Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap: Part Two

Welcome to part two of Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap. If you haven’t read the first part, please start there. Now, on to part two!

Priest is a marginally better movie than Legion, but that’s not really saying much. It’s based on a Korean comic and takes place is an alternate universe where man was at war with vampires for centuries. The world is now controlled by the Church, who used vampire-killing warriors called Priests to kill most of the vampires and place the rest in reservations. Mankind lives in giant walled-off cities to protect them, and the Priests have since been disbanded.

One Priest, played by Paul Bettany, learns that his niece Lucy was kidnapped and his brother and his brother’s wife were killed by vampires. Priest (he doesn’t have a name in the movie, in the credits he’s listed simply as “Priest”) tries to get his authority reinstated by the Clergy, but they don’t believe his vampire story and refuse. Priest leaves the city anyway to rescue Lucy (who later SPOILER ALERT turns out to actually be his daughter) and the Clergy sends out three other Priests and a Priestess to bring him back.

That’s the movie in a nutshell. Priest soon discovers a vampire plot to attack the cities and fights to save mankind again and we all know how that goes. The movie ends with the implication of a sequel that will probably never happen, but I guess that’s okay.

It’s a pretty scattershot movie, but it’s certainly less pretentious and a hell of a lot more entertaining than Legion. And it’s only 87 minutes long, so at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome. There are also some pretty good action scenes, and the special effects are really not bad.

The creature designs in the movie aren’t terribly original, but at least they look pretty good and the creatures move pretty well. The special effects are pretty smooth and the creatures’ movements aren’t really jerky or anything, which is good.

priest vampire

And speaking of originality, this movie is VERY derivative. It borrows from at least half a dozen other movies. There’s some Blade Runner, some Indiana Jones, some Blade, and a LOT of Mad Max, just to name a few. It’s hard not to be reminded of all these other movies when watching Priest, which is never a good thing. Still, I thought it was still fairly entertaining and Paul Bettany once again makes the whole outlandish thing easier to swallow, despite looking like this:

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The movie does have some interesting ideas, though. The city people live in really does look like something straight out of Blade Runner, but it still looks pretty cool. It’s portrayed as being completely under the control of the Church, although it is of course careful not to mention any specific denominations.

Another one of the movie’s big influences comes from stories like 1984 and V For Vendetta, because the city in Priest (called Cathedral City) is very Big Brother-ish. The leader of the Clergy (played by Christopher Plummer of all people) appears everywhere on giant billboards and video monitors, constantly reminding people that the Church protects them, and that “To go against the Church is to go against God.”

There are even automated confessional booths, where people go into a booth and speak into a microphone, and an image of the Clergy leader’s face appears on a screen. When Bettany’s character attempts to use one, he gets what sounds like a very robotic instruction to “say three Hail Marys and four Our Fathers.” These confessional booths turn what should be an intimate and meaningful act into something impersonal and essentially meaningless, with commands for prayers issued like a doctor prescribing a drug.

Vampires have always had a religious connection. Crosses have always been a big part of the imagery and lore of vampire stories, and the movie Priest does have an interesting take on what a world run by a totalitarian church could be like. I guess? Maybe I didn’t say that quite right.

Ultimately, the movie suffers from the same problem Legion does: germ of an interesting concept marred by lackluster execution. Still, Priest works marginally better than Legion does, and at least has a firmer grasp of what kind of movie it wants to be. It’s certainly scattershot and it wears its influences on its sleeve, but it is at least more consistent than Legion and I found it to be quite a bit more enjoyable.

As a mostly-unrelated side note, Priest is probably the goriest PG-13 rated movie I’ve ever seen. Seriously, this movie is gruesome. I have no earthly idea how a movie with this scene…

priest gore

…could possibly be rated PG-13, but a harmless movie like The King’s Speech gets an R rating because of three or four F-words. Incomprehensible.

Anyway, there you have it. The two-part introduction to Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap. There are actually quite a few movies that could fall into this category, so maybe some of them will show up sometime in the not-too-distant future.

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Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap: Part One

In the 2007 Nicolas Cage film “Ghost Rider”, there is a scene where somebody says to Nicolas Cage’s character, “I’m worried about you because you’re filling your head with all this comparative exponential religiosity crap!” or something of that nature. One would imagine that Nicolas Cage hears this sort of thing a lot in day-to-day life, but that’s beside the point. It is easily the best line in an otherwise profoundly forgettable movie, and I guess you could say it served as something of an inspiration to me (kind of).

