I have been a fan of Kevin Smith since seeing Clerks and apart from Cop Out, which I don't feel necessarily counts, I have pretty much enjoyed, liked or loved everything he has ever been involved in and yes, that includes Jersey Girl.
There are many reasons to like the man and his work: he is funnier and cleverer than he or any of his critics give him credit for, his candid, foul mouthed honesty, he keeps his friends close, the fact he can seemingly turn his hand to anything (Film making, blog writing, shop owning, podcasting, stand up, hockey, TV & Radio show hosting and now distributing), he gets the best from the casts he works with especially Ben Affleck who is rarely better than when working with him, his films attempt to and very often achieve a balance between crude comedy and a heartfelt message without being sentimental and, after Red State he may just have shown himself to be a better writer than Quentin Tarantino.
Yes, when I hear a detractor or critic of his I can see where they are coming from but very often they have either missed the point or a simply not wired the right way to appreciate Smith's little corner of the entertainment business.
I first heard of Red State as this horror movie idea he had been kicking around for some time, it seemed odd because while he is vocal about many things, politics was not one of them and yet, to me the idea of a film that was seemingly going to go after the extreme religious right got my liberal leaning atheist saliva glands excited but then with another thought I wondered how Kevin Smith could even pull it off, not being a director known for dark, moody, horror films.
Then, I had been ferociously absorbing the myriad of podcasts on his ever expanding Smodcast network for the past couple of years. Years which certainly seemed to be a bit turbulent for Mr.Smith, I don't know how much the public are even aware of any of it or if they care but for dedicated Smod listeners like myself it has been a hectic soap opera of dashed hopes over the box office for Zack and Miri make a Porno, of Kevin Smith doing the unthinkable and directing a film he didn't write with a star who turned out to be anything but helpful and of being kicked off a plane for being too fat to fly. Then, seemingly as if his life was an inspirational film about a schlubby kid from New Jersey who made good and because an audience demands a happy ending, he bought a bus to continue touring, built an entire network of increasingly popular podcasts that included getting a theatre, a regular spot at a famous comedy venue and which are soon to become a live streaming radio station, announced that he had the funding for Red State, makes Red State with an all star cast, gets Red State into Sundance 17 years after he debuted there with Clerks, confounds, confuses and amazes people by announcing that he will distribute the film himself (why that upset anyone I have absolutely no idea, that was just plain weird) and finally on March 5th, only a few months since they started shooting the thing, Red State premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Pretty bloody incredible by all accounts and the fact that he did it without, seemingly, stepping on anyone's neck, I personally think is admirable. I honestly scratch my head when people criticise him. You can criticise his work, of course, you can debate his talent and you don't have to like his films or shows but nitpicking, bitching and moaning about the man himself and his actions when he is a fairly shining example of the American dream that everyone bangs on about and getting stuff wrong about him when he is also a completely open book who is always explaining himself clearly and eloquently, is just plain odd.
Now, during all this time, listening to the podcasts on my daily commute I have attempted to keep up with all this stuff but without finding out too many spoilers about the film itself. I have to say, with all honesty, I turned up at the theatre last night with very mixed thoughts and not knowing what to expect. I wanted to be there to have the experience and then see the Q&A but I was not expecting a brilliant film.
For me the warning bells started sounding way back when it was obvious Scott Mosier would not be involved with first Cop Out and then Red State, couple that with the fact that I had been lead to believe it wasn't at all funny, that it was Kevin Smith working outside of his usual genre and some of the reviews out of Sundance that I just glanced at (so as not to get any spoilers) seemed to be less than stella and I have to say my expectations were, by no means, high.
Well, of course, I was dead wrong, it is a fantastic film.
I don't want to give away too much at this point because I really want people to see it but basically it is a horror, action, religious satire that is both completely unlike anything Kevin Smith has ever done and yet, through the script, decidedly and obviously Kevin Smith.
Actually, scratch that, what Red State ACTUALLY is, is a brilliant independent spirited exploitation film, the kind which Tarantino and Rodriguez have been desperately trying to make these past few years and have failed miserably because they keep screaming at the audience through the films "look at how grind-house this is! look we are making ironic exploitation films, aren't we clever!" well Red State doesn't do that, it doesn't have to because it IS an exploitation flick that harks back to the amazing gritty B-Movies of the 70s instead of trying so desperately to be that. I call it an exploitation film because they were the ones that had the freedom to happily blend genres, tackle taboo subjects, could feature violence and black humour, looked different and took chances. Well that's what Red State does and a whole lot more. Yes, of course, like an exploitation movie, there are parts which are cliche but it also succeeds in being dark, disturbing, violent, exciting, unflinching and also, surprisingly, hilarious. From saying it wasn't a comedy but a horror movie what Kevin Smith does is set aside the dick and fart jokes that were Jay & Silent Bob's stock in trade and reveal himself to be very clever and even, in places, witty.
