Dogma–After You See It

4:31 p.m.     12/28/04

Oh, God.  I just got done watching Dogma—which wasn’t the movie I was going to watch, but that DVD wouldn’t play.  So, instead of the fairyland of Peter Pan and that dastardly Captain Hook—yeah, of Wendy, too—I settled in to listen to The Voice of the One True God, er, watch a different movie.  A friend of mind lent this DVD to me because of my well-documented growing obsession with all things Alan Rickman.  I was leery because I hadn’t liked Clerks, and I don’t much care for Matt Damon or Ben Affleck.  It was only when I began watching the movie that I realized I had liked the boys in Good Will Hunting, though that seemed like eons ago.  Still, I didn’t think I’d care much for this flick, and was I ever pleasantly surprised.

First—the negatives.  Well, the biggest negative.  Jay (Jason Mewes) and his puerile mouth.  I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but I got tired of his constant attempt to get laid in the most inappropriate times.  He is too much of a one-note character to garner much interest, and he actually detracts from the movie much of the time.  The few times when he has something worthwhile to say—such as his suggestion to talk to the cardinal about shutting down the church—are far overwhelmed by the sheer inanity of his comments.  I would have culled his remarks by two-thirds and given those lines to Silent Bob (Kevin Smith).  Yes, that was a joke.

The star casting has both a negative and a positive effect for me.  The negative is the ‘oh, look, it’s so-and-so’ factor.  Every time a new famous face popped up, I’d take note of it.  This jerks me forcibly out of the movie, reminding me that these are Actors.  I don’t have much quibble with the larger roles being acted by famous people, but what about the small parts such as Janeane Garofalo’s role?  You could have made the nun do a double-bill, cutting costs in half.  God also might have been better as an no-name rather than a pretty famous one.  I admit I found Alanis Morissette pretty fucking hysterical as God, but having her play the part specifically doesn’t really add much to the performance.

Note to self—do not read reviews of movies I like as I will be befuddled, perplexed and confused.  People thought this movie was too scattered and/or too populated.  Should have cut out some of the characters.  I like the plethora of characters running around!  There’s too much violence.  Hello, it’s the fucking apocalypse.  I think it’s safe to assume there’ll be blood at the apocalypse, people!  Too over-the-top, too whatever.  This movie isn’t perfect by far, but it’s a pretty damn good little movie.  It’s not anti-Catholic as some seem to think, but it does ask that you question your faith so it’s something more than a hand-me-down tradition.

I like the lead, Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), because she’s low-keyed, but evocative.  One of the reviews thought she was detached and disinterested, but it’s not true.  She is in shock—as anyone would be if she found out she descended from Christ himself.  Well, not from Christ, but from his sibling.  Still, pretty impressive.  I think her reactions are quite realistic, but maybe that’s only because I imagine myself reacting in the same fashion.  Plus, she has a really sexy voice.  The only difference is that if I were infected with the last scion of God, well, I would have quite the different reaction to that than does Bethany.  Oh, and I have a minor quibble with her name.  Bethany doesn’t have the same ring to it as does Jesus Christ.  I mean, Bethany?  But I guess that’s the point—she’s just a normal person.  Except she’s the last scion of God.  Until the end of the movie.

But I digress.  Rather, I jump ahead of myself.  This movie is funny from the get-go.  To watch Ben (Bartleby) and Matt (Loki) interact is to remember how good they are together.  In fact, I like them a lot as two renegade angels trying to get back into heaven on a loophole.  The reason behind the justification for the premise of this movie wouldn’t stand up in a theological court, but who cares?  I get to watch madcap comedy as it cavorts across the screen.  I get to see Selma Hayek’s (Serendipity) nearly naked breasts.  I get to see a really disturbing visual of Alan Rickman with no penis—angels don’t have genitalia, it appears.  Just imagine if I were drunk how this movie would rock even harder!  So, no, it doesn’t really bother me that I don’t know how the demons found God who should be able to cover his tracks better than that if even his own angels don’t know where he is.  My mind is on higher things!

