I just got out of watching Bill Maher's new movie, Religulous at it's world premiere at the Traverse City Film Festival. It was one of the first films to sell out at the festival, selling out in just the first couple days of sales.
Security was very tight. Cellphones had to be turned completely off. It was repeatedly announced that anyone with an active cellphone would have it confiscated. If any images were found from the movie on the phone, then charges would be leveled against that person. Metal detector wands were also used on everyone as they entered the theater.
Okay... now for the movie review: for those of you who thought that Dawkin's "Root of all evil" or "Jesus Camp" were powerful statements, then you might want to wear diapers because you might just shit yourself. Religulous doesn't take prisoners. It addresses Christianity, Scientology, Mormonism, and Islam. Bill Maher travels around the word, visiting the Wailing Wall, USA Bible Belt, Salt Lake City, and other locations while interviewing a wide range of religious leaders and followers.
Throughout the interviews, Bill throws out zingers and the joke timing is impeccable. Like the pro-creationist movie "Expelled", Religulous cuts to a variety of old film stock when making jokes. Although it fails at times, I would say the vast majority of the cuts connect and generate hearty laughs.
The first third of the film deals with christianity and several offshoots of it. Here, the movie shines. It is hilarious! Poking jab after jab into insane ideas by asking simple questions.
Unfortunately, the move starts to slow down after he lampoons Scientology. Dressed as a vagrant, he appears in Hyde Park's Speaker's Corner and runs through Scientology's belief structure... appearing as a raving lunatic while accurately describing what that religion teaches.
By the time it deals with Islam, a lot of inertia has been lost. Although it still delivers some funny bits, the movie is much more subdued. Granted, anytime you are dealing with a subject so inflammatory that people have been killed over it, you tread lightly, but I think Christians will criticize the movie for being softer on Islam than on Christianity. The sad thing is that it's true. Being the more dangerous religion, people seem to be treating Islam with kid gloves. I wonder how long before other religions start adopting that tactic as they become threatened by critics?
The ending is a fiery call to action for freethinkers. Rousing music & inflammatory speech hammer the dangers of religion into the audience. Propaganda techniques? Yes. Pretty heavy-handed about it too. However, I think it's needed. The flow of the movie needed something to bring things together and although thick with images and rhetoric... it is a solid ending.
Is it worth seeing? Hell yes! Will people be offended? Most definitely. Will there be protesters? There should be, this is far more blasphemous than "Dogma", "Passion of the Christ", or "The DeVinci Code".
Comparing "Expelled" to "Religulous", it's pretty quickly apparent that Religulous is the better movie. Bill Maher, with his previous experience doing standup and conducting interviews shames Ben Stein. Nicely done Bill!