So, it centers around a small nondescript, fairly redneck town in the south where there is a family of religious extremists that are modeled on both the Westboro Baptist church (those vile hate mongers who protest the funerals of gay people) and the Branch Davidians from Waco. Three boys from the local high school, who are looking for sex in all the wrong places, answer an ad online from some dodgy website and through a series of circumstances actually end up inside the church's fortified land and in deep trouble. From there all hell breaks loose and the film takes a number of unexpected turns. I really don't want to go on because the fresher you can see the movie the so much better that it is.
Overall it has a vibe that I would pitch somewhere between the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Fargo, if you can imagine such a thing. Now, pretend those two films got in bed with the more serious parts of Dogma and you're probably half way there.
The cast in this film, which includes John Goodman, Stephen Root, Kevin Pollack, Academy Award winner Melissa Leo and the sublimely perfect Michael Parks, are, each one of them, just wonderful.
On his Red State podcasts, Kevin Smith was saying that he used to think he had to work actors like a puppet, give them line readings and instruct them what to do, especially when he was working with initial amateurs like Jason Mewes but on Red State he just took a step back and watched the monitors, trusting his professionals to bring their best game to the screen. Well whatever he did it worked, I mean you can always trust these actors, which include some of my favourite of all time, to be marvelous and this time they were fairly flawless, wringing every drop of either dopey innocence in the case of the boys, charming malevolence and brainwashed insanity from the church folk and anger and sarcasm in the case of the cops out of the well crafted words on the page. The younger cast members too are uniformly excellent and watchable, more than up to the task of keeping up with their older, more established cast mates.
To see them all up on stage last night and to hear Goodman drop 'Shut the fuck up Donny' onto the crowd was a joy.
A lot has been made about the look of the film and it would be fair to say that this is Kevin Smith's grainiest and grubbiest looking film since Clerks and I mean that in a good way, that's what they were obviously going for, the colour palette of the movie also is very interesting tonally, being filmed on what seemed to be exclusively overcast and grey days but the real revelation here is the camera shots and movement in this film. When it needs to be the camera work is frenetic and exciting, other times, when it's called for, the camera is hovering and eerie, like a fly, almost, buzzing about inside this gloomy, foreboding church trying to find some sort of light or warmth.
If I have one criticism of the film at all, it is that it almost zips along too quickly, after it finished, I personally felt I could've spent at least another 20 minutes with these characters.
In fact, in an alternative reality, an HBO style gritty TV Show about the subject would not have been a bad idea, plenty of things could be stretched out to fill a 10 show run. You've got a possible murder mystery, religious extremists, people's reactions to the antics of the church, the horny teenagers and John Goodman's agent and his relationships with the bureau, his men and his home life. Sort of like Big Love meets True Blood meets Homicide. Just a thought.
The opening build up and the 'horror' section of the film could've been expanded, the film could've been more violent and more suspenseful before the second act gets underway.
A lot of critics, especially after Sundance, who appear to critique Kevin Smith and his fans rather than the film itself, do go on and on about the changes in tone and plot that take place in the film but like I said earlier, it's an exploitation film with a heavy dose of satire, it's meant to cram a hundred unfinished ideas into it's running time and bombard the audience with different imagery, that's its genius. To call it a mess or uneven is to entirely miss the point. These are the same people who probably went on and on about the Social Network being the greatest work of cinema last year. The films structure is actually solid and while it raises more questions than it answers, the few it does answer, it does with style, wit, charm and good grace.
It all basically boils down to good writing being said by good actors with a camera pointed at them and I don't know about anyone else but I find that refreshing nowadays and when I come across it, I could watch it forever.
Lastly, to the family, friends or whatever the four muling, brain dead, arse clowns were in front of me that apparently thought Radio City Music Hall was the best place to go in New York just to drink beer and text, I hope you all suffer slow and agonising torment possibly involving some garden implements and your rectums. They didn't spoil the movie so much as not really watch it, leave half way through for beer, then come back to their seats for the start of the Q&A only to talk very loudly through it, some of which involved repeating jokes and comments to the person sitting next to them who would've heard them by themselves if these flappy-mouthed bastards had shut up for a second.
I wouldn't mind but the tickets weren't cheap, all in all I worked out the probably spent about $20 a beer and sat in their seats a grand total of an hour out of the three. I wish their drinks had sedatives in them!
Suffice to say we moved seats quickly so as to watch the Q&A in peace.
9 out of 10 strawberry flavoured communion wafers (well they are red and religious right?)
Points from The Wife 9 out of 10
SEE MY PHOTOS FROM THE NIGHT