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TIFF Review #3 - Religulous

TIFF Review #3 - Religulous

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Published by Chris Battaglia

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Published by: Chris Battaglia on Sep 10, 2008
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06/16/2009

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Maher 1, God 0Bill Maher has balls. Serious balls. Whether or not you agree with what he has to say,whether you find him hilarious or utterly arrogant and annoying, you have to admit he musthave quite the pair of big, brass balls. How else do you explain the comment he made justweeks after 9/11, pointing out the hypocrisy of calling the terrorists cowards when no oneelse dared question the patriotic party line. he was willing to lose his TV show for speakinghis mind. You can't help but admire the balls something like that requires.And that is why Maher is the perfect fit for a movie like Religulous, a tongue-in-cheekdocumentary examining the roots of people's beliefs by sending Maher around the world tohave conversations about faith with true believers of all stripes. Faith is a touchy subject.It's also the source of much hatred and violence, and has been since mankind first looked tothe stars and began dreaming up answers to life's great questions. Many people will defendtheir beliefs to the death. Further still, some are more than willing to kill others just forhaving different beliefs. But that doesn't seem to faze Maher, who is never afraid to takethat extra step over the line to push the issue and force people to confront thecontradictions of their faith, no matter how offensive they might find it. Maher pisses off more than a few people over the course of his Religulous journey, but he never loses hisedge or backs down. He also never misses an opportunity for a good joke, taste and socialetiquette be damned, which leads to more than a few cringe-worthy moments that had melaughing and tugging my collar at the same time.One thing Religulous and Maher make perfectly clear over the course of the film is that theirquarrel is not with personal faith, but rather with organized religion. Maher can't understandwhy so many people follow institutions based entirely on unfounded claims and downrightfabrications and focused solely on gaining power and wealth. His strongest criticism is of thecontradictions in (and bastardizations of) the various holy texts. It's both fascinating andfunny watching people staunchly defend these books they believe in, even as it becomespainfully obvious Maher knows more about the texts than they do.Maher's two main targets are the patriotic evangelical movement in the U.S. and Muslimextremism. He does touch on the absurdities in Judaism, including an interview with ananti-Zionist Jew, but his focus is clearly elsewhere. At first glance this appears unbalanced,but the film explains this choice with a simple population statistic: Christians? more than 1billion worldwide, Muslims? more than 1 billion, Jews? 14 million. Worldwide. In the Q&Afollowing the film, director Larry Charles addressed this subject by pointing out that the onlyreason Judaism still plays a major role on the world religious stage is because of itsconnections with Christianity and Islam.The documentary is expertly directed and pieced together by Charles, who was also theman behind the camera for Borat and is cementing himself as one of the premier guerrillacomedy directors of our time. Charles' pacing is spot-on, which is crucial for a film like this,and he clearly understands that the way to best bring out the comedy in both Borat andReligulous is to display the candid nature of the ridiculous situations. In Religulous, heachieves this through the sporadic inclusion of B-roll footage and angles where othercameras and boom mics are clearly visible. There are also a couple of moments when hegets some help from his surroundings, but I won't spoil those for you. You'll know themwhen you see them, and trust me: you'll laugh.The crowning achievement of Religulous is its ability to generate laughs from almost everysingle moment and situation. Each interview is strip-mined for punchlines that Mahermay

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