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I've Lost the Faith


Dogma / Drew Morton

Pajiba Blockbusters | July 31, 2009 | Comments (62)


Kevin Smith is a screenwriter who, due to the success of American independent cinema movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, seems to have fallen into directing. The Coen brothers and Jim Jarmusch, all three of them writer-directors, effectively started the movement with Blood Simple and Stranger Than Paradise, respectively in 1984. Ever since, the writer-director, in the form of Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies, and videotape, The Girlfriend Experience), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds), or Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Fantastic Mr. Fox) has been with an industrial staple of the movement into its commercialization in 1993 with the acquisition of Miramax by Disney. Yet Kevin Smith has always struck me as the odd-man out, a filmmaker with little visual style, a glorified director of radio theater.

That’s not to say I despise Smith’s work, nor do I dislike watching his films. In fact, one of the films that pushed me into the film studies discipline and spawned my interest in American independent film (which I’ve published articles on numerous times since) was Chasing Amy (1997), his strongest and most heartfelt work as a wearer of both artistic hats. Yet, as the years went by, I began to notice that Smith suffered from an ailment that seems to have plagued a number of his independent film colleagues (Anderson and Tarantino especially … but more on that in the coming weeks) as of late. Quite simply, he found himself in an artistic comfort zone, rarely risking his ability to crank out obscene comedy. Sure, there’s Jersey Girl (2004), but after that outside-the-box failure, Smith went right back to the well with Clerks II (2006) and Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008).

That said, there’s no doubt in my mind that Smith’s second-strongest film is Dogma (1999). For those of you unfamiliar with the film (which I doubt there are many, as I’m aware of the polarizing position Kevin Smith occupies at Pajiba), I’ll offer up an incredibly brief plot summary. Thanks to a new marketing campaign on behalf of the Catholic Church by Cardinal Glick (George Carlin), two dispelled angels by the names of Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon) may be allowed back into the heaven they were cast out of. The only problem with this situation is that if Bartleby and Loki make it back into heaven, they will have proven God fallible, unintentionally ending existence. Hoping to stop the duo from negating all of life as we know it, heaven sends Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), a doubting Catholic and abortion clinic worker, on a quest to New Jersey to terminate the angels before they reach heaven. Bethany is not alone, as she is aided by two stoner prophets, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), the black 13th apostle (Chris Rock), the voice of God (Alan Rickman), and a muse (Salma Hayek).

I give Smith credit for being rather ambitious in scope here as Dogma is a film that spans genres: comedy, fantasy, road movie, philosophical inquiry. We’re provided with the usual Smith material: quotable and hilarious dialogue, nods to Star Wars (1977), and amusing story riffs (purgatory is Wisconsin, something this Milwaukee native can agree with). Smith even provides some well-intentioned critical analysis of organized religion here as well, which is both faithful and heartfelt. Yet, for all the usual positive traits of his work that Dogma provides, we’re also with his checklist of largely directorial weaknesses.

First and foremost, Kevin Smith is not a visual director. His gift is for dialogue, which Dogma possesses a lot of, not for shot composition. Sadly, film is not merely an audible medium but a visual one as well. What we’re given in this film is a lot of standard shot-reverse shot patterns, which, for a film over two-hours with an emphasis on the spoken word, is far from engaging. The most strikingly staged dialogue scene comes in the film’s opening as Bartleby and Loki provide the exposition while roaming an airport. During this scene, Smith utilizes a moving camera and tries to vary the scenery, which is well choreographed.

More problematically in the entire scope of the film, however, is that Smith either lacks the knowledge of how to stage an action scene or lacked the budget to compose them. While my feeling is that it is a little bit of both, Dogma does pride itself on an adventure film of sorts and it largely fails in that department. For instance, the fight with the Golgothan (aka “Shit Demon”) goes on for too long for having little payoff, as we don’t seem him take down the other inhabitants of the bar. The climactic battle in front of the church fails for similar reasons as well, only being relayed to us via static-laced news coverage and shots of its aftermath. Now, to be fair, I was not expecting an action sequence on par with a summer blockbuster, but if the audience is to grasp the repercussions of the antagonists’ plot, we need more than speeches for the message to follow through.

Secondly, and less significantly, Smith has major editing problems here. The film runs 130 minutes, roughly 20 to 30 minutes too long. Looking at the DVD, and Smith’s track record with DVD more generally, he often leaves a lot of footage on the cutting room floor. He needed to excise more footage here, as Dogma has many comedic peaks and valleys. Moreover, even a comedy with adventure elements that creeps over the two-hour marker begins to drag (take a hint Judd Apatow!). I realize Smith loves his dialogue and his characters, but they remain much closer to him than to us due to one final flaw in his directorial ability.

