Playing Catch-Up: Crisscross, The Dust Factory, Gambit, In The Arms of a Killer, Overboard, Shy People


So, this year I am making a sincere effort to review every film that I see.  I know I say that every year but this time, I really mean it.

So, in an effort to catch up, here are four quick reviews of some of the movies that I watched over the past few weeks!

  • Crisscross
  • Released: 1992
  • Directed by Chris Menges
  • Starring David Arnott, Goldie Hawn, Arliss Howard, Keith Carradine, James Gammon, Steve Buscemi

An annoying kid named Chris Cross (David Arnott) tells us the story of his life.

In the year 1969, Chris and his mother, Tracy (Goldie Hawn), are living in Key West.  While the rest of the country is excitedly watching the first moon landing, Chris and Tracy are just trying to figure out how to survive day-to-day.  Tracy tries to keep her son from learning that she’s working as a stripper but, not surprisingly, he eventually finds out.  Chris comes across some drugs that are being smuggled into Florida and, wanting to help his mother, he decides to steal them and sell them himself.  Complicating matters is the fact that the members of the drug ring (one of whom is played by Steve Buscemi) don’t want the competition.  As well, Tracy is now dating Joe (Arliss Howard), who just happens to be an undercover cop.  And, finally, making things even more difficult is the fact that Chris just isn’t that smart.

There are actually a lot of good things to be said about Crisscross.  The film was directed by the renowned cinematographer, Chris Menges, so it looks great.  Both Arliss Howard and Goldie Hawn give sympathetic performances and Keith Carradine has a great cameo as Chris’s spaced out dad.  (Traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam, Chris’s Dad left his family and joined a commune.)  But, as a character, Chris is almost too stupid to be believed and his overwrought narration doesn’t do the story any good.  Directed and written with perhaps a less heavy hand, Crisscross could have been a really good movie but, as it is, it’s merely an interesting misfire.

  • The Dust Factory 
  • Released: 2004
  • Directed by Eric Small
  • Starring Armin Mueller-Stahl, Hayden Panettiere, Ryan Kelly, Kim Myers, George de la Pena, Michael Angarano, Peter Horton

Ryan (Ryan Kelly) is a teen who stopped speaking after his father died.  One day, Ryan falls off a bridge and promptly drowns.  However, he’s not quite dead yet!  Instead, he’s in The Dust Factory, which is apparently where you go when you’re on the verge of death.  It’s a very nice place to hang out while deciding whether you want to leap into the world of the dead or return to the land of the living.  Giving Ryan a tour of the Dust Factory is his grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl).  Suggesting that maybe Ryan should just stay in the Dust Factory forever is a girl named Melanie (Hayden Panettiere).  Showing up randomly and acting like a jerk is a character known as The Ringmaster (George De La Pena).  Will Ryan choose death or will he return with a new zest for living life?  And, even more importantly, will the fact that Ryan’s an unlikely hockey fan somehow play into the film’s climax?

The Dust Factory is the type of unabashedly sentimental and theologically confused film that just drives me crazy.  This is one of those films that so indulges every possible cliché that I was shocked to discover that it wasn’t based on some obscure YA tome.  I’m sure there’s some people who cry while watching this film but ultimately, it’s about as deep as Facebook meme.

  • Gambit
  • Released: 2012
  • Directed by Michael Hoffman
  • Starring Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Tom Courtenay, Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman, Togo Igawa

Harry Deane (Colin Firth) is beleaguered art collector who, for the sake of petty revenge (which, as we all know, is the best type of revenge), tries to trick the snobbish Lord Shabandar (Alan Rickman) into spending a lot of money on a fake Monet.  To do this, he will have to team up with both an eccentric art forger (Tom Courtenay) and a Texas rodeo star named PJ Puznowksi (Cameron Diaz).  The plan is to claim that PJ inherited the fake Monet from her grandfather who received the painting from Hermann Goering at the end of the World War II and…

Well, listen, let’s stop talking about the plot.  This is one of those elaborate heist films where everyone has a silly name and an elaborate back story.  It’s also one of those films where everything is overly complicated but not particularly clever.  The script was written by the Coen Brothers and, if they had directed it, they would have at least brought some visual flair to the proceedings.  Instead, the film was directed by Michael Hoffman and, for the most part, it falls flat.  The film is watchable because of the cast but ultimately, it’s not surprising that Gambit never received a theatrical release in the States.

