Log: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

I've made a pretty decent run of Halloween movies this year (Black Sabbath, Suspiria, Frailty) and this may end up being the last of the bunch. And I'm not complaining.

This may be the perfect Halloween movie. It starts out in a weird house with a bunch of weird people you don't really know. You're not even sure you wanna be there. There's a bunch of half naked people running around. Someone takes your coat. You're pulled in. Then, music. Laughter. Creepiness. Lust. Liaisons.. Jealousy. And when it ends, it's a real bummer. What else could Halloween be about??
Have a great one tomorrow, whoever you are, however you can.

"Don't dream it - be it." -Dr. Frank-N-Furter - A Scientist



Bill Maher is a guy whom I've always enjoyed, but never given a lot of credit to. I'm not sure why, exactly. When I watch his show, I can easily judge him and relate to him as a man of good character and simple integrity, who values intelligence and passionate discourse, and who's values and beliefs lie, safely and squarely, right smack-dab in the middle of mine. Awesome! Once in a while, it's fun as hell to hear him tear down a conservative pundit or a gay-basher or two. But for some reason, particularly as I have gotten older, I have tended to tune out personalities like Maher and seek out media that omits their own or other's biases entirely (or, at, least pretends to omit them.) Maybe it's the NPR lover in me, but I think it's easier to absorb the material when you take all the passion out. Whether or not that's a cop-out, I'm not sure.

Anyway, Bill Maher decided to make a movie, and I decided not to care. "What," I rhetorically asked myself, "could be even remotely cinematic about Bill Maher and his desperate need to espouse at every possible opportunity his own misgivings about the global phenomenon of religion?" If anything, this was maybe a rental, a project obviously built for the small screen, where Maher is comfortable preaching to his followers. But, there it was in the theater, and, as I had been convinced into taking in a showing, there I was watching it. Right from the start, Maher seemed way out of his league and out of his element, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I had just plopped down ten big ones to watch him prance around and laugh at people, like some kind of mean-spirited, agenda-clad vanity project. Could Maher's persona alone sustain this film? Turns out it could, and very well, too.

Maher's film, during which he travels the world far and wide, seeking out dozens of folks of varyingly obtuse and unusual religious backgrounds, is as completely successful as an entertainment as it is a failure as a documentary, or "message" film. The laughs come most often at the expense of the easiest targets, mixing in subtitled overdubs or spliced footage to back up his very funny on screen jabs. Maher does save some reverence for his more articulate interviewees (all of whom, not surprisingly, only speak in support of his agenda.) And, on the basis of laughs and laughs ALONE, this is a fantastic movie. Let it serve as a point of reference that Religulous is directed by Larry Charles, whose last film, Borat, was also a highly edited composite of cheap shots and low blows at intended targets, sought out and filmed in such a way as to engender the biggest gut-busting laughs. Charles is a real talent (having also written for Seinfeld,) and it's to his credit that the film does not seem overly concerned with hiding the fact that these people were chosen purely BECAUSE of their strange, hilarious, sometimes terrifying agendas. This is not a representative sample, much as Maher would have us believe it is.

Religulous also reinforces the now-tired trend of film essays posing as documentaries. Films that tell, not show. From Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock to Expelled, there is now a full-fledged genre of films that might well be referred to as unabashedly opinioned filmed feature journalism. I don't think this trend is necessarily bad; it gives a lot of good minds a viable vehicle to get their ideas out to people in an entertaining way. But, in a way, it's exactly the same kind of opinionated media I have grown to leave behind.

Religulous very skillfully highlights and has a lot of fun with some of the furthest absurdities and most far-out stupidities of religious faith. But is that really so hard? I suspect that Maher knows it is not. But in the end, when he concludes his successful comedy with a stone-cold serious 5 minute lecture on the pitfalls and catastrophic consequences of world faith, it's a bit like he's cutting and running. OK Mr. Maher, but your film did little if anything to support your claims, even if I do agree with them in principal. Showing me a preacher in alligator shoes or the crucifiction of Christ in a musical theme park show does not exactly drive home anything more than the preposterousness, AT IT'S EXTREMES, of organized religion. Perhaps there is more value to be found in simply observing and, yes, laughing as hard as we can at these examples of religion gone horribly bad. I'm all for pointing out flaws, when necessary. But how can you ask me to take so seriously that same thing which you have asked me to laugh at for the last 90 minutes? Either it's a curio or it's a debilitating menace and a plague on humanity. It can't be both. And let's be honest; the one thing making this film should have taught you (as if you didn't know it already,) is that, no matter how infallable your argument is, THESE PEOPLE AREN'T BUDGING. And if nobody's budging, then your just preaching to the choir. But, in all due respect and seriousness, NOBODY does it better than you.

I mean that. Swear to God.