Quite simply, Smith is not an actor’s director. This is quite possibly due to his experience as a director of non-actors, as in Clerks. He has assembled an excellent cast here and while he was critical of working with Linda Fiorentino, she actually has the most range here thanks to Smith’s ability to pen a vivid female character. The rest of the cast feels like they’re playing themselves and never seem to inhabit the characters except, of course, Jason Mewes, who is essentially playing himself. The biggest disappointment here is Salma Hayek. Now, at the time of its release, it may have been rather easy to write Hayek off as a beautiful woman (From Dusk Till Dawn anybody?) but ultimately not an actress. Yet, her amazing, Academy Award nominated performance in Frida (2002) is ample evidence against that claim. Sure, she’s a secondary character, but her line readings are stale as a bag of jalapeño infused potato chips and Smith never attempts to push beyond that. Instead, he takes the standard approach of utilizing her only for her physical beauty, a rather gross injustice.

Now, despite these criticisms, I will admit that Dogma is a largely enjoyable experience. Ten years had passed since I had seen the film, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would but it still was far from the film I had admired as a high school student in 1999. Yet, it is not a well-crafted film and I lament the path Kevin Smith’s career has taken over the past decade. I think the following exchange serves as an excellent conclusion and is sadly prophetic of Smith’s career path.

An interview between John Pearson and Kevin Smith in Spike, Mike, Slackers, and Dykes (pages 200-201):

John Pearson: [On the topic of Straight Out of Brooklyn film director Matty Rich opening his own clothing store.] Matty’s unbuttoned overalls clothing line didn’t last too long either. He was competing with Spike’s Joint. When Matty’s store closed, Spike [Lee] called it, “straight outta business.” Did you think about opening a boutique for Clerks-wear?

Kevin Smith: Clerks grossed $3 million. How much did She’s Gotta Have It gross—-$13 million?

Pearson: I’ve never had a movie go over $8 million, and that was it.

Smith: The difference between $8 million and $3 million is a boutique. At least with Mars Blackmon you’ve got a character who can sell some clothes. What am I gonna do? Put Silent Bob on a shirt?

Sadly, Smith chose to make films that would sell shirts with little artistic effort. He’s been resting on his laurels for too long. I hope his forthcoming projects A Couple of Dicks and Red State do finally push him permanently outside of his comfort zone, but I fear he is favoring the wrong artistic ability. Kevin Smith is a good, sometimes great, screenwriter; he has yet to impress as a director.

Drew Morton is a Ph.D. student in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles. He has previously written for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and UWM Post and is the 2008 recipient of the Otis Ferguson Award for Critical Writing in Film Studies.









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Comments

I agree with you on the shit monster scene - I really enjoyed Dogma, but felt that that scene was a diversion to appeal to the lowest common denominator in an otherwise smart film.

Posted by: missh at July 31, 2009 12:13 PM

Though your criticisms are all valid, I do love this movie. Once scene that I wish had made it off the cutting room floor is the extended version of Azrael's monologue in the bar about hell and the nature of evil. I know that, tonally, it's a complete one-eighty from the rest of the movie, but it's fucking intense.

Posted by: Sean at July 31, 2009 12:28 PM

Interesting review Drew. This is my favorite comedy, so i'm trying not to be too defensive here.

Preface: I am completely ignorant of movie making technique. I think "editing" or "filming" is done properly when I don't notice anything, or, in rare instances where I happen to think a camera angle or edit is "whoa, that was neat," e.g., the taking drug reaction sequence from Requiem for a Dream. I have no idea if people who know things, i.e., educated film critics/consumers,think that movie was shot well, but at the time, I was like, hey now, that's pretty sweet.

Point: I think Kevin Smith's fans like that he isn't a techincally skilled director. To me, at least, he represents the everyman, average-joe director. Watching his movies make me feel like I could do that...but that I could never be quite that funny. I can't really articulate why that makes me like his movies more, but it just does.

It is entirely possible that some of his jokes would be better with better staging, editing, lighting, etc., but I think a more professional product would tarnish the feeling that a Kevin Smith movie is supposed to convey.

With that said, I agree that the golgatha scene really should have been cut--it was stupid and boring. Moreover, if you're going to use salma hayeck the stupid way, at least put her in a bikini for the entire movie---if not for me, then for the starving african children.

Posted by: "Luker" the barbarian at July 31, 2009 12:31 PM

The film does that a bit in the third-act, Affleck's character too with his post-Mooby's massacre speech. Still, that has a pay off, as I find it moving when Bartelby meets God and starts to cry.

Although, that end sequence kind of bothered me when I kept thinking about it. Why not kill Bartelby after Jay shoots off his wings? He didn't enter the church yet...

Posted by: Drew Morton at July 31, 2009 12:32 PM

Very good review of a movie I love.

I am very much aware of all Dogma's many, many faults. I love it anyway. I love the ideas it explores, and the dialogue by which Smith explores them; for me that's enough to forgive every other crappy thing about the film.

Posted by: Jerce at July 31, 2009 12:32 PM

I agree with everyone on the shit monster - and I only made it through that part of the film because of it. Up to that point, I loved it.

Posted by: Cindy at July 31, 2009 12:33 PM

Drew - I think they probably would have killed him had Jay not had "no more bullets," or if they could have bested him in their little footrace to the church door. There didn't seem to be any other efficient killing implements immediately at hand.

