As reported by Jeff Wells awhile back, Religulous has started playing in two theaters (one in NYC and one in Claremont, CA) to fulfill Rule 12 of the Academy’s eligibility rules for Best Documentary nominations. The theaters themselves are out of the way (apparently the one in New York is all the way up on 181st St.) and the film is playing with very little accompanying publicity, as it doesn’t officially open until October 3rd; indeed I spoke with Chud‘s Devin Faraci this morning, who saw the film last night in Claremont, and he told me that the theater was half full (although those in attendance enjoyed themselves), and that the film appeared to be playing off of a videotape, indicated by soft edges and poor sound quality.

As a consequence of these early showings, some more reviews are starting to roll in (other than the ones we’ve already seen), giving some insightful impressions into the film. Devin’s review of Religulous went up last night and he gave the movie a 9 out of 10, saying:

As a piece of agitprop op-ed filmmaking, Religulous is often brilliant. It’s definitely hilarious, sometimes to the point of leaving me wheezing and giggling. It’s also essentially irrefutable – the argument between Maher and the believers really boils down to ‘Why do you like chocolate?’ The problem is that nobody makes huge political and military decisions based on how they feel about chocolate. The film’s final moments, where Maher make a passionate exhortation to like-minded doubters to stand up against the irrationality that has gripped our world…could be galvanizing to that silent 16% of Americans – a minority, by the way, bigger than blacks or Jews.

Several episodes back on the /Filmcast, some of us expressed concern that the film was playing to Maher’s weaker aspects as a comedian: namely, his ability to conduct humorous, on-the-spot interviews. Devin seems to think that the film plays to his strengths as an interviewer his HBO show, Real Time, which is a relief to hear. Additionally, Faraci says that the film’s interviews with religious types seem fair and don’t feel like “Gotcha”-type shakedown pieces.

Robert Koehler’s review also went up on Variety last night, calling the ending extremely provocative. According to Koehler:

[The ending] minutes, though, will catch [audiences] up short: Suddenly, the laughs die down, and as in his closing monologues on “Real Time,” Maher turns deadly serious with a final statement that will stir raging arguments in theater lobbies. Considering he was once a minor comic on the circuit and a supporting thesp in generally awful film comedies, Maher’s transformation into one of America’s sharpest social critics is remarkable. He takes no script credit, but his periodic monologues to the camera are undeniably written, and written well.

As a Christian myself, I’m very interested to see how this film treats religion, and whether it will further galvanize the modern Atheist movement, personified by the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens, that seems to be gripping America these days.

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