Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Order


I'm saddened to say that my California gubernatorial campaign is on an unexpected hiatus. After the successful completion of the 'Tap Off' last week, where my graceful buck and wings, not to mention my scintillating time step, were the hit of the evening, I was sure it was on to Sacramento. Alas, the ninth circuit court has put the whole election on hold due to the possibility of someone named Chad lousing up the results. Apparently this Chad had something to do with the strange election results in Florida a few years back where elderly Jewish holocaust survivors voted for Pat Buchanan en masse and the courts have been on the lookout for him ever since. Why they can't arrest him and sentence him to some community service time, I'll never know. I assume our police forces are all out enforcing the Patriot act. 

Anyway, I have ten thousand lapel pins reading 'Vote MNM and Tap Into Change' sitting in the garage awaiting a resolution of the current dispute and the restarting of a campaign swing. My crack team is using this break with their usual efficiency and flair. Madame Rose, my publicist, has been in talks with Ben Affleck's people about his being seen with a real star by his side now that he's dumped that little hussy he's been linked with. Joseph, my manager, has suggested that I do an Hollywood version of Yoko Ono's new performance piece. It has something to do with scissors and sitting on stage. As long as I can wear something exotic and very expensive and can include a rousing song and dance number, I'll consider it. Just as long as I needn't be nice to Yoko - I've never quite forgiven her for the Beatles. 

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals being very much on my mind these days, I decided I was in the mood for a film which contained cabalistic secret societies and murky plotting against the paranoid outsider. I therefore called Tommy, my therapist, and the two of us headed off to the local Cineplex for a showing of The Order, the new film from Brian Helgeland, which was supposed to be a follow-up to his 2001 hit, A Knights Tale. The fact that the film was originally slated to open in January of 2002, but was delayed until the dog days of September, 2003, did not bode terribly well but I have had a certain fondness for Heath Ledger's smoldering good looks so decided to take a chance. The smoldering good looks are there, unfortunately they are encased in a cheesy film that would have embarrassed the brass at American International pictures circa 1961. 

Heath Ledger plays Father Alex, a member of an obscure (and one hopes fictional) order of Catholic priests, the Carolingians. When his mentor in the order is found apparently murdered in Rome, Ledger heads off to investigate, on the orders of an American Cardinal (Peter Weller). He is accompanied there by his lady friend Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), a psychotically depressed artist obsessed with Father Alex. In Rome, they team up with Father Thomas (Mark Addy), a large and loud priest with a leprechaun brogue and we start to learn that the Carolingians are obsessed with the occult. There's some mumbo jumbo involving demon children and a visit to a Felliniesque nightclub which appears to have an evil temple in the basement where renegade priests are hanged and, as they strangle, reveal truths. (I'm not making this up, I swear.) 

Through this, Father Alex learns of William Eden (Benno Furmann), the Sin Eater, a relic of medieval Christianity. Sin Eaters are those who can cleanse the souls of Catholics fallen from the church so they can still attain heaven without benefit of priest or sacrament. They apparently do this by sucking psychic calamari out of people as they die. Eden is old, as old as Saint Peter's church, and is getting tired of his job. He wants Father Alex to take up the tools of his trade, which Alex is loathe to do. There are various twists and turns of plot and the characters all meet their appropriate destinies and the audience has wasted two hours with them. 

There are the bones of a good film here. The principal cast are all credible in their roles. The idea of the Sin Eater is intriguing, and a concept with which I was unfamiliar. There is some lovely photography of Rome, especially the trans-Tiber area that leads up to the Vatican. I imagine Helgeland and his A Knights Tale cast of Ledger, Addy and Sossamon enjoyed working with each other so much, that another working session in Europe for a few months seemed like a great idea and, as the former film was a moderate hit, they were able to do it on someone else's dime. 

Unfortunately, Helgeland has a very spotty career as a writer. He has written brilliant screenplays (L.A. Confidential) and dreck (The Postman) and is, to my knowledge, the only artist to win an Oscar and a Razzy in the same year. This is one of his misses. The storytelling is confused. Characters come and go without explanation. Evil temples, which probably looked good on paper, look idiotic on the screen. He's also let down by Helgeland, the director. The film is muddy in its colors and photography. It's difficult to see most of the interiors. As for the special effects, there's one sequence of the construction of Saint Peter's dome that's interesting in its use of composition and technology. The rest are bargain basement and the idea of sins as some sort of see-through tentacles that come out of people and are swallowed like so much sushi by the Sin Eater is just this side of risible. 

The Vatican, naturally, did not allow filming in Saint Peter's so the scenes set there were filmed in another Italian church. It's very nice and full of marble, but it's not Saint Peters. It's only about a quarter the size of the Basilica. I should know, after my fabled tap on the altar there during our Goodfollies shoot last year. It's not the only strange use of location. The home of the dead priest where the film begins appears to be the dome of another trans Tiberine church and some establishing scenes in New York seem to be anywhere but there. 

Ledger does his smoldering young man. I'm not sure if it's the right concept for a man of the cloth, but part of the plot involves his commitment to his vows so it works. Sossamon just has to be by turns ethereal and crazy and she can pull that off without too much ado. Weller, an old pro, still uses his blazing blue eyes to good effect, even if the face has gotten a little craggy around them (and the Marine Corps bob doesn't help). Addy gets most of the best moments as he's allowed free rein to bluster through his scenes, whether he's dressing down Father Alex or being shot at with various medieval weaponry. 

I can't say that I didn't enjoy the film on some levels, but I certainly can't recommend it as it's somewhat amateurishly made and poorly written. It'll make a great diversion some rainy Saturday afternoon when you're exceedingly bored, otherwise, give it a pass. 

Unexplained demonic children. Symbolic sunflowers. Holy salt. Unholy astral calamari. Gratuitous transvestite evil acolyte. Collapsing scaffold. Unctuous servants. Unshriven cardinal. Dying businessman. Ritual impalement.

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