On a personal note, I saw Gambit while Jeff & I were in London last month.  So, I’ll always have good memories of watching the movie.  So I guess the best way to watch Gambit is when you’re on vacation.

  • In The Arms of a Killer
  • Released: 1992
  • Directed by Robert L. Collins
  • Starring Jaclyn Smith, John Spencer, Nina Foch, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Sandahl Bergman, Linda Dona, Kristoffer Tabori, Michael Nouri

This is the story of two homicide detectives.  Detective Vincent Cusack (John Spencer) is tough and cynical and world-weary.  Detective Maria Quinn (Jaclyn Smith) is dedicated and still naive about how messy a murder investigation can be when it involves a bunch of Manhattan socialites.  A reputed drug dealer is found dead during a party.  Apparently, someone intentionally gave him an overdose of heroin.  Detective Cusack thinks that the culprit was Dr. Brian Venible (Michael Nouri).  Detective Quinn thinks that there has to be some other solution.  Complicating things is that Quinn and Venible are … you guessed it … lovers!  Is Quinn truly allowing herself to be held in the arms of a killer or is the murderer someone else?

This sound like it should have been a fun movie but instead, it’s all a bit dull.  Nouri and Smith have next to no chemistry so you never really care whether the doctor is the killer or not.  John Spencer was one of those actors who was pretty much born to play world-weary detectives but, other than his performance, this is pretty forgettable movie.

  • Overboard
  • Released: 1987
  • Directed by Garry Marshall
  • Starring Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Edward Herrmann, Katherine Helmond, Roddy McDowall, Michael G. Hagerty, Brian Price, Jared Rushton, Hector Elizondo

When a spoiled heiress named Joanne Slayton (Goldie Hawn) falls off of her luxury yacht, no one seems to care.  Even when her husband, Grant (Edward Herrmann), discovers that Joanne was rescued by a garbage boat and that she now has amnesia, he denies knowing who she is.  Instead, he takes off with the boat and proceeds to have a good time.  The servants (led by Roddy McDowall) who Joanne spent years terrorizing are happy to be away from her.  In fact, the only person who does care about Joanne is Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell).  When Dean sees a news report about a woman suffering from amnesia, he heads over to the hospital and declares that Joanne is his wife, Annie.

Convinced that she is Annie, Joanne returns with Dean to his messy house and his four, unruly sons.  At first, Dean says that his plan is merely to have Joanne work off some money that she owes him.  (Before getting amnesia, Joanne refused to pay Dean for some work he did on her boat.)  But soon, Joanne bonds with Dean’s children and she and Dean start to fall in love.  However, as both Grant and Dean are about to learn, neither parties nor deception can go on forever…

This is one of those films that’s pretty much saved by movie star charisma.  The plot itself is extremely problematic and just about everything that Kurt Russell does in this movie would land him in prison in real life.  However, Russell and Goldie Hawn are such a likable couple that the film come close to overcoming its rather creepy premise.  Both Russell and Hawn radiate so much charm in this movie that they can make even the stalest of jokes tolerable and it’s always enjoyable to watch Roddy McDowall get snarky.  File this one under “Kurt Russell Can Get Away With Almost Anything.”

A remake of Overboard, with the genders swapped, is set to be released in early May.

  • Shy People
  • Released: 1987
  • Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
  • Starring Jill Clayburgh, Barbara Hershey, Martha Plimpton, Merritt Butrick, John Philbin, Don Swayze, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mare Winningham

Diana Sullivan (Jill Clayburgh) is a writer for Cosmopolitan and she’s got a problem!  It turns out that her teenager daughter, Grace (Martha Plimpton), is skipping school and snorting cocaine!  OH MY GOD!  (And, to think, I thought I was a rebel just because I used to skip Algebra so I could go down to Target and shoplift eyeliner!)  Diana knows that she has to do something but what!?

