Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Film Review - Kevin Smith's RED STATE (2011)

On 3/28/2011, I had the opportunity to see Kevin Smith's upcoming film RED STATE at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas. For the purposes of full disclosure, I'm a giant Kevin Smith fan. I've loved every one of his movies including the much maligned Jersey Girl. (The Sweeney Todd scene still warms the heart.) I will do my best to write this review honestly and without major spoilers.

I bought tickets the second they went on sale, and I've been excited since then because this was one of the buzziest films to come out of Sundance. For the screening, I opted for a red shirt (red shirt... Red State... heh) and my newest black jacket. I was accompanied by my friend CJ who is also a Kevin Smith fan. I'm smart. CJ is MUCH smarter than I am, so it was nice to talk about the movie with him afterwards.

After parking, we found the line for the screening, and I immediately felt overdressed. It's not hard to tell a Kevin Smith fan, as we tend to be schlubby guys with too much facial hair (with a random hot girl thrown in). In a sea of 5s, I became an 8! The diehard fans (myself included) also tend to wear some sort of View-Askew memorabelia. (For the record, I used my Chasing Amy shirt as an undershirt.)

I was saddened to see that there were no protests nor angry mobs yelling outside the theater, but I figured that Austin's too cool for something like that. But I felt like I was missing out on some of the RED STATE experience without that craziness.

After a short wait, we walk into the theatre. Orchestra seats, Row I, right in the center.... so the ideal seat for the movie. The Paramount theater is a beautiful venue, complete with balconies and ceiling artwork... although I have no idea who that is supposed to be.

Kevin would later say that this screening at this theater was something he'd looked forward to since early in filming. Whether or not he was pandering, we ate it up.

After a quick introduction (which began and ended with the audience exploding in applause), the movie started.

What struck me from the beginning was that it didn't feel or look like a Kevin Smith movie. The colors were dull and dark giving off a feeling of dread from the getgo. You knew it wasn't a comedy as the film started with the Five Points Church protesting a gay teenager's funeral. The film then goes to some teenaged boys engaging in typical Smithian diaglogue. The boys search a website to find a woman that will have sex with the three of them. We follow the boys as they meet an older woman (played by recently-Oscar-winning-actress Melissa Leo)... and then shit just gets crazy. The boys are abducted by members of the Five Points Church, the police/FBI get involved (at first led by a bumbling sheriff played by Stephen Root and later by a very game John Goodman)... and then shit gets even crazier...

People have said that it's a horror movie, but it really isn't... You have too much fun with the scary members of the Five Points Church. There are elements of horror and comedy and action and drama... but mostly it's a fun satire that attacks both the crazy religious and a heartless/inept government. Both sides are extreme to the point of amusement... and watching the bad pastor, Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) committing murder in the name of God and having a damned good time doing it is (oddly) a blast. Watching Cooper is remniscient of watching Jules "Bad motherfucker" Winnfield execute big-brained Bret in Pulp Fiction.

What surprised CJ and myself the most was that we were constantly unsure about what would happen next. He and I both try to figure out the plot or big twist. You can't with a film with so much controlled chaos. You can't get comfortable beacuse you are almost immediately proven wrong.

And when you have a movie like that- a movie that constantly keeps you guessing and keeps you on your toes- ANYTHING can happen... Because anything can happen, the strange, ridiculous, yet totally plausible climax had such a tremendous effect on me.

Okay, SPOILER alert, 'cause fuck it... The stand off ends when you hear these loud, blaring, heavenly trumpets. Those in the compound are shocked, and they think its the rapture. So upon hearing these trumpets, they come out of the compound dancing and singing. The police outside don't know what it is or where it's coming from, but it hurts their ears... And during this scene, I remember thinking Did the motherfucker really just add the rapture to this film? Are we gonna see angels and fire and brimstone? Was the church was right after all? Kevin Smith, you big glorious bastard. You just didn't know what a movie like this was capable of. There are two times in my life that my jaw dropped in awe when watching a movie or a play. Pondering the trumpet was one of them. I won't say any more, because I don't want to ruin what happened next.

During the Q&A, Smith would say that all the twists and beats were done by design... and it works remarkably well. There is no musical score as we are not given that comforting musical clue as to what's about to happen. The fast, choppy, editing also gives off an uneasiness. He wanted to make something you couldn't get comfortable with. He succeeded.

I really have nothing to say about the acting. The acting was great (except for one FBI agent who seemed to be on an odd level as everyone else). You feel like everyone brought their A game... and apparently everyone's coming back for Smith's next and last movie, Hit Somebody.

Kevin Smith is known for his use of dialogue. I'm a fan because of his dialogue. This movie had relatively little dialogue. I remember reading that Richard Kelly said that Kevin Smith reinvented himself as a director with RED STATE. I wholeheartedly agree. It reminds me of what Joss Whedon did with Buffy's episode "Hush." Whedon had been criticized that he is all dialogue. In Hush, he took out all the dialogue and proved himself to be a storyteller nonetheless. In Red State, Smith did the same with just-as-effective results.

Kevin Smith said that, in a way, this is a companion piece to CLERKS. I buy that. Holy crap, I buy that. There is an air of independence and bucking convention with this film that I can't recall since CLERKS.

So, what didn't I like?... You're watching a bunch of bad guys killing each other... and as amusing as that is (and it's a very visceral and exciting and crazy-fun experience), it left me empty and indifferent to everyone's fate. I wasn't totally invested in any of the characters, so I had no interest in how it played out. John Goodman's character was the closest thing we had to a good guy, but with this movie, there was no point in becoming invested in the character because they could die any second. Maybe it was all by design, but it left me wanting more. The movie is good. The experience is better.

In closing (kind of) RED STATE is a new animal. In a time when every other movie is a remake or sequel or based on some other source material... When every other movie has a formula and a focus group that dictates and blurs an original vision into something bland and predictable... When every other film was made by committee... You have this dirty, sparkling, fresh gem. And it can't be denied that it is wholly original. So, until we know exactly what kind of rating system we're doing, I give RED STATE 7.5 out of 10... somethings.

The Q&A ran about two hours long and covered various topics that were mostly related to the film. I can't remember everything he spoke about... but what I took away was how enthusiastic he was in making the film and how enthusiastic he is about touring and promoting it.

Listening to him reminded me of why I like this blog. When you believe in something... When you're passionate about something... When something means anything or everything to you... the only thing that feels even better is sharing it with someone else.

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