The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Red State (2011)
When Couch Cutter came to me after my Hip Hop Locos post to see if I wanted to write reviews for them, my first thought was, I've been meaning to see Red State, but it seems too mainstream for the DTVC, so maybe it'll fit there. After we agreed on me doing that one, I looked it up imdb and saw that it barely cleared $1 mill at the box office, making it prime DTVC fodder, and the fact that there was a Kevin Smith movie out there that fit this site felt like something I needed to do here as well, because the people that have been following the DTVC for years expect to see a movie like that here. So I decided what I'd do is write this post, but not promote it on any of my social media, in part so it won't compete with my Couch Cutter review, but also in part so the people who have been following since before I added all the social media accouterments can have this review for them, kind of as a thank you for rocking with me for so long. In the future, on Couch Cutter, I plan to do films that won't overlap on here, mostly 60s and 70s exploitation that doesn't fit on a site about Direct to Video flicks (that is, if they'll have me do more reviews-- I kind of had a little dust up with one of the commenters. I know, I know, I never learn, do I? Sometimes I just can't help myself...)
Red State takes place in a small town in the Bible Belt, where an extremist religious sect has set up shop, keeping to themselves except when they protest the funerals of gay people. A few teen kids looking for something to do answer the personal ad of a woman that wants to have sex with all three of them. Next thing they know, she slips them a mickey, and they wake up prisoners of the sect, waiting to die. At the same time, the local sheriff sees on his wall a bulletin from the ATF about an investigation they're running on the sect, and he calls agent John Goodman. It looks as if Goodman and the sect would be on a collision course to wackiness.
[Warning, it's hard to discuss this movie without spoilers, I'll do my best to not give too much away, but sometimes it can't be helped.]
I really enjoyed this, but I know people are very split on it. Two reviews from people we know on here that are a great example of this come from robotGEEK and The Video Vacuum, the former liking it like me, and the latter not so much, but they both make excellent points that I can understand. For me, it started when the boys wake up in the church, because the tension there was intense, the way Smith toys with us by keeping elements in the background that we know are sinister, but only our imaginations can guess what they could be. We watch the reverend give his sermon, while one of the kids sits in a dog cage, and another figure stands with a sheet covering him or her, wondering if this will be the moment that he drops the hammer down and the evil we expect will come. For The Video Vacuum, the movie loses him after this, because it moves away from the great thriller aspect and into an action film, and I agree with him here, because I'd like to have seen what Smith could've done carrying that genre through; but like robotGEEK, I liked the switch to the action element too, because that was Smith bringing in his second message-- the first is that more unspeakable horrors have been committed in the name of religion than anything else--, that the government wants a monopoly over violence in society, and will do anything to maintain it.
This is very different from the kind of action we're used to seeing here at the DTVC, because that action is usually an end in itself; whereas Smith's violence is a means through which to get his message across. Even something like Machete, which had a strong message as well, still had a split between the action and the message, as if the two were working on separate, parallel tracks. As a change of pace, I liked this use of action by Smith in Red State, but I think overall I enjoy violence in its more recognizable capacity, like in something like Commando or Hard Boiled. For instance, I liked that this violence wasn't cartoonish, with people getting dropped with two or three quick shots, pow pow pow; but if I had my druthers, I'd prefer the shimmying stuntman doing The Twist to Uzi fire as blood packets explode in his shirt.
This wasn't a total success for me. I thought the end was a little talky, kind of Smith's way to tie up loose ends and finish saying the things he wanted to about the government and the Patriot Act. It was as if what he was doing metaphorically before through the horror and action genres he was now just telling us. The overarching message I got from this is that the separation of church and state wasn't meant as much for us as citizens to have a freedom of religion, but more for the government to consolidate its power and not be beholden to the church. It's an interesting take, because many of the people who support the Patriot Act support it thinking it'll protect them from foreign Muslin terrorists, not domestic Christian zealots with guns, and I can see how the end was supposed to finish that message for us; I just think it would've played better in a tighter, harder hitting way, more in line with the rest of the film.
I've gone this far and I haven't even mentioned all the great performances. John Goodman is the obvious standout, where he's really like John Connor (from Roseanne, not The Terminator) getting shit done as an ATF agent. Michael Parks as the reverend was equally awesome, a real sinister sociopath, I never felt easy when he was onscreen. Academy Award winner Melissa Leo plays his daughter, and like her turn in The Fighter, she's made-up so you almost can't recognize her, more so here than in the Mark Wahlberg flick. I liked Stephen Root in a small part as the sheriff. Remember his awesome appearance on Seinfeld, the one where Kramer didn't get a "hello" from the bank? Finally, Kevin Pollack has a small part as one of Goodman's agents. Unfortunately, he doesn't do his killer Shatner impression.
I wanted to finish with this image here because it was in this girl that Smith truly moves way from the things he's best known for. This girl in most Smith films would've been the precocious female lead, maybe quirky, off-beat, and fun loving; and one of our guys would've been the longshot geeky kid whose into Star Wars and comics and smoking weed who shouldn't have a shot with her, but they're friends, and hopefully eventually they'll fall in love, and in the meantime all kinds of madcap fun will have happened. Smith takes that paradigm and he brutally snuffs it out with a few expertly placed gunshots, as if he's going back to Mallrats or Clerks 2 or his appearance on Degrassi and wiping everything out in a hail of bullets. It was kind of like seeing George Michael have a model in the "Freedom '90" video set his Faith jacket on fire.
And I think it's for this reason, love it or hate it, that you need to see this movie. For any of us that were old enough in the 90s and saw Clerks and Mallrats in the theater, other than the way the kids talk at the beginning of the film, this is not your 90s Kevin Smith, and definitely not your 2000s vintage. I think even if I were to agree with The Video Vacuum's take, and in some ways I do, I still think you can't pass up this chance to see Smith not only do some interesting things with the horror and action genres, but also see him deconstruct his own past and hang it up in the shooting range for target practice.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0873886/