Diana’s solution is to get Grace out of New York.  It turns out that Diana has got some distant relatives living in Louisiana bayou.  After Cosmo commissions her to write a story about them, Diana grabs Grace and the head down south!

(Because if there’s anything that the readers of Cosmo are going to be interested in, it’s white trash bayou dwellers…)

The only problem is that Ruth (Barbara Hershey) doesn’t want to be interviewed and she’s not particularly happy when Diana and Grace show up.  Ruth and her four sons live in the bayous.  Three of the sons do whatever Ruth tells them to do.  The fourth son is often disobedient so he’s been locked up in a barn.  Diana, of course, cannot understand why her relatives aren’t impressed whenever she mentions that she writes for Cosmo.  Meanwhile, Grace introduces her cousins to cocaine, which causes them to go crazy.  “She’s got some strange white powder!” one of them declares.

So, this is a weird film.  On the one hand, you have an immensely talented actress like Jill Clayburgh giving one of the worst performances in cinematic history.  (In Clayburgh’s defense, Diana is such a poorly written character that I doubt any actress could have made her in any way believable.)  On the other hand, you have Barbara Hershey giving one of the best.  As played by Hershey, Ruth is a character who viewers will both fear and admire.  Ruth has both the inner strength to survive in the bayou and the type of unsentimental personality that lets you know that you don’t want to cross her.  I think we’re supposed to feel that both Diana and Ruth have much to learn from each other but Diana is such an annoying character that you spend most of the movie wishing she would just go away and leave Ruth alone.  In the thankless role of Grace, Martha Plimpton brings more depth to the role than was probably present in the script and Don Swayze has a few memorable moments as one of Ruth’s sons.  Shy People is full of flaws and never really works as a drama but I’d still recommend watching it for Hershey and Plimpton.

What If Lisa Had All The Power And Picked The Oscar Nominees: 2015 Edition


oscar trailer kitties

With the Oscar nominations due to be announced tomorrow, now is the time that the Shattered Lens indulges in a little something called, “What if Lisa had all the power.” Listed below are my personal Oscar nominations. Please note that these are not the films that I necessarily think will be nominated. The fact of the matter is that the many of them will not. Instead, these are the films that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for deciding the nominees this year. Winners are starred and listed in bold.

(You’ll also note that I’ve added four categories, all of which I believe the Academy should adopt — Best Voice-Over Performance, Best Casting, Best Stunt Work, and Best Overall Use Of Music In A Film.)

(Click on the links to see my nominations for 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010!)

best picture

Best Picture
Brooklyn
*Carol*
Clouds of Sils Maria
Ex Machina
The Final Girls
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
Room
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton

George Miller

Best Director
John Crowley for Brooklyn
Alex Garland for Ex Machina
F. Gary Gray for Straight Outta Compton
Todd Haynes for Carol
*George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road*
Denis Villeneuve for Sicario

Jacob Tremblay

Best Actor
John Cusack in Love & Mercy
Gerard Depardieu in Welcome To New York
Johnny Depp in Black Mass
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
Michael B. Jordan in Creed
*Jacob Tremblay in Room*

alicia vikander

Best Actress
Katharine Isabelle in 88
Brie Larson in Room
Rooney Mara in Carol
Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn
Amy Schumer in Trainwreck
*Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina*

Del Toro

Best Supporting Actor
Michael Angarano in The Stanford Prison Experiment
Paul Dano in Love & Mercy
*Benicio Del Toro in Sicario*
Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Maggie
Sylvester Stallone in Creed

MA

Best Supporting Actress
*Malin Akerman in The Final Girls*
Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy
Cate Blanchett in Carol
Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak
Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight
Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria

amyp

Best Voice Over Performance
Jon Hamm in Minions
Richard Kind in Inside Out
Jason Mantzoukas in The Regular Show Movie
*Amy Poehler in Inside Out*
James Spader in Avengers: The Age Of Ultron
Steve Zahn in The Good Dinosaur

