Saturday, March 29, 2014



Life is returning to normal here at Chateau Maine. It's nice to be on the road with a successful concert tour, seeing new places and meeting new people but living out of those thirty-seven pieces of Vuitton luggage can get a bit wearing after a while. I've been looking through my scrapbook and thinking back on all of those lost and lonely souls out there who have been more enlightened and whose lives have been made more meaningful by having seen me, live and in person, delivering the best entertainment available in America today, after C-SPAN's coverage of congressional debate. 

It's time for me to get back to work on Bridget Over Troubled Waters, my new kabuki musical version of the film The Last Seduction which I hope to open in Los Angeles later this winter and transfer to New York in the Spring. Joseph, my manager, has been in negotiations with all sorts of exciting up and coming talents for the male leads. We did ask Peter Berg and Bill Pullman who were so wonderful in the film but they claimed other projects. We think we may have Jake Wagner and Rick Springfield nailed down - just have to work out some contractual details. Barry Manilow is doing some just lovely music, all in haiku - he played my insurance company interview tap piece for me over the phone this morning and I was in heaven. 

Speaking of heaven, Linda Fiorentino, and enlightening the lost and lonely, I had a chance to slip the DVD of Kevin Smith's film Dogma into the home theater system the other day. Nurse Lynn was over and we chose it as we thought it was one of those cute dog stories and we wanted something to entertain Patrick Flanagan, the cat, who has been majorly depressed since poor Norman was sucked out to sea. There didn't seem to be many dogs in evidence but there were a number of angels, some demons, a muse, and a walking pile o' poop. 

Kevin Smith is the New Jersey writer/director who burst onto the indie scene a few years back with Clerks, a scabrous low budget comedy of foul language and bad behavior which details what really goes on behind the counter of your local convenience store. It's success brought him to Hollywood attention, especially when his later film, Chasing Amy, garnered healthy reviews and reasonable box-office. His films, mainly set in New Jersey, exist in a 'View Askew' Universe of recurrent characters and settings. Dogma was a script he had been sitting on for some years and he finally got the financing from Miramax to go ahead and make the film in 1998. The brothers Weinstein then got cold feet and refused to release the completed picture as it was irreverent, to put it mildly, in its treatment of religious themes and violence. The film was eventually distributed by Lion's Gate and was a reasonable success. (The commentary tracks have much discussion of the whole Miramax debacle but all direct references to the studio and the Weinsteins are bleeped out for legal reasons.) 

Dogma is a comic fantasy involving God, angels, demons, apostles, and other elements of Catholic theology - and I can guarantee that it's the only film comedy that will ever be made where the plot hinges on the Catholic dogma of plenary indulgence. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, hot off Good Will Hunting, star as Loki and Bartleby, a couple of renegade angels banished by God to Wisconsin where it was decreed they must remain to the end of days, never to re-enter heaven. While there, they discover a loophole in Catholic theology. Cardinal Glick (a very funny George Carlin), in an attempt to make Catholicism more relevant to today, has initiated a new 'Catholicism: Wow!' campaign featuring the new and improved 'Buddy Christ'. As part of this, he has got the pope to declare a door on his church a point of plenary indulgence on a day of celebration. Under this doctrine, those that pass through have all their mortal and venial sins cleansed. The angels realize that if they take mortal form, are to pass through the door and die, they will be able to reenter heaven. Unfortunately, if they do this, it will prove God wrong and, as the universe is based on God's infallibility, all of existence will end. 

Bartleby and Loki head off for New Jersey. The hosts of heaven, represented by the angel Metatron (Alan Rickman), Rufus, the thirteenth apostle (Chris Rock) and the muse Serendipity (Salma Hayek), who's currently working as a stripper (don't ask!) are up in arms and need the Last Scion, a special sort of human, in order to stop them. God's out of commission you see, gone missing after the last skeeball trip... The Last Scion turns out to be Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), a mixed-up Catholic who works as a planned parenthood counselor. Soon we're off on a crazy road trip as Bethany meets up with heaven's various emissaries and Kevin Smith regulars Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself)who are the prophets whose coming was foretold (really don't ask!). On the other side is the demon Azrael (Jason Lee), who with a trio of rollerblading demon punk teens, tries to block Bethany's quest. Will Bartleby and Loki win through? Will God return in time? Just what is Bethany's role and powers? There's a lot of convoluted plot before a final showdown at the celebratory church where wrongs are righted and heads explode. 

Smith, as a filmmaker, is much more interested in ideas and character and dialog than he is in grandiose visuals. There are a number of sequences in which characters discuss important concepts of spiritual existence in somewhat vulgar terms. I loved them as they made me think, but a lot of lesser minds are going to find a lot of these moments offensive as Smith delves into the sex lives of the holy family, the ethnicity of Jesus, and the negative aspects of religion and belief. His disinterest in the more visual aspects of filmmaking lead to some of his sequences being a bit flat or feeling a little truncated, but he has enough tricks up his sleeve to pull out some great moments on his modest budget. When the angels unfurl their wings, there are some moments of real grandeur and there's a sequence on a train that's very well put together. Much of this film is better written than a lot that comes out of Hollywood but I think the subject matter frightened off a lot of folks from giving the screenplay and the film the attention it deserved. 

The large ensemble cast work well together. There's really no weak performance in the bunch. Affleck and Damon have the 'buddy' thing down so well that they're a delight. Affleck in particular, who sometimes becomes so mannered, in his 'leading man' performances, loosens up quite a bit and finds the human under his angel quite effectively. Mewes and Smith, as Jay and Silent Bob, work in small doses and fortunately, don't dominate the film the way they did in Smith's next movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Fiornentino is the peg around which all the insanity revolves - she brings a quiet resolve to her character and a sense of groundedness so you can actually see her making a spiritual journey as the film progresses. Rickman, Hayek, Lee and Rock, in the supporting parts, are all solid pros. Each has at least one great scene. 

The DVD is a special edition double disc set from Columbia. The first disc contains the film in its theatrical proportions with good color transfer and sound. There are two separate commentary tracks - a free form one with Smith, producer Scott Mosier, View Askew staffer Vincent Perreia, Mewes, Affleck and Lee (which is accompanied by video of the recording session). It resembles a late night college dorm bull session. There is also a 'technical' commentary track with Smith, Mosier and Perreia that's a bit more structured but still mainly backstage stories and gossip. The second disc contains a large number of cut sequences (the initial cut of the film was something over three hours - with this material excised it now runs two hours and ten minutes). The cut sequences, introduced by Smith and various associates, are mainly extended scenes rather than whole new sequences. They're interesting to flesh out characters and back stories. The video quality of these scenes is poor and some have incomplete effects as they were cut early in post production. There are also some storyboard sequences (never shot), the usual bio stuff, links to websites and some other odds and ends. 

Cow dolls. Cheese head hats. Conga dancing nun. Blown away adulterer. 'Buddy Christ' statue. Naked Chris Rock. Gratuitous Janeane Garofalo. Meat grinder play equipment. Shoe pillow. Gratuitous poop monster. Death by hockey stick. Flying Ben Affleck. Hand standing

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