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Friday, January 13, 2012

Red State Review

As I've previously blogged, two of my favourite filmmakers were out with new films in 2011 that I never got around to seeing.  So, of course, I went out with my Christmas money and bought those films on Blu-Ray a) to finally see them and b) so I wouldn't have any gaps in my collection.  A week ago I saw the first of those two films.  The filmmaker was Pixar, and that movie was Cars 2.  The second one was Kevin Smith, and that film was Red State

Being a Kevin Smith fanboy, I'd been tracking this one online for a while.  He sat down and wrote it after Clerks 2.  Hoped to make it his next film after Clerks 2, but his usual studio the Weinsteins chose to pass on it.  "It's a bleak, unrelenting film with no redeemable characters and everyone dies at the end!  I don't understand why they wouldn't want to make it," I heard Smith joke in his famous Q&A sessions.  So Smith went off and made Zack and Miri Make a Porno (ignore the critics and the box office returns, it's a damn funny film) and Cop Out (listen to the critics and the box office returns because it's a God awful film) before deciding to go back to his indie beginnings and make Red State independently. 

It was about a year ago when he premiered it at the Sundance film festival and announced that he'd be distributing it independently as well.  Many thought his distribution method was unique.  Rather than pass it off to a distributor and put it in thousands of theatres, he was going to take it personally from theatre to theatre, screen it, and then do one of his famous Q&A sessions afterwards.  Many thought this was revolutionary, but I looked at that and went, "Hey!  Didn't Tim Allen do that a couple of years ago?"  And he did.  Allen made his directorial debut a few years back, and he personally took it theatres and screened it.  Only instead of a Q&A, he busted out some new stand-up material and did his stand-up show.  So it was hardly revolutionary.  And, for a director like Smith, with a very dedicated fanbase, it made a lot of sense. 

Smith brought his Red State show to Edmonton back in August or September...I can't remember exactly when.  All I remember is I couldn't get the time off work to go, so I knew I'd probably just have to buy it on Blu-Ray when it came out and kick back some evening and watch it.  That kind of didn't bode well, though, because the only other Smith film I'd ever seen without seeing it in the theatre first was Jersey Girl and...well, I can't make the expected joke.  You can tell I'm a dedicated Kevin Smith fanboy, because only the dedicated utter these words:

"Ya know, Jersey Girl's actually not that bad." 

You can't deny though that Jersey Girl and Red State have similar origin stories.  Both were touted by Smith as being efforts to break out of his safety zone and try something new for him.  With Jersey Girl, he was wading in the shallow end...just out of his comfort zone, but able to retreat quickly would things go on.  With Red State, though, he did a cannonball off the high dive. 

So, let's take a look see, shall we?

Red State

Directed by Kevin Smith

Starring Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Kerry Bishe, Kyle Gallner, Michale Angarano, Nicholas Braun, Ralph Garman, Stephen Root, and Kevin Pollack

Backstory:  Well, I pretty much covered that above, so no need to repeat myself

Plot:  This is a tough plot to summarize briefly.  Three teenagers go off into the woods one night to lose their virginity to a woman they met on the Internet, but it turns out to be a trap lain by a religious fundamentalist organization that's a borderline cult.  Things quickly spiral out of control and our borderline cult is soon in the midst of an armed standoff with federal agents.  The film could more accurately be described as a series of character portraits as this Hell on Earth starts to break out.  There's the small town sheriff, played by Root, who gets all jittery because this incident could reveal some of his secrets.  There's one of the eldest children in the cult, played by Bishe, who's only thoughts turn to saving the children when things start falling apart.  There's the lead federal agent, played by Goodman, who desperately tries to do the right thing.  There's our three teenagers who kicked off our story, wondering desperately if they'll make it out alive.  And, the most talked about performance in the film, Michael Parks as our cult leader Abin Cooper, who is very much the face of evil in this film.  

What I Liked:  Visually, this is nothing like Smith has done before.  He'd always been reluctant to direct action sequences, citing his own inexperience, but for most of the action scenes in this film, he does a pretty good job.  In fact, there was one camera shot that, while not Earth-shattering, was just out of Smith's norm enough to make my jaw drop.  Make no mistake though, it is still a Kevin Smith film.  There'll be a line of dialogue and the delivery of that line that'll make you smile and go, "Yup, that's Smith."  As I said, everyone's raving about Parks' performance, and deservedly so, but I was rather impressed with Goodman as the flustered federal agent in over his head.  Being largely familiar with Goodman's comedic work, I'd never seen him do something dramatic before, and he was good.  And there were some wonderfully tense moments. 

What I Didn't Like:  Well, it's still a Smith film, and as such, it does get a little too talky for an action/thriller.  As riving as Abin Cooper's sermon is, it does kind of bring the plot to a halt.  

Final Verdict:  Despite its preachy moments, I found Red State to be a tight little action thriller.  It was tense, it was scary, and it was enjoyable.

3 Nibs

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