Today marks the start of what could best be called a marathon month for political movies — topped by Oliver Stone’s “W” on Oct. 17 — as filmmakers capitalize on the intense interest in the presidential election.
It flies in the face of conventional wisdom that political movies don’t do well at the box office, as if somehow Hollywood’s creative community just could not resist.
Bill Maher’s “Religulous” is destined to be the most controversial, in that it is sacriligious. It is an equal opportunity attacker of religious institutions, at a time when no politician can make it to the White House without proving their church-going cred. Here’s Maher’s appearance earlier this week on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and you get a sense of what I am talking about.
“Boogie Man,” which opens on selected Los Angeles screens this weekend, is the story of Lee Atwater, the Republican political operative credited with winning George Bush the White House in 1988, and for launching a new brand of divide-and-conquer politics later mastered by Karl Rove.
Director Stefan Forbes is self-distributing the movie, and is relying in part on interviews on shows like “Morning Joe” and “NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” to get the word out. His message: The Atwater-style attack politics is in full swing in the McCain campaign, particularly in their characterizations of Obama as an elitist.
“Atwater took this waspy guy, put him in cowboy boots and fed him pork rinds and made him the working man’s candidate,” Forbes notes. “He took the party of FDR and John F. Kennedy and turned it into the party of arugula.”
Obama is opening up a lead in the polls, but Forbes cautions as to what is ahead for the Democrats in the coming weeks.
“From everything we have seen in past elections, to have the American people vote on the issues rather than fear, mockery and smear tactics would be the surprise of the year if not the decade,” he says.
“An American Carol” is the most unusual of the films, as it is a comedy with its fire aimed at the left wing of Hollywood. Directed by David Zucker, it centers on a Michael Moore-like filmmaker intent on ridding the country of the Fourth of July, until he is visited by three familiar ghosts.
The latter movie has created a stir if for no other reason in that it is rare to have a right-centric satire, in any form. I’m skeptical as to how much being a Republican in Hollywood can affect a career. My take: If you bring in the money, there will be employment for you. But it is refreshing to see another point of view in the comedy genre.
Earlier this week, I chatted with one of the stars of the film, Turkish actor Serdar Kalsin, who plays Ahmed, a terrorist who hires the filmmaker to help make a recruitment video. It’s only his latest turn from the axis of evil: He also was cast as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Osama bin Laden in two commercials that Zucker produced in 2006 for the Republican National Committee.
The “versatile terrorist actor,” as his bio calls him, says that, although he doesn’t share Zucker’s politics, he’d been a fan ever since watching a VHS tape of “Top Secret” when he was a kid growing up in Istanbul.
“A lot of people told me, when I signed the contract, ‘You will be blacklisted.’ I hope that does not happen, because my career is just starting,'” Kalsin says with some amusement.
Zucker screened “Carol” at the Republican National Convention, and some of the cast members, like Jon Voight and Robert Davi, canvassed the Xcel Energy Center, giving dozens of interviews to promote the movie.
Kalsin also makes what could be characterized as a pre-emptive strike at anyone who takes offense at the sight-gag, quick hit comedy of “Carol.”
“This is a comedy. Anybody who takes comedy literally has to loosen up.”