DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Dogma. "The Omega Code" “Megiddo” “God’s Army” “Bonhoeffer  The RaptureLeft Behind  Joshua, (and “Wisconsin Death Trip  Bernadette  Millennium”, “Echoes of Innocence”, “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc”), “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, “The Exorcist

 

Title:  Dogma

Release Date:  1999

Nationality and Language: USA/UK/Germany, English

Running time: 130 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Lions Gate

Director; Writer:  Kevin Smith (direction, writing)

Producer:

Cast:   Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, , George Carlin, Selma Hayek, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Chris Rock

Technical: Panavision 2.3

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  Sales culture and artistic temperament

Review:

 

Movie reviews of "Dogma"” Dogma, distributed by Lions Gate Pictures, starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, George Carlin, Selma Hayek, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Chris Rock; written by Kevin Smith. MPAA Rating: Hard "R" (borders on NC-17); filmed in Panavision with full digital stereo; grade: 9.0/10

Well, this big-looking black comedy, satire and "road movie" works for me. It’s pretty long and ambitious for a “comedy.” And what gets poked fun at, is not just Catholic "dogma" but the whole notion of social propriety. Definitely not for kids.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play angels Loki and Bartleby. Our "rooting interest" in this male couple is that they make it through the doors of a certain straight, mainstream Catholic church and return to Heaven (from Wisconsin, perhaps around the Sparta tunnels), while keeping their full free will and personhood. Well, if they could get away with this, they would contradict, through mathematical proof reducto ad absurdum, the existence of the Universe. By the way, his gets us to the question that some mathematicians and philosophers resist proof by contradiction. So much for my aborted Ph.D. in math (I never went beyond my Masters).

Along their journey they meet a whole host of energetic, rebellious young people, complete with body art, bad language and motion. Nobody stays calm. For example, take the hockey triplets who bully little old ladies while razor-sharp digital music plays in the background.

Loki and Bartleby seem like the perfect "male couple." There is a real psychological bond between them, stronger than a lot of conventional marriages. There is a conversation (leading to a fight, of course) on an Amtrak train (not the Orient Express) dining car, where they are asked about "their relationship" (over centuries, since the creation of Genesis -- sort of like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in David Geffen's 1992 film Interview with a Vampire, and then some) and whether they met in the military. With proper deference to the rules of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Bartleby (Affleck) announces, "No, I'm not gay." Sure, he rebuts the presumption and avoids administrative discharge. (Can angels or other non-humans serve "openly" in the military? Well, dolphins do!) Maybe, to him, the word "gay" means what it means to Nietzche (The Gay Science).

Loki (Damon -- "the masculine one") is the livelier and more charismatic of the two (just as in Good Will Hunting). ("Beautiful Ben" Affleck is such a pretty boy that he needs to fly and get his wings -- extra feathery limbs -- shot off). He does play the Exterminating Angel who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (no, Judge Bork, we're not slouching towards it). He blows away (shoots) anyone whom he catches in sin. That includes mass execution of a Board of Directors of a major entertainment company. And it's funny. That will rub a lot of viewers the wrong way, to make terrorism funny, especially in the context of an almost Nazi stormtrooper purefication.

And there's other stuff. Like the golem monster, made of feces that erupt from a toilet like one in Trainspotting. Or the eunuchoid Cardinal… well, he shows his private parts on camera, and he's got absolutely nothing, not even any hair. (Hence, NC-17) Maybe he played in Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Definitely, his nudity and unveiling appeals to the prurient interest.

THE OMEGA CODE

The other major religious movie around at the end of 1999 (besides End of Days) is The Omega Code, a PG-13 adventure (a more restrictive rating than the Christian producers wanted) released by New Providence and made by Trinity Broadcasting Network. This film is well photographed on location in Israel and Rome (regular screen size) and digital stereo. The plot hinges around a "Dead Sea Scroll" concept in which the Bible is re-translated with the help of a secret code, and turns out to be an even more explicit formula for Dispensations, Hal Lindsey style. My review of this movie is mixed (8.0/10).