EM

Best Original Screenplay
Clouds of Sils Maria
*Ex Machina*
The Final Girls
Inside Out
Sicario
Trainwreck

mara_blanchett_carol

Best Adapted Screenplay
Brooklyn
*Carol*
The End of the Tour
Love & Mercy
Room
The Walk

Inside_Out_(2015_film)_poster

Best Animated Film
*Inside Out*
The Good Dinosaur
Minions
The Peanuts Movie
The Regular Show Movie
Shaun The Sheep

Amy_Movie_Poster

Best Documentary Feature:
3 ½ Minutes 10 Bullets
*Amy*
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau
Prophet’s Prey
The Wolfpack

The_Tribe_poster

Best Foreign Language Film
The Connection
Gloria
The Mafia Only Kills In Summer
Misunderstood
A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Contemplating Existence
*The Tribe*

Brooklyn

Best Casting
*Brooklyn*
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sicario

Best Cinematography
Carol
Clouds of Sils Maria
The Green Inferno
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
*Sicario*

carol3

Best Costume Design
Brooklyn
*Carol*
Cinderella
Ex Machina
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Suffragette

MMedit

Best Editing
Carol
Ex Machina
*Mad Max: Fury Road*
Room
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton

Arnold-Schwarzenegger-in-Maggie

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Black Mass
Brooklyn
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
*Maggie*
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

bl

Best Original Score
*Carol*
The Hateful Eight
It Follows
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Spy2015_TeaserPoster

Best Original Song
“Love Me Like You Do” from Fifty Shades of Grey
“See You Again” from Furious 7
“Better When I’m Dancing” from The Peanuts Movie
“Flashlight” from Pitch Perfect 2
“Feels Like Summer” from Shaun the Sheep
*“Who Can You Trust” from Spy*

Compton 2

Best Overall Use Of Music
Furious 7
The Hateful Eight
Joy
Love & Mercy
The Martian
*Straight Outta Compton*

cp

Best Production Design
*Crimson Peak*
Ex Machina
The Final Girls
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Unfriended

sicario-emily-blunt-trailer

Best Sound Editing
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Furious 7
The Revenant
*Sicario*
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Straight Outta Compton

Compton

Best Sound Mixing
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Furious 7
The Revenant
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
*Straight Outta Compton*

MM Stunt

Best Stunt Work
Furious 7
Kingsman: The Secret Service
*Mad Max: Fury Road*
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Spy
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster

Best Visual Effects
Ant-Man
Avengers: The Age of Ultron
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
*Star Wars: The Force Awakens*
The Walk

Films By Number of Nominations:
11 Nominations – Carol
10 Nominations – Mad Max: Fury Road
9 Nominations – Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
8 Nominations – Ex Machina
7 Nominations – Brooklyn, Straight Outta Compton
5 Nominations – Furious 7, Inside Out, Love & Mercy, The Revenant, Room
4 Nominations – Avengers: The Age of Ultron, Clouds of Sils MariaThe Final Girls
3 Nominations – The Hateful Eight
2 Nominations – Black Mass, Creed, Crimson Peak, The Good Dinosaur, Maggie, Minions, The Peanuts Movie, The Regular Show Movie, Shaun the SheepSpy, Trainwreck, The Walk
1 Nomination – 3 ½ Minutes 10 Bullets, 50 Shades of Grey, 88, Amy, Ant-Man, Beasts of No Nation, Cinderella, The Connection, The End of The Tour, Gloria, Going Clear, The Green Inferno, It Follows, Joy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Mafia Only Kills in Summer, The Martian, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Misunderstood, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, Pitch Perfect 2, Prophet’s Prey, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Suffragette, The Tribe, UnfriendedWelcome to New York, The Wolfpack

Films By Number of Oscars Won:
4 Oscars – Carol
3 Oscars – Mad Max: Fury Road, Sicario
2 Oscars – Ex Machina, Inside Out, Straight Outta Compton
1 Oscar – Amy, Brooklyn, Crimson Peak, The Final Girls, Maggie, Room, Spy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Tribe

Will the Academy be smart enough to agree with me on these picks?  We will find out on Thursday!