One thing that does bother me, however, is how easy it is to figure out what happened to God, but that’s a minor point.  I like the three hockey henchmen of the demon, Azrael (Jason Lee), just as I like the not-so-sly references to non-Catholic gods such as Loki.  He is, as you may know, the son of Odin in Norse mythology.  He is the trickster god, eternally childlike.  Here, he is the angel of death who smites in the name of God—rather, he was before he quit.  He is played brilliantly by Matt Damon who brings a childlike innocent to the role—though he doesn’t look very Norse.  I mean, the glee in which he dispenses of the fallen is almost, well, angelic in its purity.  He has very strict standards.  He will not kill an innocent or someone who has done nothing wrong.  Of course, he wanted to kill someone who didn’t say ‘God bless you’ when he sneezed, so his definition of ‘something wrong’ is pretty broad.

I think the thing about this movie is that you just have to accept it for what it is.  If you try to expect it to go in a certain direction, you won’t be satisfied.  Yes, it’s pretty easy to know what’s going to happen before it happens, but the movie is such a joy to watch that this matters little in the end.  I could do without the shit-demon, but it fits in the movie—just as the fact that Silent Bob can spray him into submission with something that kills strong odors fits the movie.  Would the movie be as good without it?  Definitely.  Does having the shit-demon in the movie appreciably hurt the movie?  Not really.

I also like how Kevin Smith—the director as well as Silent Bob—gets in his digs at racism and sexism through the artful guise of comedy.  Having Chris Rock as the thirteenth apostle is only short of brilliant.  To have him rein it in and give an almost subdued performance?  Well, that takes Smith one step closer to the nirvana of filmmaking.  Look, I enjoy Rock’s diatribes as much as the next person, but this movie shows there’s more to him than just screaming at the top of his lungs and acting the fool.  This movie demonstrates he can play more than just one kind of character, and I find it refreshing.

This is not a deep movie, by any means.  It’s pretty simple once you boil it down.  Organized religion is in danger of ossifying.  You need to decide what you believe for yourself.  You go through a lot of shit—sometimes, literally—before overcoming.  In fact, it’s pretty pro-religion in that is has God at the end making everything all right.  This, my friends, is my biggest gripe with the movie.  I know, I know, it’s Grinch-like to complain about a happy ending, but, but, but….I just think it would have been more powerful if Bethany hadn’t been revived at the end.  To me, that’s really what the movie is about.  Dying for something you believe in—for the greater good.  I feel as if Kevin Smith is channeling his inner Steven Spielberg at the end by giving us the warm fuzzies, including Bethany being pregnant.  Sure, she saved the world, but why is she chosen to live when others are left to die?  A bit too pat for my taste.

I have to give big ups to Affleck whom I’ve forgotten actually knew how to act once upon a time.  His portrayal of Bartleby is great to watch, especially as Bartleby slowly starts to lose his mind.  At first, he simply wants to go home after ages of being banished to Wisconsin for daring to disobey God.  Then, he realizes what he wants is revenge.  He’s turned into another Lucifer, in other words, and he does a good job of it.  Oh, Mr. Almost-J-Lo.  Look to your past in order to rise again.  Fear not the comedy and try not so hard to be a Serious Actor.  This role fits him like a glove, and he makes it his own.  Oh, and he was right about something.  It’s not fair that we humans get to choose our own destiny—so we think—while the angels have to follow the Word of God.  Something else to think about.

Some people suggest trimming the movie, but I like the length.  I think the wandering, peripatetic route taken by everyone to the denouement is apropos of the journey we all take in general.  Very few of us step foot on a path and continue in a linear fashion without once falling to the wayside or jumping off.  I urge those of you who didn’t like this movie to give it another shot—to see if you like it any better the second time around.

Before I wrap this up—I have to praise Alan Rickman, of course, for his usual fine performance.  His arch yet sarcastic approach to Metatron, the Voice of God is screamingly funny, whereas his later tenderness with a freaked-out Bethany when she realizes she’s the chosen one is equally touching.  Maybe it’s the British accent which can make anything sound important, but more likely it’s his portrayal.  He has one tiny acting tic that I just notice which I’m not going to mention, but I hope he keeps it in check.  Oh, the scene in the Mexican café is very funny with him spitting out the tequila because he’s not allowed to drink.  A small touch of creativity where it’s least expected.

