Sunday, June 24, 2007

Noah's Ark & Wrathful Deity?

The comment by "harry" on my Anniversary #16 rant I find typically astute. Yes, Wrathful Deity could have been female (I did allow this hedge but went for the male), and I guess letting this Red SUV full-figured creature have his/her say allowed them to vent and me to let out hot air to pass along, blowing the invective into the compromised ozone.

Here's a related piece, by the reviewer Carina Chocano, whose name sounds like a Mexican chocolate bar, a MEChA activist, or a Culture Clash character, but who in replacing Manohla Dargis (what's with these monikers?) provides equally readable, if less PC-feminist, commentary on films for the increasingly dismal L.A. Times. Along with Tim Rutten, about whom I wrote recently, and longtime rock journalist Ann Powers who I guess has been delegated to replace Bob (I love U2! Best performances since Dylan. If not Elvis. Brian Wilson: what a genius. And did I tell you about these beat groups the Beatles and the Stones?) Hilburn as resident pop music guru, the Calendar section survives if not thrives. At least compared to Kalefa Sanneh (names!) for pop at the NY Times, along with eloquent Virginia Heffernan (the other day she gave a rather generous take on Rosie O'Donnell's video blog), ruminative Edward Rothstein's "Connections," and testy John Tierney (a Joe Queenan- Penn Jillette for neo-cons; Like Penn & Teller's BS, I may not agree with his methods but his skewering of sacred PC cows I find a delight. But Penn swears every ^&^#(*ing sentence.) makes the Paper of Record a must-read.

Chocano reviews "Evan Almighty," which while in the trailer I saw (Leo says that's basically the whole movie) looks dull if not as disastrous as "License to Wed" with unctuous "Rev. Frank" played by Robin Williams stretched out between erstwhile newlyweds disguised as Mandy Moore and some guy-- so funny that the commercial has the groom-to-be hit in the head by a football. So hard that he falls over! The hijinks in "Evan" aspires to wisdom cloaked in wit. Leo caught one joke embedded about a marquee for a film, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin Mary." "Evan," a honcho laments in Nikke Finke's column in the also increasingly dismal (although it never had risen much to fall from) LA Weekly that this $210 million comedy, the most expensive of its genre ever, has "Awareness" buzz but falters in "Unaided Awareness"-- alas, how can a movie with God, Steve Carell, and 3,000 animals NOT get parents to take their children, whines the unnamed Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man. (Who now could be a Woman. Apologies to "harry" and Jagger-Richards or Nanker Phelge. Names!)

The movie combines a scripted and visualized Bodhi Tree infusion concocted by such puffy flacks, easy on guilt, heavy on saccharine, and nix a Wrathful Deity who'd destroy all us vermin due to our fornicating and infidelities. Better to have an emasculated Morgan Freeman putter about, as if at home amidst the chakras and tisanes. My wife at dinner, where I politely chose $10 milk & cookies rather than a tisane, last night for our anniversary let me know that despite being racist and classist, at least I am not sexist and embrace in spirit those of any preference.

GOD may be in all things, but lately he seems especially at home in a certain kind of big-budget studio comedy aimed at a very particular market. That would be, apparently, the market that loves its zingy Bible puns and its adorable CGI versions of all God's creatures but doesn't want to be made to feel too bad about driving that SUV or heating 6,000 square feet in a just-sprouted development.

In Tom Shadyac's "Evan Almighty," as in its predecessor, "Bruce Almighty," the supreme being spends a lot of time adjusting the attitudes of middle-class everymen who have strayed from the path of righteousness. Not that they've strayed very far, mind you — the God of studio comedies is not really all that judgmental, preferring to overlook the lighter, middle-class sins so as not to alienate his core fan base.

Here, he's once again portrayed by Morgan Freeman as one part groovy yoga instructor, one part Vegas magician and one part high-end New Age life coach in Deepak Chopra pajamas. No part of him, however, suggests the Old Testament deity who, upon deciding that his creation is a big, fat disappointment, wipes it out and starts all over again. A God that vengeful and cranky may be OK for the Bible, but nobody expects him to carry a $175-million movie.

The eminently lovable Steve Carell, on the other hand, is just the man for that job, no matter how schmucky the character. Carell plays Evan, the preening, buffoonish Buffalo, N.Y., anchorman despised by Bruce in the first movie. He's just been elected to Congress on the "change the world" ticket, and the movie gets going as he piles his family — wife Joan ("Gilmore Girls' " Lauren Graham, minus her personality) and three standard-issue movie sons — into a shiny new Hummer. No sooner has he settled into his new northern Virginia home, a day-old McMansion (with kitchen counters lined with old-growth Brazilian cherrywood) in the brand-new development of Prestige Crest, than Evan starts receiving divine hints (a Bible verse on the clock radio, a crate of antediluvian tools on the doorstep and a pallet of lumber on the lawn). Then God shows up and orders a custom boat.

[. . . .]

It would help if we had any idea what Evan is supposed to be converting to. Will he renounce the suburban assault vehicle and the neo-Colonial ego monument, buy a Prius and settle into a more modest, say, 1,200 square feet of solar-paneled eco-living? Well, no. Will he sponsor bills to abolish the teaching of evolution in schools? Not that either.

He will, however, adopt a stray dog. And not just any dog. A dog that went potty on his lawn! This, God tells him, is what it's all about. Clearly, the God of "Evan Almighty" is a loving God, a forgiving God, a God who knows better than to discuss politics or religion at the box office, a God with unbelievably low expectations of humanity.

So what, then, is with the very impressive computer-generated wall of water that arrives as promised? That would be a public reprimand to the bad guy whose comeuppance is nigh. Though, given the limited scope of destruction, it's unclear why rhinos and elephants are called upon to board the ship. Then again, there's so much that doesn't make sense in "Evan Almighty" that the issue of wherefore the African fauna feels like a quibble. On the one hand, it's a thoroughly hedged pro-environment message. On the other, it's a Christian parable without an ethical center or moral lesson — it's zeitgeisty!

My P.S. The image is from Googling the review, I find four out of the five "sponsored links" about God. Two invite me to find out more about Him. Two threaten me with the End Times although one predicts the Rapture.

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