Some of the script is pretty predictable and wooden. Michael York, as Stone Alexander, who starts out as prime minister of the European Union and gradually conquers "Gaia" -- the world -- with his peacemaking efforts (including once again safeguarding the oil supply from political shutoff) until he turns out to be the Anti-Christ, is no Ross Perot at all; he's a bit foppish and stereotyped, to the point that he wouldn't fit in a James Bond 007 movie. But the hero, a young Dr. Gillen Lane, played by Casper Van Dien, is something else. Like the real Tony Robbins, his forte is motivational seminars. He must have kept running and lifting weights while in graduate school. He is determined to make his name for himself in, say, his late twenties and he looks like a young man passing right through his biological summer solstice, as he jumps over chairs to race onto his television stage. And he is a good person. Well, he gives up his family (including a three-year-old daughter -- he must have accepted married housing while a grad student) to travel the world with Alexander, grow his motivational tape and seminar business and take his own cut of ruling the world. He's not the sort of guy who needs marriage to be motivated (and this is odd in a "Christian" film). He doesn't put "family first." There are a lot of college men like him these days.

Fortunately, he sees Alexander's scheme in time to really get to save the world for Heaven, well, sort of. In the last scene of the film, he gets up in his condo in Heaven, alone, ready for a life of leisure, condo board meetings, and working out. He'll remain a young man forever. What a fantasy!!

It's interesting to me to watch movies that postulate that non-human entities with mediated free will invest in our own freedom as individual humans.

There was a sequel to this film, Megiddo, released in Sept. 2001 y Gener8Xion, unintentionally right after the tragic attacks.  The film carries on the Anti-Christ story with a tale of two brothers.  The script is corny, but the special effects at the end in the Battle of Armageddon are spectacular, and the goodness of the younger “good” brother (Michael Biehn) really comes through, even when he is 16 years old and is “tempted” at a party in Italy.  But I don’t see the Anti_Christ in the Eruopearn Union, sorry.

GOD’S ARMY 

Review moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mlatter.htm

BONHOEFFER  (2 films)

Still another important church film is Bonhoeffer, from the German Studio TNR and promoted by Augsburg Fortress Press and the Lutheran Church.  Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer went back to Germany in 1939 to challenge Hitler’s perversion of Christianity, and would be put to death shortly before the liberation by the Allies.  His gentle philosophy reminds one of M. Scott Peck: “It is worse to be evil than to do evil,” and “it is better for an honorable man to lie than for a liar to tell the truth.”  The slow movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony pervades the most intense scenes.  Much is made of anti-intellectualism.  In several scenes, Bonhoeffer is taunted for talking as if he were “better” than the average person.  I ran into that kind of criticism when I reviewed the movie Perfect Storm!  But this attitude reminds one of Mao’s cultural revolution.

Bonhoeffer’s ideas are interesting, particularly when he talks about socialization. He believe that a person’s time alone is important, but that a person’s actions or cultural intent, when he is not accountable, can be extremely damaging to other persons in a Christian body, without the person’s influence even becoming detectable.  

There is a documentary: (2003, Journey.Firstrun, dir. Martin Doblemeier, 91 min). An abridged version of 60 min was aired on Maryland Public Television on Monday Feb. 5, 2006. The documentary stresses Bonhoeffer’s role in the attempted assassination of Hitler. Bonhoeffer would be hanged.  

WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP

 More evidence of British filmmakers’ interest in USA regionalia is the little documentary Wisconsin Death Trip (1999, 76 min.) from Arena films, directed and written by James Marsh, produced by Maureen Ryan, narrated by Ian Holm. (“Death Trap” would have made more sense as a title.)  Well, Damon and Affleck do not make a cameo appearance as permanent residents of the mitten state.  This town Black River Falls (today, halfway between Tomah and Eau Claire on I-94) was the greatest place in the nation in the 1890’s.  Supposedly, according to my own relatives, the world has gone to hell and a handbasket since then.  But people in those days had their psychological problems, enough to get committed against their wills and carried off to Mendota State. The girl who snorts cocaine (legal then) and then breaks windows (she’d be a good burglar), the teenage boys who amount to little terrorists, the man who hangs himself (like Night of the Living Dead??)  … that was the world of good, old-fashioned morality.  Chilling black-and-white photography (Blair-Witch-like), broken up by the four seasons, plus glorious Technicolor of present day Wisconsin, where those avenging angels from Dogma still live, forever.  Maybe we do live in a much better world. Would Lions Gate or Artisan pick up this one? It’s not exactly a horror movie.

THE RAPTURE (1991, New Line, dir. Michael Tolkin) presents a young woman Sharon (Mimi Rogers) with a boring job and propensity to cruise the singles dance bars. Gradually she learns that a conspiracy to bring about the end of the known world may exist. David Duchovny (The “X Files”) plays Randy. At the end, The Rapture (I might have called this “The Rapture of the Believers) really happens, with jail walls crumbling at the sound of a trumpet.  When I moved to Dallas (where they “save souls”) from NYC in 1979, I first encountered people who took the idea of The Rapture literally, and I would hear debates about post-tribulationism and pre-tribulationism on the radio. 