Put this movie on your Netflix Queue, regardless of your religion.  Put it there regardless of what kind of movie you usually like.  If you give it a chance, it just might give you a few new ideas about how you want to navigate this silly thing called life.

4:34 p.m.   1/11/05

Addendum:  I just got the special two-disk package and while I’m delighted with the extra footage, I am more than disappointed that there isn’t any Alan in it.  Of course, I realize that he’s a genius who makes few mistakes, but still.  Is one deleted scene or one outtake too much to ask for?  Apparently so.  There was an interesting tidbit about him, however.  Seems the wings he wore weighed a hundred pounds, and he threw his back while wearing them.  Ouch!  The things actors do for their craft.  It is also apparent that Kevin Smith has a very high regard for Alan, as he should.

I have to say that I agree with most of the deleted scenes being deleted save one.  There is a very moving scene in which we find out more about the reason Bethany can’t have children, and it’s a keeper.  I realize it doesn’t advance the plot, but it’s important to have that kind of backstory.  The rest of it is way too talky and best viewed outside the movie.  As for the criticism of the restaurant scene not being more action-oriented—i.e., seeing Bartleby and Loki doing their thing in a flashback—I disagree.  I like the ‘talkiness’ of the scene, and not just because Alan is in it.  It’s another chance to learn more about Bethany in her reaction to the information Metatron is dribbling to her.

I enjoy the homey nature of the commentary as well as the intros Kevin and Vincent do for each deleted scene.  It’s quite jarring at first to hear Kevin swear so much because that’s something not to be found in other commentaries, but it’s much appreciated.  I don’t like the high-falutin’ tone some of the extras for other movies carry, and it’s refreshing to have a bonus disc that is real.  It’s like sitting down with the director and just shooting the shit.  I appreciate that.  I also like the irreverent tone, but that’s only to be expected.  Look, this is filmmaking, not rocket science.  I hate when any artist is asked to defend every little detail of his/her art.  I know if I were ever to be interviewed and asked why I used a certain word or a certain phrase, my answer would most likely be, ‘Fuck all if I know.’  There doesn’t have to be meaning in every little thing, and sometimes focusing on the minutiae takes away from the big picture.

This gets back to my protest that people thought this movie was too long.  Sure, there are some scenes which might not make sense in and of themselves.  Sure, a few of the scenes are a bit self-important, but one has to look at the whole.  Not every word needs to be brilliant.  Not every scene needs to be great.  The only scene I would have taken out is the shit-monster scene, and that’s solely because I found it distasteful and not funny.  I’m really glad Kevin took the second scene with it out as it would have been way too much, and it would have ruined the ending completely.

I’m also glad to know that he had planned on leaving the scene bloody at the end, but didn’t have the time to shoot it that way.  That makes me feel better as I didn’t like that part of the ending.  I don’t mind that he refuses to answer questions such as, ‘Did Bartleby make it to heaven?’ because I don’t think a director is obligated to answer every question for the viewer.  We Americans are way too spoiled.  We want to be spoon-fed everything and not have to think for ourselves.  It’s the only explanation as to how that idiot got elected president.  Whoa, how the hell did I get to Bush in a review about a movie?  Because he’s easy to blame for everything.

Anyway, the extras are fascinating more for what they say about Kevin Smith than they do about the movie.  I enjoyed watching the deleted scenes, but I more enjoyed hearing Kevin and Vincent—one of the members of View Askew Productions—discuss the scenes and why they didn’t keep them.  I also enjoyed listening to them diss Ben Affleck.  I liked seeing Kevin’s wife and baby girl.  I couldn’t quite tell if it was true that he was a virgin when he married and that he’d only seen one woman naked—because he’s Catholic—but it was interesting to hear.  Finally, I can’t believe they received death threats because of this movie.  It’s a fucking movie, people.  Even God would have enjoyed this one.

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