Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Dogma

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly blogging about something in my DVD library that I'd recently re-watched.  Being a die-hard fanboy for Kevin Smith, I'm surprised it's taken me this long to tackle a Kevin Smith film in this here blog, but here we are.  Today, I re-watch his classic religious parable, Dogma.  This appears in my notes at June 30, 2013. 

Dogma movie poster

I'm going to attempt a bit of a gritty reboot for Fishing in the Discount Bin with this entry.  I, personally, feel that my plot summaries are getting too long and too excessive.  Iit reminds me of the warning my old high school English teacher used to give us about writing essays:  "If all you're doing is giving me a plot summary, then you really don't have anything to say about the (book/play/poem/whatever we were reading in class at that time)."  Besides, I get bored writing them.  And if I'm getting bored writing them, odds are you're getting bored reading them.  So I'll try to keep the plot summaries brief, and just stick to what my friend told me he wants to see me do when he gave me the idea for this:  "Just go off on why you like it." 

Now then, on with the show.

The issues of Heaven and Hell and life after death and what comes next have been weighing heavily on my mind lately, given the recent passing of my grandfather.  So surely, there's some movie I can watch to give me solace...some religious epic to give me comfort.  The Ten Commandments, you may be thinking, or maybe The Passion of the Christ to those a little more hardcore with their Jesus.  Nope.  Afraid not.  The only biblical epic I own is Kevin Smith's Dogma.

Some regard Dogma to be Kevin Smith's finest film.  Given that he was raised Catholic and he wrote the film as a way of dealing with his issues with the church, many critics applaud it for being such a personal work.  He actually started writing the screenplay before he made Clerks.  He was always hammering it out and working on the script while making Mallrats and Chasing Amy.  When he sold Clerks to Miramax, he ensured that he maintained ownership of the characters of Jay and Silent Bob because he still hoped to make Dogma someday and he'd need to use the characters for it.  And then, all the protests and the controversy he got from the Catholic League for making a movie that takes a lighthearted look at the Catholic church.  Well, he really went through the crucible making this film, and it truly was a labour of love for him.

Which why, as much of a Kevin Smith fan I am, and no matter how many times I watch it, I always find the film just a tad disappointing.

Dogma is never the movie I expect it to be.  Let me lay out the plot in the simplest of terms.  Two renegade angels, who were cast out of Heaven for telling off God, have found a loophole in Catholic dogma that will allow them to re-enter Heaven.  One problem with this:  all of existence hinges on the fact that God is infallible.  If they get back into Heaven, this proves God wrong and all of existence will be destroyed.  So a young woman is sent on a holy quest to stop these angels.  Accompanying her on her quest are two stoner prophets, the 13th Apostle -- an angry black man whose angry because his skin colour got him left out of the Bible -- and a muse suffering from writer's block.  Throw in a demon whose manipulating the whole set of circumstances for his own gain, a sarcastic voice of God who offers advice, and a rubber poop monster, and what kind of film are you expecting?  Probably a rich comedic/fantasy/adventure along the lines of the classic novel Good Omens, correct?

Well, that's not what you get.  Instead, what you get, are all those aforementioned characters, spending a lot of time sitting around, talking through their various crises of faith, and debating the finer points of the Catholic church. 

In order to make this film more accessible to the non-Catholics, there is so much exposition being given.  When they're not debating finer points of the Catholic church, there explaining what they're debating about.  Kevin Smith once said in one of his podcasts that his admiration for Inception is that the first hour of the film is solid exposition, and Christopher Nolan made it entertaining.  And Smith, well...he tries hard.  It's like watching a superhero movie, but instead of watching the hero fly around saving the day, there's far too much talking explaining previous storylines in the comics. 

Some of the characters are good, though.  That sarcastic voice of God, Metatron, is played by Alan Rickman, and he's awesome, as he always is.  This back when he still best known as "the bad guy in Die Hard" and before he became immortal as Professor Snape.  He delivers some of the best zingers.  He should do more comedy. 

I adore Salma Hayek as Serendipity, the muse suffering from writer's block.  We meet her in the film working as a stripper, and she explains why she's on Earth.  She's responsible for 19 of the top 20 movies of all time, and grew tired of not getting any of the credit.  So she had a heart-to-heart with God, got a body, and set out into the world to make it her own way.  But, because God has a sense of humour, God gave her writer's block.  "I can give away a zillion ideas, but can't keep any for myself," she laments.  But Hayek brings such life and enthusiasm to her performance that she's just magical.

Chris Rock as Rufus the Apostle is really good, too.  Again, as I learned from a recent Smith podcast, Rock's performance is what finally made Smith loosen up on his "no ad-libbing" policy, as Rock's ad-libs were always funnier than what he wrote.  Rock does get stuck with a lot of the exposition, and in helping our heroine through her crisis of faith, he does get a little, well, preachy, but it's not that bad.

And let's talk about our heroine, Bethany, played by Linda Fiorintino.  She's OK as the one charged with this holy crusade, and it's her crisis of faith that the plot tries to resolve.  Even with all these religious figures popping into her life, she still seems rather detached and bitterly sarcastic about it.  Hey, some people deal with these extraordinary situations by shutting down, and it looks like that's what Bethany's doing.

And our renegade angels, Loki and Bartleby, played by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.  Loki was the Angel of Death, the guy who wiped out towns and who dished out God's wrath.  Before they get back to Heaven, he wants to go out in a blaze of glory like the good ol' days, and so they make a side trip to assassinate the board of directors of a Disney-like organization for making a false idol of their animated mascot.  And Bartleby is a watcher...he watches over humanity.  Watching their character arcs is interesting.  When it starts, Bartleby is a little bit innocent and just wants to go home.  But at the end, after the attempts to stop them by our heroes, Bartleby becomes the one who wants to go down in a blaze of glory, as he becomes increasingly obsessed with their quest.  And it's Loki who starts thinking that maybe they should let this go.

I should also highlight the score by Howard Shore.  I think this was the last thing he made before he did the music for The Lord of the Rings and became legendary.  the only thing that's kept me from buying the soundtrack all these years is the amazing grand finale music isn't on it. 

Running out of things to say.  It's still pretty good, and I say that as a Kevin Smith fanboy.  As Smith has the reputation for making films that are very talky, this is by far, his talkiest.  But it still has some of that Smith charm to make it worth watching. 

Well, I wanted a little more action, and my grandfather always loved wrestling, so I think I'll go honor him now by watching some WWE.

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