Posted by: Sean at July 31, 2009 12:39 PM

Luker,

If Smith's fault was just that he isn't visually interesting, I'd start to buy that. Yet, I think his work with actors and perhaps his screenwriting at times put him at a disadvantage (one that Tarantino has been guilty of as well), namely:

Nearly all the characters speak with the same self-aware, pop culture infused, intellectualisms, regardless of their character's background (stoner who didn't go to school, angel, abortion clinic worker). This gets to the point where you feel like you're listening to 12 different people riff on the same character, which is of course Kevin Smith.

I don't mind a unique ear for dialogue but look at Woody Allen. Allen writes dialogue that is both expressive of a personal style BUT is varied to the character's backgrounds, so they seem like individuals rather than variations of himself.

Posted by: Drew Morton at July 31, 2009 12:40 PM

The scene with Bartleby and Loki in the parking garage after they get thrown off the train is one of Smith's best in all his movies. The one where Loki tells Bartleby "I've heard this speech before, you sound like the Morningstar!" The dialogue is great, Damon and Affleck are excellent, Smith actually moves the camera, it is a really great sequence on par with anything in Chasing Amy and matching the boardroom scene earlier. Dogma has its flaws, but still a pretty great movie. Nice review.

Posted by: TylerDFC at July 31, 2009 12:47 PM

Drew Morton nails it, it's the fact that stoner loser druggies like Jay are supposedly intellectual geniuses?

Yeah, right.

Posted by: Fappy McFapper at July 31, 2009 12:52 PM

While the review is excellent, I have just one point to make on the writer-director issue:

I think the case could be made that the writer-director originated a decade earlier in North America (and earlier than that in Europe with Bergman and Godard, etc.) with David Cronenberg, Romero, Hooper, Carpenter within the Horror genre and that, more than likely, the Coens admired and/or appreciated these artists and were attempting to forge their own way.

Posted by: Pausner at July 31, 2009 12:56 PM

Pausner,

I wouldn't claim that the writer-director originated with the 80s indie film movement, just that it was a defining characteristic. The indie film movement obviously owes a lot to the 70s New Hollywood movement, which owed to the French New Wav. It goes back and back...

Posted by: Drew Morton at July 31, 2009 1:04 PM

Drew:

Thanks for the thoughtful reconsideration of the framework for the 80s movement.

Posted by: pausner at July 31, 2009 1:08 PM

I hated this movie. Not being Catholic (hell, I'm not even Christian) I didn't really get what the satire was. Before any of you start with the whole "how can anyone not know anything about Christianity" crap, it's not like they teach this stuff in school. They don't even teach history or geography for Christ's sake. So, yeah, I know NOTHING about Christianity and I didn't find this film entertaining.

Posted by: BWeaves at July 31, 2009 1:10 PM

Thanks for pushing me to clarify. Re-reading that paragraph, I can see how it might be misinterpreted.

But you're obviously right and I would note that the French New Wave was a major influence for many of the directors. Soderbergh's latest is basically a reinterpretation of J-L Godard's "Two or Three Things I Know About Her," Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog" is an homage to J-P Melville's "Le Samourai," Wes Anderson is always loving some Francois Truffaut.

Auteurism, especially the writer-director, was a key figure of the New Wave and helped define the movement (which was much more nunanced than just Godard and Truffaut) as well as Cahiers du Cinema. Just look at Truffaut's essay against the cinema of quality (cinema du papa). The seeds are already there!

Plus, who can forget the great John Cassavetes? Shadows is an amazing piece of American indie filmmaking...

Posted by: Drew Morton at July 31, 2009 1:16 PM

As always an interesting review from Mr. Morton, I don't think you've had a miss yet, and I salute you. I don't necessarily agree with the review, but then my knowledge of the techniques of film making is approximately nil.

I've always enjoyed Smith's films and never really found a problem with the way his dialogue was written. I guess I just always thought it was part of the joke that people who you wouldn't expect to be able to riff like that did anyway.

It's been a couple of years since I've seen this movie, so I can't really say anything more specific than that.

Posted by: Chugga at July 31, 2009 1:19 PM

Also I love the fact that Morton is jamming in the comments, I've always wondered why the writers on Pajiba didn't do that (mostly).

Posted by: Chugga at July 31, 2009 1:27 PM

I've said this multiple times, Kevin Smith does wrong what George Lucas does right, and vice versa. Lucas can't write dialogue, but even with a budget of 800 grand (THX 1138), he can still create a great visual atmosphere, a good story, and an encompassing world. Kevin Smith creates, even with a limited budget, a dialogue rich story, and makes it feel real rather than forced. In fact, the only thing both man aren't good at some of the time, is casting. But they should still make a movie together, so long as Smith and Lucas focus on each others strengths.

*******************************************************************************

Moreover, even a comedy with adventure elements that creeps over the two-hour marker begins to drag (take a hint Judd Apatow!)

Okay, that is bullshit. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was 3 hours long, and it was one of the greatest comedies ever made. However, it did have an intermission, something modern filmmakers need to bring back.

