Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday's Husband Defends Red State (And Kevin Smith)

So it has come to my attention that I am to write a little guest post on my wife's behalf. Truth be told I was a bit confused about all this to start, asking about topics and themes and what exactly this blog trended towards. In the end though it turns out I get talk about whatever I wish so that is exactly what I am going to do.

I am huge fan of Kevin Smith. Sure, I love his movies and all, but when I say I am a fan of Kevin Smith I do mean to say that I am a fan of the man himself. Why the distinction? In recent years Smith has splintered away from his usual directorial self in many ways, most notably in the building of his podcasting empire. Now, podcasting wasn't exactly something new for Kevin, not if you take into account the many Q&A sessions he engaged in prior to podcasting. In fact, you could almost go so far as to call the Evening With Kevin Smith specials to be video podcasts.

But again, why the distinction?

These podcasts essentially serve as soapboxes for Kevin Smith's ego (and I don't mean that in any negative connotation, we all have egos and rightly so) and through that medium we get to learn more about Kevin Smith the man than Kevin Smith the director. I don't mean this in a strictly autobiographical sense but rather through exposure to his many quirks and flaws as well as by observing his interactions with his many friends and colleagues we get to experience Kevin Smith in ways not possible if he is merely sitting in his director's chair.

One very powerful example of this can be seen with his latest film, Red State. This movie is something of a departure from his typical comedic leanings. Rather than detailing the exploits of a group of filthy young adults shirking their responsibilities while engaging in rapid-fire retorts and melodramatic appeals to geekdom, Red State is a dark "What-if?" story that relies heavily on suspense and doubt. There isn't a single moment of Red State where the audience can say with absolute certainty that they know what is coming around the next corner. So Red State is Kevin Smith leaving his comfort zone and gauging by critical response so far it also takes the audience out of theirs as well.

Now as I have mentioned already, I am a huge fan of Kevin Smith. I listen to many of his podcasts, most notably SModcast and Hollywood Babble-On and through those shows I bore witness to the enthusiasm that Smith had for Red State. I followed him through the production and marketing of his latest creation and was able to experience Red State in a way that your average viewer would not. Thanks to my loyal listenership I was also fortunate enough to be able to attend a live screening and Q&A session here in Vancouver last month. To say that I enjoyed myself would be an understatement. Red State was, to me anyways, the surprise hit of the year! I couldn't wait for others to see it and begin to see Kevin Smith in a brand new light.

Apparently I was mistaken in believing that could happen.

With the release of Red State on Video On Demand I thought I would take a look around the internets and see what people were saying about the latest Smith flick. In the end I was rather taken aback by all of the hate, all of the vitriol, levied against Red State (though this IS the internet so I suppose I was simply being naive). People just couldn't seem to get past the man sitting on the director's seat. It was also rather obvious that people didn't enjoy being removed from their own comfort zones, these same people who would have decried Kevin Smith for being a one-trick pony had he appealed to that zone.

I encounter this phenomenom with every form of artistic medium, none more notably than with video games. People always cry out for originality. They say, "Challenge us! Inspire us! Show us something new!" But then when something unique and exciting hits the market they shrug their shoulders and go back to playing Call of Duty, comfortable in their "safe pick".

Well, Red State IS controversial, from its unconventional marketing strategy to its own narrative structure, it has ruffled more than its fair share of feathers. People complain that none of the characters are likable, but they're not supposed to be! Not having a likable character in the cast didn't bother me one bit. Why, you ask? Because they were interesting characters in an interesting situation. This is a movie about radical christian fundamentalists capturing, torturing, and murdering "sinners" in the name of their God. Making their victims likeable would have been TOO EASY and BORING! As it stands, there is no one to root for in Red State (well ok, I will basically root for anyone opposing a religious threat, but that's just me) and there doesn't need to be because it is satisfying enough to watch it all play out. Playing to those base human urges the collective audience has is nothing more than a Cop Out when the alternative is doing something interesting.