Lisa and Evelyn at the Oscars

Lisa and Evelyn at the Oscars

Playing Catch-Up: The Stanford Prison Experiment and The Tribe


The_Stanford_Prison_Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment (dir by Kyle Patrick Alvarez)

The Stanford Prison Experiment tells a true story.  It’s important to point that out because this is one of those films that, if you didn’t know it was based on a true story, you would probably be inclined to dismiss as being totally improbable.

In 1971, Professor Philip Zimbardo (played in the movie by Billy Crudup) conducted a psychological experiment at Stanford University.  A fake prison was built in the basement of a campus building, complete with cells and even a room to be used for solitary confinement.  15 students volunteered to take part in the experiment.  For $15.00 a day, some of the students were randomly assigned to be prisoners while others got to be guards.  The experiment was supposed to last for two weeks but Zimbardo ended it after 6 days.  Why?  Because the students had started to the take the experiment very seriously, with the guards growing increasingly sadistic towards their “prisoners.”  Afterwards, many of the prisoner students claimed to have been traumatized while the guard students felt they were just playing a game.

(As one of the guards says in the film, “Am I still going to get paid?”)

The Stanford Prison Experiment tells the story of that controversial experiment and it is, at times, quite a harrowing experience.  Interestingly, when the film begins, the focus is on the prisoners.  I immediately noticed that Ezra Miller was one of the prisoners and, being familiar with his work in Perks of Being A Wallflower and We Need To Talk About Kevin, I naturally assumed that the majority of the film would revolve around him.  After all, among the actors playing the prisoners, Ezra Miller was the “biggest name.”  And, when the film began, it did seem to be centered around Miller’s likable and rebellious presence.

But then something happened.  Miller faded into the background.  In fact, all of the “prisoners” faded into the background and the actors became almost indistinguishable from each other.  Instead, the film started to focus on one of the guards.  Outside of the prison, Christopher Archer (Michael Angarano) is a laid back and rather amiable California college student.  But, once he shows up for the night shift, Archer starts to talk about all of the prison films that he’s seen.  He starts to speak in a Southern accent.  He says stuff like, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  And soon, Archer is making the rules inside the prison.

In much the same way that Christopher Archer takes over the experiment, actor Michael Angarano takes over the film.  While Zimbardo and his colleagues watch Archer’s actions with a mix of fascination and fear, the film’s audience becomes enthralled with Angarano’s intense performance.  Wisely, neither Angarano nor the film allow Archer to turn into a cardboard villain.  He’s not a bad guy.  Instead, he’s playing a role.  He’s been told to act like a guard and that’s what he’s going to do, regardless of whatever else may happen.  The most fascinating part of the film becomes the contrast between Archer the likable student and Archer the fascist authority figure.

It’s frustrating that more people didn’t see The Stanford Prison Experiment when it was released in 2015.  Considering the blind trust in authority that is currently so popular in certain parts of the American culture, The Stanford Prison Experiment is a film that a lot of people really do need to see and learn from.

The_Tribe_poster

The Tribe (dir by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

Anyone who says that they truly understand everything that happens in the disturbing Ukrainian film The Tribe is lying.  Taking place at a school for the deaf and exclusively cast with deaf actors, The Tribe is a film where everyone communicates in Ukrainian Sign Language and there are no subtitles.  However, the actors are often filmed with their back to the camera and occasionally, their hands are out of frame so, even if you do know Ukrainian Sign Language, there’s still going to be scenes where you have no idea what anyone is saying.

And it’s appropriate really.  The Tribe is a film about alienation and, by refusing to give us either an interpreter or subtitles, it forces the audience to feel the same alienation that the film’s characters have to deal with on a daily basis.  It quickly becomes obvious that these permanent outsiders have created their own society and the least of their concerns is whether the rest of the world understands it.

What can be learned about the film’s story largely comes from the body language of the actors and the audience’s own knowledge of gangster movies, which is what The Tribe basically is.  A new student at a boarding school for the deaf is recruited into a gang that deals drugs and pimps out two female students as prostitutes at a truck stop.  When the new student falls in love with one of the girls, it leads to some truly brutal acts of violence, all of which are somehow made more disturbing by the fact that they take place in total silence.