Posted by: George at July 31, 2009 1:29 PM

George,

It's a generalization, to be fair. I haven't watched It's a Mad... yet. From experience though, rarely does a two hour plus comedy work. The one exception I can think of is "Being There." I love that movie.

I do like the Lucas comparison.

Chugga,

Always glad to chime in and I'm glad you are as well.

Posted by: Drew Morton at July 31, 2009 1:33 PM

I've never really been a big fan of either Matt Damon or Ben Affleck, but I thought they both did a great job here. Also, what if Alan Rickman really was the voice of God? Wouldn't that be great?

Posted by: Jeni at July 31, 2009 1:35 PM

He's like Woody Allen. Some of his scenes work but they rarely come together to create a quality film.

Posted by: AbroadThankGod at July 31, 2009 1:39 PM

Drew,

You absolutely NAILED why I am diving headfirst off Kevin Smith's and Tarantino's bandwagons. Enough is enough with the over-the-top, constant, pervasive pop culturisms from every character. If part of the Hipster Film Movement is keeping the spirit of these dialogued references but toning it WAY down, then bring those clowns on!

On a side note, George Carlin is my hero. No one else comes close. He helped me shape my sense of humor since I was 10. I saw him live several times and would put him against any live music show in terms of pacing, stage ownership, crowd manipulation and overall entertainment value. Now both he and my father, who introduced me to him via Carlin at Carnegie, are both gone. Death is a motherfucker, man.

Posted by: Kballs at July 31, 2009 1:51 PM

Ooh, good to get that recommendation, Drew. I just saw that Being There was on Instant Play Netflix and was going to give it a shot.

Posted by: Optimus Rhyme at July 31, 2009 1:55 PM

Wow, that review sucked - quite possibly the worst review I've ever read here. It reads like the first (unproofed) draft of a review for a high school newspaper.

Posted by: sosumi at July 31, 2009 1:56 PM

The writer-director theme vs. (and I hate to use the competitive terminology) Hollywoodism (director for hire and so on), without an over-generalization, stems from access to film school and/or film cultures.

Certainly, in Cronenberg's case, he was writer first, and then only when he couldn't really find what he needed in Toronto for film, did he do it himself (well, he and fellow Torontonians forming the Toronto film co-op).

Incidentally, would love Drew or whoever to tackle some of the history of film (outside of Hollywood)

Posted by: Pausner at July 31, 2009 1:58 PM

Pausner,

I'm thinking about pitching some Godard out there. It's hard. I tried that John Huston piece on auteurism a few weeks ago and few seemed to read it, which made me think that perhaps I should try to build an established readership before venturing beyond borders. Moreover, when I do so, I should try to keep it few and far between until it builds to critical mass.

If readers of my reviews of older Hollywood films are hard to track down, I'm not sure Pajiba is ready for going on an international tour quite yet....

Posted by: Drew Morton at July 31, 2009 2:08 PM

Still though, I have never watched Dogma and not loved it to death.

Posted by: Christian H. at July 31, 2009 2:21 PM

I love Dogma. It kind of reminded me that I don't hate the Catholic church, but rather that I disagree with It. I had spent so much time talking shit about it that I'd completely forgotten I'd put a lot of thought into my opinions on the subject.

I've always praised Kevin Smith for the female characters he has created. Alyssa in Chasing Amy has got to be my favorite female character ever. Bethany is also very solid, and she's not just somebody the funnier male characters can spit witty one-liners, too. (Take another hint, Apatow!)

Posted by: Sofía at July 31, 2009 2:26 PM

Great review of a great movie. I know that Kevin Smith has a lot of faults, but I'll be damned if he is not quotable. I still stand by that Clerks, despite it's flaws, is one of the greatest movies of all time just for it's dialogue. I will always stand by Kevin Smith. Hell I even own Jersey Girl. He is probably my favorite director.

Posted by: Quincy at July 31, 2009 4:17 PM

I'm thinking about pitching some Godard out there. It's hard. I tried that John Huston piece on auteurism a few weeks ago and few seemed to read it, which made me think that perhaps I should try to build an established readership before venturing beyond borders.

Please, sir! I believe that it was read by enough of us to appreciate the fact that you are bringing a serious, thoughtful approach to cinema; one from which we all can learn more about the artistry and the craft of film-making.
I'll admit that I've never studied the subject extensively but have always loved learning as much as possible about the most fascinating of collaborative creative endeavors and hearing from someone with extensive knowledge is a pleasure.
Considering the influence France has had on Hollywood's style over the tears, I think a nice retrospective on Truffaut and Godard, perhaps Jean Renoir and Louis Malle would be well received.
We likes our flicks, Drew-Man!
Keep it comin'.

Posted by: Spender at July 31, 2009 4:17 PM

Considering the influence France has had on Hollywood's style over the tears,


Errrrmmm..."years", not tears.

Why, yes. I am drunk.

Posted by: Spender at July 31, 2009 4:19 PM

After living with a film student for a year, I discovered that I don't really give a shit about camera angles or "shots" or anything of that nature. As long as the camera isn't wiggling and I don't see too many boom mics in the shot, I'm not too interested in the technical film aspects. The things that are important to me--dialogue, characters, humor--are the things that Kevin Smith does best in my opinion. Rufus's speech about "Ideas vs. Beliefs" and most of Azreal's lines totally make up for the fact that the action scenes aren't, you know, The Dark Knight.