Speaking of those baser urges, I was watching a video review from the Cinema Snob, someone whose opinion I hold in relatively high esteem, when he came to a point that rubbed me the wrong way. Now, up until now he had been somewhat generous to the film and liked it a fair bit, but then he took issue with one of those unlikable characters not opening fire on the defenseless cultists with an AK-47 during his attempted escape. My problem with Brad's insistence that he would have just blown them all away is this: how can you know that you would? Taking a human life is not an easy thing to do, that's why we call those who have no compunctions about murder psychopaths and why soldiers have to undergo severe mental conditioning to be able to perform their duties. Even in the most dire of situations there are those who might choose death over taking a life. It is not a rational decision, but then rationality sort of goes out the window in life-or-death situations and as such it is not fair to criticize a character simply because they didn't go all Rambo on the congregation (need I mention there were kids present?).

Probably the worst offender is the ending however and to be fair I kind of see where people are coming from here. If Red State had ended with the Rapture it may well have been a masterpiece as Brad maintained in his review. But that's not the story Smith wanted to tell and I respect that. Despite my praise for the movie I wouldn't say it is perfect, but then no movie is. Hell, The Dark Knight was one of my favourites and it was FAAAR from perfect and it was the ending of that movie that threw me much like Red State's has put off so many. But if I'm being completely honest here... I absolutely LOVED the ending in Red State!

Sure, I think it dragged on a bit (many of the complaints directed towards Red State are with regard to the editing, which makes sense considering Smith edited the movie while it was being shot, resulting in a finished product at the wrap party) but I was simply delighted by the dry delivery of exposition to those government agents, thanks to Goodman's excellent performance. To me it was reminiscent of the ending of Burn After Reading, a perfect capstone to circumstances born from utter madness. That being said, I am fully aware of that most cardinal of rules: show, don't tell. So I understand why people might feel that this was a lazy, ineffectual way of ending the movie.

Critics seem all too willing to let their own expectations for the movie colour their impressions of the result. Just because you wanted the Rapture doesn't mean what happened was bad by default, if you want to argue on basis of the writing or editing then that's another matter. To me it all comes down to people wanting to hate Smith or belittle his efforts. But no complaint against Red State can quite compare to the following praise: "It's good... for a Kevin Smith movie."

Yes, Red State is good for a Kevin Smith movie, but it's also just a good movie regardless of who directed it. Kevin Smith is a passionate, engaging person and he makes no excuses for his abilities (or perceived lack thereof). He wants his movies to be judged on their own merits and to do otherwise is insulting. A lot of people have a lot of hate for Kevin Smith. Some of it is because he is fat (a completely separate issue that I could go on about at great length), some of it is because he represents that stoner/slacker "sub-culture", and some of it is honestly just because he's had success at doing what he loves.

But you know what? That doesn't really matter to me because I know what I like and I loved Red State. Kevin Smith's passion for this movie really shines through in the movie itself and whenever he talks about it in his podcasting and during Q&As. The acting is excellent, Michael Parks' performance is mesmerizing as many have said before me. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the movie, my heart pounding in my chest, the cinematography really building on the intense situations these people found themselves in. The action was surprisingly real, the gunfire feeling as though it came from reality as opposed to Hollywood. And to top it all off, Red State had its fair share of laughs and completely unexpected turns. I can't recommend it enough though I understand it isn't for everyone.

If you're interested in following Kevin Smith's exploits in greater detail then you could do worse than visiting smodcast.com and checking out some podcasts (I personally recommend SModcast which features Smith's erstwhile producer Scott Mosier and Hollywood Babble-On featuring the mimicry of K-Rocks Ralph Garman). If you'd also like to read more of my ramblings (though I can hardly imagine why) I've only just started up a blog of my own called deepdelvers.com where I plan to talk about gaming primarily, so feel free to come on by if that interests you.

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