December 4, 2007 - 1:00am
You might get the impression from some ads for about-to-be-released movies that Hollywood producers are doing their part to defeat “the war against Christmas.” You might also get the impression that money matters most so they don't want us confused about which “holiday” they mean. After all, it would be a bleak bottom line if movie fans in flyover country showed up at the box office on Ground Hog Day instead of December 21.
Take Sweeney Todd for example. The ads proclaim twice the producers' glad tidings that the film will be released “in time for Christmas.” Who doesn't want to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace with a musical heart warmer rated “R for graphic bloody violence”? Here's the summary:
The story of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is of a wrongfully imprisoned barber in Victorian England who sets out to seek revenge on the judge who imprisoned him. The plot is foreshadowed in the first lines of the opening number: “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd. His skin was pale and his eye was odd. He shaved the faces of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard of again.”
If that doesn't conjure up visions of sugar plums, you probably won't feel mercy mild from this one either: “Nothing says Merry Christmas like a juicy meat pie. Johnny Depp sings in this screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's bloody musical.”
Even the ghost of Christmas past would think that Sweeney sounds more suited for release on Bastille Day.
If you really believe that Hollywood is doing its bit to keep Christmas about Christmas, you'd probably think that “The Perfect Christmas” would be the perfect title for a movie about a single mother who wants Santa to bring her “a nice normal man for Christmas.” And you'd be wrong. In Hollywood, the perfect title is The Perfect Holiday, which is being released “in time for the holidays.” Apparently the Santa hint is supposed to keep us from showing up on the Ides of March. On second thought, maybe it's better the word “Christmas” doesn't appear in the title of this movie, in which the Christmas album of single mom's ex-husband, a rap star, contains the song “I Saw Mommy Cappin' Santa Claus.”
Then there's this release on Christmas Day. In Charlie Wilson's War, the anti-war armada is celebrating “the true story” of a “covert war” and a “deep sense of patriotism.” Like the promo says, “We couldn't make this up”:
Charlie Wilson's War is the true story of how a playboy congressman, a renegade CIA agent and a beautiful Houston socialite joined forces to lead the largest and most successful covert operation in history. Their efforts contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, with consequences that reverberate throughout the world today.
Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) was a bachelor congressman from Texas who had a habit of showing up in hot tubs with strippers and cocaine. His “Good Time Charlie” exterior, however, masked an extraordinary mind, a deep sense of patriotism and a passion for the underdog, and in the early 1980s the underdog was Afghanistan—which had just been brutally invaded by the Russians.
Charlie's longtime friend and patron and sometime lover was Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), one of the wealthiest women in Texas and a virulent anti-communist. Believing the American response to the Russian invasion was anemic at best, she prods Charlie into doing more for the Mujahideen (Afghan freedom fighters).
Charlie's partner in this uphill endeavor is CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a blue-collar operative in a company of Ivy League blue bloods. Together, the three of them—Charlie, Joanne and Gust—travel the world to form unlikely alliances among the Pakistanis, Israelis, Egyptians, arms dealers, law makers and a belly dancer.
Their success was remarkable. Funding for covert operations against the Soviets went from $5 million to $1 billion annually.
It's a Christmas miracle, Charlie Brown! This is from the folks who are still grinched about covert funding of the Contras in Nicaragua to wage war against the Cuban-backed Sandinistas. But that was the so-called Reagan doctrine, not to be confused with the Charlie Wilson cocaine, womanizing, arms dealing, rogue CIA doctrine.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and it was Wilson, Herring and Avrakotos who brought down the Evil Empire, not Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II. With Sweeney Todd and Charlie Wilson just in time for “Christmas,” the Hollywoodites at the left pole would like us to forget that they're anti-Christian, anti-war and anti-conservative.
Did I mention? They're just in time for “Christmas.”
Jan LaRue is a member of the Culture and Media Institute's Board of Advisors.