Today I am starting a series that is an idea that I have been kicking around for a while now, and with no movies that I’m really excited about coming to theaters in the near future, I decided now would be as good a time as any to tackle it.

In this series, which shall be titled “Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap”, I will be examining some movies that deal, however obliquely, with the concepts of faith and religion.

A word of warning: this series will not be to everyone’s tastes. The subjects of faith and religion are always controversial. It is not my intention to anger anyone, what I want to do with this series is take a look at some different modern movies to see what they make me think about these concepts, basically. Please do not assume from the title of this series that I think all religion is crap, because I don’t. It’s just a silly quote from a bad movie that I thought would make a good title. Who knows, maybe Ghost Rider will show up in this series at some point down the road.

Now that all of the introductory stuff is out of the way, let’s move on to the movies, shall we?

And yes, I wrote “movies” as plural intentionally, because for the first installment of this series we’ve got a double feature: 2010’s “Legion” and 2011’s “Priest”, both directed by Scott Stewart and starring Paul Bettany.

legion poster

priest poster

Let’s start with Legion, because everything has to start somewhere.

In Legion, Paul Bettany plays the archangel Michael, who has come to Earth to save mankind from…uh…angels possessing people.

Wait, what? Well, it seems that the big guy upstairs has lost faith in humanity, and has decided to send his army of angels to exterminate us. Michael was one of those ordered to destroy the humans, but he didn’t want to so he decided to protect us instead.

In the first scene of the movie, Michael falls to Earth and proceeds to slice off his angel wings with a big knife. He then pulls a classic Kyle Reese and mugs some dude, steals his trench coat and somehow finds a whole bunch of machine guns, which he takes with him. All of this is admittedly pretty badass, but what happens next is exemplary of the problems with the movie as a whole.

And what happens after this pretty badass opening scene, you ask? Well, the answer is: 20 MINUTES OF FRICKING NOTHING. After the opening scene, the movie shifts to some diner in the middle of nowhere, where we meet a whole bunch of annoying characters: there’s the guy who owns the diner, Bob (played by Dennis Quaid), his son Jeep (I hope that’s a nickname) who is in love with the diner’s waitress Charlie (what is up with these names?) even though she’s eight months pregnant with some other guy’s baby, the cook who is a big black guy with a prosthetic arm named Percy (again with the names), three rich douchebags (a mom, a dad, and their daughter) stuck at the diner because their BMW broke down, and a black dude (Tyrese Gibson, playing the exact same character he always plays in every single movie he’s ever been in) who got lost on the way to a custody hearing for his son, or something.

Whew. The movie crams all this into 20 incredibly boring minutes. The boredom is broken up when a sweet-looking little old lady comes into the diner, and promptly starts spewing profanity and telling everyone in the diner they’re going to burn, and then bites the rich dad on the neck, starts crawling around on the ceiling, and gets shot by Tyrese Gibson, who is of course packing heat (has Tyrese Gibson ever played a character who isn’t packing heat?).

Uh…what? Evil Grandmothers? Yup. In the immortal words of the great Dave Barry, I Am Not Making This Up.

legion evil grandmother

See?

So after all that, Michael FINALLY shows up again (after being gone from the movie for 20+ minutes after the opening scene), hands out the machine guns, and tells everyone to get ready.

He then tells everyone that God has lost faith in humanity and sent His angels to destroy us, and that he, Michael, still believes in us and is here to protect us. Oh, and the baby that Charlie the waitress is carrying is somehow the key to the survival of mankind. Why? I dunno. Because the movie had a low budget and could only afford to film at this diner in the middle of the desert, and the writers had to find some plot reason for Michael to come there, would be my guess.

But here’s the kicker: despite what the film’s trailer might lead you to believe, God does not just send his angels to destroy us. He, um, has them possess people (like the grandma) and turn them into zombie-like murderers, complete with shark teeth and black eyes (again, like the grandma).

I have many problems with this.

Okay, I get that this movie probably had a limited special-effects budget, and probably couldn’t afford to show Michael duking it out with legions of angels in midair (although that would have been cool), and so the filmmakers had to find some other way to convey this. And that’s fine. Not every movie has a Michael Bay budget.