(The talkative criminals of most gangster films allow audiences to focus on something other than the violence.  When people talk about the opening of a film like Pulp Fiction, they talk about John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson talking about Amsterdam.  They don’t focus on the guys getting gunned down in their apartment.  In The Tribe, there are no quips or one-liners before people are hurt and we are forced to pay more attention to the consequences of brutality.)

The Tribe is made up of only 34 shots.  The wide-angle lens forces us to consider these alienated characters against the barren Ukrainian landscape and the camera constantly moves with the characters, tracking them as closely as fate.  Intense and dream-lie, The Tribe is a hauntingly enigmatic film.  It’s not an easy film but it is a rewarding one.

Horror Review: Red State (dir. by Kevin Smith)


Kevin Smith’s 2011 film was a major departure for him. It wasn’t the usual comedy (his last one being the very awful buddy-cop comedy, Cop Out) but instead his first foray into one of film’s earliest film genre: the horror film. Say what you want or feel about Kevin Smith (and there’s a huge range of people who either love the man or hate him like the second coming of the Antichrist) but when he decides to make a film he puts everything of himself on display and he wears his emotions on his sleeves when it comes to his films. It’s this aspect of Smith’s personality which has gained him such a loyal following, but has also earned him the scorn and, for some, hate of film bloggers who now constitute the bulk of film criticism in the digital age. This first horror film for Kevin Smith would be called Red State and it would be a film that would continue to expand the gulf between those who hate him and those who support him. Lost in this playground-like tiff was whether the film would be a return to form for Smith or just a continuation of some very bad films in the last half-decade.

Red State could almost be called a coming-of-age story since the film begins with three high school boys joining together to travel to a neighboring town where they  hope to engage in some sexual extracurricular activities. It’s also in this very town that we learn very early on in the film that the Five Points Church calls home. This church and it’s congregation has one Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) as it’s leader with it’s membership either related by blood to Cooper or by way of marriage. In this picture would arrive an ATF task force led by Special Agent Keenan (John Goodman) to investigate the illegal doings of Cooper and his flock. It’s between these two groups that the three teenage boys would find themselves in a horrific situation with their lives in the balance.

Let’s just say that this film had much potential in it’s plot and how it’s initially set-up. The character of Pastor Abin Cooper and his flock was definitely patterned after the Westboro Baptist Church led by Fred Phelps who’re infamous for picketing funerals of soldiers and for being outright homophobic in their teachings and ideology. The ATF group with Keenan in command looks to be set-up to represent the Federal government and it’s police agencies run amok in their attempt to fight terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001. Then Smith drops in three horny teenage boys in the mix and it sure must’ve read like a surefire story with horror and action.

What we get instead was a film which didn’t seem to know how to proceed with the initial set-up. The film began and played out like something similar to Hostel and films of a similar vein. Unsuspecting teens lured by sex to be made an example of by a group of people extreme in their passions and ideas. If the film had continued with just those two groups as the core of the film’s story then it could’ve made for a decent survival horror film, but the addition of the ATF task force and how they impacted the dynamics between the congregation and the teens unbalanced everything. Now what was suppose to be a horror film turned into an action-drama.

The performances by the cast was also inconsistent. This could be due to the weakness of the screenplay which tried too hard to push Cooper and his people as batshit crazy through overly long sermons. Sermons by Abin Cooper that was delivered by Michael Parks in convincing fashion at times and then mumbled incoherently at others. The three teens were also a problem in that they weren’t sympathetic by any means. Even knowing what awaited them didn’t lessen the fact that these three teens were obnoxious and vulgar to the point that we didn’t care if Cooper and his people tortured and killed them.

One would expect that the addition of John Goodman as the ATF special agent and Kevin Pollak as his assistant would at least bring some serious acting chops to the proceedings, but their characters were so thinly-written and their dialogue so forced that one couldn’t believe them as real characters. It’s a shame that the film’s overall screenplay couldn’t provide the necessary foundation for a cast that had a very good veteran ensemble which included Melissa Leo, James Parks and Stephen Root.

