I don't like Kevin Smith movies. I think he's a crappy director and most of his characters talk in this sort of hyper-geek speak that I find incredibly grating. But, I keep up with all of his films (yep, even Jersey Girl). I kinda wish I liked his stuff. They seem like they should be lots of fun and I am a geek like he is, after all. I do enjoy the guy's Q&As. I've seen all four of those and can easily watch him babble on for 3.5 hours, answering only one question in the process. Well, with Red State, I think Smith's finally improving on this whole moviemaking hobby he has.
Red State isn't a standard horror movie, which is something I found refreshing. It was made by someone I wouldn't call a "horror movie guy." Smith tends to geek out over Star Wars and Batman and Stan Lee; I don't recall any references to horror movie geekery in his films or Q&As. So, Red State starts off being a fairly normal horror film about teenagers being kidnapped and murdered by a crazy cult, and then sort of wanders off in its own direction, never to return to horror. In a way, it reminds me of The Shining. Not that this film is anywhere near as good as Kubrick's, but that both were made people people who were only interested in the conventions of the genre in order to be sure to ignore them and do their own thing.
Michael Parks as the head preacher Abin Cooper is wonderful. At the start of the movie, he gives a fire-and-brimstone sermon that eats up a good 15 minutes of the film's run time, but I was enthralled with his performance. He has the bible-beating, charismatic preacher character down absolutely perfectly. I also like that his character is morally consistent. Usually with these religious nut characters, the filmmakers will be sure to show us that they're really hypocrites or cowardly. For example, I was expecting Abin to use one of his kids as a shield when the firefight with the ATF started, or to be shown secretly looking at gay porn. Nope, Abin truly believes his own bullshit. It makes him less of a caricature and harder to completely hate him. He's just a profoundly disturbed man, not an evil huckster.
Even though Cop Out was mediocre crap, it seems to have taught Smith about filming shootouts. The battle between the ATF and the cult is intense. Bullets whiz about loudly, exploding chunks out of the compound or people's faces. People die with sudden fury. The way this violence ends, though, is a bit week. A deus ex machina (nearly a literal one, except they didn't have the budget for it) stops the shooting and then the end is just a couple of long speeches by John Goodman's ATF character. Luckily, Goodman's great and I'll watch anything he does.
Still, I dug it. Now I'm kind of disappointed Smith claims to be retiring after his next film. (7/10)
Spirits of the Dead: "Toby Dammit" (1968) directed by Federico Fellini
We had some time to kill before going to see Steel Panther (death to all but metal!), so my friend Jack popped in the last section of a movie he'd been watching. Supposedly based on the Poe story "Never Bet the Devil Your Head," it really only shares its final scene with that tale. I can't tell if Toby is a transcendentalist, as in the story, or an existentialist. Is he seeking to free himself from the tedious business of the flesh so he can move into the spiritual, or is he just looking for a way out the ridiculousness that we call existence? Either way, the film is an absolute trip. Terence Stamp is great as the world-famous Shakespearean actor Toby. He walks around in a technicolor semi-future in which people are constantly approaching him due to his celebrity to him pitch projects, to take his photo, to get his thoughts, to give him awards, to offer him marriage. He couldn't care less and no matter what his responses to these things are -- sticking his tongue out, snark, sleeping -- the people surrounding him only seem to love him more. Perhaps he is trapped in Hell? Why, then, does his vision of the devil (a little girl with a white ball) help to free him?
The film is filled with amazing visuals, precise sound design and hilarious characters. I loved it. I'm ashamed to admit -- and I even got halfway through a film degree in college -- that I've never seen a Fellini film before this. I've gotta change that; I've gotta see more.