Friday, August 15, 2014

The Dog, As It Is In Heaven

The Dog
As It Is In Heaven

Quick capsules on two more of last week's films:

In "The Dog," documentarians Allison Berg and Fran├žois Keraudren profile John Wojtowicz, the Vietnam veteran, former bank teller and early queer activist who in August 1972 attempted to rob a Chase Manhattan branch in Brooklyn to pay for his male "wife's" sex reassignment surgery, and who was played by Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon." By "profile" I mean they turn the film over to Wojtowicz, a bisexual and bigamist who also had a female wife and later took the jailhouse lawyer who got his sentence reduced as yet another male "wife." You can't help but laugh at the twists in the Dog's life story and grudgingly admire his unapologetic hedonism ("Do whatever you want," he counsels, "and if somebody else don't like it, fuck them"), but there's a tawdriness in seeing him, even late in life, return to the scene of the crime to sign autographs and relive what was for his hostages a terrifying ordeal. Given that he died eight years ago, the picture also has a mustiness about it that's just barely offset by the hilarity of the unbelievable truth.

First-time director Joshua Overbay, working from a script by his wife Ginny Lee, fails to maximize the potential of the end-of-days scenario in "As It Is In Heaven," about a small Christian sect in Kentucky whose prophet, Edward (John Lina), has prepared them for Jesus' imminent second coming. Edward baptizes his newest disciple (Chris Nelson) and renames him David, and on his deathbed (after a poorly staged accident) passes the torch to David to lead the flock, bypassing his son Eamon (Luke Beavers). Increasingly wacked-out David insists the group demonstrate its worthiness by fasting for the 30 days leading up to the Rapture, while Eamon glowers with impotent rage. One of the women has a baby, to whom it quickly becomes apparent that David's decree applies equally. (I always have a problem with filmmakers' using children and especially babies as pawns in this way.) Nelson fares best; there's a contained power to his performance that gets a lot out of a little. Beavers comes off like a PA who got the part when the cast actor had to work at the auto shop. The characterizations of the other cult members (and their beliefs) remain frustratingly thin. We spend an hour on the first ten days of the fast before the last 20 pass in a blur; just as well, as Overbay declines to depict the undoubtedly grotesque realities of an extended fast. I'd forgive the film if it came to a meaningful conclusion; instead, it finds itself painted into a corner, and the anticlimactic last scene seems to go on forever in hopes of covering that up.

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