Red State really failed in the very thing that was suppose to make this film the beginning of a shift in Kevin Smith’s career. It failed as a horror film in the most general sense. There was never any true feeling of horror to be had throughout the film. Even the first death of an unnamed homosexual kidnapped by the congregation to be used as an example during one of Cooper’s sermons failed to elicit any form of horror. This was a film which had much potential for some horrific sequences but it never explored it. The film doesn’t even work as a thriller which would be the closest this film ever got to be. Even the ending of the film which tried to inject a semblance of the supernatural didn’t even work as it turned out to be a major bait-and-switch that didn’t come off as creative once it was explained.

Does the film justify some of the venom hurled at it from Kevin Smith’s detractors?

I would say no in that the film wasn’t the worst thing he has made by a long shot. It did have some moments that hinted at something special could’ve been made if someone else was involved or if the film had more time to be worked on. I do believe that if Red State was made by anyone else other than Kevin Smith it would be considered average to good. But having such a polarizing figure as it’s creator and marketer might have blinded some in actually watching this film with an open-mind.

Does this mean Red State was actually a good film?

I would say no with the reasoning I’ve mentioned above. But I will say that the film wasn’t dull or boring. As unnecessary as the ATF task force to the story as a whole their arrival and the subsequent reaction of the congregation to them made for some exciting few minutes. Even Michael Park’s performance was quite good despite some of his line deliveries coming off as incoherent mumblings.

If Red State was to be Kevin Smith’s attempt to try and move away from his history of making comedies then it was a failed one. While it was a failure I wouldn’t mind him going back to the genre to hone his skills in doing more horror. If Uwe Boll could continue making even worst materials then surely Smith could be given another chance to make another and fix the very things which he did wrong with Red State with another horror film project. One thing for sure he would not be lacking in actors wanting to work with him.

SDCC 2011: Haywire (dir. by Steven Soderbergh) Exclusive Trailer


It would seem that Steven Soderbergh was quite busy doing something small and simple leading up to his upcoming world-encompassing viral apocalypse film, Contagion. He managed to film an action-thriller (still feels new to say Soderbergh and action-thriller in the same breath) starring MMA fighter Gina Carano as the lead. The film’s title is Haywire and from the synopsis bouncing around the film looks to be quite a throwback to the late 80’s and early 90’s action-thrillers where the main lead is a super-spy or operative betrayed by those they work for and must now take them out to save their loved ones.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Soderbergh handles action on the level Haywire seems to be promising in the trailer. Even if he punts that side of the film the cast alone should make this film worth a look when it comes out. I mean outside of Carano there’s Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan MacGregor, Bill Paxton and Antonio Banderas (channeling a wicked imitation of Saddam Hussein’s fugitive beard).

Haywire is set for a January 20, 2012 release date.

Red State (Teaser Trailer)


I will admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Kevin Smith as a filmmaker though I don’t dislike or even loathe the man the way some film bloggers seem to. He’s definitely much more talented than Uwe Boll despite what some people may say. I just think that Kevin Smith had ended up listening too much to his own press about how he was the indie darling of the 90’s. He lived too much in his past glories and stagnated as a creative artist.

His last few films were either bombs financially and/or critically. Smith just tried too much to replicate what he had done in the past when he should’ve been trying to expand his horizons and attempt new things. To say that his Cop Out was awful would be an understatement. One of the worst films of recent memory, but for some reason actors still want to work with the guy.

It’s a good thing that good actors still want to work with him because his upcoming film, a horror film at that and a straight out one, in 2011 looks to be Smith reinventing himself beyond his “Jay and Silent Bob” era.

Red State looks like it’s just plain horror and the teaser trailer doesn’t seem to show any black humor or any humor at all that seem to be part and parcel of any Kevin Smith production. The teaser has a fundamentalist eerie vibe to it and with Michael Parks in what looks to be a Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church infamy has definitely peaked my interest.

If Neil Gaiman, who has already seen the finished product (or close to being finished), was shaken by the experience but in a good way then my optimism for this film may not result in another Kevin Smith disappointmen. One can only hope.