Forgo the Christmas sweater and see Zemeckis’ ‘A Christmas Carol’

Film review (with gratuitous political commentary)

Charles Dickens character Scrooge played by Jim Carrey is shown ...

In this film publicity image released by Disney, from left, ...

In stills from Robert Zemeckis’ version of “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge, voiced by Jim Carrey, is confronted by the tortured ghost of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley and is shown by the Ghost of Christmas Past the love that he gave up for the pursuit of money.

God bless Robert Zemeckis for bringing us “A Christmas Carol” at the same time that Glenn Beck (assuming that he really writes all of the books that are released under his name) has released his children’s picture book The Christmas Sweater (yes, I know, it’s frightening, a children’s book by the likes of Glenn Beck; if it is not a sign of the coming Apocalypse, then I don’t know what is).

Full admission: I would never purchase one of Glenn Beck’s books. I would never financially support a stupid white man, a dry drunk who claims that he is all about traditional values. Yes, Glenn Beck wants to drag all of us, kicking and screaming, back to the good old days — you know, the days when stupid white men like he, drunk on power, had complete control of everything, and we uppity women, non-whites, non-heterosexuals and non-Christians knew our place. (Um, yeah, that’s why if I had a child, I wouldn’t allow him or her to possess a copy of anything by Glenn Beck. Because I truly care about family values, and white supremacism, racism, misogyny, homphobia, xenophobia and “Christo”fascism are not family values.)

Anyway, although I’d never read anything by Beck, amazon.com does give this description of The Christmas Sweater (the full “novel” that the children’s picture book, released a year after the “novel” was released, is based upon) :

In Beck’s debut novel, the conservative radio and TV host makes a weak attempt at a holiday classic in the vein of It’s a Wonderful Life.

Despite his single mother’s financial hardships, 12-year-old Eddie is certain this Christmas he will receive his much-desired Huffy bike. To his dismay, what he finds under the tree is “a stupid, handmade, ugly sweater” that his mother carefully modeled after those she can’t afford at Sears (one of four places she keeps part-time jobs).

Eddie tosses the sweater and insults his mother before the two go visit his grandparents at their farmouse. On the drive home, though, Eddie’s exhausted mother falls asleep at the wheel and crashes, dying instantly. Sent to live with his grandparents, an increasingly bitter and angry Eddie lashes out at his accommodating guardians, engages in typical teenage angst and grapples with belief in God.

For all his focus on traditional family virtues like respect, love and forgiveness, Beck’s lightweight parable cruises on predictability, repetition and sentimentality.

That’s priceless: A materialistic baby boomer like Glenn Beck is going to lecture our kiddies hypocritically that they shouldn’t want stuff. Like the likes of Beck would pick the homemade sweater over the Huffy bike. And it’s incredibly and sickly ironic that Beck and his Fox “News” fully support the system of wage slavery in which a single mother would have to work more than one job, yet here is Beck writing about the tragedy of a single mother who has to work more than one job.

And what kind of kid’s book has the protagonist’s mother dying in a car wreck? Beck is one sick and twisted piece of shit, and I wouldn’t want my kids reading something by a sick and twisted piece of shit.

But I digress.

There is egomaniac Glenn Beck, who likens himself to Thomas Paine — yes, he actually released a book actually titled Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine — and then there is the real deal, Charles Dickens.

Wikipedia notes that Dickens, who lived from 1812 to 1870, “was the most popular English novelist of the Victorian era and one of the most popular of all time. He created some of literature’s most memorable characters. His novels and short stories have never gone out of print. A concern with what he saw as the pressing need for social reform is a theme that runs throughout his work.”

Yup. While Beck writes a story about a boy who must feel awfully guilty that he wanted a bicycle over the sweater made for him by his mother, who works in sweat shops that Beck and Fox “News” support and who then dies in a grisly car wreck, Dickens was about doing something about the sweat shops.

Dickens was not about lecturing the downtrodden to just shut the fuck up and thank God for whatever they do have, which, from what I can tell, is the central message of The Christmas Sweater, a message that the plutocrats and corporatocrats are only too happy to have their Darth Vader in Glenn Beck deliver to our impressionable kiddies. (Further, why do the corporatists like Beck incessantly advertise their products and then criticize anyone for actually wanting one of their products, like a Huffy bike? They can’t fucking have it both ways.)

“A Christmas Carol” is, let’s face it, socialist.

The main character of “A Christmas Carol” is the Dick-Cheney-like Ebenezer Scrooge, who, when he sees the damage that his miserliness has caused others, does a 180 and decides to stop stealing other people’s money from them via the legalized thievery that is called “capitalism” (a.k.a. “just business”) and decides to give their rightful wealth back to them instead.

That’s hardly the Christmas message that the likes of “Fox” News’ Glenn Beck want to put out there, that the plutocrats should share the wealth that they have stolen and thus ease the suffering of the many around them. Why, that’s — socialist!