I guess when it comes to Kevin Smith, whether you like him or not depends on what's cinematically important to you, and what your sense of humor is. For me, this is Smith's best movie.

(Also, don't think I didn't notice that the reviewer--who notes that his previous reviews didn't have many comments--decided to review something by Kevin Smith this time, which always causes a comment-section-dust-up.)

Posted by: Siege at July 31, 2009 4:23 PM

Don't misunderstand, Siege, I absolutely love Kevin Smith - his movies and his personality. The guy can flat out riff onstage.
I don't watch his movies for the visuals, I watch them because they make me laugh out loud, they make me think and I can even identify with a lot of the characters - who hasn't been in a financial bind of the kind Zack and Miri find themselves in?
In fact, I think I'm in the minority of Pajibans who thought that Z & M was, while not his best film, certainly the funniest and most accessible to a mainstream audience.

I do, however appreciate directors who know how to take my breath away by working with cinematographers who fully understand and complement a director's vision... and enjoy learning more about it.

Posted by: Spender at July 31, 2009 4:40 PM

I've always praised Kevin Smith for the female characters he has created. Alyssa in Chasing Amy has got to be my favorite female character ever. Bethany is also very solid, and she's not just somebody the funnier male characters can spit witty one-liners, too. (Take another hint, Apatow!)

Don't forget God. One of my favourite female Kevin Smith characters.

Posted by: Shay at July 31, 2009 5:13 PM

I’m going to start here, rarely risking his ability to crank out obscene comedy, with a comment on the other directors you chose to showcase in your opening paragraph. How about Tarantino? Other then, say, True Romance, how has he really deviated from his type of script. I mean look at Natural Born Killers, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs all of those stick to a consistent theme of bad guys, bad people. Has he branched out and done other things? Or does he stick to his formula of what works for him? The same can be said for Wes Anderson, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, how has he separated from the “black comedy?” I can’t even really see where the Coen brothers deviate from their usual style, look, story. They really only just continue amassing larger budgets. The same can be said for all of the above directors. I don’t think Smith really needs to change from cranking out the “obscene comedy.” Look at another more popular director/writer/producer Judd Apatow. With directing credits of The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People, writing credits that include Pineapple Express, You Don't Mess With the Zohan, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Fun With Dick and Jane and producing others like Year One, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, and Anchorman. It’s evident that one doesn’t have to go outside of a genre to do well. We might not always like it, but Smith has a large enough fan base to support his decision. He doesn’t put out blockbusters, but he also doesn’t have enormous inflated budgets.

Chasing Amy (1997), his strongest and most heartfelt work as a wearer of both artistic hats.
Chasing Amy, in the eyes of many “Smith” fans that I know of, is down on the list of best Kevin Smith movies. Not because it was bad, not because it was uninteresting, but because he did deviate. Most people would still consider Smith’s best work to probably be Clerks, even though when you look at it now it is no where near as entertaining as it was the first time you saw it. It is, however, what introduced you to the writer/director and what made you initially fall in love with him. The same can be said for Mallrats by far my favorite Kevin Smith film. There’s just something about “Fly fat man, fly!”

That said, there’s no doubt in my mind that Smith’s second-strongest film is Dogma (1999).
Again, you confuse me. Dogma, in a way, is at the pinnacle of Smith’s current career. It was after he had established a decent fan base and, like the Coen brothers, had an ensemble go to cast. As well, to say this after you pretty much denounce Smith through your review makes this even more interesting for your “second-strongest film,” considering you took Chasing Amy as your first. The style of the two are completely different. In fact, they are nothing alike. Dogma was Smith’s real turn at a “Hollywood” film. It looks like it was his first chance at a larger budget, and he had the ability to pull in a more “known” cast. I can’t even believe you only gave George Carlin a passing note in your summary. His character is probably one of the most memorable in the film. I would think you would chose one of his other, more independent films, as your second choice. Dogma was his attempt at a budget. Chasing Amy was not. I think he was just having fun with the ability to blow money in Dogma.

The climactic battle in front of the church fails for similar reasons as well, only being relayed to us via static-laced news coverage and shots of its aftermath.
Are you talking about when Affleck and Damon are there before Jay and Silent Bob get there? Because either way I liked the fact that you only see the damage and not the action. Its why when Affleck drops that body down right in front of them you go, “Oh Fuck.” Its something you remember. Considering the style of the film, and of that of Smith himself, to actually see the action would contradict the entire movie. How are you going to have a slow paced film and then show a fast paced action scene. This never works in most films, the climactic scene ends up feeling anti-climactic. Look at films like A Thin Red Line where its going so slow only to have an action scene that leaves you going, “Where the fuck did that come from?” Imagine if the only action seen had been the end one in Saving Private Ryan. Do you think that would have been out of place if, like Dogma, we had seen the characters merely interacting and walking through the countryside and suddenly end in a battle? I think it would leave you somewhat unsatisfied. It’s not what was intended for the film. While Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is not a good film in many ways, its a look at Smith attempting to do a fast pace.

