Category Archives: Religious

The Devils-1971

The Devils-1971

Director Ken Russell

Starring Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave

Scott’s Review #1,403

Reviewed October 4, 2023

Grade: A

Ken Russell, most famous for directing the outstanding Women in Love (1970) and The Who’s Tommy (1975) creates a disturbing opus about perversion and scandal amid the Roman Catholic church during medieval times.

The film’s graphic portrayal of violence, sexuality, and religious blasphemy ignited shocked reactions from censors, and it originally received an X rating in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It was banned in several countries, and heavily edited for exhibition in others.

This alone will pique open-minded and curious viewer’s interests. It sure did mine.

The film is ironically entitled The Devils (1971) and stars Russell stalwart Oliver Reed who also appeared in the aforementioned films.  Reed leads the charge as a sexy, rugged man who beds many women and is the center of a convent full of nuns’ nasty and naughty thoughts.

Vanessa Redgrave also appears as a lustful and evil nun with a hunchback.

During the period of seventeenth-century France, Father Grandier (Reed) was a priest whose unorthodox views on sex and religion influenced a passionate following of nuns, including the sexually obsessed Sister Jeanne (Redgrave).

When the power-hungry Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) realizes he must eliminate Grandier to gain control of France, Richelieu vows to destroy the man. He portrays Grandier as a Satanist and spearheads a public outcry to destroy the once-loved priest’s reputation.

The Devils is outrageous and bizarre in only the best of possible ways. Who doesn’t love a healthy dose of nun orgies and simulating fellatio on a large candlestick? One nun violently masturbates as another looks on giggling sadistically.

The camera simply loves Reed and Redgrave who it’s interesting to note are not a couple in the film. These British actors were in their heyday in 1971 and both portray roles that must have challenged them tremendously.

Despite being British the film takes place in France getting off to a naughty start with a nearly nude dance performed by skinny Louis XIII (played with wacky delight by Graham Armitage). Rumored to be gay the king traipses around in colorful costumes and later shoots protestants dressed as gorillas for sport.

There are themes of exorcising and burning at the stake and mentions of the warring Catholics and Protestants so there is a seriousness amid the antics and shenanigans.

It took me a little while to become fully immersed in the chaotic land of Loudon, a town in western France where the film is set. In truth, a second viewing really helped me settle in and have a sense of what was going on.

The best films really are like fine wines.

Attempts by Russell to irritate and incite the overly religious are quite satisfying in a wicked way. As much as he mocks religion by making the traditionally sexually conservative filled with lust and animalistic sexual prowess there is much more going on.

Beneath the surface, he challenges the ridiculousness of religion which cinema lovers will embrace and delight in. There are history lessons to be had though and the film provides exceptional details of the political upheavals and tyranny that occurred.

The thunderous musical score by Peter Maxwell Davies is fabulous especially during The Devils final act when a major character endures a broiling on a wooden stake.

Those possessing the wonderful Blu-Ray version of the film can be treated to various outtakes, cast interviews, and behind-the-scenes information.

An added delight for knowledgeable film fans is the inclusion of character actor Murray Melvin, famous for playing Reverand Runt in the classic Barry Lyndon (1975). He plays Father Pierre Barre.

The Devils (1971) is a perverse and operatic extravaganza of lunacy. It’s caked with sex and nudity and blasphemy that I loved every bit of. The dangerous tone can be studied and thought about long after the film ends.

Ben-Hur-1959

Ben-Hur-1959

Director William Wyler

Starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet

Scott’s Review #1,265

Reviewed June 9, 2022

Grade: A

One of the many pleasures of watching Ben-Hur (1959) is to marvel at the extensive cinematic brilliance involved by the entire cast and crew.

Saying it’s a spectacle is not enough and a must-see.

It had the largest budget ($15.175 million), and the largest sets built, of any film produced at the time. That allowed enormous spending to create one of the most lavish and grand films in cinema history.

I shudder to think of how powerful it was to see this film on the large screen in a movie theater and the sheer mesmerizing quality it had on audiences.

I’ve anticipated viewing the film for years and finally did. Why I waited so long is beyond me. It does not disappoint and the extravagance is immeasurable. I sat back in awe at the many aspects of the film, way before CGI was created, that make it as impressive in 2022 as it was over sixty years ago.

Charlton Heston plays a Palestinian Jew named Judah battling the Roman empire at the time of Christ. He becomes involved in a vicious feud with his ambitious boyhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd).

Their hatred culminates in an exciting yet vicious chariot race.

Condemned to life as a slave, Judah swears vengeance against Messala and escapes, later crossing paths with a gentle prophet named Jesus who helps Judah save his family despite his death.

The film made a household name out of Heston and other than its big budget is legendary for its use of homoeroticism and an unspoken love story between two men who are at first the best of friends and who later become bitter rivals.

The film had several screenwriters and if looking closely there is some uneven storytelling that is largely overlooked by the enormous spectacle of the finished product. Gore Vidal who was openly gay insisted on a homosexual interlude, conspicuously of course, between Judah and Messala.

Giggle worthy to those in the know is that Boyd played his character as a spurned gay lover of Heston’s, with Heston unaware of the underlying romantic angle. This is rumored to be because Heston couldn’t handle it had he known.

This knowledge made me enjoy the subtext of the scenes between the two men even more than I should have.

As if to prove the above point, the written romance between Judah and Esther (Haya Harareet) doesn’t have much chemistry and I viewed them more like brother and sister or good friends.

Other scenes of shimmering, muscular men sitting around in towels are further proof of Ben-Hur’s homoeroticism.