LEFT BEHIND

Another religious picture (2000) from the Canadian Studio Cloud 10 (Cloud Ten) portrays the Rapture, with Kirk Cameron and Chelsea Noble (married in real life), based on the suddenly popular novel by fundamentalists Tim La Haye and Jerry Jenkins.  The 1991 film “The Rapture” with David Duchovny (reviewed above) might be a better film with the critics, but what was interesting here was the Buck Williams character, played by Cameron, a charismatic, energetic young reporter (“GNN”) seeking the “truth” who, amazingly, has never heard enough Sunday school to realize that the sudden evaporation of 150 million people around the globe (leaving their clothes intact, as one amusing conversation on the airplane that starts it) could have a Biblical explanation. The AntiChrist shows up, all right, and presents Buck (hardly the Buck from Chuck and Buck) the inevitable problem of knowing good and evil—and knowing (after a shoot-em-up scene in a “board room” that reminds one of Dogma) that he wasn’t “saved” despite his wholesomeness.

JOSHUA (2002, Artisan/Crusader, dir. Jon Purdy, based on the novel by Joseph Girzone, screenplay adaptation my Brad Mirman, G, 91 min) presents the idea of a minimalist second coming. A gentle young man Joshua (Tony Goldwyn—the real-life actor was born in 1960 but looks fit indeed) visits a small town of Auburn and lends helping hands to various people, especially in building a new community church. Gradually it becomes apparent that he may be more than an ordinary person, as eventually he raises someone from the dead (from a cardiac arrest) after he has fallen from a church steeple and been covered as gone. He raises controversy with local Catholic leaders, believing that the Gospel is a gentle one of love rather than a book of laws. The local priests also resent his questioning their authority and teachings with what they see as his own thoughts (such is the attitude of the Vatican, all the more with the new Pope Benedict XVI). I’m not sure that I understand the connection specifically with Joshua in the Old Testament (after Moses, when the Jews returned to the Promised Land). Eventually, Joshua goes to Rome and visits the Vatican, having an embrace with a cardinal that seems almost homoerotic. At the end, it seems that he can do the “Clark Kent” trick from Smallville. Is he the returned Messiah?  He always walks around with his shirt open upon a hairy chest, as if to give a down-to-earth look.  (IMDB shows unrelated films with this name.)

BERNADETTE (1988, Cannon, dir. Jean Delannoy)

Anyone traveling to Lourdes, Frances may want to view this 1987 widescreen 19th Century period piece (now from Cannon Films) on the story of Bernadette of Lourdes, her vision of the Virgin Mary in the Lourdes grotto, and her struggle to convince her community to believe her, which she eventually does. A bit stodgy but the music in the scenes where she sees the Virgin are effective. I’m not aware of a similar film yet about Fatima (Portgual). Lourdes has a ritual initiation ceremony on May 1 which I witnessed.    

MILLENNIUM  (1989, 20th Century Fox/Gladden/available in DVD from Artisan Entertainment), with Kris Kristofferson, Cheryl Ladd, directed by John Varley, Arriflex WideScreen).  Well, this one is 1/3 sci-fi, 1/3 religion, 1/3 airline food (if airlines are willing to show movies about mid-air collisions, maybe not!) Imagine the twin paradox, or time travel paradox (H.G. Wells didn’t worry about it much with The Time Machine).  You aren’t allowed (by God) to go back and change history, but maybe you can help things along under the covers and prevent human kind from a premature purification. Well, somebody (Daniel J. Travanti) does, so God has to obliterate the world a millennium or so in the future (no time for either pre-tribulationism or post-tribulation). Well, Kris and his alien from the future get to start over on a primitive world as another Adam and Eve and recycle all of creation.  An ambitious idea, one that I might have been proud of.  But the characters are too stock and stereotyped, and the script laboriously has to explain “The Paradox” to the uninitiated. Literary agents know this: It’s hard to do this kind of a novel or movie and make the characters come to life.  A much better film on this theme is 12 Monkeys (Twelve Monkeys), 1996, with Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis.   