Now, at the time of its release, it may have been rather easy to write Hayek off as a beautiful woman (From Dusk Till Dawn anybody?) but ultimately not an actress.
What did Hayek play? The Muse. Did she really need to be anything but eye candy? I mean come on, you’re introduced to her through the song “Candy Girl” and she’s in a schoolgirl uniform for Christ sakes. She wasn’t meant for anything but to be, a muse.

Nearly all the characters speak with the same self-aware, pop culture infused, intellectualisms, regardless of their character's background (stoner who didn't go to school, angel, abortion clinic worker).
What do you think it sounded like a PajibaCon? Not all of the people there have the same background, but I would say they probably all sounded somewhat alike. When you have an ensemble cast it sometimes gets confusing when they don’t sound alike. Imagine Fargo with thirty different accents and each person with some kind of separate personality. It would be weird. In my creative writing classes someone would always sound off that my characters seemed too much alike, especially in their dialogue. Then there would always be that other person in the classroom who would say, “Yeah, but it sounds just like me and my friends.” Jay and Silent Bob, best friends. Affleck and Damon, angels who have been around each other for how long? How many of the characters are from Jersey? I don’t mind it, because like the commentators here, we all seem to have separate, yet equal, and similar voices. And whoever said that a drug addict cannot be intelligent, or sound intelligent, has not met many addicts.

Kevin Smith is a good, sometimes great, screenwriter; he has yet to impress as a director.
You forgot a word, “me.” “He has yet to impress [me] as a director.”

“Now if I had a dick I’d go get laid.”
“We can always do the next best thing.”
“What’s that?”
“Kill people.”

Posted by: Deistbrawler at July 31, 2009 6:07 PM

I don't mind a unique ear for dialogue but look at Woody Allen. Allen writes dialogue that is both expressive of a personal style BUT is varied to the character's backgrounds, so they seem like individuals rather than variations of himself.

This must be in an alternate universe where Woody Allen still writes good movies.

I didn't get five minutes into Vicky Christina Barcelona before I recognized that Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson both were talking like old neurotic Jewish New Yorkers, and I started fast-forwarding through the dialogue until I got to the scene where Scarlett makes out with Penelope Cruz. I'm pretty sure I didn't miss anything important.

Okay, granted Javier Bardem and Cruz both didn't talk like Allen, but only because they both talked in Spanish half the time. Otherwise, same movie, same patter, same whine.

And you can go back at least five or ten years and see the same pattern in every one of Allen's movies. Whether he's on screen or not, something about the weight of his personality must suck every actor into talking with the same self-pitying natter that Allen used to do so well for comic effect but now does because he's forgotten how to talk any other way.

Posted by: Neodiogenes at July 31, 2009 6:38 PM

I am a big Kevin Smith fan, not as a writer or a director, but as an oral storyteller. The man can spin a great yarn. "An Evening with Kevin Smith" is one of my favourite things to have on in the background while cleaning my apartment. I pause during the dusting to hear him recall how he attended a rally to protest the opening of Dogma.

I've also gone to see him speak a few times, most recently at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto. He made a twenty minute conversation about breaking a toilet hysterically funny and fascinating. And I normally would echew that kind of potty humour.

Dogma is, in fact, the only KS movie I really, really liked. I know next to nothing about Catholicism (or Christianity period), but this film made me actually curious to know more. Not that my lazy ass did anything about it, but for like, five minutes, I was intrigued.

Posted by: malechai at July 31, 2009 7:44 PM

Dogma was his attempt at a budget. Chasing Amy was not. I think he was just having fun with the ability to blow money in Dogma.

Um, wasn't Mallrats his first major budget film?

One thing is clear though: Smith is uncomfortable with big budgets. When his films are low budget, they tend to be focused and sharp. When they are major studio films, however, the cracks start to show. He makes big movies with small movie tools.

That said, I loved Dogma. It was the first Kevin Smith movie I had ever seen, and it was great to me. I have seen his other films since then, and love them too, but it is clear that he is much more at home with small, intimate films.

Posted by: Vermillion at July 31, 2009 9:30 PM

Vermillion
Technically I guess you would be right. He made Clerks with chump change. Kind of like Evil Dead by Raimi. With Mallrats which came next he had a budget estimated at around 6 million. Then Chasing Amy at around $250,000. With Dogma around 10 million.
Should have done my research.
I assumed Mallrats wasn't a big budget film just by watching it. Considering when you look at the overall movie between it and Dogma. After all, looking at Chasing Amy and Mallrats they looked like they would cost the same.
Then again, it seems he goes up and down. Studios must not like him.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001): 22 million.
Jersey Girl (2004): 35 million
Clerks II (2006): 5 million (less then Mallrats and Dogma).
Zack and Miri (2008): 24 million.

Then again, how many films are considered big budget at 10 million? Burn After Reading: 37 million. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: 200 million.

