or not, conservatism, which represents the interests of the wealthy and powerful, is about as establishment as one gets. Nobody likes to laugh at the little guy. And that's why most right-wing humor fails.

That's not to say there aren't any funny conservatives. Writer P.J. O'Rourke honed his craft as a rightie railing against the ultra-liberal late-60s atmosphere of Harvard. The late William F. Buckley was also rather witty, because he had a personable self-depricating style and was smart enough to never take himself too seriously. The 'Blue Collar Comedy' guys like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy, obviously conservative in their politics, scored not with red state rants but with good 'ol boy Southern humor. Conservative comedian Drew Carey is more about dick jokes in his routines than pro-Dick Cheney rhetoric. The problem, as I've mentioned in the past, is that politically-tinged right-wing humorists take themselves too seriously, and come across as out-of-touch or just plain whiney. Conservative cartoonists such as Bruce Tinsley or Michael Ramirez recycle tired stereotypes into eye-rolling dreck, and nobody's laughed at Rush Limbaugh's jokes since the Clinton administration, after he retreated to his South Florida drug-fueled multi-millionaire exile. Limbaugh's main problem is that he now plays golf with the very establishment that he should be challenging. Ann Coulter comes across as too cruel to garner any laughs, apart from desperate followers in the flock

But back to Zucker's movie. Some may ask why I'm even drawing attention to it. Well, it looks like it will need all the help it can get. "An American Carol" just doesn't look like a big box office smash. Rather, it has all the appearances of something that's just being dumped unenthusiastically into the marketplace in the off-season. Heavy-handed politically-charged films have had a rough go at the cineplex in recent years, with even efforts featuring Hollywood heavyweights like Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx and Brian DePalma landing with a thud. There are exceptions. Michael Moore has built his works into a very reliable brand, with films that are funny and informative, seem genuine and elicit populist sentiments. Socially-themed offerings like "An Inconvenient Truth," which nobody could have predicted success for, likewise inspired a passionate reaction from filmgoers in addition to strong word-of-mouth publicity. "Harold and Kumar" injected stoner humor into a funny and topical terrorism subplot. But with our economy in ruins, President Bush's approval ratings at historic lows and an expensive never-ending war in Iraq, will Zucker find enough people still sympathetic to his cause

Moore has kept a pretty good sense of humor about the whole thing. Shown a clip of the movie on Larry King's show recently, Moore expressed vague familiarity with "An American Carol," and joked that he felt Viggo Mortenson should have played him. Otherwise, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "I hope it's funny

And in this election season, Moore is not keeping quiet. He released "Fahrenheit 9/11" in the election year of 2004 in part to fire up voters. And for this election year, he is unleashing a long-in-the-works film, "Slacker Uprising," a documentary based on a 2004 college speaking tour of political swing states. Unlike his other films, this one won't be hitting the cineplex. Instead, he is giving it away, a free gift to his fans, similar to what Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails did with their recent music releases. Moore has teamed with Brave New Films to release "Slacker Uprising" as a free online download, starting today and available through October 13, with a low-priced extra-filled DVD also on the way

According to Moore:

It's also one of my contributions to help get out the vote November 4th. That's why I'm giving you my blanket permission to not only download it, but also to email it, burn it, and share it with anyone and everyone... I want you to use "Slacker Uprising" in any way you see fit to help with the election or to do the work that you do in your community. You can show my film in your local theater, your high school classroom, your college auditorium, your church, union hall or community center. You can have your friends and neighbors over to the house for a viewing. You can broadcast it on TV, on cable access, on regular channels or on the web. It's completely free -- I don't want to see a dime from this. And if you want, you can charge admission or ask for a donation if it's to raise money for a candidate, a voter drive, or for any non-profit or educational purpose. In other words -- it's yours!

"Slacker Uprising" is available for free download from a variety of sites as well as the film's official website And it's probably more genuine than David Zucker's upcoming 'comedy' movie that mocks him for, well, being an American.


raccoonradio said...

I think it looks funny, but then again I'm a conservative. As for humor that's stale, look at the Comedy Central cartoon Lil' Bush
which was also perhaps about 5 years too late to be effective--been there,
done that. Zucker's spoof of Moore
may as well just be a spoof of any
over-the-top lib celeb, and maybe he could have been a bit more timely by spoofing someone like Keith Overbite instead.

Evan Sayet said...

This is a sad and desperate attack on Zucker. This leftist hasn't even seen the movie but is reviewing it. All he knows is that it's pro-American and therefore must be bad.

ltr said...

Ahh, I see Freak Republic has joined the party:


BTW, "Lil' Bush" sucks ass.

And an update to add to this one. Zucker's flick is not going to be screened for critics. This is often the case for movies that are expected to land with a thud.

And much of the financial backing for the flick came from conservative think tanks. But hey, I applaud conservative attempts to break into the cinema (after all, I really liked John Milius' "Red Dawn"). But in return, freepers should applaud liberal attempts to break into talk radio.

Thing is, more people watch movies than listen to talk radio.

Admit it, gang. You're probably going to have to force the laughter. Hey, to each their own. I already admitted I haven't seen it (nobody outside the production team has). But Zucker's new flick looks really, really weak.

FSL said...

"Police Squad" was a take-off on "M Squad," a late 50s cop show starring Lee Marvin as Lt. Frank Ballinger - not Dragnet.

"Airplane" was based on Arthur Hailey's live TV drama "Flight Into Danger" (later produced twice on film and adapted as a novel).

> ...he accuses someone of being un-American, simply because he disagrees with him."

Not just Zucker and other right-wingers. You like to cast aspersions on people with whom you disagree, too.

ltr said...

True, but I don't deny them the right to say what they want, nor do I believe in doing so.

Why are you always looking to pick fights?

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