Dogma (1999)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #24

It can be Hell getting into Heaven.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 128 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: R

Original Release: 12th November 1999 (USA)
UK Release: 26th December 1999
First Seen: DVD, c.2004

Stars
Ben Affleck (Armageddon, Daredevil)
Matt Damon (The Rainmaker, The Bourne Identity)
Linda Fiorentino (The Last Seduction, Men in Black)
Salma Hayek (Desperado, Frida)
Alan Rickman (Die Hard, Galaxy Quest)

Director
Kevin Smith (Clerks, Red State)

Screenwriter
Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Zack and Miri Make a Porno)

The Story
When two fallen angels discover a loophole that might allow them back into Heaven, a normal woman is charged with stopping them before they bring about the apocalypse. Hilarity ensues.

Our Heroes
Abortion clinic worker Bethany has greatness heaped upon her when the voice of God gives her a mission (“I don’t want this, it’s too big.” “That’s what Jesus said.”). She ends up collecting a motley crew of followers and helpers, including 13th apostle Rufus, Serendipity herself, and idiot-prophets Jay and Silent Bob.

Our Villains
Banished angels Loki and Bartleby are fed up with living on Earth, but that’s okay because they’ve found a loophole that will get them back into Heaven. It might destroy the world or something, but, y’know, collateral damage ‘n’ all that.

Best Supporting Character
Alan Rickman again (see also: last time), this time as Metatron — not an anime hero or Power Rangers villain, but the dry-witted, genital-less Voice of God.

Memorable Quote
“Any moron with a pack of matches can set a fire. Raining down sulphur is like an endurance trial, man. Mass genocide is the most exhausting activity one can engage in, next to soccer.” — Loki

Memorable Scene
Whiling away time until they can execute their plan, Bartleby and Loki invade a company’s board meeting and expose the members’ secrets. (Any scene that features Bartleby + Loki + dialogue is among the film’s best bits.)

Truly Special Effect
I suppose it’s a relatively simple one really, but I’ve always thought the various characters’ wings look magnificently ‘real’. That’s the beauty of practical effects for you.

Letting the Side Down
This isn’t about the film itself, but they made a behind-the-scenes documentary, called Judge Not: In Defense of Dogma, which wasn’t actually ready for the film’s DVD release. Instead, it was included on the later DVD of Vulgar (not heard of it? Me either.) Eight years later, when Dogma made its way to Blu-ray, the making-of… still wasn’t included. I mean, how hard is it to pay attention when creating a new release and do more than just “copy and paste” the DVD’s contents?!

Making of
Even before the film opened it was picketed by Christian protestors. Unbeknownst to that mob, the film’s writer-director Kevin Smith joined them… and, unrecognised, got interviewed on TV. Sounds kinda implausible, but it happened.

Awards
1 Razzie nomination (Worst Supporting Actress (Salma Hayek, also for Wild Wild West))

What the Critics Said
“those who would call it sacrilegious (and there will be many) should look beyond the foul language and crude humor, to see more deeply into Smith’s intentions to give the dusty doctrines of the ancient faith a fresh new perspective. Foul language aside, the film has some interesting things to say about human nature, and about the nature of those non-humans we have come to know and love, and hate, and pray to, and obsess about, over the last few millennia.” — John R. McEwen, Film Quips

Score: 67%

What the Public Say
“The beginning of the movie has a few disclaimers pleading with a sensitive audience to not hate this movie because of its seemingly antireligious rhetoric. To be honest, I thought the message of ultimate religious tolerance was fairly clear. […] I don’t think Dogma will make you examine your faith any more than before you watched it. Instead it will let you turn a more satirical eye to the absurdities of the modern church bureaucracy and hopefully make you laugh a little bit about how ridiculous some of this shit is. It’s okay to have faith in a higher power, but getting too extreme with your ideals can make you an asshole.” — ThomFiles

Verdict

Not nearly as disrespectful to Christianity as the Bible-bashing protestors would like you to think, Kevin Smith’s religious comedy can be a bit of a mixed bag — the story is occasionally a tad baggy and the toilet humour sometimes goes too far for my taste, but there are plenty of amusing scenes, lines and performances. Irreverent and crude, to be sure, but sometimes surprisingly clever, and consistently funny.

#25 will be… setless.

Madagascar (2005)

2008 #89
Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath | 82 mins | TV | U / PG

MadagascarIt had been my impression that this summer’s sequel, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, was a weaker follow-up to a middling original. Clearly I was reading the wrong review, because Rotten Tomatoes offers a different consensus: “an improvement on the original, with more fleshed-out characters, crisper animation and more consistent humor.” Oh. So what of the original?

The characters may not offer great depth, but they serve their purpose well enough. The plot focuses on Marty the zebra, voiced by Chris Rock, who wants to escape to the wild, and Alex the lion, voiced by Ben Stiller, who doesn’t — but doesn’t have a choice when they’re whisked off half-an-hour in. This might leave David Schwimmer’s giraffe Melman and Jada Pinkett Smith’s hippo Gloria with little to do but support, but in an 80-minute kids’ animation you can’t expect an Altman-esque portmanteau.

The animation is better than I expected. At the time, the angular style looked cheap, like a step back from the realism-aiming work of Pixar and the Shrek team. It’s just stylised however, still allowing plenty of expression in characters’ faces and detail in their movements and the locations. It’s not a exceptional example of how brilliant computer animated films can be (unquestionably Pixar’s forte, especially in the likes of Ratatouille and WALL-E’s earlier scenes), but it’s better than some sparse and clunky efforts (such as Aardman’s Flushed Away).

Equally, the humour is above average. Large laughs may be sporadic but are there, particularly in a few moments that nicely spoof other films. Standouts include Planet of the Apes and American Beauty — clearly aimed at the adult audience who have been dragged along by the kids, have come expecting Pixar-level entertainment, or want to see what Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen can be doing in a family film. Plus there’s the penguins, a little band of wannabe escapees who thankfully aren’t overused, especially as the last few years have seen a severe overload of penguin movies (March of the Penguins, Happy Feet, Surf’s Up…) If there’s one element that could’ve been bumped up it’s the monkeys; on the other hand, like the penguins, they’re not done to death.

Madagascar doesn’t reach the highs of Pixar — no surprise there — but it’s at least nudging the ballpark. If the sequel’s better then I might even seek it out before it makes it all the way down to TV.*

4 out of 5

* I never did; and now it’s been on TV (several times), I still haven’t. ^