‘Slacker Uprising’ strength — and flaw — is Moore

Posted Oct. 19, 2008, at 7:49 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:02 a.m.

On DVD

SLACKER UPRISING, directed by Michael Moore, 97 minutes, not rated.

This week, viewers have two options to view George W. Bush and his administration, from two biased perspectives. For the most part, one movie is what audiences will expect. The other? Not so much.

The latter film is Oliver Stone’s “W.,” a surprisingly sympathetic, sometimes involving but ultimately rushed and disappointing movie that views Bush as something of a victim, offering theories, suppositions and facts about how Bush got into office, why he got into office and why he never should have gotten into office. It will be reviewed in Friday’s column.

Its companion movie, of sorts, is Michael Moore’s “Slacker Uprising,” which was released last year to film festivals under the title “Captain Mike Across America,” and which only three weeks ago was available for a free download on the Internet. It now is available on DVD.

The film is set on the cusp of the 2004 presidential election, when John Kerry lost his lead in the polls because of Bush’s effective Swift-boat smear campaign and Kerry’s own unwillingness to act against it until it was too late.

The film’s intent is stated at the start: “Fearing four more years of George W. Bush, a cadre of rock musicians, hip-hop artists and citizen groups went out on the road with their own ‘shadow campaigns’ to save John Kerry and the Democrats from themselves. This is the story of one filmmaker’s failed attempt to turn things around.”

The filmmaker, of course, is Moore, who took to the road in a divisive effort to visit 62 cities in 45 days. His intention wasn’t just to push his own agenda — get Bush out of office — but to stimulate the youth vote, which Moore saw as critical to promote the change he was seeking.

To do so, he took his tour to college campuses. At first, he did so without a ripple, but then, as the tour’s popularity grew, a tidal wave smashed forward as Republicans realized his influence was becoming more effective than they liked.

As the film explores, some in the Republican Party worked to quash Moore’s right to free speech. Wealthy businessmen in Utah and California, for instance, offered tens of thousands of dollars to key universities if they agreed to deny Moore his right to assemble. Moore called those efforts a bribe (and he’s right — they were), and while Utah stood firm against those efforts, the University of San Diego did not. How that backfired on it is one of the film’s highlights.

The movie’s strengths and, ironically, its flaws come down to Moore himself. The film’s major caveat is that this is Moore’s most self-aggrandizing movie to date. He is the director as rock star here, taking to massive arenas to soak in the admiration and revel in the publicity and jeers while spending little time doing what he did so well in one of his best films, “Sicko” — talking directly to the people he was concerned about and allowing them to speak. It’s unfortunate, but with the exception of some D-list celebrities, few of the citizens whom Moore is urging to raise their voices are allowed to do so here.

Still, when Moore speaks from the gut about the injustices he sees in the Iraq war, when he slams journalists for not asking the right questions of the Bush administration before we launched into that war, and when he rallies a crowd of young people in an effort to get them out and vote, he is terrific — a furious, famous citizen using his right to free speech and grateful he has the right to do so.

Grade: B-

On Blu-ray disc

ELF, directed by Jon Favreau, written by David Berenbaum, 97 minutes, rated PG.

The first few minutes of the funny comedy “Elf,” now out on Blu-ray disc, features a scene in which a dozen of the little darlings dart screaming from a burning treehouse reminiscent of the one inhabited by the Keebler elves.

In what’s apparently a cookie-cooking mishap, the elves’ ovens burst into flames, leaving the tree engulfed in fire and the terrified tiny ones running for their lives. If you listen carefully, you can hear one especially frazzled elf commenting that if only he had been a cobbler, none of this would have happened to him.

In the real world, nothing is funny about a fire. Still, the way it’s handled here is unexpected and uproarious. Though the scene has nothing to do with the film’s plot, it does help to establish the dark, absurdist tone director Jon Favreau favors early on.

In the movie, Will Ferrell is Buddy, a bumbling, 30-year-old man-child who, as an orphaned infant, crawled into Santa’s (Ed Asner) sack one Christmas Eve and was swept away to the North Pole. There, in spite of his lumbering, decidedly nonelfin size, he was raised as an elf by Papa Elf (a perfectly cast Bob Newhart), who eventually encourages Buddy to return to New York City to reconnect with his real-life father, Walter (James Caan), a difficult man who has long been a mainstay on Santa’s naughty list.

Upon arriving in Manhattan, Buddy takes a day job as a department store elf — and the movie gets a lift, flirting with the sort of comedy David Sedaris captured in his biting, hilarious series, “The Santaland Diaries.” Ultimately, Favreau sidesteps Sedaris’ caustic brand of cynicism, but not before getting in a few clever jabs at the gross commercialization of the Christmas season. It’s only then that he adopts a more family-friendly tone and bolsters what the holiday season is supposed to mean.

Mary Steenburgen, Daniel Tay and Zooey Deschanel offer support as Buddy’s loving stepmom, lonely half brother and love interest, respectively, but they have nothing on Ferrell, who finds himself in a movie that realizes his true gifts as a comedian.

Grade: B

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