Posted by: Deistbrawler at July 31, 2009 10:03 PM

I liked the idea of Dogma much more than the finished product. Interesting ideas, some great dialogue...I haven't seen it in a long time, but I remember wishing I'd waited for cable. The shit monster sequence completely destroys the momentum of the movie (I was ready to quit that bitch right there), and it seems to drag itself to the end of the movie. I don't have Kevin Smith hate, far from it, but if you're going to make a movie that satirizes the Catholic Church, you're wasting your time (and ours) with third grade shit monster humor. And breaking off wings doesn't make an angel less of an angel - that is just lazy writing, of which there is also quite a bit. I think the problem is there is really good writing and really lazy writing, so the film felt uneven and too long to me. However, Buddy Jesus was so damn funny that the the stuff that wasn't so funny seemed even less funny, you know what I mean?

Mad Mad etc. World is terrific, btw. Doesn't feel long at all, tho it is.

Posted by: Chickaboom at July 31, 2009 10:15 PM

Quite simply, Smith is not an actor’s director. This is quite possibly due to his experience as a director of non-actors, as in Clerks.

Yup - you've touched on my biggest peeve with Smith's films. I think a large part of his problem is the fact that he's in love with his own dialogue. In most of his movies, it seems like his only concern is that every word of the script is committed to film in a clear, comprehensive manner - it doesn't seem to matter to him that the delivery is often emotionally flat and thus completely ineffective. The lines are usually meant to deliver big laughs - so what if the actors delivering them have no earthly idea what they're saying or how to say it? As long as the words are spoken aloud, mission accomplished!

I do love Dogma, though I kind of hope Smith stops directing and takes up acting. I know that's weird given what I just said about his inability to direct actors, but I honestly think he's a much more compelling presence in front of the camera than behind it.

Posted by: Another Jen at August 1, 2009 2:42 AM

But God IS fallible. Doesn't Jesus make that point? God is forever getting pissed, drowning Egyptians in the Red Sea, dropping the walls of Jericho on people, turning Lot's wife into a pillar of salt, that sort of thing. He's an angry God.

Jesus says, "I come to show you a new way," and emphasizes humility and loving even those who despise you.

So ... Jesus is saying God was wrong, right?

Posted by: , (the commenter formerly known as bucdaddy) at August 1, 2009 2:57 AM

Spender,

I'll work on it.

Deist,

Thanks for the lengthy rebuttal. If only I had the energy to take each point on. Here are some preliminary notes:

I'm disappointed with Wes and Quentin for the same issues. Wait till I get started on a Tarantino piece in the coming weeks. Kill Bill is the beginning of the end for me, Jackie Brown is the best, and Death Proof is HORRIBLE. I'm scared to death of Basterds because I don't want to feel like every director I admired ten years ago lost the touch.

And I did leave "me" out of that final statement for a reason... There's many people he has yet to impress in the critical community when it comes to directing.

Clerks doesn't stand up for me, it's like Easy Rider, the cinematic equivalent of a time capsule that doesn't age well but still has value.

Also, since when does a muse only have to be physically attractive? Yes, Hayek is a secondary character, but she's directed horribly. Secondary or not, poor direction of actors is hard to defend.

Neo,

Haven't watched a lot of recent Woody Allen (last one I watched was Mighty Aphrodite), but I think you know what I mean (Manhattan, Annie Hall).

Posted by: Drew Morton at August 1, 2009 4:49 AM

So ... Jesus is saying God was wrong, right?

More like a general policy shift. The Old Testament was God's jagged little pill, and the New Testament is her My Humps cover.

Also, I kinda want to put it in God. Repeatedly.

Kill Bill is the beginning of the end for me, Jackie Brown is the best, and Death Proof is HORRIBLE.

Oy, I have to agree (though probably on the opposite end of the spectrum). Kill Bill ended up with the stunts in one half and the plot in the other, Jackie Brown I haven't seen, and yeah, Death Proof was....lackluster. I still look for ward to his film though, mostly to see what that hyperspeed brain of his has cooked up.

Posted by: Vermillion at August 1, 2009 5:55 AM

"Also, I kinda want to put it in God. Repeatedly."
---
You'd 'splode at climax, but it'd be worth it.

God also more or less admitted he/she was wrong (or shifted poiicy) about drowning everyone in Noah's flood, thus the legend of setting the rainbow in the sky to remind him/herself never to do that again. Little did he/she know that 6,000 years later would come along an actress so vile, so disgusting that she would literally kill rainbows, and that it would be worth wiping 6 billion souls off the planet just to make sure she's one of them.

We also have "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"

God could be a real prick. Just sayin'.

Posted by: , (the commenter formerly known as bucdaddy) at August 1, 2009 10:41 AM

Good God. You've been in college for how many years now? I initially thought this was written by a junior in high school. I believe its time to dust off your copy of The Elements of Style. Dingleberry.

Posted by: MobNoxious at August 1, 2009 11:37 AM

Mob,

I was trying to ignore your rather childish attacks but I'll respond as professionally as possible.

If you can find a movie review written by a junior in high school discussing "Dogma" in the context of the indie film movement, complete with a quote for evidence, I'd love to see it.