These tidbits of juicy intrigue provide tingles but the main draw is the famous chariot scene which is as exciting as an action scene gets in cinema. The outdoor arena, packed with thousands of onlookers, provides a perfect setup for the round-and-round racetrack as dozens of horses are whipped into a dizzying frenzy, going faster and faster.

The peril is prominent as numerous riders drop to their death, mangled into pieces from being stampeded by the horses.

Other sequences like the leper colony and the crucifixion of Jesus are beautiful and astounding.

Director, William Wyler, a heavy hitter at the time with gems like Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) easily usurps those excellent films with Ben-Hur.

It won eleven of its twelve Oscar nominations and employed ten thousand extras!

Ben-Hur (1959) is the definition of an epic film. Expensive and expansive, the breathtaking chariot scene is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a film.

Not feeling dated it’s a marvel in exquisiteness and magnificence.

Oscar Nominations: 11 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-William Wyler (won), Best Actor in a Leading Role-Charlton Heston (won), Best Actor in a Supporting Role-Hugh Griffith (won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Direction-Color (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design-Color (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Sound Recording (won), Best Music-Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Special Effects (won)

The Bible: In the Beginning-1966

The Bible: In the Beginning-1966

Director John Huston

Starring George C. Scott, Ava Gardner

Scott’s Review #1,139

Reviewed May 5, 2021

Grade: A-

An epic of grand proportions that nearly rivals the magic cinematography of Lawrence of Arabia (1963), The Bible: In The Beginning (1966) embraces its definition of majestic, magnificent, and sweeping.

The story follows the chronological telling of The Bible book, beginning with Adam & Eve.

Important to remember is that one need not be of Catholic, Christian, or any religious persuasion to enjoy the rapturous beauty encompassing the film.  The pious and the non-believers alike can enjoy the experience though there is a hint of the unbelievable and suspension of disbelief in some of the stories gracing the “good book” by director John Huston.

He also narrates some of the stories and appears as Noah.

Nobody is mocked for their beliefs and the film is a straight-ahead interpretation of the first twenty-two chapters of the Book of Genesis, covering the stories from The Creation and Adam and Eve to the binding of Isaac.

Abraham (George C. Scott) and Sarah (Ava Gardner) are heavily featured.

The film strongly focuses on five main sections: The Creation, Garden of Eden, Cain, and Abel, Noah’s Ark, and the story of Abraham. Some other stories are given less screen time and attention but are featured.

Speaking of Adam & Eve (Michael Parks & Ulla Bergyrd), they kick off the action with the fateful decision to pick and taste the luscious fruits dangling in front of their eyes as the Serpent fiendishly looks on. God punishes Adam & Eve for their temptations setting off a common theme amidst the film, and certainly of the good book, of resisting pleasures of the flesh and of being punished for caving into desires.

Aod is happy when people are unfulfilled and joyless. Sadly, some have taken this too much to heart.

We could debate religion until the cows come home, and many have, but I became aware of a hint of ridicule or at least strong questioning on the part of Huston.

He creates scenes that most would deem ridiculous if not written in the words of the Bible. Again, Huston is careful not to mock anyone, shrouding any antics in good, stylized 1960s film, but a woman being turned into a pillar of salt for looking at the sky could be found amusing.

Admittedly, some chapters are better than others.

The trials and tribulations of Abraham & Sarah get off to a slow start as Abraham and company traverse miles and miles of the lonely desert so much so that I was left wondering if they were on the road to nowhere.

Finally, the action takes off as Sarah realizing she is barren, makes her maid conceive a child with Abraham. I never knew this saga had so much in common with the Hulu hit The Handmaid’s Tale but the similarities are eerie and uncanny.

Noah and his Ark is also a very good sequence and brings more humor than might be necessary but I guess this is to counterbalance more serious stories. Noah adores animals, especially cats, and lions and he treated them beautifully choosing to save and live in harmony with the creatures. They love him. The flooding scenes related to this chapter are exquisite and adventurous.

The film depicts God as a bit of a son of a bitch as he calls Abraham to lead his only son to a high mountain and sacrifice him. This tests Abraham’s will and is somber and thoughtful.

If one notices many of the actors look Italian it’s because they are. Noah’s wife for example is played by Pupella Maggio, famous for her role in Fellini’s Amarcord (1973).

Much of the film was shot in and around the Italian city of Rome.

Huston not only narrates some of the sections but appears as Noah himself!

The Bible: In the Beginning (1966) is exquisite to look at and pleasing cinematically. Many fans of religious cinema will prefer the more conventional The Ten Commandments (1956) to this one and, while slow at times, by the conclusion the film has aged like a fine wine and had me enthralled and appreciative of its achievements.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Music Score

Noah-2014

Noah-2014

Director Darren Aronofsky

Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly

Scott’s Review #3

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Reviewed June 16, 2014

Grade: B+

Learning that Darren Aronofsky, a very dark director (Black Swan-2011, Requiem for a Dream-2000, and The Wrestler-2008), would be tackling a religious film piqued my curiosity.

Those expecting an uplifting, happy film about “god” will be disappointed.

This film is generating controversy from the religious folks, which I find interesting, but nobody wants me to go off on a tangent.

The film tells the tale of the biblical figure, Noah, and his quest to do God’s will through the signs he is given.

It takes incredible talent to make a film like this not seem silly and Aronofsky, Russell Crowe, and Jennifer Connelly succeed.

The film is quite dark and at times Noah comes off as more of a madman than a savior.

The visual effects and the musical score are wonderfully effective.

Noah (2014) has a few plot holes but is a nice fantasy/apocalypse-type film.