Echoes of Innocence (2004, New World Pictures, dir. N. Todd Sims, PG-13, 115 min) is an effective hybrid of teen drama, thriller with a touch of the supernatural. But what is remarkable when one watches the credits is that this film has Evangelical Christian origins. (The film seems to intermix Catholicism with evangelical Protestantism in a few places, but not in a way to preach at the audience.) Okay, the story at the very end embraces “abstinence until marriage” but the characters are genuinely compelling and charismatic, which in many intimate scenes maintain an erotic tension and buildup although for the most part the characters remain dressed and have relatively little physical contact. This is one of those mystery-like movies where you feel a bit manipulated as the storytellers want you to think what this is really all about as the characters slowly grow on you. The film has an andante like pace resembling a late romantic symphonic slow movement—I thought I caught a quote of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphesen in the soundtrack, but I didn’t see that in the credits; the orchestral music is a but schmaltzy and Viennese at times, mixing effectively with Teen People like music to produce a kind of “slice of life” Mahlerian effect.

 

 Sarah (Sara Simmonds) is a budding high school student in a Texas city or suburb, and is coming off a fast (perhaps anorexic). A handsome blonde and articulate high school senior Dave (Jake McDorman) joins her drama class, and her first reaction is to vomit on his shoes. They get over that and build a friendship as they rehearse Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (considerable text from the play is read and performed). Now, Sarah has quite a personal life; she can retreat into her own spaces. She has a little cabin with religious artifacts and has visions of being like Joan of Arc. She questions the significance of her virginity, communicates with animals (especially a visiting bull), and has a recalcitrant mother. She had a long lost soulmate in elementary school who has disappeared. She is also being stalked by Alec (Matt Vodvarka) for uncertain reasons that seem to relate to her spiritual practice. Dave works on the school paper and wants to interview her. There is a slow buildup of sexual tension, as Dave is very charistmatic and commanding. He demands that she ask no questions. At one point, she quizzes him on a Bible riddle about Proverbs 25 and he gets the question right (Kings search for things – clue!)  Their relationship takes on a sweetness that reminds one of Clark and Lana in Smallville (which this movie bears more than a coincidental relationship to in emotional content, without so much of the gee-whiz effects).  Eventually there is a confrontation with the jealous Alec (who may be a ghost), and Dave is exposed—literally and figuratively. Still, all’s well that end’s well when there is a heterosexual wedding in a rustic cabin.  Some people marry young.

 

I think that this is a good film to show in high school classes (say, AP English). The ideas, rather complex indeed, will be controversial, but they are handled in such a way as to put them on the table for critical thinking rather than for simplistic persuasion.

 

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999, Columbia, dir. Luc Besson). I saw this historical epic about “England and France” – do we care about that now – in Aberdeen, SD in 1999. Most people know the story of Joan of Arc, whom the English eventually burned at the stake as a reactivated heretic and witch. The political history is quite complicated. I visited some of the towns involved (Rouen) myself in a May 1999 Europe trip (the one where I lost my rental car keys in the Bayeux museum – which reminds one that William the Conqueror would make good movie material now).  The Duke of Burgundy figures in at the end, and I remember writing an amateur play about this character in ninth grade. I just don’t remember what happens in it, so no movie script from me on that one. Milla Jovovich plays Joan. The hurled cannonball attacks on Orleans is quite spectacular.

 

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005, Screen Gems, dir. Scott Derickson, 115 min, PG-13) has a amply detailed title whose pentameter somehow invokes the name of an obscure Shostakovich cantata, “The Execution of Stefan Rosan”. This is good courtroom drama. A Catholic archdiocese hires trial lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) to defend a priest Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) against negligent homicide charges after the death of 19-year-old Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) following a failed exorcism. Critical to the story is Father Moore’s insistence that he testify, because he wants a soap box to convince the public world that demons and angels really exist. That’s pretty interesting to me in my own writing, particularly the idea that demons could be angels who enjoyed themselves and their immortality or supposed invulnerability too much. The medical explanation is epileptic psychosis, or psychomotor epilepsy, which, in the parlance of earlier times, is much more than a disease of the mind. The exorcism supposedly failed because she was on meds. When I was a patient at NIH in 1962, there was at least one female patient who exhibited catatonic behavior that seemed to recede when she was given attention. That behavior resembled Emily’s in the early stages.

 

This film will, of course, bring up our memories of The Exorcist (1973, Warner Bros., dir. William Friedken, 122 min, R) which would become a “franchise” with inadequate sequels. The first movie, based on William Peter Blattey’s famous novel, takes place in Georgetown and is well known for its slow build up of Regan’s (Linda Blair) possession, the first obvious symptom of which is her urination of the living room rug at a party. Eventually she is vomiting split pea soup and her head is doing full 2л twists. Max Von Sydow was Father Lancaster Merrin, who would lose his own life and soul literally as a result of the exorcism.

 

Related reviews: The Passion of the Christ, Luther, and other religious films; Smallville ; Fallen

 

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