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.

Alan Rickman, 1946—2016

I rarely break from reviewing on this blog, but I think I can afford such a courtesy to Alan Rickman.

In part this is because, after I heard the news, I realised he’s been a constant presence throughout my film-loving life. I adored Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as a kid, when the American accents didn’t matter and it was a glossy big-budget extravaganza. I watched it a few years ago, and it no longer looks glossy, big budget, or particularly extravaganza-y, but Alan Rickman shines as arguably the best Sheriff of Nottingham ever to grace the screen.

Then there’s the role that has obviously defined him for a generation: Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. I’m sure casting the Potter films must’ve been a tricky business, but Rickman as Snape was one of those choices where you just think, “well, obviously.” A pretty one-dimensional character to begin with (The Mean Teacher), Snape has a significant and complicated role as the series goes on, and is probably the most nuanced character in it by the end. Having an actor of Rickman’s ability involved was obviously beneficial.

And as I got older still, there was Die Hard. His film debut at age 42, and the film that will always define him for many, but (again) it’s a magnificent performance, a definitive villain. Pretty much every action-thriller villain for the next, what, decade? more? is really a rip-off of Hans Gruber, however all portrayed by whichever British actor was currently available.

Those are just three keystones in a sea (mixed metaphor much) of fantastic movies and excellent performances that have been scattered throughout my viewing life: the Spock-ish thespian in Galaxy Quest; the punk-y angel in Dogma; the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film (another spot of perfect casting); the adulterous(?) husband in one of Love Actually’s strongest yet most divisive stories. Several of these films are to come on my 100 Favourites; several more were in contention; and, in every case, a significant reason for their presence was Alan Rickman’s performance.

And if you ever forget that life isn’t fair, remember this:

So we've lost 69-year-olds Bowie, Lemmy (ok 70-year-old) and now Alan Rickman – but Donald Trump is still with us.