(Of course, Jesus Christ himself preached, over and over again, in black and white in the New Testament, about the evils of the rich [my favorite being his declaration that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven] and the virtue of helping the less fortunate, so Jesus must have been a socialist, too. And doesn’t Christmas come from Jesus Christ?)

But we can’t have a socialist/“socialist” — that is, a truly Christian — Christmas message put out there, so it’s the likes of Beck, with his fucking Christmas sweater, who are to save the day for the ultra-super-rich.

OK, my political commentary is over, so let me dive into Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol.” I just wanted to put it into some sociopolitical context first.

Zemeckis, who brought us the “Back to the Future” trilogy and “Forrest Gump,” lately has been giving us computer-aided fare, with “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and now “A Christmas Carol.”

I’ve seen all three of those films, and, like Roger Ebert declared that he would do in his review of Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol,” I won’t regurgitate the plot of “A Christmas Carol,” which everyone already knows, but I will talk about the technological aspects of Zemeckis’ latest.

Zemeckis’ craftspeople are getting better at capturing realistic human expressions (especially human eyes), but they’re not fully there yet. I found the creepy unnaturalness of the characters’ CGI eyes in “The Polar Express” to be too much to even be able to get into the film (which, if memory serves, I saw at an IMAX theater, so it was even bigger and even more unintentionally scary).

“Beowulf” was an improvement on the CGI technology that Zemeckis uses these days, but “Beowulf” suffers from a poor storyline (isn’t Beowulf what high schoolers dread they’ll have to read?) and a poor screenplay (as well as from testosterone overload, a la “300”). Of all of the stories that Zemeckis could have adapted, why Beowulf?

No, we didn’t need another “A Christmas Carol,” either. You’re right. We didn’t. Except that we probably did. In these BushCheneyCorp-induced times of economic collapse and the subsequent national environment of fear and uncertainty that that collapse has caused, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of the fact that the reason that there is so much poverty and suffering around us is that there are so many Ebenezer Scrooges around us.

Of course, Dickens’ story relies on four spirits to induce Ebenezer Scrooge to change his ways. In our case, we can’t count on spirits preventing the plutocrats from completely destroying our nation (although I must wonder if the ghost of Ronald Reagan would replace the spirit of Dickens’ Jacob Marley were a ghost to appear before the Scrooges of today). We, the people, might have to take matters into our own hands — the threat of which is why we have such things as “Fox” News and its henchmen like Glenn Beck.

(There I go again…)

Anyway, Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol” has the eye thing down, at least where it comes to the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. Zemeckis’ CGI Scrooge is quite humanlike, but it’s the other characters, especially the extras in the streets, on whom the CGI technicians presumedly spent less time and effort, that have that unnatural, not-quite-human look that we have seen in “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf.”

Zemeckis makes the burly Ghost of Christmas Present surprisingly hunky, replete with a copious amount of apparently proudly displayed strawberry-blond chest hair (although apparently Zemeckis was fairly faithful to the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Present as he appeared in Dickens’ original novel), and Zemeckis interprets the Ghost of Christmas Past interestingly — as a human-candle hybrid, with the head of the ghost being the flame of a white candle that occasionally flickers as the ghost speaks (which I, like Ebert did, found to be an interesting special effect).

Much of Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol” is like a roller-coaster ride, with the latter three spirits zipping Ebenezer here and there, over rooftops and landscapes, in order to show him where he fucked up his life in the past, how his miserliness has harmed others in the present, and how his miserliness will affect him in the future if he doesn’t change his ways drastically.

The greatest liberty that Zemeckis took with “A Christmas Carol” is the segment in which he has Scrooge shrink to the size of a mouse during his time with the Ghost of Christmas Future. At first I took umbrage with this liberty — Dickens never shrunk Scrooge! — and other reviewers have said that they didn’t like it, but Zemeckis at least ultimately makes it work, especially when the mini-Scrooge finds himself in the home of his impoverished maid, who is talking to her husband about Scrooge after his death.  

Jim Carrey (who also gave us the live-action Grinch, recall) did an excellent job voicing Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. (Well, OK, he is credited with being the voice of the grim-reaper-like Ghost of Christmas Future, but I don’t recall that that ghost says a word…) Why Carrey has taken so much shit from reviewers, proclaiming in their sheep-like unison that One Jim Carrey is enough!, I don’t know. Jealousy over Carrey’s talents, maybe?

“A Christmas Carol,” although fully titled “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” (shudder — that a corporation would co-opt the anti-corporate Dickens is sickening), probably isn’t for small children. I found the slack-jawed ghost of Jacob Marley to be at least moderately disturbing, so I can’t imagine that most small children wouldn’t find it to be even more disturbing.

But most older children and adults — except for the plutocrats and corporatocrats and their supporters, of course, who equate the easing of poverty with “socialism” and who would regard Ebenezer Scrooge as a Great American Capitalist Hero — will enjoy Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol,” not only for its technological achievements (and you must see it in 3-D if it’s playing near you in 3-D), but also for the fact that it remains faithful to the spirit of Dickens’ short novel — which is the true spirit of Christmas.

Fuck Glenn Beck and his fucking Christmas sweater.

My grade: A

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