But the solution they came up with just flat-out doesn’t make any sense. Angels are supposed to be, you know, good, right? I simply cannot fathom why being possessed by one would turn a person into a foul-mouthed zombie-like murderer. Seriously, if the grandma is possessed by a freaking angel, then why in pluperfect hell does she start spewing profanity??? Are all angels secretly potty-mouthed or something? Did God just say to His legions, “Eh, go nuts”? Why would the symptoms of being possessed by an angel so closely mimic the symptoms of being possessed by a demon, like in The Exorcist??? “Possessed by an Angel” sounds like either a Hallmark channel movie or the name of a Nicholas Sparks “novel” (I hate you, Nicholas Sparks) for crying out loud!!!

And wouldn’t it be more efficient to send actual angels rather than using them to possess people? Michael even says at one point that the possessed people are just vessels and that weak-willed people are easier to possess. I can buy that if we’re talking about demonic possession, but we’re not! Why is the whole possession thing even necessary at all?

But even setting aside all of the movie’s profound theological issues, Legion is a film that simply cannot decide what it wants to be. Is it a horror movie? Is it an action movie? Is it an examination of what it means to have faith despite the odds? Is it a family drama? It wants to be all of these things, but it ends up being none of them because it doesn’t do any of them very well.

Compounding this problem is the movie’s wildly jarring tonal shifts. It has a cool, action-y opening scene, followed by 20 minutes of talking, then the grandma shows up, then Michael shows up, then ACTION SCENE, then exposition, then ACTION SCENE, then more talking, then another action scene, some more talking and then it’s pretty much over. Nothing in the movie flows well at all and it sometimes feels like three or four different movies stitched together haphazardly.

The action scenes are actually pretty decent, and there’s a good fight scene between Michael and Gabriel, the other archangel, who still has his angel wings and a pretty cool mace thing.

legion-bettany-and-gabriel

So yeah, the action scenes aren’t half bad, but they’re not woven into the rest of the movie well at all, and they make up a very small portion of the movie’s running time. Between action scenes, we get to learn all about the various boring backstories of literally every single character in the freaking diner, all of which are just about as boring and clichéd as you could imagine. The movie is like 90% TALKING, and all of the talking is BORING.

Let’s do some math. Legion is 100 minutes long, which makes it easy. It’s basically 10 minutes of action and 90 minutes of boring backstory and speechifying by every single boring supporting character.

The only thing in the movie that works consistently is Paul Bettany. He’s a really good actor, and he brings an air of credibility and gravitas to every scene he’s in. He singlehandedly makes the movie far more credible than it deserves, and without him it would be entirely unwatchable.

At one point he gives Jeep (the guy who’s in love with the waitress) a long speech about how he (Jeep) is the reason he (Michael) still has faith in humanity, and Bettany makes the whole speech very believable and even comes close to being effecting, and you get a glimpse of what the movie might have been. This is especially impressive considering that Jeep is a guy who looks (and sounds) a hell of a lot like Ellis from Left 4 Dead 2.

legion jeeplegion ellis

On the left: Jeep. On the right: Ellis. Or is it the other way around?

The sad thing is that there is a decent germ of an idea to be found buried deep within the movie’s concept, and there’s maybe even a decent movie to be made from this concept, but Legion is not that movie.

In one of the special features on the DVD (NO I DON’T HAVE THIS MOVIE ON DVD SHUT UP) director Scott Stewart talks very seriously about how he believes that the suspense leading up to a scare is almost as important as the scare itself. Okay, sure. The problem is that the “scare” Mr. Stewart is referring to is the evil grandma (I forgot to mention that there’s also an evil ice cream man later), and that evil grandmas (in this movie at least) are not scary. I get the idea that you can take things that are usually good and turn them evil, and that can be scary (Stephen King is good at this), but in Legion, evil grandmas and evil ice cream men aren’t scary, they’re just chuckle-inducing.

Legion is a movie that wants to be many things, and it ends up being none of them. It really has nothing interesting to say, and comes off as being pretentious more often than not.

Wow, that ended up being really long. I was originally going to cover both movies in one post, but for ease of readability I think I will split it into two parts.

Please join me for part two, which will be up soon (hopefully no later than tomorrow).

Hooked on a Feelin’

Do you like fun? You know, fun – an experience that is enjoyable or playful, a cause for mirth and/or merriment? Because if you do, you need to see Guardians of the Galaxy. It is probably the most fun I have had at the movies this year.

Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy...Milano..Ph: Film Frame..?Marvel 2014

Most Marvel movies are surefire moneymakers, and while Guardians did have the advantage of having a built-in fanbase of Marvel movies in general, a movie that features an anthropomorphic raccoon and a talking tree creature was not exactly a sure thing.

So the success of the movie since its release on August 1 has made me extremely happy. It’s one of the most-liked movies of the year, and pretty much every review I’ve read of and every person I know who has seen it has loved it.

And what’s not to love? The best way I can describe the movie is that it’s like Star Wars or Star Trek on steroids. There are quite a few similarities – the protagonists are a veritable Rogues Gallery of lovable vagabonds, the kind who will save the day but may or may not steal your wallet in the process, in true Han Solo style.

GuardiansOfTheGalaxy characters

The characters and settings are wildly diverse and creative, with all kinds of different intergalactic locales and the frequently shady denizens that populate them. Everything in the movie looks fantastic, and while movies of this sort are generally unlikely to win Academy Awards, in this reviewer’s opinion the special effects, costumes, makeup and production design are all Oscar-worthy.

The story itself is maybe not quite as memorable, since it’s not all that much different from the plot of Thor: The Dark World last year. You know, bad guy wants to acquire ancient cosmic power to destroy stuff, good guys want to prevent this from happening. That kind of thing.

But that’s okay. The movie is more about bringing its eclectic group of characters together and letting them do their thing.

And what a fun thing it is! They escape from space prison, have all kinds of spaceship battles, beat each other up a few times, and ultimately end up bosom buddies.

All five of the main characters are very likable and the movie finds time to give all of them a lot of personality and also gives each of them their own time to shine during the many explosive action scenes.

Between this and The Lego Movie (and Moneyball a few years ago), Chris Pratt is now one of my favorite actors. He proves with Guardians that he has the charisma to carry a movie, and he looks like he’s having a great time.

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The rest of the cast is also great – Zoe Saldana looks just as good in green as she did in blue (in Avatar), and we get our first glimpse of Josh Brolin as megavillain Thanos, teased at the end of The Avengers.

Professional wrestler Dave Bautista proves surprisingly endearing as Drax the Destroyer, a musclebound, vengeance-minded fellow who, hilariously, doesn’t understand metaphors, which, as an English major, was doubly hilarious to me.

Bradley Cooper makes Rocket Raccoon my favorite character in the movie, giving the pint-sized critter an attitude a mile wide. I hate raccoons in real life, but Cooper’s performance as Rocket has to be one of the best performances by a computer-generated character by anyone not named Andy Serkis.

The same goes for Vin Diesel as Groot the tree creature, who is only capable of saying “I am Groot,” but he’s a downright lovable character. He’s kind of like the Chewbacca of the movie, since he only says “I am Groot” but his best friend Rocket knows exactly what he means. (Example: Groot: “I am Groot.” Rocket: “What do you mean 12% of a plan is better than 11%? What the hell does that have to do with anything?”)

guardians-of-the-galaxy-rocket-and-groot-poster-060914-hi-res

 It really is amazing that everything in the movie works as well as it does. It had all the ingredients of a potential disaster, but under the direction of professional nerd James Gunn it all works like gangbusters, right down to the groovy array of 70’s tunes that play throughout the movie.

This is only Gunn’s third feature film, and his first with a blockbuster budget, but he proves himself an extremely capable and sure-handed filmmaker.

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Look at him! He looks so nerdy! He looks the kind of guy who probably would have gotten picked on a lot in high school, but he made one of the most successful and widely-loved films of the year, so suck it, bullies!! Nerds rule the world!

I don’t really have anything particularly profound to say about this movie. It’s just a ton of fun, and you probably won’t get more bang for your buck from any other summer movie. And did I mention that it’s hilariously funny, on top of everything else? Because it absolutely is. I saw the movie twice on its opening weekend, and both times the audience I saw the movie with was in stitches. My face was sore afterwards because I was laughing so much.

Seriously, why are you still reading this? Go see Guardians of the Galaxy! I don’t care if you don’t usually go for sci-fi or superhero movies, you don’t need to be a sci-fi or superhero movie fan in order to find something in Guardians to enjoy.

You just need to like to have fun.