Furthermore, I can't say I really take your criticism to heart. Throughout my careers as both a newspaper writer and academic, I've been awarded for my writing with grants and scholarships. The estates of the late film critics, Otis Ferguson and Joel Siegel, seemed to have enjoyed my writing, as their grants aided me in taking a summer off to publish a chapter on Steven Soderbergh (forthcoming from the University of Kentucky Press).

Finally, Elements of Style is right on my desk, at all times.

You seem to like to think of yourself as an instigator. Good for you. Hope that gives each day of your life a golden moment.

I'd prefer to find that moment in writing movie reviews and doing something constructive with my time.

Posted by: Drew Morton at August 1, 2009 2:53 PM

....And yo' mama ugly too!

Posted by: Vermillion at August 1, 2009 5:00 PM

*snort*

Posted by: , (the commenter formerly known as bucdaddy) at August 1, 2009 6:46 PM

Excellent review of what I consider to be Smith's best film. Although I would have to disagree on your apparent perception of how it has not held up after ten years have passed.

Posted by: BarbadoSlim at August 1, 2009 7:29 PM

I Love this film. I have nothing witty to offer. No educated arguments. Nothing insightful. Just pure unadulterated love. That is all.

Posted by: Eyvi at August 1, 2009 9:00 PM

I rarely comment here, but wanted to chime in on this one because Dogma is by far my favorite Smith film. The dialogue is hysterical and intelligent (when the end of the world is happening, and Jay starts laughing about Holy Bartender - or when he tells Azrael to turn it on Davey and Goliath? Golden stuff right there), the story moves at a great pace, and Miss Hayek has rad jugs.

Death Proof was kinda weak. Kill Bill was entertaining. Jackie Brown was good. Pulp Fiction blows the doors off of all of them.

Posted by: Farthammer at August 1, 2009 11:57 PM

Does everything Latino/Latina need to be compared to mass-marketed Spanish food, most notably things of the "Tex Mex" origin? Salma Hayek's a bag of jalapeno potato chips -- a stale bag, at that? REALLY?

Posted by: duckandcover at August 2, 2009 4:45 AM

I got a big ol' donkey dick.

Posted by: Fred at August 2, 2009 12:43 PM

Duck,

I would agree that a such a comparison is rather disappointing, but that's how she's treated in the film. Salma Hayek does not equal a bag of jalapeno chips, the performance Kevin Smith directed is equal to a bag of chips. As I said, it's not really her fault as she can be quite a powerful performer as her Frida is amazing.

Moreover, I'm sensitive to the Latina/Latino issue as well. After all, I'm married to one.

Posted by: Drew Morton at August 2, 2009 1:14 PM

Moreover, I'm sensitive to the Latina/Latino issue as well. After all, I'm married to one.

Posted by: Drew Morton at August 2, 2009 1:14 PM
---
Which one?

Posted by: , (the commenter formerly known as bucdaddy) at August 2, 2009 7:12 PM

You misunderstood. Drew is married to a Latina/Latino issue.

Posted by: Donqui at August 2, 2009 9:18 PM

^Yeah, I'm sure my wife would love to be referred to as an issue. Goddamnit. I gotta drink my coffee before answering questions. ;)

Posted by: Drew Morton at August 2, 2009 9:37 PM

"Dogma" is really painful to watch for me, and yet I loved it in the theater. I think it's the fact that whenever a character talks, there should be a flashing sign that says "This is what Kevin Smith believes. Kevin Smith is making a statement." It's that obvious.

Furthermore, I think Fiorentino's performance is the worst in the film, and rightly sank her career. Boy it's bad, and I can forgive a lot.

Just out of curiosity, what does one do with a PhD in film studies? I'm not instigating, genuinely curious. I know two different young women who took film courses, but then ended up not wanting to physically do them. In today's changing media landscape, I'd be a little concerned regarding the relevancy of the degree. Unless you want to make movies, in which case carry on.

Posted by: Midnight Monkey Madness at August 2, 2009 9:42 PM

Within a normal economy, PhDs take one of the following three career paths:

1. Programmer for a film festival or archive.
2. Some white-collar job within the industry.
3. Educator/Writer.

Contrary to popular belief, the changing media landscape has almost helped our discipline by widening the area of texts under investigation, allowing for expertise in less-traditional areas (video games, pornography, digital media), possibily widening the corporate jobs we're qualified for and certainly pushing universities and colleges to bulk up on media literacy classes by adding cinema and media studies departments and/or majors.

Posted by: Drew Morton at August 2, 2009 10:44 PM

You misunderstood. Drew is married to a Latina/Latino issue.

Posted by: Donqui at August 2, 2009 9:18 PM
---
Well played.

Posted by: , (the commenter formerly known as bucdaddy) at August 3, 2009 12:50 AM

I don't get what the "issue" is. What "latino/latina" issue was/is there? A latino/latina could be any color. If one didn't know Salma Hayek was Mexican there would not be an issue.

I ares confused.

Posted by: Mik at August 3, 2009 9:55 PM





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